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Governing the East

By Obi Nwakanma
Eastern Nigeria is endowed greatly with human and material resources. The energy and dynamism of its population could propel it, given right conditions, to tremendous economic and social growth that could rival India, China, Brazil, and have implications for the Central West African corridor, right down to the Congo.

Easterners now point with nostalgia to what might now be regarded as the golden years of that region, the period between 1954 and 1967 in which the East experienced rapid economic and social growth. From the end of the civil war, except perhaps between 1979 and 1983, the Eastern states, particularly the states that have come out of what later became the East Central states, regressed to primitive economic and social conditions.

We used to argue in the recent past of military rule that the economic development of the East was hindered by the military leadership which ran Nigeria for close to 35 years and whose national strategic mandate and mission seemed at the time aimed particularly at containing the energy of the East. We thought that the return of democracy would  restore the East – whose people are traditional democrats with long developed democratic institutions.

But the result of these many years of containment is terrible: the people are frightened, alienated, and listless. They seem incapable of political or civic action. They live in fragmented and incoherent communities, and have grown distrustful of the idea of government or indeed the practice of governance which continues to model, not the democracy and the transparency necessary for public scrutiny.

Elected public officials in the East, from the councilman, to the legislator, and to the executive governors act without regard for the electorate. I realize of course that I might be making a sweeping statement, but indeed I intend it to be sweeping.

We see nothing in the basic acts of these trustees of the public will but a total disregard and disdain for the people whom they purport to serve. They live well above the resources of the states; they have no meaningful contacts with the realities of the people; they have absolutely no inclination towards making people – they call them –“common people” – live and enjoy the basic benefits of civilized conditions.

They basically “rule” and are not interested in offering visionary leadership of the kind that radically transforms space and its human element. Our political leaders do not seem to read. They do not seem to have dreams beyond the grandeur of driving in great luxury through sirened afternoons.

It has been alleged that governor Ikedi Ohakim hardly spends time in Owerri, not to talk about spending time in the old Premier’s chalet in Oguta to reflect as well as model the potentials of recreational living in these places – the sum of all economies.

If the Governor does not spend time in Owerri, but prefers his weeks in Abuja and Lagos and Cape Town – how could he imagine that Owerri might benefit from a boat club – The Owerri Boat Club -  that might offer recreational sailing from Owerri through Oguta to Awo-Omama, and possibly in fact to Port-Harcourt; how might he know that the city schools into which his children should naturally enroll require facility upgrades; how might he know that a city like Owerri, without a cultural district,  might need a major Performance Center, a Repertory Theatre,  Galleries, a great Central library that might all connect to an urban life in which children and families constitute a center; how might he know that the old Owerri Golf Course formerly behind the current Governor’s lodge, then the old Resident’s lodge, was uprooted to build the ugly prefabricated things we now call  Government House and its offices – and that the ministry of works could, in fact, identify new grounds and layout a new Owerri Golf Course to be maintained by the city.

How would he know that people generally move to cities to live and invest once they feel the pulse of its night life, the cultural opportunities available, great international dining opportunities, great schools for their children, nicely laid and kept neighborhoods and well-built houses for great urban-living – these are the minimum that people demand from a government: simple municipal services, and policies that might open up economic opportunities. Industry comes with people.

I give the example of Owerri because I am emotionally staked to it as I am emotionally staked to Umuahia, where Governor Theodore Orji has consistently proved to be without class or vision – he has neither grand visions nor the conceptual capacity, it seems, to initiate dramatic development and changes in Abia State. Any man who inherits a great city like Aba but is unable to rebuild that city into what it is crying out to be – the new center for Igbo urban renaissance; a new site for new Igbo energy with new start-ups – is cursed with irremediable incompetence and blindness. The lack of imaginative governance has led to a sense of drift in Igbo land.

This has, in itself, led to crime, the spate of kidnappings carried out by dark forces in connivance with youth who see no future and no opportunities. But these men in transient power should not feel safe because indeed, the kidnappers – those young men and women whose lives they have refused to touch with hope and opportunity will someday come after them. That is the danger. That is the problem with governance in the East.


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