Just like in previous elections since the dawn of the fourth republic, the question of an Igbo Presidency has risen with the imminence of the 2023 general elections, it becomes more poignant due to the prevalent secessionist sentiments  in the region. Despite the proscribed IPOB terrorist group being formidable and the many threats from Igbo socio-cultural organisations, an Igbo Presidency in 2023 is a pipe dream. On the 18th of February 2022, renowned personalities from the South East under the aegis of Igbo Elders Consultative Forum (IECF) declared “It is either we are allowed to produce the president of this country in 2023 to change the appalling narrative of continued decay, poverty, insecurity, poor governance, corruption and maladministration in Nigeria or out of it”. This statement typifies the haughtiness and threats that makes the Presidency elude them and is counterintuitive. The quest for the Presidency ought to be pursued by building bridges and alliances and not via caustic rhetoric.

Ohaneze Ndigbo

These threats come against the backdrop of the purported ” marginalisation” in the political make up of this country, which is an assertion that is more specious than true. The South-East like any geopolitical zone in Nigeria has its fair share of political representatives and leaders. They are present at all levels of government. Much like their counterparts from other parts of the country, they have failed to discharge their responsibilities competently, hence, complicit in the underdevelopment of their region. To claim that the South-East or any other region of the country is marginalised or being held back by another is an elitist fallacy. Disturbingly, the political leaders have cunningly made the Federal Government the scapegoat for their incompetency. The crusade of marginalization propagated by Igbo socio-cultural organisations and leaders of thought has the support of some of the political leaders in the region, who have been passing the buck of underdevelopment to the desk of the federal government, thereby creating room for the emergence of a demagogue to exploit such vacuum in good governance to hoodwink the people.

I opine that “marginalisation” is an elite fallacy, designed to exonerate political leaders of the southeast from their complacency in the underdevelopment of their region. The southeast is amply represented in the National Assembly and various Institution of governance exist in their various states. In terms of delivering dividends of democracy there has never been a deliberate plan or decision to defund or undermine these state Institutions from the Federal Government. How then is marginalisation presupposed?

Unconventional as my stance is, the “marginalisation” trope has been swallowed hook, line and sinker by a multitude of people thanks to media sensationalism and victimhood mindset. It behoves government to address it or what those who mouth it think it is.

The Southeast has the least number of voters and is steep in political apathy. As a region its votes in the Presidential election from 1999 till date have been inclined to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Despite given the PDP block votes since 1999, the party is unlikely to field an Igbo candidate for its Presidential ticket because numbers trump feelings in politics, anytime, any day. The party seems to have taken Igbo votes for a given come what may. By fielding a northerner in 2023, PDP hopes to take advantage of President Buharis absence not the ballot and scoop votes from the North. President Buhari in two of his previous attempts to become President picked Igbo men as his running mates, yet he was avoided like a plague in the region. Given the tendency for Vice Presidents to succeed Presidents, we can assert that by playing isolationist politics, the Igbos have unwittingly limited their chances at the Presidency.

The Presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo can be traced back to the June 12th, 1993 election. The election was annulled by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. The frontrunner was Chief M.K.O Abiola whose mandate was truncated came from the Southwest. The southwest interpreted the annulment as a refusal by northern generals to agree on a power shift to the south. With the coming of democracy in 1999  there was an elite consensus for a need to placate that region with the Presidency given past circumstance. This elite consensus led to Yoruba candidates on the ballot for the Presidency in 1999. People reminisce this scenario and posit that there is a need for an elite consensus for an Igbo Presidency given the avalanche of secessionist sentiments oozing from the Southeast. However, an elite consensus is not necessarily always dictated by a convention or agreement of the privileged few based on their disposition, it is sometimes also a ratification of masses sentiments. Ordinary Nigerians have been victims of venomous and hateful rhetoric from the Igbos that supporting a candidate from there all of a sudden would prove difficult. Insulting and degrading the rest of Nigeria while hoping for their votes is haughty and naive.

Since the aftermath of the civil war, the Igbos reintegrated well with the rest of the country. Their peaceful existence and trade in different parts of the country is a testament to well entrenched reintegration.  Just like the rest of Nigeria, the igbos wrongly use the Presidency as a yardstick for measuring  political inclusion in the country. Conventional wisdom posits that the violent secessionist agitations in the South-East can be doused with zoning the Presidency to the region. The phantom issue of “marginalisation” still persists. The semantics of the word “Marginalisation” is highly disingenuous. It has never clearly been defined. Is it an absence of developmental/infrastructural projects? Is it by being victims of extra-judicial killings? Is it the absence of an Igbo President since the Fourth republic?

Sentiments presume that the January, 1966 coup (a remote cause of the Biafran Civil War) sealed the fate of the Igbos in Nigerian politics. Holding a tribe responsible for the misguided actions of hotheaded young soldiers is unfair but is a conflation common to society. It is the bedrock for a perceived lack of sufficient trust for or maybe even fear that a President that emerges on the basis of his tribal identity (read:Igbo) might pursue a tribal agenda and balkanize this country.

Making the issue more complex is IPOB, the indigenous People of Biafra. IPOB is a Biafran separatist organization that represents all who claim to be Biafran, founded in 2012 by Nnamdi Kanu, a dual citizen of Britain and Nigeria. The group clamors for the right to self-determination that is an independent state of Biafra in the South-East region through an independence referendum, never mind that our constitution has no provisions for that and the smart way to go is pursuing a constitutional  amendment. IPOB is a formidable secessionist group with vociferous members that cut across all strata of life with widespread overt and covert support in the region. It has been able to exploit and weaponize perceived feelings of political marginalization to maintain relevance. It has deployed propaganda against the Nigerian Government and Fulani, accusing the former of injustice, marginalisation and the latter of plotting to re-colonize Nigeria. To achieve secessionist aims, IPOB has launched an avalanche of attacks on security forces, government Institutions and civilians.

Before the reign of IPOB, secessionist sentiments were known but not espoused violently. IPOB upped the ante and embraced terrorism to achieve their objectives, hence been proscribed as a terrorist group by the Nigerian government. IPOB proclaims sit at home orders, kills security officers and civilians and also engage in ethnic motivated killings. Their killings cannot serve the cause of an Igbo Presidency but rather hinder it. IPOB is effectively the biggest stumbling block to an Igbo Presidency.

                            Members of IPOB

The undefiable nature of IPOB’s sit at home cripples the economy of the Southeast and perpetuates a climate of fear doubly affecting the people it is supposedly fighting for. Their repeated killing of civilians from the North reveals a sinister pattern of particularly targeting innocent law abiding traders of northern origin in gruesome attacks and killings. These ethnic motivated killings are dangerous because they can precipitate reprisals when there’s no justice, which is common in Nigeria. These killings further hurt and strain our perceived national unity because of their ethnic motivations. These killings and northern support for an Igbo Presidency cannot coexist. It has been noticeable that prominent politicians and Presidential candidates of Igbo extraction lack the confidence to speak against the atrocities of IPOB and assure the rest of Nigerians of their nationalist tendencies.

For an Igbo Presidency to materialize the problems of apathy, caustic rhetoric and secession must be solved or watered-down. No one can become President on the strength of a tribal platform or tribal bickering. If the threat of secession is a strategy for occupying Aso Rock then it is futile. Qualified candidates with secessionist sentiments and/or appeal would be rejected by voters. It behoves Igbo socio-cultural organisations and politicians to reach out and form alliances. Engage in a national politics of cooperation, bridge building and inclusiveness with clear objectives.