A former governor of the old Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, tells TOBI AWORINDE that the emergence of an Igbo president in 2019 would put an end to ethnic-based marginalisation in Nigeria.
what do you think of calls for an Igbo president in 2019, amplified by former President Olusegun Obasanjo?
Obasanjo is not ordinary. There is a story I will tell you: When Obasanjo was in prison, many people were preparing for president, including myself. One morning, my wife, Ugoeze, told me that I should not waste my money on this presidency matter and that the issue had been settled. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘Obasanjo is going to be president.’ I exclaimed and said, ‘Obasanjo is in prison.’ But she said she saw Abdulsalami Abubakar decorating Obasanjo as president. You can remember that since then, he has been very crucial to whoever becomes president in Nigeria.
He chose (Umaru) Yar’Adua to run for (president on the platform of) the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party). He made (Goodluck) Jonathan run as a south-easterner by virtue of the death of Yar’Adua. Even Buhari, Obasanjo had a hand in his emergence and victory.
So, it is not easy to just dismiss Obasanjo’s statement, especially as he has good reason. He says injustice and marginalisation cause problems among peoples and groups. He didn’t even look at the national level only. He mentioned Ogun State and said Ogun West should have the governorship. It has never had the governorship. He says continuing with injustice will cause crises. Obasanjo can father than most of us and I think he appreciates justice.
Look at the way Buhari is pushing the South-East out of Nigeria, denying them appointment, denying those who were in service appointment and replacing them with other people. Again, look at the newspapers today (Tuesday), $30bn borrowed for Nigeria; not one kobo going to the South-East. So, it is clear. When Obasanjo was president, nobody was killed for standing for Biafra. Same thing happened with Yar’Adua, nobody was killed for standing with Biafra. The same thing goes for Jonathan. But Buhari started killing our people anywhere he saw them.
I think it is obvious: Obasanjo saw all these things and thought of what has happened before making his comments. I accept his comments and I think it is fair because it was just two days after a group of people told me that they were working for (the emergence of an) Igbo president in 2019. We have been out of central power for so long, so we are not as influential as we should have been. But now, with Obasanjo’s help, we must reorganise and restrategise.
How come there has been no Igbo president all this while?
The issue of rotation was agreed long ago. In fact, I was the Chairman of the Power Sharing Committee at the 2005 (national) conference. We recommended rotation across the board. But it didn’t quite start. Now, look at Nigeria. The way we are aggrieved, we were just facing disintegration and collapse. I don’t want the disintegration and collapse of Nigeria, but if we continue with injustice, unfairness, iniquity, marginalisation, breaking the constitution by not giving equal recognition to the various zones, things will continue like this. I don’t see any saving grace. God created our country great. He had a purpose; that Nigeria should be a rallying point and big brother for all blacks. He endowed us stupendously with surplus resources. Nigeria has failed because of monumental corruption that has eaten deep into every segment of our society. What we need to do in Nigeria is not to increase injustice, iniquity, unfairness, and marginalisation, but to fear God. We must eliminate corruption and remake Nigeria. Only a new Nigeria can make progress. We have already failed so woefully. There’s nothing to help us survive, except by making Nigeria a fair place.
Do you see any obstacles before the Igbo in the 2019 presidential race?
Nobody can take it as a guaranteed outcome. There will be obstacles, some from inside and some from outside. If it appears to be the will of God that his purpose for Nigeria will be achieved, it is most likely that an Igbo man will emerge as the president and take Nigeria to greatness more than ever. That is without prejudice to Fulani, Hausa, Yoruba or any other group in Nigeria. Every group will gain from Igbo presidency of Nigeria. No group will lose out, not even the herdsmen.
What do you mean by internal and external obstacles?
There are problems in Nigeria now. Politicians always want to win. Some people want to win election and they look for where they can go. Some of them would rig the results and become the elected person. I was told by some people in the North that many people in Anambra are trying to go to the APC (All Progressives Congress). That is an internal problem right now, although no original Igbo man can go for that. And if any Igbo person goes for that, that person will never win election in Igboland for the rest of his life. That is an internal problem among the Igbo.
It cannot be guaranteed but efforts are being made. We heard of the governor of Imo State — a governor! — telling us to forget the presidency in 2019. It is good that it was he who said it because nobody takes him seriously anymore because of his past activities. But that is the kind of internal problem we are already having.
Outside, you have major parties: you have the APC and the PDP working very hard to keep Nigeria corrupt. If there is a party that comes out preaching the truth, preaching honesty, integrity, justice and fairness, Nigeria is going to surprise people, instead of continuing with this bankrupt system.
Will you support Buhari if he endorses someone from Igboland for president in 2019?
Our life, our future and our prospects are in the hands of God. The only thing Buhari is good at is killing our people and depriving them of anything that is to go to them.
Are you prepared for opposition to an Igbo president across ethnic divides?
There will be opposition from the Fulani. I don’t know about the Hausa. I think they are trying to determine when they will answer their father’s names. The Fulani adopted a mentality of superiority and an Igbo presidency will be the best thing to happen to the Fulani — not the highest class of Fulani, but the ordinary Fulani. Over 90 per cent of the Fulani will gain more from an Igbo presidency than from Buhari’s presidency.
What is your reaction to those who believe there is no candidate in Igboland who is popular among every section of the country?
That is a very big lie. It is just that we are used to not considering them (Igbo). There are so many — uncountable. From every village in the East, you can get a president. We are gifted. Go to America. Among the professionals there, who are the dominant people? Among the politicians there, who are dominant? Look, there is just no way to deny God’s gift to our people. I could even roll out some names for you, but there is no point doing that. I know that Nigerians know that if they want to rise, they will have to look for Igbos. For as long as they keep the Igbo down, Nigeria will stay down.
Do you think that Jonathan’s presidency will hurt or help the emergence of a president from the South-East?
I don’t know. But remember that Jonathan went to Sokoto State sometime last year, and what happened? They were asking him to come back. From Sokoto, people were chanting, ‘Come back, Jonathan. Come back, Jonathan.’ Besides, the man ended (his presidency) on the best of notes, surrendering to Buhari even before the results were read out, no matter the quality of the results. So, this is something for which we should enjoy, not lose.
How will the detention of the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, affect the possibility of an Igbo president’s emergence?
I believe that Buhari will change his mind and release him. In fact, within this year because all that he is doing with it is setting a trap for Igbos. They will come out and say, “Release Kanu” and they are shot down and killed, wiped out. So, if it is a bait that Kanu is being used for or a trap to get the Igbo out in numbers, I think he will be tired of that and release him.