One nation, multiple destinies . . . 1
Posted by News Express | 8 July 2021 | 122 times
FLASHBACK: 5th February, 2015:
Within the last one week, I have been to Ngor Okpala Local Government Area of Imo State twice. Last Friday, when I left Yenogoa, Bayelsa State, I drove straight to Amafor-Imerienwe to spend a few moments with my friend, Dr. Sam Amadi, chair of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) who was burying his late mother that day. Then on Sunday evening, I was back to Owerri to join the Imo State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial campaign train of Hon Emeka Ihedioha that was to hit his Aboh-Mbaise-Ngor Okpala Federal Constituency the next day.
Now, I need to state quickly that I am neither a PDP member nor member of any other party. I simply went to identify with the aspiration of my friend. With the exception of the 2011 general election when I was not in the country, I have since 2003—when he made his first foray into the House of Representatives—always spent at least a day on Ihedioha’s campaign train as a show of solidarity. On Monday, I was part of the team that included Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, former Governor Achike Udenwa, Senator Chris Anyanwu, Dr. Kema Chikwe, Dr. Douglas Acholonu, Prof. Viola Onwuliri, Nze Fidelis Ozichukwu, Prof. Jude Njoku, Major General Eugene Nwanguma (rtd), Air Commodore Luke Ochubor (rtd), Chief Austin Papa Nwokorie, Hon. Jones Onyesiri, Eng. Ebere Udeagu, ace footballer, Kanu Nwankwo and several others.
Throughout the day filled with pomp and drama, full tradition was on display. Igbo rituals including kolanut breaking added colour to the occasion at every stop from Ngor Okpala to Aboh-Mbaise. However, the major highlight of the campaign for me was not the endorsement of Ihedioha by the various PDP bigwigs but rather the passion with which they campaigned for President Goodluck Jonathan. I have never seen such genuine support and affection for the president anywhere, not even among his Ijaw kinsmen.
It all started at the Umuneke, headquarters of Ngor Okpala where traditional rulers were gathered to receive the team. Iwuanyanwu said that being a son of the area, support for Ihedioha should be taken for granted: “the real case I want to make here today is for the man who is not here and I am talking about our beloved son, President Jonathan who is contesting against Buhari. Just this morning, I was shown a story where Buhari was quoted on BBC Hausa Service that we Igbo people hate him because of Biafra and that given another chance, he will do what he did again. That is a declaration of war on Igbo people. How can we support such a man?”
I have read different versions of the ‘BBC Hausa Service interview’ referred to by Iwuanyanwu on WhatsApp but when I did a Google search, I couldn’t find the story. This means it may have been fabricated to give the APC presidential candidate a bad name among Igbo people. Yet on Monday, where Iwuanyanwu stopped, others took over with Senator Anyanwu saying rather vehemently that in this election, as far as Igbo people are concerned, “there is no alternative to Jonathan.” When it was her turn, Mrs Chikwe asked the question that became her singsong throughout the day: “What should happen to any Igbo man who votes for another candidate other than President Jonathan?” The crowd responded: “Holy Ghost fire!”
Overall, it is not that the Igbos I met at the campaign train in Imo State hate Buhari; it is that they don’t believe he has the predisposition to deal fairly with them if he becomes the president of Nigeria. I can understand their fears. Igbos are carrying many scars and a deep memory from Nigeria’s struggles to create an equitable country. The Igbos have traversed our diverse country and are to be found settled all over Nigeria.
Most of them, however, seem to doubt if the APC presidential candidate can guarantee a modern democratic state that protects the equality of citizens. Only Buhari and the APC can determine whether they have done enough to allay such fears.
However, with a brutal insurgency in the North-east, chronic inter-communal strife in the North-central; and militancy in the South-south, it is not surprising that several parts of our country are asking for assurances as to how to restore their sense of belonging and co-ownership of Project Nigeria. Should he win, Buhari will have a huge task persuading the widest spectrum of Nigerians to see him as someone who can protect the rights of all citizens wherever they may live, whatever section of the country they come from and regardless of the religion they profess. That way, he may eventually win over the Igbo people, majority of whom for now do not trust him.
