Opinion: South East Presidency And Imperative Of National Unity – By Emeka Alex Duru

The argument that the choice of who becomes President of Nigeria in 2023 is of strategic importance to the future of the country, is in order. It factors in the attributes of competence, character and capacity – qualities of leadership needed in nation building. There are also considerations of equity, justice and fairness, the totality of which make for unity and development.

These factors become more compelling as the 2023 elections draw near and the clamour of the president of South East extraction gains traction among fair-minded Nigerians.

As it is, apart from the ultra-conservative few that insist on the old ways, there is near unanimity among Nigerians on the need for the region to produce the next president. The matter is currently, a mantra of sort.

It is particularly heartwarming that the clamour is resonating among many people and groups across the country. Apex Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and Middle Belt Forum (MBF), are enthusiastically sold to the idea, promoting it at every forum.

The groups did so on April 25, when Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, his PANDEF counterpart, Chief Edwin Clark and Dr. Pogu Bitrus of MBF, argued eloquently and persuasively that it was the turn of the South East zone to produce the president in 2023. They spoke in Abuja at a conference to unveil the South East presidential hopefuls in some political parties to other Nigerians.

They stressed, forcefully, that on the basis of equity, justice and fairness, the political parties in the country should pick their presidential candidates from the South East as a way of giving the people of the area a sense of belonging.

Adebanjo, was emphatic that his group, the Afenifere was in support of the agenda. Clark, added: “We (PANDEF) stand for power shift to Southern Nigeria. Igbo people deserve the presidency of Nigeria.” For Bitrus of the MBC, “It is the turn of the South East to produce the president”. First Republic politician and erstwhile presidential adviser, Tanko Yakassai, has made similar remarks.

These are voices that cannot be ignored or dismissed with a wave of the hand. They are credible representatives of their people and regions. The Latin expression, Vox Populi, Vox Dei (the voice of the people, is the voice of God), makes meaning here.

Over time, the South East has offered itself as the wheel upon which Nigeria’s economic, commercial and inter-group relations revolves. It has paid its dues and deserves fair treatment in its quest for the presidency. Doing so, will guarantee equity and justice as well as promote political inclusion.

The clamour is not just on the basis of equity and fairness. There are also historical and empirical imperatives. Some other regions have had shots at the office since 1999. The South West had it through Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the North West, through the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and President Muhammadu Buhari. The South-South had it through Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. The North had earlier produced Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Alhaji Shehu Shagari in the First and Second Republics, respectively.

In the days of the military, the North had – Generals Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar, while the West had Obasanjo. Except the brief six-month stint of Gen. Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, the East has not had any taste of the office.

Again, since the end of the 1967-1970 Nigerian civil war, the region has been grappling with marginalisation in virtually all sectors, especially at the political front. Presidency to the zone in 2023 will signal an end to that ugly side of Nigeria’s history. More so, the people from the region have shown commendable commitment in the unity of the country through their interactions and investments in other parts of the country.

They are the only ethnic group in Nigeria that can boast of a sizeable presence in virtually every state or community in the country, operating businesses, building mansions, going to school and above all contributing to the socio-economic development of their host states and communities. The Igbo equally constitute the second largest voting population after the indigenous people in virtually every state outside their homeland.

Dr. Nnanna Ijomah, former Personal Assistant to late Igbo leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, is therefore right that “The presidency will give the Igbo a feeling of acceptance, full reintegration, recognition of their contributions to the country and a sense of dignity. If we fail to do so come 2023 it will remain a blot on our political consciousness hence the ideal of the moral universe and justice implores both the APC and the PDP to do the needful”.

Good enough, aspirants from the zone have exhibited maturity in going about the demand. The fear before now was that they lacked unity and would rubbish one another in going about the quest. That has not happened. Rather, despite their political differences, they have so far acted with the utmost decorum and decency. They are equally, men and women who have achieved their marks in their different endeavours.

With aspirants like Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, entrepreneur par excellence; Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, a lawyer, former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), a brilliant administrator; Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, a First Class pharmacist and accomplished boardroom guru; Prof Kingsley Moghalu of the African Develoment Congress (ADC), an economist, lawyer, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; Dr. Chris Ngige, former governor of Anambra State, former Senator; Dave Umahi, governor of Ebonyi State who has recorded great feats in infrastructural development of his state; Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, author, engineer, first civilian governor of Abia State and Emeka Nwajiuba, lawyer, erstwhile Minister of State for Education, Ndigbo are presenting a lineup that will make Nigerians proud again. If merit is the yardstick for the office, they have it in quantum.

Although the PDP and APC have thrown their tickets for the office open, it does not diminish the demand. What is required is for the parties to nominate their candidates from the zone. It had been done before in conceding the presidency to the South West in 1999. The same approach could be adopted for the South East in 2023.

The argument of the constitutionality of the demand, also does not arise. The federal character principle in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and quota system in employment and admission to federal institutions of higher learning, are all about ensuring equity and fairness. Same can be applied in attaining the South East presidency in 2023.

DURU is the Editor of TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos

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