The plenary sessions of the South East Economic and Security Summit held at Enugu on 22 December 2016 did not dispense with niceties but they went for the “brass tacks.” Prof. Barth Nnaji, the Summit’s Planning Committee Chairman, delivered the keynote address in which he took participants down memory lane on the traumatic sojourn of Ndigbo in Nigeria in their legitimate search for livelihood up to the Nigerian Civil War. He surveyed the unfulfilled promises of the post-war era and how the three Rs, “Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction,” received only lip-service and were executed in the breach. The result is the current predicament of the South East with a near total absence of Federal Government’s presence in industrial and infrastructural development.
This has created a yawning gap in the economic and security stability of the region and its people. Nnaji reiterated the region’s project needs such as Federal roads, a further upgrade of the Enugu International Airport and the Owerri Cargo Airport, the establishment of a standard gauge rail network as opposed to the current narrow (snail-speed) gauge, the Second Niger Bridge, an Inland Port, an Industrial Free Zone, a proper concessioning of coal blocks in the South East and power supply to industries, as well as ecological and security infrastructure in the sub-region. The people of the South East, Nnaji said, are by words and deeds, voicing their demand for equity and fairness from a Federal Government that has taken them for granted for over 50 years.
The Deputy Senate President, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, was unhappy that his picture was omitted in the Summit’s brochure. He equally did not sugar-coat the situation of the South East in the Federation reiterating his call for a re-structuring of the Federation; he also advocated states’ control of the police force, or state policing. He did not mince words either on the exclusion of Ndigbo in the higher echelon of the administration of the country:- a. No Igbo man in the Council of State b. No Igbo man in the National Security Council, c. No Igbo man in the National Defence Council, d. No Igbo man in the top hierarchy of the nation’s judiciary (Chief Justice of Nigeria, Supreme Court leadership, Appeal Court leadership. Federal High Court of FCT, National Judicial Council leadership, National Industrial Court, National Sharia Court of Appeal, etc.
e. In the Nigerian Police Force, Ndigbo are completely excluded from the top hierarchy and command posts, i.e. IGP (Inspector General of Police), DIG (Deputy Inspector General of Police), and AIG (Assistant Inspector General of Police) cadres
f. No Igbo man in the top hierarchy in DSS (Department of State Services) NIA (National Intelligence Agency) NSCDC (Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps) The Custom Service, Immigration and Prisons services do not present a better picture
g. In the leadership of the Legislature, the only Igbo man is the Deputy Senate President h. At the levels of the Federal Government Parastatals, Agencies, Extra-ministerial Departments, Ndigbo have been locked out from occupying the positions of Chief Executives.”
Dr. Ekweremadu called for inclusiveness and respect for the rule of law by the leaders of the country as enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution and cautioned that the continued incarceration of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), despite court orders to the contrary, is not in the best interest of peace and unity in the country.
The presentation that made the most headlines was delivered by the Special Guest of the Summit, former Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, whose lecture was on “Sustainable Development: Zero Hunger,” and his role as the chairman of the (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Committee on Zero Hunger Project.
He paid glowing tribute to the special gifts of Ndigbo, to their communal spirit, adventurous spirit, entrepreneurial spirit, industry and hard work which, he said, were the gifts which make “the people of the South East extremely unique.” Those gifts are all they need to be successful.
He urged Ndigbo to forget self-pity and refuse to wait for the Federal Government for their needs because he discovered in one of his trips to the South East to visit former Vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme, that it is unwise to wait for others to do for you what you can do for yourself.
Chief Obasanjo called on Ndigbo to unite for their own safety and effectiveness, noting that “if you go alone you may go fast” but you cannot go far, whereas if you go together you are likely to go far. He saw enormous potentials in the region’s agriculture and said the South East could be the bread or food basket of Nigeria if the region can utilize its fertile land. The Zero Hunger Project is anchored on the availability and accessibility of food to all, and practical steps have been taken to achieve the target which is to end hunger worldwide by 2030. Nigeria’s target date to end hunger, he said, is 2025 and Ebonyi State is one of the four pilot states in Nigeria where the Zero Hunger Project is being implemented.
On the current agitation by Ndigbo youths for Biafra, the former President observed that “we have a challenge of youth unrest which is understandable because there are young people who have education without employment, and skills without production. So you should expect some agitation from them.” But he stated that the youth must get some help from the elders. “We cannot leave these children alone. We must take responsibility.” He illustrated this need with a Yoruba proverb which states that “when the young are felling trees, it is the duty of the elders to take necessary precautions because they (elders) know the direction the trees will fall.”
Chief Obasanjo reiterated his call for the country’s dedication to peace which he said is the surest guarantor for prosperity because it is impossible to expect peace in any part of the country where the people are hungry. He warned Ndigbo against their well-known tendency to rigid individualism which Obasanjo said could not only sabotage their efforts but bring ruins on their people.
He suggested that the Summit should set up a standing committee which should meet every six months to review the economic progress made in the region.