The political gathering that took place in Enugu, the capital of the old Eastern Nigeria Region on Monday, August 16th 2010 was foreshadowed by intrigues and ended almost inconclusively as no communiquÃ© was immediately issued. But the message from the promoters to the Nigerian polity was clear: the section of the Igbo political elite that put it together supports the election of Dr Goodluck Jonathan as the president of Nigeria in 2010.
But first, let us examine some of the intrigues. It all started when the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, got in touch with the oldest surviving nationalist of Igbo extraction, Chief Mbazulike Amechi, to help convene a summit of Igbo people to take a common stand in the controversy of which section of the country should produce the president of Nigeria in 2011.
Amechi left his Ukpo, Nnewi village and travelled to Abuja to rally the Igbo elite there. Abuja, and of course, Lagos, have become the favourite hiding places for the Igbo high and mighty and their prized relations, since violent armed robbersand kidnappers chased them out of the South East.
There, Amechi got in touch with the promoters of the South East Consultative Forum, which has as its chairman, Chief S. N. Okeke, the former Chairman of the Police Service Commission. It is not clear why he did not make a similar overture to Lagos-based Igbo leaders. However, Okekeâ€s group told Amechi that they would rather not attend, as Ekweremadu had always rebuffed all invitations to attend Igbo meetings.
They advised him to tarry a while till early September to allow for fuller consultations before a stand could be taken on the burning issue. Amechi ignored them and set the August 16th, 2010 date for the summit, whose principal organisers were the governorship candidate of the Accord Party in the flawed 2007 elections in Enugu State , Chief Ugochukwu Agballa and former All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) senatorial candidate for Anambra South in the 2007 election, Barrister Azuka Okwuosa.
As preparations went into high gear towards the summit, events also shift into the fast-forward mode. On Thursday, August 12th 2010 the National Executive Council meeting of the ruling Peopleâ€s Democratic Party (PDP) announced that Jonathan can contest for president in the coming elections. At the same time, they endorsed the retention of the zoning principle of the Party.
In other words, the race for the presidency was now open to all. In an incredible volte-face, Ekweremadu went to the media to announce the cancellation of the Igbo summit as, according to him, it was no longer necessary since the PDP had taken a position on the zoning controversy. Not a few Igbo leaders were incensed by Ekweremaduâ€s childish audacity to â€œâ€œcancelâ€â€ an Igbo summit simply because a political party took a decision. Those who were interested in the summit decided to press ahead with their preparations.
At about the same period, the S. N. Okeke group, made up of Senator Uche Chukwumerije, Chief Jim Nwobodo, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Dr Tim Menakaya, Senator Ken Nnamani, retired AVM Canice Umenwaliri, Professor ABC Nwosu, and a host of others, suddenly announced that they had met with ranking northern leaders and agreed that not only should the zoning formula maintained since it was part of the Igbo strategic agenda for over twenty years, it should also lead to the shift of power back to the north for only one term while the Igbo should produce the president in 2015.
This group of Igbo leaders were obviously overriding the former decision of the South East Governors Forum that Igbo people would not contest the presidency in 2011 and would not present any candidate for vice presidency. Top northern political leaders and presidential aspirants, especially former military president, Ibrahim Babangida and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, had, in their talks with these Igbo leaders, promised to run for only one term with Igbo running mates. Some reasoned that Ekweremaduâ€s volte-face probably came as a result of being one of those that the northern presidential hopefuls were eyeing for vice president.
Meanwhile, the Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo had their special meeting of elders in Enugu between Saturday, August 14th and Sunday, August 15th 2010 . Dr Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, one of the campaigners for Jonathanâ€s presidency, had seized that occasion to canvass for Igbo total support for Jonathan at the summit of the following day, but he was told that a decision would be taken at the appropriate time.
Undeterred, Iwuanyanwu appeared at the summit, where he made an impassioned speech (one of his best in a long time) canvassing the need for the Igbo to seize the opportunity of the moment to mend fences with their minority neighbours. Iwuanyanwu argued that there should be a united southern front since the north already had, for decades, a united front of the 19 northern states, which regularly meets to take common positions on national issues.
