Although the 2023 presidential election in Nigeria is still two years away, it has been observed that some aspirants and interested geo-political zones have raised their game in a bid to clinch the choice position.
One zone that has been at the forefront in the quest is the Southeast zone, which is telling whoever cares to listen that it is the turn of the zone to produce the next president of the country.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, has led many other organisations and top politicians to make case for the Igbo and for the Southeast zone in particular. Just late December, the then outgoing President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, said of the zone’s quest, “this is a democracy; people are free to say what they want. But what is important is how the will of the nation will be distilled to ensure that there is justice. Nobody here is a second-class citizen and Ndigbo are not. So it is our turn in 2023.” He said this in Nnewi at the public presentation of the official biography of the town’s monarch, Igwe Kenneth Orizu, entitled The Peace General, authored by Azuka Onwuka.
Another top politician that recently insisted it is the turn of the zone is Hon. Simon Atigwe, the lawmaker representing Igbo-Eze North/Udenu Federal Constituency of Enugu State.
He recently told journalists in Abuja that “If equity should come to play, it is not disputable; it is the turn of Southeast. If it comes to the South and it doesn’t go to the Southeast, then there must be a very serious reason. I don’t think anybody can proffer such reason to convince people easily. I don’t think anybody has that reason that it should not go to the Southeast.”
Notwithstanding the verbal demand for the 2023 Nigerian president of Igbo extraction, The Nation investigation shows that it is still difficult to identify an aspirant that is determined enough and prepared enough to win the presidential ticket of any of the leading political parties. Close observers of both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), said that as at this weekend, the aspiration of most of the known politicians from the Southeast zone remains at the speculative level.
“Do not be swayed by the noise; I can tell you that in the ruling APC, no Southeast aspirant’s interest has gone beyond media speculation. You can say two years is still a long way to go, but I can assure you that in other geo-political zones, I, for one, can point at some serious and fully prepared aspirants for the party’s presidential ticket. I am yet to identify any from the Southeast. So, why should I join the agitators to say it is the turn of the Southeast,” asked Dr. Fredrick Mba, a political analyst in Lagos.
Mr. Dominic Egbe, a rights activist and PDP supporter also confided that even in the PDP, it is doubtful if anyone can say for sure that a particular aspirant from the Southeast has built enough structure and followership ahead of the 2023 presidential contest.
“Ordinarily, one would expect the PDP to hand over its 2023 presidential ticket to the Southeast zone, given the strength of the party in the zone, but from what is happening and the reports that the North may still cling on the party’s ticket in 2023, it appears Southeast qualified aspirants are not enthusiastic enough to come out for the ticket. I need not tell you that power is not given. You will have to demand for it and contest for it before it would be left for you. That is the way it works. But you will agree with me that even the Southeast top politicians that have been associated with the quest so far have all denied it. Yes, that may be understandable since this is just 2021, but we all know that anyone that seriously want to preside over Nigeria in 2023 must by now have verifiable structure and followership. Presidency is a serious matter. I am yet to see such an aspirant in the PDP from the Southeast,” he said.
Since 2020 when observers started bandying possible aspirants for the top position from the Southeast zone, virtually all of them have made haste to deny the suggestion.
As far back as August 2020, a political association, the Igbo for President Solidarity Group (IPSC), became specific when it listed about 11 politicians from the zone it considered fit to contest for the office of president in 2023.
According to the association, “IPSC has come to the conclusion that in 2023, a man or woman of Igbo extraction will become the president of Nigeria.
“IPSC will engage in consultations across the six geo-political zones, visitation to Emirs, Obas, Eze, Obi and chiefs, to discuss and examine the characters and integrity of the eleven persons suggested,” the group said.
Some of the politicians suggested by the association are Dr. Ogbonaya Onu of Ebonyi State, former Gov. Peter Obi of Anambra, Dr. Chris Ngige of Anambra, Sen. Rochas Okorocha of Imo; Gov. Dave Umahi of Ebonyi, Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia; Sen. Ike Ekweremadu of Enugu, Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe of Abia; Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu; Sen. Andy Uba of Anambra and Prof. Kingsley Moghalu of Anambra State.
Besides such specific mention, it is observed that nothing tangible has been seen around most of the mentioned aspirants to suggest they are fully in the race. Even the most visible of the alleged aspirants had formally denied suggestions linking them to such quest.
This drama of denial trailed the politics of the zone in the last quarter of 2020 and peaked mid-January, 2021 when the former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, denied authorizing posters bearing his picture and name as a 2023 presidential aspirant.
Powered by a group known as Nigerians Ask for Anyim with Facebook and Twitter names as piusanyim2023 and with www.nigeriaask4anyim.org as its website, the campaign posters, tagged Progress 2023 with the picture of the former Senate President and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, lighted the political scene as soon as it flooded the social media.
