It is no longer speculation. The 2019 general elections have come and gone. The outcomes are also here with us. Excerpt in some states where the outcomes of the exercise are still being contested, those who won in the process are already bracing up for the challenges of their victory.
Also, the Southeast voted. The outcome of their participation is public knowledge. But whether the zone voted correctly or not may not matter at the moment.
What lies at the epicenter of politics in the zone presently is how the outcome of the 2019 exercise could impact it in the 2023 elections.
The zone's underbelly is troubled by a voting pattern that has not only distorted its political advancement and infrastructural development for some time now but also threatening the hope for its realization of the presidency in 2023.
Sources indicate that the body language of the two leading political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are not disposed to the direction of the Southeast zone in the 2023 presidency project. It stressed that the parties would likely retain power in the zones where they have more comparative advantage.
The anticipation is that Southwest is likely to be favoured by APC based on the role of the leading politicians in the area in advancing the course of the party, while PDP will look either Northeast in case Atiku Abubakar is interested or South-South to compensate the support it received from the zone.
The calculation which though informal is now worrying the Southeast zone; if it materializes, it would leave the zone in the lurch. Many are blaming the development on the wrong footings the zone had put into politics especially since the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari came on board in 2015.
In two separate elections conducted in 2015 and 2019, the zone had overwhelmingly voted against Buhari, who eventually emerged from votes he received from other zones of the country. This is said to be the cause of the alleged low patronage the zone has so far received from the incumbent administration.
National Chairman of United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, shared in the sentiments when he alerted that the zone was trailing "dangerously" in casting votes to a particular political party and endorsing a candidate for the presidential election.
He told The Guardian that the ugly development was exacerbated by the conscription of apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo into the politics, stressing that unless genuine interventions and sacrifices were made, Ndigbo would remain the underdogs in the politics of the country.
Okorie insisted that Ohanaeze Ndigbo has not help matters by continuing to champion this voting pattern since 2015 with curious endorsements that had always left the zone at the mercy of others. He stressed that it has pushed the Southeast to a disadvantageous position that may mar its aspiration for the presidency in 2023.
"That was why my party the UPP led the campaign against the present leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo over the endorsement of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over President Muhammadu Buhari of All Progressives Congress (APC)" There were at least 33 Igbo sons and daughters contesting for president and vice president during the 2019 presidential elections and the fact that you decided to move against their ambition without their consent is a monumental tragedy.
"In politics, you don't put all your entire eggs in one basket. At times, you spread your dragnet to cultivate friendship that will ultimately impact your own political aspirations. Looking at the country presently, you cannot say that APC, through the president, has not remembered the Southeast with some road reconstruction. It is not the same as PDP which for 16 years turned Ndigbo into political slaves.
According to him, "They don't have anything to show for the support they gave PDP. The zone voted massively for the party, yet its infrastructure remained the worst in the country. Now when you are asking a whole zone to return to that voting arrangement, you should have first of all reviewed the one you did earlier to tell yourself what and what you have benefitted. Apart from creating individual millionaires in the zone, what else can Southeast say it benefitted? They moved power within the time frame from one zone of the country to another without remembering that area that consistently identified with them. So that is the problem".
Okorie, was quick to add that the presidency which has been "promised" the zone in 2023 might elude it, owing to the voting pattern and the attitude of politicians in the zone.
"They know how to jump in and out of political parties. The very political leaders in PDP who are misleading our people into putting all their eggs in the PDP basket will be the first to jump ship and abandon them and relocate to the ruling party".
To him, however, there was need to come together and join forces to present a formidable platform that could be used to campaign for Igbo presidency as well as canvass better opportunities for her people.
Outgoing governor of Imo state, Rochas Okorocha, lent credence to this when he advocated for "more work" from Ndigbo. He had not minced words earlier in saying that the president of Nigeria in 2023 would not come from Southeast despite what he described as the "noise from the people of the zone at the moment". He had attributed this to wrong political calculation from the last general election.
Okorocha stated that Southeast tactically marginalized itself out of national leadership equation because, "Ndigbo failed to heed the counsel to support President Muhammadu Buhari in his second term bid".
