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Why Nigeria Needs to Elect an Igbo President in 2023

By Farooq A. Kperogi Twitter: @farooqkperogi You don’t promote unity by simply glibly mouthing off infuriating platitudes about unity being ...

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

You don’t promote unity by simply glibly mouthing off infuriating platitudes about unity being “non-negotiable.” You promote it through meaningful symbolic gestures to reassure estranged groups that they, too, matter. 

Unity is promoted when conscious efforts are made to heal national wounds, to accommodate disadvantaged groups, and to make political concessions to restore faith in the promises of the country. The federal character principle, quota system, reservation of slots for students from educationally less developed states in federal institutions are examples of what sociologists call positive discrimination in the interest of the greater good of the society.

Nigeria also needs policies in positive discrimination in the political realm. That’s why I am a strong advocate for constitutionally enshrining power rotation at all levels of government in Nigeria in response to our peculiarities as a country that is riven by deep-seated primordial divisions practicing an American-style winner-take-all presidential democracy. 

In 1998, the northern Nigerian political establishment, which dominated the national power structure, sensed the imminence of an irrecoverable national collapse as a result of the deepening sense of alienation that the Yoruba people felt on account of the unjustified invalidation of the June 12, 1993, presidential election that MKO Abiola was poised to win, which was made even worse by his death in solitary confinement for demanding the legal recognition of his electoral victory.

When constitutional rule was restored in 1999, northern politicians and statesmen came to a consensus that the only way to keep Yoruba people from breaking away from Nigeria—or from being perpetual thorns in the flesh of the body politic—was to concede the presidency to them. That was remarkably patriotic and far-sighted. 

We have a similar moment now. The Igbo are almost in the same spot that the Yoruba were in in 1998. There is mass resentment among them. Several of them feel emotionally disconnected from Nigeria. And we all know why. Apart from the fact that they have never produced a president or vice president since 1999, Muhammadu Buhari has done an extremely poor job of husbanding Nigeria’s intricate diversity.

The sense of alienation that a vast swath of Igbo people feel now has made several of them, particularly their youth, susceptible to the murderous wiles of the mentally and emotionally disturbed mountebank called Nnamdi Kanu.

The cult of headless IPOB cretins Kanu has managed to build would only expand and might even transmogrify into something more sinister in the coming years if the estrangement of the Igbo persists. In fact, we can already see the steadily escalating foreboding of this in the current endemic violence in the southeast.

This is not unavoidable. It can be reversed with the election of an Igbo person as president. If we truly cherish Nigeria’s continuity as a country, we can’t afford to allow a huge section of it to feel so disaffected that it wants to break away from the union. 

Power rotation is not “democratic” by the conventional conception of democracy, but there’s no universally applicable practice of democracy. That’s why the American practice of democracy is different from the British one. 

American presidential election, for example, is not a one-person, one-vote democracy. That was why although Hillary Clinton won nearly three million more votes than Donald Trump in 2016, she wasn’t president. We have a right to fashion our own democracy that shows sensitivity to our particularities. 

We will lose Nigeria if our democracy becomes an endless political Ping-Pong between the Northwest and the Southwest, as APC seems poised to make it. 

You first need to have a country before you can dominate it politically.  And you can’t have a country if a huge segment of it is forced to expend energies trying to get out of it because it doesn't feel welcome in it. 

I have invested tremendous emotional and intellectual capital in Nigeria and want it to evolve and endure. My recommendation for the election of an Igbo person in 2023 comes from that emotional and intellectual investment. It’s fine to disagree with me, but I’d be interested in knowing how you intend to solve the problem of the alienation of the third leg of the Nigerian tripod. 

In a 2020 book chapter, I wrote that Nigeria’s greatest misfortune has been that, in spite of its persistent, incapacitating fissiparity, it hasn’t disintegrated, but in spite of its apparent death-defying staying power, it hasn’t quite integrated, either. So, it is perpetually stuck in the twilight zone between death and life and between incipience and decay. 

The originative trigger for the enduring structural and conceptional instability of Nigeria, I pointed out, is traceable to its congenital colonial birth defects. But it’s not sustainable to be in that state in perpetuity. 

One of the ways to transcend it is to recognize the imperative of political inclusivity. As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, this is more about symbolism than it is about substance. Electing an Igbo person as president would probably do nothing to improve anybody's lot—except, perhaps, the family and friends of the person elected to the office of president.

 Goodluck Jonathan's calamitous 5-year presidency couldn’t even bring basic infrastructure like boreholes to his hometown of Otueke in Bayelsa State, yet southern ethnic minorities derived vicarious fulfilment from the fact that he was president. Buhari’s infernal presidency hasn’t improved the lot of people even from his hometown, but they take pride in saying one of them is president.

