The All Progressives Congress, APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP presidential primaries have come and gone but the lessons they left for Ndigbo remain huge and imperative. It is political lessons of a lifetime.
While the winners of the primaries-Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu savour their emphatic victories, Igbo aspirants in the race and indeed Ndigbo as a people stand sullen and small.
Sullen not because they detest Atiku and Tinubu or loath their victories. Ndigbo is rather aghast at the increasing relegation to nothingness of a race that was once a deciding factor in national politics.
Yes, there is every reason for the Igbo to feel hurt and disaffected by the turn of events in the APC and PDP. For example, despite Southeast’s slavish loyalty to the PDP since 1999, the party brushed aside the region’s demand for its presidential ticket. Rather than do that, the contest was thrown open and given the skewed structure of the Nigerian federation, it would of course have taken more than a miracle for onye Igbo( an Igbo) to win the primary.
And indeed, Southeast was structurally schemed out of contention.
In the APC, the eleventh hour decision of power brokers in the party to zone the presidential ticket to the Southern half of Nigeria which comprised of Southwest, South-South and Southeast was a glimmer of hope.
But alas! Just as in the PDP, the Southeast was also later schemed out of contention structurally.
Of Southern Nigeria’s three zones, the Southwest has ruled the country, since the return of democracy in 1999, for eight years( Obasanjo- I999 to 2007). Infact, power was literally handed over to it in 1999. There was no contest; the rest of Nigeria was merely forced to select between two Southwest sons- Gen.Obasanjo of the PDP and Chief Olu Falaye of the APP/AD.
Can we still deceive ourselves that power is not given but taken? The 1999 scnenario puts a lie to this bogus mantra.In 1999, the Southwest didnt take power, power was instead handed to it on a platter of gold!.Why did Nigeria in 2022/2023 find it difficult to give Ndigbo a similar treatment for the sake of national stability?
Still on the Southwest, the zone would have also held the position of Vice president( Osinbajo) for eight years by 2023( 2015 to 2023).
The South-south on its part has held the combined positions of Vice President, Acting President and President for eight years (Jonathan-2007 to 2015).
The Southeast is the odd zone out. The last time the zone had a whiff of power at the centre was almost 40 years ago( Vice President Alex Ekwueme- 1979 to 1983).
To Ndigbo and a good number of fair-minded Nigerians, natural justice, fairness, equity and the need for national cohesion demanded that the APC presidential ticket having been zoned to the south should have been micro-zoned to the Southeast.
But this never happened.Here lies the locale of the hurt and anger the Southeast currently harbours. Just as in the PDP, a concerted but octane conspiracy against the Southeast by regional overlords in the APC who wear Igbophobia like a prized necklace were at work.
They did everything, actively aided by the structural imbalance in the Nigeria project which the Southeast suffer, to scheme the zone out in the APC and PDP presidential ticket contests.
But then, is Southeast and its politicians in the APC and PDP blameless in the whole unsettling saga? Of course not. They were part of the architect of the shabby treatment the zone received in the just concluded presidential primaries of the two main parties-PDP and APC.
Principally, at the heart of this self-inflicted political injury that tugs at the soul of Igbo politics is the Igbo enwe Eze syndrome( Igbo has no king or succinctly put: the republican nature of the Igbo), an extreme republican ideology that has proven fatal to the relevance of Ala Igbo( Igbo land) and Ndigbo in Nigeria’s political power calculus.
Now, hate him or love him, you can not but admit that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is a deft politician who has built political bridges, raised political disciples, empowered people, raised men and women from ground zero of politics to higher pedestal of national relevance.
All these have naturally earned Tinubu a place in the appreciative hearts of millions of his people. The result: He is now a venerated and adored figure in Yoruba land, Tinubu is now a movement with a burgeoning followership.
Arguably, except the late Obafemi Awolowo, no Southwest politician, death or alive, commands the kind of region-wide, cult-like followership that Asiwaju enjoys.
Here is a man whose defunct party, the Congress of Nigeria, ACN, before it dissolved alongside other parties to birth the APC, controlled six Southwest states, and produced about 15 senators and several members of the House of Representatives.
Tinubu is today not only the rallying point for the Yoruba in the national political arena but their pathfinder.
The same can also be said of Atiku.In the Northeast for example, particularly his home state of Adamawa, Atiku remains the largest employer of labour.