He was quoted as saying: "Very soon, Ndigbo will become political slaves in Nigeria because of our style of politics. We voted against president Buhari and they are now treating us anyhow. I told them 'let us support him, so we will get presidency in 2023' but everyone, including Ohanaeze Ndigbo refused. They insisted on supporting their son, Peter obi. The question is, where are we now in the political scheme of things in the country?"
Okorocha had alleged that it was the manner of voting by Ndigbo that made the ruling APC zone all the principal offices of the 9th National Assembly outside the zone, insisting that the disequilibrium of APC in the Southeast zone had compounded the situation.
There were pointers that the performance of APC in the zone during the 2019 general elections should be used as a yardstick to measure the acceptability of the party in the zone and the readiness of Ndigbo to spread their tentacles in other political parties.
Arguments to buttress the fact lies in the votes garnered by President Buhari in the election, described as his best performance in the zone since he started vying for elective office in the country. Buhari, this school of thought insists, secured over 403,000 votes with three states of Abia, Imo and Ebonyi States returning the mandatory 25 percent votes to him.
Jude Okeke, an activist from Anambra State, stated, "These are enough to guarantee a place for the Southeast in 2023 if our country is run on truth, justice and fairness". According to him, the Southeast has long been marginalized in the scheme of things in the country, adding, "asking it to redeem itself by voting the party in power is same as returning it to the days in which the PDP held the fort. So for the progress of the country, let the zone be allowed to produce president in 2023".
Another school of thought, however, believes that the governors who delivered the mandatory 25 per cent votes in their states did so not to advance the cause of the ruling party but in fulfillment of a bargain with President Buhari to retain their offices. They pointed at the outcome of other elections in the affected states that did not favour the ruling APC as clear pointers to this belief.
Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, came close to confirming the allegation in an interview with The Guardian, when he said that he supported the zone given 25 per cent votes to President Buhari during the election.
He said: "I was also in support that the Igbo people should give President Buhari the 25percent votes because anybody that scores 75 percent is also an excellent result. I said so not because Buhari was going to win in the Southeast, but we want to eliminate that illusion that Igbos does not love Buhari. That is all that we wanted us to erase. Nobody was going to manipulate it. I heard when the elections were going on some were saying that the people of the Southeast were manipulating results for the president. How were they manipulating results for the president? I told people that they should understand that the election in the Southeast was not between Buhari and Atiku but between PDP and APC".
Irrespective of this, the challenge is that the future is not looking bright for the aspiration of the zone in 2023. The hope for restructuring whose campaign it has championed for sometime and for which the zone voted for Atiku has also continued to dim by the day. These are disturbing signals. Those close to power say the zone's survival for now rests squarely at the mercy power brokers in the country.
Apparently and in order to overcome the challenge and to see what could be salvaged from the near hopeless situation, sundry Igbo groups are beginning to canvas that the Southeast is an integral part of the country and should not be lagging behind.
One of such groups, the "Southeast for 2023 Presidency" is billed for inauguration in Enugu on April 30. The group is made up of various intelligensia, the business and political class drawn from within and outside the country .
Its National Coordinator, Rev. Okechukwu Obioha, a former National Chairman of the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD), told The Guardian: "Time has come to show seriousness and commitment in the Nigerian project. The way things are, unless you say you belong, nobody will remember you. So we should not relent. It does not matter what anybody thinks about us as a people and our way of voting .
"This group will play the pivotal role that will make our aspiration in 2023 come true. We will bring in the needed pressure and galvanize the zone towards the ideal candidate for presidency of Igbo extraction. In doing this, we shall seek the understanding and support of other zones of the country to see our quest as a just one, since we are one country" .
Asked whether such grouping was not too early especially when the next dispensation was yet to take off, he stated that the 2019 elections were over and that the focus and calculations were now tailored towards 2023.
It was also gathered that prominent Igbo heading some political parties in the country are beginning to work out modalities of fusion to enable them present a formidable front for Igbo presidency .
Sources stated that the likelihood of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and United Progressives Party (UPP) among other political parties embarking on a merger may likely happen soon to forge a strong alliance.
It was gathered that the merger was borne out of the poor showings of these political parties since their existence and the realization that 2023 might elude Ndigbo if they (parties) continue to play at cross-purposes. No fewer than 30 Igbo are said to have registered and leading different political parties in Nigeria presently. However, Nigerians await how all these could come to play as one and reposition the zone as the greatest contender in 2023.