By Anayo Okoli, Dennis Agbo, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Chinonso Alozie, Chinedu Adonu, Ikechukwu Odu, Peter Okutu & Ugochukwu Alaribe
LAST week, some leading Igbo politicians, including members of the national and state Assemblies, ministers and other stakeholders, met at Igbere, Abia State, to chart the way forward to realize the much clamoured 2023 Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. The meeting was well attended. While the meeting was on in Igbere at the country home of Senate Chief Whip, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, the South East governors met virtually and disassociated themselves from the meeting.
Discordant voices for the much desired Igbo project?
A communiqué issued at the meeting and signed by Senators Orji Uzor Kalu, Ike Ekweremadu, Anyim Pius Anyim, and others, at the end of a bipartisan meeting, said the Presidency has rotated between Northern and Southern Nigeria and among the various geopolitical zones with only the South East left out. They said the South East as a major geopolitical zone in Nigeria and Ndigbo, being one of the three predominant tribes in the country; they must take their rightful position in national polity.
“The Presidency has rotated between Northern and Southern Nigeria and among the various geopolitical zones. The South West and South South geopolitical zones in the southern part of the country have produced the President of Nigeria in the persons of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Hence, as power is expected to rotate to the South in 2023, the South East is the only zone in the South that is yet to produce a President of Nigeria in the current democratic dispensation.
“With the support of other geopolitical zones and ethnic groups, the position of Nigerian President in the 2023 general elections in all political parties should be zoned to the South East for the sake of justice, fairness and equity. The South East zone is united and indivisible in advancing the cause of the region and Ndigbo,” part of the communiqué said.
Others at the meeting were Rep. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, Rep. Toby Okechukwu, Deputy Chief Whip and Deputy Minority Leader of the House of Representatives; Sen. Michael Nnachi from Ebonyi, one-time Minister of State for Environment, Housing and Urban Development, Mr. Chuka Odom, former Speakers of Abia House of Assembly, Chief Stanley Ohajuruka and Mr. Chikwendu Kalu, and former National Chairman of the United Progressives Party, Chief Chekwas Okorie, amongst others.
In an opening remark, the convener of the meeting, Kalu said the gathering was intended to unite all the prominent politicians from the zone and ensure the unity of purpose among them for the emergence of Nigeria’s next president from the zone. He said the meeting would 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.”
However, the South East governors rose from their virtual meeting and disassociated themselves from the Igbere meeting and its outcome, saying, ”If there should be such a meeting which they feel is very necessary, the governors must be informed and be part and parcel of calling such a meeting.”
Chairman of the Southeast Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi stated this during a virtual meeting with other Governors of the region.
According to Umahi: “Today, January 5, 2021, the South East governors had their meeting and all the governors were in attendance and the meeting resolved as follows:
“There was a bi-partisan meeting called today and the initiator went ahead to use the names of governors without consulting them as part of the conveners of such a meeting.
“The governors of South East frown at such attitude and would want to disassociate themselves from such a meeting. If there should be such a meeting, which they feel is very necessary, the governors must be informed and be part and parcel of calling such a meeting. They strongly feel that Ohanaeze is in a better position to speak on such issues. So, they (South East governors) want to say that the governors are not involved and they encouraged all their people to boycott such a meeting.”
Reacting to the stand of the governors, the Director of Media and Publicity of the elite Igbo group, Alaigbo Development Foundation, ADF, Chief Abi Onyike dismissed them, saying they are playing games and always want to be seen to be very important and at the top.
“The South-East governors are always playing games because Ndigbo are pampering them. They have been disobeying Igbo collective decisions with recalcitrance. That cannot happen in the South-West. The Igbo political mentality is very problematic.
“When Ohanaeze decides, South East governors will do as they wish. In Yoruba land, the decision was to set up Amotekun and the governors followed suit. But in Igboland you will see a governor disobeying Igbo collective decision with impunity and they are always allowed to get away with it.
