Leadership Nigeria/All Africa
As the pioneer National Secretary of the defunct Alliance for Democracy, AD, Udenta O. Udenta is an intellectual power house, whose disposition to national issues has won him recognition. He recently had a chat with journalists and joined in the raging debate over zoning, as he calls on President Goodluck Jonathan to respect the zoning principle of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP. He stresses that not doing so, will be a hindrance to a South-East presidency in the near future. Stanley Nkwocha was there. Excerpts:
You just launched a campaign for an Igbo presidency come 2015. What is the drive?
In my booklet "Rotation of power and Igbo possibility", I argued that 2015 is the realistic year for the realization of a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction. There are a number of reasons for making this assertion. On the basis of the principle of rotation of power and the zoning of political offices, at least in the context of the PDP, presidential power is expected to remain in the North till 2015. Three out of the five core Igbo states are currently controlled by the PDP, so we expect the South-East PDP leaders to honour the party's zoning arrangement and deprecate any attempt to deconstruct or distort it.
I am also of the view that flowing out of the 1998-1999 all parties' agreement on zoning, the other main parties like the AC, ANPP, and to an extent, the newly formed CPC, have also domesticated the idea and practice of rotation of power and the zoning of political offices in one form or the other. Their rotation of power thesis may not be as explicit as that of the PDP, but it is embedded in the structure of power relations within these parties. I am no prophet or soothsayer, but I dare say that the above named parties will most likely throw up Northern Presidential candidates and Southern running mates, and I expect their South-East leadership to endorse it and work in tandem with the core instincts and impulses that define their parties' being and reality.
Closer home in Igbo land, objectively speaking, I cannot see the viability of a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction emerging out of the APGA, and other South-East leaning parties in 2011. I am compelled to declare that these parties need time to merge forces, strengthen their organizational ranks, deepen their philosophical and ideological foundation and establish a network of strategic, inter-group understanding and partnership. All these can be accomplished between now and 2015.
Finally, there are existing limit-situations in Igbo land which need to be bridged and over come. Igbo Civil Society/Activist platform needs to be created, an engaging and compelling Igbo political blue print need to be constructed, Igbo political elite need to be re-united, Igbo political base will require re-constitution and the Igbo political possibility need to be canvassed across the country, among political, ethnic and cultural stakeholders so that they will appreciate its harmlessness, buy into it, and collectively work towards its realization.
In the text of the pamphlet , you argued that a Jonathan Presidency in 2011 will endanger the cause of the Igbos for President. Can you buttress this claim?
My statement is axiomatic; it is self-evident. It is self-declaratory. President Jonathan became Vice-President in 2007 on the premise and perimeter of zoning. He is a product of zoning. His current presidency is a child of circumstance. The South-West have had their chance, under Obasanjo, and in the context of the PDP, between 1999-2007. If President Jonathan contests in 2011 and somehow, wins the election, he may be inclined to pass the presidential baton to the North, maybe not even in 2015, but in 2019. This will keep the Igbo in Perpetual wait for Presidential power, and in a national political environment in which zoning would have been rendered irrelevant. This is a clear and present political danger that nobody can wish away.
Assuming that the Igbo are not even desperate for presidential power, now or in the near future, nobody can take their support for granted. It will be naïve political thinking that because a new national chairman of the PDP has emerged, a few appointments made, and the governors speaking solely for themselves, one will assume that the Igbo support is a fait accompli, a done deal. This is a fatal and self-destructive political reasoning. The emerging signals are even very ominous. From the loss of NAFDAC chairmanship to the loss of INEC chairmanship; from the loss of NIMASA Director-Generalship to the loss of the Governorship of the Central Bank, and possibly from the potential loss of the Vice-Chairmanship of the NCC to the humiliation out of office, of a decent, hardworking, very competent Managing Director of NSITF, in the person of Chief Joe Okoli, in the name of sectional supremacist politics, and nothing more, the picture for the Igbo is grim.
