Thursday, July 8, 2010

When it's wise to step down

By Ochereome Nnanna, Vanguard Newspapers

THE present crop of governors in charge of the affairs of states of the South East zone has represented the Igbo heartland extremely well. They have demonstrated an admirable degree of collective purpose, which was not there between 1999 and 2007, when each of the previous governors behaved like crazy political buccaneers.
They were never able to speak with one voice and when they did, one or more of them would go behind, in cahoots with Ohanaeze leaders such as Professor Joe Irukwu, to torpedo collective decisions because of some favours or fears from former President Obasanjo.

At a point, all the governors of the zone were of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and yet they were like water and oil that could never mix.

The setting today is different. Only three states: Imo – Enugu and Ebonyi – are under PDP governors. The other two: Abia and Anambra, are now under the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

It is a pleasant irony that now they are scattered in different political camps they have been able to discover unity of purpose. Perhaps it has to do with the difference between the political atmosphere created by former President Obasanjo and what currently obtains.

It also has something to do with the fact that the gentlemen now in charge are much better adjusted personalities than their predecessors.

When the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua’s ailing body was hidden in Aso Villa and campaigns were on for him to be removed and the then Acting President Goodluck Jonathan sworn-in, the South East governors met and collectively stood against it even though the Ohanaeze supported the push to activate the Constitution.

Many people lampooned them. Even though I also wanted the Constitution to be followed, I knew why the governors took their stand. It had nothing to do with any opposition to the emergence of Jonathan. Far from that. They read the mood of the “cabal” and saw the possible danger our democracy might be faced with if the matter was pushed too far.

But more than that was their personal regard and appreciation of Umaru’s excellent disposition towards addressing some anti-Igbo issues left dangling from the Obasanjo regime.

These included the listing of Imo and Abia states in the Coastal States’ initiative, approval of river ports at Onitsha and Oguta, dredging of the lower Niger River , approval of a Stock Exchange for Onitsha, concrete steps towards commencing the Second Niger Bridge, the restoration of the stolen oil wells to Abia State and many more.

Yar’ Adua had shown himself as a president the governors could work with, as he made promises and kept them without first remembering the fact that the Igbo fought a civil war against the rest of Nigeria .

The decision, last weekend, by the five governors of the South East that the Igbo people will not present a presidential or vice presidential candidate in the 2011 election also got my applause.

Ohanaeze Ndigbo should also meet and formally announce the stepping down of the majority ethnic group of the East from the race. Anybody who goes ahead to contest will be on his own.

It has nothing to do with a “boycott”, as there is no serious matter calling for that. It is a sensible strategy to actively and voluntarily give ground to those who are more favoured by the current equations to contest.

The North is favoured because of the zoning arrangement of the ruling party. The South-South is also favoured in that someone from there is the incumbent President of Nigeria who has a constitutional right to contest.

Any Igbo candidate plunging into the race of 2011 will constitute an obstruction to a South-South candidate, which will serve no useful purpose. Worse, any vice presidential runner will be spoiling the chances of the South-South, and the true Igbo political interest is not cut out to spoil what belongs to others.

In their fight for president with the South-South, the North is very likely to invade the South East for running mates in the hope that they would swing Igbo votes and abort a possible Goodluck Jonathan’s chances of getting elected.

One lesson I have learnt about Nigerian politics is that when the turn of a group to get political favours from Nigeria is ripe, the whole nation usually comes together to grant it. In 1999, we gave it to Yoruba. In 2007 we gave it back to the North.

In both races, all major presidential candidates were from the favoured zones. When Yar’ Adua died we had no problem giving it an Ijaw to whom it was constitutionally due. When the turn of the Igbo truly arises, the major parties will have Igbo aspirants as their presidential candidates. 2011 is not that time.

Rather, as the South East governors have rightly put it, come 2011, the Igbo should give their support only to the candidate of the North or South-South who has a more attractive package of redressing marginalisation and inequity the Igbo people have suffered since the end of the civil war.

Whoever makes it possible for the South East to acquire an equal number of states and equitable number of local councils and electoral constituencies with the other geopolitical zones should be supported. These are more important than an “Igbo president” because they are the necessary stepping stones to a viable Igbo aspiration to the presidency.

Sometimes it pays more to voluntarily abstain. In the past, Yorubas gained more from Nigeria when they were in the opposition.

Since they were taken to the “mainstream” of Nigerian politics by Obasanjo in 2003, the fear and respect that the ruling establishment had for South West politics has, obviously, gone down. Temporary voluntary abstention often gives one a greater bargaining muscle.

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