The foregoing excerpts from my 5th February 2015 column, ‘Buhari, Ndigbo and Yoruba Agenda’, at the time the current president was aspiring for power reveal quite clearly that the mutual distrust between him and Igbo people did not start today. Nor has the passage of time over the past six years healed wounds. His July 2015 Washington DC declaration, following his election (“I hope you have a copy of the election results. The constituents which, for example, gave me 97% [of the vote] cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%”) which was in response to a question on the Niger Delta has been appropriated by the Southeast without any conscious attempt to change the narrative in the way and manner opportunities are distributed.
However, the real concern is that opposition to the president is also growing gradually in the Southwest where he secured the votes that got him over the line in his fourth attempt. As I often argued, there is no worse place to be for a politician than when their opponents and supporters are singing from the same hymn book. That exactly is where President Buhari is today, given the communique released by Southern Governors Forum after their meeting in Lagos on Monday.
Let’s begin with some political arithmetic. Of the 17 Southern states, eight of them are controlled by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC): Five in the Southwest (Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun), one in the Southsouth (Cross Rivers) and two in the Southeast (Imo and Ebonyi States). Two of these states (Cross River and Anambra) were not represented at the Lagos meeting. One belongs to APC, the other to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Despite the huge presence of APC governors, the forum still came up with a statement that could be seen as confrontational to the federal government controlled by their own party. Before I make my point, it is important to examine a few issues in their resolutions.
Given how previous administrations have failed in their attempts to enact the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), one would have thought the governors would first congratulate President Buhari and the National Assembly before making whatever amendments they seek.
Rather, what they did was to rehash the populist lines from social media on what the bill means. Is the proposed PIB perfect? Certainly not. Can the Niger Delta have a better deal than what was proposed? Yes. Is the proposition of a “funding mechanism of thirty per cent (30%) of NNPC Limited’s profit oil and profit gas as in the production sharing, profit sharing, and risk service contracts to fund exploration of frontier basins” about favouring the North and is it too much? No, by my understanding. Many of the terms in the oil industry are technical so the question that ought to have been asked is, 30 percent of what? And for what purpose? Once those questions are answered—and the southern governors ought to have sought clarifications on them—all the brouhaha will disappear.
For readers who are open-minded, I will recommend a twitter Thread that sums up what the issues are: https://twitter.com/femolevsky/status/1412331220730630145.
The governors also expressed their “commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously agrees that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between Southern and Northern Nigeria and resolved that the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the Southern Region.” This means that southern governors can also play the game, as we saw in the prelude to the 2015 general election when Northern governors, including those in the then ruling PDP, were vehement that power had to shift from South to North. Six years later, has the material condition of people in the North been made better because ‘their son’ is in power? I leave readers to answer that question.
To “consolidate our democracy and strengthen the electoral process”, the southern governors also reject the removal of the Electronic transmission of the election result from the electoral act. I wonder why the National Assembly, including lawmakers from the 17 southern states (except they were all drinking kaikai while their northern counterparts were supposedly putting this clause), would endorse such proposition. I understand from some Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials that the Z-pad technology was used to upload results to the commission’s view portal, real time, from all polling units, wards and local government areas during the Edo State gubernatorial election last year. That prevented a situation in which anybody could have tampered with the results and aided the transparency of the process. National Assembly members (from North and South) are quite aware of this, their motive can only be to circumscribe the conduct of credible polls. Since President Buhari will never be on the ballot again in Nigeria, this should not be his problem.
