By Raymond Nkannebe
No sooner had the Standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Alhaji Abubakar Atiku announced his choice of former governor OF Anambra State─Peter Obi as his running mate in the forthcoming 2019 elections than news filtered through to the effect that certain elements in the PDP South Eastern caucus had protested the choice of the former governor on the ridiculous and outlandish grounds that they were not ‘carried along’ in the process leading to the selection. As at the time of writing, the arrowheads of this opposition namely, the governors of the region had just risen from what has been described as a deadlocked meeting where all sides agreed that a decision one way or another on the selection of Obi, should abide the return of the PDP candidate to the Country. Let me quickly say that this attitude of the governors is as despicable as it is reprehensible and in many ways puts in focus what Chinua Achebe, instructively referred to as the “Igbo Problem”.
Since this development became a cause celebre, the rumour mills have gone agog with different stories taking turns as the possible source of grievance of the governors. One of such rumours which have received widespread publicity in the last 48 hours is the Governor Nyesom Wike factor. This school of thought has it that for failure or refusal of the governors of the South East to support his preferred candidate─Alhaji Waziri Tambuwal at the recently concluded convention of the party, the Rivers State governor and a heavy weight in the party swore to take his pound of flesh by influencing who emerges the running mate to the standard bearer without any input from the governors. And this, it is said, he carried into effect by playing a key role in the eventual nomination of Peter Obi, whose choice it appears does not sit well with the governors of the region. There are other accounts that have made it to the rumour mills but so far, the Wike interventionist school of thought, if I might call it that, appears to be the most plausible and was affirmed by a leading national newspaper yesterday.
Having given the above background, it is my considered view that the reason(s) whatsoever of the grumblings by the Igbo governors, whether altruistic or parochial does not arise ab initio. Quite to the contrary, it is a contumacious excrescence on the perception of the Igbo man abroad and speaks to the political naivety of the region. This ugly reaction from a rather micro organ of the Igbo hierarchy, in many levels have once again put beyond peradventure the obvious lack of political consensus of the Igbo nation─a conflict-ridden political trait which has been fingered as the quintessential albatross to its political relevance in the odd years of Nigerian history. The attitude of these elements, particularly the governor of Ebonyi state who has been isolated to be in the headgear of this opposition in his capacity as the chairman of the South East Governors Forum, overlooks the fact that whoever emerges the running mate to his excellency Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is not a right of the Igbo nation, and which until the nomination of Obi last week was largely contested with the South West which has a higher voting bloc as against the South East with a marginal voting demography and a well documented history of political apathy. It is against this backdrop that one would think therefore that the selection of an Igbo son would be seen as a privilege which it is, or a consolation to the region for having stuck with the party since its inception 20 years ago, and not the unhealthy resort to discordant tunes that has ruined the fan fare brought about by the nomination across the country, especially among Igbos.
Is it not rather embarrassing and awkward to the Igbo nation that despite having its closest shot at producing the second citizen of the country in the event of an Atiku victory by 2019, it is still mired in needless controversy over the circumstances of the selection of one of its own to a princely position? Or would a father who learns that his son is being garlanded in a distant country refuse to come to the party on grounds that he was not adequately informed of the son’s feat that merits his being celebrated? On Friday afternoon when the choice of Peter Obi became clearer after having being speculated to no end throughout the week, I was overwhelmed by the sheer energy and support shown by many, if not all citizens of Yoruba extraction who commented on the various social media platforms hailing the decision and describing it as a masterstroke that stood the ticket in good stead ahead of 2019. Never mind that prominent Yorubas all along were fingered as one of the possible choices to fill the position but which never became. The story is the same for many Northerners and even ardent supporters of the incumbent administration, I believe would do so even if in hush tones and in the privacy of their closets.
It is in this context that the bad energy flowing from Umahi and his friends, who by the way do not have the ears of the Igbo nation, nay Nigerians merits every condemnation. To be clear, nowhere is it pre-conditioned that a standard bearer of a political party must nominate his or her running mate upon a retreat with the political leaders of the nominee’s region. On the contrary, it is the leaders of the regions that lobby for the position on behalf of any of its son or daughter. At best the standard bearer only have to consult with the leadership of the party to have an all inside view of his preferred candidate vis-à-vis it’s electoral chances for the party at the general election. Whatever choice that is made at the end of the day behoves the region that produces the preferred candidate to rally round their son and deliver the needed votes to enhance his or her chances in becoming the second citizen. And if for any reason anybody should be aggrieved, it should be from regions who lost out in the political calculation, and not from those whose son emerged victorious as is the ugly scenerio before us.
