By Igboeli Arinze
The talk about a President of Igbo extraction is as old as the fourth republic, sadly for every time or occasion where the Igbo as an ethnic group came close to achieving such a feat, it was like the Israelites leaving Egypt to the promised land which did seem to be afar, even when it looked like we were so near the touch line.
In 1999, we were this close to having an Igbo man as head of state, Dr. Alex Ekwueme of blessed memory was our joker; experience and his democratic outlook were his strong selling points against an Olusegun Obasanjo, who boasted of fine credentials too but wore the garb as an ex military man as well as lacked the support of his regional base, the Yoruba, who were the predominant ethnic group in the SouthWest region and had not forgiven Obasanjo for his alleged role in denying their foremost personality in Chief Obafemi Awolowo the Presidency in the 1979 elections. For them, it was pay back time and using the then Alliance for Democracy, AD, as their own vehicle, Obasanjo’s dream of becoming the president for a second time was nearly thwarted in his own zone.
However, what Obasanjo lacked as factors needed to win the PDP ticket as well as coast home to the presidency from his base, he made up for it with his connections to the military authorities that was in a hurry to vacate power yet determined to put one of their own in the driving seat. The military’s body language then strongly supported Obasanjo, understanding Nigerian politics then, it was not easy for the political class who just wanted the military out of power to withstand the pressure from the military, the political class possessing reserves of malleability conceded to the machinations of the military, Ekwueme then moved from a top dog to a lowly contender, the die had been cast!
But it was not only the military that contributed to the weakening of Ekwueme’s appeal then, a number of Igbo politicians proved themselves to be stumbling blocks, most notorious amongst these few was former Governor of Anambra, Jim Nwobodo who is still remembered for the infamy of addressing delegates in Hausa language. Nwobodo, still smarting from the role the likes of Ekwueme played in his defeat in the 1983 elections, did all he could to spoil any chances of an Ekwueme victory. Next in line were four SouthEast governors , namely of Abia, Ebonyi,Enugu and Imo who upon their election jettisoned the Igbo cause and pitched their tent with Obasanjo.
Again, in 2003, the prospects of an Igbo presidency loomed large, prompted by a most dismal outing of Obasanjo in his first term, a number of concerned Nigerians egged Ekwueme to throw his hat into the ring. The odds favored him, as the Obasanjo camp was much in disarray owing to his falling out with Atiku Abubakar who was firmly in control of the PDP then and was even said to nurture an ambition to contest the primaries, all that was needed was for the SouthEast governors to openly identify with Ekwueme and the rest would follow suit, but when it mattered most, our SouthEast governors lost their nerves and gave in, even Orji Uzor Kalu, who had drummed up so much noise about Igbo presidency preferred a Yoruba one when he was handed the ballot paper leaving the likes of James Ibori of Delta State and Abdulkadir Kure of Niger State as the only two governors who stood with Ekwueme.
Since then, there has not been a serious attempt by the Igbo nation to place one of its own at the center, the late Ikemba proved his mettle but his party, All Progressives Grand Alliance proved to be a regional party than a national one, this factor coupled with the imagery of Ojukwu as an ex secessionist warlord much affected APGA’s appeal to other Nigerians.
Furthermore, on two occasions the Igbo missed two golden opportunities of positioning themselves to take the shot at the presidency. First was in 2011, where an Atiku Abubakar was primed to pick Professor Chukuma Soludo as his running mate in the event that he emerged as the PDP’s presidential candidate at the expense of the then incumbent in the person of Goodluck Jonathan, sadly, Igbo leaders were carried away with Jonathan’s goodies than the strategic importance of having a Vice President. The second occasion was in the run up to the 2015 elections, where at some point in time the APC toyed with the idea of an Igbo running mate backing up whoever emerged from the North, this was however jettisoned owing to the poor performance of the APC in the Anambra guber elections and the impolitic style of politics embraced by our leaders. The fallout of such politics played itself out sometime in October 2014, I had accompanied Chris Ngige and Engineer Bart Nwibe to see John Oyegun who was the first National Chairman of the party, in that meeting, Ngige had argued that the APC ought to zone the position of VP to the SouthEast, a position Oyegun diplomatically disagreed with, citing realistically that since politics was about numbers, the SouthEast at that point in time would not have given the APC the much needed filip it needed to dislodge an incumbent president.
Igboeli Arinze is the Managing Editor for realpoliticsnigeria.ng