By Ehichioya Ezomon
The election of Prof. George Obiozor as President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo comes at an opportune moment, as leaders of the South-East attempt a united front for the presidency in 2023.
The choice of Obiozor, a former Nigerian ambassador to the United States, followed a historic political concave in Abia State centred on the zone producing a president of Igbo extraction for Nigeria.
Such a meeting was unthinkable in the recent past, given the cat and mouse relationship between members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Not even on the issue of zoning of the presidency would members of both parties speak with one voice, with individual ambition overriding the collective aspiration of the geopolitical area.
But that seems to have changed on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, when the parley, called by APC’s leader and Chief Whip of the Senate, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, was graced by zonal PDP chieftains.
Among the PDP heavyweights were former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim and former Deputy President of the Senate, Prof. Ike Ekweremadu.
Kalu, who’s the main canvasser for the election of Obiozor as Ohanaeze’s head, didn’t mince words about the purpose of the gathering in his homestead at Igbere, Abia State.
The meeting was intended to “unite all the prominent politicians from the zone and ensure a unity of purpose among them for the emergence of Nigeria’s next president from the zone.”
It would also help to disprove critics, “who believe that we cannot meet to discuss issues affecting us, especially our aspiration to produce Nigeria’s president in 2023,” Kalu said in opening remarks.
The communiqué of the parley flows accordingly, zeroing in on the consensus that for equity, fairness and inclusiveness, the South-East should produce the president for Nigeria in 2023. Below are the fine points of the communiqué:
* Recommit ourselves to the deepening of the nation’s democracy as the surest way of fast-tracking national development and building an egalitarian society where no man is oppressed for reasons of his class, ethnic, religious or political affiliation and background.
* Implore Nigerians across political, ethnic, religious, and geopolitical divides and persuasions to support the people of the South-East geopolitical zone to produce a Nigerian President of South-East extraction, as a mark of good faith and to promote justice and national harmony.
* Consequently implore all the political parties to cede their presidential tickets in the 2023 general election to the South-East in the interest of justice, equity and national unity.
* To emphasis that what we seek is a Nigerian President of South-East extraction, one that will work to further unite and develop every part of the country.
Emphasising the importance of giving every part of the country a sense of belonging and in promoting national unity and solidarity, the South-East leaders said giving the Igbo a shot at the presidency rhymes with the dream of Nigeria’s founding fathers, who declared that “though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.”
They said a president of Igbo origin “will be President of all Nigerians, irrespective of their political, ethnic, and religious backgrounds,” and would accord all citizens and parts of Nigeria “a sense of belonging and treated with utmost sense of justice.”
Subsequently, they pledged a nationwide “block votes of the Igbo,” and their full weight “behind any major political party, particularly the APC and PDP, that zones its presidential ticket to the South-East in 2023 general election.”
Critics may dub the South-East political leaders’s meeting as not encompassing – as participants comprised past and current federal and state lawmakers – to merit as representative of the zone.
The concave actually was shorn of the “real movers and shakers” of politics in the zone, particularly incumbent governors, who literally control the political structures in the five states.
Was the invite to the meeting closed to a limited number and category of politicians, or opened to the entire political leaders in the South-East? Even so, not everyone would honour the courtesy for lack of time or adequate consultation; the solicitation came from a source(s) they had issues with or didn’t want to associate with.
Yet, the absence of such powerful political levers shouldn’t rob the meeting of its significance, as the first concrete step taken in the South-East’s tortuous journey to the presidential seat of Nigeria.
The meeting was a mustard seed sowed at the nick of time: the coming of a new executive of Ohanaeze, which thus has its work cut out for it to ensure a coordinated effort of the South-East towards attaining the presidency in 2023.
Though not at the Abia meeting, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State crowed about the session vindicating his position that the South-East politicians should close ranks for the presidency.
Umahi, a former Ebonyi chapter chairman and deputy governor, decamped to the APC in November 2020, on the premise that the PDP, which had “used and dumped mthe South-East,” wasn’t prepared to cede its presidential slot to the zone in 2023.
The governor’s spokesperson, Francis Nwaze, in a statement, said Umahi had been vindicated by the prominent Igbo leaders’s communiqué that urged all political parties to zone their 2023 presidential tickets to the South-East.
“His (Umahi) joining the APC has sent a strong message that the South-East zone can no longer be taken for a ride and that the zone was ready and willing, more than ever, to take its destiny in its hands in the nation’s polity,” Mr Nwaze said.
“The reason for the bold step was due to the age-long neglect of the South-East zone by the PDP despite the fact that one of its foremost founding members, His Excellency, the former Vice-President of Nigeria, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, was from the zone.
“But despite supporting other regions to take their shots at the number one plum job in the federation, the zone has always been relegated to the background when it comes to consideration for the presidential slot.”
Mr Nwaze said the neglect of the South-East “needed a leader of uncommon courage and dexterity” like Governor Umahi, “to send a signal to the nation’s power oligarchy that the zone was no longer at ease with their perennial marginalisation.”
He said Umahi, “being a staunch nationalist,” didn’t consider his personal and family gains to dump the PDP and offer himself as a “sacrificial lamb that the Igbo will be liberated from the shackles of underdevelopment and political relegation.”
The die is cast, and it’s left for the South-East to be united for the common cause of the presidency, as advised by the ruling APC through its Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena.
Mr Nabena told SaharaReporters that until they build unity and trust, the South-East politicians “should not impose their presidential ambition on other regions,” referring to the litigation that preceded the Ohanaeze Ndigbo election, “taking one another to court, and now, you are looking for the presidency.
“No! You must first trust yourself before you ask people to trust you,” Nabena said. “And you must build an alliance… You cannot force people to do things. You must do something for yourself. Let them come together and be in unity. Let them agree for once.
“You cannot force political parties to endorse your region. You need to create that avenue for yourself first for them to trust you. It is after that, that other regions can trust you with power. They need to, at least for once, come together and agree and be in unity.”
A timely adjunct to the steps taken by the South-East political leaders, who should maximise the potentials of Ohanaeze, to which the APC has restated its determination to further mainstream the Southeast “in the workings of the party.”