CAN any country, particularly one with multiplicity of ethnicities, religion and language survive for long when starved of the nourishing diets of equity, fairness and justice?
Going by the submissions of leaders of Southern and Middle Belt socio-cultural groups – Afenifere, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, and Middle Belt Forum – on Monday in Abuja, the answer is No! Then, why are some forces in the country at war with the precepts? The answer is simple: Selfishness and greed.
Those opposed to the idea of power shift, including members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which has the principles of rotation and zoning enshrined in its constitution but who are today at the forefront of the repudiation, are just power gluttons.
The repudiation has nothing to do with national interest and common good. They simply want to continue gorging on the national cake to the utter exclusion of everybody else, even when it has become obvious that they will choke, sooner than later, if they continue gulping down the inebriating liquor of power.
The anti-zoning advocates are just being clever by half. It is tantamount to one hiding behind a finger. They are preys to the debilitating allures of gluttony and ravenousness while pretending to be preaching competence and capacity. That is deceit. And that was exactly the point that was eloquently made on Monday when the din of the call for a Nigerian president of Southeast extraction in 2023 rose a notch higher at the Executive Hall of the International Conference Centre, Abuja.
I am sure that even the organisers of the “Greater Nigeria Conference”, with the theme, “Together We Can,” an initiative of the Igbo Think-Tank, Nzuko Umunna, didn’t envisage the roaring success. It was an effort to showcase Southeast presidential hopefuls in all the political parties to fellow countrymen. When the clamour for a Nigerian president of Southeast extraction started resonating loudly, naysayers ridiculed Ndigbo with the question: Where are the Igbo aspirants?
When the aspirants showed up, they said sooner than later every hamlet in Igboland will produce a wannabe presidential contender. That has not happened. So far, the number of aspirants in all the political parties cannot be said to be unreasonable.
That was when the worrywarts changed the narrative. What is important, they howl, is competence and capacity. The Greater Nigeria Conference was an audacious attempt to shut them up by presenting the Southeast presidential aspirants for Nigerians to judge for themselves.
And what an array of aspirants they are! With aspirants like Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, former Senate president and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF; Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, First Class pharmacist and accomplished boardroom guru; Prof Kingsley Moghalu, economist, lawyer, author, former United Nations official, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; Dr. Chris Ngige, former governor of Anambra State, former senator and Minister of Labour and Employment; Mr. Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, entrepreneur par excellence who knows how to create wealth; Dave Umahi, an engineer and governor of Ebonyi State who became a billionaire at the age of 24; Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, author, engineer, first civilian governor of Abia State and Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation; Emeka Nwajiuba, lawyer, Minister of State for Education, former chairman of TETFund Board of Trustees; Ndigbo are not only presenting some of the best the region can offer but aspirants that will make Nigerians proud again.
If the criteria for choosing who becomes the next president of Nigeria are competence and merit, the Southeast aspirants tower over and above most if not all those who are shifting the goalpost in the middle of the game. What the Greater Nigeria Conference, with the theme “Together We Can,” did was to prove the point that there is a glut of capable and competent presidential materials in the region beyond every reasonable doubt.
As the chairman of the GNC planning committee, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, former governor of Enugu State, noted: “Capacity is here today, integrity is here today and vision for greater Nigeria is on display.” The quest of Ndigbo to ascend the presidential throne is not anchored only on the precepts of equity, fairness and justice but also on the fact that Ndigbo are the most patriotic Nigerians, the glue that is holding this country together and the missing link in the country’s search for peace.
The beauty of the Greater Nigeria Conference is the position that was taken by leaders of the Southern and Middle Belt socio-cultural organisations. But even at that, what was most remarkable was the caliber of people who took those positions.
When a 94-year-old Chief Ayo Adebanjo, leader of the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, a man who was there at the beginning, is preaching equity and justice, he cannot be saying so for personal gains. When a soon-to-be 95-year-old Chief Edwin Clark, Nigeria’s first Minister of Information, and leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, preaches equity, it can only be for the good of the country.
When the erudite President of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr Pogu Bitrus, says the Southeast should be allowed to produce the next president, it cannot be for what Ndigbo have offered him. It is for the good of the country.
In his address titled, “The Nigeria I knew,” Pa Clark said: “The people of the South-East deserve to have a sense of belonging in this country. So, the clamour for a president from the South-East geo-political zone is supported by me. Today, with no other tangible reason for still wanting to hold on to power, some people are talking about merit and competence. To these people, my response is simple: we must all woo and win one another because every part of this country has a beautiful bride and every part has a handsome groom. It will not cost money or anything to make Nigeria better.
“All that is required is for us to demonstrate reciprocal respect, love and understanding to one another. Let us do what is right; let us accommodate one another, and be fair to one another. Let all other Nigerians support a South-Eastern candidate for President, come 2023. I repeat, very soon, I will be 95 years old. I have spent more than 70 years of this period in Nigerian affairs. I have seen it all. For the peace and sanity of the country, I appeal to all, in the name of the Almighty God, to make this concession to the Igbos to present a President for Nigeria. Like every other part of the country, they have the men and women who are competent, patriotic, loyal, intelligent, industrious, healthy and active, whom Nigerians will be proud of, to occupy the position. Let us give them a chance.”
Pa Ayo Adebanjo spoke in the same vein: “Now that it is the turn of the South-East, they are propounding a new theory, it must be based on merit and all that. If it is the question of merit, who in the North qualifies to lead Nigeria? If it has been based on merit, the East alone would produce the President of Nigeria in perpetuity.”
Dr. Pogu, who delivered the keynote address, summed it up. “It will be disingenuous for anyone in 2022 to argue that where the President of Nigeria comes from does not matter. If it does not matter, northern governors, sitting governors will not jeopardise the chances of their own party and give the presidency to the opposition in 2015, so it does matter. It is only proper that we take this thing to the South and it is the turn of the South-East to produce the president. Nigeria cannot be a stable and prosperous country if some of its constituent parts behave as if they were the natural masters of everyone and that everyone else exists at their pleasure and to serve them”.
These are super patriots. Theirs are words of wisdom. For the sake of Nigeria, I hope that the naysayers, consumed by greed for power and self-love, will hearken to these admonitions.