By Comfort Obi
In the past one year, aside from being the Minister for Labour, Chris Ngige, a medical doctor, has been engaged in another assignment which he considers very important. It is to convince his South-east people that one of their own will be Nigeria’s President in 2023. But Ngige attached a condition. The region must vote massively for President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term in office in 2019, or forget the Presidency.
On this, Ngige is in the good company of Osita Okechukwu, the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria, VON. There are, also, a couple of other not- so-important people so involved in this insulting campaign. I call those ones “waka pass”.
For the records, Imo state governor, Rochas Okorocha, is also in this business. The only difference: He considers himself the best and most qualified Igbo man for the position in 2023. I don’t, however, know now if the campaign is still of any interest to him. Here is why.
The Leadership of his party, the APC, has since told him, in no unmistakable terms, that he has an exaggerated opinion of his powers and influence in the party. If in doubt, ask the National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole. Or, better still, ask these lmo gentlemen – Senators Hope Uzodinma, Ben Uwajimogu, Ifeanyi Araraume, Osita Izunaso, Deputy Governor Eze Madumere, Theodore Ekechi, and more – who demystified him as a force to be reckoned with in the APC. For now, based on the above, he is not relevant in this write-up.
So, Ngige and Okechukwu have been in the forefront of this secular sermon in the South-east. Vote Buhari in 2019, and be sure of the presidency in 2023, they preach.
When you hear them talk, you’d think they had Buhari’s authority, and/or that of the party leadership to say so. They talk so confidently that one is bound to believe them. And I can confirm that a number of people fell for it. The campaigners have a faultless argument. Buhari will not go for four more years after two-terms in office. Unlike a new President, they insist, who would ask for two terms.
This other day when the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Boss Mustapha, represented Buhari in Owerri, at Uzodinma’s governorship election campaign flag off, he gave Ngige and Okechukwu the wings to fly. He told the crowd to vote Buhari and be sure of the 2023 Presidency for the South -east. The crowd clapped and yelled in excitement.
I was not convinced. I have never bought their story, or line of argument. I know they had nobody’s mandate to make such non-binding promise. I knew they were just looking for votes for their party. And had no qualms to insultingly reduce the South-east to a pawn in their political chess board. I doubt if they even believe themselves when they talk.
I apologise for this, but in the hierarchy of the APC, I don’t know how influential Ngige and Okechukwu are in the scheme of things. They knew, and still know, that they were just talking. They know that if a South- easterner would ever be Nigeria’s President, let’s assume, under the APC in 2023, it will not be because of their non-authorised promises, or because the zone voted Buhari. Check this.
In 1999, the South-west refused to vote for Olusegun Obasanjo. But, without their votes, he won overwhelmingly and, became the President. He went on to win a second term in office, after out-witting the South-west governors in a funny arrangement with them. Obasanjo swept the governors out of office. The only survivour in that political tsunami which reduced his colleagues to irrelevance, politically, was Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. To be relevant, they now look towards Tinubu’s direction, and grovel for accommodation. But, I digress.
So, Ngige and Okechukwu have been in this business for one year and counting.
But now, the rug has been pulled from under their feet. More important and influential voices in their party have literarily asked them to shut up. A lie has been put to their storyline. “Power pass power”, they seem to have reminded them.
Babatunde Fashola, under whom three ministries reside, was the first to put his colleague-minister, Ngige, and his co-campaigners in their place. During a function in one of the South-west states, Fashola told the Yoruba to vote massively for President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term so as to get back the Presidency in 2023. When Fashola made that statement, I had hoped to hear, or read, a rebuke from Ngige. None came from him. Or from Okechukwu. And now this.
On Saturday, December 22, 2018, any shred of doubt that Minister Ngige and DG Okechukwu were talking out of tune, was wiped away by the very cerebral Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. On a courtesy visit to the Alaafin of Oyo, Osinbajo urged the South-west to vote massively for President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019, so as to get the Presidency in 2023.
Osinbajo: “Yoruba have a lot to contribute to Nigeria for the 2019 elections. It is for us the Yoruba; if you understand, it is for us. We are not looking at 2019, but 2023. If we don’t get it now, it may take sometime again.
“We have to look forward to that; that is before us. Though there could be some challenges, but what I know about President Buhari is that he is an honest man. If he says he will do something, he will do it.”
So, has Mr President and those that matter in the APC zoned the 2023 Presidency to the Yoruba? Was that what Osinbajo was insinuating? Perhaps, or perhaps not. May be all the parties are just talking to maximise the votes from both regions. But, as they say, there is no fire without smoke.
I don’t know about you, but between Ngige/Okechukwu on one side, and Osinbajo/ Fashola on the other side, I would, without a blink of the eye, take the latter more seriously than the former. For, this I know. Neither Osinbajo nor Fashola talks for the fun of it.
