The politics of the 2023 Nigerian General Elections has begun and is in full throttle. Intentions to run for various offices have been declared, supposed agreements are being broken, alignments are being adjusted, and decamping is going on, among other things. While all these are going on, one subject that has become as popular as the general election is the Igbo’s push for the country’s presidency.
The subject has received so much attention that some Nigerians of non-Igbo descent have also expressed support for the cause, that the next Nigerian President should be an Igbo man or woman.
But despite how loud the proponents of the cause have been, nothing, at this moment, is certain about the 2023 elections. It is, however, amusing how much attention the subject has attracted. Is it the Igbo’s right to be Nigeria’s president? Absolutely. Is it the Igbo’s right to produce the next president of Nigeria? Absolutely. But should the Igbo’s rights be elevated above that of the other regions? No, it shouldn’t. And vice versa.
This writer is not anti-Igbo, and is not “igbophobic”. In fact, there’s a lot he likes about the Igbo; the food, the interest in business, and the creativity, among other things. And this piece is not written to dismiss the Igbo’s push for the office of Nigeria’s president. It is rather a piece to be added to the discourse. The presidency of Nigeria is the right of Nigerians, irrespective of ethnicity – at least according to the 1999 Nigerian constitution.
According to the 1999 constitution, as amended, eligibility for the office of Nigeria’s president depends, among other things, on; being a citizen of Nigeria by birth, attainment of the age of 35 years, membership of a political party, and sponsorship by that political party, as well as education up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent. The first requirement is to be a citizen of Nigeria, not Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Kanuri, Fulani, Ibibio, Efik, Ijaw, or any other. What this means is that Nigeria’s presidency is the right of Nigerians, simply Nigerians.
After fulfilling the basic requirements of the constitution, a person must also sell his/her candidacy to Nigerians, not to only members of his/her ethnicity, and must receive a stated percentage of votes cast across Nigeria, not votes cast in only his/her ethnic or geopolitical zone. This, and more, is the reason the Igbo’s push for president shouldn’t be as important as it’s been on the Nigerian political stage. The major reason its proponents are giving for their push is that there’s been no Igbo president/head of State since Nigeria’s fourth republic began in 1999. Some, in an attempt to make the subject more sellable, say since the end of the civil war, some five decades ago.
Some even say the civil war might be the reason the Igbos have been [denied] the presidency. Some others argue that the civil war is one of the reasons to make an Igbo our next president. It has been difficult to comprehend and be convinced by, these arguments. War is bad, for the avoidable casualties and destruction it leads to in societies. But war has always been part of the history of man, and will continue to be part of it. It is a fantasy, and it is naive to expect that the world will ever be rid of war. War is the result of an unresolved conflict, one that could have been managed in other “nonviolent” ways. And because of dynamic factors, humans cannot live together peacefully. This much has been established in history.
However, because humans are human, a fence is built, and humans pick sides, often creating a right party and a wrong party in the war, a victim and an aggressor/oppressor. In the Nigerian civil war, the loudest voice has been that the Igbos were victims, and the Nigerian side was the oppressor. Actors on the Nigerian side have also told their “own” story, usually – and not unexpected – not acknowledging being an oppressor. Whichever side you think has the correct story, a fact is that good and bad might be relative in war, same as right and wrong. Each side prosecutes it with the resources (capital and human) at its disposal, and its actions/inactions. The same thing applies to the telling of the war’s stories, during and after the war.
The civil war is one of many other events in the history of Nigeria, and while it might be considered a contributing factor, it cannot be the reason, on its own, to compel others to hand the presidency to the Igbos or any geopolitical zone. The requirements for the office are clearly stated. Now, how do you navigate your way to the office? You make deliberate efforts, your actions/inactions are very important. You go out there and take it, you don’t try to make it an obligation of others, others who also want the office. The Igbos have not gotten their calculation right, and – with their actions/inactions – can be argued to be sabotaging their cause in more ways than one.
First, the Igbos have not collectively decided what their main ambition is, to be president of Nigeria or have Biafra. Secessionist agitation has its own proponents, and Nigeria’s presidency also has its own proponents. The Igbos have not been able to identify their preference between the two. So while some are saying Biafra, others are saying Nigeria’s president. It is rather strange that the same people who have demonstrated prowess in business – where being clear about your goal is important to success – have not been able to do the same in the area of regional political aspiration.
