“He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down” - Igbo proverb
Chinua Achebe once wrote that one area where all Nigerians would probably have a consensus is in their resentment of the Igbos. Since the end of Biafra-Nigeria civil war, marginalization of the South East has continued unabated as a matter of policy. It does appear that the successive Nigerian governments, military and civilian alike, are guided by this obnoxious policy and each pursues it relentlessly. As an American Political Economist, Thomas Dyle, rightly observed, a policy is what government decides to do or not to do. So, any Federal Government deciding not to do anything about the ugly situation in the South East is no doubt a policy. pure and simple.
Many have asked what Dr. Goodluck Jonathan did in the South East as President. After all, he prided himself as Azikiwe, after the foremost Igbo man that ever lived. But a man who did virtually nothing in Bayelsa, his own State, except perhaps siting a federal university there, is a case for another day. Just like the Second Niger Bridge, East West road, a foremost federal project in the Niger Delta, remained a never ending story under their son, Jonathan.
Let it be repeated as often as there is opportunity: the few things done in the South East by the Federal Government since the end of the war are mere palliatives and core development including federal highways have all been kept in abeyance. In fact, there is no federal presence in the South East unless we have to count the ubiquitous police checkpoints, police stations and military barracks and one incubation firm tucked away somewhere in Aba. And even if the zone has the economic power to provide such economic base for itself, the Constitution bars the States from embarking on development in core areas, such as railways, power, solid minerals, seaports, communication and even in internal security.
Real development in the States and zones simply has to tarry until the Federal Government looks in their direction, going by the constraining provisions of the unitary Constitution the nation operates in place of a truly federal one.
Systematic exclusion of the South East in strategic national development continues in all fronts. Another example is the area of the laying of internet fiber backbone for Nigeria. South East again is the only zone cut off completely from this national internet infrastructure. The South East will now rely on ancillary connections from the Calabar hub. This is just one of the numerous examples of how the South East is condemned to playing the second fiddle.
If the internet communication backbone from which the South East is excluded is a nonissue, what do we say of the exclusion of the officers from South East in the Nigeria Customs Service from promotion to the cadre of Assistant Comptroller General (ACG), which provides the pool from where a new Comptroller General usually emerges, the only zone to be so excluded? How many slots did the South East get in the other federal recruitments and appointments? Even the recent recruitment in the EFCC also ignored the Federal Character provisions in the 1999 Constitution and recruited over 70% from the north alone. Yet this is the nation’s apex anticorruption agency.
The Constitution, having vested virtually all political and economic powers in the Federal Government, and the South East short of at least one state and up to 20 local governments in deficit compared to the other zones, the zone is both constitutionally and structurally encumbered from making any square facing to development through self-help. All these are fallouts of ethnic and ethno-political prejudices against the Igbos in the Nigerian polity, which are accentuated by the false perception of the first military coup as Igbo coup, the civil war the Igbos fought to avert genocide even though it still ended in it, and more recently, for falling into the 5% voters’ zone.
Ndi Igbo have been living below par in the country where they have made the greatest contributions and all the people of South East like its senate caucus, have been screaming about this and nobody cares to listen. Yet it is the exclusion and marginalization that have continued to provide the oxygen energizing insurgency in the zone as championed by IPOB and MASSOB.
It was to further make the case that the members of the South East Caucus in the Senate led by Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, on the 9th of November at the Presidential Villa Abuja, met with President Muhammadu Buhari. Some of the issues raised at the closed-door meeting, as usual, centred on the decaying infrastructure in the zone, especially federal roads that have since become deathtraps, the railways, airports; lopsided appointments and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
From the senators also we learnt that the President, who promised to do something about the complaints, admitted that governors from the zone had also raised some of the issues with him. The President is being economical with the truth. For many Igbo leaders and Igbo groups have gone to him since his election to plead the Igbo interest. And only days ago as well, a group of Igbo leaders under the aegis of National Unity Forum also met with the President on the same issues. Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo has been raising the same concerns as well. Other notable Igbo organizations known to have been making the same case are World Igbo Summit Group and Igbo Ekunie, among others. They have all been making frantic calls on Mr. President to address the gross marginalization of the South East in all aspects of national life.
So, the visit Ekweremadu and the South East senators to the President is yet another echo of all the clarion calls, which have been ringing from the zone unheeded. The most current signal that it may still go unheeded is the exclusion of the South East from the humongous infrastructure loan of $29.96 Bn, approval of which is being sought by the President from the Senate.
One expects the South East legislators, especially the Senators to bare their fangs by blocking the passage of the loan when represented to the senate unless the South east is included in the intervention projects. The federal legislators have to bear in mind that such loan, which seeks to mortgage the future of even children yet unborn when their forebears benefitted nothing from it, is such a gross injustice.
Some have argued that South East would directly benefit from the infrastructure loan. It is not true. Though the South East suffers the most in the areas targeted for intervention with the loan - power generation, rail and road renovation and construction among other acute shortages of various social amenities - there is no single infrastructural project allocated to the zone. For the avoidance of doubt, infrastructural projects are allocated $18.3 billion. The projects to be embarked upon are the Mambilla Hydro Electric Power Project ($4.8 billion), the Modernisation of Coastal Railway Project (Calabar-Port Harcourt-Onne Deep Sea Port Segment) valued at $3.5 billion and the Abuja Mass Transit Rail Project (Phase 2) put at $1.6 billion.
Others are the Lagos-Kano Railway Modernisation Project (Lagos-Ibadan Segment Double Track) estimated at $1.3 billion and the Lagos-Kano Railway Modernisation Project (Kano-Kaduna Segment Double Track) valued at $1.1 bil¬lion. The balance of $11 billion will then be expended on Eurobond ($4.5 billion), Federal Government Budget Support ($3.5 bil¬lion), Social Support for Education and Health ($2.2 billion), Agriculture ($1.2 billion), and Economic Management and Statistics ($.2 billion). There is nothing for for the South East unless theirs is hidden from public scrutiny.
We want great leaders who love the Nigerian peoples enough and respect all the Nigerian people enough. If President Muhammadu Buhari is such a man, as many believe he is, he has a golden opportunity to become the real father of modern Nigeria. History has beckoned on him twice like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was and he prides himself as a “converted democrat”.
President Buhari stands a great chance of becoming Nigeria’s ultimate hero, hero of democracy, hero of unity, hero of growth and development of Nigeria. To achieve this feat, what should occupy the President now is inclusive governance and delivery of democracy dividends.
In this great duty, the Igbos can play a pivotal role as they have always done if given the opportunity. His rapprochement with the zone is now so imperative. Let the President start with the infrastructure loan if indeed he meant what he told the senators.