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“Igbos, Ahmed Lawan And Politics Of Exclusion”

By Zainab Suleiman Okino

In the aftermath of the near hitch-free conduct of the All-Progressives Congress (APC) delegate election, and the euphoria of a so-called victory for rotational presidency, we seem to be forgetting something fundamental to the peace and stability of the country.

We also need to interrogate the circumstances that led to the withdrawal of a relatively young and vibrant former minister for state for education, Chukwuemaka Nwajiuba, apart from his claim of monetization of the primary election process, and equally the withdrawal of former Senate President, Ken Nnamani.

Before the APC convention, there was tension in the air about the possibility of the emergence of a Northern candidate, against wide-held notion that the slot should go to the South. Under this circumstance, most of the aspirants including David Umahi of Ebonyi state and two ministers, Ogbonaya Onu and Nwajuiba resigned their plum positions to contest. To their disappointment, there was no consideration for them or anybody for that matter from the Southeast.  

And after the emergence of Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the APC candidate, all went quiet, as if justice has been served. No, it has not. Or equity prevailed in the end. Not so either. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, the former Minister of Science and Technology condemned in strong words the marginalization of the Southeast political zone in the political scheme of things in Nigeria, even as he referred to Obasanjo’s eighth years in office, current VP Osinbajo’s eight years as Vice President by 2023 for the Southwest and Goodluck Jonathan’s almost six years for Southsouth. “Where is justice, where is the justice here”, Dr Onu asked rhetorically.

Although his emotional appeal for justice fell on deaf ear, and could not prick the conscience of delegates, who at that time, had been heavily compromised with monetary inducement, I cannot help but align my thoughts with his. Where is the justice of it all if a substantial section of the political class from a particular zone is constantly ignored by the two major political parties?  If APC was truly interested in equity and fairness, the presidential slot should, with all intents and purposes, have been zoned to the Southeast. If the will is there, there will always be a way out.

 In 1999, there was a consensus, that the presidency should be zoned to the Southwest to assuage the anger that followed the annulment of the June 12 election that the late business mogul, MKO Abiola won fair and square before the military junta annulled the election. So, the then two leading parties—Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Peoples Party (APP) both fielded Olusegun Obosanjo and Olu Falae representing the PDP and APP respectively. Dr Ogbonoya Onu, who was also an aspirant then was prevailed upon to step down for Olu Falae which he did. 

This same man was the chairman of ANPP in 2014 when the mega-merger that produced the APC took place. Not only did he subsume his position and personal ambition for the greater good of all concerned, but he has also been consistent in his political journey.

 He was part of the team that convinced Tinubu to be a part of the merger and helped create the logo and motto of the party. I understand the APC certificate is still with him. Some run-of-the mill politicians would do mischief with such institutional memorabilia, but not Dr Onu.  For all his sacrifices and commitment, neither the president nor the cabal stood for him when it mattered most. All the promises the president made to the Southeast were blown off by the influence of dollars on convention day. I also do not think, Nwajuiba would accede to wasting 100 million naira if there was no discussion about some concession and if he knew the election was going to be for the highest bidder.

You cannot talk of justice and fair play only if your interest is at stake. For the Southwest, which had Obasanjo as president for eight years—even though the parties are different—to think justice had been done because one of theirs emerged as a candidate is the height of dishonesty. And for not conceding to the Southeast; all of them, starting from President Buhari and his cabal, the Northern APC governors that supported Tinubu, those from the West that stepped down for him and even Southeast governors/delegates that betrayed their own people are all guilty by association. 

The Southeast may not have the number, the wherewithal and political weight to fight their own battle because of their minority status (as it is in some states like Benue and Kogi before Yahaya Bello’s emergence); however, what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. We should understand that without justice, there cannot be peace, and without peace there cannot be prosperity for all.  

The Southeast, just like any other region or zone boasts of competent and capable hands if we resolve to take care of the minorities among us, because Nigeria does not belong to Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba alone.  There is nothing wrong or undemocratic about a turn-by- turn arrangement if it ensures equity and justice. It helps to calm frayed nerves and stabilize the polity for peace and development to reign. No one should be discriminated against based on religion, region, or zone, because none of us had a hand or choice in our creation.

Senate President Ahmed Lawan’s Waterloo

When Senate President Ahmed Lawan paid a courtesy visit on the Northern Media Forum chaired by renown journalist and wordsmith, Dan Agbese while seeking for support to become the Senate president in 2019, I asked him why he didn’t deem it fit to give way to younger fellows to take their shot after 20 years of lawmaking. Not that he was old though, but he was 61 years then and had already spent 20 years in the National Assembly. He explained it away with their normal refrain—my people wanted me…    

 By 2023, when he will be exiting the Senate he will be 64. He would have served as lawmaker for 24 solid years, having served as a member of House of Representatives from 1999 to 2007 and became a senator since then and Senate President in 2019. However, when Senate President Lawan sought to become a presidential candidate of the APC, he put his protégé in place to sit in for him in an event of his failure at it or so it seemed. 

 He failed to clinch the presidential ticket and went back to his constituency to claim what he thought was his for merely asking. He met a brick wall. His assumed surrogate, Bashir Machina has refused to step down and hand over the ticket al carte to him and time is running out. Machina was the sole aspirant during the primary election. Double jeopardy for being overambitius, you may say. Lawan had, prior to the convention, been announced by the party’s chairman as a consensus candidate before things went awry for him. The man who almost became a candidate has since met his Waterloo. What an inglorious end to a long and colourful career which started when he was only 40 years old.  

Politicians never learn lessons and do not know when enough is enough. It was this same arrangement that landed ex-Senate President David Mark in trouble in 2019. He arranged for his godson Abba Moro to sit-in for him while he went fishing to become PDP candidate. The man thought he owned the seat; but by the time he came back to ’collect’ the ticket, Abba Moro refused to cooperate. Today Abba Moro is in the Senate while David Mark is not.

 The master political strategist, uncommon donor and former minister of Niger Delta was said to have made a similar arrangement, but has since been beaten at his game, as the winner Mr Udom Ekpoudom has vowed not to relinquish the ticket, despite the effort of the state’s APC chairman, Stephen Ntuekpo, to want to conduct a fresh election citing security infractions. 

These political heavyweights have only a few hours left to be or not to be. Whether they succeed in going (returning for some) to the Senate as Governors David Umahi and Bala Muhammed did or not is immaterial; what is important is the level of consciousness that engendered the resistance. In the years ahead politicians will think twice before they go into such charade because as the saying goes: ‘you can’t fool all the people all the time’.

Zainab Suleiman Okino is chair, Editorial Board of Blueprint/

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