Senator Ebenezer Ikeyina, the National Leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and former lawmaker who represented Anambra Central at the Senate, in this interview with Emmanuel Udodinma, spoke on the prospect of Nigerian President of Igbo extraction in 2023. Excerpts
What is your view on the clamour for a President of Igbo extraction?
What I can tell you is that as an elder statesman, I desire to have a country where everyone will have a stake in the country and be given a sense of belonging. It is unfortunate that the present composition of the country has actually marginalised a particular region of the country. The Southeast region of the country has been highly marginalised and so there is a need to talk about that and the best thing that I think that should be done is for Nigerians to allow the Southeast to present the President in 2023. I am not saying that the Presidency should be given on a platter of gold but what I am saying is that all the major political parties should zone the presidency to the region and when that happens, you would discover that the region would produce the next president. It is good for the sake of equity, peace and justice. If you look at what is happening in the region at the moment, you would also agree with me that zoning the presidency to the region will, to a large extent, douse tension and restiveness in the area.
But there are speculations that the region is not prepared for the presidency, judging by the fact that the people are not united and until that happens; it will be difficult for them to have the support of other regions. What is your thought on that?
I disagree with that view. It is not true that Ndigbo are not united. If anybody has said that I will tell you that it is a ploy to deny the people their right. The Southeast people have been working assiduously on the presidency project for 2023 and it is no longer an issue that the region is prepared. I will give a very good example of the rigorous selection undertaken by the Association of South East Past Presidents-General to endorse one of their own for President in 2023. The Association of South East Past Presidents-General in November 2019 endorsed Professor Peter Nnanna Umeadi, former Chief Judge of Anambra State, for President in 2023. The selection was done from 2,000 communities in the five Southeast states in the region. The association, which has consistently decried marginalisation of Ndigbo in Nigeria affairs, especially as it concerns the leadership of Nigeria and based on research it discovered that part of the marginalisation is due to inability of Ndigbo to present a candidate with requisite credentials, antecedents and personal attributes, enough to win acceptability both in the Southeast and other regions across the country. The group came up with a common stand, and unanimously endorsed Professor Umeadi for President in 2023. If 2,000 communities could come together to agree and endorse one of their own, that, to an extent, confirms the readiness of Ndigbo for the task ahead. I must say that Ndigbo are ready, and no longer going to succumb to the dummy that Ndigbo are not united. The region is more than ever united now to support one of their own to become President in 2023. We are tired of that deceit that we are not united and do not deserve the support of other regions. If an association has endorsed one of their own since 2019 in readiness for 2023, it is simply passing one message to Nigerians that Ndigbo are ready to take their position in the scheme of things. All they are asking is the support of Nigerians for the sake of peace, equity and justice.
Don’t you think that the people will have a herculean task getting the support of other regions going by the secessionist tendency of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)?
I don’t think that IPOB should be a barrier to that aspiration. There have been agitations here and there across the country and it is not peculiar to the Southeast region, and if you can remember what I said earlier, that all these agitations are signs of dissatisfaction and indications that the people are not happy. If you treat them like others, give them a sense of belonging; all these agitations will fizzle out. I will, at this junction, appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari to use his good offices to ensure that someone from the Southeast succeeds him as President in 2023. It’s possible to remember Buhari for handing power to a President of Igbo extraction, and he would have provided the healing balm.
How can you say that Ndigbo are ready when some politicians from the region are busy canvassing support for politicians from other regions?
I am not aware of politicians from the region canvassing for someone from another region for President in 2023. The Presidency has rotated between Northern and Southern Nigeria and among the various geopolitical zones. The Southwest and South-south geopolitical zones in the southern part of the country have produced the President of Nigeria in the persons of Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. Power is expected to rotate to the South in 2023, and as you know, the Southeast is the only zone in the South that is yet to produce a President of Nigeria in the current democratic dispensation. The Presidency has rotated between Northern and Southern Nigeria and among the various geopolitical zones with only the Southeast left out, with the region as a major geopolitical zone in Nigeria and Ndigbo, being one of the three predominant tribes in the country; they must take their rightful position in national polity.
When you say that some people from the region are canvassing for people from other regions, then I would just tell you that they probably are not true sons and daughters of Igboland. There is a popular saying in Igbo parlance that, you cannot say that your mother’s soup is not sweet. If we are to be sincere to ourselves, no person who truly loves peace will fail to support Ndigbo because we have supported other people in the past. We have supported the North. We supported the Southwest and we also supported the South-south; so why should our own be different? Are we not part of this country? Let me also remind you that we have had leading Igbo politicians, including members of the National and State Assemblies, ministers and other stakeholders, gather together to chart the way forward to realise the 2023 Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. The region has been over marginalised and we don’t want to turn a blind eye to that. You can see that I have been passionately appealing to various political parties to make this work so that particular people are not treated as second class citizens. We have been witnessing a lot of political upheavals in recent time but we would have contributed in our own little ways as a people if we pave the way for peace.
From other zones outside of the Southeast, there are already some influential aspirants with strong political bases across the various geo-political zones of the country. Do you think that there is any person in your region who can match such aspirants?
In as much as we cannot stop anyone from aspiring but I must tell you that the Southeast will get the support of other regions because work is already underway. Ndigbo of the Southeast geo-political zone is in continuous search of a system that guarantees and secures its social, political and economic interest, based on equality of citizenship, equity and justice. I make bold to say that the Southeast geo-political zone can find this in Nigeria. The journey to building an equitable society is usually challenging and rough, but many nations have arrived safely from this journey. For those of us who advocate for the President of Nigeria of Southeast extraction, all we need to do is diligently and boldly pursue it for the time has come and the time is now. It is also my view that the present-day political interest of the Southeast geo-political zone is to attain the Presidency of Nigeria come 2023. The people are ready to render the services and if supported by Nigerians, I will boldly say that the region will deliver because enough preparations have been made.
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