Just as I was getting prepared for a stiff opposition to the idea of an Igbo President in 2023, part support came from an unexpected source.
Until I read that statement, nobody could have convinced me that Governor El-Rufai would not be one of the strongest stumbling blocks to what some people have already started telling me was an exercise in futility.
Everywhere I have gone and opened my mouth to advocate for an Igbo President, people have given me two reasons it is a pipe dream. Even when they acknowledge that my previous venture into political advocacy was a success against all known odds, they are also very quick to point out that Lagos is not Nigeria.
What worked in Lagos cannot be presumed to be a good template for pan-Nigeria advocacy. Let me quickly admit that there is some validity in the criticism. And, the fact stated scares me as we move forward.
But, where courage is required for the success of an enterprise, I take solace in the words of the late American actor John Wayne, who, in one of his many cowboy films, said: “Courage is being scared to death but going forward anyway.”
This crusade calls for a great deal of conviction and tenacity. “Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shall not escape calumny” – William Shakespeare, 1564-1616, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS.
The second objection thrown in my face was partly mentioned last week. It can be summarised in the question: “Where is/are the Igbo candidate(s) generally acceptable to the rest of Nigerians to make it work?”
That question is quickly followed by the comment, “Every time there is a governorship election in the South-East, hundreds of people throw their hats into the ring and a predictable campaign of calumny immediately follows.
How can fellow Nigerians be expected to cast their votes for a candidate who has been discredited by his own people?
” Because this is an honest campaign and not base propaganda, I must confess that the objection is also mostly real.
However, it must also be pointed out that some other zones of Nigeria are only a little better than the South-East. At any rate, since the search is for a Nigerian President from Igboland, the rest of Nigeria will separate the wheat from the chaff. At any rate, at any one point in the lives of every nation, only a few people can actually be considered for national leadership. El-Rufai had given my campaign an unexpected boost.
“If the devil gives you a scholarship, take it” – the late Tai Solarin, founder of Mayflower College, Ikenne. Tai Solarin used to write a column in the newspapers branded THINKING WITH YOU. Under it, the great educator penned some of the most radical ideas in the country. At a time when the British were attempting to discourage Nigerians from accepting scholarships from Russian universities, Solarin was urging my generation of secondary school students to go for them. I ended with an American government scholarship.
El-Rufai has given me a gift as readers will find out later on. I doubt we will ever meet, and it is not necessary we do. I just want to say thank you to him for making my work easier. We are unlikely to meet to exchange ideas because El-Rufai is not one of my favorite Nigerian politicians. We agree on a few of the statements attributed to him.
We agree even less on his handling of some of the affairs of Kaduna State. Still, it must be confessed that the comments attributed to him, part of which will be quoted below, exhibit more courage and patriotism than I had hitherto associated with him. He will come under heavy fire from northern political hegemonists who had sought to discard the notion of rotation of the presidency in order to give every part of Nigeria a sense of belonging. Here was what he was reported to have said – for the sake of those who missed it. I can only hope and pray that he does not disclaim it out of political expediency.
“The general political consensus in Nigeria is that the presidency should rotate between the North and the South. It is not written but everyone understands it.
“In some of the parties, like the PDP, it is even written down in the Constitution, but it was breached in 2015.
“I think every politician of honor should understand and abide by that consensus except there is an extenuating circumstance compelling it to set aside. What could this be? “President Yar’Adua died in office and it was compulsory for Jonathan to continue.
“But when 2011 election came, there were many people who insisted that Jonathan should step aside for a northerner to complete the tenure of Yar’Adua, but I opposed it because I didn’t think it was proper for an incumbent that got there not by his own design should be stopped from contesting when the Constitution has not barred him from running.
“In the APC, we deliberately omitted rotational presidency in our constitution…but candidates are selected strictly on the basis of political merit and the general acceptability of the candidate… “But, as a group, the northern APC will have to sit down and endorse someone, most likely someone from the South, because, after eight years of Buhari, I don’t think the presidency should remain in the North unless there are some extenuating circumstances.
