President Muhammadu Buhari’s two-day visit to the South-Eastern states of Ebonyi and Anambra is taking place at the most opportune juncture, to show support to a governor who has done so much in promoting the President’s policy on food self-sufficiency and to to endorse his party’s candidate in a crucial vote to install a new governor through an election at the weekend in Anambra.
Given the unfortunate secessionist winds sown by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB the President’s visit should be seen as part of the measures promised by the administration, following successful cooperation between the federal government, the region’s five governors and the cultural leadership of the people, the Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo.
This joint effort has in no small means achieved success in putting out the fires ignited by IPOB. The visit should go further in soothing frayed nerves and provide an opportunity to listen more to the cries of the people of the region.
This visit should give the nation a clear break in the mindset from the negativity that characterized the perception of the Buhari administration in the region, following his victory in the 2015 election in which a majority cast its lot with the former President Dr Goodluck Jonathan by giving him 2,464,906 votes, against Muhammadu Buhari’s 198,248 (more or less the same votes he got from one or maximally two of some local council areas in a populous State).
Following the outcome of this election, some of the politicians who lost began to whip up fears of vendetta against the the region even when there was no basis at all for this. It may have been a defensive strategy. But it nonetheless led to emotional responses to the President expressed through anger, paranoia, fear, frustration, resentment and confusion.
I recall that when he spoke on the subject of political patronage at the U.S Institute of peace, he described the way most democracies work that the one who gave 95 percent did not get the same as the the one gave five percent votes but said emphatically that “I’am a different kind of leader.” He said, more or less in these words that he would be fair and just to all citizens irrespective of the way they voted and went on to add that this country’s constitution protects all citizens, all parts thereof by making specific provisions for fair and balanced distribution of appointments and projects known the federal character principle.
This was misconstrued and used to whip up sentiment against him in states that did not vote for him, even after the transcripts of what he actually were published.
This negativity had prevailed in spite of the conscious effort the President made to reassure the South-East by giving four of the region’s five states four senior cabinet posts, which are foreign affairs; industry, trade and investment; science and technology and labor, employment and productivity.
And given the choices he made, the South-East Ministers today rank among the best this country has ever had if you look at their individual performances.
If you go through the online newspapers of the country, everyday, every week and every year there are stories about marginalization against a people for whom the President is doing so much to ensure their security,dignity and prosperity.
Beyond these misplaced fears, these south-easterners are a people known for their creativity, industry and hard work, from whose sweat the economy has benefited immensely.
But it is equally true that they have not been served in due proportion by successive administrations in post-independence Nigeria. Had governments of yesteryears discharged their responsibilities to the region, and to the country at large, we might not have been in a situation of tensions and anger leading to violence and secessionist agitation which have their roots in the lack of infrastructure and opportunity for citizens to excel. By God, today’s investments in infrastructure and people should change all that.
Beside the issue of political representation, federal roads in the South-East are a perpetual issue in our country. But each state in the country complains of bad federal roads. However, contrary to the notion that nobody in this government is doing anything about those roads, the region has a good number of roads paid for by the federal government that are under either completed or undergoing repairs/construction.
As of May this year, there are 600 was kilometers of roads that are under rehabilitation/ construction across the South East zone’s five states which include:
• Rehabilitation of Owerri – Umuahia Road Sections I, II, III in Imo/Abia States
• Rehabilitation of Enugu – Port Harcourt Dual Carriageway Section II
• Ongoing construction work on the Rehabilitation of Enugu – Port Harcourt Dual Carriageway Section II
• Rehabilitation of Ikot Ekpene – Ikot Umuoessien – Aba Road in Abia / Akwa – Ibom States
• Ongoing construction work on the Rehabilitation of Ikot Ekpene – Ikot Umuoessien – Aba Road in Abia / Akwa – Ibom States
• Ongoing construction work on the Rehabilitation of Enugu – Port Harcourt Dual Carriageway
• Ongoing construction work on the Rehabilitation of Ikot Ekpene – Ikot Umuoessien – Aba Road in Abia / Akwa – Ibom States.
• Enugu-Aba- Port Harcourt Expressway, which runs through Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Abia and Ebonyi States covering about 31 roads as well as construction of pedestrian bridges and flyovers, traffic signs and lights; the outstanding section of Onitsha-Enugu Road.
• Umana-Ndiagu-Adaebele-Udi Road in Ndiagu, Nsukka—Oboloafor -Ihamufu Road
• Ninth Mile-Nsukka-Oboloafor Road.
