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Buhari, South-east governors, restive youth: What is to be done?

By Obi Nwakanma

Fairness and professional obligation demands that we hear the other party in a situation of conflict and disagreement, and so I intend to do precisely that this week, in response to the developing scenarios between the Buhari administration and the Biafran separatist agitators, the IPOB, which it has labelled a “terrorist organization.”

President Muhammadu Buhari

It is remarkable, and this is just an aside, that the Catalan secessionists in Spain haven chosen today, October 1, as the day to conduct their own referendum for secession. The Spanish government has vigorously opposed, and labelled it “illegal.” But Spain has not called the Catalan separatists, doing precisely what IPOB is doing “terrorists.”

The Spanish government certainly has opposed it; arrested some of the political leaders of the region who are involved in the secessionist movement, and has vowed not to recognise the results of the planned referendum.

The Catalans have been adamant; putting up vociferous street campaigns, and by the time this column comes out today, would have probably conducted this referendum nonetheless to extricate Catalonia from the Kingdom of Spain. And so we have a complex Iberian jiggery-pokery going on.

Just as we have one brewing very fiercely in in the West African nation of Nigeria, long regarded as Africa’s profoundly flawed and unstable power house. And the pot boils, people, and some of us hear what it says: “kwutum kwu, akpom mmandu ana… .” Verily, says the boiling pot, I shall go with human heads. It is possibly out of such considerations that I had a conversation with an administration insider this past week who said I’ve been “unfair” – his very words to the Buhari administration on my views of IPOB in my column.

“Buhari is not fighting the Igbo” he said to me, “it is an unfair characterization of the man.” Furthermore, “there is no conquest of the East. It is a misnomer. You do not conquer a territory that already is inside your polity. The South East is already part of the Federal Republic.” What the administration did was to “prevent further escalation of a predatory group seeking to destabilize the nation.

South East Governors in closed-door meeting with Nnia Nwodo

No responsible government stands aside to watch this development without acting. It does not mean a suppression of the right to protest. It is a responsible government’s response to the potential threat of widespread instability in a very strategic region of Nigeria.”

Perhaps the Federal administration does need to make its own case a bit more accurately and logically more frequently. Its official spokesmen are plodding and ponderous. I did understand from this exchange, that the president did not act out of impulsion.

But to send in armed soldiers? The request to send in the forces was made in fact by the five South-Eastern governors who were beginning to feel the heat of youth agitation initiated and increasingly led by this separatist movement.

“Yes, mistakes have been made at both ends” said my source, “but Buhari came in sincerely hoping to solve the unemployment problem in Nigeria, but especially in the East. That is why he handed the administration of the Central Bank, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Science and Technology to Igbo ministers.” Those are the job-creating ministries, said my source.

In some very important way, this struck a chord with me. Earlier on in the life of this administration, I had written in the “Orbit” that between the very brilliant Dr. Enelamah in the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu in Science and Technology, and Dr. Chris Ngige in Labour, you have a force of the trinity that can instigate new directions in the economy through a powerful Federal Works Program, the sort that was initiated in the United States during the Great Depression. It would require strategic inter-agency cooperation and synergy, and it would require imagination, beyond the current bureaucratic capacity of the current Federal government. These Igbo ministers are occupying powerful and strategic federal positions that could be of significant use.

Of course, Nigerians see important ministries only in the kind of allocations that they attract. But the infrastructure of Labour because it deals with work force issues is always the largest in every productive society, and Ngige occupies it. Nigeria will not make any headway until it massively funds the Ministry of Science and Technology, which is the ministry potentially at the very roots of any strategic moves Nigeria will ever make if it has to prosper and be taken seriously as a nation.

It just simply has to rise above its bureaucratic strictures, and its plodding, unimaginative self-limitations, which had Ogbonnaya Onu, as his first signal project, proposing to create a “museum of science and technology.” It was to all intents and purposes a rather strange and surreal proposal.

Ogbonnaya Onu should be canvassing for great public and private investments to fund bold projects, complex experiments, and path-breaking research into every aspect of our lives that would absorb our excess human energy, and feed our engine of production. Nigeria’s greatest resource is not oil or minerals: it is its human resource. It is its first market. Its first engine of production.

Its best investment. Of Nigeria’s highest trained manpower, the South-East accounts for at least 40% of the total. And there is where the problem lies: this manpower is restless, unemployed, under-utilized and quarantined.

Here is the tragedy of the South East, and I shall draw a very useful example from the 2016 budgets region by region. Here is how it goes: North Central Nigeria budgeted N631.2 billion for the fiscal year 2016. North East budgeted N582.9 billion; North West budgeted N1.062 Trillion; South West N1.I63.6 Trillion; South-South, N1.678.1 Trillion, and the South-East N525.9 billion.

This budget apparently comes from revenues coming from federal allocations and internally generated taxes. This table proves one thing: the South-Eastern region of Nigeria is the most under-invested region in Nigeria. But the table also does not tell all the story. The states with the lowest budgets (Ekiti, N67B, Taraba N68.8B, Niger N74.7B, Kogi N75B, Yobe N80B) are all in the North and the South West.

The lowest states with the budgets in the South-East are Abia N97.7B, and Enugu N85.1B. The question therefore is, why is the East under-funded with a state like Lagos budgeting N662.5 billion, more than total of all the South East budget?

How was a power house city like Aba allowed to decay and collapse and become the example of what we can easily call the “triage economy.” The problem must be confronted, because it is this problem that in part feeds the crisis in the East. The problem of under-investment. Many young South Easterners, with university and advanced degrees are not engaged in any productive way. This is terrible misuse of resource!

The East invests in powerful education for its children, but does not derive the benefits of its investments. Rather, a place like Lagos draws them.

Lagos thus becomes the hungry cow that swallows the fat and lazy cows, and the South East, the region that washes its hands clean just to crack nuts for chickens. Once, Aba, as a city could very easily compete with Lagos. But even now, with all its potentials as the central city of the East, smack at the center – the entreport between Port-Harcourt and Uyo and going on to Calabar, and which feeds the central Eastern corridor with industrial product – yet it is in coma.

Successive Governors of Abia state have not provided the basis for investors to return to Aba: the housing stock is poor, the public infrastructure is non-existent; there is very little facility for recreation, and the city is an environmental time-bomb. But Aba and Onitsha hold the key to the East’s industrial and commercial resurgence which can only be made possible by absorbing its highly skilled manpower.

A state like Imo state has only one major city, Owerri, although it should have long developed a tri-city masterplan to expand Orlu and Okigwe into new, elegant, well-built modern cities that are linked to each other by a metro system. Okigwe, with a nearby university in Uturu is a terrible waste of space. The South-East, with a very contiguous geography has all it takes to absorb the resources coming through its neighbouring states in the delta, but it has not done so.

Rather than confront this – the fact that since the last five years at least, over N2 trillion has come into the coffers of Imo state under Okorocha for instance –and there is nothing to show for it in terms of real development. The young, restive Igbo, searches for answers in the sky. They run to an absent and tired God or they blame only Buhari, and the federal government.

Buhari and the federal government have played their own part certainly in this story, but IPOB must now direct its fierce attention in holding elected governments in the South East accountable. After all, we must look beautiful starting from home, before we step outside.


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