OPINION; Dangling Tactics of Southeast Presidential Aspirants,

At a time when many Nigerians had started asking questions about the near absence of presidential aspirants from the Southeast geopolitical zone, it is as if the sun has risen for contenders.

In a space of one month, faces have emerged to march the names making the rounds about their possible participation in the 2023 Presidential contest.
The Southeast situation has thrown up anew the question of whether the Presidency is meant for former or serving state governors, especially given what played out in 2007, when the governors insisted that one of them should succeed then President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Already, some shadow political pugilism has begun in three out of the five Southeast states. The states are, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo. From Imo State, former governor Rochas Anayo Okorocha and Sam Ohuabunwa have adopted different styles to announce their ambition to be President of Nigeria.
In Enugu, frontline philanthropist and President of Baywood Foundation, Emperor Chris Baywood-Ibe, has been joined by former governor Sullivan Chime, to rub shoulder for the APC Presidential ticket. But, while the competition for participation in the 2023 Presidential contest could be said to be mild in Enugu and the Imo States, the situation in Ebonyi is of an intriguing and interesting hue.

Ebonyi: Umahi Lobs Home Base Beyond Anyim
Exactly one year after he roiled the national political atmosphere with his sudden change of political party, Governor David Nweze Umahi of Ebonyi State has put a serious foot forward to underscore the growing optimism in the region that the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) would select its Presidential standard-bearer from the South.

Although Umahi is yet to publicly declare his preparedness to vie for the nation’s top job, the decision by Ebonyi State council of elders to endorse that aspiration left unmistakable signals that the state chief executive is raring to go.

The endorsement, which took place last Tuesday in Abakaliki, underscored the simmering political unease in the state following concerns that two citizens of the state in the race could cause tensions. During the recent national convention of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, announced his intention to contest the party’s Presidential ticket whether or not the position is ultimately zoned to the South. 

It is as if history was to repeat itself, because 13 years ago when PDP indicated its desire to zone its national chairmanship to Southeast, Anyim and the then governor of the state, Dr. Sam Ominyi Egwu, went into the trenches. However, it could be in a bid to avert a repeat of such inhouse squabbling that Governor Umahi set forth at dawn to pitch his tent anew in the governing APC.  

At the time of his crossing over to APC, Umahi was said to have been favoured by two considerations. The governor’s infrastructure programme in Ebonyi State and the idea in certain APC quarters that a younger person from the state should step up to inherit the political magnanimity of Dr. Ogbonnia Onu, who had to subsume the Presidential ticket of defunct All Peoples Party (APP) to Alliance for Democracy (AD) and pave way for Chief Olu Falae in accordance with the micro-zoning of the Presidency to Southwest.

With age on his side, as well as being an incumbent governor with shining credentials, Umahi’s entry into APC reverberated across the country, especially given that he is serving a second term as Chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum.
Although the governor denied that there was prior discussion about his Presidential ambition with APC national leaders, sources disclosed that Umahi and the outgoing Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, are being considered a joint ticket with either Kebbi or Borno state governors, namely Senator Atiku Bagudu or Prof. Umara Zulum, respectively.

Last Tuesday, when Ebonyi State Elders led by Engineer Ben Okah, endorsed Governor Umahi for the Presidential contest, it

was seen from two broad perspectives. One, it was a bold statement to highlight the governor’s acceptance by Ebonyi people and leave the impression that Anyim has no such props.

Chairman of the State Council of Elders, Okah, highlighted those factors when he addressed journalists in Abakaliki. While extolling Umahi’s sterling infrastructure development programme in the state, Okah observed that the state had in Umahi, a good product to be sent to the Presidency.
The Council of Elders’ chairman remarked that for fairness and justice in Nigeria’s leadership, “the Igbo Presidency project, come 2023, (has become) imperative.”

