By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
It was not too long ago just a whispering campaign by some Igbo Buharists that the quickest way to achieve the dream of enthroning a Nigerian president from the Southeast was to ensure President Muhammadu Buhari returns for a second term.
It was a campaign the likes of Osita Okechukwu, the director-general of the Voice of Nigeria; VON sought to mobilise fellow Igbo to support a man that the gross majority of his people had over time rejected in successive elections.
But now what was once said in a whisper seems to have become a near-official singsong of the emerging 2019 campaign for the president. An indication of the adoption of that strategy was given last Tuesday when the Ebonyi chapter of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC visited Mr. Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF in his office in Abuja. “Preach it to the other south-east states that the shortest way to Igbo presidency is to support Buhari in 2019,” Mustapha told the visiting delegation. Even before then, Rotimi Amaechi who steered Buhari’s campaign in 2015 and who has again been appointed to manage the 2019 campaign provoked Igbo consciousness with his claim that Ndigbo should seek forgiveness for not voting Buhari in 2015. Speaking at a lecture at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka last month, while drumming the need for Ndigbo to vote Buhari in 2019, so that they can aspire to the presidency after that, Amaechi had said:“You (Igbo) did not vote for Buhari, true or false? You voted for PDP and what did they do for you? PDP abandoned the Enugu-Onitsha expressway since 1999, but Buhari is working on it, true or false? “Buhari is working on the second Niger Bridge; he is working on the Otuocha-Ibaji-Abuja road, he is working on the Abakaliki-Onueke road, he is working on the Oji-Achi-Naku road in Enugu state, he is also working on Ozalla-Akpugo-Amagunze road. He is working on the Aba-Ikot Ekpene road. “Under Buhari, all major cities of the south-East are captured in the existing railway project. Name one government that has done up to this within two years. Our problem is that we are just emotional. “Igbo should go for confession, seek forgiveness and move into a national party, and look for ways to fight from inside.” The calculation of the Buharists is that after spending the maximum two terms in office, that the ruling APC would zone the presidency to the Southeast. Okechukwu echoed that sentiment yesterday in a statement he issued to echo the advice given by Mustapha to the Ebonyi APC delegation. “I am glad that my boss, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Barrister Boss Mustapha has added his voice with his candid advice to Ndigbo. We have serially shouted on top of our voices, reminding Ndigbo of the imperative of voting for Buhari, so as to harvest the golden opportunity provided by the presidential zoning convention between Northern and Southern geopolitical zones in 2023.” “Buhari is the only president in the last 19 years who deemed it fit to construct the 2nd Niger Bridge, to revamp dilapidated South East road infrastructure and is the only Northerner bound by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to exit in 2023. This is the shortest route, as any other Northerner is 2027” Okechukwu said. Going further Okechukwu asked Ndigbo, “shall we continue sulking marginalisation, and lamentation; instead of grabbing the opportunity providence has provided us with both hands? Am pretty sure that our South West and South South brothers and sisters in APC will in the spirit of equity and natural justice support us if we support Buhari.” Okechukwu’s campaign is now resonating among the top echelons of the Igbo in the APC. Mr. Uche Nwosu, the Chief of Staff to Governor leading APC governorship aspirant in Imo State, joined the singsong last Tuesday when he said that electing Buhari to power in 2019 will bring the Igbo closer to the presidency. Speaking to reporters in Owerri on how the nomination of an Igbo person as the running mate by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP could affect the APC in the Southeast, Nwosu was quick to advice his people not to be taken in by the PDP’s teaser. “Vice Presidential slot to South East zone in any party including the PDP is a complete waste because what a president can achieve in one day, a vice president cannot achieve in eight years.” He further stated: “Aside from the Igbo presidency which Buhari’s second term will secure for the Igbo, he has also done very well for the Southeast. “With Buhari’s declaration for a second term, the Igbo will only have to wait for four years before producing the next president. So, there is need for every Igbo man irrespective of political party affiliation to support Buhari’s re-election bid. Other Igbo political leaders notably Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, Senator Ken Nnamani have lately been in the frontline of the campaign for Buhari for a second term. Kalu, a former governor of Abia State even before Buhari’s formal declaration for a second term had initiated the campaign for Buhari’s election with his appointment as Chairman, Advisory Board for the National Movement for Re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari. Kalu recently caused a stir with his tour through the Southwest to sell Buhari which caused a near standoff with Governor Ayo Fayose. A statement issued by Fayose warding off Kalu from the state last week read in part: “it is an insult on the collective sensibilities of Ekiti people, whose only benefit from the government of President Buhari is hardship occasioned by the government’s cluelessness for anyone to hide under advocacy for peace to canvass support for the President.” However, the argument of Buhari as the fastest route to the election of an Igbo as president is also being debunked by other assumptions. Despite the assertions of infrastructural developments in the Southeast region being undertaken by the present administration, critics cite the poor representation of the region in key agencies of the Federal Government. Reference is also made as to what the region would make of the likely interest of the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in the 2023 contest. Tinubu had himself confessed last year that he would vie for the presidency if Buhari did not contest. The general thinking in the APC now is that Tinubu who has become a passionate supporter of Buhari’s second term is working to position himself as the leading contender after Buhari’s probable second term in 2023. The Igbo would also be put to task on why they have abandoned their own that have indicated interest in the 2019 contest. In the APC, the United States-based oil magnate, Dr. SKC Ogbonnia who was an early supporter of the Buhari 2015 candidacy became the earliest APC member to challenge Buhari for the party’s 2019 ticket last November. Besides, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Dr. Kingsley Moghalu has also joined the contest in his response to Buhari’s declaration affirmed that the incumbent does not deserve to be re-elected. “In contrast with that record of increasing poverty and insecurity in our country, I offer my vision of something new, bold and different. I offer a new kind of competent, inclusive and effective leadership that will truly usher Nigeria into the 21st century and build a better future for our children and youth,” he said in a statement following Buhari’s declaration last Monday. The apex Igbo socio-cultural body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has also rebuffed Amaechi’s demand for apology for turning Buhari away in 2015. “Ndigbo do not owe anybody any apology whatsoever including the President. Is it for exercising our franchise or for not being Fulani,” Ohanaeze spokesman, Prince Barr Uche Achi-Okpaga, said in a statement.