It has been the case since ancient to modern that politics in South-east Nigeria is muddled. That is if forty years ago can be considered ancient. Afterall, a former British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, is on record that a week is, in politics, a long time. It is barely a week that South-east zone behaved to type with its open display of muddled politics. Muddled in the sense of cutting its nose to spite its face.
South-east zone invited President Muhammadu Buhari to a summit. Or at least, so the zone appeared to have done through Science and Technology Minister, Ogbonnaya Onu. Ideally, such an invitation should have been properly screened to avoid a last-minute or any clash of interests, especially on a date earlier agreed. Among such exigencies that should have been factored into final preparations is the reality that even on any agreed date, their special guest, Muhammadu Buhari, has virtually, no control over unforeseen equally if not more important schedule both at home and especially abroad that might compel preferential attention.
Experienced technocrats among organisers of the summit would acknowledge such possibilities. Like the sudden political/constitutional debacle in the West African nation of The Gambia, which warranted the intervention of concerned West African countries in the ECOWAS group. Nigeria’s participation in such intervention certainly was a decisive factor.
Another unforeseen hitch, which nonetheless, should not have caught the summit organisers napping, was the rascality by a group for a showdown if Buhari ever showed up. It was not clear if that issue was partly why Buhari did not show up but noticeably, the joke was missing in Buhari’s explanation on his eventual absence.
Third on the list of hitches against Buhari’s presence was the convenient excuse that the summit was fixed for Christmas time when South-easterners would be in festive mood. Who should take the blame for that? Surely, not Buhari. Were the summit organisers ignorant of that universal fact when the date was fixed? At the end of the day, Buhari could not show up. Perhaps, there was no loser but if there was, Buhari was not the loser. And the winner? South-east notorious politics of muddle.
It is all the more disturbing because South-east is the least developed in terms of infrastructure not just by the Federal Government but also by the zone’s successive state governors.
One clear reason for the latest politics of muddle is South-east zone’s disregard for one of its own, Science and Technology Minister, Ogbonnaya Onu, moreso for his membership of the ruling APC. It is only wise that even if the man is politically ostracised, must that be along with whatever amenities that could accrue to South-east from the Federal Government through Ogbonnaya Onu? Furthermore, who is nearer to reach Buhari, Minister Ogbonnaya Onu or years of crying in the wilderness? South-east was close to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo. What benefitted South-east therefrom? South-east was similarly close to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan? For what benefit, second. Niger Bridge? Or federal roads in South-east?
In contrast, Ogbonnaya Onu, with his membership of APC and closeness to President Buhari, is emerging a prophet that is not known (in fact, valued) in his own zone. With due respect to other South-east leaders in APC, Ogbonnaya Onu today, stands vindicated for advising South-east, even if in desperation for votes, not to put all the zone’s eggs in one basket, which on a drop, might leave nothing to salvage. There are constitutional guarantees like ministerial appointments or membership of federal parastatals to which, no matter its voting preferences, a zone will still be entitled. But that does not apply to the real specials like leadership of the senate, the presidency of that chamber speakership of House of Representatives, etc., guaranteed only by membership of the National Assembly. Onu’s advice was ignored in South-east and his party did not win a single Senate seat to be able take up the Senate presidency already allocated in advance to South-east.
Dissatisfaction in South-east over distribution of federal amenities may be understandable but this should not be extended to antagonising a sitting president or even still less a confidant of Buhari like Ogbonnaya Onu. It is, in fact, arguable if Buhari or APC should be held responsible for the backward infrastructural development in South-east. Buhari and his team are less than two years in office, an opportunity even now, which should be taken to establish and or embrace a necessary atmosphere for putting across the case for South-east before Buhari. What then did it matter who actually put or could still put such case across to Buhari?
South-east is gifted with such a man in science minister, Ogbonnaya Onu. To have, therefore, fatally obstructed Buhari’s appearance at the South-east summit on the mere account that the aborted trip was facilitated by Ogbonnaya Onu is, to put it mildly, politics of muddle even though in reality, the name is politics of self-defeat. If South-east were to play its politics correctly, the zone could still collect whatever necessary federal amenities through its sons and daughters in APC without necessarily voting for the party in the 2019 presidential elections. The only point to be noted is that should the APC (still) win the presidential and National Assembly elections, especially without a single senatorial seat from South-east zone, the core East will still forfeit the Senate presidency allotted to that part of the country, under APC’s sharing of offices.
For reasons of political history, Ogbonnaya Onu remains is South-east’s best bet for reaching President Buhari. The two men were originally members of APP, which transformed to ANPP and even when Buhari left to found his Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Onu retained channel of contact with Buhari in the mutual belief that betters days were ahead. In fact, when top South-easterners like the late Edwin Umezeoke abandoned Buhari mid-stream to join the erstwhile ruling PDP, Ogbonnaya Onu remained in ANPP, which made it easier for the parties to dissolve into All Progressives Congress, leading to the political history of today.
It is just too bad if Onu’s politics of principle, consistency and trust edges him ahead of other South-east APC colleagues in being best placed to have Buhari’s ears.
As long as South-east will be better off, somebody has to be responsible for that. He happens to be Ogbonnaya Onu. Neither the man nor APC should apologise. Therefore, Buhari should not visit South-east as long as Onu facilitates such visit? Which zone loses in the process? Surely, not any of South-west, South-south or one of the three northern zones? The loser is South-east. What politics of muddle.
