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Issues In The News

Why the President needs to remain ‘clueless’ – Azuka Onwuka

It is no longer news that the first international flight landed over a week ago in Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu amidst jubilation. Many people have wondered why anybody would celebrate such a paedestrian thing as the commencement of international flights in an airport in the 21st century, especially in a country where the first international flight took place in July 1925 in Kano.

In marketing, it is said that perception is reality. In a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria, where there is so much inter-ethnic suspicion and distrust, this saying is even truer, because it is easy to interpret actions based on who is doing what.

For a part of the country that fought and lost a bitter war that cost so much, the South-East is always predictably touchy concerning issues that it interprets as a national conspiracy to always marginalise it. Every part of Nigeria complains of marginalisation, but because of the Biafran War, the Igbo usually feel that any neglect meted out to them is still a continuation of that war against them. You can blame them for always ‘whining,’ but the truth is that war injuries heal but their scars usually don’t disappear easily. So you have to sometimes put yourself in their shoes, even if momentarily, to understand where they are coming from.

How do you explain to them that many years after Lagos and Abuja plus Kano, Port Harcourt (and Calabar) were made international airports, that it was just coincidental that Enugu was not made an international airport as well, even though it was the former capital of the former Eastern Nigeria?

How do you convince them that after over 40 years of managing the  single-carriage way Niger Bridge in Onitsha, which makes travelling home nightmarish at their happiest time of the year (Christmas), that it was not intentional that it has been left like that by successive administrations,  whether civilian and military? It is worse that this is a bridge that is just about one-kilometre long. Yet they have watched as many longer bridges were built across the nation, including the 11.8-kilometre Third Mainland Bridge, built over the Lagos lagoon in 1990 by the General Ibrahim Babangida military junta.

How do you convince them that it was coincidental that after being the first to produce a major general and indigenous head of the army on February 9, 1965, none of them could become the chief of army staff for over 44 years in a country that they call their own? The fear was that they would execute a coup if given that post. So, since President Jonathan made Lt.-Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika the Chief of Army Staff, how many coups has he executed with Vice-Admiral Dele Ezeoba and other General Officers Commanding of Igbo stock?

As an aside, there is another sore thumb that has existed since 1996. The South-East is the only zone with 5 states. Other zones have 6 each, while the North-West has 7. It will be difficult to remedy this, given how cumbersome it is to amend the Constitution, as well as the political considerations that come into play with such ventures, whereby every area wants its own state to be created first. But there are some inequalities that should not be allowed to last for one day in a delicate country like ours, to avoid arming people with reasons to say that they are being victimised or marginalised.

It simply shows a lack of human management skills in our leaders.  Our leaders are most times too thoughtless and inconsiderate to do simple things that will reassure the different segments of the nation that they are not being marginalised on purpose.

The more you give people reasons to complain, the more they blow things out of proportion. It happened in the Niger Delta where the region that produces the wealth of the nation complained for decades of neglect and even witnessed their leaders hanged by the government, yet they were ignored. They had to be listened to only when they took up arms and sabotaged oil production.

That is why I admire the political shrewdness of Bola Ahmed Tinubu who did not wait for  the Igbo to start agitating for a political place in Lagos, where they have a high population and investment, before he appointed Mr. Ben Akabueze as a commissioner in January 2007, and Governor Babatunde Fashola has re-appointed him twice. Some may see such actions as tokenism, but they help in no small way to douse ill feelings. A wise leader is proactive, not reactive.

For example, the policy of this administration to establish a federal university in each of the six zones of the federation was a good idea. Some may complain that there is no need for that since those in existence have not been given proper attention. But how do you explain to a state in Nigeria that there is nothing wrong with it not having a federal university when some states have two federal tertiary institutions?

That was the reason the June 12 political crisis that raged between 1993 and 1998 was such a touchy issue. With the perception that there was a calculated plan to keep the South away from Nigeria’s presidency, it was difficult to prove, especially to the South-West, that it was a coincidence that their kinsman, Chief MKO Abiola, was denied an election that he clearly won.

How can one explain to a state like Bayelsa – an oil-producing state – that it was all right for it not to be connected to the national grid until the late 2000s? Some things just don’t make sense.

It is a malady that permeates our lives, including our towns, religious groups, and other organisations. Short-sighted local champions assume they are wise by ensuring that certain basic things or key offices do not get to certain areas for decades. Those who suffer such neglect or denial may keep quiet. But that does not mean that they are happy with the situation. If and when they come to the conclusion that there is a calculated effort to marginalise them, they usually rebel against that, causing those in charge to try to douse the tension by hurriedly making concessions.

However, it is not as if this administration is giving the South-East any preferential treatment. It is just that I have decided to focus on the South-East. The revived railway serves the interest of the North and South-West more. The resuscitation of agriculture and special attention to Almajiri education benefit the North than other parts. The road that leads to the busiest ports of the country – the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway – which was neglected for decades is being constructed and it is in Lagos. The busiest road in Nigeria – the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway – is about to be constructed, and it is in the South-West. The Benin-Shagamu Expressway that has been revamped is in the South-South and South-West.

If the people in authority are truly wise, they will not need to wait for any grumbling before ensuring that certain benefits and privileges get to all areas, no matter the quantity. It is better when the complaint is: “It is not enough” than “We have not got any at all.” When your complaint is that what you have received is not enough, you may be called a greedy person; but when it is that you have not received anything at all, you will be seen as a victim that has every right to protest.

The truth is that it does not take too much to make all parts of Nigeria have a sense of belonging.  Once they continue to see some actions persistently taken that are not in their favour, they easily put two and two together and call such whatever they like. And you cannot blame them for reading any meaning into such actions.

Unfortunately for many of our past leaders, they have allowed a President many call “clueless” to do simple, commonsensical and “clueful” things that make him worm his way into the hearts of the South-East. I don’t know what others can do between now and 2015 to convince the South-East not to vote massively for this clueless man, if he decides to contest.


About TransformationWatch

TransformationWatch is an online news site founded by Henry Omoregie It is focused on keeping tabs on the Transformation Agenda set out by the Nigerian leadership in the Local, State and Federal Governments. My mission is to observe, analyze and report milestones or slowdowns in promised service delivery in all the facets of governance in Nigeria (2011 and beyond). Readership is open to all Nigerians and friends of Nigeria alike, regardless of Tribe, Religion or Political divide. We are all in this together


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