South-East, South-South and Leadership in Nigeria

by Anthony A. Kila

A recent private conversation I had just before Christmas with an informed and well-known Nigerian of Igbo origin left me stunned and challenged as an individual and as a Nigerian citizen. It also made feel me sad and embarrassed. Our dialogue centred on the present and the future of Nigeria and as expected, we agreed and disagreed on many issues but the surprise came when my interlocutor, in what can be defined as quite an articulate and certainly undramatic manner, informed me that there is no way an Igbo person or somebody from the South-South will be allowed to be president of the present day Nigeria. Only the Hausa-Fulani and the Yoruba can rule Nigeria for now, he told me.

As an individual that grew up discovering Chinua Achebe and Cyprian Ekwensi before Wole Soyinka; Namdi Azikwe and Emeka Ojuwku before Awolowo and Aminu Kano, it is hard for me to believe or accept that the whole of the South-East, and the South-South cannot come up with a person, just one! that is acceptable to them and to the rest of Nigeria as president. As a citizen I feel dismayed and embarrassed by the idea that I come from a country where a substantial part of its constituents are considered and indeed consider themselves unfit to rule.

I felt the need to further investigate this apparent conventio ad excludendum towards potential leaders from the South-East, and the South-South of Nigeria.

My first port of call was the North. I contacted someone that hails from the northern part of Nigeria and who has been very at home with the rulers and quite familiar with the affairs and intrigues of power in Nigeria since the last 30 years. In his ever pleasant manner he simply informed me that he does not understand why I am bothering myself. To the best of his knowledge, the South-East, and the South-South were not really interested in producing a president. He elicited attitudes, episodes and personalities that allowed him infer that most of the elites and representatives of South-East, and the South-South are only interested in ministerial positions, oil blocks, juicy contracts and nominations as ambassadors or directors of government agencies. I reminded him that there was a time, not so long ago, when most Nigerians were talking about zoning the presidency to the South-East, and the South-South and he, mimicking me, reminded me that no so long ago, while people like myself were bombarding people like him with letters and appeal for the South-East and the South-South, the leaders of this group were busy supporting the third term agenda.

One of the advantages of festive periods is that it gives you a valid excuse to (re)contact just anybody, even if you have not spoken to them for a long time or have not departed frequentations on the best of terms. I called on a former governor and a respected leader from the South-East. Among many other things, His Excellency, as we still call him, told me not mind all those governors and their likes, the highest position they wanted was VP and they wanted it for themselves not for their people he warned me. It is shame he added but then concluded that we might still be in for surprises.

I did not feel any better but I tried to ease my pain with the thought of my next host. A very colourful, charismatic and dynamic Yoruba leader, who has tasted the comfort of power and the frustrations of opposition; he has never ceased being involved in Nigerian politics one way other since the fifties. He was very happy to see me and glad that I was asking questions, the man listened to me with undivided attention and I even thought he was sympathising if not empathising with me. I however soon realised he wasn’t thising anything with me when he started spraying me with his own list of questions. He wanted to know who were the leaders of the South-East, and the South-South? Who is their candidate? What exactly do they want, and when and for how much they have articulated their demands. I gave my answers, but without listening to me he simply reminded me of how the Yoruba people led the June 12 battle that let to the election of Obasanjo. He asked me if the South-East, and the South-South had done much or were prepared to do the same? He jokingly asked me if my friends expected others to fight for power and hand it to them in a plate?

The everyday average Nigerians I know were not spared from my grilling on the South-East, South-South and the Nigerian leadership issue. Most agreed that a South-East or South-South leadership was out of the question for Nigeria. Save for some few that impishly regurgitated some common places such as the prominent role of the people of South-East and the South-South in the forgery and sales of goods and drugs or their tendency to take over anywhere they go in Nigeria, most people could not and did not logically say they were against a president from the South-East or the South-South. Their main point were that the powers that be, will not allow it and more importantly the people of the South-East and the South-South were not actively and organically seeking to produce a president.

This repulsive sense of helplessness that makes Nigerians believe and act as if the powers that be are made up of some kind of invincible and diabolical individuals is not new to me; I have come across it in many quarters and I still find it nauseating. It is really pitiful that after the lessons and sacrifices offered by people like Beko Kuti, Wole Soyinka Frank Kokori (and even Obasanjo and Ribadu in their own ways) , Nigerians still continue to believe in the and omnipotence of some people.

The (now ex) presidential aspirants from the South-East and the South-South, who should be leading the battle for national leadership have not helped matters. Sooner or later we will get to know the full and true details of why and how they abandoned their aspirations to vie for president in 2007. Some of the essential elements or leadership include character, commitment and foresight. For now, one cannot but conclude that whether these men were convinced, cajoled or railroaded into quitting the stage, their stature and capability as leaders are dented. The ease and rapidity with which they abandoned the contest of leadership speaks tons about their passion and their stamina to rule. The nonchalance with which they spent and then forsook money and other resources for their ephemeral commitment to national leadership does not speak well of their respect for money and resources; it does not give encouraging indication to the source of the dissipated funds and it does not give heartening indication of how they plan to or might want to recoup such funds.

