I stand with PMB on the issue of true federalism. This country has to give every component part a sense of belonging, inclusiveness and responsibility. Since 1999 on the return of civil rule our democratic system has strived to grant every part of the country equal access to political leadership, sometimes it is disputed on the altar of merit. Arguable as it maybe it is overlooked that a sense of shared destiny and stability are enthroned—a necessary condition to build a united country.
This seeming default understanding as imperfect as it is should be sustained to run its course—it is courting trouble to change the rule in the middle of the game. As a matter of fact, the crises of inclusiveness, in APC morphed into national instability—remember Nnamdi kanu and IPOD—arose out of what was obvious disregard of this zeitgeist. In 2015 the APC in zoning principal offices in the National Assembly, had to exclude the South East because there just was no qualified person on the party platform from the zone.
For the majority of the four years of APC governing Nigeria the South East felt itself marginalized, notwithstanding that it received handsome recognition in terms of appointments and infrastructure development that the former ruling party, PDP 16 year rule was unable to provide. Without any senior position in the commanding leadership structure of the country, the South East pivoted to seeking recognition in the leadership security apparatus of the country. Without that also happening, the bile and disenchantment against APC and PMB was unprecedented. The PDP cashed in with the Atiku/Peter Obi ticket.
The fallout was further reflected in the 2019 general election result. Although an improvement over 2015 result but there is no question that the APC 2019 performance would have been far better, had the sense of alienation not being so pervasive. Now the time has come yet again for APC to shift ground and alter its political calculation in a manner that emends the omission of the last four years. My suggestion is that the party should rezone the Speakership to the South East. If in 2015 the APC could not find experienced and capable legislator for this position, this time around, it is evident that such a vacuum is no longer obtainable.
If the calculation is that APC can win 2023 general election without the South East, on paper that is possible even now in 2019 it happened but it is also a risky calculation. PDP gained tremendous surge because of the overwhelming support it got from the South East.
Let’s be clear Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila from the South West is eminently qualified to seek the Speakership just as well as any other member who meets the set criteria of the House. However, against the background of national stability and inclusiveness, the APC has to rethink the zoning of the office. Why that should be the case had already been articulated but what is left is the political sagacity to understand that in the overall interest of the polity, it is important that this should be so. The South West will not feel any angst if the Speakership is not there, having the Vice President already from there but the South East will. Imagine if the South West is faced with a similar situation the South East is facing today, they will find it intolerable.
Furthermore, it is not enough to say that South East should not be rewarded for not voting for APC. There are larger issues involved beyond just the weight of votes. In 1999 President Obasanjo emerged President of Nigeria with zero South West support, but by 2003 all that changed. And the reason South West got this overwhelming national support irrespective of their rejection of Obasanjo and PDP was because the country wanted to heal the wounds of June 12 1993 election annulment. In other words, this was an affirmative action even if Obasanjo became the beneficiary. So the best option today is for the cool heads in the party to ask the tough questions and dispassionately address them. This is not the time for histrionics. After 20 years of democratic practice there are certain nuances we should no longer ignore.
Moreover, with the evolution of our democratic process and improvement in our voting behavior (still a long way to go) the results are narrowing. That is to say the margin of votes is tighter, the consciousness of the populace has grown, and thus it is unwise to take any part of the country for granted. For the 2019 results it is clear APC rode on the back of PMB, by 2023 he won’t be running, so the strategic realignment for APC is to broaden its appeal to offset PMB not being on the ballot.
South East is APC’s ‘unconquered frontier’; this is the time to turn it around. Personally as a chieftain of the party, I would endorse Hon Emeka Nwajiuba for the Speakership. For the simple reason that he ticks the entire box: young, smart, a Buharist to the core, a ranking member, well-educated with a Phd in law. Very articulate. So the argument about quality is not going to arise one way or the other. Nigeria and National Assembly will not be shortchanged if they opt for him. That he was forced out of contesting on the platform of APC— the internal implosion of APC in Imo state with Governor Rochas Okoroacha orchestrating it all—meant Nwajiuba had to contest the election on the platform of Accord Party, without dumping APC and still won demonstrates his grassroots appeal.
Overall, the APC national leadership should beckon the South East to the table by zoning the Speakership to it and not to South West which had already been taken care of speaks to the politics of equity and fairness, and I posit nobody can argue with that.
Paul Odili is APC House of Representatives candidate for Ndokwa/Ukwuani federal constituency, Delta state.