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Igbo Political Renaissance And Rescue

Unknown to us, the presidency under President Olusegun Obasanjo was uncomfortable with the emergence of Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu as our Presidential candidate. APGA was viewed as a national security risk, based on the morbid fear that if Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu gained political foothold in Nigeria, he would re-enact the effort to lead his people to secede from Nigeria, a second time. This accounted for the undue attention paid to APGA to ensure that the Party’s candidates were denied their victory through massive rigging. It was in April 2003, after the election that the then President Olusegun Obasanjo told me pointedly in his official residence in the Presidential Villa that I committed a “Political Sin” by presenting Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu as presidential candidate.

Chekwas Okorie

I believe that a brief historical excursion to trace the place of Ndigbo in modern Nigerian politics will be a necessary prelude to any meaningful discussion on the Igbo Political Renaissance and Rescue. Barely eight years after the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates by the British Colonialists under the watch of Lord Frederick Lugard in 1914, Dr. Herbert Macaulay, a Surveyor from present day Lagos assembled his Yoruba associates to form the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) in 1922. It was not clear from available records what significant role Igbo people played in that formation, but what is a historical fact is that at the point of the metamorphosis of the Nigerian National Democratic Party into National Council of Nigeria and Camerouns (NCNC) in 1944, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igboman had joined the Party where he was elected its Secretary General. Dr. Azikiwe’s renowned political sophistry, intellectualism and charisma combined to make him easily the most visible and indeed the face of NCNC nationwide. Dr. Herbert Macaulay, the founder and National President of the Party equivalent to what is today called National Chairman and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe along with other leaders embarked on nationwide tours to canvass for the awareness of all Nigerians on the need to secure political independence from Britain based on concerted action and consensus of all sections of the country. This was not an easy project. The challenge of traversing the length and breadth of Nigeria under the harsh conditions of that time made the effort very demanding and exerting in terms of resources and energy. In one of such tours, Dr. Herbert Macaulay took ill on 7th May, 1946 while in the city of Kano and died a few days later. The leadership of NCNC naturally fell on Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Ndigbo and others in the Eastern Region coalesced on the platform of NCNC.  The Northern political leaders led by Sir Ahmadu Bello formed the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), a political party which by its chosen name was formed to promote and protect specifically the political interest of the people of Northern Nigeria. Chief Obafemi Awolowo on the other hand founded the Action Group principally to protect and promote the political interest of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. There were fringe political parties such as the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) founded by Mallam Aminu Kano and the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) founded by Dr. Joseph Tarka. While these other parties were sectional, in their orientation and action, it was only the NCNC that commanded a nationwide presence and could therefore be described as the only national party of the First Republic.

In the Second Republic which began in 1979 about nine years after the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War, political activities resumed under the template set by the Military Government of General Murtala Mohammed/General Olusegun Obasanjo regime. Five major political parties were registered by the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), namely the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP). At this time Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had earlier announced his retirement from partisan politics. But something happened that aroused him back to action in spite of his age. He was 75 years old in 1979. Igbo people were glad to play second fiddle. None of the political leaders had the courage to present himself even as an aspirant for the office of President on any of the registered political parties. Dr. Azikiwe was unable to bear the timidity of a race that played very major role in securing Independence for Nigeria, the loss of the Biafra-Nigeria War notwithstanding. After studying the terrain he joined the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) and declared his intention to run for the Office of President on the platform of the party. It was as a result of his decision that made Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, the founder of NPP who was desirous to contest for the office of President on the platform of a political party he founded, to decamp from the party with his followers and promptly founded and got registered the Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP). It was after founding GNPP that he declared that he was an Apostle of politics without bitterness. This was to underscore the fact that he did not want to engage Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in what might turn out to be a bitter struggle for the presidential ticket of NPP. While Dr. Azikiwe of NPP chose Professor Ishaya Audu from the North as his Vice Presidential candidate, Igbo political leaders were comfortable being Vice Presidential candidates in the other parties, namely Alhaji Shehu Shagari/Dr. Alex Ekwueme for NPN, Chief Obafemi Awolowo/Chief Philip Umeadi for UPN, Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim/Dr. Nnanna Ukegbu for GNPP, and Mallam Aminu Kano/ Mazi S. G. Ikoku for PRP. Expectedly, overwhelming majority of Igbo electorate voted for Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and NPP candidates for other elective positions. NPP did not win the Presidential election but effectively controlled the Old Imo, Old Anambra and Old Plateau States which had each been split into two or more States, at the last count of States creation.