The governors also talked about the creation of state police on which there seems to be a national consensus among them. Whatever the resolution that “if for any reason security institutions need to undertake an operation in any State, the Chief Security Officer of the State must be duly informed” may mean, let’s leave that one. A timeline of 1st September, 2021 is set for “the promulgation of the anti-open grazing law in all member States”. This is a direct response to President Buhari’s call for a gazette that would reopen the old grazing routes for cattle. On this, we can also put the governors’ reaction down to Isaac Newton’s third law of motion: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
This series will continue, especially as we move towards the 2023 general election so I can deal with the substantive issues that are tied to our politics. But in all, what I see from the communique of the southern governors is that they are buying into the local sentiment within the environment in which they operate. And this is where the problem lies for Aso Rock. For a president in his seventh of eight years’ tenure, Buhari should be concerned about his legacy.
As I have argued in the past, the president may give the country the Lagos-Ibadan expressway that successive administrations failed to do, which combined with the railway will ease transportation in the Southwest. He may succeed in completing the Second Niger Bridge that has for decades been mere tales. He may even complete the East-West road in the Niger Delta. While these would ordinarily be concrete achievements, they may not make a difference in how the people perceive him and his stewardship. As I have also said before, one can just picture how chaotic Lagos would be without the Third Mainland Bridge. General Ibrahim Babangida built it. That is not what Lagosians remember him for.
The most critical charge in the statement by southern governors is the one which “frowns at selective criminal administration of Justice and resolved that arrests should be made within the ambit of the Law and fundamental human rights.” Since I was not at the meeting, I cannot state what informed this charge. But the only two recent arrests that could have provoked this statement is that of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu and his ‘Yoruba Nation’ counterpart, Sunday Igboho. I doubt if this is an endorsement of what these two characters stand for or that they are above the law. It is more a rebuke of how some other people who equally threaten the peace of our country are treated by the security agencies. To the extent that equality before the law is the hallmark of a true democratic state, this is a very serious indictment against the federal government.
We have so many challenges in Nigeria today that require the attention of our leader, at all levels. We are getting to a situation in which parents may no longer be sending their children to school because kidnappers now lay siege. Yesterday, the United Nations Education Fund (UNICEF) raised concerns over abductions of innocent school children in parts of West and Central Africa. The statement opened with the abduction on Monday of 150 students “from a school in Nigeria’s Kaduna State”. One of them happens to be 14-year old son of a young man I know. In Nigeria, according to UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, “the UN estimates that at least 950 students have been abducted from their schools by armed men since December. Over the past six weeks alone, nearly 500 children were abducted in four separate incidents across the central and northwest parts of the country. Many of these children have not yet been returned. It is hard to fathom the pain and fear that their families and loved ones are suffering in their absence.”
To compound our woes, the economy is in dire straits at a period when millions of our young people cannot be productively engaged. The national currency is on a free fall against the Dollar. Essential commodities, including foodstuffs, are now almost out of reach for the average citizens. The health sector has practically collapsed. To deal with these and other challenges will require a unity of purpose and fewer distractions. It is the responsibility of President Buhari to focus our attention on how to confront those critical challenges. To do that, he must first understand that building a nation requires more than bricks and mortar.
When certain ethnic or geopolitical groups within a country feel that their people are alienated from opportunities or are discriminated against in the enforcement of law and order, whether justifiably or otherwise, the state weakens, and progress becomes difficult. That then gives ethnic entrepreneurs the opportunity to build on fears and insecurity and polarise the society. The environment becomes even more toxic when political memories and emotions are exhumed and exploited to magnify anxieties and further divide along delicate faultlines. That unfortunately is where we are in Nigeria today.
Now that representatives of the political elite from the Southern part of the country have joined the ever-growing community of ‘Wailing wailers’, it is obvious we have a problem on our hands. If we ignore the fact that they may be playing the politics of 2023 and power shift, the subtext from their statement, which should also not be lost on the president, is that he must begin to embrace a sense of justice which is higher than routine legalism. This will entail reaching out to critical constituencies that may feel alienated with words and gestures that renew the bonds of national solidarity. And, all things considered, I believe he should begin from the Southeast!
Source: News Express
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