Before the July 5, 2021 proclamation of Southern governors in Lagos on the rotation of the Presidency in 2023, the debate over which zone should produce the next president had continued to rage.
Although the agitation for Igbo presidency has gained ground, there have been no serious indications from Igbo politicians on their willingness to offer themselves for the top job beyond some names that have been bandied in the media space.
There is also, so far, no indication from the South-South geo-political zone on anybody gearing to go for the presidency.
In South-West, the presidential ambition of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State and national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), has been making the rounds.
But while Tinubu’s ambition may have been noised about, there are those who strongly believe that justice will not be served if the South West is given another opportunity when the South East has not had a taste of the apple.
Perhaps, the demands by the Southern Governors that the presidency should be rotated between the Southern and Northern regions and that the South should produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor in 2023 has raised the hope for fairplay this time around.
The Southern governors’ resolution has further fuelled the reasoning that if the president should come from the South in 2023, it should be the turn of the South East.
Some political watchers are of the view that the South-South may be tactically out of the equation considering that Goodluck Jonathan who is from the region led the country for six years before he was defeated in the presidential election in 2015, by incumbent president.
A few actually believe that the battle is rather between the South-East and the South West in which several other factors would also come into play on who among the two gets the presidency in 2023 if it was zoned to the south.
Though the Southern Governors’ resolution has continued to attract criticism from several groups in the North, including the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), and the Arewa Youths Forum (AYF), the popular opinion is that the decision of the governors is apt.
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom backed the call for power shift, saying it was good for equity and fairness.
With less than two years to the 2023 general election, zoning of the Presidency has become a very contentious issue and has dominated discourse across the country.
Though unconstitutional, political leaders say it was necessary due to the heterogeneous nature of the country, to address complaints of marginalisation and domination and give equal power to ethnic groups.
Interestingly, the two biggest parties in the country, the ruling All progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have not taken a definite position on which region they would pick their presidential candidates from in 2023. But the Southern Governors’ declaration has further fuelled agitations for Igbo presidency in the country.
In the last few days, agitations have intensified among the political leaders in the South East who say that it would be unfair to continue to deny the region the presidency since other regions had ruled since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, has been in the forefront for the clamour for Igbo presidency in 2023.
Speaking recently, former president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Nnia Nwodo, said the position was not a reserved and exclusive right of any region.
“This is a democracy; people are free to say what they want. But what is important is how the will of the nation will be distilled to ensure that there is justice. Nobody here is a second-class citizen and Ndigbo are not. So, it is our turn in 2023,” Nwodo had said.
Also, among the reasons given by the Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi for dumping the PDP for the APC was the alleged refusal of the leadership of the main opposition party to commit to zoning the presidential ticket to the Southeast.
Umahi had said the region had done enough to deserve the PDP ticket.
At a meeting in Abia State in January 2021, leaders of the South East, unanimously, expressed dismay that the region had continuously been denied the presidency, they say that there was no better time to actualise the Igbo presidency than 2023.
They had warned the two major political parties in the country that the region was tired of being used and abandoned, adding that it would not accept any position other than the president.
Observers have expressed concern about the lack of a serious candidate from the South East up till now, they however, noted that some of them may be waiting till the last minute before declaring their intention and where playing safe.
In the last few months, different groups have touted names in the South East who they believed are qualified to occupy the presidency, some of the politicians suggested are former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi; Chris Ngige of Anambra State; Ike Ekweremadu of Enugu State; Enyinnaya Abaribe of Abia State, and Kingsley Moghalu of Anambra State.
Apart from one or two who have declared their interest for the presidency, nothing tangible has been seen around most of the mentioned individuals to suggest they are interested in the race.
Several of them have denied suggestions linking them to the presidential race.
But political analyst, Kunle Okunade, warned that it would be difficult for the South East to get the presidency because the regions hardly speak with one voice, while the APC would not zone the presidential ticket to the region because it was not its stronghold.
According to him, “The chances of the South East to get the presidency remains slim as the leaders may not speak with one voice on who to present. Also, the APC as a dominant party with strong presence in the Southwest may likely not pick candidates from the South East based on the fact that the zone is perceived to be a PDP-dominated area.”
But former chairman of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, Sam Ohuabunwa who has declared his interest for the presidency in 2023, argued that the discordant tunes in the region over security issues, did not in any way suggest that Ndigbo were not united on the Nigeria President of Igbo extraction project in 2023.
Ohuabunwa said that Ndigbo do not need to be 100percent united before producing the President of the country in 2023.
He further argued that when ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo was running for President in 1999 the whole Yoruba nation was not united behind him but that did not stop the race from producing the President as the major political parties ceded their presidential tickets to the region.
Also Josephine Anenih, a former minister, regretted that Igbo have been marginalised for too long, saying that Nigeria needed the region.
”The country is made up of a tripod, but one leg of the tripod is not functioning and that one leg is the Igbo. No Igbo man has governed Nigeria before. Goodluck Ebele is not an Igbo man. I worked for his re-election, but later I realised that the Ebele we see there is not the Igbo version, but short for Ebelemi, which is an Ijaw name. We must work for this project,” she said.
Although it is apparent that some political leaders in the North are opposed to the idea of power shift and would still prefer power to remain in the region, others also say that competence should rather determine who governs the country and not ethnicity.
“Zoning is not appropriate, zoning talks about sharing and not about serving. You are talking about zoning because you think it is your turn to take the natural resources of this country. So, the Igbos are agitating because they think it is their turn so that they go there and bring a lot of the resources of the country to their side.
“It is my personal decision and I think zoning is wrong. Let’s say Nigeria’s Green Eagles, you choose the best, you don’t zone because you want to win the cup. So, if you want Nigeria to win you choose the best. What I am saying is that Nigeria has not enthroned the process to choose the best,” Ituah Ighodalo, founder and senior pastor of Trinity House Church, said.