Pan Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, and other major socio political groups in different parts of the country, including Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and Middle Belt Forum (MBF), have called on Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, former Lagos Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu and other South West aspirants to withdraw from the 2023 presidential race, insisting it is the turn of the South East to produce President.
The call is coming as political parties set for their primaries ahead of the 2023 general election. The call by the prominent socio-political groups reflects the sentiment in the country which increasingly favours the emergence of a president of Igbo extraction.
Afenifere, PANDEF and Middle Belt Forum insisted the South East should produce the president of Nigeria in 2023 for equity, justice and fairness. The groups maintained that if the political class and the retired military generals could concede the presidency to the Yoruba in 1999, the same approach could be adopted to micro-zone power to the Igbo.
They described the Yoruba presidential ambition as awkward.
The groups spoke in Abuja at the Greater Nigeria Conference, organised by leaders and friends of the South East Geo-political zone, with the theme, “Together We Can.”
Leaders of the different groups also condemned what they called a doomed 2023 presidential desire by former President Goodluck Jonathan, saying he would merely be presenting himself for shame.
Afenifere leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, while addressing the conference, said there was need for aspirants from the south, especially, the Igbo, to be united. Adebanjo said the decisions of presidential aspirants, like Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Ameachi, and the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, both from the South-south, to contest would only give the north undue advantage over the south.
Stating emphatically that the north did not want to leave power in 2023, Adebanjo explained, “I only like to point to the fact that they are just deceiving you. All that you are hearing that they (the north) are supporting the South-west is an element of deceit to deprive you, to be able to rule you. They don’t like anybody!
“I told Bola (Tinubu) himself, not in the papers, face-to-face, ‘You believe this man (Buhari) will make you president?’ He said yes. I said, ‘he wanted to make you president, he asked (Yemi) Osinbajo to contest? He asked (Kayode) Fayemi to contest, he asked Amosun (Ibikunle) to contest? All in the South-west, why? He wanted to divide the Yoruba first.
“The unfortunate thing is that President Goodluck Jonathan allowed himself to be disgraced by mentioning the fact that he was considering whether to be president, for what?”
Adebanjo wondered why political leaders from the north were now propounding a lot of theories, when they realised it was the turn of the Igbo to produce the president.
According to him, “Now that it is the turn of the Igbo, they are propounding a new theory: it must be based on merit and all that. If it is the question of merit, if it has been based on merit till today, till Kingdom comes, the Igbo alone will produce the president.”
The Afenifere leader noted that all the talk about aspirants from the south going to lobby, campaign, and sell themselves was all rigmarole, stressing that the north knows the truth.
Adebanjo advised, “Although, I don’t like all the people that came out from the east. But for the fact that they are saying you have no people, I’m happy you demonstrated that. But go and unite. A house divided against itself will not stand.”
PANDEF leader, Chief Edwin Clark, also appealed for concession of the presidency to the Igbo in 2023. Clark said Nigeria could not be described as a tripod anymore, because of the country’s current “36 legs”. He said if any part of these “36 legs” got broken, the country would not be at ease, stressing that is what the country is experiencing today.
Clark stated, “The young ones who belong to the disadvantaged legs are fighting and people are pretending not to know why. The other part of this disturbing issue is the question of who has the right over Nigeria? Who is that child, from what part of Nigeria? Who will say no, you cannot destroy our country? You can no longer relegate us to the background.
“What right does the antagonist have that the protagonist does not have? What right do you have that the man you are accusing of disturbing you does not have? The reality is that the man, who wants to destroy and the one who is preventing the destruction have equal rights.
“Why the Igbo should have the presidency is because the children from that geo-political zone are asking whether their own leg is k-legged, or deformed or broken, thus, resulting in the inability of their zone to present the president?”
The elder statesman noted that if five or more legs out of the 36 legs of the pot were broken, definitely, the pot would be unable to stand. He said during the civil war, one out of the original three legs of the three-legged pot was broken due to the war, and the Igbo, which was the broken leg, had been marginalised in the political equation of Nigeria.
Insisting that the people of the Igbo deserved to have a sense of belonging in Nigeria, Clark stressed, “So, the clamour for a president for the South-east geo-political zone is supported by me. Today, with no other tangible reason for still wanting to hold on to power, some people are talking about merit and competence. To these people, my response is simple: we must all woo and win each other, because every part of this country has a beautiful bride and every part has a handsome groom.
“It will not cost money or anything to make Nigeria better. All that is required is for us to demonstrate reciprocal respect, love and understanding to one another. Let us do what is right; let us accommodate one another, and be fair to one another. Let all other Nigerians support a south-eastern candidate for president, come 2023.
“I repeat, very soon, I will be 95 years old. I have spent more than 70 years of this period in Nigerian affairs. I have seen it all. For the peace and sanity of the country, I appeal to all, in the name of the Almighty God, to make this concession to the Igbo, to present a president of Nigeria.”
Delivering his keynote address, leader of MBF, Dr. Poju Bitrus, said the north should have a rethink of its 2023 presidential ambition, stressing that Nigerians are not fools.
Bitrus said it was unfortunate there were people who felt without terrorising the country, they could not continue to rule.
Bitrus stated, “If we look at what is happening in this country now, someone could be surprised why the north, after the monumental failures within this period, will even be contemplating to again want to rule after Buhari. But the unfortunate thing is that everybody thinks if one of theirs is not there, they will be short-changed. How, is the question?”
He said it would be disingenuous for anyone in 2022 to argue that where the president of Nigeria came from did not matter. If it did not matter, he stated, northern governors and sitting governors would not jeopardise the chances of their own party and give the presidency to the opposition in 2015.
The MBF leader said it was shocking that the same characters that were groaning in 2014 over zoning in PDP were now arguing that the zone that produced the president did not matter.
Bitrus stated that by 2023, President Muhammadu Buhari would have spent eight years as president, adding that it is only fair and equitable that a Nigerian from the southern part of the country occupies the position of president.
According to him, “In the collective wisdom of the departing military and the political class, it was agreed that zoning presidential power to the south-westerner was the most expedient thing to do. At the end of the day, two south-westerners in the persons of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, representing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Chief Olu Falae, representing an alliance of All Peoples Party (APP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD) emerged.
“The 1999 scenario is something similar to what we are having now. The situation we are in now calls for a similar approach by Nigeria. We have to develop a nation; we cannot continue to afford to remain as so many nations within a state. To have a nation we can all call our home, we need justice, equity and fairness.”
The MBF leader insisted that it would be inelegant for the Yoruba to contest for the position of the president in 2023.
He said, “But we believe that it is clumsy and inelegant for the South-west to seek the presidency at this time. Not after Obasanjo’s eight years as president and Osinbajo’s eight years as vice president.
“For us, the debate should be a straight one between the South-south and the South-east. But the South-south has occupied the seat of president for one term and the South-east has never occupied it at all. The north that presently is occupying the number one position in Nigeria and the South-west that has been served should not entertain any thought of throwing their hats in the ring.
“After your own region has been served a consensus to stabilise the Nigerian polity and give its people a sense of belonging, it would amount to taking the food tray away in a banquet hall after dishing enough food to one’s plate. Of course, others on the queue will be well within their right to chase and deal with such selfish people.”Even out there in the north, there is a division. The insurgents, the killing, the abduction for ransom have opened people’s eyes to know that all is not well. It is only proper that we take this thing to the south and it is the turn of the South-east to produce the president.”