Osita Okechukwu has acquired a reputation for trailing his political punches without fear or favour, no matter whose ox is gored. Even when you do not agree with his position, you are not likely to miss the passion and tenacity with which he pursues his dreams.
For some time now, he has relentlessly promoted the desirability of allowing the South East to produce the President in 2023. No one will quarrel with that pursuit, not only because it is legitimate but also for the fact that it is morally correct as a step towards resolving the nagging question of inclusion cum diversity management in the Nigerian political system.
That unrelenting pursuit of the Igbo presidency agenda explains Okechukwu’s recent outlandish response, to Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed’s comment on the report that the APC had zoned the presidency to the South.
For background, while emerging from his consultation with President Olusegun Obasanjo in Abeokuta, Bala Mohammed had been asked how the APC’s reported zoning of the presidency to the south would affect the chances of the PDP. In response, Bala Mohammed said it would not affect his party, pointing out that given the multitude of the disquieting problems besetting the country, patriots like him were preoccupied more with seeking a pathway out of present crossroads, than the country’s historical bickering over prebendal politics which overall national benefits are yet to be seen.
Osita Okechukwu‘s broadside on Governor Bala Mohammed is misplaced on several grounds. The first is that for any perceptive person, what the APC reportedly offered is like giving a gift with one hand and taking it back with another. For crying out loud, what is the meaning of zoning the Presidency to the South? Is that what Osita Okechukwu has been asking for? Or is it a case of half bread being better than one?
Stretching the argument further, assuming, without conceding, that the APC’s statement can be taken literally, that it has zoned the presidency to the south, I do not see how that meets Okechukwu’s demand for a President of Igbo extraction. Let us put the matter bluntly: to Okechukwu, as to many people of Igbo extraction, it is not a simple north-south matter; it is also not about allowing any person of Igbo extraction, no matter where the person comes from, to run. (There are people of Igbo extraction in Rivers, Benue, Bayelsa Delta etc.) The demand is to zone the Presidency to the South East just as the people of the North East have demanded.
Be that as it may, Bala Mohammed has never stood in the way of the emergence of a President of Igbo extraction. In fact, unlike some of Okechukwu’s compatriots in the APC who disingenuously want to deny the South East a chance by mischievously pushing for an Igbo candidate from the South-South geo-political zone, the PDP committee on the 2019 presidential elections, headed by Bala Mohammed, had expressly identified the south east and north east as the two zones yet to produce the President since the return to democratic rule in 1999. In retrospect, I think the committee should have included the north central zone.
Osita Okechukwu, as one-time national publicity secretary of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, cannot deny Bala Mohammed’s genuine nationalist credentials which he has demonstrated at critical junctures in Nigeria’s history. Three of such iconic performances deserve special mention.
The first, was his historic proposal in the Senate, of the Doctrine of Necessity Motion that paved the way for the then Vice President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, GCON, GCFR, to assume the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That bold proposal came, in defiance of many of the opposition of his compatriots from the North, who were stonewalling, to scuttle the fulfilment of the constitutional provision that the vice president should take over, in the event that the incumbent president was incapacitated to perform the duties of President.
Bala Mohammed was spurred to take that risk not only to deepen our democracy by respecting the Constitution but to send a clear message that Nigeria was not devoid of patriots and statesmen who could be counted upon to rise to the demands of ethical and moral leadership. Not everyone, in the face of our bread and butter politics, would have taken such a risk.
The second, as Osita Okechukwu should know, was Bala Mohammed’s sterling diversity management scorecard, as minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) between 2010 and 2015, an era that witnessed, perhaps, the most comprehensive inclusion of stakeholders from various parts of the country, in the FCT Administration. In this regard, worthy of note also is that, unlike the conventional narrow emphasis on ethnicity and religion, Bala Mohammed had a global vision that prioritised youth and gender representation, as critical variables in the FCT Administration and in his overall stakeholder engagement.
The third, of course, is that, unlike the APC that promised and later reneged on restructuring, Bala Mohammed has been consistent in advocating restructuring (or by whatever name), as a panacea to the self-determination agitations that threaten the country’s corporate existence. His speech at the Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Section on Public Law (SPIDEL) at Ibadan on 24th May 2021, was unambiguous on this issue and lucidly reveals the mindset of a patriot, nationalist and statesman who not only possesses a deep understanding of the issues but is ready, willing and able to disrupt the status quo, so long as the end achieves the objective of a united Nigeria in which the constituent units would have a sense of local autonomy. Bala Mohammed espouses this from the deep conviction that it is only by so doing that the creative energies of our people, particularly the youth, would be effectively harnessed and their legitimate and unfulfilled yearnings for the good life, achieved.
For Bala Mohammed, as for millions of concerned Nigerians, the immediate challenge is the deliberate search for a leadership that would rescue the country from unprecedented insecurity, the gnawing poverty that has turned the country into the poverty capital of the world, the comatose economy that is headlined by the fast depreciating Naira, long fuel queues, cyclical inflation and worst of all, the total loss of confidence by the citizenry, accentuating the mass exodus of not only our virile youth but even the tired and ageing seniors, from the only country in the world that they can proudly call their own. These stark indices of our national descent into regression neither recognise nor respect ethnic or religious cleavages, geo-political zones, gender or generations or whatever nebulous proclivities that our politicians often parade when they want to obfuscate issues.
I make bold to assert that if the people really counted in the permutations of our political elite, the south-east would not have been riddled with grotesque infrastructure deficit and the absence of any serious legacy projects, despite the humongous funds from the federation account and the often opaquely handled Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), since 1999. And to imagine that we are bemoaning the plight of a region where the legendary Michael Okpara of blessed memory left a globally acclaimed developmental model is not just unfortunate but both inexcusable and unpardonable. By the same token, the north, with all the national leaders it has produced since independence, should not be parading the highest number of out-of-school pupils in Nigeria not to talk of the pitiable underdevelopment of the area, despite the laudable developmental trajectory established by its iconic leader, Sir Ahmadu Bello of blessed memory.
If we must tell ourselves the truth, I do not think we have the luxury of affixing an ethnic label on Nigeria’s next President profile as neither that, nor capricious resort to name calling and blame game, as Osita Okechukwu has sought to do, would be able to put food on the table of Nigerians, guarantee security, create jobs and rescue the country from the debt peonage that hangs over the future generations of Nigerians like a Sword of Damocles.
Though our convictions and world views may differ, we are all like adversaries in a sinking ship where, as far as the angry waves are concerned, tribe, tongue, creed and gender are neither recognized nor respected. The only thing that matters is to berth the ship safely. Thus, in such a situation, the most sensible thing to do would be to support the captain, to steer the ship to safety. Only a patriotic leader with a demonstrable track record of performance, patriotic spirit and humane disposition, no matter where the person comes from, can rescue the country from going over the cliff where it ominously hangs.
That is the point that Bala Mohammed has made and I find it perplexing that Osita Okechukwu has chosen to throw the message away with the messenger. To cap it all, if Osita Okechukwu’s misgiving is that Bala Mohammed, an experienced technocrat, a quintessential civil servant, a nationalistic legislator, a patriot and great administrator is likely to heed the overwhelming call by well-meaning Nigerians to run for President, that will be an even greater pity.