Peter Obi, Nigeria’s Barack Obama
By Simon Njoku
This piece was written under divine inspiration and was first published in the OrientWeekend newspaper on Sunday, February 21, 2020, with the title: “Conversations on Igbo 2023 Presidency”, at a time when discussions on the 2023 presidency were yet to take the front burner in the national discourse.
Little did the writer know that the ‘internal conversation’ was all about the re-entry of the Nigerian politician called Peter Obi into the political scene as current events in the scene and his soaring popularity have shown, all indicating there is a divine force propelling his mission. Read on:
The Igbo have not hidden their desire to bid for the seat of power, to replace incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari at the expiration of his tenure in 2023. Igbo president, in this piece, refers to a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. Igbo, whose population is more than 30 million (Wikipedia), is one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria.
A cross section of the Nigerian population has indeed thrown its weight behind the Igbo presidential project on grounds of equity, fairness and justice as the Igbo is the only major ethnic group and region that is yet to produce an executive president of the nation since the country’s independence in 1960. Much as the support for Igbo presidency is spreading across the nation, not a few political commentators have stressed the need for the Igbo to reach out to other ethnic groups and solicit their support as they cannot go it alone. This, certainly, is a fact that cannot be ignored.
Reaching out to key politicians and influential personalities across the country will surely reveal the critical challenges to contend with as in the way and manner to approach the project, issues for negotiation, quality of presidential candidate, his popularity, marketability and national appeal; the trade offs, among others.
In advanced democracies, candidates and their sponsors are expected to proffer solutions to prevailing political and socio-economic challenges. The political and socio-economic questions are critical issues in every election. The nitty gritty of campaign funding is left with the highest echelon of the political party and its candidate. Ahead 2023, what manner of conversations are likely to dominate discussions between Igbo groups and powerbrokers across the Nigerian polity? Questions are bound to be asked and answers are to be provided. Take, for instance, question like: “What are the Igbo bringing to the table?”
Despite all odds, the Igbo are going into these conversations, these negotiations, these discussions from a position of strength rather than weakness, from a position of hope rather than despondency and from a position of optimism rather than pessimism. A critical asset of the Igbo candidate in these engagements will be his sincerity of purpose, clear sense of direction for a resurgent socio-economic cum political order for Nigeria and his high sense of patriotism and professionalism. The antecedents of the Igbo in this regard speak for them. When they occupied key positions in the administrations of Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, they distinguished themselves. As Central Bank Governor, Chief of Army Staff, Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister for Economy they excelled. As CBN governor, the value of the Naira was stabilized and inflationary rate was brought down to single digit; as Chief of Army Staff, the menace of Boko Haram in the Northeast was contained; as Minister of Finance they wiped off Nigeria’s choking foreign debt of $30 billion, and pump price of petrol remained stable at N86.00 per litre etc. These are some of the impeccable credentials the Igbo are bringing to the discussion table as points of reference. So, the Igbo will offer their best as presidential material that will halt the current economic slide, political disorientation and social destabilization as in national security.
“Will the Igbo drop the agitation for Biafra if elected president of this nation?” This question is bound to come up in the conversations. For the Igbo, the agitation for Biafra is a fundamental human right: the right to freedom of the human spirit to resonate with vision, to explore and exploit its greatest potential in an unhindered environment where it is given the due latitude to thrive. It is an agitation for the unleashing of the spirit of enterprise anchored on a liberal capitalist ideological platform synonymous with the Igbo belief in unity, prosperity, peace, justice and equity. This promotes the concept of “being your brother’s keeper”. The present structure of the Nigerian federation does not guarantee this. It does not promote the spirit of enterprise; it does not promote justice and equity as well as fairness in all areas of endeavour and in the distribution of national resources. Therefore, accessing presidency under these circumstances will not stop the agitation for Biafra. It is more or less a compromised presidency, unless opportunities for re-jigging the system are created and outcomes extensively discussed and agreed on in the course of the conversations and effected ahead of the elections.
Another critical question that the Igbo are bound to answer will centre on their financial power to effectively pursue the presidential dream. Vying for presidency in this country requires enormous financial investment. So, how ready are the Igbo in this regard?