And our political history lends credence to this: In 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari did not hold a conference with the Igbo nation before electing late Chief Alex Ekwueme as his running mate under the platform of the defunct NPN. In 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo didn’t hold a conclave with the North East caucus of the PDP before choosing Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as his running mate. All those were dispensed with at the party level. Ditto in 2007, Chief Good luck Ebele Jonathan did not emerge as Yar Adua’s running mate after consultation with the Ijaw nation. After Chief Peter Odili was edged out by the establishment at the time, the Ijaw nation rallied round Jonathan and showed their support through their visibility on Election Day. In 2011, the choice of Namadi Sambo was not wrought by a fiat of the North West caucus of the PDP either. And neither Afenifere nor OPC were consulted before the learned silk, Professor Yemi Osibanjo was nominated as the running mate of the Candidate Muhammad Buhari at the time. Don’t get me wrong, no one says high wired political schemings aren’t at play before this choices are made. But the point is, irrespective of how it goes, it is unheard of elements within a region producing the second citizen querrelling bitterly about the choice, to the extent of calling for another meeting with the standard bearer. What does this say about us as Ndi Igbo? But more instructively as a people who have taken protests as far as Buckingham palace and 10 Downing Street, for perceived marginalisation at the hands of the North and her south west political cousins and asking for a romantic republic called Biafra.
It is good to know however that the Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo led by the inimitable Chief John Nnia Nwodo has called the bluff of these few Igbo elements seeking attention while behaving like outcasts unlike Peter Obi whom they have described as one. 48 years since after the civil war ended, to the great discount of the Igbo nation; and 35 years after the region produced the second citizen of the country, providence, it appears looks set to smile at her again politically when one factors the high chances of Atiku emerging the 6th democratically elected President of Nigeria by 2019 if my guaging of the pulse of the nation is right. Whether that would come to be however would depend on how the discordant tunes making the rounds around the choice of Obi as Atiku’s running mate is managed by the region as that would inform the extent of support other regions would give to the ticket as this writer sees it.
But it bears pointing out that if there was ever a time the Igbo nation needed to shed her self-defeating and individualistic political character, it is now. In 2015 when the North wanted a return of power to the region, we saw the campaign it led against the Jonathan administration at the time despite the proven accommodation of the region in the programmes and activities of that. Performance nay, governance apparently was out of the question. And the entire region rallied around that project aided by the alliance with the South West and which was enough to retire the Jonathan administration. I think Ndi Igbo has a lot to learn from that if it must produce the vice president of the Republic in 2019. To this end, what is expected of the South East PDP governors crying wolf is to devise ways to deliver the bloc votes expected from their region to actualise its long dream of being represented at one of the highest levels of our political hierarchy. The current energy dissipated over the circumstances of Obi’s emergence is needless and must therefore be forgone at once.
In 2017, the incumbent governor of Anambra state, Dr. Willie Obiano ran a campaign around the Nke a Bu Nke Anyi political philosophy which cast the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) as an Igbo party and from which it profited immensely by sweeping the entire 21 local government areas in the State. By way of extrapolation, I think the Igbo nation; especially the governors of the region should see the choice of Obi in that light in so far as the overall interest of the Igbo is in question. A deft move expected from these governors would be to reconcile the rift between Peter Obi and the incumbent governor of Anambra state, whom I understand is heavily opposed to his emergence, even though not being a member of the PDP.
To be sure, the choice of Obi has being widely received across the spectrum of the country on account of his intimidating qualifications both in the public and private sector. And so there is no question of his not being fit for the job. Indeed with a relatively younger age; a clean corruption bill of health; an impressive record in Anambra state for eight years; a good knowledge of political economy and what not, there couldn’t have been a better nominee from the entire region who would be received by Nigerians as he have been since his nomination all things considered.
Suffice it to say conclusively that once again, the Igbo nation is at a political crossroad with her destiny in her hands. And the options before her are twofold: whether to rally round one of its own in the finest traditions of Igbo lore, or to behave like the lizard in the proverb that ruined its mother’s funeral.
Raymond Nkannebe, a legal practitioner and public affairs analyst writes from Lagos and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.