Ndigbo's First Eleven

Posted by By Jossy Nkwocha - Newswatch Magazine on 3/11/2001 5:07:03 PM | Views: |

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Ndigbo's First Eleven


Who's Who in the politics of Igboland to watch out for if the next presidential
slot is zoned to the south-east


* ALEX EKWUEME

Ekwueme, former vice-president to Shehu Shagari in the second republic
and President Olusegun Obasanjo's hottest rival in the 1999 PDP presidential
nomination, is the foremost Igboman for the presidential ticket in 2003. Ekwueme
is a gentleman and is widely respected in political circles across the country.


When Obasanjo defeated him at the Jos convention of PDP, he took it in good
faith and asked his supporters to vote for Obasanjo. In fact, he was said to
have lost the election because he was branded a hater of the military and the
powers- that-be didn't want him to succeed the then head of state, General Abdulsalami
Abubakar. But he is well accepted in the North where he has many political associates.


He was chairman of the G.34 group which insisted that the late Gen. Sani Abacha
must not succeed himself as a civilian president in 1998. He is chairman of
the board of trustees of the ruling PDP. Most of the persons who spoke to Newswatch
said Ekwueme is the "natural" Igbo candidate for the presidency.


The only minus for Ekwueme is his age. He will be 71 years old in 2003. Besides,
there is a new consciousness spearheaded by the under-50 governors' summit for
a younger politician to become president.





* ORJI UZOR KALU

 ORJI UZOR KALU >

Governor Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State is emerging as the arrowhead of the
campaign for an Igboman to become president of Nigeria. The fearless, 40-yearold
governor started the campaign late last year by pointing out at the continued
marginalisation of the Igbo by Obasanjo. He insisted that Obasanjo should not
dream of 2003 re-election, arguing that it is the turn of the Igbo to produce
the president. His thesis caught on. Ohaneze Ndigbo promptly convened a summit
and endorsed the idea. The eastern governors conference also issued a communiqué
supporting the idea.


Now, despite the fact that Kalu has said he is running for re-election in
Abia State, majority of Igbo especially students, traders, younger politicians,
civil servants, etc, believe he is the best man for the job. Besides, he is
also in the good books of General Ibrahim Babangida who played a key role in
Obasanjo's election in 1999. Kalu is also very close to Shagari, Umaru Dikko,
Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, Jubril Aminu and other northern power-brokers.
In fact, he usually boasts of "my people in the north."


Kalu is a billionaire and can afford to fund a presidential campaign. Eventhough
he is young, he operates in high political and business circles. He is very
outspoken, articulate and ambitious.

What may count against Kalu is what some analysts describe as his political
inexperience. Ohaneze elders see him as arrogant, disrespectful and uncontrollable.
Besides, the Ekwueme political camp has not forgiven him for working for Obasanjo
at the detriment of Ekwueme in 1999. Despite these apparent short- comings,
some analysts believe that Kalu may surprise everyone at the last minute.



* EMMANUEL IWUANYANWU

A wealthy businessman, philanthropist, and publisher, Iwuanyanwu is the
publisher of Champion newspapers and the proprietor of Iwuanyanwu Nationale
Football Club. These outfits have made him immensely popular. Currently he is
the chairman of the political mobilisation committee of Ohaneze which is to
go round the country to sell the Igbo presidency idea to other political leaders
in the other geo-political zones.


Iwuanyanwu who is now 59 years old is a consummate politician. During the
Babangida transition period, he took part in the staggered presidential primaries
in the National Republican Convention, NRC. Babangida cancelled the exercise.
He remained a presidential hopeful under the Abacha era until the late dictator
commenced his self-succession bid and checkmated all opposition to his ambition.
After the death of Abacha, he became a presidential aspirant under the All Peoples'
Party. APP. He lost nomination at the party's convention in Kaduna.


Today, Iwuanyanwu is in the league of such political heavyweights as Umaru
Shinkafi, Adamu Ciroma, Bamanga Tukur, Olusola Saraki, Lateef Jakande, Olu Falae,
etc.


Iwuanyanwu maintains some self pride and dignity. He has always turned down
ministerial appointments, preferring to nominate his associates. At the last
cabinet reshuffle, he declined to join the Obasanjo administration as a minister.
Apart from Ekwueme, Iwuanyanwu is perhaps the next highly favoured south-east
presidential candidate in the ranking of politicians, professionals, businessmen
and the youths.


Iwuanyanwu's problems may come from the home-front. He seems to have some
problems in his home state, Imo. He does not have a good relationship with Evan
Enwerem, former senate president who may plot against his ambition. Some people
also doubt his political weight. He was an APP stalwart when the party lost
the gubernatorial seat in Imo State. He later moved over to the PDP. His critics
also say he is in politics for business and not for power. His construction
company, Hardel & Enic is said to be among the companies accused of not
effectively executing road projects in the East.


