• Umahi far ahead, can’t withdraw from race – Support group
Efforts by the South-East to produce the next president may hit the rock as some of the aspirants from the region have vowed not to step down for one another.
This is as the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, warned that any presidential aspirant from the South-East who refused to step down and support a common candidate from the region would fail.
Some of contenders for the presidency from the South-East are Anyim Pius Anyim and Dave Umahi (Ebonyi State), Peter Obi and Kingsley Muoghalu (Anambra State), Orji Uzor Kalu and Sam Ohuabunwa (Abia State), Rochas Okorocha (Imo State), Chris Baywood of Baywood Foundation (Enugu) and others expected to make their intention known in the coming days.
While Kalu, Umahi and Okorocha are members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, the likes of Anyim, Ohuabunwa and Obi are in the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party.
It is not clear on which platform Muoghalu and Baywood will contest.
Recall that the South-East has since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999 been clamouring for a president of Igbo extraction.
Since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, only the South-East region has yet to produce the President from the southern part of the country.
While a former military head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, from the South-West led Nigeria as a democratically-elected President from 1999 to 2007, Umaru Yar’Adua from North-West took over the mantle of leadership from 2007 to 2010 when he passed on.
The then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan from the South-South completed Yar’ Adua’s tenure and spent another term before he handed over to the incumbent President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) from the North-West in 2015.
With only five states and not at a vantage position in terms of voting strength, the South-East presidential aspirants are up against formidable presidential aspirants like the former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Belo in the APC.
Those angling for the ticket of the PDP are a former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, amongst others.
However, the South-East has expressed determination to clinch the presidential position in 2023 with most of the aspirants in the APC.
My aspiration can’t be quenched, says Ohuabunwa
But one of the aspirants, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, described his presidential ambition as motivational and therefore had no plans to quit no matter the situation.
Ohuabunwa told Saturday Punch that he could only accept to withdraw from the race if “the powers that motivated him decide otherwise.”
He was responding to a question on whether he would be willing to step down if asked to do so in order to reduce the number of aspirants and brighten the chances of the South-East having a shot at the presidency.
“I am not willing and not considering stepping down. I am not desperate, and that aspiration cannot be quenched,” he further said.
Ohuabunwa specifically said his presidential aspiration did not start in one day but inspirational, adding, “it is not something to jettison like that.”
The PDP presidential hopeful, whose mantra is, ‘The change that Nigeria needs’, said, “the country needs the best to assuage the decadence in society.”
On whether he will be comfortable if some aspirants withdraw from the race to support him, Ohuabunwa said, “I will be happy over the friendship and comradeship if they want the redemption of the country. Anybody that supports us will be accommodated.”
Similarly, one of the presidential aspirants from the region, who does not want his name mentioned, said it was “impracticable” for any aspirant to step down from the race, adding that Ohanaeze Ndigbo led by Prof. George Obiozor had not said anyone should withdraw from the race.
Also, one of the support groups for Governor David Umahi’s presidential aspiration, Akubaraoha Youth Assembly, said with the achievements of the governor, it would be wrong for anyone to ask him to step down for any person.
The National President of the group, Mark Onu, told one of our correspondents that Umahi had gone far in the race and would not think about withdrawing at any stage, maintaining that the governor possessed the qualities to lead the country.
He said, “There is no need for Governor Umahi to step down for anyone. He is better than other aspirants considering his achievement as the governor of Ebonyi State.
“Come to Ebonyi State and see how he has developed the place. He has gone far in the race and the question of withdrawing for anybody should not come up because he is far ahead in terms of quality.”
Similarly, one of the aspirants maintained that it was not possible for Ohanaeze Ndigbo to say only one candidate would be supported to achieve a Nigerian president from Igbo extraction.
The presidential hopeful said, “You have to understand that it is not George Obiozor-led Ohanaeze that said so (that one candidate would be supported for a president from South-East to emerge). Obiozor-led Ohanaeze is the authentic Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
“So, if anybody wakes up by the side and says this or that, Obiozor can’t say he will bring (support) one candidate; it is not possible because I have heard him handle such issues. It is not possible; how would you bring one candidate? Are you in control of the political parties?
“I watch Obiozor on a television programme, and when they asked him this thing, he said everybody would emerge from their political parties. There is no way Obiozor will say only one candidate would be recognised because it doesn’t work and it is not practicable.”
One of the aspirants from the region, Prof Kingsley Muoghalu, however, declined to comment on the issue when he was asked if he would step down for any person for the South-East to forge a common front. He said, “Sorry, I cannot comment” in a reply sent to Saturday Punch through Whatsapp.
However, efforts to get the leadership of the Orji Uzor Kalu (OUK) Movement, a support group for former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, were not successful.
Ohanaeze vows to present one aspirant in major parties
Earlier, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said it had set up a committee to discuss with all presidential aspirants from the region to ensure it presents one person to contest in all the major political parties.
According to Ohanaeze’s spokesman, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, the committee named Action Committee is headed by the group’s President General and Secretary General, Ambassadors George Obiozor and Okey Emuchay respectively.
He cautioned that any other aspirant that failed to support the person and continued to contest would not succeed.
Although Ogbonnia said Ohanaeze was still discussing with all aspirants as it had no favourite candidate among the presidential aspirants that had already declared their ambition, he noted that anybody that wanted to be the president of Nigeria must be a person with high intellect, courage and audacity.
“We have what we call political Action Committee of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Part of the work the Committee is doing is to find a way to meet other ethnic groups in Nigeria, talk to them, explain to them and convince them why they should support the Igbo for the president of Nigeria.
“Another part of the work which we intend to embark on is to sensitise our people to come out and participate actively in both registration of voters and get their permanent voter cards. But more importantly, by the time they come out because it would have been too early for Ohanaeze to begin the process of elimination when people have not come out; but by the time they come out, we will look at them, because there is hardly any Igbo of note we do not know.
“Then we’ll be able to prevail on some candidates to step down for one candidate that will be accepted not only in South-East but across the country – somebody with national appeal, somebody with the capacity expected for the assignment, somebody with a track record of accomplishment, somebody who has the audacity and more importantly the vision for Nigeria.”
Asked what Ohanaeze would do in situations where some aspirants refuse to step down, he said such an issue was expected to happen but warned that the aspirants involved would lose.
He said, “Such issue will always come up but the moment the Ohanaeze points to a direction and before we point to a direction, consultations with diverse groups must have been done. By the time we form a direction, the greater majority will be following the direction of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, then whoever is contesting is on his own and will lose.
“Then the other ethnic groups will know by the time we point to a direction – Afenifere will know where we are going, South-South will know where we are going, Middle Belt will know where we are going, the North will know where we are going. So, no person or region will like to stand with somebody who is rejected by his people.
“If the person insists on contesting, ultimately, the person will still fail. By the time we clean and eliminate somebody and the person begins to contest, then it means the person lacks the sportsmanship required in politics.”