Dele Sobowale: Time For Igbo Presidency In 2023*
“Justice is a machine that, when someone has given it a push, rolls on of itself.”
John Galsworthy, 1867-1933. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p 111.
Perhaps in the midst of the multitudes of issues dividing this nation especially religion, politics, ethnicity, regionalism, economic inequality etc, it might appear audacious to bring another contentious issue up for debate — particularly, when it is at the moment not a popular view across Nigeria. However, the question of Igbo presidency pre-dated all of our current problems and will probably outlast all of them – if it is allowed to linger.
Most of us seem to have forgotten that Boko Haram started in 2009; herdsmen were harmless individuals moving around with their cattle without threatening even the smallest girl alone in a farm until about 2015. Bandits were seen only on American films as those nasty people committing atrocities and being hounded by security forces on horseback.
Kidnapping was limited to occasional snatching of small kids (that was why it was called kid-napping) instead of District Heads and Minister’s wives and Medical doctors. Go and open any newspaper you want up till 2010 and you will find almost no stories about all the social maladies which have become front page news since 2012 till now.
But, the recurrent issue of Igbo presidency remains on the national agenda – and will remain there until we address it frontally and end it once and for all. The year 2023 is to me as good as any to aim for it. Permit me to defer the answer to why 2023 until later in the narrative. Incidentally, most of us seem to also forget that we almost solved the problem without violence, rancour or animosity during the transition to civil rule in 1998-9. Let me briefly remind all of us.
A great deal of what follows is taken from my book PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED – mainly from pages 93 to 108. For the sake of those under the age of thirty, who might not have heard of them, I want to introduce thirty four gallant men – called the G-34 – who risked everything. Everything included life to confront the deadliest dictator Nigeria has known – General Sani Abacha.
1. Dr Alex Ekwueme, 2. Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, 3. Chief Bola Ige, 4. Chief Ayo Adebanjo, 5. Chief Sunday Awoniyi, 6. Alhaji Sule Lamido, 7. Chief Solomon Lar, 8. Malam Adamu Ciroma, 9. Dr Tunji Otegbeye, 10. Professor Jerry Gana, 11. Alhaji Balarabe Musa, 12. Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, 13. Dr Iyorcha Ayu, 14. Alhaji Lawal Keita, 15. Col Abubakar Umar, 16. Professor Ango Abdullahi, 17. Alhaji Mohammed Arzika, 18. Alhaji Suleiman Komo, 19. Alhaji Lawal Dambanzu, 20, Malam Iro Dan Musa, 21. Alhaji Farouk Abdulazeez, 22. Alhaji Musa Yakubu, 23. Mr Steve Achema. 24. Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, 25. Chief Onyeabo Obi, 26. Chief Francis Ellah, 27. Chief Emeka Echeruo, 28. Major General Zamani Lekwot, 29. Mr Basil Ukaegbu, 30. Mr Isaac Sha’ahu, 31. Malam Mahmud Waziri, 32. Mr Dangana Nfayako, 33. Dr Usman Bugaje, 34. Obong Victor Attah. (Of course Attah has to be there in every role of honour. That is why almost adore him).
The G-34 had several things in common. First, one of my friends and classmate in the university in the USA described them as “men who must have packed iron balls instead of scrotum to have had the courage to openly confront Abacha at a time when everybody else was afraid to even whisper the dictator’s name in their bedrooms. Second, they were evenly divided between Muslims (18) and Christians (18). Third, although the Military Head of State was a Northerner, 21 of them were from the North and only fifteen from the South. Yet, they all accepted late Dr Alex Ekwueme, the Second Republic Vice President and Igbo man as their leader. Fourth, Ekwueme was well on is way to becoming the elected President in 1999 until unkind fate took over and prevented Nigeria from healing the wounds of the 1967-70 Civil War once and for all. For most of the details about how the nation missed the chance and instead of Ekwueme we got Obasanjo – we exchanged gold for dross – readers will have to get a copy of the book from someone who has one. The important thing is that we once got so close to getting an Igbo President when 34 truly patriotic Nigerians first got together to form the nucleus of a great all-inclusive political party and then scouted for more like-minded individuals. Unfortunately, they were not too careful about their selection of members. They got foxes mixed with chicken in the same cage.
