The recent effort by the leaders of the South East to come together for the greater interest of the geo-political zone is commendable. The maiden edition of the South East bipartisan meeting was held in January this year at Igbere, Abia State, at the residence of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu. It was attended by leaders across different political parties, such as the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). This is a good sign that the people of the region can actually work together if they put their mind to it.
No doubt, the meeting has come at the right time, considering the current political horse-trading trailing the 2023 presidential election. Collectively, the South East leaders asked for the ceding of the 2023 presidency in all political parties to the South East zone in the spirit of justice, fairness and national harmony. This demand is predicated on the fact that the South East is the only zone in the South that is yet to produce a President of Nigeria in the current democratic dispensation. Noting that the zone had demonstrated belief in Nigeria to deserve the presidency, the leaders solicited the support of other geopolitical and ethnic groups in achieving this ambition.
They stated: “The South East as a major geopolitical zone and Ndigbo, being one of the three predominant tribes in Nigeria, must take its rightful position in national polity. The Presidency has rotated between Northern and Southern Nigeria and among the various geo-political zones. Thus, the South West and South South geo-political zones in the southern part of the country have produced the President of Nigeria in the person of His Excellency, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, and His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR.”
Among others, the leaders commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his reported infrastructure regeneration across the five states in the South East. They not only noted that the Igbo were not in support of secession or any secessionist group, but also maintained their position for a united, indivisible and prosperous Nigeria.
The second edition of the meeting held in Enugu on March 7, 2021 and hosted by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi was a consolidation of the first meeting. It had in attendance the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige; the Chairman of the South East Traditional Rulers Council, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, who was chairman; Senators Chukwuka Utazi (Enugu North) Michael Ama Nnachi (Ebonyi South) and Chris Adighije; members of the House of Reps, including Dr. Pat Asadu among others.
This is something that should be encouraged. It is praiseworthy that Igwe Ache, a first class traditional ruler and respected personality acroos Nigeria, agreed and actually chaired the meeting. Those behind the meeting should ensure that it is not a one-off thing and that major stakeholders are involved. These stakeholders should put the interest of the zone first. Speaking with one voice will help to resolve those issues that divide the people of the region. In subsequent meetings, the stakeholders should consider focusing on the economic development of the region. Time was when the South East zone was the economic hub of the nation. Until the advent of oil, agriculture was the mainstay of the economy of the region. Today, the tide has changed.
The other day, the National Bureau of Statistics indicated that the rate of unemployment in Nigeria had risen to 33.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020 from 27.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2020. This means that 23.2 million Nigerians are unemployed. South East youths share in this high unemployment rate. What the leaders of the zone should do is to harness the abundant human capital of their people for the development of the region.
To this end, incentives should be given to industrialists to establish industries in the South East. This will go a long way in banishing poverty and unemployment from the region. Such novel and ambitious project as Enyimba Economic City, being conceived by Abia State governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, should be supported by all South easterners.
Also, various states of the region should consider giving priority attention to quality education as it is the bedrock of development. Schools should be well equipped with relevant facilities and education budgets for each state should be beefed up.
Besides, the restiveness of Igbo youths must be squarely addressed. This is because without adequate security, every other economic and political effort will be in vain. Recently, there have been worrying reports about kidnapping and sundry crimes in the region. The recent clashes between soldiers and members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) are still fresh in our memories. A meeting of this nature should proffer solutions to insecurity in the zone, nay Nigeria.
We welcome the bipartisan meeting because it is one of the ways to enhance unity in the zone as well as development. It has proved that the South East as a geopolitical zone and Igbo as a people could actual work together for a commond good. This will make the Igbo a strong force in politics and economy in the country. We urge governors and other political actors from the zone to be part of the subsequent meetings.
We also call on governors of other states in the zone, such as Anambra, Ebonyi, Imo and Abia, to host the meeting because it is good for the political wellbeing of the region.