Despite all these, Iwuanyanwu who holds the title of Aha-eji-agamba- (the
name which can take you to places) of Igboland is a man of immense political
goodwill in the country.




* JIM NWOBODO

Nwobodo is a combative politician. A former governor of old Anambra State,
a former minister of youths and sports and now a senator, Nwobodo has immense
political experience. He was one of the presidential aspirants during the 1999
Jos convention of the PDP. When he goes for a position, he fights it to the
last. He understands all the intrigues, scheming, manoeuvring , horse-trading
and power-play inherent in politics. He is equally very wealthy. In fact, he
is said to be the owner of Savannah Bank after buying it over last year in collaboration
with some foreign technical partners.


The Enugu-State born politician is very popular among youths. Nwobodo also
has some heavyweight political associates in the North such as Abubakar Rimi,
former governor of Kano State, Solomon Lar, former PDP chairman, etc.


But Nwobodo is always in one controversy or the other. At the sports ministry,
he was always at loggerheads with footballers, athletes, coaches, ministry officials,
etc. Early last year, he engaged in a fierce battle with Chimaroke Nnamani,
the Enugu State governor who accused him of incessant interference in his (Nnamani's)
government.


Analysts believe that Nwobodo's main problem would come from the role he played
at the Jos convention where he was accused of playing a spoiler's game against
Ekwueme. Many Igbo and indeed many of Ekwueme supporters across the country
are not in a hurry to forgive him for that "dirty job." At the last
Igbo summit organised by Ohaneze Ndigbo, Nwobodo received no cheers from the
crowd. But he is not one that succumbs to pressure. He thrives in controversy
and political battle. He is 61 years old.




* EMEKA ANYAOKU

Eleazar Chukwuemeka Anyaoku, 68 years old, is the immediate past secretary-general
of the Commonwealth. He is cool-headed, well-focused and highly connected especially
in diplomatic circles. Some analysts believe that he is the best Igbo material
for the presidency considering the fact that he is detribalised and has gained
immense experience in international politics and diplomacy. Such people believe
that only such a personality would become a true "Nigerian president"
and not an "Igbo president."


But some of his critics say he is too much of a gentleman and cannot safely
swim in the murky waters of Nigerian politics. Besides, he spent about 38 years
in diplomatic service outside Nigeria and may not have known Nigeria well.


For now, Anyaoku does not command much political following. But he has been
trying to build one since he returned to the country last year. The launching
of his autobiography last year in Lagos was made a political event. On February
20, 2001 his committee of friends also pulled together some big shots in politics,
business, government and the diplomatic community to raise funds for the "Emeka
Anyaoku professorial chair in Commonwealth studies" at the University of
London. The event which was held at the Nigerian Institute of International
Affairs was chaired by S. L. Edu, a prominent Yoruba politician and father of
Yomi Edu, Obasanjo's special duties minister. He is being packaged by people
outside Igboland.


But many Igbo would rather not support Anyaoku. To them, he does not know
the Igbo agenda. He does not believe much in the marginalisation of Igbo in
the scheme of things. Besides, he will be 70 years old in 2003 for the presidency.




* EMEKA ODUMEGWU-OJUKWU

Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu is one of the foremost contenders for the race.
Today, he is perhaps the most popular Nigerian around. Among many Igbo, he is
a hero and their ultimate leader. He holds the controversial chieftaincy title
of Eze-Igbo Gburugburu (King of Igbo everywhere in the world). Many people like
his oratory and intelligence.


He is a politician, a stalwart of the APP. He works closely with such political
juggernauts as Olusola Saraki, the kingpin of Kwara politics. Many Igbo, especially
the youths see him as the only man who would use the presidency to redress the
perceived marginalisation of the south-east. At the 1995 constitutional conference,
he worked closely with Ekwueme to articulate and sell an Igbo position to other
delegates from other parts of the country.


Analysts however contend that Ojukwu's main problem is the fact that he led
the secessionist Biafra which culminated in a 30-month civil war. Today, he
is feared by many politicians who believe that he may re-enact his dream of
Biafra if he gets into power. Even in Igboland, he is seen by many elders as
arrogant, domineering and vainglorious. He boycotted the last Igbo summit in
Enugu and described the Igbo leaders who attended it as job-seekers. His critics
say he plays to the gallery.


In an exclusive interview with Newswatch published February 12, Ojukwu stated
that he would no longer go for an elective office in Nigeria. But Newswatch
learnt last week, the Ikemba-Nnewi may change his mind as a result of the clamour
for Igbo presidency in 2003. But like Anyaoku, he will be 70 years old then.




* ARTHUR NZERIBE

Francis Arthur Nzeribe, an APP senator from Oguta, Imo State is an enigmatic
politician. He thrives in controversy and political mischief. He is one politician
who has never lost an election. He is immensely wealthy and uses it effectively
in his campaigns. He is a master political strategist, feared and hated by many.
Those who admire him say he is one politician no one can take for granted. Although
he said it will be very difficult for an Igboman to become president in 2003,
he told Newswatch in Owerri that if the parties zone the presidency in 2003
to the south-east he would certainly run for the top job.