But what do we see among Igbo politicians? Each of them individually wants to be demi-gods, many of them are Eze onye agwanam(the dictatorial king who listens to no one but to himself). Non is ready to look up to the other or revere the other as a political leader.In Ala Igbo, even a lowly local government councillor prances the space as “onye ochichi” ( a political leader)
How many Southeast politicians have since 1999 been altruistic enough to commit his resources and energy to mentoring and building men and women in politics with the view to preparing them for future political leadership?
How many of them, as Tinubu did, were able to build a rock-solid political structure and sustain the same and use it as a tool for power bargaining and negotiation in the larger national political arena? Of course, non except former Enugu state governor, Senator Chimaraoke Nnamani whose Ebeano political family held sway temporarily in Enugu, producing the likes of former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, and former Governor Sullivan Chime among others.
Does it not worry former Abia state Governor, Senator Orji Uzo Kalu for example that he was governor at the same period as Tinubu but rather than remain consistent in his politcal trajectory and rather than consolidate and build a solid political base as the former Lagos state governor did, he (Kalu) chose to engage in obscene political prostitution, junketing from one party to the other to the extent of abandoning the very promising party, the Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA which he had formed?
Pause for a minute and ponder if the indignities Ndigbo suffered in the APC vis avis the party’s presidential ticket would have been so if Kalu had sustained PPA which was in control of two states-Imo and Abia- and later brought it to the table to form APC alongside the defunct ANPP, ACN, CPC, a faction of APGA and a faction of the PDP.
No doubt, PPA would have emerge an equal stakeholder in the APC and in a better bargaining position for a slice of the national cake; afterall, Buhari’s CPC came to the negotiating table with just one state- Nassarawa state, yet he became president.
In both PDP and APC presidential primaries, former River state governor, Peter Odili’s political godsons( Wike and Amaechi) came second. This again should teach the Igbo political class a lesson in tenacity and mentoring.
Now, by coming second respectively in both party’s presidential primaries, Wike and Amaechi and by extension the South-south today stand in a vantage position to negotiate juicy political positions for the region or if you like for Rivers state.
Besides, God forbid, should a natural or judicial occurrence abbreviate Atiku and Asiwaju Tinubu’s candidacy before the presidential election, the reality is that the two runners-up in their respective parties’ presidential primaries- Wike and Amaechi- will automatically fill the void.
This brings us to the misadventure of some mercantile Igbo politicians in both parties who worked to deliver Southeast delegates’ votes to other presidential aspirants rather than rally around one of their own and give him the Southeast bloc vote.
It may interest readers to know that the over 100 votes Senate President, Ahmed Lawan got in the APC presidential primaries came from Abia, Imo, Enugu and Anambra delegates. Were all of Southeast’s nearly 300 delegate votes at convention placed at the disposal of Governor Umahi or Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, the region would have come at least fourth in the contest.
The question is: What happened to the nearly 300 south east delegate votes?
Conversely, in the PDP, out of the nearly 200 delegate votes of the Southeast, only 16( 15 for Senator Anyim Pius Anyim and 1 for Sam Ohuabunwa) went to Igbo aspirants.
It is a shame that some Igbo leaders, mercantile leaders adept at politics of self-preservation handed the rest of southeast delegate votes to an aspirant from another zone, the same aspirant who had earlier mocked, derided and written off an aspirant from the southeast who he considered an obstacle to picking the PDP ticket during a campaign tour of his state.
Now, what will be the bargaining chip of Southeast leaders in APC and PDP( depending on the party that wins the presidential election) for the region’s share of political patronage when the next central government is formed?
To make a case for the position of President of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Representatives, will the Southeast be flaunting Umahi’s 38 votes in the APC or Dr Ogbonnaya Onu’s 1 vote or Rocha Okorocha’s zero vote all in APC to convince the party?
And will the PDP take the Southeast serious for any other higher political position outside the office of the president with Anyim’s 15 votes and Ohuabunwa’s one vote?
The truth is, Ala Igbo has nothing to negotiate with in the two parties and will be negotiating from the position of weakness, no thanks to the politics of self-preservation of our mercantile political leaders!
In the final analysis, I dare say here that Ihe na eme anyi si anyi na aka ( we are the architect of our own woes). Until the Igbo as a people and Southeast as a political entity reorder their political steps, the unspeakable marginalisation and relegation will continue unabated.
On this note, I hereby call for deep introspection by Ndigbo. Ohanaeze must urgently step in by calling a summit of Igbo political leaders across political divide where deep and frank deliberation on the way forward will be discussed.
Ala Igbo indeed needs urgent political rebirth, a clinical reinvention of its politics.
What is needed now is ACTION!
Chidiebere Onyemaizu, a strategic& political communication expert lives in Lagos