The urgent need for Ndigbo of voting age to all register and be ready to vote if indeed we are serious about producing the Nigerian President in 2023 provided the motivation for writing you this letter. This is now an idea whose time has come.
After the end of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil war in January 1970, political apathy soon made its bed in the South East Nigeria. Despondency fueled by escalating political marginalization and deliberate and even constitutional exclusion of Ndigbo from the nation’s power politics all combined to keep the morale ebbing in the South East. We have oft been reminded that our fate is the consequence of waging a war and losing it. In fact, it is like telling Ndigbo, “You ought to be happy to be alive”.
The shooting battle ended in January 1970, and the aftermath of the war has continued to linger and simmer, taking its toll on our people. Despite this harrowing experience, the fact is: time has passed. 50 years have passed. Half a century is long enough for our people to heal and pick up the pieces and trudge on – politically.
Remarkably and commendably, Ndigbo have since moved on and repaired their zone. Despite the politics of ‘No victor no vanquished’, Ndigbo have since bounced back economically with little or no support from the federal government. But there is a limit to what we can do without government support and political power. The present and operational 1999 Constitution – possibly the worst of its kind! – has further emasculated the South East and has not given the zone any space for regional economic integration and development.
The unitary nature of the 1999 Constitution has provided the oxygen for the renewed separatist agitations across the country and currently, the struggle for restructuring the country. Or, better put, the struggle for the restoration of federalism in Nigeria as agreed to between the nation’s founding fathers and the departing colonial British government. The fundamentals of federalism were enshrined in the Independence Constitution of 1960, and perfected in the Republican Constitution of 1963.
Ndigbo must shake off the lethargy and embrace politics again as great agents of nation building we are.
You are aware that there has been a massive push for the election of a Nigerian President of South East extraction in 2023, and this quest has culminated in a national conversation with all parts of the country commendably and remarkably keying in. But there are snags that must be addressed immediately lest they become insurmountable obstacles with time. One major snag is the voting strength of Ndigbo, especially in the South East. Statistically, the zone has the lowest voting strength, going by the number of registered voters for the 2019 General Election, though we instructively also vote massively in favour of the chosen candidate or party.
Luckily, an opportunity is about presenting itself again for Ndigbo to upgrade their voting strength by first registering enmass in the soon-coming voters registration exercise to reflect our superior population in Nigeria. The two major political parties (APC and PDP) need to be reassured that Ndigbo are truly out for the Nigerian president of their own extraction by demonstrating it by fresh millions of us joining the National Voters Register.
Recall that the one and only reason the APC picked President Muhammadu Buhari as their presidential candidate in 2015 was for his capacity to draw massive votes from the lunpen proletarians. The South East must show that it can deliver at least 10m votes to a political party that fields an Igbo man as its presidential candidate. Without registering, shouting at rooftops for Nigerian President of Igbo extraction will remain ineffectual buffoonery and whimsical, even unfair without us showing a clear resolve to pull in votes.
First things first; the recently announced Continuous Voter Registration exercise needs to be frontally tackled by Ndigbo, especially by all the organizations campaigning for an Igbo Nigerian president. Notable among these organizations that can play leading roles in mobilizing Ndigbo to register and vote are: Project NIPSEE, S/East for President 2023, PANPIEC, Oge Ndigbo, WUFIPA, 2023 Igbo Presidency Project, Onye Igbo for President and indeed all who wish to see the election of a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction come to fruition.
The 5 Eastern States should be able to pull in at least 2m fresh voters each, to push the voting strength of the South East ultimately close to 20 m. Once a figure like this is in the kitty, ensuring that at least half of them vote for the Igbo candidate becomes realistic and doable.
There were 84,004,084 registered to vote in the 2019 election in 36 states and the federal capital territory, Abuja. Of this number, more than 15 million were new voters. The North-West geopolitical zone registered 18,505,984 for the 2019 elections. The South-West zone was second highest, with about 14,626,800 registered voters. Meanwhile, the South-East was the lowest with 8,293,093 registered voters. The number of those who collected their permanent voters’ cards is a story for another day.
Ndigbo, especially those in the South East, need to get on the National Voters Register with the fresh opportunity. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has announced that the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise will commence in the first quarter of 2021 ahead of the 2023 General Election. This announcement was made by Chairman of the Electoral body, Professor Mahmood Yakubu (who just stepped aside pending his reconfirmation by the Senate) during a budget defence session with the Senate Committee on INEC.
This is achievable since the population is there and only needing reining in and we have a tool made to purpose. Ndigbo have the greatest human organization in Nigeria. Despite our republican nature, every town in Igbo land is unionized and has branches all over Nigeria and in the diaspora. This structure can be deployed to the voters registration exercise for sensitization, mobilization and even for crowd funding for facilitation of the process.
We need to prevail on our people to see this exercise as a crucial project. One great thing about Ndigbo is unity of purpose once they accept any challenge. One likely obstacle is the skepticism that an Igbo man will not be allowed to become Nigerian President. This is not true. If Nigerians voted an Igbo Nigerian Vice president less than 10 years after the civil war, they can also allow an Igbo Nigerian President, 50 years after!
Another obstacle is the institutional frustrations the drive would face. This is also surmountable if we are really determined. Then, our brothers who are looking for Biafra may undermine the drive. Yet, they need to be told in no uncertain terms that a voter’s card will be required even for a referendum.
Let us roll the sleeves and go to work. We have to do this for the repositioning and survival of our ethnic group. We need political power to renegotiate our stay in Nigeria, reposition our businesses and get a fair deal out of the entity called Nigeria in which Ndigbo remain very critical stakeholders.
Power is taken and not given. However, in Nigeria, presidential power is both taken and given through conscientious negotiations. And for us to negotiate effectively, we must show our voting strength and our resolve to massively support a candidate to its logical conclusion as we often do when we are determined.
· Dr. Law Mefor is an Abuja based Forensic/Social Psychologist