On 21 February 1999, in an article published in the SUNDAY VANGUARD, I warned Ekwueme and by extension the PDP with these prophetic words:
Many of us have assumed that the military revolution , which ended up as all revolutions in the hands of madmen, would have cautioned all Nigerians about the dangers of continuing military influence on our lives, and in that regard your emergence as the leader of the PDP and presidential aspirant raised hopes of deliverance. Even the entry of General Obasanjo was not seen as a threat to that aspiration. Not because people had anything against Obasanjo. Personally, I don’t, but because of the need for the clean break with regimented governance, with orders issued to be obeyed “with immediate effect, irrespective of the soundness of the decision, could not be achieved by looking backwards [to Obasanjo] instead of moving forward. At least so we thought.
But, as events unfolded, as N130 million [ a colossal amount in those days] was first donated by faceless manipulators and billions more weighed in on the side of continuation of military rule by other means, it became increasingly clear that the party you once called “my baby” would be snatched from you by powerful groups hell-bent on ensuring that the clean break with the past does not occur.”
“TO MY BROTHER ALEX EKWUEME” in PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED, p 99.
Granted Ekwueme and the Founding Fathers of the PDP ignored the warning and set the ball rolling for the predicaments in which we find Nigeria today, there is a ray of hope even in that story. A party known to be led by an Igbo man was overwhelmingly accepted across all the zones. The question is: Have we run out of Ekwuemes in Nigeria. I would not be writing this article if the answer is NO! I sincerely believe there are at least half a dozen “Ekwuemes” even now. None of them is a former VP or leader of a party he started. But, there are Igbo men and women with the requisite leadership qualities who can serve the nation meritoriously. We must find them or some of them must start taking the risk of coming out NOW! That statement immediately would raise a complex question: why must we find them and why are they not coming out on their own? Let me attempt to answer them as best as possible.
First, we must find them because it is not the first time some individuals or group have found some of our past leaders for us – Gowon (1967-1976), Obasanjo (1976-1979, 1999-2007), Shagari (19791983), Buhari (1984-1985), Yar’Adua (2007-2010). If we are honest with ourselves we must admit that for most of our history since 1966 our national leaders have been found for us – one way or another. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot adopt the same method for getting our Igbo President. To be quite candid we are being discriminatory when we refrain from undertaking the task of searching for and bringing our Igbo President.
The question “why are they not coming out on their own?” is just a shade less dishonest than the first one. If the truth must be told, the rest of us in Nigeria intimidate the prospective Igbo candidates. We set up political hurdles higher than those established for others for them to scale and we make it almost impossible for them to scale them – even with super-human efforts. Just read the book PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED, especially the areas pertaining to how Obasanjo emerged as the party’s presidential candidate and you will understand why Ekwueme failed after building the party right from prison. One would have thought that Obasanjo, self-esteemed as a statesman and having the power at the time to impose his successor would have used that clout to impose an Igbo president and end the Civil War once and for all time. Even he could not think that deeply. He went for the easy choice which required no courage at all.
“If we do not find our way to peace, whatever else we do will not make much difference.” Charles Keller, President Rotary International 1988-9. VBQ P 184.
IPOB as well as all the other radical Igbo organisations will continue to have relevance as long as we don’t address this issue and peace will continue to elude us and cost the nation billions required for development. Nigeria’s security forces were placed on high alert because Kanu’s parents were being buried. An event which should not have merited more than mere mention in the papers had the entire world focussed on it and wasting time and resources. We are paying dearly already for this self-inflicted damage to our country. No external enemy could have done worse to us. In 2023 we have a chance to at least put this one conflict behind us – if we can summon the courage once and for all time.
NO HIDDEN AGENDA
Almost invariably when such a call is made in Nigeria small minded individuals assume there must be a hidden agenda. The promoter must have a candidate in mind. I was confronted with the same sort of scepticism when the call for a Christian Governor in Lagos State was made on these pages in 2010-1. Apart from being dismissed as a day-dreamer who had not consulted the “god” of Lagos politics, there was fear that I was fronting for a candidate. Time proved my critics wrong on the two counts. We had Ambode who I never met in my life as Governor and I did not prostrate before any human being in Lagos. Igbo presidency in 2023 is also possible because all power belongs to God Almighty. I have no candidate in mind. There are some possibilities; but, none that I ever met in my life – a former Senator, a businessman and thinking out of the box, there is the Chairman of Air Peace who selflessly provided aircrafts to lift fellow Nigerians out of South Africa. That is the sort of heroism which separates the man from the boys. I am compiling a dossier on Allen Onyema and others – just in case we need him again…..