BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, Deputy Political Editor
Tongue-tied Igbo leaders embark on consultations
IF current permutations are anything to go by, the South-East geo-political zone, which is considered as the country’s most socio-economic and politically marginalised area may not produce the President of Nigeria until 2027.
This is contrary to an alleged agreement between leaders of the zone and President Goodluck Jonathan that the South-East would produce the President in 2015.
The said agreement informed the block votes the region gave Jonathan at the 2011 polls. In consonance with the pact, the zone refused to vie for the positions of the president and vice president at the last election and threw its weight behind President Jonathan, who scored more than 95 per cent of valid votes cast in the South-East during the elections. South-Easterners in other parts of the country also toed the same line.
The move was also tailored to end mutual distrust and cement South-South and South-East relations following fissures and cracks created by the civil war of 1967-70.
Giving the thick and yet to be dispelled speculations that Jonathan will stand for a re-election in 2015, his endorsement by South-South leaders, vow by the North to reclaim the top seat, bold moves by the two camps to realise their quests and perceived unpreparedness on the part of the South-East, the Igbo-speaking zone may have to wait till 2027 to take its turn at Aso Rock.
According to permutations, the earliest time the South-East can get the presidency is 2023 if Jonathan did not run or 2027 if he ran.
How? If Jonathan quits or fails win rerun in 2015, power may move northwards and rotate to the South in 2023 after eight years. But if Jonathan runs and gets a second term of four years in 2015, he will quit in 2019.
Thereafter, power will rotate to the North for eight years and may move to the South in 2027 when the South-East will be in a vantage position to claim the slot because it would the only zone out of the three in the South remaining to produce the president.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the South-West was in-charge between 1999 and 2007 after ruling as military head of state, 20 years earlier. President Jonathan is from Bayelsa State in South-South zone.
Thus, the South-East can only render these permutations meaningless by getting its acts together, strategising and snatching power in 2015. Whether or not the zone can do these is to be seen.
Already, Jonathan’s kinsmen are pressuring him to run again contrary to his declaration that he would run for only one term and hand over in 2015.
At a gathering in Lagos last week, prominent Ijaw leaders and South_South elders such as National Security Adviser, General Andrew Azazi; Ijaw Leader Chief Edwin Clark; Niger Delta Volunteer Force Leader, Mujahid Asari Dokubo; Special adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Mr. Kingsley Kuku; Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Water Resources Dr. Godknows Igali; pioneer President of Ijaw Youth Council, Dr. Felix Tuodolo; oil magnate Mr. Dumo Briggs; NIMASA Director_General Mr. Ziakede Akpobolokemi; and ex_militant Ateke Tom, among others, reportedly expressed worry over Jonathan’s declaration in early 2011 that he would not re-contest.
Noting that there was a compelling need to get the president to change his stance so as not to mortgage the opportunity of the South-South to enjoy eight years presidency and given that “Jonathan is the only person in the South-South who could run and win the presidential election in 2015,” the leaders agreed that there was the need for all Niger Deltans to rally round Jonathan to ensure his re-election in 2015.
In the last couple of weeks, a host of South-southerners have been saying that Jonathan have the constitutional right to go for re-election and should do so irrespective of any pre-election agreement.
Indeed, a former president of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), the umbrella body of all Ijaws in Nigeria and in the Diaspora, Joshua Fumudoh, reportedly said it would said it would be against the principle of fairness, equity and natural justice not to allow the South-South to complete its eight years tenure, adding that Jonathan’s promise then to do one term was meant to douse tension in the land.
North talks tough, insists on 2015
However, the North, embittered that it lost two years of its first four-year tenure to the South-South following the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2009 and failed to stop Jonathan from being elected in line with the PDP zoning formula, is determined to fight for the presidency with all its might in 2015.
Two northern leaders, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai and Alhaji Lawal Kaita, picked holes in the South-South leaders’ stance and vowed that the North would oppose it.
Said Kaita, a former governor of old Kaduna State: “We hear rumours all over that Jonathan is planning to contest in 2015. Well, the North is going to be prepared if the country remains one. That is, if the country remains one, we are going to fight for it. If not, everybody can go his way.”
