As South-East leaders meet Buhari
Following the wide-ranging crises facing the South-East, leaders from that part of the country have resolved to take their case to the Presidential Villa, writes KUNLE ODEREMI.
In about 24 hours, leaders from the South-East are expected to converge at the presidential villa for a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari. The meeting is the climax of the series of consultations among the economic and political elite of the Igbo land for the past few months. Governors of the five states from the zone under the aegis of the South-East Forum (SEF) has been the springboard for the consultations.
Though feelers indicate that economic and infrastructural matters will predominate the agenda, the meeting is generally being overshadowed by the controversy over power shift in 2023 when President Buhari would have completed the maximum constitutional tenure of a two terms of four years each. Opinions credited to a few individuals from the Northern part of the country that the North could still present one of its own after Buhari has generated eddies in the southern political divide and part of the North Central political zone.
From 1999 to the last presidential election, the Igbo were unrelenting in their advocacy of a president of the South-East extraction. While the ticket has remained elusive, the people have maintained a strong loyalty to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a brand, giving the party their mandate in the states making up the zone except in Anambra State where the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has held sway for quite a long spell now.
In a way, the faithfulness of the Igbo to the PDP came with handsome rewards during the presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the South-East got choice ministerial appointments and other ‘lucrative’ offices at the centre. They also derived maximum benefits during the political dispensation of former President Goodluck Jonathan, as the people saw him as one of their own. Plum jobs from the centre went to the zone. But despite those ample opportunities, the agitation of marginalisation of the South-East in the scheme of things persisted, with claims that individuals rather than the generality of the people from the zone were the actual beneficiaries of the era of Ndigbo being in the mainstream politics of the country.
Botched SEDC bill
Issues bordering on ethnic agitation over perceived marginalisation remain prevalent, with the agitators demanding a just federal structure, as a panacea for the problem of underdevelopment, high level of poverty, inequality in resource sharing, and wealth control. All these issues have a direct linkage to the pervasive tension, instability, insecurity and countless agitation for fairness, justice and equity. As a way forward, some leaders of the zone had also championed the creation of a special interventionist agency, to be christened the South-East Development Commission (SEDC). Part of its primary mandate was to bridge the infrastructural deficit in the zone; fast-tract development and act a buffer to the perceived imbalance in the allocation and sharing of resources from the central poll. Section 1(4) of the Bill provides the leeway for the commission to only exist for 10 years after which the President can wind it up by seeking the approval of the National Assembly.
The section read: “The President may subject to the approval of the National Assembly wind-up the Commission after 10 years.” The legislative process towards establishing the agency suffered a setback in the National Assembly in the last political dispensation after scaling the initial hurdle in the Senate, as the legislative piece failed to pass the necessary test in the House of Representatives. The process for the funding of the proposed commission was different from similar bodies already on ground. Whereas, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the North-East Development Commission (NEDC) are majorly funded through intervention fund by the Federal Government and international donor agencies, Section 14 (1) (a) of the SEDC Bill provided that the commission would be mainly funded through 15 per cent deductions from Federal Allocation to the five South-East member states.
Jointly sponsored by two South-East senators, Stella Oduah from Anambra State on the platform of the PDP and Samuel Anyanwu from Imo State also on the PDP platform, the bill provided that the commission was to “act as catalysts to develop the commercial potential of the Southeast. Senator Anyanwu had said: “The commission will also help enhance infrastructural development of the region.”
According to him, the commission became imperative because the South-East had contributed immensely to the socio-economic and political growth and development of the country. He added: “We have the responsibility to bring down tension, bring unity. In doing this, we are showing we listen to everybody but the issues go beyond this bill. More work needs to be done, there are people we are leading and we have to play our role. We have only one country.”
Be that as it may, the leaders met on Monday Enugu, the political headquarters of the South-East to harmonise their agenda for the meeting with President Buhari, on Thursday. From the comments of the leaders, especially governors that were at the consultation, environment issues, insecurity, dilapidated infrastructural, especially the condition of federal roads in the zone will top their discussion with the president.
Being contiguous to states in the North-Central, where the herders-farmers clashes are highly pronounced, the South East, particularly Enugu and Ebonyi states have become prone to similar security challenges, including banditry. They should have a lot reasons to be worried about development issues in the South-East because of the heavy capital outlay required for the ongoing capital projects embarked upon by the federal Government in the South-East. The rising decline in capital expenditure is already giving goose peoples across other geopolitical zones in the country.
Nonetheless, going by the representation at the meeting held at the Government House in Enugu, it was also evident that the South-East leaders set aside political affiliations and differences to speak with one voice on issues pertaining to the welfare of the people of the South-East. Apart for the chairman of the South-East Governors Forum and governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, the host, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and his Abia State counterpart, Okezie Ikpeazu, as well as the president of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Nnia Nwodo; Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe; former Enugu state governor, Chief Jim Nwobodo and Senator Victor Umeh, among other leaders of Igbo extraction attended the meeting.
With such calibre of representation, the expectations of the people of the zone are high on the eventual outcome of the planned meeting with President Buhari on the problems, challenges and prospects of the South-East in the new political dispensation.