First Republic aviation minister, Mbazuluike Amaechi, in an assessment of Buhari’s administration, described it as government of the North, with West as the junior partner, treating the East as a colony. It was not clear if the”East” referred to included Niger Delta or the “West” mentioned also accommodates the defunct mid-west. Nuances of Amaechi’s assessment of a colony were that such (colony) is either being oppressed, exploited, underdeveloped or neglected.
My generation’s experience of colonial rule was a Nigeria better ruled in terms of overall development for good durable roads, sound education, health facilities, security and employment opportunities, all in contrast to today’s omnibus problems. Apart from this, whatever is Mbazuluike Amaechi’s view is neither strange nor peculiar to South- East, even if a colony, a status, which is debatable.
Throughout Nigeria’s political history from colonial era, every government formed at federal or regional level left one section or another with that sense of a colony. That was the origin of demand for states in all the former three regions, as the component minorities rightly or wrongly believed and so claimed that they were fairly treated in terms of development. At federal level, governments were formed on the basis of senior or junior partner to remove any doubt of which party was in charge, especially in a coalition government. In fact, the first and last occasions we had a seeming equitable government with none as senior/junior partner or a colony were in 1952, 1954 and 1957
On the introduction of ministerial form on government in Nigeria under colonial governor John Macpherson, the NPC (Tafawa Balewa, Inuwa Wada and Muhammadu Ribadu), NCNC (A.C. Nwapa, Eni Njoku, Okoi Arikpo and E.M.L. Endeley) and Action Group (Bode Thomas, S.L. Akintola and Arthur Prest) were equally represented. Following the sit-tight ministers’ crisis in the NCNC, they were replaced by R.A. Njoku, K.O. Mbadiwe and Aja Wachukwu. On the introduction of federal form of government in 1954, NCNC won the federal elections in both East and West and, therefore, appointed the ministers from both regions. Yet, there was no senior or junior status for any of the parties. Neither did the western region feel like a colony since it was represented by Adegoke Adelabu (replaced later by J.M. Johnson), F.S. Okotie Eboh and Kola Balogun, all of NCNC Then in 1957, Tafawa Balewa became prime minister and formed the first coalition government in which western region was represented as ministers by S.L. Akintola and Ayo Rosiji.
The 1959 pre-independence federal elections changed the equation, as no party won overall victory leaving the difficult choice of either NPC/NCNC coalition or NPC/Action Group both opposed by a section of the Action Group or NCNC/Action Group coalition supported by a section of the Action Goup. In the end, with NCNC as junior partner, a coalition with NPC emerged. Western region was represented in the cabinet by NCNC ministers but a faction of the Action Group felt like a colony, part of the series of disagreements in the party, leading to the 1962 crisis in the West. After emergency rule, the governing party broke away, as United Peoples Party and formed a coalition as senior partner with NCNC as junior partner. For the 1964 federal elections, the ruling factional party in the cosumed the NCNC in an act of betrayal and emerged in a comfortable position to join the NPC/NCNC federal coalition as the second junior partner leaving the decimated Action Group in the west feeling as a colony.
The maiden intervention of the army in January 1966, which toppled the Tafawa Balewa government, especially with the pattern of political assassinations, was coldly received in the North, which saw itself as the new colony under the government of the East headed by General Aguiyi-Ironsi. The counter military coup six months later, which brought the then Lt. Colonel Gowon to office, again because of the pattern of assassinations in the army as well as the disturbances in the North was seen by easterners as government of the North while the East did not see itself even as a junior partner but the new colony of well-organised massacre. Indeed, in a desperate bid to stop the killings in the North, Gowon had to make a special broadcast, informing that government was back in the hands of “another northerner.”
In the January 1966 coup, western region reaction seemed indifferent, even with its share of casualties among the political assassinations. On Gowon’s assumption of office in August 1966, western region, especially with the bypassing of Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe to succeed General Ironsi, western region might have felt like another colony. But the region sensed a prospective upper hand with the release of Obafemi Awolowo from prison and his appointment as vice-chairman of federal executive council.
