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By Jude Nwauzor
Your Excellencies, the Executive Governors and other leaders of the South/East Nigeria, good morning Sirs. How was your sleep? Anyway, Ndigbo si m’gbe onye ji teta ura bu ututu ya (whenever a man wakes from sleep is his morning). Anyway, we are even happy that your Excellencies may have started waking up finally.
Indeed, now that you all seem to have woken from your slumber, I and many others from that side of the country hope you do not start sleepwalking because odim ka agwo no na akirika. This one, I won’t interpret and please don’t ask me why. When I do have ample time with leaders of the South-East, we can have a deeper conversation about that. For now, kindly allow me to start this discuss like this…
Your Excellencies, some of you may like what I am about to vent, others may hate it, but no matter how receptive you are, I will hold strongly to my position that you may be awake but sleepwalking. But, before I continue, let me offer a refresher on the concept of sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking, which is formally known as somnambulism, is a behaviour disorder that originates during deep sleep and eventually results in walking or performing other complex behaviours while asleep. May I also remind Your Excellencies that the common triggers for sleepwalking include sleep deprivation, sedative agents (including excessive use of hard drugs/alcohol etc), febrile illness, and heavy intake of strong medications, which I need not name here.
The fact is, if you are from the South-East (like I am), the slow growth of development and insecurity of lives and property in the area over the years and, coupled with the alleged federal government neglect points to the fact that Your Excellencies have either been deep asleep or awake but sleepwalking.
To some of us from that region – particularly Abia, Anambra, Ebinyi, Enugu and Imo States, the nonchalant attitude of the governors and elected officials over the years to make deliberate efforts to develop the South-East have remained a matter for concern. I may not have lived as old as Chief John Nnia Nwodo, the respected Nigerian lawyer, economist, and former minister who is presently the President-General of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo or Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, the publisher of Champion newspaper, politician and business mogul. But I am old enough to have noticed that the crop of leaders we have in Igbo states especially since the likes of Chief Sam Mbakwe’s generation signed out leaves more to be desired.
I would not mention the names of distant-past, recent-past and even serving governors of the region that did badly or, that are still doing badly even as we speak. We will address that some other time.
The fact, Your Excellencies is that we feel there are lots of deliberate arrested developmental plans that may have been orchestrated to retard the growth of the South-East. I may not qualify to talk about the ones that happened before I became a full-blown adult. But a lot has happened in my lifetime, which I can recall clearly. History told us that the alleged neglect of the South-East started since the end of the civil war, which I did not witness. What I have witnessed is that the South-East as a region does not have serious federal presence till date. Sadly too, some of us have not seen any deliberate efforts to correct the lopsidedness.
However, I have gained consciousness when the former military President, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) was in charge. At the time, even when my parents, uncles, human right activists and everybody around me were busy condemning military incursion in government as the worst thing that can happen to a democracy, growth and development of any nation, I cared less. I loved IBB and wanted to be a soldier that will dress and look like IBB one day.
That hallucination eventually pushed me to have a stint with the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA). The story of how I fled the academy is not what I want to bore anybody with in this article. However, it was the same IBB whom I loved so much (and I still love him) that started one of the dirtiest plots against the South-East with the construction of the second River Niger Bridge, which is one of the major links to the South-West and South-South to the South-East.
Babangida who did not waste time completing the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos State, which was handled by no lesser a construction company than the gigantic Julius Berger, suddenly resorted to challenging the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) to come up with the prototype of the second Niger bridge. When IBB decided to go through that route and with all due respect to the NSE, every discerning mind in the country including my little self knew that the project was dead on arrival.
In my entire live as a Nigerian, I am yet to see any bridge within the Federal Republic of Nigeria that is constructed by a Nigerian firm or Nigeria engineers. Please, I stand to be corrected on this assumption too. Remember, IBB was in office from August 27, 1985 – to August 26, 1993. Some 27 years after, Nigeria is still grappling with the construction of the second Niger Bridge project. Shameful right?
Your Excellencies, bad as that example is, and I can reel out a thousand more, nothing has changed in that wry and sly relationship between the rest of Nigeria and the South-East especially when it comes to projects that would support the socio-political and economic development of the region.
It is important to remind His Excellencies, our elected officials, decision makers and traditional rulers among other interested South-East parties both at home and in the diaspora to stop sleepwalking for God’s sake because “onye ajuru aju anaghi aju onwe ya,” (you do not reject yourself if the society rejects you). South-East leaders need to start serious collaborations to jointly accelerate development of the South-East states even if the rest of the collective have shown no interest in doing so.
Nearly three decades after the second River Niger bridge, which was cited earlier, former Governor of Rivers State and current Nigeria’s Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, around June 2018 told the whole world that the rerailing Nigeria project, which the President Buhari administration inherited from the past administration of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan would cover the Western corridor of the country traversing nine states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja spanning a total of 1,402 kilometres.
I comprehensively recall that the Hon. Minister Amaechi made the revelation when he attended the Forum of China-Africa Transportation Convention in Beijing, China. The convention was titled, ‘Better Transportation, Better World.’ He also stated that the project would be completed in 36 months as soon as the loan agreement was reached between Nigeria and China. The minister had said then: “This rail line, a total of 1,402Km, which covers the Western corridor of Nigeria traverses nine states of our federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and is expected to be completed within three years if the expected loan agreement with China EXIM Bank for co-financing is reached as expected.”