“The Igbo governors are not responsible. They decided to avoid the Igbere meeting because some of them who have presidential ambition are afraid of being swallowed by Ojri Uzor Kalu and others. They always want to be on top. They have no respect for other Igbos who had held offices before them such as Orji Uzor Kalu, Ogbonnaya Onu or Anyim Pius Anyim or Peter Obi. They want to use incumbency power to impose themselves on the people even when they know nothing.”
The Chairman of leading rights and rule of law organization, Intersociety, Comrade Emeka Umeagbalasi said: “There are certain things we don’t like commenting on. Who are these ‘leading Igbo politicians’ and who made them ‘leading’ or ‘prominent’?
“We must begin to say no and dissociate ourselves from this assemblage of Igbo woes that have continued to use ‘Igbo’ to advance their selfish political and economic interests. These are nothing but unserious people and Igbo of the old, the nobles would rather be starved to death than to be fed with cursed foods from their households.”
However, a legal luminary, Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN, lauded the South-East governors for dissociating themselves from the Igbere meeting. He maintained though that the discordant voices would not affect the project of Nigerian Presidency of Igbo extraction. According to him, other regions are faced with same challenges. It was his view that they should wait for 2022 when political parties will begin their nominations.
“There is no discordant voice; they are pack of persons manifesting irresponsibility. I want to repeat, it is an act of irresponsibility and I am happy that our governors dissociated themselves from that. I want to also dissociate myself from it. Why should it affect Igbo Presidency project, are the others speaking in one voice. Are there no voices against Atiku Abubakar, are there no voices against Bola Tinubu.
“Why should our own be different; we should stop identifying ourselves. We should wait when political parties call for nominations of their political parties and that will be in 2022,” the senior lawyer said.
Former governor of Enugu State, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo said despite misunderstanding which he blamed on possible breach of protocol, “we are on the same page” in pursuit the Presidency of Igbo extraction project.
Nwodo, a former National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, said the disagreement between the South East politicians who met at Igbere and the governors of the zone was a protocol issue which cannot affect the presidential ambition of the zone in 2023.
Nwodo, who also disclosed that he received a WhatsApp invitation to the meeting which was equally extended to the governors, ministers and National Assembly members, both current and former from the zone, observed that it could be that the governors were not personally invited and carried along with the plans of the meeting by the conveners.
While saying that the disagreement wouldn’t affect the 2023 presidential ambition of the zone, he added that the governors, ministers and National Assembly members, including religious leaders, traditional rulers and youth representatives recently met at the Government House, Enugu, where they resolved among other things, that South East should be given the presidential slot in 2023. He said that the demands were made to the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, who led a presidential delegation to the Government House.
“The South East governors cannot meet with all the leaderships in this zone and agree that presidential slot should be given to an Igboman in 2023 and decide otherwise. They cannot probate and approbate at the same time. All of us are talking about the Igbo presidency in 2023,” he said.
For a former President General of Onitsha Markets Amalgamated Traders Association, OMATA, Chief Ozoh Anaekwe, it is only a meeting called by elder statesman, Chief Mbazulike Amechi will be accepted as the genuine forum to discuss the fate of the Igbo in 2023.
Though he commended the governors for shunning the Igbere meeting but quickly added that his support for their not attending the meeting is not an indication that he trusts the governors either.
He said the South East governors and Senator Orji Uzor Kalu who convened the meeting are birds of the same feathers in the alleged betrayal of Ndigbo and working against their interests.
“The only meeting that will be called and will be regarded as credible, honest and for the interest of Ndigbo, is one that will be called by foremost Igbo leader and elder statesman, Chief Mbazulike Amechi, with the help of the most respected Igbo traditional ruler, Catholic, Anglican and Pentecostal Bishops from Igbo land. Any other meeting called by or presided by any politician or South East governor or called by South East Governors Forum will not be accepted. It will be rejected by the people because they cannot be trusted.”
Chief Anaekwe, said majority of Igbo people have no trust and confidence in either Senator Orji Uzor Kalu or South East governors, as according to him, “they have all been known as those who dance to the tunes of those who are working against the interest of Ndigbo, and also work to please the interest of the Presidency against the wishes of Ndigbo.
