The last time there was a gathering of the magnitude that held in Enugu last Wednesday was probably on February 3, 2015, when the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo called a meeting to endorse the presidential aspiration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Many Ndigbo had come from far and near to be part of the event.
That scenario was repeated at the prestigious Nike Lake Hotel, Enugu last Wednesday. The assembly paraded who is who in Igboland, and was for the singular purpose of deciding Ndigbo’s fate in 2019 general elections and beyond.
The event, which brought together various socio-cultural organisations, traditional, political and religious groupings, was said to have been put together by the Mkpoko Igbo.
Mkpoko Igbo was heard last in the 90’s, when it was the umbrella organisation that bonded such Igbo bodies as Diamond Link, Enugu; Nzuko Imo; Aka-Ikenga; Izu Umunna and Igbo Delegates Assembly (IDA), among others.
It was led then by former Health Minister, Prof ABC Nwosu, and its focus was to galvanise Ndigbo to speak with one voice on matters of leadership, as well as chart a political path for the zone to enable it play effective role in the country’s affairs.
It was on the auspices of this group that Ndigbo gathered again to endorse the presidential aspiration of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar/Peter Obi for the 2019 general elections.
Dignitaries at the programme included President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Nnia Nwodo, his brother and former governor, Okwesilieze Nwodo; former Ohanaeze President General, Chief Gary Igariwey, former Ohanaeze Secretary General, Dr. Joe Nworgu; Prof Uzodinma Nwala of Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF); Chief Ben Ndi Obi; Prof ABC Nwosu; Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe; Constitutional lawyer, Prof Ben Nwabueze and Dr. Mrs Uche Azikiwe.
Others were, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Chief Emeka Ihedioha; former governor Achike Udenwa; Chief Onyema Ugochukwu; former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara; Sen Enyinanya Abaribe; Brig Gen Ike Nwachukwu (rtd), Lieut. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika (rtd); Chief Olisa Agbakoba (SAN); Prof Elo Amucheazi; Prof Chinwelite Ejike; Prof Osita Ogbu; Chief Lawrence Nwuruku; Sen Chris Anyanwu; Amb George Obiozor; Chief Felix Mgbada; Archbishop Maxwell Anikwenwa; Prof Anya O. Anya; Chief Walter Ofonagoro; Sen Theodore Orji and Chief Allison Madueke, among others.
In the end, a resolution was reached to support the Atiku/Obi presidential ticket in coming elections; a development the leaders said was best for the zone, as it would return Ndigbo to the centre.
Nwabueze, who chaired the occasion, fired the first salvo in his opening remarks, when he appealed to Ndigbo to deliver Atiku/Obi in the coming elections as “my last wish before I will join my ancestors.”
In a speech laden with grief, apparently expressing his dissatisfaction with Ndigbo’s position since the inception of current administration, Nwabueze said:
“Our campaigns and agitations are for our survival. The Atiku/Obi ticket is for the survival of Ndigbo. It is our determination to ensure its success by mobilising the entire Igbo to vote for them and with their victory, you would have done me the greatest honour that I deserve.
“At my age, there is nothing I should pursue any longer except the good of my people in Nigeria, and this is the path to it. Please, do me the honour of supporting that ticket before I answer my final call and I will be happy.
“When you leave here, go back to your villages and communities and tell them that Ndigbo must survive in Nigeria, and the only way to ensure their survival is to deliver the Atiku/Obi ticket in 2019. I assure you that I will rest in peace in my grave, when this is done because it would have liberated Ndigbo.”
And presenting a five-point communique issued at the end of the summit with the theme: “Ndigbo 2019 and Beyond,” a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Olisa Agbakoba, said their position was based on the restructuring agenda put on the table by Atiku/Obi, which four zones of the country had earlier agreed on.
The communiqué read: “The Igbo people of Nigeria held a one-day non-partisan and inclusive summit convened by Elders, Traditional and Religious leaders on Wednesday November 14 2018 to consider Ndigbo’s place in the polity, especially in light of forthcoming 2019 elections.
