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2007 presidency: Odds against the S’East, S’South

Posted by Mikail Mumuni on 2005/08/07 | Views: 439 |

2007 presidency: Odds against the S’East, S’South

The race for 2007 is getting more intense by the day, with all the zones in the country – with the exception of the South-West from where the outgoing president hails – claiming it is their turn to produce Nigeria’s next number one citizen.

The race for 2007 is getting more intense by the day, with all the zones in the country – with the exception of the South-West from where the outgoing president hails – claiming it is their turn to produce Nigeria’s next number one citizen. As part of the jostling, leaders of the South-South and the South-East are resolved to ensure that the office does not return to any part of the north yet. But Mikail Mumuni with additional Reports by Kolawole Igandan, Musa Simon Reef and Musikilu Mojeed, explains why their objective may hit the rock.

For the zone that produces oil, the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, and has nothing other than grinding poverty and environmental degradation to show for it, the frustration of the South-South is understandable. And to underscore the anger of the geo-polical zone with the Nigerian Federation, leaders of the South-South in Benin, the Edo State capital, on Saturday, July 30 vowed that they would no longer play the second fiddle. Their spokesperson was Chief Edwin Clark, leader of the South-South delegates at the recently concluded National Political Reform Conference, (NPRC). “If Adamu Muazu (governor of Bauchi State) can say he wants to be president, why not any of our own governors? Are they more competent or qualified than us?” Clark had asked rhetorically at the South-South Peoples Assembly (SSPA) meeting. That was not the end of Clark’s speech. He also warned of the dire consequences that awaited anybody from the fold who might “want to lower his prestige by agreeing to serve as a Vice-president under anybody from the north,” and this last part of his address was greeted with a loud ovation by the multitude in attendence.

The speech and the approval that it generated from the South-South were interpreted in other parts of the country as a carry-over of the anger of the people against the role the core North played in the defeat suffered by the South-South in its quest for 25 per cent derivation on oil production. But Prof. Itse Sagay, another prominent leader from the South-South and delegate to NPRC, said the North referred to include the Middle-Belt as well.

“Middle-Belt is part of the North. Middle-Belt had had a shot at the presidency more than anybody,” Sagay, an expert in constitutional law, told Sunday Punch. That certainly will not go down well with many Middle-Belt leaders and activists who have been campaigning for quite a while for a distinct indentity from the North. That campaign, based on what they call their age-long marginalisation, informed the series of alliances they have been making across the country to isolate the core-North. Such was the case on April 21, this year when leaders of the Middle-Belt and the South-South held a parley in Abuja, the Federal Capital, where the two sides resolved that the president in 2007 after President Olusegun Obasanjo, a South-Westerner must come from either of the two zones. But another alliance pact, sealed between the Middle-Belt and the South East on Tuesday, also in Abuja, casts a doubt on the health of the earlier one.

Just as the Middle-Belt, comprising northern minorities, considers the Hausa-Fulani majority of the core-North, the South-South minorities regard their South-East Igbo majority neighbours as oppressors who subjected them to marginalisation while they were part of the defunct Eastern Region.

Thus, the new-found marriage between the Middle-Belt and the South-East is sending shock waves down the ranks of South-South leaders. Though many of them refused to acknowledge it publicly, the belief of many South-South leaders is that the Middle-Belt may have ditched the South-South.

That fear, incidentally, was reinforced by a Middle-Belt leader who spoke with Sunday Punch on Tuesay in Abuja on condition of anonymity. “The difficulty encountered by some members of northern minorities to convince the delegates from the South-South to return to the conference was a blow to the alliance. When two people are in alliance, the need to compromise some issues becomes paramount,” the source said with reference to the pull-out of South-South delegates from the NPRC when their demand for 25 per cent derivation was not accepted by delegates from other zones, who instead, proposed 17 per cent, an increase of three per cent above the current 13 per cent.

The Middle-Belt leader further disclosed that the crack in the alliance with the South-South led to exploring fresh understanding with the South-East.

Leaders of the South-East accepted the Middle-Belt overtures with much enthusiasm and they used the forum to re-energise their clamour for an Igbo presidency in 2007.

Professor Sagay will not agree that the new alliance between the Middle-Belt and the South-East will weaken the chances of the South-South in producing the next president. He, however, said, though the zone was determined to achieve its objective, it will support a candidate from the South-East if its own aspiration was not realiseable.

“Let me put it this way, the South-South is very determined to produce the president in 2007. But if for any reason that is not feasible, the South-South will support a South-East candidate.” His reason was that these were the only two areas in the country that were yet to produce president.

But General Theophilus Danjuma (rtd), a former minister of defence and co-chairman of the Middle-Belt – South-East summit, while pledging the support of the former for the Igbo in that direction, told them some home truths. “I think it was high time the South-East to came out with a particular candidate for the presidency. It is vague for the zone to keep saying a president of Igbo extraction is long overdue. We should work out and bring out a particular candidate from the South-East. Once we have that, then we can promote that candidate for the common interest of the country.”

The retired general is making a tacit allusion to the Igbo’s spirit of individualism, which has prevented politicians from the race from closing ranks behind a candidate since the demise of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first premier of the defunct Eastern Region and Nigeria’s first and only ceremonial president till date.