Nzeribe is more well-known for his activities in the Association for Better
Nigeria, ABN, which many analysts insist was used to scuttle June 12, 1993 presidential
election won by MKO Abiola. ABN campaigned vigorously for Babangida to stay
longer in office. Nzeribe also predicted there would be anarchy if Abacha was
not allowed to become civilian president. Many Yoruba have not forgiven Nzeribe
for the role he played in the June 12 saga. Nzeribe does not have much political
support in the North either.


Those who know him closely say Nzeribe would always spring surprises because
many people underrate him. They say he knows how to build political organisations
and how to sustain political loyalty. During the Babangida transition programme,
he was a presidential aspirant and participated in the cancelled SDP primaries.
During that period, he built a formidable political machinery in all the eastern
states including the then Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Abia, Anambra and Cross River,
called CARIA States.


Born on November 2, 1938, Nzeribe will be 65 in 2003.




* EBITU UKIWE

Commodore Ebitu Okoh Ukiwe, former chief of general staff, CGS, hails from
Abiriba, Abia State. He is not a member of any of the political parties but
sources said he is interested in the nation's presidency "whenever the coast
is clear." As the country's former number two citizen, Ukiwe is said to be highly
favoured for the presidency by many Igbo and Yoruba who see his removal from
office in 1987 as a price he paid for not supporting Nigeria's controversial
membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, OIC. Even in the North,
he is said to be respected by many. He is married to Aminat Talib and was one time governor of Niger State.

During the sharia riots and the reprisal attacks last year, he was said to have
played the role of the east's "diplomatic envoy" to Niger, Kano and
Kaduna to calm frayed nerves.

Ukiwe is highly principled. His political undoing seems to be his unresolved
quarrel with Babangida, his former boss. Those who spoke to Newswatch last week
said in the present dispensation where Babangida plays kingmaker, Ebitu would
find it extremely difficult to become president without Babaginda's support
and blessing. He is a rigid and highly temperamental person who may find it
difficult to play the game of compromises required in politics.




* JONH NNIA NWODO, JNR

Nwodo Jnr was minister of information during the General Abdulsalami Abubakar
regime. He was also special assistant on special duties and later minister for
civil aviation in Shehu Shagari's administration. He comes from the influential
Nwodo family in Ukehe, Enugu State. A lawyer, economist and politician, Nwodo
Jnr commands respect in many political circles across the country. His brother,
Okwesilieze Nwodo is the secretary of the PDP. His younger brother Joe Nwodo
is also a political heavyweight. Their father, John Nwodo was minister in the
first republic.

Nwodo Jnr is said to have enormous political goodwill in the North and in the
East. For sometime now, he has remained quiet. He has not commented on the Igbo
presidency debate. His associates say he is plotting his strategies to ensure
he clinches the presidency ticket whenever it becomes available to the south-east.

Nwodo is 49 years old. His associates say he understands Nigeria's politics
well. Another plus point for him is that he is not controversial. Age is also
on his side. He may also exploit his brother's position in the PDP leadership
to his advantage. However, in the intricate politics of leadership in Igboland
of today, Nnia Nwodo is a non-starter.




* OLISA AGBAKOBA

To many people, Olisa Agbakoba is an unlikely candidate for the presidency
in 2003. He is not a politician and does not belong to any of the political
parties. He is only a successful lawyer and one of the youngest Senior Advocates
of Nigeria, SAN, in the country.

Agbakoba is more well-known in the human rights community. He was the founding
president of the Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, the fore-runner of the many
pro-democracy and human rights groups in the country today.

Newswatch learnt however that he is now interested in politics and the nation's
number one job. He has floated a political organisation called Alliance for
Progressive Reform, APR, which in a letter dated February 25,2001 demanded a
clarification from the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on the
registration of new political parties and independent candidacy in the 2003
elections.

Agbakoba was a staunch supporter of the June 12 struggle and is therefore quite
friendly with the Yoruba and other June 12 apostles across the country. He is
44 years old and therefore has age on his side.

His problem would be his lack of political experience.



* OGBONNAYA ONU

A chemical engineer and politician, Onu was the first civilian governor
of Abia State. Before then, he was head of the department of chemical engineering,
University of Port Harcourt. In 1999, he was a presidential contender at the
APP convention in Kaduna. He was said to have won the APP ticket which he later
abdicated as a strategy to scuttle the chance of Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and others
in the race.


Onu has somehow gone underground since then. But Newswatch learnt he is busy
going round the country and building bridges of understanding and goodwill for
the 2003 race.


Many Igbo have come to hate him as a result of the 1999 APP saga. But many
close observers told Newswatch last week that whenever the presidency is declared
open for the south-east, Onu may give his critics the shock of their lives.

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