There was also the circumstantial excuse that Buhari was wrongly timed to visit at Christmas period. That excuse was inadequate. Or what time of the year would Buhari have been visiting without some religious festival being celebrated? Easter, without South-east celebrating? Eidel Fitri or Eidel Kabir without inconveniencing Buhari, who also has other official schedules with which to cope throughout the year.
The most disturbing if laughable was the ban purportedly placed on Buhari, by a dissident group, from visiting South-east, specifically, the summit. Buhari himself was tactful not to acknowledge the ban when explaining why he couldn’t visit. Surprisingly, not a single dignitary could disown that ban. Nigerian constitution guarantees freedom of movement for all citizens. Should an unknown Nigerian be so banned from visiting a part of the country, the Federal Government has a duty to enforce that constitutional right in favour of the citizen concerned. Buhari is not an unknown Nigerian.
On any score, Buhari is entitled to freedom of movement, as a constitutional right. He is a former military Head of State/Commander-in-Chief and currently, he is the elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. If constitutionally he is empowered to enforce the right of movement of Nigerians, he is the first beneficiary of that right. When he moves about, others can also move about. Even if necessary for the visit that was not, the first division of Nigeria Army in Kaduna and the 82nd division in Enugu could have been deployed to enforce Buhari’s movement to Enugu for the summit. It is bad enough for South-east to antagonise Buhari. It is even worse for the same South-east to alienate Buhari, the man whose responsibility it is, at the moment, to redress the imbalance in the federal infrastructure in South-east, compared to other parts of the country.
Consider this hangover from the South-east politics of muddle in the Second Republic. Rivalry for power at federal level was fiercest in South-east between the ruling NPN and erstwhile coalition partner, the NPP. No line was drawn. Such was the extent that Alex Ekwueme, from Oko, Anambra State, was virtually never recognised by his home state as Nigeria’s vice president. Such was the contempt that his efforts to attract federal development to South-east were never appreciated, even for the larger interest of that zone. One of such efforts was the construction of the road from Onitsha/Awka to Oko, which was resisted by Anambra State government, employing thugs to attack federal contractors on that road. The reason? Awka to Oko is a state road and Ekwueme was seen as seeking political advantage in getting that road reconstructed.
Today, portion of that road around former vice-president Ekwueme’s private residence is reported to be in danger of eventually crumbling his modest house. The present administration in Anambra State and particularly its predecessor have been credited almost as the best ever. Yet, the road around Ekwueme’s house constitutes imminent danger. That is no longer the responsibility of Anambra State government?
The truth, however, is that Ekwueme had a duty as vice-president to attract infrastructure to the East. If in so doing, he gained advantage, what is the purpose of politics? That aside, from the day he was elected, Vice President Ekwueme became federal property, even till today. To put it in local parlance, Ekwueme is Federal Government pickin. Should the road leading to his residence have deteriorated to the level of sinking into a valley? With the precedent set by Anambra State government on the Oko-Awka road, even if Labour Minister, Chris Ngige, obtains federal approval of responsibility of that road, leading to Ekwueme’s house, what is the guarantee that once again, Anambra State government would not obstruct such development? That is the politics of muddle in South-east.
The only saving grace is that under Nigerian constitution, education is a concurrent matter. Otherwise, Anambra State government of those days might have similarly stopped Ekwueme’s efforts in attracting federal polytechnic to Oko, which today serves as Ekwueme’s legacy.
By the way, South-east must stop wallowing in persecution complex or marginalisation of anything entitlement of former Vice President Ekwueme. Such is a right and not a favour for Ekwueme (or anybody in his position. Any evidence? Without requesting, all former heads of Federal Government and their seconds-in-command (including Alex Ekwueme) were listed to be provided new vehicles. Into that equation also falls anything on Ekwueme. In any case, former Vice President Ekwueme can only enjoy the new vehicle(s) as long as he is not a fatal victim of erosion disaster in his house.
Former President Ibrahim Babangida guaranteed the comfort of one of his predecessors, Nnamdi Azikiwe by specially saddling as his (IBB’s) Chief Press Secretary with the responsibility of ensuring all his (Zik’s) entitlement every year. Liaison officer of Anambra State in Lagos at that time, Mr. Okonkwo, will testify to that. Ekwueme’s comfort and convenience are, therefore, entitlement from the Federal Government. But then, it is also part of the responsibility of South-east representatives in Buhari’s council of ministers and National Assembly. For example, when Works Minister, Raji Fasola, presented his estimates to Federal Executive Council for the next financial year, did ministers from South-east zone demand that the road leading to Ekwueme’s country home posed such danger, requiring urgent reconstruction and, therefore, should be included in the budget?
Similarly, when Fasola presented his estimates to the National Assembly, did any senator or House of Representatives member from South-east zone raise alarm on the former vice president’s country home? If not, why not? Do these National Assembly members not owe obligation to their distinguished constituent, Alex Ekwueme, for his official entitlement, especially on his personal safety?
Such dereliction of duty is part of the politics of muddle in South-east zone. Everybody for himself either as an individual or the fortune of his political party. Such should be discarded.
Buhari needs South-east for electoral purposes. More than that, South-east needs Buhari for development purposes. That is the reality to be embraced.