As gloomy as the present scenario might appear, things are in reality not so bad, the South-East and the South-South still have more than a slim chance of producing the next President of Nigeria. They have the right and the responsibility to produce a credible candidate, support and sustain him till April 2007. They have to do it now because if they miss this chance to at least make a bold statement there might be no second chance as good as this.

Paradoxically, it is this Obasanjo led PDP (or is it just Obasanjo) that in one single stroke is consciously or unconsciously providing the South-East and the South-South with three fundamental building blocks for a collective leadership battle: a common political bond, a challenge and hope. The selection of two complete outsiders who had till only recently showed no interest in become national leaders and the complete exclusion of all the South-East

and the South-South leaders from the race, notwithstanding their own loudly expressed desire and commitment to rule and the general clamour for a shift of power to their region is enough ground to pull the people and leaders of the South-East and the South-South together. They have been challenged to react and to do so as a team. The exclusion, defeat and defection of other aspiring candidates perceived as intimidating and invincible such a Babangida shows that there is hope for any project and person that can dare in Nigeria. Most other political parties have followed suit; rather than go against the tide, like the PDP other parties such as the AC and the ANPP have consciously or unconsciously intensified the common political bond for the South-East and the South-South people. They have dared them again to react, to prove they consider themselves bigger than the role of second fiddle.

It is now time for the leaders and people of the South-East and the South-South to react. They must come together, find a common voice, pick up the challenge and react. They need to prove to the world that they can produce a leader and that they are not content to just perpetually abet or deputise for others. It is time for them to call their PhDs, Chiefs and Princes, to advise, convince or even instruct them to stop offering the support of their various Youth Movements to others. They need to identify their own candidate and support him. They need to take their collective destiny into their own hands. Never mind all the talk, there is enough human and financial resources in the hands of the people and leaders of the South-East and the South-South to make their own candidate acceptable to majority of Nigerians. All they need do is find a good one and support him.

I of course already have a candidate the leaders and people of the South-East and the South-South can champion. His name is Pat Utomi. He is a registered presidential candidate; he is competent and has clear idea of how to lead Nigeria. He hails from the Igbo speaking area of the South-South so he is the one presidential candidate that in a single body personifies the South-East and the South-South. All they need do is to make it known that he is their candidate, rally round and support for him and let Nigeria and the world know that he is the only candidate they will accept.

The 2007 presidential election is an opportunity and a test bed; if the leaders and people of South-East and the South-South can come together and present a common front to ask and fight for a leading role in the coming 2007 elections, the whole issue of marginalisation might come to an end; everybody will began to understand that there is no second class nation in Nigeria. They would have done themselves and the whole of Nigeria a big favour. They don’t need to invent anything new, the 1999 model is there to emulate and fine-tune to fit the purposes of the battle at hand in 2007. By the way, it is worth noticing that that the Yoruba are not really presenting any candidate in 2007.

If however 2007 goes by, and the leaders and people of South-East and the South-South do not rise up to this challenge, then this generation will have missed a chance they might never gain again. Other Nigerian nations will conclude that they can walk over some nations. Rotation of power does not mean your place will wait for you; it is more like an English queue, once you let it go you will have to start again. This is the best time for the South-East and the South-South to produce or at least seriously attempt to produce a leader. Timing is critical in politics; people should not be deceived by the live to fight another syndrome because a chance lost is hardly ever regained in the tussle for power, reasons and excuses, no matter how valid tend to be useful to only scholars and posterity.

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yahaya ndu June 5, 2008 - 7:35 am

Thanks as ever for your patriotic consistency.

Robert Osakwe January 12, 2007 - 3:53 am

Sometimes I dont understand Nigerians.

This article is a very clear and honest article. Dr Kila has brilliantly expressed his opinions and invited People to act. Most of the people commenting are just raving about different things. He says support Utomi, the man is from the south and he is not a tribalist he is even competent. Why cant people just say whether they agree or not!

Henry Osimota January 11, 2007 - 5:03 pm

First of all I want to make this important point: The country known as "Nigeria" is a creation of the british colonial goverment. The name "Nigeria" was given by the girlfriend of Lord Lugard who was the governor general of the british colonial goverment.

We the citizens of this country known as "Nigeria" today had nothing to do with it's creation. We were just lumped together (different ethnic groups) to form one country just for the economic benefit for the exploitation of the british colonial goverment. It's like taking Denmark, France, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Finland and lumping them all up to form one country. That will never work because each country has it's own distinct culture and customs with different languages. Unfortunately this is what happened to Nigeria and other african countries and that is why there has been much ethnic conflicts.

The british left power in the hands of the northerners and that is why today they have claimed the presidency as their birth right. Despite the northerners being one of the most backward ethnic groups in Nigeria they have always claimed a right to the presidency and leaving the vice presidency to the southerners. The southerners in turn have accepted this "second best" position as their ultimate fate. I don't want to sound tribalistic but this is the gospel truth.