Human beings are animated by a multiplicity of impulses, including rational and emotional impulses, both of which are legitimate. When we turn on our rational impulses, we may ask: What would electing an Igbo man as president do to Igbo people? My answer is “probably nothing.”

 But we are more than rational beings: we are also emotional beings. That's why people are invested in symbolism. Electing an Igbo person as president is merely a symbolic gesture, but it inspires a sense of inclusion in the minds of many people from that region; it serves as a symbolic conduit through which people vicariously connect with the government and with the country.

In other words, electing an Igbo person as president is first of all an end in itself before it’s a means to an end. Reversing mass resentment in a large segment of the national population through electing a president from there—like we did in 1999—is worthwhile, especially for a country that loves to say its unity and continuity are sacrosanct articles of faith.

Nonetheless, I am not suggesting that the reluctance to trust an Igbo person to be president because of the lingering memories of the Civil War are entirely misplaced. It took even the United States several decades before it elected a southerner as president after the region attempted to secede from the Union in the 1860s. Today, the American south is the most visibly “patriotic” region of the country.

Similarly, the imperative to elect an Igbo person as president doesn’t mean the rest of the country shouldn’t closely scrutinize the records of service, openness, and cosmopolitanism from the region’s contestants for president—like they should from other regions. 

Of the people who have so far declared interest to run for president from the region, only two, in my opinion, are worth our time. 

The first, for me, is Kingsley Moghalu. In a March 31, 2018, column titled “Moghalu, Sowore, and the Diasporan Presidential Challenge,” I wrote this about him: “Although I have no informed opinion on Moghalu’s tenure as CBN’s deputy governor, I have interacted with him since his relocation to the US in the past couple of years. He is, without a doubt, one of the best brains Nigeria has produced. He has an impressive mastery of the political economy of development and has written well-received books and articles on the subject.

“He also strikes me as a cosmopolitan, well-bred person who isn’t beholden to narrow, primordial loyalties, and who understands the complexities of Nigeria and the defining role leadership can and should play in managing national differences. He is energetic, passionate, and brims over with fresh, innovative ideas about governance and inclusive growth.”

The second is Peter Obi. In a March 25, 2022, article titled “Peter Obi: Applying to Be Driver of a Knocked-Out Car,” I mentioned that listening to his speeches has captured my imagination. He appears to have a handle on Nigeria’s problems, and what I’ve read of his record as governor of Anambra State inspires some confidence that he isn’t just a talker. I can’t speak to his cosmopolitanism and commitment to seeing all of Nigeria as his constituency. That’s up to voters to find out.

But I do hope that the “owners of Nigeria,” as we like to call the politically dominant members of the power structure, see merit in making political concessions to the Southeast in the interest of the national unity they routinely profess to cherish.

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  1. Peter Obi, yes, he earn my vote anytime, anywhere. In fact he is the reason i supported Atiku's candidacy in 2019 election. He understands the Nigeria economy, problems and diversity, and a good track record as a Governor.

    Kingsley Moghalu, NO. he doest have the capacity to run the affairs of Nigeria. While as a CBN deputy governor, he only play along with his master to the detriment of Nigerians. That shows why he moved out to stay in America. A patriotic citizen should be able to stay with his people and fight together for a common goal especially when the country is going through tough times and not to runaway because the country is doing badly.

    One good example is Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who stand up to Russian aggression and rallying his countrymen to put up a brave fight to defend Ukraine, that my friend is called 'patriotism' and that is the stuff leaders should be made of.

    1. Yes, I prefer Peter Obi too, but saying Moghalu doesn't have the capacity to rule Nigeria is uncharitable at best. Comparing him to Zelensky is also a false equivalence; Zelensky is the President of Ukraine while Kingsley Moghalu is yet a private citizen. And when you said he should have stayed and fought, what would that entail? Picking up arms and fighting the government or go the Sowore way? I don't see how that will help him or anybody. I prefer Obi but that doesn't make Moghalu unpatriotic or unqualified.

  2. Thanks Prof. for this apt and objective analysis of yours. This has always been my standpoint as to who and where the next Nigeria's President should come from come 2023 if truly we are one indivisible political entity. But, truth be said, I see those who are against the South Easterns producing the next president as gullible, hungry, and lack of histories over the years how this country of ours has been fighting to stay together.