Also in his speech, Chief Amechi traced the history of the turbulent relations between the Igbo people and their minority cousins. He argued that since the Igbo were responsible for the parting of ways between the two sides in 1952 after the displacement of Professor Eyo Ita, who was poised to emerge as the first Premier of the defunct Eastern Region, the opportunity of helping Jonathan to become the president of Nigeria in 2011 should be seized by the Igbo people to close this chapter of acrimony and rancour.
He said the two sides had suffered enough as a result of the parting of ways, and the only way they can claim their places in the Nigerian political system was to come together, with the Igbo taking the initiative through helping Jonathan to win next yearâ€s election. Amechi also cautioned those who were falling for Babangida and Atikuâ€s promise of running for only one term, arguing that the North was fond of breaking up such agreements through hook or crook.
He recalled that in 1979, there was a accord in the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) that after the North had produced the president of Nigeria for two terms the position would be zoned to the Igbo. But barely three months into President Shagariâ€s second tenure, when the count-down to the imminent emergence of his Deputy, Dr Alex Ekwueme as president in 1987, the north sponsored a coup that led to the retention of power in the region through the armed forces for another 15 years.
Among those who attended the summit were Chief Amechi, Dr Iwuanyanwu, Most Reverend Maxwell S. C. Anikwenwa, the Archbishop of the Province of the Niger , Church of Nigeria (the Anglican Communion), Dr Offia Nwali. Interestingly, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezife, who had only a week earlier, endorsed zoning and northern president, also attended the pro-Jonathan summit!
It was clear to all observers that the so-called Igbo summit was specifically put together to promote Jonathanâ€s undeclared presidential ambition. Perhaps, Ekweremadu had gambled that the PDP NEC meeting would dump zoning and clear the way for Jonathan alone. When it did not work out that way, he switched camp and joined those jostling for vice presidential slot to northern politicians. He only sent his personal assistant to the summit.
Also, the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, sent a representative. Of all the governors of the South East, only Chief Martin Elechi of Ebonyi sent one of his commissioners to represent him. Also, Ikemba Nnewi, the Amuma na egbe igwe of Igboland, sent his son, Emeka Ojukwu Jnr, to represent him. He is an enthusiast of the Jonathan presidential project. The Cinema Hall of the decrepit Hotel Presidential was filled to overflowing, but the high table was thin of notable personalities.
And earlier on Sunday, August 15th 2010 the South East Governorsâ€ Forum was scheduled to meet at the Lion Building , Government House of Enugu State usual venue. But only Mr Peter Obi of Anambra State and Elechi of Ebonyi joined host, Sullivan Chime. The governor of Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim, sent his Deputy, Dr Ada Okwuonu, who left only a few minutes after she arrived. The governor of Abia State, Theodore Orji, did not attend and sent no rep or word.
In other words, even the governors of the South East were not part of the summit, and in fact, could not muster enough participation in their own meeting to take a stand. Obi said another meeting had been fixed for early September. Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo has also made it clear that the pro-Jonathan stand taken by the summitâ€s organisers was a partisan viewpoint of a political group, not that of Ndi Igbo, who were yet to decide.
Questions trail both the pro-North and pro-Jonathan groupsâ€ positions. Doubts were raised as to the credibility of northern politiciansâ€ promise to run for only one term and hand over to an Igbo in 2015, in the face of past experiences. Besides, if anybody is elected president in 2011, what can any pact do to deter him from running for a constitutionally guaranteed second term?
Those who are promoting a South-East South-South reconciliation and Jonathan presidency also have to ponder whether their support means anything to the beneficiary. Has he or his ethnic leaders, who have established a very hostile track record towards the Igbo and everything remotely Igbo (as in their opposition to Dr Peter Odiliâ€s presidential ambition in 2007 because he â€œâ€œwas Igboâ€â€, according to Chief Edwin Clark) come forward to ask for Igbo support?