South-East zone leaders lately met with President Muhammadu Buhari at Aso Rock, a gathering where erstwhile misunderstanding and grievances were exchanged for amicable solutions. Compared to the mutual stand off on both sides in the past couple of years, the latest meeting seemed almost unbelievable. But it took place. Daring the lion in its den or the lion luring its victim for the kill?
Neither was the case because from the information gathered, both sides left satisfied. But if that is a wrong way to put it neither side left dissatisfied. Better still, nobody complained. That was a positive development, no matter how minor, compared to the self-isolation or non-fraternisation attitude of the recent past. In fact, as if to ice the cake, it was speculated that Buhari is soon to visit the South-East. There is also the sum of N10 billion allocated for the construction of Asaba-Onitsha bridge in the 2018 budget announced by President Buhari.
None of these is any special favour since it is the statutory duty of the Federal Government to make its presence felt in every part of the country all the time. What is, therefore, clear is that every section of the country must exhibit a reciprocal sense of belonging, rather than a gathering at Enugu last time, which reportedly rebuffed the presence of Buhari. This was neither confirmed nor denied.
There is this tendency of blaming ONLY the Federal Government or indeed lately ONLY Muhammadu Buhari for everything backwardness in any part of the country, especially the South-East zone. For repeat purposes, development of any zone/region in Nigeria is only PARTLY the responsibility of the Federal Government. Otherwise, there is also the commensurate responsibility of local governments and state(s) for the development of their areas. Total blame on only Federal Government allows state governors and chairmen of local government areas to enrich themselves with their budget allocations. We will return to federal poor show in South-East and the reasons.
For the moment, what happened to various state budget allocations for state roads in South-East for the past 20 years? Are there no state roads and local government roads in South-East? Are these also the responsibility of Federal Government? The current rapprochement of South-East leaders can only bring improvement on federal roads. Accordingly, unless South easterners can rein in on their state governors and local government chairmen to account for their stewardship, in terms of roads constructed, among others, like schools, hospitals, security, etc., budget allocations for these items will continue to disappear with nothing to show.
Then, there is the issue of wrong approach, even when taking Federal Government to task on poor roads or other amenities, which are the responsibility of Federal Government. Why, for example, must South-easterners blame Buhari solely for the poor roads in that zone for the past 18 years? This particular attitude was accentuated by Igwe Alex Nwokedi of Achalla, Anambra State, our highly respected brother in this profession and proper Lagos boy throughout his teenage years. Igwe Nwokedi, in a newspaper interview, loaded everything poor infrastructure (specifically roads) on President Buhari and on account of that, demanded he (Buhari) must go after the first term. Except that there has since been no retraction or correction, it is impossible to believe that Igwe Nwokedi could express such view.
To worsen matters, Igwe Nwokedi preceded his view by praising former President Olusegun Obasanjo to high heavens for no reason than, as he put it, the fact that Obasanjo, a Yoruba appointed him (Igwe Nwokedi), an Igbo, as his Chief Press Secretary when Obasanjo was a military ruler. Is that all? And that should warrant Buhari to quit after first term? How about the following? Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo, as leader of NCNC, appointed Adewale Fashanu as his political secretary. The same Nnamdi Azikiwe, as Nigerian Head of State, chosed Captain Muhammed Shuwa, a Kanuri and the late Sunday Adewusi, a Yoruba, as his ADC. The late Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, a Fulani, throughout his tenure retained Moses Awoyinfa (admittedly a civil servant) as his press officer. Obafemi Awolowo, throughout his tenure as Action Group leader and Federal Opposition Leader, appointed Alfred Rewane, an Itshekiri, as his political secretary. The same Obafemi Awolowo, a Yoruba, in the Second Republic, appointed Odia Offieimu, an Itshekiri, as his private secretary. Nigeria’s first military Head of State, General Aguiyi-Ironsi chose Colonel Sanni Bello (Niger State) as his ADC. Another military Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed, a Fulani, chose Lt. Akinsehinwa as his ADC and were both assassinated in February 13, 1976.
All these were long before General Obasanjo appointed Alex Nwokedi his press secretary. What, therefore, was the big deal to serve as a reason for blaming Buhari as the ONLY reason for the poor roads in South-East? What is more, former President Ibrahim Babangida, a Gwari from Niger State, similarly appointed Duro Onabule, a Yoruba, his Chief Press Secretary. The late President Umaru Yar’Adua, a Fulani, appointed Segun Adeniyi, a Yoruba, his media special adviser. Former President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw, appointed Reuben Abati, a Yoruba, his Special Adviser, media. And, of course, President Buhari, a Fulani, has a Yoruba, Femi Adesina, as his Special Adviser, media.
