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An old friend recently asked why I think Ndigbo may miss the Presidency in 2023. On the contrary, I am more optimistic than ever, I retorted. I am optimistic because I see contenders from other regions furtively looking behind at the Southeast.

It does not matter that some are sharpening anti-Igbo rhetoric to undermine Southeast regional contenders. Everything they do further thrusts the Igbo Presidency question in the limelight.

However, I also said that this optimism is the reason why Ndigbo should look at the hurdles on their way. And deal with them now. 

Hurdles to Scale

Ndigbo may miss the Presidency if they do not scale three major hurdles. By far the biggest persistent is the attitude of the political class to national geopolitics. This is followed by the perennial matter of poor governance in Southeast states. The most recent hurdle is the issue of unknown elements enforcing sit-at-home in the region on behalf of IPOB. Together, these hurdles transform Southeast into a blinkered political landscape so easy to overrun by other regional power players. And this could potentially make it difficult to sell a candidate from the zone. 

Regional powermongers know and take advantage of this weakness. Observe the recent bold move by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to canvass for support from the Region. I believe Atiku will be a capable president if elected. I worked for him and observed how he calmly coordinates strategic planning, displays confident decision-making skills, and adroitly manages human resources. This is why I was puzzled – and disappointed – that he could display insensitivity to the issue of Igbo Presidency by coming to the region to shop for support at this time. This junket unfortunately projects him as a man of blind ambition. 

Still, the former Vice President and his political strategists could only have done this for a reason. They understand the attitude of the Igbo political elite class. Deep down, it appears that the elite political class is rather unsure of the prospects, an anxiety that their opponents can feel and see.

Power of optics

Optics are important. Save for Gov. Dave Umahi, what are the Southeast governors saying or doing? We are left with two impressions. One is that they probably do not believe it is feasible for an Igbo to become President. Consequently, they are unwilling to muster non-partisan supportive actions needed to produce an Igbo candidate for any or all of the two dominant parties. Finally, it is doubtful that they will support a common candidate. Not even their chairman, Gov Dave Umahi who is running will get an endorsement.

The Governors are the most effective brand ambassadors for the Igbo Presidency – if it were to become an actual project. Intentionally working their phones and doing shuttle diplomacy for the project will at least show them what is feasible and what is not. At this moment, no one can predict with any accuracy which region the presidency wind will favor.

Ndigbo may miss the presidency if it turns out that Southeast governors, including Umahi, are eyeing the vice presidency slot? Southern Governors have become used to angling for subordinate positions at federal level while arranging to remotely control governance at the local. Long before the end of their tenure track, they struggle to invest in three things. Each wants to become vice president or senator, as well as kingmaker for elective offices in their states. It betrays a blind ambition to continue to control things from outside the seat of power. Even when experience shows that this desired control is never fully achieved, this does not stop the next governor from taking a chance. It is simply an elite class mindset steeped in selfishness.

An elite class mindset

Igbo presidential aspirants understand the selfish dispositions and therefore stay away from the State Houses during political consultations. Instead, they visit stakeholders and governors of other states. APC office seekers among them queue up to shake Mr. President’s hands.

This is disturbing because the Governors provide the best pathway to national acceptance There should be a meeting of minds on the issue to serve an important message. It shows other regions that Southeast means business. And it discourages aspirants from other regions from approaching the Southeast for support. Only APC’s Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu has so far demonstrated this understanding. His recent visit to the PDP Governor of his home state attests to this.

When Ndigbo are accused of not being united politically, the people bristle at the accusation. They fail to understand that the accusers are merely struggling to describe non-singularity of vision. This failure, in my view, is not fully explained by the famous republican character of the average Igbo. It can also be appreciated in what I described before as “The colors of an Igbo Presidency” (11 February 2021).

Bad Governance as a hurdle

Our governors are not doing well, most of them. They actively place banana peels before their opponents and use these to cancel those who could have stood as tall as Anambra’s Obi to aim for the highest office.

Bad governance is not only about stealing money – and the reason why Ndigbo may miss the Presidency. It reflects in the ways that the governors make it difficult for people to choose good men for public office. Most of the governors retreat into their cocoons as soon as they are elected and ensure that the people who elected them are given as little information as possible. They easily buy off hapless local journalists whose lives are a constant struggle to make ends meet. To them, democracy is no longer “government of the people, by the people.” Good governance is however  leadership that recognizes people power and is totally transparent and accountable. So why is there this tendency to transform governance into a secret cult?

Governors grant favors to alleluia singers and punish those who rightly ask how people’s funds are being spent. Our leaders invest in taking as much money from the system into private pockets as it possibly can. President Muhammadu Buhari lamented the attitude of the Governors who force local council chairmen to give them a lion share of federal allocations to their local governments. He did not make an exception, which implies that your governor is equally complicit.

The irony of the situation is that governors shoot themselves in the foot with the way they manage public funds. Bad governance transforms the southeast into an arid political landscape, difficult to recruit credible candidates for the presidency of Nigeria.

Security is key

Finally, those enforcing sit-at-home on behalf of IPOB may become the answer to question of why Ndigbo may miss the presidency. In 2014 when Gen. Muhammadu Buhari contested the presidency for the fourth time, he had a similar security smoke in his northern backyard. He however promised to use his experiences as a general to deal with the insurgency in the Northeast. And Nigeria gave him the mandate to rule on the strength of his many assurances on security matters.

Look around us. Neither the governors nor other presidential aspirants have had the courage to make such assurances on security of the Southeast. Unknown gunmen and other faceless criminals are running riot over the land.

The president of Nigeria is commander in chief of the armed forces. Not one aspirant is speaking or acting like a future commander in chief. And Nigeria is looking for the person of character who can tackle headlong the economy and security issues that have defied solution thus far. 

It’s already late to do anything about poor governance. But it is not to do something about those causing security problems for the region.

Since IPOB says it is not responsible for those disrupting business and education in the Southeast every Monday. What stops the political class from quietly containing the criminal and giving the region peace? There are enough guns and local intelligence sources to harvest and deploy to confront the miscreants. There are enough guns in the hands of paramilitary agents under the control the governors.

Ndigbo may miss the presidency in 2023 if…