The Way Forward
culled from PUNCH, June 28, 2006
The politics of the South-East people navigated towards a clearer destination on
June 16, 2006 in Owerri, the Imo State capital, when prominent sons and
daughters of the geo-political zone made another concerted effort at charting a
pathway towards realising their collective political aspirations. Although
heralded by low media publicity, the Igbo Political Summit with the theme,
“Ndigbo, the future and the Presidency 2007,” succeeded in making some clear
statements about the position of the Igbo ahead of the 2007 general elections.
This could be deduced from the manner speakers at the one-day summit made their
submissions with passion.
Prior to the summit, the thinking in some quarters was that the forum was
essentially to take a stand on the 2007 presidency and possibly showcase all the
aspirants from the zone, with a view to assessing their weaknesses and strength.
Whereas, the summit did make some statements regarding the 2007 presidential
election and the desire of the Igbo to produce the next president, it also
succeeded in using the proverbial one stone to kill three other birds.
Perhaps, the Igbo leaders reckoned that the pursuit of the zone’s desire to
produce the next president could not be done successfully without making certain
clarifications on some other issues that are of great significance to Ndigbo as
a people, especially if they are to be taken serious. Conversely in arriving at
a conclusion on the 2007 presidency, the summit also clarified its stand on such
issues as the truncated third term agenda of President Olusegun Obasanjo; the
lingering leadership crisis in Ohanaeze, the apex socio-cultural organisation of
Ndigbo; and attaining the desire for the Igbo to speak with one voice.
Interestingly, while it took hours of brilliant and passionate submissions by
speakers that included Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and retired Supreme Court
Justice, Chukwudifu Oputa, before the summit could take a definite stand on the
issue of 2007 presidency and the need for a united voice for Ndigbo, it took the
masses in attendance at the summit less than five minutes to determine the
position of Ndigbo on the third term agenda as well as the people’s stand on the
crisis in Ohanaeze.
The host Governor, Chief Achike Udenwa, set the tone for the day’s discussion
when he declared in his opening address that the summit would provide the
much-needed ambience for Ndigbo to re-examine themselves and evolve credible
strategies to make a strong case for one of them to become the country’s
president in 2007. According to Udenwa, “The task is no doubt daunting, but
equally achievable. It will require cooperation, consultations and consensus
building among Ndigbo and with other geo-political zones. We need to throw up
credible candidates and stand behind the most credible of them all. We must
support our own sons and seek the support of other zones for this ambition to be
The governor noted the fact that the South-East was one of the original tripod
upon which the foundation of modern Nigeria was built, “it is therefore only
proper that the South-East is conceded the presidency in 2007, the same way the
South-West benefited from it.” He added that equity and fairness demanded that
the geo-political zone be allowed to produce Obasanjo’s successor since the two
others, the North and the South-West had produced the president.
The candour with which Ojukwu addressed the summit created some measure of
jocose excitement within the conference hall of the Concorde Hotel, venue of the
summit. The Ikemba, who addressed the gathering in Igbo language, later had his
speech read by a one time Information Minister, Nnia Nwodo. Ojukwu said in the
speech, “Where we are today is that the people of the old eastern region have
woken up to their long years of pains and neglect to the extent that not only
Nigeria but the world is talking about the injustice meted out to them by
various governments, past, present. So I am happy that we mean business now and
are determined to regain our rightful place in God’s world.”
Ojukwu, however, noted that the summit was not the first of such effort at
galvanising the Igbo people to take their rightful place. He also said that the
gathering was not a guarantee that the project would be a fait accompli. He said
nevertheless, it was important to raise the consciousness of the people.
The ex-biafran leader dismissed insinuations in some quarters that the civil war
remained an albatross on the Ndigbo’s quest for the presidency, adding that
there was nothing to regret in the war. He said, “It was not a war of
succession. There was genocide and we fought a war of survival and we were not
defeated. We fought a war for a place in Nigeria and to survive. We went to war
to keep the Igbo one.”
Other speakers included Oputa; a former Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu
Ukiwe; Prof. A.B.C. Nwosu; former President of the Senate, Anyim Pius Anyim.
They dwelled on the need for the zone to produce the next president.
The summit’s communiqué, which was jointly signed by Ojukwu and Oputa, stated as
•To continue to uphold the unity of Nigeria as one nation on the basis of
equality of all its constituent peoples and on the basis of justice and equity
•That Ndigbo will strive for total unity and total commitment to our age-old
philosophy of Igwebuike. It was also firmly resolved that all who betray the
present struggle for an Igbo person to become the president of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria shall stand permanently dishonoured in the entire Igboland
and shall die unwept, unmourned and unsung.
