Monday, April 5, 2021
New York, USA

here is a strong case for a south-east president if we are to forge a political way forward for Nigeria. We cannot genuinely settle the questions about the sovereignty of Nigeria without fully embracing the south-east and its people as Nigerians with equal rights.

During President Buhari's virtual address on Bola Tinubu's 69th birthday, he maintained that Nigeria is better together as a united entity. Other venerable Nigerians including former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Professor Wole Soyinka have made similar statements about the sovereignty of Nigeria. However, faced with the many facets of reality in Nigeria - the divisive tribal politics, marginalization, uneven distribution of development projects by successive Nigerian governments and the pervading numbness of the political and economic spheres, calls for sundering the nation have grown louder.

Since the introduction of elections in Nigeria, politicians and regional leaders have exploited tribal differences to fuel ethnic division. Corruption, a national scourge is often framed in ethnic terms. Even the current security challenges are framed in tribal or regional terms. A recursive sentiment in the social discourse is an impulsive Igbo hatred sustained by the propagation of negative stereotypes with cocksure derisiveness. Those spewing the gunk of Igbo hatred excuse transgressions by members of their tribes, eagerly pointing to the Igbos as the cause of Nigeria's problems.

The former Central Bank Governor and Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, in his message to the present generation noted that the north transformed themselves, from various tribes, to being northerners and the south-west from different tribal identities to one. But our generation has failed in its primary objective of transforming ourselves to being Nigerians. He further noted that despite the growing awareness that tribalism is an artificial problem invented by selfish leaders for their interests, we have continued to speak the language of tribal affinity and division.

As we lurch towards the 2023 Presidential elections, politicians have begun jostling to position themselves to run for president. While this is permissible in a healthy democracy, it is also the time to cogitate on the fairest way to reflect our federal character, under the present constitutional arrangement.

Since the beginning of the third republic, Nigeria has had a president from the south-west with a vice president from the north, a president from the north with a vice president from the south-south; a president from the south-south with a vice president from the north, and a president from the north with a vice present from the south-west. Missing in this equation is the south-east. Nigerians cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this glaring omission and expect to build a united nation. There is a strong case for a south-east president if we are to forge a political way forward for Nigeria. We cannot genuinely settle the questions about the sovereignty of Nigeria without fully embracing the south-east and its people as Nigerians with equal rights.

The Igbos have produced some of the most visionary thinkers in Africa. One of the foremost Pan African and nationalist leaders to emerge from Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, was an Igbo man. The Igbos were some of the prominent vanguards of the struggle for Nigeria's independence. Further, Igbo economic contributions outside their homeland are a testament to their faith in Nigeria. Indeed, for decades the Igbos have been the wellspring of economic development in all geographic regions of Nigeria. This is unquestionable evidence of the Igbo character and their faith in the Nigerian project.

The Igbos experienced the devastating and tragic impact of the Nigerian civil war and pulled themselves back into the Nigerian economy after the war. In his address at the meeting of southeast elders and leaders in Owerri on the 5th of March, 2010, Odumegwu Ojukwu called on the Igbos to engage in ideas that will constantly re-affirm their interests in Nigeria. He urged them to establish the strengthening of Nigeria as the "norm and feature of Igbo political life."

Nigeria is a nation with a richly blended mixture of talent. Harken back to the time when Nigerians from different regions luminated our spirits with their intellectual excellence. Brilliant minds such as Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, Christopher Ifekandu Okigbo, John Pepper Clark Bekederemo, Elechi Amadi, Kole Omotso, Onuekwuke Nwazulu Sofola, Ayodele Oluwatuminu Awojobi, Moses Olaiya Adejumo, Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa, Isa Kaita, Abubakar Imam, Aminu Sanusi, Waziri, Bala Usman, and others, inspired us with their extraordinary intellectual accomplishments and gave us a sense of pride and belonging.

My sincerest wish for Nigeria is a land where every citizen, regardless of tribe or language, can aspire to lead and be whatever they can be, a people focused on the things that unite us rather than those that divide us, a state that strives for equal opportunity for all, and a nation that empowers a new generation to channel their energies on building a nation instead of perfecting the errors of the past.

If federalism is the answer to Nigeria's political imbalance, a truly federal system will encourage fair and equitable participation in leadership and nation-building. The 2023 election is an appropriate time to put the kibosh on the divisive responses to the Igbo quest for inclusion and the theatrics to exclude them from leadership positions in Nigeria. People in some sections of the country spin hypocritical moralism about the virtues of their culture, socializing the gullible to believe that it is an article of faith that members of their tribe have pure motives about developing Nigeria for all citizens. No ethnic group can claim that their politicians are not corrupt, let alone define the propriety of the behavior of other ethnic groups.

Among the Igbos today are shining innovators and entrepreneurs; they have demonstrated their skills and competence in every sphere of national life and have shown that they possess the resolve to overcome challenges. Therefore, to continually doubt that the Igbos will use their enormous industriousness for the development of Nigeria and not just for themselves, is a self-nullifying argument against the progress of Nigeria. It is time to harness Igbo strengths for the Nigerian enterprise.

The scars of the Nigerian civil war are such that there is simply no way forward without including the Igbos as equal partners in all sectors of Nigeria. Only an inclusive Nigeria can prevent another catastrophic civil crisis. As Obasanjo noted, every effort to "tame the Igbos has proved abortive." In the 21st century, the idea of taming the Igbos or the debasement of any group of Nigerians because of their ethnicity is a crime against humanity.

The supine attitude of ordinary non-Igbos makes them no less complicit as witnesses to marginalization and oppression. Feigned naiveté of the coterie of politicians to the glaring anomaly in the Nigerian political landscape portends doom for the sovereignty of Nigeria. Embracing the super abundant energy of the Igbos will certainly open the productivity frontier to local industrialization and development, but even more important, leveraging the power of our diversity will significantly accelerate the prospects of national development.

Lastly, though this article is an endorsement of a south-east presidency, Igbo candidates shouldt sell themselves to Nigeria based on their agenda for Nigeria and personal qualities, not their Igboness. That will amount to self-affirmation of Igbo stereotypes.