FEATURE ARTICLE


Ugorji Okechukwu UgorjiMonday, November 25, 2002
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okechukwuugorji@yahoo.com
Princeton, NJ, USA


CLEARING THE DECK:
EKWUEME'S CANDIDACY FOR PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA


he following is a piece about the almost certain candidacy of Dr. Alex I. Ekwueme for President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I write it from the perspectives of a fan of progressive democracy, an admirer of Dr. Ekwueme, and from the perspective of an Igbo who believes that the time has come for us to finally celebrate the end of the civil war in what is today Nigeria. Nothing in this piece should be construed as necessarly an endorsement of Dr. Ekwueme, nor does my admiration for the statesman bar me from eventually supporting another candidate.

By the week of November 25th, (Chukwu willing), Ide Dr. Alex I. Ekwueme, will step up to the plate. He will tell the world that he will offer himself, his experiences, and his skills, for the right and honor to carry the banner of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2003 presidential elections. He will pick up the form to join the PDP presidential primaries, scheduled for the first week in January 2003. He, essentially, will be the other foot that is expected to drop, and then the ultimate game will begin.

Like him or not, Ekwueme's entry into the race will clear the deck of all other Igbo aspirants, in all the parties. The other Igbo candidates in PDP (Okadigbo, and Ike Nwachukwu) will ultimately coalesce around him. Ohaneze will embrace his candidacy, and the classic Abigbo troubadours of Mbaise will do an apostrophe to the promises of an Ekwueme presidency. If he gets the PDP nomination, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA will most likely opt not to field a candidate for President. And if President Obasanjo supports him, we may witness for the first time, the AD and the Yoruba voting for an Igbo candidate for President. And of course, his candidacy's most reliable support is coming from the conservative North with whom he had worked well and aligned gainfully, and who will, this time, stay faithful to him. Love him or not, he really is the best chance of a meritorious Nigerian President of Igbo heritage, come 2003. I did not say the best candidate (although the argument can be made that he is that too), but he will be the Igbo's best chance. And my Chi, what a chance, and what a candidate.

With Ekwueme's entry, it seams to me that one of five men will be President of Nigeria come 2003, and it shall all depend on the type of house the PDP is, following its presidential primaries in January. The incumbent, President Olusegun Obasanjo (who has truly accomplished much more than readily meets the eye at this moment in history) remains the man to beat. His Vice President, the Turaki of Adamawa, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, with his now immense political clout, remains a viable and possible President, particularly if his boss decides to voluntarily return to his farm in Ota and support him. Then, still in the PDP, there is Ide himself.

In the All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP, I just don't see how General Buhari fails to get the party's nomination for President, with perhaps John Nwodo as his running mate. The party is controlled by the (ANPP) governors from the North, who are champions of Sharia. This is Buhari's natural constituency, even as he makes effort to broaden his acceptability. And then there is the Nigerian Democratic Party, NDP that is rumored to have gotten the interest of the 1000-pound handsome gorilla, General Ibrahim Babangida. One of these five men will be President come 2003. But I digressed; let me get back to Ekwueme.

EKWUEME THE MAN

I feel about Ekwueme's bid for the presidency of Nigeria as I felt about George Bush senior's bid for the presidency of the United States: No one, absolutely no one, has earned the right to be president more than him. Perhaps never before in Nigeria's history, has a candidate brought the awesome combination of intellect, leadership experience, sacrifice, entrepreneurial excellence, and yes, compassionate conservatism, like Ekwueme brings. Whenever a just cause was there to be fought, Ekwueme managed to be on the scene to lead. And whenever he lost a cause or a contest, he left the terrain intact for the winner rather than wreck it, and waited patiently for another day and another opportunity.

His academic preparation is impeccable, perhaps matched only by Chuba Okadigbo's (if that). He has put himself through the rigors of studying architecture, law, and political science, to the point of terminal degrees. When Eastern Nigeria had nothing else to do but defend itself from 1967 to 1970, Ekwueme was one of very comfortable intellectuals who returned and volunteered to pay the ultimate price. Instead of fatigues, he was given the task of putting together the hallow grounds of Uli Airport that sustained a nation and a people until Ojukwu left in search of peace. The man and his team of engineers rank among those brave souls who deserve the highest honors the people of the then Eastern Nigeria could bestow on their defenders.

With the advent of the Second Republic, the miracle builder of Uli resurfaced only a heartbeat away from the presidency. Ekwueme's emergence in 1979 as President Shehu Shagari's running mate and ultimately as the nation's Vice President remains one of the most stunning political accomplishments in Nigeria's history. On the days he was sworn in, the handsome man showed up, not in the common Agbada, but in what has now become the formal signature wear of assertive Igbo males, the Isiagu. In so doing, he signaled the return of a beaten pride, and the rise of an African group phoenix.

