Below are excerpts from an interview granted The Guardian newspaper correspondent, JOHN AKUBO, by Senator Alex Usman Kadiri, a chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC), who represented Kogi East in the Senate from 1999 to 2003. Kadiri examines the various challenges and options before an Igbo presidency.
DO you believe in the current agitation for Igbo presidency?
My belief is that power cannot remain in the North forever. Power has resided in the North for too long. Nobody gives you power. You go in search of it and fight for it, just like late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola did. Abiola had a long-term plan for the presidency. People did not understand him. He established Concord newspaper, but people from different parts of the country were in charge. He formed the Abiola Babes football club, and was basically funding Nigeria Football Association (NFA). In his acts of philanthropy, he was giving people money to establish their own businesses. He patronised most people in the country.
So when it was time for him to ask for the presidency, his job was easy. He challenged Nigerians by picking another Muslim from Borno, Babagana Kingibe. People voted for him.
But now, whether the presidency goes to Igbo, in the South East or the Ijaw or Bini in the South-South, only God knows.
I was surprised that a man like Okwesilieze Nwodo, former chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), was saying that if they don’t give the Igbo people the presidency, he would ask Igbo to go and join Nnamdi Kanu in the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). That is almost a treasonable statement.
In an TV interview, the late Ismaila Isa Funtua said Igbo man who wants to be the president of Nigeria must come out and work for it.
No Igbo man is going to sit in Umuahia, Enugu or Awka and Nigerians would say, it’s your turn. When will it be the turn of the Bini or any other tribe?
The Igbo man believes that the Hausa-Fulani have held this position for too long. The Yoruba, too, have used it, but the Igbo man is the greatest enemy of himself.
Why do you think so?
They are very disorganised. Former vice president, Atiku Abubakar picked former governor of Anambra State as Peter Obi, as his running mate at the last presidential election. Obi could not harvest votes from Igbo land to help Atiku win the presidency. The complaints about him in the South East were vociferous, maybe because they were promised that they would be the next president of Nigeria.
When Ndigbo in the North visited President Ibrahim Babangida, he said the Igbo were in every nook and cranny of Nigeria and they should use their presence in every village to network for votes.
What Abiola used his own personal wealth to do, the Igbo, who are scattered all over Nigeria, can also do if they really mean well for themselves.
What could be responsible for this?
I don’t know. My wife is Igbo; so I have nothing against Igbo people. The fact is, they don’t mean well for themselves. Their republican, unrealistic approach to issues is not helping them. And, in a complex country like Nigeria, you need to network.
Like Funtua said, a party will field the candidate it believes will win votes from Sokoto, Borno, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Ogun, and so forth. How many Igbo politicians have that kind of spread right now? They only run back into their enclave, chanting that the 2023 presidency is for the Igbo man. I can’t see them with any strength in APC or PDP. Meanwhile, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has been boxed into Anambra.
Senator Rochas Okorocha once said that the leadership of the Igbo had fallen on his shoulder and that of fellow senator, Orji Uzor Kalu. Which of them do you can you bet on to pick votes across Nigeria?
It is one thing to be known as an individual in politics, it is another thing to be liked by people in politics. Okorocha for example, has schools here and there but if you meet some Igbo people, they will tell you he cannot represent Ndigbo. Look at Orji Kalu, he has been to prison, but not for political reasons.
Why can’t we have somebody who does not have a skeleton in his cupboard from the South East? Former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Professor Chukwuma Soludo is a nice man, but where is his political base? He is a technocrat, an economist, not a politician.
No Igbo man – Kalu, Okorocha, Arthur Eze, or Ifeanyi Uba – who wants to be president of Nigeria, can sell themselves in the states where they reside. They can’t. Are Imo people clapping for Roachas or are Abia people clapping for Kalu or are Anambra people clapping for Ifeanyi Uba today?
There are a lot of problems. They have to go back home to sort themselves out first. The ones that have good names and credibility outside have no political tripod on which to stand. Who is this Igbo man that will become president and under which political party?
Where does this leave the Igbo man in the 2023 presidential polls?
I can’t see a way through. There is no serious Igbo man in APC, only minister of labour and productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige. He is has experience. He has been a governor, a senator and two time minister. But has he got the backing at home? Maybe somebody may drop from America or from Europe or India, we don’t know yet.
Can you say the same about the 2019 presidential candidate for Young Progressive Party (YPP), Kingsley Muoghalu?
His case is almost like that of Soludo.
What is your advice to Igbo politicians aiming for the presidency?
They need to widen the scope of their political participation. This mentality of ‘I’m richer than you’ is killing them and has led to many sections of this country despising them.
When the late Alex Ekwueme was the vice president, nobody could point accusing fingers at him. Why can’t somebody like that come out of the South East? This is the issue.
Any Igbo person aspiring to be president, he must spread out, make friends, not just money, from other places.
The Igbo man wanting to be president must belong to a party that is likely to win an election. No party will put up a candidate that it feels may not win any election. It’s as simple as that. I wish a woman like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala were a politician; at least, Nigerians now know who she is. She may not have the funds to play the type of politics we play in Nigeria now.
I worry about them. No human being, dead or alive, can take the presidency of Nigeria and give it to the Igbo man. The Igbo man must find space in the existing parties or he can form his own and attract membership to be able to campaign and win the election.