Who is afraid of South-East govs?
Governors from the South-East are constantly under pressure to shore up public confidence in them over the way they go about the larger interest of the Ndigbo on contentious national issues. KUNLE ODEREMI examines some of the inherent issues.
It is a testy time for the governors from all the five states making up the South-East geopolitical zone of the country. In the past few weeks, they have been at their wits’ end trying to retain the confidence of some stakeholders in the zone on perceived controversial schemes initiated by the Federal Government. The governors have been compelled to be on the defensive each time such allegations arises. Therefore, the state chief executives have had to hold a number of emergency meetings on the platform of the South-East Governors Forum to address some of those contentious national issues arising from the policies of the central administration that have immediate and long-term implications for the federating units. At times, they were compelled to issue statements to boost public trust and confidence in their governors, especially on the need to protect the interest of the Igbo in mainstream politics and policies.
When the Federal Government came up with the idea of Ruga Cattle Settlement, the spontaneous outrage from the South-East was pervasive. The outcry grew to subtle threat by some radical groups like the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra MASSOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Of course, the umbrella pan-Igbo organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo served as the main platform that ambiguously declared the objection of the South-East to the Ruga idea. In spite of a joint statement by the South-East governors with their counterparts from the South-South rejecting the Ruga idea, the critics failed to lower their flags, as they have sustained what the governors have described as the various attacks and campaign of calumny by our people alleging that governors of the South-East had secretly donated land for the Ruga programme.
Though they were silent on such groups, it was apparent that one of such organisations they had referred to is the radical Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which claimed that two of the governors were bent on handing over some senatorial zones in their respective states to herdsmen. IPOB, in a statement by its spokesman, Emma Powerful, alleged it was part of the discreet moves for the Ruga implementation programme in the East. “We have also discovered that one of the governors, along with some traditional rulers and president-general of some communities, also connived and handed over a land belonging to communities of his state to terrorists and their cattle. The said land has been in dispute for years between the two communities, but now the governor has forcefully taken these ancestral lands and handed them over to the same terror herdsmen responsible for hacking to death of dozens of indigenes in many parts of the state without any reprimand.”
But, the governors soon had a back to lean on following the allegation. A respected cleric from the South-East, the Most Rev Emmanuel Chukwuma came to their ‘rescue’ from the hangman’s noose. The Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province (Anglican Communion) faulted the claim of the IPOB, which went viral on the social media that the governors had compromised part of the people’s ancestral heritage. Chukwuma chose the 85th birthday/thanksgiving service for Dame Beatrice Ekwueme, wife of the late former vice-president of the country, Dr Alex Ekwueme, to ‘offer’ the governors a seeming soft-landing. Coincidentally, the dignitaries on the occasion included Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, former governors Jim Nwobodo, Okwesilieze Nwodo, Sam Egwu, Peter Obi and Virgy Etiaba, the Ekwueme family, as well as Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. Chukuma said he got in touch with the governors of the zone over the allegation, and that there was no iota of truth in the claim. He added: “Even last night, I spoke with Governor David Umahi, Chairman of the South-East Governors Forum and most of the governors in the South-South. I am always in touch with my governor here (Enugu). People should not misinterpret him. People should not misunderstand him. All that he is looking for is peace in Enugu State. He is not looking for anywhere to give anybody land. What he is saying is that nobody is looking for violence in Enugu State. Let me clear this; no governor in the South-East has agreed that there will be any land for RUGA settlement.”
In his capacity as the chairman of the governors’ forum, Umahi has also been making frantic efforts to explain the position of the governors on the Ruga project. According to him, the Federal Government “has no gazetted land in the zone for Ruga settlements, cattle colonies or any nomenclature.” Speaking through his media aide, Mr Emma Uzo, Umahi said none of the five states in the zone had given any land for Ruga settlements. However, before then, the governor was reported to have said that some groups and individuals had misconstrued a proposed deal with Miyetti Allah Breeders Association (MACBAN). His chief press secretary had to issue a statement on the matter. Part of the statement reads: “There is no plan for any Ruga settlement in any part of South-East and South-South zones; but we made a proposed deal with MACBAN that can allow the zone to become very good business with sale of grasses to the herdsmen in exchange for meat. There will be no part of the South-East that will be given out for the purpose of establishment of Ruga, the zone is purely agrarian with limited landmass for farming and therefore cannot accommodate Ruga establishment. We actually proposed a deal with MACBAN to take their cattle to the northern parts where grazing reserves were established long time ago and rely completely on the grasses grown in the South for feeding of their cattle.”
Umahi has remained central in the battle to defend the governors in the ‘attack and campaign of calumny” against them, ostensibly because of his involvement in some related national assignments. He is the chairman of Technical Committee on Farmers and Herdsmen clash set up by the National Economic Council headed by the vice-president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Umahi’s team had toured Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Zamfara among other states in the bid to find a lasting solution to clashes between famers and herders.
Despite the various attempts by the governors and some prominent individuals to prove that the state chief executives were uncompromising on the vexed issue of Ruga, some forces appear to be sticking to their gun. There arise a number of posers: who is afraid of the governors? Or does any of them has anything to hide? Has their ranks been infiltrated by a fifth columnist? Whose interest are the members of the so-called Fifth columnists out to protect? It is against this background that the governors, on Tuesday, made brisk moves to disabuse the minds of their critics. In their latest resolution, the governors said they remained on the side of the people by rejecting Ruga. In a communique that contained the resolutions signed by the director general of the forum, Professor Simon Uchenna Ortuanya, they warned against blackmail by any group. “The fact remains that no South-East governor has donated any land or intends to donate any land for any of the two programmes for lack of enough land in the entire South-East.” However, they expressed the willingness of the South-East to encourage competitive trade among the federating units based on the principle of comparative advantage. “We do not have any land to donate for Ruga or NLTP programmes but we are committed to selling grasses and by-product of our farms to support NLTP for states that have keyed into the programme,” the governors stressed.
With such clarification coming from South-East Governors Forum on the Ruga controversy, can the governors now heave a sigh of relief? Will those individuals and groups claimed to be the ones behind the attacks and campaign of calumny cease fire against the governors?