“But all things being equal, we will honor our agreement and we keep our words.” To be candid, tears came to my eyes after reading those words. El-Rufai has done more than half the work for those of us canvassing for an Igbo President. If a few more influential northern politicians can get behind that view, then the Igbo presidency will turn out easier to achieve than we thought. The rest will be up to us – the non-Igbo advocates and the Igbo people themselves.
“Politics Without Principles” – Gandhi, Father of Modern India, VBQ, p 245.
Gandhi once listed seven things that would destroy any nation. He listed “Politics without principles first; the second was “Wealth without work” and third was “Knowledge without character”. El-Rufai has, on this occasion, based his decision on principle. My advocacy of Igbo Presidency is also based on the principle of fairness to all Nigerians. At 75+, nobody in his right mind would presume that I am looking for an appointment. To quote a famous American General – “If appointed I will not serve”. Let younger and brighter women and men go and compete for the jobs the President will have to offer.
“You’ve had your share of mirth, of meat and drink. It’s time to quit the scene; it’s time to think” – Elphinston.
Granted, as El-Rufai had explained, the rotational presidency is only in the PDP constitution. But, fairness should be written in all Nigerian hearts. Nobody needs to be reminded that since 1999, the South-South has had three years as VP and five years as President. The South-West has served eight years as President and, all things being equal, another eight years as Vice President. That is my zone. It has had more than its own fair share of sojourn in Aso Rock.
It is time for the South-West to consider others for the sake of Nigeria. Those who feed fat on the dividends of elections won can go and negotiate for their dues afterward, but the rest of Nigeria deserves the little amount of peace that the Igbo Presidency will bring to our country. At the very least, it will retire that grievance from the long list of items calling for solutions on the national agenda. I am aware of rumors that some individuals from the South-West are already planning to enter the race. I beg them in the name of God to emulate El-Rufai and remove their names from the list of prospective contenders.
If the Presidency shits South, equity dictates that the Igbo people deserve the slot.
“We have met the enemy; and they are ours” – Oliver Perry, 1785-1819, VBQ, p 48.
Last week, VANGUARD carried an interview with His Royal Highness Festus Odimegwu, OFR, in which he made a case for Igbo Presidency. Perhaps, HRH was misquoted; but that is doubtful.
Odimegwu from his days as Managing Director of Nigerian Breweries, PLC and Chairman of the National Population Commission, NPC, had always come across as someone who does things to excess. His advocacy for Obasanjo’s third term ambition, at a time when millions of Nigerians opposed the idea, cost him his job at the brewery. It will appear modesty is not one of his attributes. Arrogance was on display in that interview.
His disclosure that he intends to launch 10 – yes 10 – books in one day appears to be a penchant for excess. In that interview, which was widely read, he had asserted, as if it is true, that electing an Igbo President will solve all the problems in Nigeria. At least six friends called me to point to the fault, they claim, turns them off from Igbo people – arrogance. To be quite candid, it is hard for me to understand how anybody can expect an Igbo President to solve ALL Nigerian problems in eight years. Most of us have seen enough to know that solving just the problems pertaining to power, security, youth unemployment and 13 million kids out of school will be sufficient to write the Igbo President’s name in gold for posterity. We have a good case on our hands and we run the risk of over-stating the merits of it and turning off potential supporters.
ONE MORE NAME CAME UP ON CNN
Last week, only one name was mentioned – Allen Onyeama, Chairman/ Chief Executive Officer of AIR PEACE. I was sitting in front of the television on Sunday, February 23, 2020, in Uyo watching CNN. Suddenly, it occurred to me how blind I had been all along. There was Tony Elumelu and his Foundation being advertised. Youth employment and entrepreneurship is a major component of our effort to reverse the downward trend into poverty. And, here is a man who had been using his own money to do just that throughout Africa. Why not get him to focus on Nigeria full time?
Dele Sobowale is a columnist with Vanguard Newspapers, where this article was first published.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.