Late Dr Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, GCON, was the first elected vice-president of Nigeria. He served from 1979 to 1983, under the platform of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Ekwueme jointly contested with Alhaji Shehu Shagari who, upon victory, became the first executive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Successive attempts after Ekwueme’s era have blatantly failed to yield the desired result, as no Igbo man has clinched either the president or vice president seat after 1983.
As preparations for 2019 elections begin to gather momentum, the South-east political leaders are indisputably enmeshed in a quagmire over what could form a consensus for Ndigbo. Should they negotiate for the vice- president position or wait till 2023 for the presidency? Is the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), willing to zone its vice- presidential slot to the South-east? Should Ndigbo support President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election bid to strategically position the South-east for 2023 presidency?
The geopolitical zone is undisputedly a stronghold of the PDP. The umbrella party no doubt controls three out of the five states in the zone, at the moment. While President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) are yet to register significant political in-roads in the zone since 2015 they assumed power, PDP, on the other hand, seems to have recognised and captured Ndigbo in its 2019 political calculations, hence the party plans to zone its vice-presidential position to South-east. Whether PDP’s anticipated vice-presidential ticket is capable of denying Ndigbo the 2023 presidency, as predicted by some apologists of APC and President Buhari, remains a conjecture the outcome of 2019 presidential election can potently prove right or otherwise.
This contentious issue has, indeed, polarised the zone: Igbo political leaders are now more confused and divided. Some retain the opinion that having waited for decades, Ndigbo should preferentially position themselves for 2023 presidency rather than opt for the 2019 vice-presidential ticket being dangled by the PDP. Others, on the other hand, argue that vice-president position would significantly bequeath political gains and advantage that will ambitiously position the zone towards clinching the much eluded presidency with less political constraints.
There are yet others who permute the 2019 outside the corridors of APC and PDP. Without dismissing the fact that the two parties have networked strong political structures that can democratically produce a president of Nigeria, the idea of building a strong coalition is equally being propounded as a way forward. This thought aligns expressly with a recent opinion canvassed by one Mr Churchill Okonkwo, who admonishes Igbo political leaders to opt for a ‘coalition’, rather than relying on APC and PDP in their quest for Igbo presidency.
His postulation: “To fly in 2019, Ndibgo can and should jettison PDP and APC. We should coalesce around an alternative political coalition; we should debate this on our various social media groups; we should project candidates on this new political platform. It is only then that the clarion call on our people to get their PVCs ready for the 2019 elections will be potent and progressive. That’s the only way to fulfill the need for a spontaneous rebirth of something new in the contemporary for our growth.”
Based on this assumption, Okonkwo equally took a swipe at both the APC and PDP, including some of their leaders from the South-east zone. He particularly branded APC as a party with ‘flawed’ leaders.
“The APC is a party of flawed actors, like Andy Uba, Orji Uzor Kalu, Rochas Okorocha, Arthur Eze and Tony Nwoye. These political actors have proven that they are incapable of delivering governance to our people. The only bait being dangled in our faces in an attempt to make the much-needed in-roads in Igboland is that Ndigbo will have the presidential slot in 2023 in APC, if they massively support Buhari in 2019. I am not buying into that, especially with Bola Tinubu lurking around and still nursing the ambition of becoming the Nigerian President someday,” he posited.
Also facing the PDP Okonkwo, again, declared: “In an attempt to get the vice-presidential position under PDP in the 2019 election, Senator Ekweremadu deprived Ndigbo of any meaningful position in the PDP national executive. At some point, Ekweremadu even sabotaged the PDP candidate in the Anambra State 2017 governorship election in order not to give Peter Obi an advantage in the jostling for the VP position. While Ekweremadu was buying houses across the world, Governor Wike outsmarted him and is cementing himself or his anointed stooge as a possible VP candidate in PDP. Ndigbo has, therefore, been clearly schemed out as an irrelevant component in a party they claim as their own.”
While Okonkwo’s allusion to political coalition may elicit reasonable applause in some quarters, his theoretical inconsistency with other political variables renders this assumption impotent and largely unachievable. Going by the rotational understanding observed by the northern and southern Nigeria, the 2019 presidency is literally zoned to the North. This explains why major political parties are already shopping for candidates from that political axis. Also, the voting capacity of the North and other demographic factors lopsidedly skew in favour of the region whenever the presidency of Nigeria is decided, without political understanding. This arguably suggests some measure of incapacitation, as the South faces unmatchable obstacles producing the president of Nigeria amid insufficient, but, workable political collaborations with the North.
