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Ndigbo's First Eleven

Posted by By Jossy Nkwocha - Newswatch Magazine on 3/11/2001 5:07:03 PM

Who's Who in the politics of Igboland to watch out for if the next presidential slot is zoned to the south-east

Ekwueme, former vice-president to Shehu Shagari in the second republic and President Olusegun Obasanjo's hottest rival in the 1999 PDP presidential nomination, is the foremost Igboman for the presidential ticket in 2003. Ekwueme is a gentleman and is widely respected in political circles across the country.

When Obasanjo defeated him at the Jos convention of PDP, he took it in good faith and asked his supporters to vote for Obasanjo. In fact, he was said to have lost the election because he was branded a hater of the military and the powers- that-be didn't want him to succeed the then head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. But he is well accepted in the North where he has many political associates.

He was chairman of the G.34 group which insisted that the late Gen. Sani Abacha must not succeed himself as a civilian president in 1998. He is chairman of the board of trustees of the ruling PDP. Most of the persons who spoke to Newswatch said Ekwueme is the "natural" Igbo candidate for the presidency.

The only minus for Ekwueme is his age. He will be 71 years old in 2003. Besides, there is a new consciousness spearheaded by the under-50 governors' summit for a younger politician to become president.



Governor Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State is emerging as the arrowhead of the campaign for an Igboman to become president of Nigeria. The fearless, 40-yearold governor started the campaign late last year by pointing out at the continued marginalisation of the Igbo by Obasanjo. He insisted that Obasanjo should not dream of 2003 re-election, arguing that it is the turn of the Igbo to produce the president. His thesis caught on. Ohaneze Ndigbo promptly convened a summit and endorsed the idea. The eastern governors conference also issued a communiqué supporting the idea.

Now, despite the fact that Kalu has said he is running for re-election in Abia State, majority of Igbo especially students, traders, younger politicians, civil servants, etc, believe he is the best man for the job. Besides, he is also in the good books of General Ibrahim Babangida who played a key role in Obasanjo's election in 1999. Kalu is also very close to Shagari, Umaru Dikko, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, Jubril Aminu and other northern power-brokers. In fact, he usually boasts of "my people in the north."

Kalu is a billionaire and can afford to fund a presidential campaign. Eventhough he is young, he operates in high political and business circles. He is very outspoken, articulate and ambitious.
What may count against Kalu is what some analysts describe as his political inexperience. Ohaneze elders see him as arrogant, disrespectful and uncontrollable. Besides, the Ekwueme political camp has not forgiven him for working for Obasanjo at the detriment of Ekwueme in 1999. Despite these apparent short- comings, some analysts believe that Kalu may surprise everyone at the last minute.

A wealthy businessman, philanthropist, and publisher, Iwuanyanwu is the publisher of Champion newspapers and the proprietor of Iwuanyanwu Nationale Football Club. These outfits have made him immensely popular. Currently he is the chairman of the political mobilisation committee of Ohaneze which is to go round the country to sell the Igbo presidency idea to other political leaders in the other geo-political zones.

Iwuanyanwu who is now 59 years old is a consummate politician. During the Babangida transition period, he took part in the staggered presidential primaries in the National Republican Convention, NRC. Babangida cancelled the exercise. He remained a presidential hopeful under the Abacha era until the late dictator commenced his self-succession bid and checkmated all opposition to his ambition. After the death of Abacha, he became a presidential aspirant under the All Peoples' Party. APP. He lost nomination at the party's convention in Kaduna.

Today, Iwuanyanwu is in the league of such political heavyweights as Umaru Shinkafi, Adamu Ciroma, Bamanga Tukur, Olusola Saraki, Lateef Jakande, Olu Falae, etc.

Iwuanyanwu maintains some self pride and dignity. He has always turned down ministerial appointments, preferring to nominate his associates. At the last cabinet reshuffle, he declined to join the Obasanjo administration as a minister. Apart from Ekwueme, Iwuanyanwu is perhaps the next highly favoured south-east presidential candidate in the ranking of politicians, professionals, businessmen and the youths.

Iwuanyanwu's problems may come from the home-front. He seems to have some problems in his home state, Imo. He does not have a good relationship with Evan Enwerem, former senate president who may plot against his ambition. Some people also doubt his political weight. He was an APP stalwart when the party lost the gubernatorial seat in Imo State. He later moved over to the PDP. His critics also say he is in politics for business and not for power. His construction company, Hardel & Enic is said to be among the companies accused of not effectively executing road projects in the East.

