The approaching 2023 Presidential Election promises to be like none other in the nation’s annals. And the die is already cast as the pretenders and contenders have been already separated. It is a three-horse race, with Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of NNPP already discounting himself as a possible winner if he does not pair up with Peter Obi as his running mate.
It is therefore a three-horse race. The remaining 15 political parties are just vying for honours and personal records. Barring any strange odds, the race is between the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar and his running mate Ifeanyi Okowa, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Ahmed Bola Tinubu and his yet-to-be-determined running mate; and the candidate of the Labour Party Peter Obi and his yet-to-be-determined running mate. The three are truly worthy opponents and barring all odds, one of them will become President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor.
One thing the three front-line runners have in common is their cosmopolitan worldview and dispositions. No one can be said to be an ethnic champion, bigoted or an irredentist. Each has also come with a strong appeal that cuts across regions and primordial cleavages. They are all pan-Nigerian. Each of the three stands a good chance of winning. To carry the day, what each does in the next six months will make or unmake.
Given this scenario, one is persuaded to take a critical look at the political behaviour of Ndigbo vis-à-vis their counterparts in the other regions of the country. This has become necessary given what the Igbo ethnic group has gone through in the last 7 years, since being shut out by the APC-led federal government. Many see it as a direct consequence of having all their eggs in one basket for which they were labelled ‘5% voters’ who will not be treated equally with ‘97% voters’.
It is also true that what happened in the referenced instance has to do with Buhari himself who the Igbos perceive as unsafe to entrust their future and survival into his hands. Regrettably, the President made no effort to prove them wrong. Instead, he has gone farther in confirming their fears by shutting them out of the nation’s security architecture and critical appointments.
Yes, the Southeast voted against Buhari in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 in mutual distrust. The evidence showing that their decision not to vote for Buhari is neither ethnic nor religious is seen in the fact that the same Ndigbo voted for MKO Abiola in 1993; for Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 and 2003; for Shehu Musa Yar’Adua in 2007 even when Emeka Ojukwu was in the race the same year and the previous presidential election. They also voted for Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 and supported him till the end of his presidency.
The voting pattern of Ndigbo is not driven by ethnicity and religion, but they tend to deliver their votes en-mass to a single party based on the candidate fielded. This trend has been regarded as Ndigbo carrying all eggs in one basket. Their principled stand on political issues is unassailable and most times unyielding and inflexible.
However, in politics, flexibility without compromising integrity is a virtue. The ethnic group, perhaps the largest in Nigeria when their populations in other regions are added, Ndigbo should not be herded in one direction on election day. They should fan out to major political parties that have strong chances of winning the presidential election to be counted by the winning party when the booties will be shared.
Single-mindedness boomerangs in politics as presently seen in the fate of Ndigbo for their wholesome support for Dr Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP in 2011 and 2015. This undivided loyalty and support have been without reciprocation. Even Jonathan could not as much as lend a voice to the aspiration of the Southeast for a Nigerian President of their extraction.
Instead, the former president angled to return to power at the expense of Ndigbo. More instructively, the PDP that has always relied on the South-east for victory (for there is no single presidential election the PDP would have won if the party’s votes from the South-east were discounted) turned round to say the party wasn’t likely to win with a flag-bearer from the South-east zone and consequently threw open its presidential ticket. Predictably, the North clinched the PDP ticket, using their numerical advantage and by queuing behind Atiku Abubakar.
What prompted this intervention is the badgering of some Igbos who dare express their preferences for other political parties and aspirants other than the Labour party and Peter Obi who is flying its flag. They are called unprintable names in attempts to whip them into line. These attacks are wrong since Ndigbo have not – and in their enlightened self-interest, should not – adopt any political party or candidate for that matter. It will be injurious for the Igbo ethnic to adopt a sole political party or candidate. It will be yet another strategic blunder if they do. The choice of support must be left to individuals while the Igbo collective strategic interest is also articulated and canvassed in a civilised manner.
Recall that in the 2019 presidential election, Ohanaeze Ndigbo unwittingly adopted Atiku Abubakar/Peter Obi and their party, the PDP. That historic adoption by the apex umbrella body of the Igbo race was a blunder as it led to the fractionalization of the august body, which has persisted till today.
Ndigbo should be left free to ‘Atiku-culate’ if they want; be ‘Obi-dient’ if they want, or ‘Tinubu-lized’ if they wish to. Insulting some Igbos for their choices and subjecting them to cyber-bullying is wrongheaded. Those doing this, particularly for Peter Obi should note that he is not an ethnic project and anybody making him into one is doing him a disservice even.
The younger ones who constitute the majority of these internet warriors should be taught the beauty of Nigerian politics in years gone by. One case is: in the First Republic, Grace Ikoku of Action Group, a political party led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo stood election against his father, Alvan Ikoku of NCNC, another party led by Nnamdi Azikiwe. The son defeated the father. That is democracy at its best!
In the South-west, politics without bitterness is easily seen in husbands and wives belonging to different political parties with their marriages intact. Politics of accommodation was also in full display in the First Republic, when Ndigbo twice elected Umaru Altine, a Fulani man from Kano, as the Mayor of Enugu.
So, let us permit 2023 to reaffirm who Ndigbo are. Ndigbo are democrats and republicans. Let freedom, which defines the Igbo social life and culture as well as democracy prevail.
Who shall win shall win; what will be, will be.
• Dr Law Mefor is a Senior Fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought; Tel.: +234- 905 642 4375 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow me on twitter:@DrLawMefor.