President Jonathan has done nothing in this regard. Rather, he is systematically rendering the Igbo irrelevant in the polity. It is, of course, to be expected that this unbecoming scenario will not come to pass if a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction were to be in office. He will endeavour to safeguard that which is decently meant for the Igbo, and ensure that the rest of the country get their decent due also without discrimination. He will not, I suspect, allow the prevalent situation in the NNPC, Niger Delta Ministry, Ministry of Petroleum Resource, Foreign Affairs, and very many commanding heights of the nation's political and bureaucratic infrastructure which are now sectional properties.
Is the hue and cry generated over zoning not regrettable bearing in mind that it is an PDP's agenda? What is the role of other parties in the polity?
The hue and cry over zoning, as you put it, is not regrettable. The debate must go on, until the core issues around it are clarified and our people enlightened. We must move beyond myth and legend, beyond the illogic of instant gratification of power. And zoning is not only a PDP affair. It has always been, in one constitutional and administrative form or the other, a mechanism of achieving national integration, national consensus and inter-elite understanding. It is in the constitution in the form of the federal character principle and the constitutional provision that a minister who shall be appointed from a state must be indigenous to that state.
Regarding the other parties, it is no accident, but rather a solemn concession to the principle of zoning and the reality of rotation of offices that in the 2007 election cycle, Gen. Buhari's running mate, Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, is from the South-East; that Abubakar Atiku's running mate, Sen. Ben Obi, is also a South-Easterner, while the party's National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, is a South-Westerner. As for the PPA and the APGA, the respective running mates to Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and Dim Odumegu Ojukwu also came from the North. And I am inclined to think that the choice of Governor Sambo as the Vice President to President Jonathan is a concrete validation of zoning because, in its absence, and with the only qualification for such high appointment being intellect, experience and competence, President Jonathan should have chosen any competent individual from his home state, and possibly his local government as his Vice President.
Would I be wrong to say that disunity amongst the Igbos has largely marred their chances in the past and may still pose a challenge to your struggle?
The question of the disunity among the Igbo political elite has been over celebrated. There is disunity among the political elite all over the country. There is disunity in Yoruba land, disunity among the Southern minorities elite, disunity among the middle belt elite, and disunity among the core Northern elite. The problem is that the Igbo elite are disadvantageously placed in the structure and dynamics of power relations in Nigeria.
They are completely marginalized, to the degree that the little space that is afforded them inevitably leads to a vicious scramble for relevance. From 1999 till date, no Igbo elite has been strategically placed in terms of the relations I mentioned above, in terms of fundamental nation-decision-making, and in terms of power and influence leverage. The six key national power positions-and I am talking of executive power have eluded them from 1999: President, Vice President, Chief of Staff to the President, National Security Adviser, Secretary to Federation Government and Head of Service. This last position was only occupied by an Igbo person for a few months.
Inevitably, when such an elite group are so marginalized, they begin to look inauthentic, playing nothing but secondary, marginal role. Inevitably also, they begin to quarrel among themselves for the dregs of power made available to them. I have already conceded that disunity among the Igbo political elite is a concrete limit-situation in the search for Igbo political possibility. It is a major drawback to the realization or affirmation of Igbo political goals. It requires principled agitation to overcome this, like the struggle against the institutional marginalization of the entire Eastern Nigeria which the Dr. Arthur Nwankwo led Eastern Mandate Union championed in the mid and late 1990s.
Today, I believe that it is the responsibility of the political wing of Igbo civil society leadership to lead the way in the re-constitution of the Igbo political base and in realizing Igbo political possibility. They can do this by unfurling their intellectual depth and ideological clarity, and tapping into their work in the area of political empowerment and voter mobilization. With all hands on deck, it will be quite possible to have a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction in 2015; a president who will lead the nation wisely, and with passion and patriotic favour. And a President who will abhor narrow-mindedness and supremacist sectional instincts.
You described the debate on the constitutional provision that the President can contest as puerile. Shouldn't the constitutional provision override party position and zoning in this case?