He also spoke about the Lagos-Kano railway project, which Nigeria awarded to China Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC), and co-financed by China EXIM Bank, which he also said will serve as an important distribution corridor between the major sea port of Lagos and the hinterlands. Your Excellencies, the Governors of South-East states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, you can again see from that presentation that your states or geo-political zone as it is called in Nigerian parlance is not part of those “important distribution corridors..”
However, Your Excellencies, in case you are still sleepwalking, your states and your geo-political zone will, whether you like it or not, and, whether you are still in office or not, would share from the “pains” of repaying these huge loans from China or wherever it is sourced from for that matter. Nigeria must pay back sometime someday, which is why you must insist that the South-East benefits from the developmental goodies that come with these humongous loans.
I was at least happy that the former Deputy Senate President, Senators Ike Ekweremadu, Enyinnaya Abaribe and some of their colleagues challenged the rail line lopsidedness on the floor of the Senate when they sponsored a motion on the “alleged neglect of the South-Eastern zone in the federal government’s modernisation of railway projects.” Senator Ekweremadu while drawing the attention of the Senate to the alleged neglect of the zone in rail lines project said, although the rehabilitation and modernisation of rail lines by the federal government are commendable, the neglect of the South-Eastern zone in the project is worrisome. I would not know if their concern has ended with that word – ‘worrisome.’
For me, the use of the word “marginalisation” is too heavy especially for citizens of a supposed united country, but when things like neglecting a particular region, not just the South-East keeps recurring even though my mates were not part of the Ndigbo that fought in the Biafra/Nigeria civil war, it is worrisome that things like that have continued to fester during our time.
In my opinion, living in Nigeria that is still looking at things from narrow perspectives defeat the whole essence of fighting the brutish civil war in the first place. I think Nigeria’s founding fathers may be regretting wherever they are right now. As for me, I do not believe we had founding fathers. My take is that we had individuals who promoted ethnicity and never laid a foundation for a united country (this is my opinion, which I am entitled to, please). Even at that, they will be sad in their graves that 60 years after, Nigeria is still discussing almost all the issues that caused the civil war.
Your Excellencies, these facts are even more worrisome now than ever before because unlike your generation and that of our fathers, grand fathers and great-grand fathers, my age demography (known by scholars as “Generation X,” which are people born between 1965 to 1980) and the millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) that are following us are smarter. We will not behave like you.
We are more adventurous and daring than you because majority of you belong to the Baby Boomers generation (people born between 1946 to 1964). From studies, your generation find status-quo-ante fine, which is why some of us understand why the South-East is the way it is. My generation and the one following me are disruptive in our thinking. We are curious. We like to live free, enjoy equal opportunity and so on. As far as we are concerned, normal is boring and must be challenged at all costs.
Your Excellencies, my generation is not happy with decades of neglect of the South-East just as we are not happy with some of you that have had the opportunity to lead the South-East states have also squandered the chance. We have also come to the conclusion that you do not understand the concept of fighting and winning a battle against a common enemy. If not, the resources that have ended up in the pockets of political officials can turn the South-East into the Hong Kong of Nigeria even if others do not wish you develop.
The Yoruba nation South-West Nigeria mastered the act of fighting and winning a battle against the common enemies. That was what they activated when the security of lives and property was threatened in the region. If you remember, the Yoruba Excellencies, and, I mean your opposite numbers gathered themselves in one room irrespective of their political differences to set up the Amotekun security outfit. This, they did with total disregard to whatever anybody wants to say.
Sadly, instead of Your Excellencies to copy and paste like the Yoruba by setting up your own security outfit, you decided to be “childishly diplomatic” and invited Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu to join you to design the blueprint of the South-East security outfit. Your Excellencies, are you guys for real?
That “diplomatic” approach was not only naïve and laughable, it showed Sirs, with all due respect that you never learnt anything from history, and it may be too late for some of you to learn from history. Come 2023, some of you will become irrelevant in the scheme of things and the opportunity to write your name in gold lost forever. Mark my word.
Your Excellencies, you can therefore imagine how much of a good laugh I had, when few weeks back, I watched the Chairman of the South-East Governor’s Forum (SEGF) and the Governor of Ebonyi State, Mr. David Umahi, accusing the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Adamu Abubakar of going contrary to earlier agreement they reached on the issue of setting up South-East security outfit or what was tagged Community Policing Template (CPT).
Your Excellencies, biko ka’m juo unu ajuju na aha Chineke, what did you people expect from the “innocent” Police boss? The meeting was probably convened following recent reports of massive influx of jobless young men from northern part of Nigeria to the South despite the Federal Government ban on interstate travels around Nigeria as one of the ways of curtailing the spread of the dreaded Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that have claimed over 340 Nigerian lives and thousands globally.
A good number of the trucks were reportedly intercepted in some South-East/South-West and even South-South areas allegedly had hundreds of young men with no known address of where they are headed. There were also reports on credible television stations such as Channels Television, Africa Independent Television (AIT) and a host of others who reported these massive suspicious migrations. However, addressing the media at the end of the long meeting, the Ebonyi State governor told journalists that the Police IG betrayed the meeting by unilaterally tinkering with the security arrangements that was reached with him during the earlier meeting where the Community Policing Template (CPT) was agreed. The governors, therefore, insisted that they would not implement the CPT rolled out by Adamu until he reverts to the original template.
When I put this repulsive display by Your Excellencies and governors and leaders of the South-East side-by-side to what your counterparts do in the South-West, one feels that the South-East carries on like a fatherless child. Your Excellencies, please permit me to state further that it is not a time for sleepwalking leaders.
Nwauzor, former winner, Nigeria Media Merit Award (NMMA) lives in Abuja, Nigeria.