Nigeria won't be what it is today without mainly the Yorubas and the Igbos who have proven their intellectual capabilities. Please note that I am neither Yoruba nor Igbo. The northerners know this and that was why they fought endlessly to make sure that the biafran war didn't succeed. After the war they begged the Igbos to return to the north because the economy there had collapsed because the Igbos were absent.

The main reason why the southerners have failed to produce a President is because we aren't united. The northerners (mostly the Hausas) have always had a united front – especially united in the Hausa language. The southerners always find a way to differenciate among themselves – Igbos, Ibibos, Ijaws and so on. They are more likely to find something that will divide them than unite them.

prince kennedy Iyoha January 3, 2007 - 5:26 pm

Mr Awka Kene

You most realize that it is not only the Ibos, Yorubas and the Hausas, that inhabit this entity called Nigeria. I am convinced that like the Ibos, every other ethnic group in Nigeria has the ability and known how to build a prosperous economy. The Ibo tribe is good in commerce, like the Yorubas and the Hausas too. Nigeria as a country is blessed with special potentials, and can prove to be a force to be reckon if we have a good leader.

The Ibos have been lucky to produce two heads of Nigeria government, and three vice presidents, the Hausas has also produced two head of governments, while the Fulanis, the kanuries, the middle belt and the Yorubas have produced two heads of governments. Besides these mentioned groups, we have the Edos, the Ibibio, and people from the delta region, and all others that formed part and parcel of this great Nation have not had the opportunity to produce a president. I am of the opinion that we should be looking for someone capable of redirecting this country to greatness rather than fighting for persons of our tribe to rule the country.

If I am not mistaking, any leader that do not have the interest of the country at heart, will only be interested in what he can gain from the government rather that improving the wellbeing of the masses. The north has produced many leaders, but the socio economic situation of the south is far better than that of the north. So when we are agitating for someone from our local constituency to rule the country, we most first see a good leader before we see tribalism

Awka Kene January 3, 2007 - 4:23 am

As an Igbo man it is obvious that we are being marginalised in our own country. Let us not bring in the issue of south south.The other parts of the country- the yorubas and the Hausas for whatever reason think they control Nigeria and therefore will ensure that an Igboman does not rule Nigeria. That is their conspiracy.

But then we the Igbos do not need the presidency. We are endowed with a special potentiality that makes the presidency quite unnecessary for us now. What we need is to come together and build our internal economy and forget about the issue of presidency for now.

What actually are we fighing for? How much are we struggling with these people? Do you know that TOYOTA company Makes more money in a year than all the money Nigeria as country makes from sale of oil.If you who are reading this doubts me just go to the internet or whatever information source available to you and check what the company makes in year.

If a company of about 50,000 employees could organise themselves and make more money that the whole of our country, is it not a shame for us the Igbo nation to be struggling with these people?

We the Igbo nation has the potentiality to make more than 10 times what the whole country is getting in year if we can come together and plan ahead. We have people who can make things happen, we are endowed with special abilities to make things happen when we decide. Since they do not want us why not we come together and carve out our own destiny.

When this is done, when the Yorubas and the Hausas and the Niger deltans find out that we the Igbo nation are richer than them combined more than ten time then they will come kneeling and beggging us to rule them.This was what the Japanese did after world war two. And we have the ability to do it. I have stayed for some time in this powerful country and have found that these people, the Japanese are not better than an average igboman in term of intelligence and determination which is basis of their economic properity.

The igbo race is known for their struggling spirit, their determination to succeed but the problem we have now is that there is no coherence and organisation among the Igbo populace in the pursuit of a common goal as a people marginalised by conspiracy. When we become aware economically of our potentials the Nigerian people will have themselves to blame.

chike January 2, 2007 - 2:26 pm

This is a very good article. I will quote the things you wrote here to many nigerians. I however think we should go beyond ethnical politics

Anonymous January 2, 2007 - 2:09 pm

The south-south and south-east has many excellent and credible sons and daughters whose leadership Nigeria will benefit from. Unfortunately the problem with these zones particularly with the south-east is trust. The opinion expressed by those you spoke with was right on the money. It may not be publicly acknowledged but there is wide distrust for the south-east and the reason is not far-fetched. Many Igbos still go around with the civil war mentality. The Igbo communities especially are seen to do things to the exclusion of other communities and without regard to the right of others . Many are scared of giving them real power. No doubt the zones have suffered a lot within the context of Nigeria however such is not enough to hand the presidency over to them. These zones have to build trust with all section of the Nigerian community and avoid tendency that can be seen as wanting to dominate. Also the south-south and south-east have often ignored the south west in their political equation. But that is a monumental mistake. It is not enough to reach out to the north and expect the north will just hand over to them. The north does not trust these zones plain and simple. The political equation in Nigeria is clear. If the south-south and south-east want to rule in Nigeria, they must obtain the full trust of the south-west and some trust of the north. I know that many commentator will respond to this issue with insults. Well that is OK and not unexpected. Some will even think that breaking away from Nigeria is the best option for them. That I do not know about. But what I know is that having an independent state is not the issue with the lack of development in Africa.


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