Okah assured that if given the opportunity, Governor Umahi would not only transform the country socio-economically but also engender ethnic and political harmony. He stressed that after a tour of various projects initiated and completed by the governor, including the International Airport, the Shopping Mall, the New Government House, the Inyere Bridge, the King David University of Medical Sciences, Uburu; the flyovers, several
concrete paved roads, the council came to the inevitable conclusion that Umahi has the capacity to lead Nigeria in peace and economic prosperity.

He stated: “It is, therefore, our belief that Governor Umahi has done creditably well in budgeting, infrastructure, human capital, youth and women empowerment among others.
“To this end, we have deemed it expedient and most important to present Dr. David Nweze Umahi, to the people of Nigeria for the office of the President come May 2023. We make this statement confidently bearing in mind his track record, his belief in the oneness of Nigeria, his detribalized disposition on national issues; his monumental achievements.

“In consideration of the above and also the popular clamour for a President of Southeast extraction, we call on Nigerians from all walks of life to come out in solidarity to support a man of impeccable character with the zeal to develop our dear country to compete with other nations.”

On Anyim, the Council of Elders disclosed that the former President of Senate has shown interest in the Presidential contest, he (Anyim) was yet to officially communicate to the Elders, even as the chairman disclosed that the council would soon commence country-wide consultations with stakeholders from other zones.
Anyim, who served as the President of the fourth Senate, has been touring northern states and consulting former leaders, including military President Ibrahim Babangida and General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd) to seek support.

Sources disclosed that the former SGF, who served on former President Goodluck Jonathan’s cabinet, is banking on the support of the Rivers State Governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, for the PDP Presidential ticket.

It would be recalled that shortly after Umahi resigned his membership of PDP and joined APC, the Rivers State governor accused him (Umahi) of nursing Presidential ambition.
Stung by the ominous implications of Umahi’s endorsement by Ebonyi State Council of Elders, Anyim’s supporters, particularly the Ebonyi State chapter of PDP, cried foul, saying that it was only the governor’s appointees that endorsed his ambition.

In a statement, the state PDP Publicity Secretary, Chika Nwoba Chika, said the purported endorsement of the governor as the choice candidate of Ebonyi State Elders for President come 2023, was signed by one of the governor’s aides, Engineer Ben Okah. 

“Inasmuch as we believe the governor has the right to enjoy the support and recommendation of any political support group in furtherance of his political journey, that should be done in the light of what it should be, and not just by impersonating the generality of Ebonyi people or elders,” the statement noted.

Enugu: Baywood-Ibe, Chime In Quiet Competition
THE raging debate in Enugu State is whether only governors and former governors should aspire to the Presidency of the country. The controversy set in shortly after the immediate past Enugu State governor, Sullivan Chime, was listed among the nine-member APC Reconciliat

ion Committee headed by Senator Abdullahi Adamu.

Prior to Chime’s emergence on the Adamu Committee of APC, Emperor Chris Baywood-Ibe, who deployed much of personal funds and contacts to entrench APC in Enugu and Southeast, was looked at as the only potential Presidential aspirant from the party.

Although the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, was associated with a possible run for the 2023 Presidency, the demise of former Chief of Staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari, dampened that possibility.

But, as Progressive Governors began the advocacy for President Buhari’s successor to be selected from within their fold, the name of Chime cropped up. Yet, supporters of Baywood-Ibe clung to an online survey that put their principal above all other possible contenders, maintaining that the Presidency is not the birthright of state governors.

A social affairs commentator from Ebonyi State, Eugene Ebenyi, told journalists that prior executive experience is necessary for a candidate for the Presidency of Nigeria. While contending that the Presidency should not be a position for leadership experiment, Ebenyi disclosed that since 1999, when Nigeria’s fourth republic began, all the former leaders, including Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, Dr. Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari, had previous executive experience.

Ebenyi stated that as the 2023 general elections draw nearer, “it is pertinent to emphasise the gains of choosing the number one person from among the already trained and tested state governors to tap from their political leadership experience and mastery.”
But, debunking the perception that the 2023 Presidential race is meant only for career politicians and state governors alone, Emperor Baywood-Ibe, who is an international businessman and philanthropist declared that the implication of zoning the Presidency to the South in 2023 presupposes that fresh ideas should be accommodated.

