By Aluu Vincent

The times are indeed interesting and precarious as the 2023 general elections draws nigh. Nigeria once again is at the point of history where it will decide on whose shoulder the responsibility of managing the complex affairs of the nation after 2023 will rest on and which geo political zone of the country should produce the president. Although the odd favours the South East Zone predominantly occupied by the Igbos, political mathematicians and those who do not mean well for this country are at it again claiming that there is nothing like zoning. They have gone to work to design the formula, abracadabra and permutations on which zone will produce the President. The bitter truth is that zoning and consensus is a part of Nigeria’s political process and has always helped political parties produce leaders. Though not conceding that the South East will get the presidency on a platter, the need for bridge building, wider consultations, negotiations and compromise among the other geo-political zones cannot be over emphasized.

Nigeria is a federal structure made up of 36 states, a federal capital and 774 Local Government spread across 6 geopolitical zones of North East, North West, North Central, South West, South East and South-South. Going by the Federal Character Principles, offices whether elective or appointive and resources are shared among the geo-political zone to allow for equity, fairness and justice. How these have been applied remains to be seen as there has been cries of marginalization from different zones of the country especially the South East Zone.
Since after the civil war, the South East Zone has not remained the same as the war left it devastated with completely destroyed hospitals, schools, and homes. In addition to the loss of their savings, many Igbo people faced discrimination from other ethnic groups and from the federal government. Some Igbo subgroups, such as the Ikwerre, started dissociating themselves from the larger Igbo population after the war. In the post-war era, people of Eastern Nigeria changed the names of both people and places to non-Igbo-sounding words. For instance, the town of Igbuzo was anglicized to Ibusa. Due to discrimination, many South Easterners had trouble finding employment, and during the early 1970s, the Igbo became one of the poorest ethnic groups in Nigeria, Tamuno (1970). Uzokwe (2013) revealed that Igboland was gradually rebuilt by its citizens and some contribution from the Nigerian government over a period of twenty years and the economy prospered again due to the rise of the petroleum industry in the adjacent Niger Delta region. This led to the establishment of new factories and other businesses.

The defining characteristics of the South East geopolitical zone are critical. First, it is the geopolitical zone with the least volume of landmass, and the fewest number of states in composition. The region accounts for 3.2 per cent of Nigeria’s land space. Second, it is the geopolitical zone with nearly 95% homogeneous population of Igbo – speaking ethnic persons, Uzokwe (2013).

Structurally, South East remains disadvantaged as the emergence of Nigeria’s 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) spread across the six geopolitical zones, has the zone with the least number of 95 LGAs. While the North West zone has the highest number of 186 LGAs, the South West zone has 138 LGAs, South –South has 123 LGAs; North Central zone 115 LGAs; and North East zone 112 LGAs. The same structural outlook is manifested in the number of Senatorial and House of Representatives’ seats or districts/constituencies among the six geopolitical zones. Out of the country’s 109 Senators, the South East zone has the least number of 15, whereas the North West zone is given 21 followed by South West, South-South, North Central and North East zones with 18 each.

Being already disadvantaged in all ramification, the Zone has taken the bull by the horn to remain self-made with private entrepreneurs demonstrating their determination to accentuate the economic progress. Anambra State tops the chart in boosting the economy of the zone through industrialization and agriculture. Nnewi indigenes who are industrialists ensured the location of various industries in their homestead and has been dubbed the ‘Japan of Africa’. From manufacturing of household item, automotive spare parts, wires and cables and food products, the industrialists have contributed a great deal in this aspect. This has seen Chief Innocent Chukwuma of the Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company, producing locally made vehicles and Aba commercial nerve centre of Abia state is renowned for the ingenuity and the industry in handcrafts, including shoe-making, fashion and design, steel works and fabrications, textiles, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and cosmetics, amongst others.

Despite all these trappings, majority of the indigenes of the South East region have the strong perception that the region has not had a fair deal in terms of proportionate political representation in federal institutions and structures of government at the centre, even though there are basic constitutional provisions and other guideposts, (Nnamani 2017:23). One could see that the rulership of Nigeria is dominated by the Northern section of the country thus, excluding the South East in the process. The appearance of some southerners as heads-of state was accidental. For instance, the assassination of Murtala Muhammed on 13th February, 1976 led to the appointment of his erstwhile second-in-command, Olusegun Obasanjo. Also, the late Ernest Shonekan who also hails from the West was manipulated into office by the military to head a contraption called Interim National Government (ING) to placate the westerners who were annoyed over the annulment of the June 12th presidential election believed to have been won by the late business mogul, Chief M.K.O. Abiola Adeosun, (2000:101). The second coming of Obasanjo from 1999-2007 has been attributed to the south-west threat of possible secession if not given the shot at the presidency, which informed the two presidential candidates (Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae) from the same zone-south-west during the transition programme of General Abdulsalam Abubakar Ojo, (2009:390). The death of Umaru Musa Yar’adua led to the emergence of Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Although the latter was later elected in April General Election of 2011, in what has been described as a pan–Nigerian mandate, the post-election crises that followed his announcement as the winner of the election further showed that the country was far from being united and make nonsense of the so-called Pan –Nigerian mandate.

There is a seeming mutual tension between the elites of the South and the North resulting in concerns by the Southerners that the more populous Northern region would always have the upper hand in any majoritarian electoral contest. In the same vein, the Northerners were of the view that the more educated Southern elite would dominate state institutions. In the political arena, there have been a Northern domination and monopoly of political power at the expense of the other regions. Of the 15 Nigerians who have exercised executive powers at the federal level either as Military or Civilian presidents; ten have come from the old North, two from the Old West and three from the old East. The North has ruled Nigeria for a collective period of about 40 years out of Nigeria’s 61 years post-independence period.