Although Ndigbo did not produce Prime Minister or President of Nigeria in the First or Second Republics but no government was formed without going into alliance with the political parties they dominated. The NPC/NCNC Coalition of the First Republic and NPN/NPP Accord of the Second Republic quickly come to mind. These alliances ensured Igbo relevance as a critical factor in the political equation of Nigeria of that era.

Nigeria’s journey back to democratic rule was rudely interrupted by the Military coup of 31st December 1983, which ousted the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari and foisted on Nigeria the military government of General Muhammadu Buhari. General Buhari’s government was short-lived as it was in turn overthrown by another military coup led by General Ibrahim Babangida on 27th August 1985. It is relevant to the subject of this paper to recall that only the military governments controlled by the North created States that reversed the political structure of Nigeria in favour of the North. General Gowon altered Nigeria’s regional structure to 12 States, with Six States in the North and Six States in the South. General Murtala Mohammed increased the number to 19 States, with the North having advantage over the South by creating 10 States in the North and 9 in the South.

Between General Babangida and General Sani Abacha, the number increased to 36, giving the North 19 States and the South 17 States. This is in addition to the fact that the Federal Capital Territory enjoys the status of a State in the Nigerian Constitution. It is to be noted that no person from the South has been substantive Minister of the Federal Capital Territory since it was created till today. About the same time of deliberate restructuring of Nigerian political equation to transfer power to the North permanently, the military junta set up the Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki Committee that carved up Nigeria into 774 Local Government Areas. The South East geopolitical zone has 95 Local Government Areas while the North-West geopolitical zone has 188 Local Government Areas. To complete the marginalization of the Igbo people of South East, and their artificial reduction to a minority race, these lopsided LGAs, national population which has always been manipulated in favour of the North and Nigerian land-mass which includes uninhabitable desert areas were factored into the revenue allocation formula of Nigeria. Meanwhile, the Revenue Allocation Formula that used to be 50% by derivation before the outbreak of the Nigeria-Biafra War was at some point reduced to Zero percent, and later to three percent and much later under the Obasanjo Presidency, increased to 13%. Of course, there were several obnoxious policies that are still in place that are obviously targeted at halting or slowing down the advancement of sections of the country so that other backward sections may catch-up. All these should be juxtaposed with the fact that by 1963 Southern Nigeria had 21 Provinces viz: Eastern Nigeria 12, Western Nigeria 7, Mid-Western Nigeria 2, while Northern Nigeria had 14 Provinces. This post-Independence Nigerian political structure was what the military junta with a stroke of the pen reversed in the manner described above.

Based on the structure of Nigeria as presently constituted, it will be near impossible for a non-Northerner to become a Presidential Candidate in a national political party in which delegates to the party’s Presidential Primaries are drawn from the Local Government Areas of Nigeria on the basis of the equality of the LGAs, except in the special circumstances that threw up President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan. It is possible that it is this unfortunate situation that has forced most Igbo political leaders to throw up their hands in surrender. They appear to have accepted their fate to play the second fiddle or even no fiddle at all. The implication of the capitulation of the Igbo political leadership in the matter of contesting for the highest office of the land is that the average eligible Igbo voter has disconnected from the electoral process by refusing to participate in the process of choosing their representatives, governors and president of Nigeria. Embarrassingly, we are the most vocal in lamenting our marginalization when we play no significant role in determining who wins or who loses in a general election in Nigeria. Tragically, Igbo participation in the electoral process has been estimated at less than 10% of the Igbo voting population.

The unfortunate state of affairs that has led Ndigbo to where we are in Nigeria today calls for dedicated, selfless, focused, and patriotic leadership that will provide direction and articulate a properly thought-out political roadmap that will re-launch a sustainable Igbo political resurgence in spite of man-made obstacles. There are certain potentialities that Igbo political leadership can wield into an irrepressible political force on the platform of a political party we control its machinery, which also has its Manifesto registered with INEC, with provisions that articulate policies and programmes that are inclined towards the realization of Igbo political aspirations and agenda.

Studies have proved that Igbo people are the most widely dispersed people in Nigeria. We are at least the second largest population in most States of Nigeria and constitute the overwhelming majority of the people in the South East geopolitical zone of the country. It has been conservatively estimated that we constitute about 40% of the population of Lagos State and about 60% of the population of Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) of the Federal Capital Territory. In political terms we can mobilize minimum of 25% of the voting population of 31 States of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory, while controlling 99.9% of the voting population of the 5 States of the South East geopolitical zone. In Nigerian democracy population and spread are the critical factors that can determine the direction and control of power after every general election. Ndigbo have no business being irrelevant in the matter of politics in Nigeria with what God has already given to them.