Beneath the surface of what appeared like a political dogfight between Ekwueme's conservative NPN and the more progressive NPP, which controlled the East, the Ide never lost sight of the needs of a beleaguered part of the nation (the East). Cooperation between Ekwueme and the Igbo intellectuals he had brought back to the center of Nigeria's politics on the one hand, and the progressive, assertive governors and operatives of the NPP controlled Eastern states on the other hand, was much deeper than met the eye. So much so, that a systematic post-war agenda to contain the Igbo politically, culturally, and economically began to give way to a beehive of industries established virtually overnight by Governors Mbakwe and Nwobodo of old Imo and old Anambra respectively. With Ekwueme's influence, Mbakwe and Nwobodo had access to funds by way of loans from lending institutions outside the country. With his influence and the courage of a young intellectual named Okadigbo, the NPN national government brought back home the patron saint of the war of survival, Ojukwu, with full pardon. The Igbo and the Eastern corridor were coming back from the ravages of the war, and by 1983, following the reelection of him and his boss, the wheel began to churn to prepare Ekwueme to succeed Shagari.

Many more than a few observers believe the Buhari-led coup of 1984 was not so much against Shagari, but one to stop the unthinkable: The ascendance of Ekwueme, a Biafran hero, to Nigerian presidency in 1987, only 17 years after the war. The Army officers who prosecuted the war on the Nigerian side just could not wait till 1987 to stop that; so they struck as far away from 1987 before Ekwueme could consolidate, and so that the link would not be so easily made. From the corridors of power, Ekwueme, Mbakwe, Nwobodo and others, went to Kirikiri, but by the time Ide came out he had been canonized as not corrupt, in fact, poorer when he left office than he was when he went in.

As the duo of Generals Babangida and Abacha went through the funky dances of constitutional conferences and transition programs, Ekwueme stayed engaged. He sold the nation on the notion of six geopolitical zones, with the ultimate autonomy to develop and advance at their own pace, aided and held together, of course, by the center. As bombs exploded all over the nation, with the bombers unknown, and as assassination became a political tool, Ekwueme led a brave bunch of 34 to tell Abacha he must abandon his transmutation from military to civilian president. When G34 joined with other groups during the Abdulsalami Abubakar transition program to form the PDP, Ekwueme was considered a shoe-in for the party's presidential nomination. The gentle farmer from Ota late joined the PDP, and the rest they say, is history. More importantly, Ekwueme took his defeat at the party's convention with the kind of magnanimity that Nigeria had never witnessed. He campaigned for Obasanjo's victory. And despite post-election machinations to dilute his influence in the party, he has stayed faithful to the party he helped found.

EKWUEME THE METAPHOR

This candidacy and this election will truly be a test for Nigeria. There is perhaps no living, grander enthusiast of a unified and truly united Nigerian nation than the Ide. If, during what will ultimately be his last attempt at the presidency, this man fails, many people who had sat on the fence of this national experiment will begin to rethink. For this is not so much about Ekwueme the man, this is much more about Ekwueme the Nigerian metaphor. Can we really continue to tell the world that the nation with the lion's share of Africa's intellectuals will not elect a smart intellectual as President? Can we really continue to say to the world that there was no vanquished in the war that ended in 1970 if in over 32 years, the largest ethnic group in the nation has been systematically impeded in all ramifications of political and cultural power? Can we really afford to continue to choke this nation just as long as the Igbo, whose gift and divinity is badly needed to catapult this floundering giant to genuine greatness, is contained? Can we continue to say to the world that the dream of a Black power, able to protect the interests and dignity of God's original creation in human form anywhere in the world, must remain deferred?

These are among the many questions an Ekwueme election or defeat will answer for all of us in 2003. For me, Ekwueme represents my perspective about the place of the Igbo in Nigeria, the place of the Nigerian in Africa, and the place of the African in world affairs. That place is everywhere and anywhere and in any position, not exclusive or oppressive of others, but embracing, accommodating, and faithful to all with whom we share the space. Should the announcement of his candidacy come, both Ohaneze and World Igbo Congress must tell the world that the deck is cleared, the flag bearer has arrived, and that all distractions must be stripped off the table.

Dr. Ugorji Okechukwu Ugorji is the publisher/CEO of Sungai Corp., a Princeton, New Jersey-based publishing and consulting firm. He is also the Executive Director of the non-profit African Writers Endowment, Inc. The latest book written by him entitled "TALL DRUMS: PORTRAITS OF NIGERIANS WHO ARE CHANGING AMERICA," will be released on December 7, 2002.