ColumnsNigeria ElectionsOpinionThe 2023 Presidential Election: Reflections on ‘Igbo Unity’

Avatar PilotnewsJanuary 30, 2022

“Opposition against the political ambition of individuals is guided by political interests, not by ethnic identity” ―Ebuka Onyekwelu

The concept of ‘Igbo unity’ seems to interest all Nigerians of all ethnic nationalities, particularly as it concerns national politics. Discussions on Igbo unity arise only in relation to national politics, especially when the presidential election is around the corner. But also when there is an argument on the propriety of ‘allowing’ an Igbo man to become president. Whatever this Igbo unity means, fascinatingly, it is only relevant for x-raying why an Igbo man is yet to become President of Nigeria since the end of the civil war.

In most recent memory, that is between 1999 and now, no Igbo man has yet to become Nigeria’s president, while the other two major groups and President Jonathan from the minority South-South geo-political zone have governed the country. Having this conversation, most Nigerians tend to agree that the reason is that Igbos are not united politically. For so many years, this narrative about Igbo political disunity has been told over and over, mostly unchallenged to the point that it has been mainstreamed without questions. While it is unclear what exactly many Nigerians mean by Igbo unity in national politics, or Igbo unity within the context of pursuit of national political ambition, the usual line of argument however, is suggestive of singleness of political aspiration and pursuit of a political agenda through a single strategy or through an individual. But the shocking reality is that Igbo people might be the only people group in the world who are expected or indeed, tasked to belong to the same political party or have a consensus candidate for presidential elections. Perhaps adopt an ‘Igbo candidate’ before party primaries, an ideal case of putting one’s cart before the horse.

The argument also bends towards having a one-party system, and without a doubt admonishes Igbo people to become intolerant and hostile towards the individual ambitions of their people. This is not all as the notion of Igbo unity in politics could be extended to accommodate whatever the propagators of this skewed concept mean.  The fact nonetheless, is that this is not the standard through which other ethnic nationalities are viewed in Nigeria by most Nigerians. Then also politics does not thrive on unity because in and of itself, politics is divisive. So there is no such thing as speaking with one political voice or acting in one political direction for people that belong to different political parties or for those in the same party but have different political interests.

Gen. Mohammadu Buhari contested against former President Musa Yar’Adua, both were candidates of the two major political parties, yet, it is not ‘Northern disunity’.

It gives great pleasure to observers and peddlers of this spurious narration on Igbo political disunity to point out just how political disagreement between Orji Uzor Kalu and Theodor Orji is a pointer to political disunity which negates Igbo people’s national aspiration. They allude to the disagreement between Peter Obi and Willie Obiano as a case of political disunity, that hinders the chances of Igbos in the national political contest. But when it gets to other regions, it is different. Gen. Mohammadu Buhari contested against former President Musa Yar’Adua, both were candidates of the two major political parties, yet, it is not ‘Northern disunity’. When Tinubu opposed former President Olusegun Obasanjo and both were locked in a long battle for the soul of Southwest politics, nobody called it ‘Yoruba disunity’. The Minister of Transport Rotimi Amaechi joined the opposition and fought former President Goodluck Jonathan and no one called it ‘South-South disunity or ‘Ijaw-Ikwere disunity’. In fact, Timi Sylva, President Goodluck’s own brother also joined forces with opposition and it is not ‘Ijaw disunity.’ Rotimi Amaechi fought Nyesom Wike to a telling point to stop him from returning to Rivers State Government House, but no one called it ‘Ikwere disunity’. However, Rochas Okorocha and Hope Uzodimma’s disagreement is a classical case of Igbo disunity in politics, which hampers the chances of Ndi Igbo in taking a shot at Nigeria’s Presidency.

In 2019, simply because Peter Obi was made Atiku Abubakar’s running mate, the Southeast gave Atiku remarkable support, but perhaps, because his nomination was questioned by two or three members of Southeast PDP; that is another case of Igbo disunity in politics. But even Tambuwal contested against Atiku in that same primary election and yet, it is not characterised as ‘Hausa or Fulani political disunity.’ Godswill Akpabio fought Emmanuel Udom with everything he has to stop him from being reelected as governor of Akwa Ibom State, despite fighting to make him governor in the previous election cycle. But this is not suggestive of any ethnic or people group disunity in politics. In Edo State, we are all witnesses to how Adams Oshiomole was cut to size by Godwin Obaseki whom he campaigned earlier to succeed him as governor of Edo State. The fight was the most remarkable in recent political memory. Yet, none of these emergency specialists on Igbo politics called that ‘Edo disunity’.

It is obvious that disagreements are part of politics. Opposition against the political ambition of individuals is guided by political interests, not by ethnic identity. No matter how advocates of Igbo disunity in politics may wish to present that false impression, evidence from across the country and elsewhere points to the fact that people are at liberty to pursue their political ambitions that is independent of their ethnic nationality and that politics is inherently divisive which naturally attracts opposition or support, either of which is determined by interests.

While others are expected to belong to different political parties, Igbos are expected to belong to a single political front and present a single political façade.

It is indeed disingenuous to talk of political unity, worst still when the standard for measuring such political unity applies only to Igbos. What is mere political disagreement for other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria is interpreted as disunity for the Igbos. While others are expected to belong to different political parties, Igbos are expected to belong to a single political front and present a single political façade. Meanwhile, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Falae can belong to the two major political parties and become their presidential candidates and it is not a sign of Yoruba political disunity, just as Former President Musa Yar Adua and President Mohammadu Buhari can become candidates of the two major political parties and it is not a case of Fulani political disunity.

Now, without the PDP or APC having picked a candidate for the 2023 presidential contest, people talk of the number of Igbos already expressing interest to contest the presidential election. Even though President Buhari contested the 2015 APC primary with Rabiu Kwankwaso and Atiku Abubakar, just as Atiku did in PDP with Bafarwa, Dankwambo, Kwankwaso, Lamido, Makarfi, Saraki, Tambuwal, in 2019. But it is now a sign of disunity for Orji Uzor Kalu to contest against David Umahi in APC or Anyim Pius to contest against Ohuawumba in PDP. Those who want to test Igbo unity should test it by giving Igbo man presidential ticket in the two major political parties or forming a formidable third force and then granting Prof. Kingsley Moghalu the presidential ticket of the third force. That is how to test the resolve of the Igbo to see if they are politically united, not offering baseless advice on how Igbos should put their political eggs in a single basket. Nobody does that!

In 2023, Igbo people will support one of their own who will emerge from a formidable political platform that stands a chance in the election. If this option is not available, then, they will align with any of their closest neighbours who have emerged from a party that stands a chance at winning. For now, every Igbo man or woman who is capable of contesting and winning the election should not delay in joining the contest. At least, if Igbo people will emerge candidates in PDP, APC, and third force, then, that will offer lessons on the Igbo man’s desire for excellence and fairness. The election will be about real issues and about the candidate who is most qualified and prepared for the job. This is what 2023 must be about. Igbos do not need to rally around one man to be able to win a presidential ticket or the Presidential election.

♦ Ebuka Onyekwelu, strategic governance exponent,  is a columnist with the WAP


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