By Dons Eze, PhD
In the recent past, some people had realized that for the largest British territorial creation in sub-Saharan Africa called Nigeria, to continue to hold together as one nation, no matter how fragile, it would be necessary to treat all of its component parts with justice and fairness.
Unlike what obtained at the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war when the victorious side ensured that the vanquished were further strangulated through the N20 payment to every Biafran pre-war bank depositor, and selling off the national assets at a time the former Biafrans were financially incapacitated, when the journey to the present political dispensation started in 1999, some people thought it wise to tilt the political pendulum in favour of a particular section of the country who felt badly treated in the course of the political transition to civil rule.
Thus, in the selection of candidates who would fly their flags for the presidential election in 1999, it was considered plausible that each of the two major political parties existing at that time, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the All Peoples Party (APP), should pick their candidates from the South West zone, so that head or tail, the zone would produce the President of Nigeria.
That was why the Presidential contest then, was between Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP, from the South West, who was picked instead of Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who initially was the preferred candidate of the party; and Chief Olu Falae, also from the South West, who edged out Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who originally had won the APP Presidential ticket. This followed a marriage of convinience between the All Peoples Party (APP), and the Alliance for Democracy (AD).
In the main Presidential election between these two illustrious sons of the South West, Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP, defeated Olu Falae of the APP, to become the President of Nigeria, and he ruled the country for eight years.
The background story is that there was a Presidential election in 1993, which Chief MKO Abiola from the South West was poised to win, but the result of that election was annulled by the then ruling military junta. This infuriuated many people and sparked off protests across the country, and the South West, in particular. To add salt to injury, the presumed winner of that election, MKO Abiola, was arrested and put in prison, where he later died.
Many Nigerians saw this as injustice done to the South West, whose son, Abiola, was not only denied the opportunity to rule Nigeria, but also killed in the process of fighting for the restoration of the mandate given to him by Nigerians. Zoning the country’s Presidency to the South West in 1999, even though this was not expressly stated, or picking their Presidential candidates by the two main political parties from the South West, was therefore aimed at remedying the injustice allegedly done to the region, or at compensating the zone for their 1993 loss.
This undoubtedly had helped to heal the wounds caused to the people of the South West zone, arising from that unfortunate incident of our history. It also gave the people of the South West zone a sense of belonging and made them believed that they were still part and parcel of the entity called Nigeria.
The South East geopolitical zone, no doubt, has suffered more injustice than the South West in 1993, and by extension, any other geopolitical zone in the country. Apart from the 1966 pogrom when over 30,000 Southeasters were gruesomely massacred and 50,000 others maimed or butchered in different parts of Nigeria, as well as their bitter experiences during the 30 months civil war, where over two million people were also sent to untimely graves, for more than six decades of Nigeria’s existence as an independent nation, the people of South East zone have continued to see themselves as strangers in their own country. They were not considered fit to hold any strategic position, or to call the shots at the commanding height of national government.
Specifically, while other geopolitical zones had occupied the Presidential seat several times and over and held top positions in the military and para-military organizations, the South East zone only managed to rule the country for six months, through Major General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi (January 1966 to July 1966). Since then, no other person from the zone had smelt that seat of power, even in an acting capacity.
In other words, out of over sixty years of Nigerian independence, the North West zone had ruled Nigeria for a total of 21 years: made up of four years and two months by Alhaji Shehu Shagari, 20 months by General Muhammadu Buhari, as military head of state; five years by General Sani Abacha; three years by Umaru Yar’Adua, and close to seven years now, by Muhammadu Buhari again.
The North Central zone had ruled the country for a total of 19 years through General Yakubu Gowon, who ruled Nigeria for nine years; General Ibrahim Babangida, who also ruled for nine years; and General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who ruled for one year.
The South West zone, through General Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Ernest Shonekan, had ruled the country for eleven years and three months. While General Obasanjo ruled for three years as Military Head of State, and eight years as civilian President, Ernest Shonekan presided over the affairs of the country for only three months.
The first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Tafawa Bakewa, came from the North East geopolitical zone, and he ruled the country for six years and two months. It was practically the same number of years that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who is from the South South zone, had ruled Nigeria.
From the foregoing analysis therefore, the South East zone, with only six months in the saddle, had ruled for far less than any other geopolitical zone in the country. That is why the people of the zone are feeling cheated, and complaining of being marginalized. It is not that the South East zone could not produce competent men and women who would give Nigeria quality leadership, but that the Nigerian people are yet to appreciate the need to support the South East zone to ascend to the pinnacle of political leadership of Nigeria.
Thus, for Nigeria to hold together in unity, there is the need for every member of the Nigerian community to appreciate each other’s feelings and aspirations, and to rend helping hand to each other, where necessary. That was what happened in 1999, when the Presidency was deliberately conceded to the South West zone, since it was felt that the zone was badly treated in 1993.
In that wise, in 2023, Nigerians should give the South East zone the same privilege which they gave the South West zone in 1999, when each of the two main political parties picked its Presidential candidate from that zone. This means that each of the existing political parties should zero on to the South East to pick their Presidential candidates. This would help to assuage the feeling of ill-treatment and marginalization currently being nursed by the people of the South East zone.
Just as the South West zone did not settle for one single Presidential candidate in 1999, any Southeaster who feels that he or she is qualified to contest for the Presidency should feel free to seek the endorsement of his or her own political party, and let Nigerians decide who finally wears the cap through their votes. What is paramount is for people to realize that in the interest of justice and fairness, and for Nigerians to live together in unity and peace, the 2023 Presidency should be conceded to the South East zone, as it was done for the South West zone in 1999.