Tuesday, May 3, 2022
[email protected]
Harrisburg, PA, USA

n the first of October 2002, I penned an essay on titled, “As Nigeria turns 42, a look at the quest for Igbo presidency." In the essay, I posited that the seemingly advertent exclusion of people of Igbo extraction from the presidency of Nigeria, was not only a form of marginalization, but makes it hard for Igbos and indeed other minorities, to feel like they are part and parcel of Nigeria. Today, almost 20 years later, I took a look at the essay and it dawned on me that my point is still valid. No Igbo has ascended the helmsmanship of Nigeria in the past 52 years! And from the way things are going, where parties that once respected rotational presidency are now reneging, coupled with demographic and population disadvantage against the Igbos, history is about to repeat itself in 2023!

The Igbos and other minorities are still basically sitting on the sidelines, watching as the presidency is passed around amongst northerners and at times south westerners.

Eight years ago, major parties in Nigeria, like APC, campaigned on the strength of the fact that the year 2023 was a year the Igbos will taste Nigeria’s presidency. They seemed to aver that they would all work towards that. Well, 2023 is looking Nigeria in the face and some of these parties are slowly repudiating their previous stance. Northern and Western candidates are now offering themselves up for the helmsmanship of Nigeria. Normally, one would advise the Igbo candidates to ignore these folks and campaign on. But that would be tantamount to a fool’s errand. Why? Because as I noted earlier, population and demographics do not favor Igbos. An Igbo man will never win Nigeria’s presidency even if all Igbos and all South southerners vote for the person. The candidate must win substantial support from the north and west. If Nigeria is therefore serious about changing her narrative to one where egalitarianism holds sway, then it is imperative that Nigeria make the conscious effort to zone the presidency to someone of Igbo extraction. It is also imperative that any Igbo candidate must reach across the Niger to forge some national alliance. Politics is a game of numbers.

To be clear, when Igbos call for a President of Igbo extraction for Nigeria, they are not saying that every Igbo person is qualified or acceptable. I am Igbo but there are some Igbo candidates I will never vote for. Igbos are well aware that there are people in their midst who parade themselves as leaders but are hollow in thoughts, words and deed. Some of them were past governors that ran Igbo states aground. Their wickedness may not stop with their states. They may do the same to the Nigerian state so these are not the types of Igbo presidents we are talking about. It is therefore important to clarify that what Igbos are looking to give Nigeria as president, is a jobs-creating, money-saving, education conscious, forward thinking, corrupt-free and nationalistic Igbo. That person will be open minded enough to make the whole of Nigeria his or her constituency and fight for the betterment of all Nigerians.

There are so many reasons why it is imperative that a president of Igbo extraction emerge this time. For years, Igbos and other minority ethnic groups have occupied a spectatorial stance in a nation where they are supposed to be part of. From the sidelines, they watch others, especially northerners, shape their destiny, with very limited input. This situation has created a restiveness in Nigeria, especially amongst Igbo youths, that can be ameliorated if they are shown that they are truly part of Nigeria via the Igbo presidency project.

In case the reader is wondering why this writer is adamant about the perception that Nigeria’s presidency is seemingly for a select few tribes, let me break it down. Since the end of the Biafra war, the following has been the lineup of presidents or heads of state in Nigeria: General Gowon(North), General Murtala Mohammed (North), General Obasanjo(West), General Babangida(North), Mr. Earnest Shonekan(West), General Abacha(North), General Abubakar(North) General Obasanjo(West), Umaru Yaradua(North), Goodluck Jonathan(South South by accident) and General Buhari(North). If this is not outright exclusion of Igbos, I do not know what is.

In so many different words, some Nigerians often refer to the attempt by Biafra to break away in 1967 as a reason for the marginalization. They say Igbos cannot be trusted to hold Nigeria together. This smirks of both ambivalence, ignorance and disingenuousness. When General Yakubu Gowon commenced hostilities against Igbos in 1967, he said he was doing so to reintegrate the Igbos into the Nigerian fold. Right after the war, he said there was no victor and no vanquished. So if he fought the war to integrate the Igbos into Nigeria, how do you integrate people into a fold by denying them of the highest office in the land? Unless the integration was for the sole purpose of slavery or to be used and dumped, the so-called integration is not complete.

Before and after Nigeria got her Independence, the leaders of thought in Northern Nigeria complained that the northerners were underrepresented in the Nigerian military. As a result, the army quickly recruited, trained and promoted many soldiers of northern Nigerian origin so that the Nigerian army would "reflect the federal character". In fact during that process, some soldiers of northern Nigerian extraction, who were less than qualified, were promoted anyway so that they would be represented more in the officer corps.

The issue of federal character was visited again when the northerners claimed that their southern counterparts had academic advantage over them. Admission requirements to universities were lowered and quota system used to admit more northerners into universities. The north has gotten all its needs in terms of getting into the mainstream of Nigerian polity. Igbos are now asking that Nigeria level the playing field so that they can get into the mainstream of Nigeria’s polity via a president of Igbo extraction. If there were not obvious demographic disadvantage working against the Igbos, I am certain they would have gone it alone but this is not the case here. Igbos need other major ethnicities

Unfortunately, the seeming exclusion of Igbos from the helmsmanship of Nigeria is not the only issue that could be linked to the so called “punishment for trying to break away from Nigeria”. Since the end of the war, the federal government has been neglecting Igbo states in terms of infrastructure like roads, health care and the likes. A quick visit to Igbo states would prove my point. Federal roads are in a state of disrepair. The second Niger bridge project, which only started after so many fits and starts, is not only progressing at a snail speed but they plan to toll the road and further disadvantage citizens. All these are some of the things that make Igbos feel marginalized. When you add that to the seeming exclusion from the presidency, a pattern of isolation develops. These continue to fuel much of the angst we see today in Igboland by youths against the nation. It is my considered opinion that an Igbo presidency will greatly change the narrative for better and give the youth a sense of belonging in the project called Nigeria.

The civil war is over, Nigeria is one now and all entities that inhabit Nigeria must get equal treatment, be they Igbos, Yorubas, Efik, Ibibio, Hausa, heck be they from Nnewi! That is what Igbo presidency is aimed at.

Finally, I must caution Igbos that the quest for Igbo presidency must be done through gentle persuasion and honest diplomacy. The chosen candidate must be upright, corrupt-free, willing to see the whole nation as his responsibility and be willing to develop it as such. The candidate must convince the nation that he or she would represent them all and should leave no doubt as to ability to lend every ethnic group a hand up. Most of all, that person must be willing to complete the work that General Gowon failed to do in the early seventies: reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Then and only then would Nigeria be said to be one. Then and only then would the Igbos across the depth and breadth of Nigeria rise up in unison and say: it is finally well with us, it is well with our souls, it is well with Nigeria.

Here I Stand!

Author of the books- 1. Nigeria: Contemporary Commentaries and Essays

2. Surviving in Biafra: The Story of the Nigerian Civil War