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Nigeria's Igbo Organize for Next Presidential Elections

  • Dennis Kenechukwu

In Nigeria, Igbo politicians want one of their own to become the nation’s president in 2007. They say it is their turn after an ethnic Yoruba -- Olusegun Obasanjo -- won the presidency nearly six years ago. However, northern politicians disagree. They want presidential power shifted back to their own region after President Obasanjo completes his second term.

Political advocacy groups -- like the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo -- have begun to lobby other interest groups to support their call for the nomination of Igbo presidential candidates in 2007. Eastern Nigeria is mainly Igbo, while the West is mostly Yoruba. The North is largely Hausa-Fulani. Politicians from the three main regions met before independence and agreed to form a united Nigeria. But for most of the country’s post-independence history, the North has ruled. Northerners have been in power for more than 33 years of the nation’s 44 years of independence. The Yoruba have led for about nine years while the Igbo ruled for six months during an emergency following a military coup in 1966.

Among top northern leaders who support an Igbo presidency is Yakubu Gowon, the former military Head of State during the 1966-70 civil war, and Alhaji Wada Nas -- a former minister during the late Sani abacha’s military dictatorship. Some say the Igbo alone do not have the votes to elect the next president. Prince Eze Madumere is the Chief of Staff to the presidential adviser on inter party affairs in Abuja. He says he will lobby other parties -- including his own People’s Democratic Party -- to nominate Igbo candidates for president. Prince Madumere says it is same type of political agreement that brought PDP Presidential candidate Olusegun Obasanjo to power in 1999. He defeated a fellow Yoruba Olu Falae, who was the favorite of opposing parties:

"It’s all about understanding. It was done to the West (Yoruba) at time back in the 1998-99 section. It was an understanding that all the parties must field Yoruba (as candidates). It was a general consensus. The A-P-P (All Peoples Party) nominated a Yoruba man, the then P-D-P (Peoples’ Democratic Party) nominated a Yoruba. Such an arrangement can also be made [for an Igbo President]."

Meanwhile, reports indicate that about six governors from the Igbo East are considering a run for the position. Among them are: Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu State, Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State, Sam Egwu of Ebonyi State, Achike Udenwa of Imo State, Peter Odili of Rivers State. Some say another likely candidate is Owelle Rochas Okorocha -- the former All Nigerian Peoples Party candidate in the 2003 presidential elections. He's credited with having international business connections -- which supporters say could help transform Nigeria socially and economically.

Meanwhile, the Ohaneze ndi Igbo -- a pan Igbo socio- political organization -- has set up a committee headed by a serving PDP senator Arthur Nzeribe. The group aims to choose a candidate who will have the blessing and support of all Igbo in the 2007 presidential elections. It has begun public hearings in different parts of Igbo land to see who potential voters favor.

Igbo political groups want what they call “ true federalism.” They complain that the government is still overly centralized -- and that there should be greater separation of powers between the federal, state and local governments. They also say they want a fairer and more just society -- and a stronger economy.

In the meantime, northern politicians say power must shift to them once President Obasanjo completes his term. The governor of Kaduna State, Mohamed Makarfi, says there was a pact in 1999 to allow power to shift to the south for eight years, after which it returns back to the north. As a result, many northern politicians like Nigeria’s former military leader Ibrahim Babangida, the vice President Abubakar Atiku and former Lagos State military administrator Buba Marwa have already been indicating interest towards the 2007 presidency. But the governor of the southeastern state of Imo, Chief Achike Udenwa, discounts talk of a pact to turn over power to the north – and says it is the turn of Igbo to produce Nigeria’s next president.

Aside from the small All Progressive Grand Alliance, Nigeria’s political parties have not yet announced their position on the nomination of Igbo candidates. However, observers say other groups are keenly considering the idea of electing an Igbo president. They say such a leader would help end years of competition and resentment among Nigeria’s fractious ethnic groups.

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