Igbos are one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria. Knowing their exact number is a herculean task. Nevertheless, they are in millions. South Eastern Nigeria is widely considered their ancestral home. However, they are present in large numbers in almost all the states of South-South and some parts of central Nigeria. Incidentally, Igbos are the only ethnic group that can be found not only in all nooks and crannies of Nigeria but in other countries as well.
Their ancestral home was part of the southern enclaves that the representative of the British imperialists amalgamated with northern protectorate in 1914 and named Nigeria. Prior to the lowering of the Union Jack in October 1960, their land was called Eastern Nigeria with its headquarters in Enugu. The administrative headquarters decapitated when the junta of Gen. Yakubu Jack Gowon balkanized the three regions to twelve states in 1967.
Before Independence in 1960 and in the First Republic (1960-1966), NCNC of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik of Africa) was the dominant political party in South East, thereby making it the ruling party in the region. In the Second Republic (1979-1983), NPP an offshoot of Zik’s NCNC captured states of the former Eastern region. It was the 1983 unprecedented electoral tsunami that gave the then ruling party (NPN) some ventilating space in south east.
In the First and Second Republics (1960-1966 and 1979-1983), political juggernauts of South East forged political alliances with dominant northern Nigeria political parties (NPC and NPN). The fraternity led to ceding the position of the Ceremonial President to Dr. Zik in the First Republic and some political offices in the Second Republic.
Incidentally or accidentally no Igbo man or woman has been democratically elected as president since the sacking of our colonial masters in 1960. The January 1966 military misadventure and accident of history gave one of them, Gen. John Thomas Ironsi a six months stint. The period was hyperactively characterised with political turbulence that peaked with his ouster and mysterious disappearance in July of 1966. Events that engineered his emergence and dethroning culminated with a three years civil war (1967-1970). The Biafran war is about the only war that no narration of its major actor corroborated that of each other.
Before this Republic that took-off in 1999, the two Southern protectorates that were forced into an unsolicited political matrimony in 1914 with the north have been crying of political marginalisation and domination by the north. And struggled at different times to break what they perceived as internal political subjugation by the north. A confluence of threatening variables made the north to surrender power to the south (South West) in 1999.
Shifting power to a Yoruba man of South West Chief Olusegun Mathew Obasanjo was generally suspected to be an appeasement for the annulment of JUNE 12 presidential election by the junta of Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB). Chief Dr. Obasanjo spent eight straight years on the saddle (1999-2007). After the expiration of his constitutionally permissible terms limit, power shifted to the north (2007-2010),went back to south-south (2010-2015), and back to the north since 2015 to date.
Under the country’s unofficial power sharing arrangement that commenced in this Republic in 1999, power is expected to cross river Niger (southward) at the expiration of president Mohammadu or Mohamed Buhari’s tenure in 2023. On the strength of that unwritten order, the south easterners are making a case for an Igbo president in 2023. Their demand for the numero un (No1) political seat in the country is morally and politically germane and quite timely.
The principle of appeasement that masterminded surrendering of power to Yorubas in 1999 should be extended to the Igbos. For south west, it was JUNE 12 annulment that instigated the ceding of power to south west. That of Igbos should premise on protracted and conscious policies of exclusion from levers of power because of the civil war of 1967-1970. And other reasons pundits are struggling to comprehend.
Igbos are about the only ethnic group genuinely, passionately and patriotically constructing social and economic bridges in Nigeria. They are all over the country providing services and producing goods that are powering our economy in a big way. Their contribution to growth and development is arguably unmatchable with any ethnic group in Nigeria.
Cities like Aba,Umuahia and Onisha are competing in production of goods with cities in China, India, South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan. In some cases, items manufactured in Igbo land are of higher quality than the ones produced in Asian countries. Their capacity to provide local solutions to some technologically advanced inventions is mesmerizing and beyond our imagination.
Igbos have a thick diaspora population that its annual remittances to their home communities is higher than any ethnic group in the country. One can state without fear of contradiction that finances coming from them is often bigger than grants from foreign governments and international financial lending bodies. Like the home based Igbos, their diaspora brothers and sisters have businesses and investments doing quite well. They are key players in various professional endeavours in some of the world’s best institutions. They are breaking world’s records and winning laurels in all fields of life.
There is no law barring hunters of power from the north or south west from throwing their hats into the 2023 presidential ring. However, I admonish them to situate their legally premised ambitions on salient messages embedded in the FOUR WAY TEST of rotary international:
Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
History is littered with instances that legitimate rights bowed to political expediency. The 1999 unanimous decision to shift power to South West is an example of how legal rights were suppressed by political factors. Had the north damned the hue and cry of power shift in 1999 and put forward a consensus candidate, the South west wouldn’t have gotten the seat. This is not because the north have any special skill of the power game. It is because of its structural advantages and the so-called numerical strength. The political class of the north used the military and widened the gap of political structures between the north and the south. For example, the north has three geo political zones and the two former regions of the south that existed before the introduction of the states in 1967 have three. Worse, there is a region in the south that has the least collection states in Nigeria. This structural imbalances has made it practically impossible to win a presidential election without the backing of the north.
In nations building, compromise has always been essential and desirable ingredient in crucial moments. In my opinion, 2023 is one of such critical moments that we must collectively subject our individual or regional sentiments to a broader national interest. That interest is,making the Igbos feel; they too, are co-partners in the project Nigeria.
Conceding the presidency to them will sink deeper pillars of unity, peace and progress in the land. It will also squash the notion that Igbos are being punished because of the civil war they officially declared and suffered irreparable setback.
If the north deploy its numerical strength and other structural advantages and hang on to power beyond 29th May 2023, that will be tantamount to political gluttonism and insensitivity. Paradventure power moves to South West (once more), the tale of a north/ south-west gang-up against the Igbos will have millions of believers. And any of these options will infest the political body and soul of the nation with lethal diseases.
Nigeria can only achieve laudable dreams of its founding fathers, if every part feels it has equal stakes in the project. Accepting this incontrovertible reality is the safest and surest way to stability, unity, progress, development, and corporate existence of the nation.
Ungwan Romi Kaduna