“Orji Uzor Kalu and the South East governors are known for their alleged countless betrayals and working against Igbo interests. Yes, I support the governors for rejecting the meeting because they were elected by their respective states, but Orji Uzor Kalu was elected by his senatorial zone and should be speaking for his senatorial Zone and not Ndigbo. But that support is not a vote of confidence and trust for the governors because they are not better.
“My support for the governors’ rejection of the meeting is however, not an indication that I have confidence in them, no, they, the South East governors cannot also be trusted because they are birds of the same feathers; they cannot also be trusted because they are equally known for working against Igbo interest, they should therefore keep quiet when it comes to things concerning the interest of Ndigbo.”
Any meeting that Chief Mbazulike Amechi should preside over with the help of the most respected Igbo traditional rulers, Catholic, Anglican and Pentecostal bishops, should have five people each from local government councils in South East and Igbo speaking people of South South in attendance, because we are talking about Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. That is the kind of meeting Ndigbo will accept.”
Also, the President of Igbo National Council, INC, Chilos Godsent hailed the governors for distancing themselves from the meeting. But he noted that the political trend of not speaking with one voice could affect the Igbo political agenda, stressing the need for Igbo politicians to have control over their territory before they could win an election.
According to him, “those people who held that meeting were political associates. They are not speaking for the Igbo. It was not convened by any known Igbo leader. We have said it that this type of attitude would affect the Igbo political agenda because when you want to be President you must be in control of your territory. We are waiting, after the election of Ohanaeze leaders; we can cope from there and know we are responding to issues.
“We will ignore that Igbere meeting because it is for Orji Uzor Kalu and his political associates, you don’t need to make them relevant since the governors have dissociated themselves from it, it is the right thing they did. We need to guide ourselves because we do not need to go into petty things”.
However, the Coalition of South East Youth Leaders, COSEYL, says the Igbere meeting was a very welcome development, saying that it shows that Ndigbo can work as a team irrespective of their political parties.
“Truly, it has been a long time Ndigbo gathered together in such a magnitude to discuss serious political matters concerning the Igbo race. We commend the organizers of such great move and we urge them to keep it up. That meeting would enable Ndigbo to speak with one voice as a people which is what we need to achieve a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction come 2023.
“The Igbere meeting is a pointer to the fact that Nigerian President of Igbo extraction is visible come 2023. Ndigbo displayed political maturity by that all important meeting. We are very delighted that at last Ndigbo are back on track to take what is rightfully theirs, which is office of the president come 2020,” the group’s President General Goodluck Ibem said.
And for a political analyst, Chukwuemeka Ugwuoke, Ndigbo would achieve their ambition of producing the next President of Nigeria if they unite and speak with one voice.
Ugwuoke, a stakeholder of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, in Enugu State, did not support the South East governors for dissociating themselves from the Igbere meeting.
He expressed dissatisfaction over the political self interest exhibited by the South East governors and other political leaders, pointing out that Ndigbo would not achieve success if they failed to unite now.
“It is unfortunate that South-East governors disassociated themselves from Igbere meeting. This shouldn’t have been their action because this is one of avenue they should use to discuss the common political interest of the Igbos.
“Though their action is still the essence of politics; selfish interest, as we know that majority of the South East governors have interest against 2023 either to be party flag bearer or running mate of the two major political parties in Nigeria.
“They should have attended the meeting so as to offer their advice/suggestion since we are all clamoring for Nigerian President of Igbo extraction in 2023. Their action must have been because of the venue of the meeting, as we all know that the venue speaks volume as Igbere is the home town of one of the Igbo political gladiators who seems to be favorite of one of the two major political parties, should it zone her candidacy to South East.
“But even at that, they shouldn’t have boycotted the meeting as that meeting cannot produce final resolution on who becomes Igbo candidate should any of the two major political parties zone the Presidency to South East.