On plans by some politicians in Enugu State to conscript former Governor Chime into the Presidential race as well as the endorsement of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo by groups close to APC Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), Baywood-Ibe said Nigerians should be allowed to choose their leaders.

He contended that the mood of the country is that fresh ideas should step into a leadership position to check the downward slide in the socio-economic fortunes of Nigeria.
According to the philanthropist, “I worked really hard alongside other patriots to entrench the party in Enugu State for instance and as a result of our groundwork, many people, including politicians, businessmen and professionals, are moving into the party en masse.

“Again, after the online survey of potential Presidential candidates in Southeast in which I came tops and having looked around the country and seen that we seem to move around a circle, I felt it is time to leave the comfort zone and join hands with other patriots to renew Nigeria’s path to greatness.

“The state governors are very crucial to the running of the party, but they should not appropriate the wishes of the members of APC, especially regarding who flies the party’s flag during the election.”

Imo: Okorocha Vs Ohuabunwa Clash Of Ideas
Unlike in Enugu, where the two early birds in the Presidential race are all from the APC, the situation in Imo simulates that of Ebonyi State, where the two gladiators are from different political platforms. While Ohuabunwa is seeking the ticket of PDP, Okorocha, who was chairman of Progressives Governors’ Forum, is making his fresh gamble on the APC platform.

Rochas Okorocha is a veteran in Presidential contests. The former Imo State governor believes that nothing will make his party, APC, not zone the Presidential slot to the Southeast. He brags that as the first fruit of APC victory in the zone, he would clinch the party’s ticket and go ahead to win the Presidential ballot in February 2023.

As one of the many Igbo men and women that grew up in the northern part of the country, Okorocha has brought his wide conta

cts in the north to bear on his aspiration to fly the APC Presidential flag. That could explain why a Coalition of Northern Supporters for Ndigbo for President was at the forefront of urging Okorocha to contest the Presidential ticket.
Member organisations in the coalition include Coalition of North Eastern Patriots (CONEP), North Central Development Cycle (NCDC), Northern Youths in Politics (NYP), Public Awareness on Societal Change (PASCHI) and Arewa Supporters for Ndi-Igbo.

Speaking on behalf of the Coalition in Bauchi, the leader, Alhaji Suleiman noted that it was the turn of Igbo to produce the next President of Nigeria. He stated: “We have experienced political leadership from Southwest, Northwest and South/South.

“Our concern as a group of patriotic Nigerians desiring for the peace, unity and progress of our nation, we deem it necessary to support a complete Nigerian, who is dedicating his life in the service of humanity, who respects the culture and religion of all faiths.
“After months of scrutiny, deep consultations and deliberations across the nation, we have resolved that the only Nigerian from south-east extraction who fits the aforementioned criteria is none other than Senator Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha.”

While Okorocha seems to have outsourced his campaigns to northern supporters, Ohuabunwa, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), personally declared his interest to contest for the 2023 Presidential ticket of PDP.

Ohuabunwa, who is also a Pharmacist, is also driving his ambition through the New Nigeria Group (NNG), a political action movement that draws membership from across multi-party platforms.
He said his decision to seek the ticket of PDP was informed by the peaceful and democratic way the party conducted its national convention, stressing, “The PDP, in our view, has shown that it has learnt some useful lessons during the past six years in opposition at the federal level, and seems prepared to correct all mistakes it may have made when it was in power and to refocus.”

The former NESG chairman maintained that his declaration to contest the Presidency “has fully debunked the erroneous assertion that no politician from the Southeast geopolitical zone had shown serious interest in running for the office of President in 2023.

He assured that under his leadership, law and order would reign supreme to guarantee the sacrosanctity of life, while citizens access quality education, health care and housing with ease.

There are indications that more aspirants from the Southeast would throw their hats in the ring. But, while they engage in internal wrangling and search for home support, only after the Presidential primaries of the parties could it be seen how serious they are.

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