By Ochereome Nnanna
EITHER due to mischief or naiveté, some prominent Igbos are trumpeting their support for the election of Goodluck Jonathan as the President of Nigeria in 2011 while calling for the ceding of the Presidency to an Igbo person in 2015.
They want to eat their cake and have it, and this is impossible. When you eat your cake you’ve eaten it. When it comes out from the other end a day later you won’t like to eat it!
Shortly after Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was elevated to President of Nigeria on Thursday, May 6, 2010, a new debate opened as to whether he should simply complete the rest of the four years he started with the late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007, or run for president in 2011.
Whichever decision he took carried important implications for the power rotation and zoning mechanism of the ruling party and also the nation at large. If he merely completed the term he started with Yar’ Adua and stepped down, the presidency would be re-zoned to the North.
In that case, the Vice President would come from the South East, paving the way for the emergence of an Igbo person as the President of Nigeria in 2015 or 2019. If, on the other hand, he shoved aside his ruling Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP’s) zoning arrangement, he would run for president, with bright chances of becoming the first Nigerian of South-South extraction to be elected president of Nigeria.
As one of the major ethnic groups of Nigeria which shouldered the burden of the civil war as failed secessionists, the Igbo people have been struggling to return to the centre-stage of the Nigerian political affairs. Many believed (and still do) that being allowed to produce the President of Nigeria would certify this, just as the South West was allowed to produce the president as a reparation for the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential poll.
The Igbo people were, therefore, left with the options of either supporting Jonathan to run for president in 2011 or concede the presidency to a Northerner to ensure a quicker actualisation of “Igbo Presidency” agenda. The Igbo political elite were torn between the two options.
The Igbo Political Forum (IPF) led by Chief Simeon Okeke, went for the zoning of the presidency to the North. Conversely, other Igbo leaders, including their apex socio-cultural organisation (Ohanaeze Ndigbo) and their five governors threw their weight behind the Jonathan presidential ambition.
Come January 13, 2011, the PDP’s delegates from all over the country gathered at the Eagle Square, Abuja, to decide between Jonathan and the Northern “consensus” candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. At the end, Jonathan scored a landslide victory with 2,736 votes compared with Atiku’s 805 votes. The five states of the South East dumped 423 votes on Jonathan’s doorstep, while leaving only a paltry 23 in Atiku’s favour.
The figures said it all. Nigerians who were delegates of the PDP wanted Jonathan to be President in 2011. Nigerians of Igbo extraction who had the power to choose the party’s candidate were for Jonathan’s presidency in 2011. It is not clear whether the Igbo political leaders who made this pattern of voting possible actually sat down to consider the implications of their choice. For the South West, they were paying back what Nigeria gave them gratis for eight years.
For the South-South, they were supporting one of their own to get what their zone had never produced. For the North, it was a vote for nation-building. They knew that come 2015, Nigerians should be more favourably disposed to supporting a Northern president in the PDP.
But for the Igbo, the emergence of Jonathan means further postponement of their “turn” to provide leadership for this country. When Jonathan completes his tenure, it may be an odd and uphill task, to convince other Nigerians that the presidency should move South East from neighbouring South-South. The North may be better positioned to make a case. And because the North played a “national ball” in 2011, the nation may be more inclined to reciprocate in 2015.
It is usually a futile and frustrating effort to fight a national consensus of that nature. Those Igbo leaders, such as the President of Ohanaeze, Chief Ralph Uwechue and Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, who have already started drumming the “Igbo Presidency 2015” may hype their tribesmen into a needless hysteria after gamely ceding the ground to Jonathan just four years earlier.
For the decision they made in Eagle Square, the Igbo people have to be ready to pay the price. If Jonathan wins and the political offices of the PDP are zoned accordingly, the highest political position that will be due to the South East will be Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives and Deputy National Chairman (South) of the Party.
When that comes, they should take it “like a man” because they voted for it at Eagle Square. It should not break anyone’s heart because the South-South once found itself in this situation in 1999 to 2007 and they did not complain. Similarly, the North East has been in the same condition since 2007, and they did not lament. When the Igbo produce the president, it will be the turn of the South West to have the Deputy Speaker as the highest political officer from that zone.
The zoning formula is designed to lead to temporary rise and fall in the political fortunes of the geopolitical zones. We should not be worried by it, so long as our rights and dues are not trampled upon. The question before Igbo leaders (especially PDP governors of the South East) is: What did Jonathan offer in return for the sacrifice? Or, did they simply join the queue? If so, then they should be ready to pay even more severely for playing paper-brain politics.