“So the earlier we put our house in order the better for us because 2023 will provide a unique opportunity to South East in socio-political history of Nigeria. This is the time our Igbo leaders have to come together to form a formidable front to prove to the nation and the world that we are really the primus inter paris by producing the best candidate should the opportunity come 2023,” he said.
In his view, a Pan-Igbo nationalist and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Chief Chekwas Okorie, said that the distancing of the South East governors and the APC chairmen in South East from the Igbere meeting was an overreaction in a harmless congregation of a common Igbo political agenda. He also said it was possible the suspicion of the governors and the APC chairman in the zone was fueled by lack of adequate consultation and venue of the meeting.
Chekwas said: “There is nothing serious really; I saw the advert on the national papers that morning before I left for Igbere. Well, let me tell you that the meeting was unprecedented. There has never been a time in the political history of the Igbo people that political leaders gathered across party lines and made resolutions in the interest of the Igbo. This is the first time it was happening in our history.
“There is no doubt that the notice of the meeting was a beat short, and the conveners were quite many, practically the leaders of the PDP and the APC in the south east. It would appear there were not adequate consultations with the state governors because if you check, on that very day the governors had a zoom meeting where they took decisions as usual in favour of the south east. If the consultation was adequate, perhaps, the two dates would not have clashed.
“But I must tell you, the statement from the APC chairmen in the South East was an overreaction; they said they were not aware of the agenda of the meeting, but not being aware of the agenda of the meeting would not have necessitated such panicky action and unfortunately, there is this problem of not separating the message from the messenger.
“There is a possibility that because some people around former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu have been drumming up his aspiration to run for President, it is possible that some people may have thought that what was being convened was a subtle way of promoting the presidential ambition of the host.
“To me, the meeting was not only a success, but a milestone. Even though the issue of boycott was not discussed, it is a movement that there will be subsequent meetings and in the subsequent ones those who felt left out will be adequately consulted. We can only improve on the success and it can never be scuttled.
“The communiqué clearly gave the agenda of the meeting, that those who attended the meeting are asking the two major political parties, the APC and PDP to zone their presidential ticket to the south east.
“Another resolution of interest was that any political party that gives an Igboman its presidential nomination for 2023; that every other person will work towards its victory. This type of solidarity has never existed among the Igbo political leaders and it should be encouraged.”
For the chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Onicha Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, Mr. Okoro Agwu Uchenna Igbo leaders must change their approach politically, if they really want to actualize Igbo Presidency in 2023. “It is unfortunate that by now Igbos are not speaking with one voice. If they really want presidency, is high time we change our approach,” he lamented.
Chief Jerry Obasi, a chieftain of All Progressives Congress in Ebonyi State, for the South-East zone to produce a Nigerian president in 2023, political leaders from the zone must forget their political differences and unite in the interest of the zone. He, therefore, said that the Igbere meeting proved that South-East leaders have realized the huge task involved in producing a president of South-East extraction in 2023.
He described as a non-issue, the absence of the governors from the zone and called for more consultation among various stakeholders of the zone.
“It is good if South East political leaders can meet to discuss our challenges as it relates to the producing a Nigerian president in 2023. It is a welcome development. It means they are gradually appreciating the fact that we need to unite to tackle our problems.
”However, I am also worried about some people’s perception of the meeting. Such strategic meetings must be encouraged in Igbo land. The issue of the non-attendance of the South East governors should not be a cause of worry. Even if they were duly invited, there should be more consultation across all stakeholders in the zone.
”The governors occupy strategic positions as the chief executive officers of their states in Igbo land and would play their roles in the Igbo presidency project. The absence of the governors at the meeting doesn’t mean that the South East leaders are not speaking in one accord. What I understand about the situation is that every group is working towards the same goal.”
He said, “I am yet to see any insurmountable challenge that can stop the South East zone from producing the president in 2023. Having known that we are barely tolerated by other geo political zone, we must tread carefully politically. The Igbo are practically waiting to produce a Nigerian president in 2023 to know if they truly belong to the country or whether to discontinue with the marriage. For Ndigbo, 2023 is a date with history.”