As the 2023 presidential election draws closer, the South-East has been thrown into uncertainty over the chances of the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, LP, Peter Obi.
Since the return to democracy in 1999, the zone has not produced the president of the country nor has it produced the vice president.
The closest it came was the emergence of Obi as the Presidential running mate to the current presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubakar, in 2019.
Since Obi decamped to the LP in May 2022, where he successfully emerged the presidential candidate, he has seen his popularity rise rapidly but many have said his popularity will only serve to bolster the chances of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Obi accusers are mostly from the PDP, who feel he has divided the opposition, whittling down its chances while making a nuisance of himself in an election they say he lacks the structure to win.
Some stakeholders and political leaders from the zone worry that Obi’s emergence has further brought the question of political unity within the Ndigbo to the spotlight.
They stress that 2023 presents the best opportunity for the zone to be present at the centre but a huge cloud of doubt pervades the chances of Obi wining the presidency outside the big two – the PDP and APC.
But Obi believes his chances are brighter than the so-called big two, noting that, “It is the confusion the elite put in us to tell us, come this and that. No, I am a Nigerian; I contest elections in Nigeria and 18 other people are contesting the election,” he said recently when explaining why he has divided the opposition and his chances to win against the big two.
He doubled down on his argument that, “The question is to verify and scrutinise the 18 of us. Some will be better in terms of the Queen’s English and some will have better certificates, but, remember, certificates are not a measure of character and integrity and we are looking for people who will not steal our money.
“So, we need to find out, go and scrutinise all of us and say, we can trust this one based on… If they say it is his children, what do they do for a living? These are things we need to verify and you don’t just stay without finding out details about them.”
But among stakeholders in the Southeast, opinions are divided. Former Minister of Education, Professor Fabian Osuji, AN Obi supporter, said in a chat with THE WHISTLER that Obi is the best candidate among the pack, but pointed out that the South-East cannot all queue behind Obi especially the elites who have their vested interest.
According to him, such vested interests may run at variance with the aspiration of Obi and the populace, because while Obi stands for good governance, many elites and leaders from the zone don’t.
“Such a situation entails that they will promote the candidate that can guarantee their interest. At the moment, Obi doesn’t.”
He pointed out that the uncertainty is because of the two camps – “Obi and the masses,” on one hand and “the leaders and elites with those candidates that can guarantee their interest,” on the other hand.
A foundation member of the PDP G-34 and former lecturer, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Professor Uzodinma Nwala, agreed that “the elites and leaders from the zone who have held down the zone and have negotiated political stakes where they have been perpetual benefits would be at cross purposes with the popular yearning.
“But they need to worry hard because Obi would win unless he is rigged out,” he told THE WHISTLER.
But National Leader of Coalition of Youths in Anambra State Dr. Chinedu Ekwealor, does not agree Obi stands a chance of winning the presidency, saying Ndigbo stands a better chance with the PDP.
“If Mr. Peter Obi truly loves Ndigbo, he should step down and strategize with other well-meaning Igbo elites in charting a way forward for the Igbo nation,” he stated.
He added that, “We repeat, the presidency is not won on the premise of wishful thinking and hullabaloo of an untamed mob, who probably do not even understand the need for a pathway for the Igbo nation.”
His position was not dissimilar to that of Anambra State Governor, Charles Soludo, who through a lengthy letter some weeks ago laughed at the chances of Obi, declaring that , “Obi knows he cannot win the election.”
He said further that, “Indeed, if I were Asiwaju Tinubu, I would even give Peter Obi money as someone heading one of the departments of his campaign because Obi is making Tinubu’s pathway to victory much easier by indirectly pulling down the PDP.”
According to Soludo, who was a member of the PDP and once sought the governorship ticket of the party, he has been under attacks for not supporting Obi, adding that, “Peter Obi knows that he can’t and won’t win. He knows the game he is playing, and we know too; and he knows that we know.”
But Osuji disagreed saying the country needs good governance “’and not about one ethnic group being at the centre. If there is good governance where everyone is treated fairly, where there is justice, anyone from any part of the country can lead. Obi is the best among all now.”
Nwala agreed, pointing out that “’Being at the centre does not solve the problem of the South-East, rather it is a matter of equity. Lets have open opportunities for any one from any part of the country to aspire to be president. Let that person govern well.
“’Presidency is not an exclusive reserve of any ethnic group,” he argued.
While both Soludo and Ekwealor argued that the sharp political division in the zone is being orchestrated by the candidacy of Obi and called on him to stand down as the zone cannot afford to be outside the centre anymore, Osuji and Nwala said the anxiety is just from those who feel they should be aspiring to lead the Ndigbo instead of Obi.
Nwala particularly recalled the stiff opposition Obi faced “when he was chosen by the PDP as the running mate in 2019. I had to call then senior elected political leader from the zone, Ike Ekweremadu, who was the Deputy Senate President to calm down and support our son.
“I urged him and others to support Peter (Obi) because judging from experience, he was a perfect choice and would bring his knowledge on economy and the management of resources to bear.
“Unfortunately, that ticket didn’t succeed. Now he is a candidate, I expect everyone who loves this country to rally round him and nothing else,” Nwala said.
Osuji advised “Ndigbo not to panic. There is nothing to fear. There is no dilemma among us because the majority of the people are with Peter (Obi).
“Those who don’t want Ndigbo to succeed are few and they can’t beat the rest of us. By the way, he is not aspiring to govern Ndigbo but the whole country. He has said that himself many times and I think that should suffice.”
Nwala agreed, asking “Dilemma? On the part of who? Except for those who don’t wish us well but go across the South-East, speak with stakeholders and the people, the feeling is one of unity and that is the spirit. No one is thinking of defeat but victory with the national support Obi is getting.”