By Emmanuel Onwubiko
DURING the last Yuletide, when people from diverse sectors of life trooped down to their indigenous hometowns in the South-East of Nigeria from across the globe to celebrate with their loved ones, this writer also spent quality periods in the South-East.
But, unlike several millions of our people whose major point of attraction in going home for Christmas is to be with loved ones, as a professional journalist and human rights campaigner, I also moved round the South-East states to catch impressions of the state of infrastructure in the zone, largely due to the existential fact that the South-East of Nigeria suffers severe infrastructure deficits.
With the possible exceptions of Enugu and Anambra states, all other states in the South-East like Imo, Ebonyi and Abia states have serious infrastructure shortages. Some elected politicians in some of these states operate like merchants who are in Abuja to enrich their families.
But, throughout the movement I had around the South- Eastern States, a common noticeable trend emerged, depicting the reality that, indeed, the South-East of Nigeria is witnessing first class infrastructural emergency.
Home truth dawned on me that steps and mechanisms must be put in place and meticulously implemented to restore the pride that the South-East of Nigeria used to enjoy in times past.
But, in all of these bad states of social amenities, the almost complete absence of effective social services and professional policing of most states of the South- East goes to show another hidden fact- that the South- East is currently witnessing human rights emergency.
Federal security agencies operating in the South-East States, most especially in the capital cities, usually operate with a hostile mindset, as if to say the South-East of Nigeria is a conquered territory.
This calls for urgent remedy and reminds me of the need for immediate surgical overhaul of the nation’s policing institution through carefully crafted Constitutional reforms that would take into account the need to create vibrant state policing institutions to make the police not only professionally effective in crime detection, prevention and enforcement of relevant anti-criminal laws and strategies, but would also create the enabling environment for the people to own the process of providing security of lives and property of their people.
Right now, security officials in most city centres in the South-East operate like Automated Teller Machines for the comprehensive dehumanization and extortion of the citizenry.
Where then is the respect for human rights in South-East Nigeria? The other day, Amnesty International issued a carefully compiled evidence-based report of criminal brutality that sympathisers of the Indigenous People of Biafra faced in the hands of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
As I asked earlier, where is the place of human rights protection in the South-East? As we know, human rights can be summed up in the following phrase: “human rights are the non-negotiable elements which are necessary in order that life may be life.
Therefore, human rights embody not just the traditional civil and political liberties but also the economic, social and cultural rights.”
The factual claim of marginalization of the South-East of Nigeria in the scheme of redistribution of national wealth by the Federal government cannot be over- emphasized.
There is total or a near-total absence of critical infrastructure built and maintained by the national government in the South-East, except for very few moribund national assets such as the highly dilapidated federal road infrastructure and the sub-standard international airport- the Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu which, ironically is the only International Airport in the entire Igbo heartland even when statistically, the South-East accounts for over 45 percent of all international travels by Nigerians.
A deeper reflection concerning my observation of the state of human rights in the South-East of Nigeria with specific reference to the poor governance standards and the criminal abuse of the budgeting process and execution of projects, particularly the execution of projects that impact on the lives of the people, goes to validate what Feinberg said about human rights.
His words: “Human Rights are indispensable valuable possessions. A world without (them), no matter how full of benevolence and devotion to duty, would suffer an immense moral impoverishment…Rights are not mere gifts or favors…for which gratitude is the sole fitting response.
A right is something, which a man can stand on, something that can be demanded or insisted upon without embarrassment or shame. A world with claim-right is one in which all persons, as actual or potential, are dignified objects of respect….No amount of love or compassion, or obedience to higher authority, or noblesse oblige, can substitute for those values.”
My candid advice for the entire South-East governors is that they must know that a lot depends on how well they can enforce the rule of law to guarantee better standards of living for their people and enthrone good governance.
Buhari should give South-East of Nigeria it’s due so the people can have a sense of belonging as Nigerians.
Onwubiko, the Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) writes via www.emmanuelonwubiko.com