A properly organized political platform championed by the Igbo that promises true federalism, devolution of power, resource control, State Police and Community Policing etc shall attract the involvement of people of other geopolitical zones that are similarly inclined such as the South South and North Central geopolitical zones. Such movements will also attract interest from other sections that share in such political ideology. We must not forget that in the Second Republic, Plateau State led by Dr. Solomon Lar formed a State government elected on the platform of the Nigerian Peoples Party led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igboman.

What is clear is that the Igbo is like a sleeping giant. The challenge that we face today is the proactive steps we need to take to arouse this giant from its slumber. This Summit is a commendable step in that direction.

It was upon the realization of the Igbo political dilemma as far back as 1995 that I mobilized my associates to commence the process of forming a national political party based on Igbo initiative. In 1996 we approached the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) to register the Peoples Democratic Congress (PDC) but the political association was not registered. In 1998 we made the second attempt to register again the Peoples Democratic Congress. We were for a second time denied registration. In those two attempts we had the Cock as symbol because we realized that our people needed to be woken up from slumber and in Igboland as in other places in Nigeria the Cock crows to signal the dawn of a new day. We also had “Be Your Brother’s Keeper”, in Igbo, “Onye Aghala Nwanneya” as the motto. In 2001, when the opportunity presented itself again for the registration of new political parties, we had realized the intrigues and the machinations that played out in the two failed attempts. We therefore changed tactics and strategy and succeeded in the registration of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), still with the cock as logo and  “Be Your Brother’s Keeper” (Onye Aghala Nwanneya) as its motto. The Certificate of Registration of APGA was received by me in the company of the Protem National Officers of the Party on the 24th of June 2002. APGA then became the first political  party registered in Nigeria based on Igbo initiative. I entered the history book as the founder and National Chairman of this historic political party. The excitement among Igbo people at home and abroad was palpable. As a result of that accomplishment Ohanaeze Ndigbo under the leadership of the indomitable Hon. Justice Eze Ozobu (rtd) former Chief Judge of Enugu State and now a traditional ruler of his community conferred on me the title “Ogbaturu Enyi Ndigbo”. With all humility, I remain the only person, whether living or dead that has ever been conferred with a traditional title by the Ohanaeze Ndigbo since its formation in 1976.

Our first policy pronouncement was to zone the Presidential Slot of the party to the South East geopolitical zone for the 2003 Presidential election. It was at this point that I and my associates came face to face with the timidity that had afflicted Igbo political leaders. There were not less than 6 carefully selected Igbo persons who were politicians of appreciable political profiles we approached to fly APGA Presidential flag. One after the other, they declined. In deep sadness and frustration, I went to Hon. Justice Eze Ozobu, the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo to share my experience with him. I resisted the temptation to fly the Presidential ticket myself like what those who founded political parties did in the past. I refused to be persuaded because I had convinced those who supported the effort morally and/or materially that I did not lead the initiative for personal aggrandizement and I was determined to maintain that principled stand. It was Justice Eze Ozobu that advised that we should make the same offer to Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, whom I had been closely associated with as my leader for over 20 years since he returned from exile in 1982. I requested Justice Eze Ozobu to present Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu to the party leadership at a private ceremony in Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s residence for reasons that space will not permit me here to narrate. That presentation was done on 24th December, 2002, in the presence of people who are still alive but whose names shall be mentioned in a book that is still work-in-progress. On 26th December 2002, two days after Justice Ozobu’s presentation of Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu to the Party, I addressed a World Press Conference at the Zodiac Hotel, Enugu where I proposed Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu as APGA Presidential Candidate. His candidature was ratified at a well-attended National Convention of the Party at the Old Parade Ground Abuja on 10th of January, 2003, where I handed over to him the Presidential flag of the Party. That event signaled the match for Igbo political resurgence. Majority of Igbo people all over Nigeria, especially those in the South East voted overwhelmingly for Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu as Presidential Candidate and other candidates who contested that General Election on the platform of APGA. The young Party lacked the financial resources to protect its votes and the candidates also lacked the resources to defend their mandates except Mr. Peter Obi of Anambra State who had the support of the people of Anambra State and the resources to defend his mandate at the Election Petition Tribunal and ultimately prevailed to become the first elected Governor on the platform of APGA.

