By Obi Nwankanma
SOUTH-Eastern Nigeria hasÂ Â Â Â finally, fully collapsed underÂ Â Â the weight of years of neglect and containment. It is now a no-go area for any one who treasures safety.
Increasing kidnappings and a high rate of other violent crimes reflect the terrible truth, that the East has become ungovernable.
There is in fact very little government in existence. We certainly have sitting authorities in place, but they are at best, symbolic and mostly engaged in a circus: the visual elements of power: sirens, billboards, the occasional empty speeches – just the circus.
The situation in Eastern Nigeria today is the most important signifier of the rapid siege of the civic space that will eventually envelope Nigeria if we fail to heed the signs and act urgently.
The South-East of Nigeria is an important flashpoint and an indicator of where we may eventually end up: the absolute collapse of the regulatory power of the state and the rise of the atomized spheres of influence and the dangerous, unmanageable frontier.
Any honest and courageous visitor to the East will certainly feel the skepticism among the population about the meaning and value of government in their lives. People are alienated and do not feel themselves part of a civic order.
There is a massive sense of insecurity. Marauders roam the night, and seize the day, kidnap people, and foment siege on the social landscape of the East. There is massive divestment. Increasingly folks are movingÂ their families and businesses out of the East.
This human divestment impacts on new investments in the East. This is a dangerous situation, but it has its roots in the 1970s when the federal government of Nigeria, as part of its vicious post war policies against the Igbo squeezed the East of much needed economic development, containing its industrial capacities, and restraining its expansion in a move that led eventually to the collapse of its economy through capital flight.
Aba â€™s industrial belt collapsed.
Onitshaâ€™s commercial growth was repressed. As a result of the policies between 1983 and the end of the military regime in Nigeria, and particularly the regime that came to the fore from 1984 till it stepped aside, the East experienced the greatest moments of neglect, capital squeeze, and infrastructural decay.
Military governors sent to the East, including those who were Igbo military officers, often thought their assignments to the East was a continuation of the civil war by other means. Their mandates, it seemed, was not to develop the East, but to slow it down.
It was precisely the mindset that led then Brigadier Ike Nwachukwu who was appointed military governor of the old Imo State in 1984 to take one good look at the industrial projects and the development plan that the late Dr. Sam Mbakwe had embarked upon and declare them â€œwhite elephant projects,â€ and went into the business of dismantlingÂ them; in effect destroying the emergent base of the post-war economic resurgence that would have saved the East and expanded opportunities.
Those projects he could not dismantle, he privatized and sold off, like the Paint and Resin industry in MbaiseÂ and which now equally lies prostate. What he did not complete by way of depredation others finished. For example, Captain Joe Anekeâ€™s governmentÂ dismantled the Izombe and Amaraku Power Projects, the first independent power project in Nigeria embarked upon by any state and established by the Mbakwe government through international loans.
Indeed by 1980, the South East of Nigeria had the vastest investment in local machine tools industry in West Africa and would have entered the phase of an industrial revolution by 1987, a fact noted by the research economist Tom Forrest, of St. Anthonyâ€™s College, Oxford, in his fascinating book, The Advance of Capital: The growth of Nigerian Private Enterprise in 1980.
The question that people ask is: what happened to all that industry and enterprise? We know its sum effect: economic and civic degradation, and a certain desperation that has led to terrible unemployment, cynicism, and crime. Citizens of the South Eastern Nigeria ignored military rule, hoping to wait it out, and restore a civic leadership that will revamp the East. That was not to be.
They have not been allowed, since the so-called return to democracy, to elect their true leaders, and they have lived under something of a Carthaginian mandate since 1983.
The result is that leadership remains lax, unresponsive, alienated, flatulent and unimaginative. Hear the current governor of Abia State, and I quote from a recent newspaper report: â€œIt would be unfair for people to compare the level of development in the South-South states or Lagos with that of the stateâ€ he (T.A.Orji) said, adding that deductions were still being made at source from stateâ€™s monthly allocation.
â€œIf I get half of what they get, you will see wonders. For instance, we received N2 billion last month. We spent N1.4 billion on workersâ€™ salaries. How much development projects can the remaining N600 million execute?
â€œThey gave me N205 million as Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) for last month, this money canâ€™t even cover asphalt for a 12-kilometre road. Yet people expect me to do magic and unfortunately, people donâ€™t pay tax here.â€
This is, Iâ€™m sorry to say, the lamest gubernatorial excuse of all time. The governor infers that Abia is insolvent and incapable of generating self-sustaining revenue.
If that is so, let us then declare Abia bankrupt and dissolve the state, and cede it to a more solvent state, like Rivers State.
But of course this kind of leadership and its thought process that is full of impotent excuses has unraveled the beast in the East: an angry army of unemployed, unemployable, impoverished young men and women, who have seen that there is nowhere else to go, and nothing else to do but to live by their own wit.
These are easy recruits to crime. They have nothing to lose. This state of mind- the fatalism of discontent- is at the roots of the upsurge of kidnappings and other violent crimes in the East of Nigeria.
The rich and the powerful are now moving targets in the East. The scope and geography of these criminal operations will spread nationwide, inevitably. That is the nature of the beast.
We better be very wary because the revolt of the oppressed and the restless is terrifying and itâ€™s well nigh by our doorsteps.