The reported exclusion of the South-East geopolitical zone from railway modernisation project nationwide is very hard to explain. It is sad that a geopolitical zone is omitted in such a gigantic project of the Federal Government, estimated to cost a whopping sum of $5.851billion. It was the senators from the zone led by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe representing PDP in Abia South senatorial zone that drew public attention to the anomaly.
Abaribe had in a motion observed that such exclusion is inexplicable. Similarly, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, has decried the zone’s needless exclusion from the multi-billion naira project. It described the action of the government as an injustice. The President General of the organization, Chief John Nwodo, contended that there was no justification in excluding the region from the plan whatsoever.
However, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, explained before the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts that the loan was a comprehensive railway project for the entire nation. She added that the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri railway project would be captured in the next loan request.
The government’s defence as represented by Adeosun’s position is apparently an after- thought. It is at best a damage control measure. That the zone would be remembered in another phase of the loan request does not add up. It is not persuasive enough. It creates room for doubts. It does not explain the exclusion of the zone from the railway project in the first place. No doubt, this government has not hidden its neglect on matters that concern the South-East region.
Perhaps such a mindset stems from official reaction to the voting pattern in the last presidential election where the zone voted massively for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. President Muhammadu Buhari had in an interview shortly after the election maintained that those that gave him 95 percent of votes will get more than those that gave him five percent, while reacting to accusation of his lopsided appointments against the zone.
Following such complaints by people of the South-East, the government through its image makers assured that such lopsidedness would be balanced in future appointments. Such was never the case in subsequent Buhari’s appointments. Up to the time of writing this article, the gap is steadily being widened with official zeal and seal. The 10,000 police recruitment that was based on local government for recruits even widened the gap.
As if that was not enough, the recent reported skewed recruitment in the Department of State Security (DSS) where northern states took more than the lion share further widened the gap. It was reported that out of the 479 new officers commissioned by the service, 331 came from the north while all the states of the South-South had 42. For instance, Katsina State had 51; Kano 25; Kaduna 24; Bauchi 23; Anambra 10; Imo11; Enugu 9; Ebonyi 7; Akwa Ibom 5; Bayelsa 7; Rivers 7; Delta 8; Cross River 9; Edo 6; and Lagos 7.
This reported skewed recruitment that is against the federal character principle should be properly investigated and redressed immediately. If it is possible, the full list of the agency’s staff according to their state of origin should be made public. Alternatively, the exercise can be cancelled. Recall the earlier reported skewed recruitment in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which was in favour of the north also increased the gap by huge margin. The South-East case is also further worsened by the fact that the zone has the least number of states and local governments among the six zones of the country.
There is no way we can build a strong and egalitarian society with the present mindset of clannishness and nepotism never seen before. Those instituting these gaps in recruitment should be called to order before they throw the country into deep chaos and anarchy.
The South-East zone is a victim of the 36 state-structure and 774 councils. Much has been written on this imbalance that there is no need rehashing them here. With the current structure of Nigeria, therefore, any federal government recruitment exercise that is based on equality of states and local governments already puts the zone at a great disadvantage. Such is the situation in the army, police, customs, immigration, prisons, other para-military organizations and all federal government ministries, departments and agencies. This is unhealthy in a federal system.
This is why the people of the zone have called for additional state to be given the zone. This is why the leaders of the country should consider without delay the implementation of the recommendations of the 2014 national conference as they relate to restructuring of the country. Since the recommendations of the confab emanate from a consensus of all Nigerians, through their representatives at the conference, those bent to scuttle their implementation do not love the country and its continued existence.
The way the present government is treating the South-East is not fair. Our politicians should be mindful of their constitutional responsibility to those that elected them. In the case of the president, the entire country is his constituency, irrespective of the pattern of voting among the units that make up the entire country. The president should not be discriminatory in his projects allocation in the country.
He should be broad-minded and have the entire country in his project schemes. He should think less of his clan and even his religion in his public decisions, including appointments and location of projects, like roads and railways for example. Since the constitution recognizes him as the president of Nigeria, he should be fair to all parts of Nigeria in everything he does. The people of the South-East geopolitical zone do not have to shout before the government accords them their due rights in the Nigerian federation.
They do not need to cry of marginalization all the time before the government treats them as equal partners in the Nigerian project. Those in charge of the railway modernization project must make sure that the South-East is captured without further delay. That is the minimum the zone expects from them. It does not augur well for our unity if a particular zone is left out in the nation’s railway modernization project.
In the same vein, the governors of the states should see their states as their constituency and treat all parts of their states with fairness in terms of appointments and projects allocation. It is by doing so that this democracy will be deepened. If we want this country to develop and endure, all the constituent parts must be fairly treated. There should be no preferential treatment of one part against the other. The Nigerian project is one that we all have equal stake. We are equal partners in progress. There are neither senior nor junior partners in this relationship.