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2023: Igbo leaders reject PDP’s open contest, step up lobby

Leaders of the South East, under the banner of Greater Nigeria Movement (GNM), a Pan-Nigerian movement founded to promote social cohesion, economic inclusion and good governance have rejected the decision of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to dump zoning and throw the contest for its 2023 presidential ticket open to all contestants. The group urged delegates to the PDP special national convention, who will pick the party’s presidential candidate on May 29/30, to support a South East aspirant, in the spirit of justice and fairness.

It also urged the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and other political parties to pick candidates from South East, to give the Igbo senses of belonging in the country as well as give them the opportunity to drive the governance process to change the fortune of Nigeria for good. The group vowed to intensify lobby among other zones in the country, with the view to getting their buy-in and support.

Speaking during a courtesy visit to The Sun Publishing Limited yesterday in Lagos, the group lambasted the PDP for going against its own constitution on zoning, saying that it was wrong that when the South East, which is the only zone in Southern Nigeria that has yet to produce the President of Nigeria, should field the presidential candidate, the party is changing the rule.

The leaders, led by former Chairman of the PDP and ex-governor of Enugu State, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, during the visit, noted that ceding the presidential ticket of the PDP and APC  to the South East zone, will not only address the marginalisation of the zone and give it a sense of belonging in the Nigerian project, but will also go a long way to heal the inherent feelings of adversity in the country as a whole.

They noted that going against the rotation arrangement now could lead to a situation whereby, in the future, parts of the country may also challenge some other aspects of Nigeria’s national life, like federal character, which are made to give fair share to the component parts of the country. 

Nwodo noted that the agitation for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction was legitimate. “Our demand is that the presidency of Nigeria come to the South East. We champion this not because any of us is in the business; we champion it as patriotic citizens because there is every compelling reason the presidency should come to the South East. The conference we organised in Abuja is a living testimony that the campaign is resonating across the country, especially in the Southern Nigeria and Middle Belt. The papers presented by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who led the South West and that of Chief Edwin Clark, who led the South South, speak volumes in support of this project. This is not the first time that they will be giving the impression that the South East is not part of Nigeria, and there is nobody who is being marginalised as much as the South East is being marginalised and he will not speak up. Our people say that you cannot beat a child and ask him not to cry. We have a responsibility to speak up.”

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He noted that ceding the presidency to a particular region is not new in the PDP. He said: “When the PDP was formed, it was argument of this nature that convinced the party to zone the presidency to the South. After Chief MKO Abiola was denied his victory of June 12, 1993, the presidency was zoned to the South West in 1999. The injustice of denying Abiola victory convinced us to cede the presidency to the South West. Only one candidate, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, fought against it. I was National Secretary of the PDP. I personally wrote the cheque to return his fees and told him that zoning the presidency to the South West was a party decision. Why are they trying to change the goal post now that it is the turn of Southern Nigeria and in fact micro zoning to the South East? We feel pained, there is a limit to which we can tailor our pain. We will still go to the convention and primary and we appeal to the delegates to know that a wrong to one person is wrong to all. It may be the turn of the South East today, we don’t know whose turn it will be tomorrow.”

Senator Victor Umeh, who was part of the delegation, noted that the GNM had come together across party lines in the interest of the entire South East.

Umeh said: “What has brought us together across party lines is the interest of the zone; we have to work together to say how we feel and what we think should be done in making the South East real partners in the Nigerian project. The 2023 presidency is very crucial and we decided to ask for support for the South East. At the National Conference in 2014, the delegates agreed that power should rotate between the North and the South, even though the resolutions of that conference have not been put into practice; by convention you can see that power sharing in Nigeria has been followed. At this time  the South East is the most justifiably qualified to present the President of Nigeria in 2023. Olusegun Obasanjo from the South West went for eight years, then Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua was elected on the basis of power going back to the North. Unfortunately, death aborted his tenure. President Goodluck Jonathan completed his tenure and contested and won a four year term, the four years was terrible for him because the North felt that their eight years on the principles of rotation had not been served; we all remember what happened and how it led to Jonathan’s ouster. So, we are saying that in 2023 the presidency should come to the South first and when it comes, it should go to the South East. We want Nigerians to know that we are offering the best for this job.”

Senator Chris Anyanwu, President  Nzuko Umunna, an affiliate group to GNM and another member of the delegation, noted that the quest for a Nigerian President of South East extraction should be seen as a great moment in the life of the country as it offers Nigeria the choice of “wallowing in discontentment or trying something new.

“This is the moment at which Nigeria can change course from the emotions and sentiments that have been very harmful to the progress of the country. We have the option of continuing along that path and wallow in very unspeakable conditions filled with people with various discontentment and people who feel left out, or we can decide to try the right thing. It takes a lot of courage and boldness  to say let’s change course and do the right thing.” She urged the political parties to summon the courage and change the course of the country, and noted that the South East has over abundance of very capable and qualified personalities that can lead Nigeria.

“At some point, some people questioned whether the South East was capable to lead Nigeria? Now, I think it has been proven that the South East has an abundance of people who can actually turn around the country; we have to be courageous to turn around the path of the country. We don’t want to leave our children the legacy of a country that has become a bad story,”  she said. Mr Ferdinand Agu, chairman of the Contact and Mobilisation committee of the group, warned that the agitation of the South East for fairness should not be confused as a cry of the zone as it affects every aspect of Nigeria’s national life.

“This is not just about the South East crying; democracy is not just a game of numbers; it is a process of managing adversity and carrying along every part of the country. Why do we have federal character or a situation whereby somebody in one part of the country will score 300 in JAMB and will not be able to enter the university while another person from another part of the country will score 30 and enter the university? It is a way of managing adversity. If we jettison zoning, we will be turning our back on an entire body of policies meant to manage adversity. The challenge of the post independence Nigeria is how to manage a country not founded by any Nigerian, but founded as a mere geographical area for economic interest of the British; managing Nigeria is about managing its adversity. Those who think they are not victims of this rotation today may be victims of other injustices tomorrow,” he said.

The Sun team that received the group was made up of  Editor, Daily Sun, Mr. Iheanacho Nwosu and Editor Sunday Sun, Mr. Chidi Nnadi.

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