As such, prospects diminished at the end of the war specially with the shifting of army handover date, western region, as the erstwhile major junior partner in the coalition on the federal side, felt like a colony. General Obasanjo’s conduct of the 1979 handover elections did not assuage that siege of a colony. Shehu Shagari’s election, as the new president returned the East once again as the new junior partner in another coalition government and despite its share of ministers in Shagari’s government, western region still felt like a colony. Among the succeeding military regimes, only under General Ibrahim Babangida did the East not feel like a colony, with the appointment of Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe as Chief of General Staff. But even this did not last, as controversial events leading to the exit of Commodore Ukiwe so early in the life of the administration caused a sense of colony in the East. The controversial cancellation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election by the IBB regime similarly aroused feelings of a colony in western region.
The 1999 election of Obasanjo, as a civilian president aroused a feeling of a colony in western region where Obasanjo was seen as a beneficiary of northern imposition. Hence, the West did not vote for him while the East and the North, traditional coalition partners, massively voted for him. It was, therefore, no surprise that Obasanjo treated western region worse than a colony by virtually declaring war on that part of the country. He either refused private power project, withheld council revenue allocation or failed in any development throughout eight years. To be fair to him, Obasanjo sited Police Computer Academy at Abeokuta, his part t Ogun State, a UN project meant to serve police forces from all over Africa. Despite criticisms of his tenure, it was the credit of a Niger Deltan, former President Goodluck Jonathan, who awarded the contract for the reconstruction of the major highway in western region, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, leading to the West and the East. When the contract did not take off, a northerner, President Muhammadu Buhari, reactivated the contract.
Later, during Obasanjo’s tenure, his political benefactors, northerners, accused him of marginalising the North, which felt the ingratitude of being treated like a colony. In contrast, the East became virtually his sole partner awarded most appointments and contracts amassed in Transcorp. It was not clear if Umar Yar’Adua had a junior or senior partner and he did not live long in office for a colony to emerge under him but his government was of the North. Without hiding or being conscious of it, Goodluck Jonathan ran a government of Niger Delta by Nigerian standard and his junior partner was the East. That was even displayed as late as the 2015 general elections. The North alleged to be marginalised and, therefore, a colony. It is, therefore, clear that at every stage, one part of the country played a part of senior or junior partner; another part at that stage always claimed to be treated like a colony, as observed by Mbazuluike Amaechi.
However, the essential thing, even as a colony or junior partner, is not to take that status as admission of failure or the end of the world. Any time West or North found itself treated like a colony, it ignored the Federal Government and concentrated on local development through state government’s annual budget or they would face people’s wrath. What happens to annual budget of states in South-East for construction or repairs of roads, schools, hospitals, etc? Revenue allocation to South-West (minus Lagos State) is not bigger than that of the East. How does it happen that the West does not entirely wait for Federal Government for development of state roads? Yet, two if not three states in South-East belong to oil-producing states with more money. What happens to the money? Only Ondo State, in the entire South-West belongs to that lucky club of oil producers. How does Ekiti manage?
With no higher if not lower revenue allocation than South-East states, Ogun State shows how to provide modern infrastructure with the little available. The entire three senatorial districts have been transformed, such that visitors are amazed. As an old politician, Chief Amaechi must have campaigned throughout the West in those days. He should now visit the major towns and cities, especially in Ogun and Oyo states. He would then be able to return to take his governors to task. Perhaps, loans did part of the magic. Which state in the past twenty years did not obtain loan for purported development?
Furthermore, non easterners are tired of speaking for that zone in terms of poor infrastructure. Why are members elected from all over Nigeria to National Assembly partly to speak up for their constituencies? How much of this are south easterners, discharging this obligation? It was pathetic seeing south easterners outshining themselves during debate for funds to reconstruct infrastructure in North-East after the Boko Haram mayhem. Meaning what? That there are no worse infrastructure in South-East, crying for ugent reconstruction? Before the destruction of infrastructure in North-East had been destruction of infrastructure in the South either from civil war of fifty years ago or the theft of public funds by the succeeding political landlords. Also, South-East ministers in Federal Executive Council are not necessarily to limit themselves to their portfolios. They must commence their agitation from the preparation of budget to the final debate of budget proposals at federal executive. What is more, President Buhari has visited parts of the North and South-West. Why are easterners in government keeping quiet on the situation in South-East for Buhari’s observation?