The South East still suffers effects of the war for daring to secede from Nigeria. They have not forgotten the deliberate, wicked, heartless, obnoxious and outrageous policy master-minded by late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the then Finance Minister purposely to cripple the south east economically where they were merely and ridiculously given twenty pounds irrespective of how much of Biafran pounds they brought for exchange. The Igbos cannot also forget the infamous and inhuman ‘Abandoned Property’ saga that was perpetrated against the Igbo people in Rivers State immediately the civil war ended in 1970.

The South East has not had a shot at the presidency of Nigeria since 1966 owing to the politics of exclusion in place apart from the late Nnamdi Azikiwe who was a ceremonial head of state. If the 36 states structure is based on equity, the South-East would have six ministers as constitutionally guaranteed. The South-East has no visible presence in the present federal government despite promises of balancing. The South-East is not in the security apparatus of the present government as represented by heads of security agencies. Uneze (2016) notes that the South East is one of the major entities in the social unit called Nigeria but often treated differently in the power equation for various misgivings. Uneze maintains that for the South East to assert and take its place in the scheme of things, its leaders have to come together as a people and speak with one voice. Uneze says unity of purpose had long eluded the Igbo race and the resultant effect of disunity among the people had actually brought untold hardship and unimaginable marginalisation.

Some of the exclusion indicators of the South East Zone include political emasculation where Igbos are excluded effectively from being key players in the formation and execution of major policy decisions in Nigeria; politics of state creation with the zone having the least number of states, discrimination in federal appointments with instances abounding where the office of the President of the Federation, Chairman and Directors of federal parastatals, commanding structures of various military installations, have been specifically left for the Hausas, Fulanis and Yorubas. There is also military neutralization where the Igbos are allowed only token presence in the Nigerian Army through absorption of only a negligible number of the Nigerian army officers of Igbo origin. There has also been selective development where seaports of Calabar and Port Harcourt which are close the Igbo have been excluded from a serious development attention to promote import-export activities. Today many importers travel to Lagos to clear their goods. More so occasional ban on importation of second-hand vehicles (Tokunbo) and stockfish (okporoko) are intended to marginalize the Igbo. The question to ask is, why the Oguta Lake has not been transformed into an international seaport and the dredging of River Niger at Onitsha.

Given the above, it becomes imperative to conclude that the South East has not been fairly treated economically, politically, socially, militarily and otherwise. The leaders of the zone share a greater portion of the blame as they have colluded with other zones to deny the zone what is theirs. The activities of secessionist groups like IPOB have worsened security situation and the condition of the people. As the discussion shifts to the 2023 general elections, the narratives need to be centered on how to allow the Igbos have a shot at the presidency. It is not only as a matter of urgency; it has become needful for the sake of equity, justice and in line with the federal character principle.

Facts are sacrosanct and sacred. Federal elective and appointive offices have always been zoned. In 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo was president from the South East with his Vice from the North (Adamawa). When the late Yardua emerged in 2007, his Vice Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was picked from Bayelsa State, South-South. Former President Goodluck had his Vice from Kaduna. President Muhammadu Buhari is a product of zoning with his Vice from South West zone. Also, apart from producing military leaders, the North has had the privilege of producing two civilian presidents, the South West produced two while South-South has produced one in the current democratic dispensation leaving the South East orphaned. Where lies equity, fair play and justice? As the tenure of President Buhari gradually screeches to a halt, the Presidency returns to the South with the hope that the South East is favoured to take a shot. Those who deny zoning now are mischief makers and enemies of Nigeria. When other zones had their turn, no one talked about competence because the onus was on the favoured zone to field its best. The South East is no doubt blessed with some of the very best hands.

Incidentally, a handful have indicated interest to take a shot. The likes of Mr. Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra state and an international businessman, Prof Kingsley Muoghalu, former Deputy Governor of the CBN, Engr. Dave Umahi, Governor of Ebonyi State, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, former Senate President and Secretary to Government of the Federation, Dr. Orji Uzo Kalu, former Governor of Abia State and current Senate Chief Whip, etc. The list is endless. It is important at this point to call on Ohaneze Ndigbo and all relevant stakeholders to close ranks, bury their differences, build bridges across different zones, consult, negotiate and if need be make some compromises to ensure that all political parties zones the presidency to the South East. The zone should be firm enough to make a choice among the very best hands available and come up with a sellable and acceptable candidate. The idea of having so many Igbos contesting will be counterproductive. The maxim that (Igbo nwere mmadu) meaning Igboland has great people should be applied and the best hand chosen as the choice of the Igbos. The North and the West did same. The Igbos should follow suit.

For other geo-political zones in Nigeria eyeing the presidency too, there is an Igbo proverb that says, (k’emenyelu nwammadu, k’emenyelu nwammuo) translated to mean treat the children of the living same way you would treat children of the spirit. The South East provided supported to both South West and South-South when they held sway as President. The zone also did same to the North. It is time to extend same brotherhood and reciprocate same gestures. Nigeria belongs to all of us. No one is more Nigerian than the other. It is time we dropped what divides us and concentrate on what unites us one of which is to ensure that a Southern President of Igbo extraction emerges. Together, we an achieve more. (Ka Chineke Mezie Okwu), Let God be the Righteous Judge. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Deacon Aluu Vincent PhD (In View), Policy Scientist and Publisher of Naija Eye Witness News writes from Uyo Akwa Ibom State. 08036688375

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