There is a good chance I will sound self-contradictory in this article but, sometimes, the test of one’s ability to rationalise complex ideas is being able to hold two opposing views concurrently and not shy away from acknowledging the dilemma that comes with it.
2023 presents us with two options: voting for equity and voting for vested ethnic interests. A vote for equity would be a vote for the Igbo presidency while voting for vested ethnic interests would be voting for a candidate based on your ethnic affiliation.
Discourses surrounding the upcoming 2023 elections have been heavily informed by these two options and, expectedly, it has led to a kind of dual fanaticism among Nigerians from beer parlours to newspaper stands.
Until now, the unwritten rule in Nigeria is that power has to be rotated between the North and South. This arrangement was made to assuage ethnic tensions in a country where its citizens hold themselves in mutual suspicion across ethnoreligious lines. Zoning, as we like to call it, has been the modus operandi of both the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party, the two dominant parties in Nigeria.
However, zoning seems to be under threat as both parties have continually been ambivalent on whether they will stick to it this time around. On the one hand, it is difficult for either party to come clean on whether they are sticking to it because many of their bigwigs have declared intentions to contest in 2023. On the other hand, both parties are fighting tooth and nail to win in 2023 even if it means equity will have to suffer for it.
Amidst all of this, Igbo people will be the biggest losers if neither party zones their presidential ticket to the South-East. Most likely, parties will give consideration to any candidate that has the potential to pull numbers at the polls. The question of the Igbo presidency becomes even more complicated by the ever-increasing stake claims made by other regions about 2023 being their turn to produce the next president. Yahaya Bello, the Kogi State governor, has built his candidacy on the claim that his region (North-Central) is yet to produce a president. The Yoruba people of the South-West are showing a little bit of eagerness to also produce the next president even though they’ve already had their turn.
As a personal principle, I detest identity politics. Voting for someone because you are of the same kindred or share the same faith is extremely ridiculous. In 61 years of independence, identitarianism has been the bedrock of Nigerian politics. Nigerians tend not to care about policy proposals, manifestos or track records of their preferred candidate. It’s funny how we give the same politicians we accuse as corrupt a pass if they come from our tribe and/or religion.
Black Americans have a saying, “skin folk ain’t kinfolk.” That someone comes from my tribe or shares the same faith with me has absolutely nothing to do with anything. The North has produced more presidents/heads of state than the South yet, the North is socio-economically behind the South. And this is not to insinuate that the South is a paradise.
When Barack Obama was elected, it was an emotional moment for black Americans. They saw in Obama the consummation of all their civil rights struggles. A black man getting elected as president of a country with a chequered racist and racialised past was not just epoch-making, it was a testament that America had finally come to terms with the fact that black Americans have equal stakes in the American commonwealth.
Black Americans thought that having someone who shared their pigmentation at the White House meant he automatically would cater to their needs and struggles. That, unfortunately, did not happen by the admission of most black Americans, especially conservative blacks. According to them, Obama prioritised the LGBTQIA-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, (questioning), intersex, asexual, and (agender)-community above them, his kinfolk.
Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) was elected in 2015 in part because of his military background and many thought that would come in handy in the fight against terrorism, which President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration had failed to win. Also, because the North was the epicentre of insecurity, it made sense that a northerner like Buhari was best suited to take the job. Sadly, seven years into the Buhari regime, insecurity has metastasized to other regions. Even his home state Katsina has not been spared from the scourge of insecurity. If there is a lesson to learn from the saying, skin folk ain’t kinfolk, Buhari serves as the best example.
Though I detest identity politics, I will argue that it is only right that 2023 ushers in an Igbo president. This is a matter of fairness and equity than tokenism, as some would argue. Why is zoning now under threat at a time there is so much clamour for the Igbo presidency? There is a cognitive dissonance that is worth pointing out here.
On the one hand, Nigeria criminalises secessionist agitations in the South-East, while on the other hand, keeps denying the same South-East a stake in the presidency. How do we not get it that the objective or subjective feeling of marginalisation a people feel naturally leads to insurrection or secession? There seems to be a kind of dread at the thought of handing power to the South-East but, if we cannot trust them with power, what then is the evidence that Nigeria belongs to them too?
Nnamdi Kanu’s Independent People of Biafra has been the Achilles heel of the struggle for the Igbo presidency. IPOB is the biggest reason most people who are against the Igbo presidency would cite if you ask them. While we can objectively say that IPOB has used some extreme and uncivil tactics in its struggle to rebirth Biafra, it is unfair and disingenuous to say that the entire South-East must pay for the crimes of the militia group. IPOB is not representative of all Igbo people. IPOB is a symptom of inequity and marginalisation.
Another criticism you often hear against the Igbo presidency is that there is no Igbo politician who equals someone like Bola Ahmed Tinubu or Atiku Abubakar in status or popularity and since elections are a popularity contest, what chance does an unknown Igbo candidate has at the polls? On the surface, this looks like a valid argument. However, in Nigeria, elections are won by political parties and not candidates per se.
The late Umaru Musa Yar’adua is a clear example of that. Until 2007, no one knew of him. But he won. He won because of his party, PDP. If both APC and PDP zone their tickets to the South-East, it’s hard to see how the electorate would have a different choice from electing an Igbo president.
In the grand scheme of things, competency trumps tribal affiliation. To then push for the Igbo presidency seems to be counterproductive. This is a dilemma I’ve wrestled in my head.
However, as a country, we find ourselves in a unique place. I am not deluded to think that the emergence of an Igbo president would fix all ethnic agitations in Nigeria. Having an Igbo president would be symbolic proof of an attempt to detribalise Nigeria. Having an Igbo president would serve as an Obama moment for the people of the South-East. It would go a long way to quelling secessionist agitations in a region that has felt marginalised from the Nigerian commonwealth.