In some advanced countries, candidates do not provide all the funds for their electioneering campaigns. Citizens or supporters do this. The Igbo are ready to do this for their candidate according to their means and the electoral provisions. Recall that when President Buhari came to power in May 2015 he took immediate steps not only to consolidate his hold on power but also to neutralize every potential opposition to his 2019 re-election plans. He took full cognizance of the clamour for Igbo Presidency and did not fail to deal with that source of threat decisively.
To begin with, the Igbo were excluded from all key positions in government appointments and therefore had no access to the workings of his government as well as government funds. Consequently, no Igbo will be accused or suspected of stealing government funds to fund his campaigns. Moreover, Igbo politicians that executed any substantial contract under the preceding administrations became targets of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC – the Diezani Allison Maduekes, Oliver Metus and others. (Of course, this is not condoning any act of financial misconduct on the part of the persons being prosecuted or persecuted). The persecution did not end with the politicians. Tentacles of the EFCC were also extended to notable private Igbo businessmen including the Innosons, Ibetos, Onyemas etc. Having seemingly intimidated potential contenders and financiers out of the presidential race, the Igbo, going into the elections, cannot guarantee extravagant expenses on campaigns. The Igbo may be constrained to drop N2.5 billion here or N5billion there for one influential person or the other to distribute.
Certainly, our Northern friends will insist: “Igbo will secede if given power, chikena”.
Let’s face it. Is there any group in today’s Nigeria that does not want to secede? The point is that the people are not happy, Igbo and non-Igbo. If the people are happy they will not contemplate secession. It has to be stressed that Nigeria as it is today has to die for the Nigeria of our dream to emerge. A close look at every sector of activity in this nation shows that the country is in comatose. No matter whom you put there as president, under the prevailing circumstances, cannot save it. It is like dressing a buck (he-goat) in suit and tie with a beautiful pair of shoes to match. It will still be a he-goat. That is another way of saying, putting a new wine in an old wine bottle.
We need to reinvent the country. We need to do what the United States of America (US) did a few years ago. Hither to the coming of Barack Obama as America’s president, America had declined in many respects. Its economy was in shambles. Debts and inflation rose to new heights. Osama Bin Laden demystified its military invincibility and supremacy thereby calling its claim of most powerful nation in the world to question. Its global image was terribly battered. American citizenship no longer carried the usual prestige but enjoyed the lowest esteem in its history globally. It was that bad for the United States of America.
Then the US leaders, the power brokers in business and economy, and indeed, Americans, decided to turn things around, to reinvent their country so that they could move forward and regain their pride of place in the comity of nations. They did the unthinkable. They gave America a brand new face, a new face of America going into the next decade, one who would revive and project the new America. They gave the world the face of a black man, the first ever. The idea was applauded worldwide. And that was the turning point and the new beginning for the United States of America. So, Obama came, saw and conquered: Barack Obama turned the economy around, restructured the American debt and brought down inflation. He tracked down Osama Bin Laden and ensured his elimination thereby restoring America’s global dignity and reckoning as a super power. By the time Obama left office eight years after (2009 – 2017) the United States of America was standing tall again. So, how far are Nigerians and their leaders ready to go in reinventing the nation without sentiments?
“Now, under what political platform should the Igbo pursue their ambition?” an interested observer may ask.
The two platforms that easily come to mind are the People’s Democratic Party, PDP and the All Progressives Congress, APC. The internal crisis in the APC and the massive defections that have hit the PDP do not commend both parties as viable platforms for the accomplishment of the Igbo presidential objective. Rather, those developments are good omens to the emergence of a third force, a mega party. In other words, there is likely to be a political realignment resulting in the coming together of people disenchanted with the existing political order and eager to transform the system. The Igbo will be able to pursue their ambition under this platform with higher degree of success. This should form part of the conversations across the nation. But a rejuvenated PDP will be a credible alternative platform provided the North buys the idea of an Igbo presidential flag-bearer. Indeed, the conversations have to be frank and unobstructed.