• Ohafia-OsoRoad (In Ebonyi and Abia States: 11.7 km)
• Nnenwe-Uduma-Uburu Road, Section1 (14 km in Enugu/Ebonyi)
• Rehabilitation of Abakaliki-Afikpo Road; Section 1 (20.5 km)
• Rehabilitation of Abakaliki-Afikpo Road Section 11 (19.5 km)
• Construction of Obubra-Ikwo-Onueke-Nkomoro-Agba-Ezekuna-Ogboji-Nara-Cross River Border Road (7 km)
• Aba-Port Harcourt Dual Carriageway (section 11)
• Umuahia Tower-Aba Township Rail/Road Bridge Crossing (56.1Km)
• Rehabilitation of Lokpanta-Umuahia Tower (59.5km)
• rehabilitation of Calabar-Itu-Ikot-Ekpene-Aba-Owerri Section 111
• Ikot-Ekpene-Ikot Umuoessien-Aba Roadin Abia/Akwa-Ibom (43.2km)
• Owerri-Umuahia Road, Sections 1,11 and 111
• The Ikot-Ekpene Border: Aba-Owerri Dualisation Road Section 1, Phase 1 (11.26km)
• Mbaise-Ngwa Road Ohase 1 (14 km)
• Amanwaozuzu-Uzoagba-Eziama-Orie-AmakohiaRoad (10km)
• Oba-Nnewi-Okigwe Road Section 11, among others
Of course there is the SECOND NIGER BRIDGE about which so many lies have been told to our brothers in the South-East.
A past president laid the brick once. Thereafter, he did nothing to actualize it. Having forgotten a promise made, he had a ceremony organized for him to inaugurate the project when the time to seek re-election came.
When the Obi of Onitsha reminded the then presidential candidate of his earlier promise to do bridge, he got angry. He stopped short of calling the Obi a liar in his palace by outrightly denying ever making the promise.
Now, on the Second Niger Bridge in Onitsha, Anambra State, the contractor had re-mobilized to site. In the budget proposals read last week at the National Assembly, President Buhari listed this bridge as one of the administration’s priority projects and announced an an allocation of 10 billion Naira expenditure for 2018.
Other projects for the South East include:
AIRPORT TERMINAL BUILDING
• Construction of New International Terminal in Enugu.
COASTAL RAIL PROJECT
• The coastal rail line has its route alignment passing through Aba in Abia State and Onitsha in Anambra State.
With the dredging of the river Niger commissioned by NIWA, the yearning for maritime access to the sea by the south-east and the North as well, is just a matter of time for it to be realized.
Good projects apart, in the South-East as in all other subregions,
good governance is also necessary and the steps the federal government is taking to deal with corruption, terrorism, banditry and lawlessness have the effect of lifting this country out of poverty and lack of development. The country’s efforts to modernize its trade and investment by easing the process of doing business has already attracted the attention and acclaim of the world, and is giving Nigeria a quick rise in the ranking of countries. Known for their industrial and commercial prowess, there is no gain saying who the biggest beneficiaries are.
On the basis of these projects alone, no one should have any reason to doubt the good intentions of the President towards the South-East. Even if some of the people may not support the government, they cannot deny that their region has got a fair deal from President Buhari.
The President in his conscience is clear on all fronts that he has been fair to the region and will continue to encourage the efforts of each state as it strives to excel in one endeavor or another.
The federal government’s support of Ebonyi state’s rice growing schemes leaned on a permanent solution to the fertilizer supply crisis in the country bears true testimony to a successful partnership between the center and the subregion. In the field of agriculture alone, we have seen this new synergy in the functioning of the governments at the center and the state. This is cooperative federalism at work, and at its best.
Which in turn has led to a beneficial relationship based on mutual respect, hope and trust between the governor and the president in spite of political party differences.
The fruit of this type of relationship commends itself to other leaders in the country to shed old mindsets and maintain caution while making statements and to not get carried away by emotions leading to unnecessary tensions.
To help the nation move forward as one, the media for their part must decide against making unsubstantiated allegations and aspersions being leveled against the leadership at the center for the mere fun of catching the headlines. The country needs this to maintain the delicate balance of the relationships between our diverse population and to avoid weakening our democracy. We need to do this and more to achieve something of substance for the nation.
Finally, it is to be hoped that beyond putting out the fire of these misplaced fears, President Buhari’s visit would help to put the spotlight on the silent achievements of his administration in this distinct region so that the ordinary citizen will be reassured that he/she matters, and be rid of the notion that they are getting the short end of the stick.
GARBA SHEHU SSAP ( Media and Publicity) Abuja.