I state that those who confuse the issue of zoning and rotation of power with the constitutional provision on eligibility for the office of President are either puerile or out rightly mischievous. And they know this to their bones. Were Nigeria to be a one party state, one can even begin to take them half-serious. What we are practicing is multi-party democracy. If your party slams the door on your ambition at any particular time, you open another door. Afterall, there are 59 political doors to open in Nigeria today. The latest example is the Governor of Abia State and Senator Chukwumerije. Before them was Governors Ohakim, Yuguda and Shinkafi. Don't forget that Atiku Abubakar contested the 2007 Presidential election as a sitting AC Vice-President.
My point is that why the constitution is clear about the conditions any adult Nigerian can and must meet before he is elected President, the various political parties have a right to put mechanisms in place that will guarantee inclusiveness, party cohesion, national integration and respect of the nation's various diversities. Zoning of political offices and the rotation of power is one such mechanism. There is no conflict between them and the provisions of the constitution.
You are fighting a cause for the Igbos, but the PDP chairman - an Igbo man himself last week said the PDP has breached zoning over the years and it may no longer be tenable. Where lies your support?
I don't know the context under which he made that statement. I didn't even read that statement. However, when a breach occurs, you repudiate and sanction those who caused the breach. You enforce party discipline to ensure that future breaches are curtailed. You don't cast over board or distort a party principled position because someone has breached it. You don't, forever, deconstruct our constitution because it has been breached. You punish the breachers.
Lets talk about the imbalance even in zoning. The North West is being accused of playing pranks with the entire North. Is this infraction not a threat to zoning itself?
Who made the accusation? In our democratic journey this far, the North-East produced the prime Minister between 1960-1966, not that there was any conscious effort to zone that position to it. During the second Republic the North-West produced President Shehu Shagari. Between1999-2007, the South-West produced Olusegun Obasanjo in the first real zoning exercise. President Yar'adua, now late, came from the North-West. On the basis of zoning in the PDP, it will be the entire North that must rise to the occasion and throw up the best possible candidate they have for the job.
You have said without zoning an Igbo presidency may be difficult, but if competence and acceptability becomes yardsticks over zoning as canvassed, can't the Igbos throw up a competent and acceptable candidate?
There is no conflict between zoning and competence. Every village and hamlet in Nigeria has very competent people in all human spheres. If you zone a particular position to a particular zone, it is the responsibility of that zone to go for the best material they have. It is not for me to tell them how to go about it. Like I stressed earlier, President Jonathan's zone, or even state, has very competent people. He should have chosen any one of them to be his Vice-President. It is on the basis of this that zoning will make the Igbo Presidency project an attainable ideal. Without zoning, it becomes very difficult, just like without zoning it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for President Jonathan to have become Vice-President in 2007.
The South East governors have announced their non intention to either vie for the Presidency come 2011. Is this not damping your agitation?
When I heard that Statement I wept. I can't believe any South-East Governor will be so un-Igbo to utter that kind of rubbish. They spoke for themselves, the five of them. They didn't speak for Ndigbo, neither for the leaders nor the people. They are on their own, and must be made to retract such an insult to the collective integrity and stature of Ndigbo. If it is possible to attain the presidency in 2011, the Igbo will go for it. If it is possible to achieve it in 2015, the Igbo will go for it. Ndigbo know who their leaders are. They cannot be deceived or distracted from the historic mission of producing a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction in as short a time as possible. South-West, South-South and the entire Northern Governors have not even taken a stand on this issue, and five individuals, without consultation, without discussion, want to lead Ndigbo on a path of political perdition. Unless and until that statement is comprehensively disowned by the governors, I and millions of Ndigbo would have lost any respect we have for them.
You called on the Igbos to vote for another candidate with Igbo running mate if the PDP's emerge out of disrespect. Is this tenable under the complex politics of the South East?
It is quite tenable, but it is a bridge we have to cross when we get to it. It requires mass sensitization and mass mobilization work, but its achievable.
You called for an Igbo leadership summit. The North just had its summit. Won't these regional summits threaten the unity of the nation?
No. These regional summits will rather strengthen Nigerian unity. Consultation, reaching out is the stuff democracy is made of. Democracy is dialogue. You cannot shut down the space for discussion, for inter-change of ideas. It is by so doing that you can aggregate the instincts, impulses and passions of our diverse people and channel them for the consolidation of our democracy, and sustainable social and economic transformation and development.