Despite all these, Iwuanyanwu who holds the title of Aha-eji-agamba- (the name which can take you to places) of Igboland is a man of immense political goodwill in the country.

Nwobodo is a combative politician. A former governor of old Anambra State, a former minister of youths and sports and now a senator, Nwobodo has immense political experience. He was one of the presidential aspirants during the 1999 Jos convention of the PDP. When he goes for a position, he fights it to the last. He understands all the intrigues, scheming, manoeuvring , horse-trading and power-play inherent in politics. He is equally very wealthy. In fact, he is said to be the owner of Savannah Bank after buying it over last year in collaboration with some foreign technical partners.

The Enugu-State born politician is very popular among youths. Nwobodo also has some heavyweight political associates in the North such as Abubakar Rimi, former governor of Kano State, Solomon Lar, former PDP chairman, etc.

But Nwobodo is always in one controversy or the other. At the sports ministry, he was always at loggerheads with footballers, athletes, coaches, ministry officials, etc. Early last year, he engaged in a fierce battle with Chimaroke Nnamani, the Enugu State governor who accused him of incessant interference in his (Nnamani's) government.

Analysts believe that Nwobodo's main problem would come from the role he played at the Jos convention where he was accused of playing a spoiler's game against Ekwueme. Many Igbo and indeed many of Ekwueme supporters across the country are not in a hurry to forgive him for that "dirty job." At the last Igbo summit organised by Ohaneze Ndigbo, Nwobodo received no cheers from the crowd. But he is not one that succumbs to pressure. He thrives in controversy and political battle. He is 61 years old.

Eleazar Chukwuemeka Anyaoku, 68 years old, is the immediate past secretary-general of the Commonwealth. He is cool-headed, well-focused and highly connected especially in diplomatic circles. Some analysts believe that he is the best Igbo material for the presidency considering the fact that he is detribalised and has gained immense experience in international politics and diplomacy. Such people believe that only such a personality would become a true "Nigerian president" and not an "Igbo president."

But some of his critics say he is too much of a gentleman and cannot safely swim in the murky waters of Nigerian politics. Besides, he spent about 38 years in diplomatic service outside Nigeria and may not have known Nigeria well.

For now, Anyaoku does not command much political following. But he has been trying to build one since he returned to the country last year. The launching of his autobiography last year in Lagos was made a political event. On February 20, 2001 his committee of friends also pulled together some big shots in politics, business, government and the diplomatic community to raise funds for the "Emeka Anyaoku professorial chair in Commonwealth studies" at the University of London. The event which was held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs was chaired by S. L. Edu, a prominent Yoruba politician and father of Yomi Edu, Obasanjo's special duties minister. He is being packaged by people outside Igboland.

But many Igbo would rather not support Anyaoku. To them, he does not know the Igbo agenda. He does not believe much in the marginalisation of Igbo in the scheme of things. Besides, he will be 70 years old in 2003 for the presidency.

Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu is one of the foremost contenders for the race. Today, he is perhaps the most popular Nigerian around. Among many Igbo, he is a hero and their ultimate leader. He holds the controversial chieftaincy title of Eze-Igbo Gburugburu (King of Igbo everywhere in the world). Many people like his oratory and intelligence.

He is a politician, a stalwart of the APP. He works closely with such political juggernauts as Olusola Saraki, the kingpin of Kwara politics. Many Igbo, especially the youths see him as the only man who would use the presidency to redress the perceived marginalisation of the south-east. At the 1995 constitutional conference, he worked closely with Ekwueme to articulate and sell an Igbo position to other delegates from other parts of the country.

Analysts however contend that Ojukwu's main problem is the fact that he led the secessionist Biafra which culminated in a 30-month civil war. Today, he is feared by many politicians who believe that he may re-enact his dream of Biafra if he gets into power. Even in Igboland, he is seen by many elders as arrogant, domineering and vainglorious. He boycotted the last Igbo summit in Enugu and described the Igbo leaders who attended it as job-seekers. His critics say he plays to the gallery.

In an exclusive interview with Newswatch published February 12, Ojukwu stated that he would no longer go for an elective office in Nigeria. But Newswatch learnt last week, the Ikemba-Nnewi may change his mind as a result of the clamour for Igbo presidency in 2003. But like Anyaoku, he will be 70 years old then.

Francis Arthur Nzeribe, an APP senator from Oguta, Imo State is an enigmatic politician. He thrives in controversy and political mischief. He is one politician who has never lost an election. He is immensely wealthy and uses it effectively in his campaigns. He is a master political strategist, feared and hated by many. Those who admire him say he is one politician no one can take for granted. Although he said it will be very difficult for an Igboman to become president in 2003, he told Newswatch in Owerri that if the parties zone the presidency in 2003 to the south-east he would certainly run for the top job.