Consequently, there’s been no united front or cohesion among the Igbos in matters of national politics. For this reason, and more, there’s been no real leaders to command a wide following among the Igbos, especially after Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chukwuemeka Ojukwu. Like in other geopolitical zones, the igbos have been unlucky with selfish, myopic leaders, to whom society’s good is secondary. This is evident in the region’s handling of the violence that has rocked it in the last few years. While non-state actors like Nnamdi Kanu and the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) are loud about their demand for secession, which they have the right to do, politicians and state actors (governors, ministers, national assembly members, etc) have refused to clearly make their position known on the subject.
This is not without reason. They have been unable to summon the courage to publicly and clearly take a stand on the subject because they do not want to jeopardize their access to the Nigerian cookie jar, and at the same time do not want to be seen by their people as sabotage to the Igbo’s cause. But standing on the fence is not always the best option to take. So far, there have been a few Igbos that have declared intentions to run for president since 2019. Former CBN Deputy-governor Kingsley Moghalu, Former Abia state governor and current senator Orji Uzor Kalu, Former Anambra state governor Peter Obi, Labour Minister Chris Ngige, among others.
While they all have their shortcomings (nobody is without one), an objective analysis of each of them suggests that the relative best among them is Peter Obi. And on the national stage, Peter Obi has been the only one that has been able to attract the largest acceptance among Nigerians of other geopolitical zones, at least among ordinary citizens. You would expect that this being the case and being so glaring, the igbos would collectively mobilize support for his emergence as a candidate, but the igbos are human, largely unpredictable. Already, Orji Uzor Kalu – perhaps having realized that he’s got literally no chance – has downplayed his own ambition, and indicated support for a potential northern candidate.
And he’s not alone, there are others who would rather have someone from elsewhere, for whatever reasons. Another reason that has been given by the proponents of the Igbo presidency is equity. This is closely linked to their argument about not producing a president since the civil war, but Nigeria’s history did not begin in 1970. Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the Igbos have produced a president (Nnamdi Azikiwe) and a Head of State (Aguiyi-Ironsi). If you talk of equity after producing two leaders in the country’s six decade post-independence history, shouldn’t we rather consider other ethnic groups (more than 200 of them) that have never had a chance?
The achievement of the Igbo Presidency project has also been “constantly” impeded by the consistent, and rightful, push for the presidency by other regions. In 2019 the Igbos were asked to support President Buhari’s re-election, with the promise of an Igbo presidency in 2023. But in a clear statement to debunk that promise, Minister Fashola, while campaigning for the same Buhari in Ibadan, said the Yorubas should support Buhari’s re-election so that Power could return to the Southwest in 2023, the same 2023 that was promised to the igbos. Like the Igbos, the Yorubas have had a Head of State (Olusegun Obasanjo) and a president (Olusegun Obasanjo) since the country’s independence.
They, however, don’t go around asking to be given the presidency. They’ve always thrown themselves into the ring and aim for what they want – whether they get it or not then depends on other factors. Unlike Obi which has not been able to gain the support of all Igbos, MKO Abiola was able to, largely, get the Yoruba’s support in 1993. And Abiola did not stop there, he succeeded in convincing, perhaps, all other regions and ethnic groups of his candidacy. He even got Nigerians to ignore other considerations like religion, sweeping the polls everywhere on a Muslim-Muslim ticket. This is a feat that nobody in the history of the country has been able to achieve, nobody.
Sadly, MKO was denied his victory at the polls, the widely adjudged fairest election the country has conducted. Abiola fought and paid the ultimate price for his mandate, but his was a phenomenal show that couldn’t be ignored by the “supposed owners” of Nigeria, and the impact resulted in the 1999 election, which featured Yoruba candidates in both the AD and PDP, the only two parties that had a realistic chance in the election. That was in part due to the way the Yorubas handled their political affairs after the June 12, 1993 events. With how important numbers are in politics, and the Yorubas having a population size similar to the Igbos, the former has been able to command more attention in Nigeria’s political space, for various reasons.
Now, with the impact of the Buhari presidency, Nigeria should not be bothered about where the next president comes from, it should be bothered about who the next president is. If the best candidate we can get is Igbo, we should elect him/her. Same as all other ethnic groups in the country (including the north), we just should not hand over the presidency to anyone simply because of their ethnicity. Sadly, those who contributed significantly to bringing the country to its current ruins are the ones coming out to run.