HAVEN’T I BEEN SAYING THIS IN THE PAST? – Igbo Delegates and the future of Zoning: No other group did more damage to the idea of zoning than the 80 out of 95 Igbo delegates to the last People’s Democratic Party (PDP) convention, who cast their votes against Igbo aspirants. The 80 delegates and their sponsors, in a tragic display of lack of group consciousness and primacy of personal interest, sent the country a clear and loud message: zoning is not an issue dear to Ndigbo. Igbo PDP delegates told Nigerians that a President from the Southeast is not a priority and not an issue of justice and fairness. The country heard them.
Two years ago, I approached Gov. Peter Obi, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, and Sen. Pius Anyim and spoke on the phone with Gov. Dave Umahi with a single message – run for the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Gov. Peter Obi, at two meetings, told me he would not like to run against Atiku Abubakar and would consider a run if the party zoned the presidency to the Southeast. Sen Ekweremadu expressed his preference for the Governorship of Enugu State. Sen Anyim said he was watching the terrain, especially the zoning arrangement and would feed me back. Gov. Umahi was non-committal. I continued the engagement as I believed that these men had sufficient name recognition and networks that would aid a competitive run.
As time progressed, I started the campaign on zoning, calling on the country to respect a national agreement and convention. The campaign gathered steam as I traversed TV stations, online media, and radio stations, pushing the logic and rationale for zoning. I was a member of the PDP zoning committee for Party Offices and used the platform to argue strongly for zoning the Chairmanship to the North. We achieved it, but fell into a trap. We agreed to defer the decision on zoning elective offices.
After the zoning of the Chairmanship to the North, Sen Anyim contacted me and confirmed that he would run. I was happy, and we went to work. I provided advice, went with him to solicit the support of some key stakeholders, and joined him in submitting his form at the PDP. When I read online that Gov. Peter Obi had declared, I reached out to him and provided him with some data about his standing across the regions from an opinion poll. I kept reaching out to him. Mazi Sam Ohiabunwa visited with me, and we discussed at length. I encouraged Sen. Anyim to convene the meeting of Igbo Aspirants to create a platform that will ultimately help produce a consensus Igbo candidate.
Throughout the Primary campaigns, I did not visit or attend any campaign event of Alhaji Atiku, Dr Saraki, Gov. Tambuwal or Gov Bala save for when they came to speak to the Former Ministers Forum. On principle and at personal pain, I stayed away from people who had continually shown me friendship because I believe that our nation must be built on foundations of justice and equity.
Two nights before the Primaries, I joined an online meeting of select Igbo leaders. I passionately pleaded with them to endorse Sen. Anyim or Sam Ohuabunwa and make it public while reaching out to the Igbo PDP Governors and delegates to vote in one direction as a message to the country that Ndigbo are serious about zoning and fairness.
Vice President Atiku scored 371 votes which is three times more than the Northeast votes at 112 votes and more than 298 the combined votes of the Northeast and Northwest. Gov. Wike scored 237, which was almost twice the vote from the South-South. Saraki’s 70 votes indicate a strength beyond Kwara state, the same for Gov. Udom’s 38 votes.
Sen Anyim got 14 votes 13 clearly came from Ebonyi, and Sam Ohuabunwa got one vote. Fifteen votes from 95 delegates? The Igbo zone had no strategic interest in this election? No strategic objective? I feel bad. I feel humiliated not against Nigeria but against a group that could not come together in a rare moment of group consciousness to make a statement. Sad.
Nobody in the country thought the Igbo quest for Presidency was serious by the voting pattern at the convention. None of the Igbo candidates could win a vote from outside Igboland. Last year when I lamented about the absence of a show of strength by Igbo presidential aspirants at the PDP convention, many took offence. Many Ndigbo disagreed with me when I said that the three most influential politicians in Nigeria were Goodluck Jonathan, Yemi Osinbajo and Atiku Abubakar. The evidence is playing out.
One can only become President of Nigeria through a national platform. President Buhari learnt that lesson and built a national coalition in 2015. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mallam Aminu Kano, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim all experienced it and tried to form a Progressive national alliance.
In 1979, the National Party of Nigeria, a national platform, delivered a largely unknown Alhaji Shehu Shagari as President. Similarly, in 1993, the Social Democratic Party, a national platform, delivered Chief MKO Abiola. Furthermore, in 1999, the People’s Democratic Party a national platform produced Chief Obasanjo despite lacking support from his region. The same portends for Dr Goodluck Jonathan, from the smallest state in Nigeria. No politician will be elected President in Nigeria without a national platform. PDP is in danger of its national platform suffering serious erosion with Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwankwanso on the ballot. Who will profit from this erosion? I will deal with that soon.
From the ashes of this painful PDP outing, Ndigbo needs to rise and re-engage the country more positively. This effort must start with a focus on electing credible and vocal Igbo Governors in 2023. Anambra did well. The other four states must do likewise. The lack of leadership in Igboland is disturbing and could lead to grave and lasting consequences in our homeland.
To the country, I ask that this should not be a triumphalism moment. An emasculated Igbo political elite is a recipe for the continued growth of anti-nationalist and nativist politics amongst young Igbos, who view the political class as treacherous and devoid of redeeming features. The further spread of this brand of politics across the South is not in the interest of the Nigerian state. The country’s main political parties, APC and PDP should clearly state their zoning arrangement for subsequent elections and stick to it. Pushing the country back to ethnic parties or politics of winner-takes-all will lead to predictable outcomes that will not augur well for our march to nationhood.
Will Alhaji Atiku Abubakar keep his promise of a single term and consider rebuilding the PDP platform by aligning with Peter Obi and Kwankwaso? In 1999, Alliance for Democracy and All Peoples Party presented a President and Vice from the two parties. A loss of Igbo votes and a weak outing in the Kano/Jigawa axis will deal a major blow to the traditional PDP base. The reality is that the southeast will need the traditional PDP voting block to attain the Presidency. This is the time for brinkmanship, hard-nosed negotiations and political sagacity. Grandstanding will not help.
As for the APC, I pray they will find one of our Igbo sons worthy of their nomination. An action that will widen their base in the south. The country needs to confront its demons. The Igbo political class should stop sending mixed signals to the country, it is confusing.