Nzeribe is more well-known for his activities in the Association for Better Nigeria, ABN, which many analysts insist was used to scuttle June 12, 1993 presidential election won by MKO Abiola. ABN campaigned vigorously for Babangida to stay longer in office. Nzeribe also predicted there would be anarchy if Abacha was not allowed to become civilian president. Many Yoruba have not forgiven Nzeribe for the role he played in the June 12 saga. Nzeribe does not have much political support in the North either.

Those who know him closely say Nzeribe would always spring surprises because many people underrate him. They say he knows how to build political organisations and how to sustain political loyalty. During the Babangida transition programme, he was a presidential aspirant and participated in the cancelled SDP primaries. During that period, he built a formidable political machinery in all the eastern states including the then Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Abia, Anambra and Cross River, called CARIA States.

Born on November 2, 1938, Nzeribe will be 65 in 2003.

Commodore Ebitu Okoh Ukiwe, former chief of general staff, CGS, hails from Abiriba, Abia State. He is not a member of any of the political parties but sources said he is interested in the nation's presidency "whenever the coast is clear." As the country's former number two citizen, Ukiwe is said to be highly favoured for the presidency by many Igbo and Yoruba who see his removal from office in 1987 as a price he paid for not supporting Nigeria's controversial membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, OIC. Even in the North, he is said to be respected by many. He is married to Aminat Talib and was one time governor of Niger State.
During the sharia riots and the reprisal attacks last year, he was said to have played the role of the east's "diplomatic envoy" to Niger, Kano and Kaduna to calm frayed nerves.
Ukiwe is highly principled. His political undoing seems to be his unresolved quarrel with Babangida, his former boss. Those who spoke to Newswatch last week said in the present dispensation where Babangida plays kingmaker, Ebitu would find it extremely difficult to become president without Babaginda's support and blessing. He is a rigid and highly temperamental person who may find it difficult to play the game of compromises required in politics.

Nwodo Jnr was minister of information during the General Abdulsalami Abubakar regime. He was also special assistant on special duties and later minister for civil aviation in Shehu Shagari's administration. He comes from the influential Nwodo family in Ukehe, Enugu State. A lawyer, economist and politician, Nwodo Jnr commands respect in many political circles across the country. His brother, Okwesilieze Nwodo is the secretary of the PDP. His younger brother Joe Nwodo is also a political heavyweight. Their father, John Nwodo was minister in the first republic.
Nwodo Jnr is said to have enormous political goodwill in the North and in the East. For sometime now, he has remained quiet. He has not commented on the Igbo presidency debate. His associates say he is plotting his strategies to ensure he clinches the presidency ticket whenever it becomes available to the south-east.
Nwodo is 49 years old. His associates say he understands Nigeria's politics well. Another plus point for him is that he is not controversial. Age is also on his side. He may also exploit his brother's position in the PDP leadership to his advantage. However, in the intricate politics of leadership in Igboland of today, Nnia Nwodo is a non-starter.

To many people, Olisa Agbakoba is an unlikely candidate for the presidency in 2003. He is not a politician and does not belong to any of the political parties. He is only a successful lawyer and one of the youngest Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, in the country.
Agbakoba is more well-known in the human rights community. He was the founding president of the Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, the fore-runner of the many pro-democracy and human rights groups in the country today.
Newswatch learnt however that he is now interested in politics and the nation's number one job. He has floated a political organisation called Alliance for Progressive Reform, APR, which in a letter dated February 25,2001 demanded a clarification from the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on the registration of new political parties and independent candidacy in the 2003 elections.
Agbakoba was a staunch supporter of the June 12 struggle and is therefore quite friendly with the Yoruba and other June 12 apostles across the country. He is 44 years old and therefore has age on his side.
His problem would be his lack of political experience.

A chemical engineer and politician, Onu was the first civilian governor of Abia State. Before then, he was head of the department of chemical engineering, University of Port Harcourt. In 1999, he was a presidential contender at the APP convention in Kaduna. He was said to have won the APP ticket which he later abdicated as a strategy to scuttle the chance of Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and others in the race.

Onu has somehow gone underground since then. But Newswatch learnt he is busy going round the country and building bridges of understanding and goodwill for the 2003 race.

Many Igbo have come to hate him as a result of the 1999 APP saga. But many close observers told Newswatch last week that whenever the presidency is declared open for the south-east, Onu may give his critics the shock of their lives.

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