Nigerians woke up on Saturday morning to the news that the fifth general election in its two-decade-old democracy of the fourth republic had been shifted by a week, just a few hours to its commencement.
Many are still in shock, condemning the move and counting their losses. Meanwhile, leaders in the South-east of the country have not yet settled for a preferred candidate for the number one seat in the country.
This can be attributed to the protracted cacophony of endorsements of the two leading candidates: President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which remained unresolved.
Many would have thought Mr Abubakar’s selection of Peter Obi, a former Anambra governor would stamp PDP’s victory in the five eastern states, but that was far from the case.
It was generally received with aloofness by leaders of the region. Their grouse is that they were not consulted before the decision was taken.
Even the endorsement of the former vice president by the Ohanaeze, the apex Igbo socio-cultural group, did not help as it only polarised the region. The endorsement was met with stiff opposition.
What is yet to be seen, however, is how the endorsement controversy will affect voting pattern in the region.
‘Divide and rule’
Unity and one voice are not synonymous with the history and culture of the Igbo dominated South-east. If anything, it appears to be a clog in the wheel.
“Igbo enwe eze”, a common saying that means Igbo people are individualistic and do not have a ‘common ruler’ they follow, has long been evident since the British colonial conquest.
While the indirect rule system succeeded in the North because of its centralised system, and partially succeeded in the South-west, it was an abysmal failure in the South-east.
There was no central ruler, and this prompted the British to appoint warrant chiefs. That was worse as it only resulted in the Aba women riot of 1929.
So, when Mr Abubakar came calling and Ohanaeze, the supposed leadership figure of the region answered, it was no surprise there were kicks.
The Anambra State government was the first to challenge the endorsement even though his running mate, Mr Obi, is from the state.
This is quite understandable. Mr Obi, who governed the state on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) handed over to the incumbent governor, Willie Obiano, but has since fallen out with him (Obiano).
The Secretary to Anambra State Government, Solo Chukwulobelu, however, said the opposition to the endorsement was because of the ”exclusion of prominent Igbo sons and daughters by Ohanaeze in taking the decision and has nothing to do with politics”.
Even the Ohanaeze itself was divided over the endorsement as the Secretary-General of the group, Uche Okwukwu, denied support for Mr Abubakar in what he said was not in the interest of the Igbo.
While many other socio-cultural groups including Nzuko Umunna, Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), Igbo Bu Igbo Foundation, World Igbo Assembly (WIA) queued behind the apex Igbo body, others such as Igboezue, kept kicking the endorsement.
Besides socio-political groups, the fragmentation was extended to cultural and traditional institutions.
The Association of South-east Town Unions after its expanded National Executive Committee in Enugu, two weeks ago, backed Ohanaeze on the adoption of Atiku/Obi.
They said, as custodians of the grassroots, that the “Town Unions shall rise in defence of the wishes of the majority of our people and stoutly resist any attempt by a few discredited individuals and political merchants who are attempting to trade off the Southeast for their pecuniary interests”.
The Anambra State Chapter of the Unions (ASATU) however distanced itself from the decision of the unions’ umbrella body, saying it stood with the state government’s position.
Traditional rulers in Ebonyi and Imo are not left out as they endorsed the candidacy of President Buhari. Ebonyi monarchs would later make a U-turn to support Mr Abubakar.
Ohanaeze losing grip?
The political dispensation offers some interesting scenarios and the conundrum of endorsement rather presents a test for Ohanaeze’s current standing in the eyes of the Igbo people.
Ohanaeze, which once reechoed strength in the entire region appears to be at its waning moment.
Reasons for the decline in the influence of the Ohanaeze have been suggested by some leaders in the region as the parade of pecuniary interest by some elements within the fold, following the gradual passage of the respected founding fathers of the group.
Individual leaders of the group are generally well respected, not only because of their age but also because they had excelled in their chosen fields.
They are now seen as dancing to the tune of any political drum of their interest.
Also, not many of the region’s constituents are sure the group represents their concerns and political and economic aspirations.
This can be traced to the groups’ lacklustre handling of agitations by Nnamdi Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
While the radical thrust of the Ohanaeze philosophy attempted to unify the common regional interest of the Igbo people, the current government of the group led by John Nnia Nwodo seems to be well distracted by divisive and narrow political interest to which the people themselves have no stake.
This, many observers believe will inform the decision of voters to rely on their assessment of the candidate rather than the so-called endorsement.
2023 Igbo presidency factor
One of the major complaints of the South-east is that since Nigeria’s latest democratic sojourn started, nobody from that region has become president.
This gripe appears to be pacified by the unwritten zoning formular which allows the two divides (North and South) produce a president in an election cycle.
The formular, which is not cast on stone and has been truncated at least twice, zones the presidency to the South-east in 2023.
This has come to play in the region’s decision making in the now-postponed elections.
The argument was that if Mr Abubakar wins, he will go for another term in 2023, but Mr Buhari has only one term to go.
This argument birthed a popular slogan in the region: “4BT8”, meaning: ”Four is better than eight”.
Asides the bickering over no consultation, South-east leaders want the PDP presidential candidate to commit himself to a single term in office as a condition.
This is with an understanding that in 2023 he would reciprocate the gesture by throwing his support behind the zone to produce the president for the nation.
On the other hand, the ruling APC is lobbying the South-east governors to rally behind President Buhari with a verbal understanding that doing so is the surest route to Igbo presidency.
Though governors and leaders of PDP and other parties in the zone have not made it open, their body language suggests they are weighing their options.
Governors from the South-east and the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekeremadu, reportedly had a secret meeting in Aso Rock late last year with the president.
The meeting was said to be for the benefit of the South-east concerning infrastructural development.
Though the meeting was meant to allow governors show appreciation for federal government projects in the region, especially the contract award for the second Niger Bridge, it came at a time the political figures were at odds with their parties.
However, many observers allege some of the governors are working for Mr Buhari.
While Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu was spotted wearing the emblem of President Buhari late last year, the governors of Abia, Imo and Anambra have not concealed their admiration for Mr Buhari.
Some political parties of Igbo extraction have also adopted President Buhari on the same ground for 2023 presidency.
The National Chairman, United Progressive Party, Chekwas Okorie, who doubles as the coordinator of Igboezue, said the party had adopted Mr Buhari because it believed that doing so would pave the way for the emergence of an Igbo President in 2023.
The chairman of Enugu State chapter of All Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP), Adonys Igwe, also urged Ndigbo to ignore ‘Atiku’s endorsement’ by voting their mind on election day.
This perception was nevertheless thrashed at the PDP South-east zonal rally, held in Owerri, Imo state capital a few weeks ago.
Aside the massive turnout of party supporters, bigwigs in the zone, led by Mr Ekweremadu and the three PDP South-east governors — David Umahi of Ebonyi, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu) and Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) including those from the host state, led by the gubernatorial candidate, Emeka Ihedioha were all present and declared for Atiku/Obi ticket.
Efficacy of Endorsements
Would endorsements sway votes? Many believe the conflicting endorsements only work to line the pockets of the elements within the groupings.
This is the time for politics. Every move matters so long as it counters the opposition. Nothing is taken for granted, and no effort is spared in reaching the goal.
In 2015, Mr Buhari harvested a paltry 198,000 votes from the five states in the region.
That tally pales against the 323,653 that Goodluck Jonathan, the then PDP candidate drew from Ebonyi, his least from a state in the zone.
Expectedly, PDP will again win the South-east as records have not shown otherwise.
However, it might not attain the height of victory it had in 2015.
Although the streets of the South-east appear to remain ‘hostile’ to the former military dictator-turned democrat, the political elites in the region seem to think differently.