•That Ndigbo being honourable people shall honour the agreements reached with
other groups. Accordingly, the summit re-affirmed that ‘given the fact that the
other zones have dominated the highest office in the land since independence,
the South-East or the South-South shall produce the president of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria come 2007. This demand is based on justice, equity,
fairness, good conscience and historical antecedents.
•That any Igbo who is positioning for vice-president position is not only on his
own but also stands condemned in Igboland. This is because for Ndigbo, there
shall be no compromise whatsoever on the attainment of the presidency of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria in year 2007.
•That Ndigbo believe in good governance. Consequently the summit resolved that
come 2007, federal elections, only credible and competent persons with proven
track records shall be elected to occupy political offices in Igboland namely:
state governors, members of the national and state assemblies and local
government chairmen and councillors.
•That we insist on the immediate creation of an additional state in the
South-East zone of Nigeria as recommended by the National Political Reform
•That the summit re-affirmed the belief of Ndigbo in true federalism. To this
end the summit urges that six geo-political zones with equality of states be
enshrined in the constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria.
•The summit insists that Imo and Abia States be included in the Niger Coastal
states. We deplore and will resist excision of Igbo states from institutions
designed for the benefit of oil producing states no matter by whatever name the
institutions are designed.
•That after excessive spilling of Igbo blood in the past, specially the most
recent arising from a cartoon in far away Denmark, Ndigbo warn seriously that
enough is enough and they will react instantly to wanton shedding of Igbo blood
anywhere in Nigeria and will organise to protect Ndigbo wherever they choose to
live and do business in Nigeria.
•That an implementation committee be set up to effect these decisions.
While the summit officially endorsed the issue of unity and the importance of an
Igbo man becoming the next president of the country, the zone’s pronouncement on
the truncated third term came in form of a melodrama. Ironically, the people’s
voice was a departure from the acclaimed position of the zone’s wise men during
the zonal public hearing on the constitutional amendment and during the debate
in the National Assembly.
Whereas some of the South-East governors and members of the National Assembly
supported the tenure elongation of President Obasanjo, the reaction of the
people of the zone to the issue during the summit showed clearly that those who
supported the truncated agenda might have done so without the approval of the
people on whose behalf they claimed to have spoken. The summit had progressed
without any direct reference to the third term issue, until Nwodo mounted the
podium to read Ojukwu’s address. The former minister who also echoed Ojukwu’s
position that some saboteurs could be out to frustrate the current efforts the
same way past efforts were sabotaged.
Nwodo had scarcely finished his speech before the attention of the audience
shifted to the duo of Senators Arthur Nzeribe and Ifeanyi Araraume on the high
table. The two senators who were pro-third term became uncomfortable, especially
as appeared slighted by Nwodo’s comment. But the audience, apparently in
appreciation of Nwodo’s boldness at stirring the issue of third term, started to
boo and jeer at Nzeribe and Araraume. The development compelled the duo to storm
out of the auditorium. But the audience comprising mainly women shouted “holy
Ghost fire” repeatedly and made uncomplimentary gestures towards the two
lawmakers as they left the venue.
It was the turn of the President-General of Ohanaeze, Prof. Joe Irukwu, to
address the gathering. But again, the people felt it was time a position was
taken on the factional crisis that had rendered the group impotent for a while.
Irukwu was prevented from speaking despite the intervention of Udenwa.
Anyim, one of the facilitators of the summit, was opposed to the reaction of the
people to the pro-third term Igbo indigenes. Anyim said that it was time
Nigerians put the third term issue behind them in order to build a better
society. Specifically, Anyim said that the South-East needed to carry all its
sons and daughters along in the quest for the presidency in 2007.
A major minus for the one-day summit was the absence of most serving public
office holders. Udenwa was the only governor at the summit. No Minister of Igbo
extraction attended, while only three of the 15 senators from the zone were in
attendance. This is in spite of the listing of two of them - Uche Chukwumerije
and Joy Emordi - as major speakers.
While some observers blamed the poor pre-summit publicity for the low turn out,
others saw it as a sign of division within the ranks of the South-East
leadership. In fact, the absence of the governors was seen as a public
exhibition of the unhealthy rivalry that exists among them
But Udenwa feels that the absence of the public office holders did not in any
way diminish the summit. He believes that the absence showed that there was no
government agenda in the entire show, adding, “The lack of strong presence of
any government makes the summit more credible.”
The presence of prominent presidential aspirants, including Prof. Pat Utomi and
Chief Rochas Okorochas, added colour to the summit, just as did the campaign
posters of the Abia State Governor, Chief Orji Kalu, and Udenwa.