But although the said Nigerians Ask for Anyim 2023 campaign organisation is alleged to be championed by a former House of Representatives member in Ebonyi State, Anyim swiftly disassociated himself from it..
In a statement he personally signed, Anyim said even if he is interested in running for president in 2023, the time for campaign has not come.
As he puts it: “My attention has just been drawn to posters and stories circulating in the Social Media. One of them has the inscription “Progress 2023 Anyim Pius Anyim for President…” with my picture on it;
“I want to state very emphatically that I do not have a hand in those posters or campaign and did not authorise any such publications.
As a law-abiding citizen, I am fully aware that it is not the time for the campaign for 2023 elections.
“The government at the federal level has spent only a year and seven months out of four-year term, grappling with issues of governance and so should not be distracted”.
Anyim therefore charged the general public to disregard such posters and or publications.
Also, when Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) last year, the circumstances surrounding his action brought to the fore the sensitive issue of who would suceed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023 and if APC would zone its presidential ticket to the Southeast in 2023.
This was mainly because of the reasons Umahi gave for his defection and choice of political party to join. It would be recalled that Umahi had alleged that one of the reasons he decided to dump the PDP was because the party was not planning to pick its 2023 presidential candidate from the Southeast, which has yet to produce a president since democracy was restored in Nigeria in 1999.
Describing the party’s action as “insensitive and insincere,” Umahi argued that “for the sake of justice, equity and fairness, the region should be allowed to take a shot at the presidency” since, according to him, “other regions have done so.”
As the Chairman of the Southeast Governors Forum, Umahi’s utterances attracted attention of political observers and various stakeholders. Many concluded that Umahi has presidential ambition and probably had the belief that he would be given APC ticket. He however shocked many when he denied harbouring plan to be a beneficiary of his agitation for Southeast’s turn to produce the President. He rather said he was prepared to be the “sacrificial lamb.”
As he puts it: “It is absurd that since 1999 going to 2023, the Southeast will never be considered to run for presidency under the PDP. And this is my position and will continue to be my position. It had nothing to do with me or my ambition.
“I want to clear the air that I never sought PDP presidential ticket and I will not. So whoever said that I moved to APC because they refused to zone the ticket to me is being very mischievous.”
Anyim and Umahi are not the only top Southeast politicians that have denied posters advertising them as 2023 presidential aspirants.
Former Governor of Anambra State and the Vice Presidential candidate of PDP in the last presidential election, Mr. Peter Obi, also had to do so in 2020.
When a campaign poster circulating online associated the former Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), vice presidential candidate, as contesting alongside former Governor Rabi’u Kwakwanso ahead of 2023 presidency, he promptly denied having a hand in the publication of such poster.
The campaign poster, which surfaced online, has Obi running for president while Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, former Kano State Governor is his running mate.
The slogan on the campaign poster reads: “For equity and fairness 2023” with Obi and Kwankwaso running for presidency on the PDP platform in 2023.
In his reaction, Obi, the former Anambra State governor, denied involvement in the poster.
Obi in a short statement on his Twitter page wrote: “I am not a part of the poster being circulated – PO.”
Even the former Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka, had similar experience. When a poster, also circulating on social media, purporting that he would run for the vice presidential position with the Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal as his presidential candidate, he said it was false.
In a statement by his media aide, Mr. Ikechukwu Okafor, Chidoka said, “I did not produce any poster nor did I authorize anyone or group to produce any on my behalf.
“I did not directly or indirectly authorise anybody or group of persons to produce or circulate any posters for any campaign,” he said.
The denials notwithstanding, we learnt that more than ever, the search for an acceptable aspirant or aspirants for the office of Nigerian President from the Southeast is currently ongoing. As Dr. Mba explains it, “though party chieftains, for the fear of offending party guidelines may tell you it is still early in the day, I can tell you that Ohanaeze Ndigbo leadership and Igbo elders consider the emergence of Nigerian President of Igbo extraction as a task that must be fulfilled.”
Even Ohanaeze Ndigbo, under the new leadership of Prof George Obiozor, has been reported as stating clearly that one of the mandates handed over to them is to produce a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023.
The newly elected spokesman of the body, Alex Ogbonna, was quoted as saying, “The only aim is to convince Nigerians to consider Igbo for 2023 because we have been tasked to carry and portray the awareness and consciousness of the Igbo. Fortunately, the consciousness is to produce Igbo president. There is no need to delay or coming up with a new mandate. “There is no time to be negative about the goal. We are very hopeful that we will achieve it. The mandate is an already started one and it is very clear to all of us. It is an unwritten agreement that must be achieved.”
The search is on. It therefore remains to be seen who the zone would finally present to the rest of Nigeria.