  3. Thank you for this piece prof. I welcome your advocacy for an Igbo president as a way of healing the country. I'm particularly delighted by the endorsement of Moghalu, who is my favourite. But your article would've been more complete if you had touched on the role of the Igbo elite, intelligentsia and commentariat in preventing a full rapprochement with the North. The biggest obstacle to me is the refusal of the Igbo to see anything wrong in the January 1966 attempted coup, their refusal to admit that it was ethnically motivated and that the coupists were mostly Igbo who decapitated the North and the Southwest while completely sparing the Southeast. It is difficult to overstate how the North was hurt emotionally by the January 1966 events especially its sheer brutality. Sardauna was murdered in cold blood along with his wife in the month of Ramadan. Balewa was not only murdered but his body was mutilated. Ademulegun was dragged from his bed in the presence of his wife and murdered. Likewise Akintola. However, Zik was mysteriously on vacation abroad while Ironsi and Okpara were never targeted. But the SE still views Nzeogwu and other coupists favourably which is the main factor that is undermining trust. It's difficult for northerners to feel safe under an Igbo president if everyone in that part of the country still believes that the North's worst villain Nzeogwu was a conscientious patriot. I dare to say that we would have had an Igbo president long before now if the SE had strategically distanced itself from January 1966 at least as a matter of principle.

    1. Hello Mohammed Bello, the sadness and pain from your reply is valid and it is something a lot of young educated Igbo men like me understand. At the onset of our nationhood, the country was led by young men with more gusto than deep thought. Impetuous and mercurial these young men displayed the hot-headedness that is characteristic of most people their age. Both in the politics and in the military of the 60's the devastating result of their immaturity was evident. Now to the coup. That was the most senseless event that probably resulted in the end of Nigeria of 1960. How do you kill the leaders of every other tribe and expect them not to revenge? Would we have accepted that if it was the other way round. Nzeogwu claimed he wanted to fight corruption (does that ring a bell) yet the fight spared his own people( another bell?). Aguiyi-Ironsi now entered and refused to hand over power to the democratically elected government and rubbed insult to injury by passing the unification decree backed by leading Igbo intellectuals. Where am I going to? Those guys were acutely myopic and lacked strategic depth. There was no where Igbos sat down and decided to take over the country. No traditional leaders met. No Council of elders met. No Igbo socio-economic think thank or leaders of thought met and sanctioned the coup. It was NOT an Igbo coup.

      It was the ever present disease of political power namely greed and myopia that led to the very poor handling of that national tragedy by Ironsi. Just like now, when man get to power they never think of the effect of the laws they make should they leave power. That coup should have been clearly and loudly disowned by us. Reading through books chronicling that era I cant but shudder at the slow motion train wreck that played out.

      Do we now continue with all the hurt and inherited animosity? Are we not making the same mistake of shortsightedness those young men made? My grandfather was a police officer in the 50's and 60's before the war. He fought in the war, my father and his three brothers all fought. They all came back alive. My grandfather told me stories and before he died in 1997 at the age of 75 when I was only 10 he left more than 300 books in his library which I read like a hungry and curious teenager. He kept telling me that we made a lot of mistakes as Igbos but guess what when this man died, an emissary came from the Sultan. Reconciliation.

      I read about the pogroms, the bloodshed and riots of the north. By 15 years I decided to stop reading those books. We should heal. We must heal else our nation will always wobble. The strategic mistake we made was not handing back power to the Deputy Prime minister after the coupists killed the prime minister. Another strategic mistake was not condemning and distancing ourselves from the coup. I regret those things. No Igbo council will come up and apologize over the coup just like no northern council will apologize over the pogrom. Do we now hold on to the past?

  4. Very interesting article Prof. Peter Obi for me is the best choice and I hope the political elite would do right this time.

  5. Even by the majority of the comments here you can conclude that our country is a nation warehousing many nations with no true unity. Nigeria is just a cake that everybody wants to share while true allegiance is given to native homeland and brothers.
    It's this debilitating 'balancing act' that we have been grabbling with since independence.
    The truth is we actually need restructuring before any election. But that won't be because those who have officially established corruption in jumbo pay, contracts
    and oligarch-like conscription of National assets and other scams don't want it any other way.
    The detriment is the crime wave and poaching already manifesting. We heard on radio that those who attacked the Abuja-Kaduna train where asking passengers on the VIP
    coach if they were "dan majalisa!" (Politicians), the handwriting on the wall calls for immediate and urgent solution!
    Meanwhile if everyone is having their turn and no one care to save the poor masses, then let the music go on with the next tune; lets have an Igbo President and why not if it's Prof Moghalu.

  6. The current centralization of our pseudo federal structure was initiated by an Igbo man in person of Late Gen. Agunyi Ironsi in 1966, this was precipitated by greed,avarice and ethnic chauvinism. Everyone of us is now facing the reality of the consequences of the ill fated action, how do you now expect me to trust an IGBO PRESIDENCY

    1. Just to set the record straight, he was advocating for what he called "Unitary System" with Prefects (as Governors) and Provinces (as States). He didn't have the chance to implement it because while he was raising awareness for it across the Nation to reassure and pacify a distrust Nation, he was kidnapped in what is known as "revenge coup of 1966, by mutineers in Ibadan and killed along with his host. General Gowon implemented the first 12 states or so before creating more became viral.


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