Igbo And The Nigerian Presidency

By Ikenga Chronicles November 19, 2019

Igbo And The Nigerian Presidency

By Stanley Ekpa

The origin of rotational leadership and management of political institutions predates democracy, as a social system for inclusion and stability in any heterogeneous political arrangement. In international system, European Union and Switzerland operate a classic instance of this system – the Presidency of EU rotates amongst its member states every six months, while the presidency of the Swiss confederation rotates among the seven councillors on a yearly basis, with one year’s vice president of the Federal Council becoming the next year’s Confederation President.

The political theory for rotating Nigerian presidency finds its fulcrum on balancing the wheel of social justice, equity and inclusiveness in the management and governance of the Nigerian enterprise – a social theory that lacks constitutional bearing but beckons as a constant dominant factor in every general election in Nigeria since the 1995 Constitutional Conference. As a prefatory caveat, I want to abundantly place on record that I am not persuaded by the defence of the proponents of rotational presidency in Nigeria; I am at all times a strident exponent of meritocracy and competence of candidacies for the presidency of Nigeria. If the presidency must be achieved based on rotational arrangements, it must primarily be to advance a candidate that would give us a premium threshold of development results, leadership excellence and commitment to Nigeria’s oneness.

Since Nigeria’s attained independence in 1960, virtually all ethnic groups in the country have devised unifying ethnic organizations for the advancement and actualization of their collective economic and socio-political aspirations and interests, thereby creating an uneasy political relations among Nigeria’s more than 250 ethnic nationalities. Conscious of this, the Peoples Democratic Party in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness, has in Article 7.2 (c) of its Constitution provided that the party shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices. A provision which has a burden of enforcement within Nigeria’s political landscape except where it falls under the cardinal constitutional principle of Federal Character as provided by Section 13 (3) (4) of the 1999 CFRN to the extent that “the composition of the government of the federation, or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in the Government or in any of its agencies”. To achieve the ethnic antics of rotational presidency therefore is to unleash propaganda, media spinning and milling to sway sentiments in favour of any region involved.

This has led to the tri-polar power struggle amongst the supposedly “ mega-ethnic nationalities” of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba in a constant business of mobilizing for the manifest interest of themselves anchored on the theory of the interest of their regions, thereby leaving almost no one to mobilize for Nigeria’s interest, growth, development, unity and inclusive prosperity. The quest to mobilize the Igbo race started in the first two decades of the 20th century as part of Igbo resistance to foreign invasion and colonial domination. In 1933, the Nigerian Daily Telegraph published a letter which expressed the quest to establish an Igbo Union with the aim of protecting and advancing the overall interests of Ndi Igbo, politically, economically, socially, culturally and practically in every respect, through the “rebirth of the dying embers of Igbo national zeal.” It was the arguments of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe during the unveiling of a Pan-Nigerian Igbo Federal Union in 1944 that “the Igbo had not been united because of superstition and ignorance, that the Igbo, blessed as they were with natural resources, land and manpower, as well as common language, could achieve a great deal if they unite” that further sealed the establishment of the organization.

Expectedly, the organization like most other ethnic groups become exclusionary in its engagements as it was closely associated with the National Council of Nigerians and Cameroons, a political party known as the eastern party. With the abrupt end of the first republic in 1966, the group alongside all other ethnic groups was proscribed by the military administration, until the military opened up the political space in 1979, leading to the establishment of the Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo in 1976 as the apex unifying body for Ndi Igbo. But Ndi Igbo has carried on the exclusionary politics for too long and almost in all major elections in Nigeria. In 1979 when for some strategic reasons the Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo took a different and more inclusionary political route by aligning with the Shehu Shagari’s led government at the centre with Dr. Alex Ekwueme as as the Vice President, the Zik’s led Nigeria Peoples Party and other Igbo groups argued that the apex body’s alignment with the ruling hegemonic elite from other regions was subjecting Ndi Igbo to a subordinate role in the prevailing power configuration, and that the emergence of Dr. Ekwueme was only to serve as a stooge of the north.

As episodes of the game of the 2023 presidential throne unfold, Ndi Igbo must not demand for the presidency on the sentiment of social exclusion but on the strength of their leaders’ competence, visions for an inclusively developed Nigeria, ability to govern Nigeria like a public company where the interest of all shareholders and stakeholders are protected, and commitment to sustaining Nigeria’s oneness. To win the presidency, Ndi Igbo must play strategic politics of interest and policies. Negotiating a balanced political deal that promises hope for Nigeria; one that opens wider window of opportunities for subsequent generations of Igbo politicians to emerge; a deal that would give them a chance to rewrite the plethora of wrong notions about Ndi Igbo; a deal that would industrialize Nigeria; a deal that would leverage on Nigeria’s development comparative and competitive edges; a deal that would make Nigeria function efficiently; a deal for Nigeria and Nigerians.

Politics is a game of complex interests, strategy, tactics, collaboration and bridge building, and effective communications. Ndi Igbo has the organizational facilities, funds, intellect and creativity to contribute to a better Nigeria, not only in business, trade and investments but also in politics. This demands them to identify the brightest minds, viable and pragmatic politicians of the extraction to lead and flag their mandate – they must unite as was the wish of Zik as referenced above. The attitude of seeing some Igbo nationalities like Ebonyi, Nsukka and others as less Igbo can only further expose a region lacking self-control wanting to control the nation. For out of such marginalized nationalities, a true leader of the Igbo race and modern Nigeria can emerge. When a Nigerian president of an Igbo extraction emerges, he or she has a responsibility to make a clear difference in servant leadership, in credible and visionary leadership, in building a creative and smart nation for all, in setting a new standard in governance and in uniting Nigeria.

If the Igbo agenda for the 2023 presidency fails, the leaders of the region have a duty to organize Ndi Igbo for inclusionary relevance within the prevailing polity. They must continue to show leadership in providing and cementing the building blocks of Nigeria, and the Southeast as the industrial base of Nigeria. Nigeria’s federal system though weak gives the southeastern governors the latitude to leverage their states for local development. The solutions to the complaints of social injustice and marginalization of Ndi Igbo cannot be solved by the politics of winning the presidency alone, it would be manifestly resolved the moment the leaders within the region begin to take responsibility for the desired development results in their states.

  • Ekpa writes from Kaduna.