Unknown to us, the presidency under President Olusegun Obasanjo was uncomfortable with the emergence of Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu as our Presidential candidate. APGA was viewed as a national security risk, based on the morbid fear that if Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu gained political foothold in Nigeria, he would re-enact the effort to lead his people to secede from Nigeria, a second time. This accounted for the undue attention paid to APGA to ensure that the Party’s candidates were denied their victory through massive rigging. It was in April 2003, after the election that the then President Olusegun Obasanjo told me pointedly in his official residence in the Presidential Villa that I committed a “Political Sin” by presenting Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu as presidential candidate. The conversation lasted for hours and we touched on so many other issues that are not proper to be disclosed on a presentation of this nature. The Presidency was determined to decimate APGA and in no time they established a weak-link within the Party’s leadership which they used to launch their attack on the Party on the 15th of December, 2004, via a Press Conference at NUJ Press Centre, Abuja in which spurious and unsubstantiated allegations were spewed against me. Before this Press Conference that signaled the unfortunate balkanization of APGA, the perpetrators of this act had craftily placed a wedge between me and our erstwhile Presidential candidate with whom I had associated for over 20 years. The dispute that ensued lasted for more than 8 years, resulting in over 20 litigations that saw us approach the Supreme Court 3 times without resolving the issue of the authentic leadership of the Party. Some of the litigations were still pending at the lower Courts when we decided to let go and regroup to float another political party with the same vision, orientation and more radical and revolutionary agenda. This initiative led to the formation of the United Progressive Party (UPP) which was registered on 2nd October 2012.

The attitude and the timidity of the Igbo political elite has not changed, instead it has further degenerated and retrogressed. In spite of the fact that we zoned the Presidential slot to the South East geopolitical zone for the 2015 Presidential election and given the fact that APGA adopted the presidential candidate of PDP, former President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 general election and repeated the same thing in 2015 general election, no Igbo aspirant stepped forward to be considered for the UPP Presidential ticket. It could be recalled that UPP became the first registered political party in Nigeria to host its National Convention in Igboland. It was on the eve of that Convention that took place at Aba in Abia State, that the National Executive Committee (NEC) of our Party in a pre-Convention meeting nominated me and Barrister Bello Umar from Zamfara State to become Presidential candidate and Vice Presidential candidate respectively. The 2015 Presidential election is now an eye-opener to us in UPP and to Ndigbo in general.

Based on the benefit of that experience, a number of concerned Igbo political leaders, some of whom are not members of UPP and others who are yet to make up their mind on any political party to join began to meet and brainstorm on how best to address the Igbo political dilemma. The fact of the unexploited and unexplored latent Igbo political force is in constant focus and review. We have provisionally agreed that the fundamental task is to arouse, sensitive and mobilize Igbo people in Nigeria and to some extent in the Diaspora, initially on non-partisan basis on the great possibility of positively changing their situation for the better and earn respect among their fellow citizens by rising to take their destiny in their own hands in subsequent political contests in Nigeria.

To achieve this, we have drawn a roadmap which will commence with hosting Town Hall meetings involving extant Igbo associations and Unions in all the major cities of Nigeria on non-partisan basis. In other words, these Town Hall meetings will not be used to promote any political party because we believe that when politicking will commence, an already sensitized and mobilized Igbo voter is so rational that he will not require any persuasion on how to use his vote wisely. We believe that a well-structured Town Hall meeting will address most of the concerns of our people and enlighten them on why and how they may never be treated shabbily or with hostility by any government at Local, State or Federal levels, the moment those governments realize the political consequences of hostile policies or action against Ndigbo.

The inescapable truth is that, it is only when all eligible Igbo men and women begin to actively participate in the electoral process, wherever we are domiciled in Nigeria, that we shall begin to recover our long lost place of relevance in Nigeria and reap the benefits of quality representation, accountable leadership, respect and governance at all levels of government. If we do not stir up ourselves and perform the civic responsibilities we owe to ourselves and our race, perpetual lamentation, shall be the outcome of political apathy and indifference.

We must bear in mind that the economy of Ala Igbo, our businesses, our religion and the way we choose to worship, our self and group esteem, the quality of our education and our quest for self-determination are all inextricably woven around politics. This is the truth that is self-evident.

Okorie presented this at the occasion of the World Igbo Summit at Enugu on Sunday, 21st August, 2016 organized by the Igbo Awareness for Development Initiative (IADI).

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