For a long time, the story has been on that the APC, would, in 2023, field a Tinubu/Boss Mustapha ticket. At times, one also hears of an Osinbajo/Mustapha ticket. But since Osinbajo’s statement, angry reactions have been coming like claps of thunder, notably from the PDP, Ohaneze, Afenifere and a number of other political actors. Senator Ben Obi, a respected Igbo and national voice, described it as insensitive of Osinbajo.
The question is: In the event of a Buhari victory in 2019, what will be in it for the South-east?
For the records, I don’t care who wins the Presidency in 2023. I am not tribalistic. A number of those who helped me in life are from the North. All I want is the best candidate, the best President, for Nigeria, whether the person comes from the South or North. Which is why I have never supported political parties. I support individuals. I want Nigeria to move forward. I want progress.
Like most Nigerians, I want to be able to do my job, pay my staff, put food on the table for my family, help the helpless to the best of my ability, be able to pay hospital bills in case of ill-health, sleep with both eyes closed and, drive along the roads without any fear of armed robbers or kidnappers. That’s what most Nigerians want, and wish for our country.
They abhore the extreme insecurity in the land. They abhore the rivers of blood flowing across the country. They abhore this frightening situation where Nigerians are slaughtered, everyday, like fowls, goats and cows. They abhore the hunger and poverty in the land. They abhore the frustrations in all fronts, almost. They abhore the extreme unemployment in the land. And they abhore the hundreds of thousands of our children out of school. They don’t really care who the President is as long as they have a little good life. That’s the truth.
But our leaders, unfortunately, do not understand. They brainwash us by playing the ethnic and religious card. We have gained nothing from their games.
The presidency has been in the North for like forever, but the poverty in most parts of the North is infectious. You need to see to believe. And I have. I have either toured or visited all the states in Nigeria, and my heart breaks at the level of poverty in the North. So, what have the ordinary Notherner gained? The South, especially, the South- east has not fared any better.
In the last administration, the South-east held a number of important positions – Deputy Senate President, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Minister for Finance/ Coordinating Minister for the Economy, partly Minister for Petroleum because the minister then is married to an Igbo man, Ministers for Aviation, Power, Health, Interior, Director of Budget and, at a point, the Chief of Army Staff and the Comptroller General of Immigration. But what was in it for the region? Nothing, almost. No good roads, no railways, no good hospitals, no massive employment.
During the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the region not only held the Ministry for Transportation, the position of the Senate Presidency was also zoned to it. Yet, the region gained nothing. No massive employment, no infrastructural development. Instead, Nigerians watched in shock, as Igbo sons were changed from that seat same way women change their underwears – Evan Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo, Adolphus Wabara, Anyim Pius Anyim, Ken Nnamani. The shame of a region.
But, back to the squabble over 2023. Isn’t it a shame that when we are not even sure of surviving 2019, politicians are deceiving the people with fake promises over the 2023 presidency? They are trading with 2023 already. They are hawking it like pure water. The APC, as represented by Buhari (through the SGF), Osinbajo, Senator Ndoma Egba, Ngige and Okechukwu, are selling one plot of land to two different people. In so doing, they are deliberately knocking the heads of the Igbo and the Yoruba together. The two regions should see through this. The meaning is: one party is being scammed. In the instant case, I have a strong feeling that the South- east is being scammed because its people will even sell the region for two a kobo. Many saboteurs abound.
And, the situation is no better in the PDP than it is in the APC. The disharmony which engulfed the party over the choice of Peter Obi as running mate by its Presidential candidate, Atiku Abubarkar, was not over 2019. It is over 2023. The stage was set for the big fight once Atiku said he would serve for one term, and no more. A dozen of them wanted to be in Obi’s shoes, and hated him for his choice by Atiku. Yet, the election has not been held. They have not yet won. The contest is with an incumbent. But the South- east is already de-marketing itself and its own with all kinds of frivolous stories and allegations. They are stabbing one another at the back.
One high profile politician from the zone advised that a Yoruba be chosen as Atiku’s running mate just because he was not chosen. A sitting governor offered the sum of N5billion (Five billion Naira) just so his preferred candidate is chosen.
But back to Ngige and Okechukwu, the sh*t has hit the roof. The wind has blown, and exposed the behind of the fowl. They should stop dangling promises which control is not in their hands before the people. When the chips are down, the question of who becomes the President, either in 2019 or 2023 will be answered by the people.
Finally, I think the South- east will be the deciding factor in 2019 if the zone harnesses every of its vote, play its card well, and speak with one unmistakable voice.
For too long, the region has been treated as a very junior partner in a relationship, as if it does not matter. In 2019, it should make the point that it matters. If you don’t say that you are, nobody will say you are. In 2019, therefore, the zone should not wail, it should not shout marginalization, it should not shout persecution. It should be vigilant. And be the deciding factor.