“No, my brother; it was you people who voted him in. We gave you Falae, but you people chose Obasanjo”
The above was in response to a question I put to a Yoruba socialite in Lagos in 2001. I had wanted to know why they thought Olusegun Obasanjo was the best they could offer in 1999 for the presidency. The “you people” in her response refers to South-easterners, specifically, Igbos. This claim can only be true if one adds the South-south votes, because the total Southeast vote for Obasanjo in 1999 was 2.3m out of a total 3.3m votes cast in the region.
Let us review the political succession scenario of the PDP, and how it was supposed to benefit the southeast; if Obasanjo and Atiku had a good working relationship, Atiku would have succeeded his boss in 2007, and would have picked someone from southeast or south-south as his vice-president. If that scenario had played out, by 2015, whoever was the vice-president would have become the president. Which means that a southerner would have been Nigeria’s president today, though the likelihood of that president coming from the South-south or the Southeast was a 50:50 coin toss. Of course, this did not happen as envisioned, or even written.
As it turned out, Atiku was sidelined, Obasanjo picked Yar’Adua to replace him, and the rest is well-documented. However, we will continue to construct this scenario to determine, all things being equal, when Nigeria could have had an Igbo president. With Yar’Adua’s emergence as president, the vice-presidential lot fell on the South-south, instead of the southeast; assuming that he was able to serve out his two terms, Goodluck Jonathan would have taken over in 2019, and served till 2027 with a Muslim vice president of the Southwest extraction, to balance the political equation. Obviously, with the selection of a vice-president from the South-south, the Southeast was effectively, eliminated from possibly ever producing a Nigerian president. Yet, the Igbos never expressed any form of anger or frustration at this PDP succession scenario. Maybe, they never read or accurately interpreted the tea leaves.
However, the Southwest was making its own calculations based on the above scenario; realizing that with a continued PDP rotation system, the earliest they could get back into the corridors of power at Aso Villa would be in 2027, they decided to stage a coup. After the 2011 elections, and the dissatisfaction of the northerners over the loss of their rightful turn to complete their two terms, Tinubu saw an opportunity to form a coalition of strange bedfellows to not only wrest power from the PDP, but to return the Southwest to the corridors of power much earlier than projected and, in the process, inadvertently create an opportunity for Igbos to have a shot at the presidency. That is, if the coalition manages to last beyond two election cycles. Currently, things seem to be falling apart. However, there is nothing wrong in evaluating the chances of an Igbo presidency in an APC political arrangement.
To garner the votes of the northern electorate, the newly-formed political coalition dubbed All Progressives Congress, with little or nothing progressive about them, needed a popular northern candidate, and they settled on Muhammadu Buhari. The South-south, with an incumbent president, expectedly, stuck with their man. However, and surprisingly, the Southeast elected to stick with Jonathan and the PDP, even though the region was devoid of any form of evidence of Jonathan’s six-year presidency. Here, the southeast opted to stay with the devil and the party they are comfortable with than join the one where, seemingly, their chances of producing the president in the near future is much better.
So, how would have the Southeast fared if they had switched political allegiance in the 2015 elections? All things being equal, if Buhari serves out a second term by 2023, it is expected that one of two things will happen: either Osinbajo will run for office, or an APC candidate of Igbo extraction will be selected. The latter is more likely to happen than the former, because the rest of the regions in Nigeria will demand it of the APC, given that only the Southeast, of all the major tribes, would have been without a president since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule. So, the question is, why did the Igbos not imagine this scenario and support the APC, considering that their route to attaining the highest elected office in the land is shortest through the APC than the PDP? Was it a case of political non- or miscalculation? More surprising is the fact that after three years during which the Igbos would have realized the error of their ways and re-calculate their political equations, they are still deeply entrenched in PDP and vehemently opposed to the APC, continuously deriding their brothers and sisters who serve in that government.
One might wonder why this is the case, given the current presidential set up in the PDP where the 2019 candidate is to come from the North? The expectation is that whoever the flag bearer of the PDP is will pick his vice from the Southeast, and by 2027, after he would have served his 8 years, his vice, an Igbo, will take over. So, the Igbos are willing to sacrifice four more years before making it to Aso villa in 2027, instead of in 2023. Here is a wrinkle to this scenario; by 2023, the Southwest would have been without the top political post in Nigerian for 16 years, and may not be willing to wait for an Igbo presidential candidate in 2027 who may, or may not, pick his running mate from the Southwest. So, another palace coup involving a coalition of another set of strange bedfellows, which will ensure the emergence of a Yoruba president in 2027, will be effected. It will be like the 2015 arrangement, only that the two top positions will be switched, with a northerner as vice-president.
Yes, these are all scenarios and calculations some of which had already played out, and others still to, or may not, play out. What is evident, and has been for a while, is that Igbos seem to lack the foresight and the political calculating skills of the rest of the regions; dismissing that, then, one might say they are comfortable playing second and third fiddle to everyone else, and blaming their political misfortunes on some form of marginalization scheme by the rest of the hundreds of tribes that make up the Nigerian nation.
There is always the likelihood of a political earthquake in either 2019 or 2023, which will make nonsense of all the scenarios and calculations; now, if such were to be the case, where will the Igbos be, and what role will they play in effecting that earthquake? What happened in 2015 was akin to a political earthquake, and it took deft political moves, negotiating skills, and the offering of carrots for those involved to pull it through. Some truths are evident in the Nigerian political scene: any candidate from either the southwest or the Fulani north can win without the Igbo votes; MKO Abiola proved that, and so did Buhari in 2015. Again, all it takes is knowing how to balance the regional equation. Before the 2011 elections, a group of political analysts successfully predicted the voting pattern of that election; the same thing happened before the 2015 presidential elections, and, currently, a team is analyzing the 2015 voting pattern and realigning the numbers to predict the eventual winner in 2019. All of this work is important and politically beneficial to all the regions interested in the presidency, because you can narrow your campaign focus to those key areas and states.
A political earthquake prior to 2023 might include a restructured Nigeria which will result in regional autonomy, though, realistically, I do not see that happening any time soon. No one, having attained the presidency of Nigeria, will dilute his own power and influence. Another option might be a secession by one or more of the regions, most likely the South-south and the Southeast. This, also, I do not envision, except when oil becomes the 3rd largest revenue earner for Nigeria. Finally, the earthquake could involve the return of the military, in which case every region will be taken 20 years backwards.
Whatever the case may be, and however the projected scenarios may play out, the Southeast needs to begin the process of creating political alignments, building trust with more than just one region – the neighboring south-south, and shedding the well-worn toga of a marginalized people; because, believe it or not, the rest of Nigeria is losing interest in the Igbo man’s plight, and are increasingly seeing them more as trouble makers than innocent victims. Currently, the Southeast is politically irrelevant at the national level; it must find a way to regain the relevance of the second republic by being in the mainstream, and not on the sideline.