“The summit deliberated on the state of Ndigbo in Nigeria today, especially after years of exclusion from the centre. This country has never been so divided as it is today. We Igbos have always yearned for a level playing field with justice, equity and fairness.
“The summit recognised the nomination of His Excellency Mr. Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State as the Vice Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and fully endorses this nomination. It was acknowledged that this nomination puts Ndigbo back in the centre of governance. It is, therefore, important that Ndigbo should rally behind the Atiku/Obi ticket.
“We identify with the Atiku/Peter Obi ticket on the restructuring agenda, as has been reiterated by four zones of the country namely: South-South, South West, North Central and South East. We believe that, as long as the federating units remain weak, the centre will continue to be weak. We equally move to appreciate the position of the Atiku/Obi ticket in promoting national unity.
“In conclusion, the summit reiterated that the time is now for Ndigbo to mobilise and organise effectively to realise the Atiku/Obi ticket. We are not campaigning against anybody; we are simply campaigning for our very survival. Igbo votes must count wherever Ndigbo live in Nigeria.”
The outcome of the meeting indicated that Ndigbo are on the march again and are toeing a similar path that was the case during the 2015 general elections, when the zone massively adopted and voted Goodluck Jonathan.
Although the 2015 decision was taken without any extraction of commitment from the then president, the massive votes from the zone unfortunately could not deliver Jonathan at the polls, as he lost to the incumbent president.
A former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nworgu had expressed no regrets with the voting pattern by the zone in the last election, stressing that it was done for the sake of equity, justice and fairness.
Speaking on the recent endorsement of Atiku/Obi, even with the alleged relegation of the zone in the current administration over the voting pattern adopted in 2015, Nworgu said it was in the best interest of Ndigbo, stressing that their election would bring about restructuring, which the zone was clamouring for and return Ndigbo to the national sphere.
He added: “What has changed about President Muhammadu Buhari in the last four years? We watched his operations as military head of state and the antecedents have not changed, which informed our decision. Ndigbo expects a president for all Nigeria and not a sectional president. We are not comfortable with his style and attitude towards us— the exclusion mentality and his nepotistic style.
Another Igbo leader at the meeting, who would not want his name printed, told The Guardian: “If we adopted and voted Jonathan, when there was no commitment, how about now that our son will serve as Vice President? We have pushed the issue to the front burner, and all those campaigning for Buhari should convince us why he should be returned. Our decision is not hasty. The campaigns have kicked off and the elections are few months away. Let other zones do the needful.”
But the Zikist-Buharist Movement in the southeast, which seems very uncomfortable with the resolution of the Igbo meeting, has advised Ndigbo to learn from Zik and desist from putting their eggs in one basket.
A statement from the Acting Secretary, Godwin Onwusi, recalled that when a similar situation arose in 2015, Ohanaeze Ndigbo opted for PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan, but the decision turned out to be unprofitable.
“In deep reflection, we asked ourselves, ‘what are the options in a scenario where two Fulani Muslim brothers – Buhari and Atiku are front liners in the 2019 Presidential Election? Who would the great Zik choose if he were alive?
“Whereas the Atiku restructuring mantra is appealing, the truism is that it cannot be done by Fiat-Executive Order, but by the amendment of the rigid 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. All that glitters are not gold, the sage says, for Atiku cannot restructure without the core north.”
The position of the Zikist-Buhari group notwithstanding, one challenge that APC has faced since conclusion of the 2015 general elections in the Southeast zone, despite arrays of politicians in the likes of former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, former governors Jim Nwobodo, Orji Kalu and Sullivan Chime who joined it, is the fact that the party remains a tough product to market.
Orji Kalu, who assumed APC leadership in the zone after he promised to bring every Igbo person into the party before 2019 general elections met with brick walls. President Buhari’s style, which the zone believes has not favoured it, has not helped matters.
In all however, it is yet to be seen how this endorsement would translate into victory for Atiku, especially with the rumours that it did not receive backing of governors in the zone.