Any time I hear someone say that “for the Igbo to win the Presidency, they must speak with one voice,” I laugh in Umuofia, because it is fallacious.
Before we look at this point, let us look at our presidential history in recent times and see if any person has ever won the Presidency based on the unity of his ethnic group. In 1999, the mood of the nation was that the Presidency should go to the South-West to compensate them for the 1993 electoral injustice meted out to one of them, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, by the military. The South-West were united behind Chief Olu Falae. They thoroughly rejected the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. Yet, Obasanjo was declared the winner of that election based on the results from the other five zones.
Obasanjo’s presidential victory was stamped at the primaries of the PDP. Despite Dr. Alex Ekwueme’s impressive profile and well-respected ideas and intellect, Obasanjo defeated him. Some people always say, if the Igbo were united, Ekwueme would have beaten Obasanjo. But if the votes secured by Chief Jim Nwobodo were added to those of Ekwueme, Obasanjo would still have defeated Ekwueme very well.
The reason was that the power brokers of 1998-99 (made up of army generals like Ibrahim Babangida, Theophilus Danjuma, and the then Head of State, Abdulsalam Abubabkar) had anointed Obasanjo as the President. They wanted power to shift to the South-West, but not on the South-West’s terms. It was easy to get the other five zones to vote for Obasanjo at the PDP primaries. Once that hurdle was crossed, Obasanjo’s victory at the general election was a fait accompli. The South-West was able to produce the president in 1999, not because they were united or spoke with one voice, but because the injustice meted out to Abiola was too glaring to be glossed over. If not, the unity of the South-West would not have secured them the Presidency.
By 2003, it was easy for Obasanjo as the incumbent president to get himself another term. So, let us look at the next president and the manner of his emergence.
Before the 2007 election, most Nigerians did not know who Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua was, even though he was the Governor of Katsina State. His face was rarely seen in the media. Even though there were sentiments that the president should emerge from the North in 2007, the frontline campaigners for the Presidency in the PDP were the governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili, and the governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke. Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, who would have been a formidable force from the North in the PDP, had fallen out with his principal, Obasanjo. Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) was in the All Nigeria Peoples Party.
To the surprise of everyone, Obasanjo solely anointed Yar’Adua as his successor. Odili and Duke stopped their campaigns abruptly. Nobody knew what Obasanjo did to them to put the fear of living daylight in them. But the fear of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission then was the beginning of wisdom. The “victory” of Yar’Adua at the PDP primaries was a foregone conclusion.
Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, a relatively unknown governor in Bayelsa State, who just became a governor because of the EFCC-induced impeachment of his principal, Diepreye Alameiyesegha, was chosen as Yar’Adua’s running mate. In spite of the emergence of Yar’Adua from the North as the PDP’s candidate, his kinsman from the same state, Muhammadu Buhari, did not step down for him, neither did Atiku from the same North. So, in terms of unity or “speaking with one voice”, the North did not meet the conditions in 2007. Yet, Yar’Adua became the president.
Again, in spite of the North’s size and influence, they had no hand in determining who became the president in 2007. That choice was made by one man: Obasanjo.
In 2011, the scenario was different. Yar’Adua had died in 2010, giving room for his deputy, Jonathan, to become the President. Many had wrongly assumed that being a President from a minority ethnic group would make it easy for Jonathan to be defeated. The North also had a battle-cry: “Rotational arrangement demands that it is our turn to rule.” The South-South had its own battle-cry: “We have never ruled before; justice demands that we should rule.” Jonathan won that election.
If Jonathan decides to run in 2015, chances that he will lose are very minimal. The power of incumbency is very strong in Nigeria and Africa. Two examples will suffice. In 1999, Atiku was elected the governor of Adamawa State. Before the swearing-in date, he was named the running mate of Obasanjo. So, he relinquished his governorship office to his running mate, Mr. Boni Haruna. Because of the religious configuration of some states in Nigeria, the practice has been that the governorship candidate would be a Muslim, while his deputy would be a Christian. Haruna is a Christian, while Atiku is Muslim. But once sworn in, Haruna as an incumbent governor was to win an election in 2003 and secure a second term. If he had come out on a fresh note with other candidates to contest the office, it would have been hard for him to win.
Another example is Kaduna State. When Jonathan appointed the governor of Kaduna State, Namadi Sambo, as Vice-President in 2010, Sambo’s deputy, Patrick Yakowa, became the governor of Kaduna. The next year, Yakowa, a Christian, ran for election and won. If Yakowa had run for the office from outside, his chances would have been close to nil.
There are other examples to further show the power of the incumbent executives over the choice of who takes over from them. In 2007, Mr. Babatunde Fashola was relatively unknown in Lagos politics, even though he was the chief of staff to Governor Bola Tinubu. Tinubu bypassed his deputy and other more known names and chose Fashola as the governorship candidate for his party, the then Action Congress. The rest became history. In 2007, the Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, endorsed Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan as his successor and he became the governor. In 2013, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State endorsed an unknown name, Mr. Willie Obiano, as his successor. The clout of the PDP and the All Progressives Congress candidates could not change that endorsement.
Therefore, the recent winning of presidential elections by candidates from the South-West, North or South-South was not as a result of their unity or speaking with one voice, or political sagacity.
On the contrary, speaking with one voice by the Igbo would frighten other zones. One reason Buhari may find it hard to win the Presidency is the passionate support he has in the far North. That passionate Northern support is tantamount to passionate Southern and Middle Belt fear. Even in the United States, if in 2007 Senator Barack Obama was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and a well-known Black-rights campaigner, loved passionately by the Blacks, no matter how inspiring his speeches and how sound his ideas, he would not have become the US president: he would not have even emerged the candidate of the Democratic Party.
If other zones had not produced the president because of their unity, why then should the South-East be given a different condition?
When a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction would come and how he would emerge, nobody can foretell. But then, if the Igbo have suffered any marginalisation in Nigeria, it is not because they have not produced a president: it is because there are some Nigerians who are still prosecuting the Civil War that ended in 1970 by denying the Igbo what should be their right as Nigerians. Thankfully, some of these anomalies have been corrected in recent years.
In terms of progress and development, the Igbo have not fared badly though they have not produced the president. Even though they would like to produce the president of Nigeria, yet what is of primary importance to the Igbo is a free and egalitarian society where they will have the space to operate, pursue their life ambitions and compete with other Nigerians on equal footing. That is the most pressing presidency the Igbo desire in Nigeria now.