The clamour for an Igbo presidency was high in the build-up to the 2003 general elections, when President Obasanjo was seeking a second term. His closest challenger for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) presidential ticket was Dr. Alex Ekwueme, a former Vice-President and prominent Igbo politician. But rather than rally round him, many other Igbos joined the race, thereby splitting the block votes he ought to have got from delegates from his home base. It was even speculated that some strategists of Obasanjo were behind the entry of some of the Igbo aspirants to make the coast clearer for his second term project. A similar scenario was re-enacted during the presidential primaries of All Nigeria Peoples Party, (ANPP), the second largest party in the country. The Igbo race paraded a crowd of presidenial aspirants, some of whom would have been better placed to run as local government chairmen.

That resulted in the emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), a northerner, as the candidate of the party, by a wide margin amidst belated protests from his opponents that the process was flawed.

Even as the race for 2007 gathers momentum, other Nigerians are still at a loss regarding what the Igbo really want as a significant part of its population under the aegis of the Movement For Actualisation of the Soverign State of Biafra, (MASSOB), is still rooting from the secession of the South-East from the federation.

The MASSOB project certainly is a minus for a people that want one of theirs to lead the country and leaders of the zone may have to make a categorical statements for and against the presidency and seccession before they can be taken seriously by the rest of the country. Nigeria fought a bitter civil war between 1967 and 1970 when the Igbo first attempted to secede and the scars in human loses are yet to be fully healed. General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), the war time military Head of State and Middle-Belter has consistently called for a South-East presidency to re-assure the Igbo that there was no deliberate plot to permanently shut them out of the Presidential Villa. But with the drumbeats of another quest for secession, many non-Igbo are not sure a president of Igbo extraction will not be pressured to give official approval to the disintegration option.

Even so, the desire of the South-East and the South-South for 2007 may be unattainable, given the fact that the national body of PDP, the party in power in all the states in the two zones, has made it clear that the presidential ticket will go to the North in 2007 after Obasanjo would have done a two-term of eight years. ANPP will most predictably again field a Northerner as its support base is the North. The third biggest party in the country, Alliance for Democracy, (AD), equally has no followership in the South-East and South-South. It has also become a minority party in the South-West, its stronghold where it controls only Lagos as against all the six Yoruba speaking states in its kitty when Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999. AD is yet to recover from the defeat it suffered in the hands of PDP in 2003 such that if, in an unlikely scenario, it offers an Igbo or a South-South person its ticket, that would amount to a waste of time and resources by the candidate and his backers.

This, however, does not mean a non-northerner may not enter the race for the PDP ticket. After all, a few northerners, like Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, a former governor of Kano, contested the primaries against Obasanjo in 2002, even when the bulk of the party leaders felt the presidency should remain in the South for another four years. But the defeat suffered by such northern aspirants signposts the futility of attempting to breach some party codes.

Yet, although many re-alignment of forces towards establishing new broad-based parties are on, the promoters are prominent northern politicans who have their eyes on the number one office, but fear such ambitions may not be realised in their current parties, particularly the PDP.

While the South-East may find it difficult to throw its weight fully behind a sole Igbo aspirant as a result of some divide and rule tactics that may be employed by some presidential hopefuls from the North, the global oil politics is hardly in favour of the emergence of a South-South president in 2007.

With the current political instability in the oil-rich Arab nations, the West currently depends on the Gulf of Guinea, the region within which Nigeria falls, for its oil imports. And the restiveness among the youths of Nigeria’s oil producing South-South, many of who hardly defer to elders in the area, may have sent a wrong signals to the Western world that no leader from the area is strong and influential enough to keep oil flowing if he becomes president. Given the influence of the West in Nigeria’s domestic affairs, that is a major odd against the South-South.

Thus those that may profit from the South-South/Middle-Belt and the South-East/Middle-Belt alliances are politicians from the Middle-Belt and, by extention, their ‘brothers’ from the far-North.

At the end of it all, both the South-South the South-East may have to swallow the bitter pill and decide who among them will accept the post of Vice-president. The Yoruba will not be qualified for the the post immediately at the exit of Obasanjo, who became president after many years of northerners in the saddle, a spell terminated only by the vociferous campaign of the Yoruba for power shift to the South. That followed the annulment by General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), a Middle-Belter/Northerner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late publisher and business mogul, Bashorun M.K.O Abiola, a Yorubaman.

Perhaps as a result of some factors, Dr. Ihechukwu Madubuike, an Igbo and member of the National Planning and Strategy Committee of the South-East and Middle-Belt Summit, is already preparing his mind for the possibility of neither the South-South nor the South-East producing he next president. “If the issue of who leads in 2007 comes in, we will discuss it. That the South-East is interested in producing the president in 2007 does not preclude any other zone from aspiring to the position. So, at the end of the discussion, we will find out why the South-East should not produce the president and whether it is the South-South, Middle-Belt or any part of the country that should produce it. But we would have to come to a certain type of understanding, a certain kind of modus operandi,” he told Sunday Punch in Abuja.

SUNDAY PUNCH, August 07, 2005

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Comments (3)

Okfold(Sobe, Edo, Nigeria)says...

I want the meaning of female owan name Ekeke (Edo state)

Toluwalase Samuel Olufemi(Ijebu, Ogun, Nigeria)says...

Authority belongs to God, once He decrees it is final and binding

Ikponmwosa Osamede(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Your meaning of Osamede is wrong. Osamede means God has given me a crown