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Polls: Buhari’s difficult permutations in the South-South  

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From the First Republic, the South-South had almost flowed with the core North in party politics, the exception being 2015 when a South-South candidate was the candidate of a major political party. With the two major candidates from the core North, the relationship between the nation’s oil producing region and the core North is a little more complicated.

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor

The unfolding problems of the embattled Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen should ordinarily be a matter of alleged corruption. However, against the trend of the appointments made by President Muhammadu Buhari and his proclivities, the development has again brought to fore the perception of the president and the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC in the South-South region.

Justice Onnoghen, it would be recalled, had his nomination as CJN stalled for almost three months until the president went on medical vacation. The nomination was eventually forwarded to the Senate just days before the statutory deadline by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo in March 2017.

President Muhammadu Buhari display a sign for 4+4 to join Legislators who supported his re-election bid as he addressed a joint session of the National Assembly for the the presentation of the 2019 Appropriation Bill at the National Assembly, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida 19/12/2018

Before the ensuing crisis over Justice Onnoghen’s suspension, another person from the region, Bayelsa born Matthew Seiyefa had upon the removal of the erstwhile director-general of the Department of State Services, DSS been appointed acting director-general of the agency in August 2017. Just like Onnoghen, his appointment was essentially based on ranking, being the next in line in the bureaucracy in the DSS. He was appointed by Osinbajo in acting capacity following the dismissal of Lawal Daura, the Katsina born operative who was earlier brought from retirement by Buhari to head the agency.

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However, Seiyefa spent barely a month in office and was removed by Buhari and Yusuf Bichi, another retired operative from Kano was appointed in his place.

The controversies over the two appointments reflect a growing chasm between the region and the president who is now seeking a second term in office.

Before now, the South-South and the core North had almost flowed together from the First Republic when the Northern dominated government helped in the creation of Mid-West Region.

In the Second Republic that relationship was demonstrated in victories for the National Party of Nigeria, NPN in the Old Rivers and the former Cross River State. By 1983, the former Bendel State had been added to the kitty.

However, President Buhari’s seeming distrust for people from the South-South for high-level appointments is one that is now causing concern among people of the region.

Remarkably, the president’s drive for a second term is on the surface being driven by two prominent persons from the South-South, Rotimi Amaechi, director-general and Festus Keyamo, the spokesman.

It is a sort of irony that some leading stakeholders from the region do not find any funny.

One of the leading activists from the region, Dr. Don Pedro, convener of the Midwest Movement was unbothered by the prominent roles of Amaechi and Keyamo in the Buhari re-election campaign as much as Buhari’s intentions towards the region.

“I’m unconcerned by judgments made by individuals. It’s their choice to sell their birthrights for porridge if they so wish,” he told Saturday Vanguard.

“As a Midwestern and President of the Midwest Movement of Edo and Delta States, I’m more concerned about the rape on our commonwealth. I find no direct correlation between the choices of the people you mentioned and the coup and constitutional crisis that we’ve been thrown into,” Dr. Pedro added.

Indeed going into the election, the issue of appointments have not been raised as a major campaign issue despite the effort by some to raise it to the front burner.

Indeed, Buhari’s replacement of South-South born Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as president in 2015 has for many of the people of the region turned into a lamentation. Though the immediate past administration did not give many advantages to the region, the perception that the people were not seen to be marginalized in the distribution of critical appointments and infrastructure was not an issue.

A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC in Delta State, Mr. Efe Dukku, however, posits that the president has achieved in the South-South, saying that the administration has flagged off many construction projects in the region and also given appointments to the region.

“Regarding appointments, the facts confirm that Mr. President is fair to us, though we want more as is often the case in a democracy. In Delta alone, we have the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, the Governor of the Central Bank, a Commissioner and an Executive Director (Projects – now Acting) at the Niger Delta Development Commission, an Executive Director at NEXIM Bank in the person of Hon. Stella Okotete, two Executive Directors at the Niger Delta River Basin Authority, and a Federal Commissioner at the National Population Commission in the person of the very well respected Sir Richard Odibo.

“The Special Assistant to President Buhari on Social Media, Ms. Lauretta Onochie is a Deltan. Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN), another Deltan, is on the board of the Nigerian Deposits Insurance Corporation (NDIC). The Managing Director of Nigerian Railways Corporation (NRC) is from Edo State. Of course, the Honorable Minister for Transportation, His Excellency Rotimi Amaechi is from Rivers.”

Mr. Duku’s assertion is, however, flagged down by other critics.

“Could you have expected the president not to appoint a minister from the state or a commissioner for NDDC from Katsina,” one critic said in reaction to Duku’s comment.

“When the president flagged off his campaign in Akwa Ibom, you could notice that there was nothing he could say that he has done for the region. Nothing. Even the mere courtesy of identifying with the people through state visits is not something that they can boast about,” the observer said.

Indeed, the launch of the APC presidential campaign in Uyo, Akwa Ibom was for some observers, an opportunity for the president to use it to showcase the achievements of the administration if not, then in the South-South and Akwa Ibom State in particular.

Despite Duku’s claims, one political actor in the region said:

“We watched to see what the president would say he has done for the South-South or even for Akwa Ibom in terms of project delivery, but we could find none.”

However, the administration’s challenges in the region may not be wholly for lack of effort. Political considerations and bureaucracy may have also impacted negatively in the assessment of the administration.

Beyond the skepticism that comes from the imbalanced appointments of the administration is the fact that local politics, especially in Rivers and Akwa Ibom, have beclouded the assessment of the administration.

In Rivers State, the Ognoi Clean Up project which was announced at the inception of the administration was largely welcomed as a bold initiative. However, for more than two years after it was conceived the project remained in the drawing board choked in bureaucracy.

The perception of the APC was not helped by the cantankerous relationship between Governor Nyesom Wike and his predecessor, Amaechi who is himself one of the leading lights of the present administration.

Mr. Nsima Ekere, the erstwhile managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC and presently the APC governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom was pigeonholed as an agent of the APC. His efforts as the helmsman of the NDDC were largely clouded by political hues by both supporters of the APC and their PDP rivals.

It was as such no surprise that Governor Udom Emmanuel and his officials in the past challenged the NDDC to detail impactful projects embarked upon by the commission in the state.

The APC’s determination to make a strong showing in the South-South is underpinned by the recruitment of strong political leaders from the region into the party. Besides Amaechi and the national chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole who were foundation members of the party, the party has in recent times recruited at least two of the immediate former governors from the region into the party.

Senator Godswill Akpabio and Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, the immediate former governors of Akwa Ibom and Delta States respectively are about the two major forces the party is depending on to swing to victory in the two states.

It would be make belief for the PDP to believe that the Akpabio phenomenon would be of little effect in the election, especially in the presidential given the fact that Akpabio is also on the ballot in the Senate contest.

As a commissioner for six years and governor for eight years, his structure in the state would be of benefit to the APC in Akwa Ibom.

However, sentiments and gaffes that followed Akpabio’s defection in August 2018 such as the declaration that the election would be war have seriously eroded his influence. Despite micromanaging the 2015 succession that brought in the present governor and members of the House of Assembly, only five members out of 26 members identify with him.

In Delta State, stakeholders are watching how Uduaghan who as an incumbent governor could not stop Senator Ifeanyi Okowa from becoming governor would be able to do it from outside.

The APC’s challenge in the South-South is also compounded by President Buhari’s failure to sign the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB as passed by the National Assembly. The president vetoed the bill which even though watered down from the original concept was still grudgingly accepted by political stakeholders from the region.

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