Southeast craves equity, inclusion
•2023 Presidency should address our grouse
There should not have been a better time to express their discontent over the situation of things in Nigeria. As such, when the opportunity presented itself last Saturday, they grabbed it with both hands. A delegation from the Presidency led by the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Prof Ibrahim Gambari, was in Enugu to meet with Southeast leaders, comprising state governors, religious and political leaders, women and youth group representatives in the zone.
The meeting, which was actually in the aftermath of the recent #EndSARS protests across the country, was aimed at charting a durable path to development and possibly avert the threat of national disintegration.
Accompanying Gambari were Ministers of Information, Lai Mohammed; Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige; Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Education, Emeka Nwajiuba and Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, among others. They were sent by the President to ascertain why the zone feels dissatisfied with the scheme of things in the country, as well as how it could be addressed.
Pangs of pain
IGBO leaders had in unanimity informed the presidential delegation that the zone had greatly been marginalized in the scheme of things, insisting that the Southeast should be allowed to produce the president of the country in 2023 as sign of inclusion and remediation.
Further, they demanded the creation of two additional states in the zone as approved by the 2014 national conference to bring it at par with other geo-political zones. In addition, they asked for inclusion in the security architecture of the country through the appointment of Service Chiefs from among them and rehabilitating federal roads in the area that have become death traps.
The Southeast leaders demanded compliance with the letters of the Federal Character Commission in appointments into federal civil service; federal presence in the zone; inclusion of its people into Federal Government’s social investment programmes as well as implementation of reports of national conferences that preceded President Muhammadu Buhari’s assumption of office, among others.
Chairman of Southeast Traditional Ruler’s Council, His Highness, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, while presenting the position of the monarchs, said the feeling all over Igboland was that the civil war, which ended several years ago was a deception due to the treatment meted to Ndigbo by the rest of the country.
Achebe stated: “Igbo presidency is very topical. That Igbo should be president in 2023 for unity of all parts of the country. We are asking President Buhari to do his part to actualize this. We have qualified persons who can occupy that office and we are eminently qualified, because other sections of the country have had a go at that office.”
Narrating the near state of hopelessness in federal infrastructure in the zone, the monarch stressed that it took him almost four hours to move from Onitsha to Enugu, due to the poor state of the roads.
He added: “The second Niger Bridge is ongoing for which we are grateful. But the roads from Enugu – Onitsha; Enugu to Port Harcourt; Owerri to Onitsha among others, are in deplorable state. They have become a death trap. Going on these roads create a mental picture of one that was defeated during the war. It evokes the feeling that we are still being beaten or being marginalized for the civil war we fought. Our people are not happy.”
The Obi of Onitsha noted that royal fathers were sad that in every security meeting of the country summoned by the presidency, the entire Southeast was not represented, contending that the development seriously signposts that “we are not required in the country.”
“If indeed a decision is reached that is not in our favour, nobody will communicate to us. What it means is that we don’t even have the right to defend and speak for ourselves in matters affecting our people, because there is nobody to speak for us. We want to say that if we are part of this country, there should be fairness and equity. Our people should be allowed to head agencies of government like Police, Army, Navy, Civil Defence, Defence and what have you,” he stated.
The first class chief remarked that the inability of the Federal Government to prosecute AK47-wielding herdsmen have emboldened them into destroying farmlands in Igboland and raping women in the process. While stressing that the development had negatively impacted on the agricultural production of the people, Igwe Achebe said the inability to create additional states in the zone had continued to deprive it resources that should have been committed to development. He disclosed that monarchs in the region were no longer comfortable with the perceived silence of the Federal Government on the matter.
Although he commended the Federal Government for completing the Zik’s Mausoleum in Onitsha, the Obi of Onitsha added however that it had become difficult to equip the place as the committee promised to be set up to look into the matter was yet to empowered by the Federal Government.
When it came to his turn to talk, President General of Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, noted that despite the presence of Nd’Igbo in every part of the country, the zone had continued to receive the short end of the stick in the areas of governance and development.
He stated: “Our people are not happy that the claim of the civil war ending is a ruse. Nd’Igbo do not believe that the war has ended. There is no interstate road in the zone that is in good condition; no Igbo man is head of the security architecture, including Immigration, Road Safety, Civil Defence, among other security institutions.
“The civil service inclusive like Pencom (Pension Commission) has also become an issue. Only recently an Igbo director was removed and attempts being made to replace her with one from another zone in clear contradiction with the principles of federal character.
“The zone was ravaged by war, coupled with the erosion threats here and there. We had demanded that a Southeast Development Commission be set up to support our infrastructure development as being done in other places that have witnessed such unfortunate incidents. But that seems not on the cards of the Federal Government. Most of the development projects we have carried out are by our personal efforts. We are not in the reckoning of the Federal Government in allocation of projects that could give employment to the people.
“The Eastern Nigeria railway line has remained abandoned. No work has started there, even when other parts of the country are enjoying rail services. What the issue has brought is to shrink further the economy of the southeast. We were part of the most successful conferences held by any government in 2014. That report has not seen the light of the day. We are of the view that restructuring will engender security, unbundle the economy and encourage competition.
“Southeast wants a share in the presidency of this country and we demand that the next president should come from the southeast zone. Nd’Igbo are peaceful and wants the unity of the country. That is why, with our 11.6 million population in the north, there is no ethnic group that can match the domicility of Igbo in Nigeria,” he declared.
Nwodo explained that the #EndSARS protest happened because of the rampant abuse of Nigerians by security officials who were meant to secure them, stressing that several security check points in the zone were turned to points of exploitation and abuse of the innocent citizenry.
Elder statesman, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu took up the refrain of lamentation. He said: “We are not happy. We feel that all efforts we have made to build this country are not appreciated. We have been faithful and our loyalty is not in doubt. We have so many persons that are not employed.
“That you have not had a repeat of what you have in the northeast is because we are committed to one Nigeria, if not, they would have turned to another Boko Haram. We are not reaping anything from one Nigeria. If we didn’t support Buhari in 2019 he would have failed. We are not against Buhari, but we are not happy that we are not being given what belongs to us.
“We are not joking when we say we want the presidency in 2023. Please tell him we should have the presidency. Let him do what was done in 1999 that gave the Yoruba opportunity to rule the country. That is our desire.
“As you try to solve the issue of infrastructure, also remember there is a cargo airport in Imo State; that airport was solely financed by the people of the state. They contributed money to build it. Please assist us to develop it and put its facilities back in use.”
On their part, the youths asked for inclusion in the Federal Government’s social incentives like their counterparts in other parts of the country, stating that the preferential treatments being given in appointments contribute to their joblessness.