Apparently hinging on the imperative of northern collaboration and political support, some political leaders and groups have cautioned Ndigbo against the vice-presidential ticket dangled by the PDP or any other political party. They uphold that a total support to President Muhammadu and APC in 2019 remains the surest route to the presidency in 2023.
Proponents of this permutation include Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu; Director-General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu; Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige and the south east zonal chapter of APC. Groups such as One Destiny Organisation (ODO) and Initiatives for Demonstrating Change (IDC) have also alluded to this permutation. Though Ohaneze Ndigbo under Chief John Nnia Nwodo’s leadership claims neutrality and non-partisan, its body language to a large extend aligns with APC and its permutation for 2023 Igbo presidency. This remarkably suggests an endorsement of APC as gateway and political platform for the actualisation of Igbo presidency.
Accusing the PDP and its leaders of marginalising Ndigbo for the period of 16 years it controlled power at the centre, Okorocha had described the vice-presidential ticket dangled around South-east zone by the party as one deceitfully packaged to hoodwink and further enslave Ndigbo in the politics of Nigeria.
The governor said: “The PDP never allowed the South-east to have the president, the vice-president, Senate president, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and so on. The South-east totally lost out in the PDP government.
“Even in terms of projects, the South-east had a very rough experience in the PDP government. All the federal roads in the zone were death traps until the party was voted out of power. The second Niger Bridge became endless pit for the PDP. Some oil locations belonging to some states in the zone were taken away and given to other states outside the zone. It was a hopeless situation for the zone under the PDP.
“They have begun to dangle or brandish the VP position before the zone because they desperately want power again. They also know that what the zone could not get from the PDP government, they could now get from the Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress government.
The fact is that the South-east would get its due from the APC administration, because the party believes in fair play, justice and equity. The PDP toyed with the fate of the South-east, which the APC cannot do. The good signs are everywhere. The South-east will be better under the APC government.
“Our interest is to develop the South-east, and the APC administration will do that for the zone. Anything due for the zone will be given to it because the level of greed in the PDP cannot be found in APC. The APC won’t wait until it is out of power before remembering the South-east or any other zone. That cannot be our portion.
“We are going to play visionary and group politics, which the PDP never allowed the South-east to play. A few individuals used the zone to load their political buses. We are going to play collective politics, in lieu of divisive politics.”
But when subjected to reality test, Okorocha’s message was found illogical, inconsistent and deceitful, hence his permutation and assumptions suggest a direct opposite of President Buhari’s ill-treatment and disregard for Ndigbo.
Is it possible and realistic that President Buhari will, in 2023, consider an Igbo man righteous enough and incorruptible to succeed him, bearing in mind that nobody from the zone is yet considered for a sensitive appointment? How possible is it that President Buhari and APC will consider an Igbo man for the coveted seat of President and Commander-in-Chief, whereas he is yet to consider any of them worthy as a security chief or head of paramilitary? How can President Buhari entrust the economy and our collective patrimony to an Igbo man that he is yet to deem worthy for strategic and decision-making roles? Is Okorocha, one of the most vocal and vociferous proponents of 2023 Igbo presidency and self-acclaimed leader of South-east APC, still finding his political bearings in the party and President Buhari’s administration? Is Okorocha presently relevant in today’s APC? Going by recent political developments in APC, are there guarantees that Okorocha will remain glued to the party to, among other things, press for the party’s 2023 presidential ticket for Ndigbo?
It is, however, pertinent to conclude that the disposition of Ndigbo to the vice-presidential ticket – which PDP may offer the South-east as well as consequential voting pattern for 2019 – will be largely determined and influenced by some critical factors. These include President Muhammadu Buhari’s overall treatment to Ndigbo. If the South-east must embrace President Buhari and APC in 2019 certain attitudes and treatment of Ndigbo must change. There is no need reiterating that the perception an average Igbo man harbours about the President and his ‘Change’ government can never influence, motivate, or guarantee confidence. It can’t also build trust and hope ahead of 2023 political project. An average Igbo man believes that Buhari and APC never captured the South-east in their political agenda. President Buhari’s actions and inactions equally seem to have stamped credence to this perception.
Amid palpable fears, insufficient confidence and eroded trust over President Buhari and APC, Ndigbo may accept the vice-presidential ticket which PDP is likely to offer the South-east zone. This implies that the South-east will naturally and again ignore APC and its 2023 Igbo presidency theory, and vote for PDP and its candidate in 2019.
•Uzoukwa, a seasoned journalist and PR practitioner, is currently pursuing his Doctorate Degree on Mass Communication in Imo State University (IMSU), Owerri.