Besides giving Muhammadu Buhari the least number of votes, the South East zone is the only one that did not return a single senator for the next ruling party. However, the contributions of Ndigbo to Buhari’s victory and their coming benefits are surprisingly overlooked. Emmanuel Aziken report.
It was like a fairy tale to some young Igbo political activists sometime in 2002 when the late Chuba Okadigbo tried to win them into a budding political force that he said would one day humiliate the then homologous Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. In the end only about half of the 20 men moved with the late Okadigbo into the then All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP that had been energised with the entry of General Muhammadu Buhari.
After the electoral disappointment of 2003, Okadigbo’s death also in 2003, and other electoral disappointments in 2007 and 2011, the band that followed Okadigbo into the alliance with Buhari had thinned out to less than five.
It was as such not surprising that support for Buhari in last Saturday’s election was least in the Southeast among the six geopolitical zones. The Southeast even above the South-South gave more support to President Goodluck Jonathan more than any other geopolitical zone.
The Ibo stock is also in possible danger of losing out for the first time since the advent of democratic rule in not having any of its own among the four presiding officers of the National Assembly. That is because Buhari’s winning party, did not produce any senator from the Southeast and only two members of the House of Representatives.
Compared to the present situation where the region has two presiding officers in the persons of Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the deputy president of the Senate and Rep Emeka Ihedioha in the House of Representatives, the region could ultimately be reduced to zero in the dispensation of the first four top offices in the next National Assembly.
That the region got to this stage was long predicted. Osita Okechukwu, one of Okadigbo’s disciples who eventually found shelter in Buhari’s political shelter, spoke as much.
“I had been warning our people, please don’t put all your eggs in one basket, but they refused,” he said in a post-mortem.
Though a number of high profile Ibos like Senator Chris Ngige and Governor Rochas Okorocha were in the party, their efforts were relatively unrewarded as the party only won two federal constituencies out of the ten in Imo State.
The lot of the region according to some was due to the tactlessness of the leaders in the zone who they alleged put personal political considerations above collective interest.
Given the poor performance of the party in the region, party sources told Vanguard that some of the big names that had in the past ordinarily taken positions earmarked for the region are now being giving a second look. The source disclosed how one of the high-flying leaders from Anambra State was dropped out of a post-election committee on the basis of his alleged repeated electoral failures.
Nevertheless, the Southeast APC caucus was not totally rubbished, and enthusiasts in the region would cite how they helped to suppress the over inflation of votes for the PDP that could have stopped Buhari’s emergence.
Whereas the proportion of votes for Jonathan was about the same as the region gave him in the 2011 election, the quantum of votes was significantly suppressed largely on account of the use of the card reader which helped to minimise the rigging. In 2011, all five states gave Jonathan 5,090,148 which is about double the 2,464,906 that the five states in the zone gave to the president this time.
In 2011, the Southeast contributed 22.4% of the total votes scored by Dr. Jonathan, but that percentage fell down to 19.78 % last weekend.
The salutary contribution of Ndigbo to Buhari’s emergence was beyond the quantum of votes as was articulated by Governor Kashim Shetima of Borno State last Wednesday.
Speaking to supporters on his return to Maiduguri after the victory celebration, the governor had said:
“I have heard some political analysts making some wrong conclusions that the Ibos in the Southeast didn’t contribute significantly to Buhari’s victory but I think they are missing the point because there are two key contributions to winning elections. One is to gives votes, and the other is to prevent an opponent from rigging and both have equal relevance.”
“In the 2011 elections, the PDP got a combined figure of about 7 million votes in the southeast, some of these States recorded or so they claimed, having almost 100 percent voter turnout. But in 2015, Ibos in the southeast especially our leaders in the APC stood very firm, some of them put their lives on the line, resisted all kinds of humiliation and at the end, they prevented another seven million votes from coming out.
“We all saw what happened in Rivers, if that was repeated in the Southeast it would have been a major source of concern for all Nigerians but the Ibos did very well by resisting every step against Buhari so they are heroes as far as I am concerned.”
Mr. Osita Okechukwu, one of Buhari’s best-known disciples in the region spoke as much.
“Since we could not convert the people as fast as we wished, every other member of the APC stood his ground not to allow the padding of the votes to the extent of the millions that they got in 2011. That was what we achieved. We stemmed the rigging.”
Okechukwu who was one of the youths who moved with Okadigbo to team up with Buhari in 2002 and after the former Senate President’s death became a firm Buhari disciple said:
“Okadigbo told us that there is a man with character that had just joined the ANPP that if we moved to join that man that we might at the end of the day build a political party that could defeat the then ANPP. It was like a fairy tale.”
“He was also telling the Ibos that a transparent government is more suitable for a group that is hardworking, innovative and that the Igbo stock is not used to sycophancy or the patronage system that corruption breeds.”
“So in terms of benefiting from the Buhari government I think the Ibos would be one of the greatest beneficiaries because you can imagine that he (Buhari) said that the Federal Executive Council would not be awarding contracts, that the National Council on Procurement would be set up so that any person who is bidding for any contract goes to that council and you know him if anyone managing the council becomes corrupt he would be changed, so a competitive person would survive under such a system,” he said in apparent allusion to the industry of Ndigbo.