By Chidiebere Onyemaizu
Enugu stood still. It wasn’t always so but this hot Wednesday was different. The sleepy former capital of the defunct Eastern Region was playing host to a galaxy of Igbo leaders, as well as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
Igbo leaders gathered to chart a course for the race while Atiku came to formally inform the race of his candidacy in next year’s presidential election and his decision to pick a son of the soil, former governor Peter Obi as his Deputy. He came not as a former number two citizen but as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP whose promise of restructuring sits well with Ndigbo.
The emotional tight embrace octogenerian Professor Ben Nwabueze gave Atiku and his charge to the Igbo: “My last wish is that Igbos at home and in diaspora should vote Atiku and Obi” defined what was to come: Total endorsement of the Atiku/ Obi presidential ticket by Igbo leaders.
Earlier, while speaking to the Igbo nation, Professor Nwabueze, a constitutional lawyer had bemoaned the fate of the Igbo in the Nigeria enterprise. “It is unfortunate that those who pioneered the independence of Nigeria have been totally alienated in their own country”, he said. He then admonished the race: ” We have to support the ticket that will ensure our survival. That ticket is the joint ticket of Atiku and Obi… it is our desire to do so and we are determined to actualize it. Igbos should do this as their last gift for me.
Atiku would later take to his Twitter account to describe his moving encounter with Nwabueze in these words: “Professor Ben Nwabueze is a patriot and Nigeria’s foremost constitutional lawyer. In a very emotional meeting in Enugu, he reminded me of the unfinished Nigerian project. I assured him and every Nigerian that i will keep to my words”
The new look- Nike Lake Resort and adjoining streets brimmed with supporters, young and old, who swarmed like bees hailing the Atiku/ Obi ticket. And then inside the main bowl of the Resort, Igbo leaders took turns to speak-all chorusing one thing: In 2019 the South east will go with a presidential candidate who regard the region as an equal partner in the Nigeria project and that candidate approximates to Atiku.
John Nia Nwodo, the President- General of the apex Igbo socio- cultural body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, recalled that prior to the PDP presidential primary, the Southern and Middle Belt Leadership Forum to which Ohanaeze is a member interacted with all the aspirants and it was only Atiku that clearly defined what he meant by restructuring.
According to him, the PDP presidential candidate spoke about restructuring in terms of immediate action on the reports of the 2014 National Conference, equitably distribution national wealth, among others which synch with the aspiration and yearnings of the South east.
The region’s formal endorsement of the Atiku/Obi ticket is anchored on this.The communique of the Igbo leaders’ meeting which was read prior to Atiku and Obi’s arrival at the venue and which was later summarised for the PDP presidential flagbearer by Nwodo said this much. The Communique which was read by legal Icon and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Olisa Agbakoba said in part:
“The Summit recognized the nomination of His Excellency Mr. Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State as the Vice Presidential Candidate of the PDP and fully endorses this nomination. It was acknowledged that this nomination puts Ndigbo back in the center governance. It is therefore important that Ndigbo should rally behind the Atiku/ Obi ticket.
We identify with the Atiku Peter Obi ticket on the restructuring Agenda as has been reiterated by the 4 Zones namely: South South , South West, North Central and South east. As long as the federating units remain weak the center will continue to be weak.
In conclusion, this is the entry point for Ndigbo and towards a better Nigeria.
We equally appreciate the position of the Atiku / Obi ticket in promoting national unity”
For Atiku, restructuring of Nigeria under his presidency is a settled issue. He told the Igbo leaders that he can not go back on restructuring which according to him he has preached for years.”You cannot preach about something unless you believe in it. Restructuring is a settled issue”, he said.
He pointedly accused Buhari of marginalizing the South east, saying he could not understand the rational behind the president’s decision to tilt the security architecture of Nigeria to the North to the total exclusion of the South and assured he would remedy the situation when he assumes office.
He also assured he will revive the Enugu coal-fired power station and the fixing of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport which he described as a death trap, among other shopping list presented him by the South east leaders. Atiku expressed worry at parlous state of the Airport saying “Any time I am flying into the Enugu Airport, I am always scared because of its poor state”, he said.
The Ohanaeze president had earlier described the potholes at Airport’s runway as the worse in the world.
Amidst intermittent cheers and thunderous ovations, Atiku and Obi’s speeches evidently stired the people. While Obi described Atiku as a unifier who would heal a divided country and job creator who will fix the economy, Atiku said the Atiku/Obi ticket was the only genuine presidential ticket and others fake. He berated Buhari for maladministration, declaring, “Buhari must go”.
As if that was the push the people had been waiting for, “Buhari must go” and Atiku/ Obi we know” rented the air
Tagged “Ahamefula, Ndigbo and the Future”, among personalities present at the meeting were Nwabueze, Ambassador George Obiozor, Chief Nnia Nwodo (Ohanaeze Ndigbo President), Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Prof. ABC Nwosu, Senator Chris Anyanwu, Senator Ben Obi, Chief Achike Udenwa, Prof. (Mrs.) Uche Azikiwe, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, Senator Theodore Orji,
Chief Emeka Ugwu-Oju, Chief Garry Igariwey, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Ambassador Frank Ogbuewu, Prof. Osita Ogbu, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, Chief Lawrence Nwuruku, Prof. Walter Ofonagoro, Archbishop Maxwell Anikwenwa, Commodore James Aneke (rtd), Prof. Elochukwu Amucheazi, Prof. Uzodinma Nwala, Senator Adophus Wabara, Air Comdr Allison Madueke, Igwe Afred Achebe, Obi of Onitsha, Prof. Anya O. Anya and Prof. Chudi Uwazurike, Major Gen. Obi Umahi (rtd), Uzodinma Okpara, son of the former Premier Eastern Region among others.
Meanwhile, multiple sources close to both the national leadership of the All Progressives Congress, APC and the Buhari Campaign Organisation told the magazine that the party and presidency were taken aback by the calibre of South east leaders that gathered in Enugu to endorsed Atiku and Obi. They are also said to be worried about the level of enthusiasm Atiku’s visit elicited among the ordinary people on the streets of the city.
A counter measure to water down the success and significant of Atiku’s endorsement are said be in the offing. One such measure being suggested is a counter meeting of some Igbo politicians of APC extraction in Enugu who will be labelled Igbo leaders; and the assemblying of some pliant third class traditional rulers who will be passed off as Igbo monarchs. They, together with the APC chieftains and hired crowd drawn from the five south east states and adjoining south south states will stage a massive rally where Buhari will be pronounced endorsed ” by the people of South east”
Another option being weighed, this magazine was told, is to urgently fix the Enugu Airport which leaders of the region have stridently complained about, announce commencement of work on some dilapidated federal roads in the region and continue to advertise alleged Buhari’s projects in the zone with the argument that he has done so much for the Igbo since assuming office.