On his part, Yakasai said, “what brought about the endorsement of Jonathan at this material time when the man himself stated that he is not contesting in 2015 and has halted all talks regarding 2015?”
Igbo leaders consult
Contacted on the issue, Igbo and South-East leaders were not as forceful as their opponents. Most of them said they were still consulting and would come out with a collective position after the wide consultations.
However, Chief Chuba Egolum, a chieftain of the PDP said: “Politically speaking, I think it is only natural for the South-South to endorse a son of theirs for 2015. I am not quite sure I comprehend the permutation of 2027 as regards the South-East. Suffice it to say that what happens in 2015 or 2027 for that matter is more in the hands of God than in the hands of man.”
Relatedly, Senator Chris Ngige (Anambra Central, ACN), said the president promised to do a term and handover and had not said he was running, assuring that the South-East would respond appropriately when Jonathan makes his position known.
The President promised to do a term and had not said he was running. I heard him that he wants to run for one term, that was what he said. So, for now, I will hold him on to it. When 2015 comes we will know who and who will be alive. He has not said he has shifted from that former position. When he says it, we will then talk back to him. I think we better leave the issue for now. When we get to the bridge, we will cross it,” he said.
President of Igbo Youth Movement (IYM), Evang Elliot Uko concurred with the comments of Ngige. “This is not the time to ventilate personal opinions. South-East will consult widely before responding to the situation,” he averred.
Nevertheless, a veteran Igbo president candidate, who disclosed that he would begin his campaign for the top job next year, said there was no going back on South-East producing the president in three years time.
According to him, the pact between Jonathan and the South-East that the president would hand over to the South-East in 2015 must be respected. “Jonathan must abide by the agreement, there is no going back on the pact,” he asserted.
Last September, Senator Uche Chukwumerije representing Abia North Senatorial district, Abia State, warned that the Igbo aspiration to clinch the Presidential seat in 2015 was being threatened by activities of the Boko Haram sect, which he said was targeting same objective for the North.
“The issue of militancy in the Niger Delta has yielded them the Presidency. If you watch what is going on now, the illegal activities of a group called Boko Haram, a proper determination to win the second round of Presidential election in 2015, is again playing out itself. Igbo nation must produce the Presidency in 2015 and all hands must be on deck to achieve this noble task,” he had said.
Indeed, the race for the presidency over time appears to be won by the most violent group or one that can consistently make the country unstable. So far, the South-East has shown that it is more peace tolerant and less capable to hold the nation at her jugular.
It would be recalled that after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential polls presumably won by late Chief MKO Abiola, the South_West through various civil society groups held the nation at the jugular until the zone was compensated with the presidency in 1999 through General Olusegun Obasanjo.
For the first time in the history of the country the then three political parties picked Yoruba persons (Obasanjo and Olu Falae) as their presidential flagbearers. Obasanjo stood on the plank of the PDP while Falae was a joint candidate of the AD/APP. Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, who won the APP presidential primaries was sacrificed when APP, which commanded more electoral posts elected to be the junior partner in the accord with AD.
And given the restiveness in Niger Delta orchestrated by militants, who fought against four decades of despoilation of their land via oil exploration, the nation was at peace with PDP’s zoning of the vice presidential slot to the area in 2007 when power returned to the North.
Upon late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s death, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan succeeded him. He was to be elected as president in 2011 in spite of the PDP zoning formula ceding the topmost seat to the North.
With North having Boko Haram, the Niger Delta brandishing ex-militants, who are ready to return to the creeks at the slightest notice to resume hostilities, and the South-East boasting of no such group, it is not difficult to deduct where the pendulum of power may swing when the dusts settle.
How Nigeria marginalised South-East
Zone States LGs Ministers Years of rule
SE 5 95 5 Six months
SS 6 123 8 Three years
SW 6 137 7 11.3 years
NE 6 112 7 5.3 years
NC 7 127 7 18.5 years
NW 7 180 8 13 years