Would Obasanjo’s choice of Mr. Alex Nwokedi, an Igbo, as his chief press secretary over 40 years ago, justify the poor state of roads in South-East throughout the eight-year tenure of Obasanjo as an elected president? Who was that Igbo that ever openly blamed Obasanjo for the poor state of roads in South-East from 1999 to 2007? Definitely, not Igwe Nwokedi. Similarly, ex-President Jonathan was in office for six years (2010 to 2015) throughout and roads in South-East were not better than they are today and nobody from that zone openly blamed him or called on him to go in 2015. If Obasanjo and Jonathan, with 14 years between them, were not blamed for the poor conditions of roads in South-East, is it fair for Igwe Nwokedi to cite the same poor state of roads in South-East as the reason (even one of the reasons) Buhari should be sent packing after less than three years in office?
Such illogical criticisms hardly merit attention in government circles. In fact, it can only be more irritating. Obasanjo, as elected president, was in office for eight years without repairing roads in South-East. Yet he planned his third term to perpetuate himself in office. Yoruba west and for understandable reasons, the entire northern zones (except the Jerry Ganas) stoutly opposed him. Despite the poor roads in South-East, only that zone (South-East) through Ohanaeze, under the leadership of Joe Irukwu, supported Obasanjo for the third term. And a distinguished South-easterner of the status of an Igwe blames Buhari for the poor state of roads in that state after less than three years in office. It is fair? South-East voted solidly for Jonathan for six years and never blamed him that the roads were not repaired throughout.
For a repeat, South-easterners must properly pursue their cause for getting roads in that zone repaired by the Federal Government. One sure way for this is through South-East members of National Assembly and their ministers in the Federal Executive Council. Why can’t or don’t South-East federal ministers raise their voices at council meetings when estimates for road construction in the country are discussed. If they don’t so far, the current budget for road development should embolden them to speak up for South-East. On the other hand, South-East has 15 senators and scores of members of House of Representatives. These fellows were too eager to promote the passing of North-East Development Commission Bill. Well aware of identical, if not more urgent need for reconstruction/development in South-East, why did none of their National Assembly members speak up for similar development in South-East? Are they afraid to identify with the genuine case of their constituents for good roads?
Since 2009, South-East members of National Assembly always contribute to the passing of annual estimates of Federal Ministry of Works, especially on road reconstruction. How many of these South-easterners in the National Assembly ever stipulated a condition of repairs of roads in their zone for the support of passing Ministry of Works budget? Yes, they are in the minority but their names would have been on record.
Apart from other reasons above, for the poor state of roads in South-East, have South-East members of National Assembly ever bothered why South-West and northern roads in the country are mostly constructed and reconstructed and why roads in South-East are mostly REHABILITATED? And nobody is speaking up? South-easterners must face up to their elected representatives.
Quite often, state of roads in South-East is highlighted on various television network news. The latest is Owerri-Okigwe road, described as federal highway. Such road in that condition? Is there any provision in the 2018 budget for the construction of that road? If not, where are South-East members of National Assembly? When works minister appears to defend his budget, South-East members should take him to task or vote against the estimates of Federal Works Ministry. That is what membership of that National Assembly is about, instead of abusing Buhari.
Another major reason for the poor state of roads in South-East is that the zone is the worst erosion-prone in Nigeria. Design of (especially) federal roads should, therefore, be special and concrete as is done in civilised parts of the world to make such roads last for decades and if well-maintained for centuries. How long do new roads – federal or state – last before gapping into two, as the Enugu-Onitsha purported expressway?
Is it true President Buhari is to visit South-East soon? Good. Ordinarily, that should be the long-desired opportunity for South-easterner to acquaint Buhari with the genuine state of roads in that zone. But Nigerians, especially in South-East zone, should watch out for how their leaders would frustrate all their hopes for road reconstruction. In advance of Buhari’s arrival, those poor roads will be patched hurriedly for smooth ride for all those concerned.
Instead, Buhari should be driven to as many Owerri-Okigwe federal roads as available for long sight. Buhari does not have to ride through but he can see the need for real road: Re-construction instead of rehabilitation.
Even, with the provision of N10 billion for the Asaba-Onitsha bridge, South-East members of council of ministers and National Assembly must monitor and sustain pressure on Works Minister Fashola till the bridge is completed. Then, South-East would have been on the move.