By Sam Ohuabunwa
I have heard the Acting President say on at least two occasions that those who are complaining of marginalization in Nigeria are actually only saying “please appoint me”.
The first time I heard him say so, I was taken aback, and was not quite sure what to make of it. But when I heard him say it again last week, I became really bothered.
Was the Acting President saying that the cry of marginalization by some ethnic groups or sections in Nigeria is a hoax? Was he actually saying that there is no genuine case of marginalization in Nigeria and all those complaining about it were only making noise, seeking undue attention or just looking for opportunities for themselves? Or was he saying that indeed there are genuine cases of marginalization in Nigeria but those who are leading the cries are not truly interested in the holistic resolution of the matter but just interested in getting something for themselves? In which case, the moment they get ‘settled’ perhaps with an appointment, the cry will cease or they would abandon the truly marginalized people to wallow their pains?
If what he meant is the latter scenario, perhaps my pain will be less, though not completely eliminated. Of course, there are fake leaders who trade with the sufferings of the people, whose stomachs have become their gods. They are all over Nigeria pretending to be pursuing group interests or causes, whereas all they seek is a platform to present their personal matters and as soon as their personal issues are settled, they quickly abandon the struggle.
I am thus reminded of the many advocacy groups or protest leaders who appear in Aso Rock with their CVs in their pockets and after the fierce rhetoric for the benefit of the television cameras, on their way out drop their CVs or come out smiling, having been “settled” Even now, some APC leaders who were once champions of Restructuring the Nigerian Federation have lost their voices now that they have power!
But given the season we are in, when I believe that God in His infinite mercy has heard the cries of the oppressed and marginalized people or groups in this country, it will be unfair for the Acting President or anyone else to trivialize the genuine cries of the people by labeling it as just a cry for some people to be appointed to public offices.
I cannot speak for other groups, peoples or regions that feel marginalized in the Nigerian Federation as presently constituted and organized but I have a deep understanding and personal experience of the level of marginalization of the people of the South East region of Nigeria.
In case the Acting President has forgotten, the people of the South East of Nigeria feel marginalized in the current Nigerian Federation for several reasons. Because of space constraints I will address just a few.
- Least number of states
Out of the six geo-political zones in Nigeria, the South East has the least number of States. It has only 5 states whereas others have six states and the North West seven.
What that means is that the South East receives the least amount of allocation from the Federation Account, and therefore has the least share of national resources. This anomaly has been recognized by the 2005 and the 2014 National Conferences which in their desire to correct this marginalization recommended an additional state for the South East, to bring it to par with most of the other zones that have six states.
- Least number of local government areas
The South East zone has the lowest number of local government areas in the nation. See below the local governments in each zone:
North West-186; South West-137; South South – 125; North East-113; North Central-112 and South East- 95 which is about half the number of LGAs in the North west. And national resources are allocated to LGAs directly. Is the marginalization not evident?
Yet these local governments were created by fiat by the military administrations without any defined and verifiable criteria. Someone once joked that at a point in our history, local governments were created as compensation for Generals. And since the South East had the least, it was natural that they would have the least no of LGAs.
- Least representation in elected and appointed political offices
Representation in the National Assembly and in the Federal Executive Council is based on states. It therefore follows that the South East region that has the least number of states would have the least number of Reps in the National Assembly, least no of ministers in the Federal Executive Council and in almost all organs of government constituted on representative basis.
The South East zone has the least number of Ambassadors, the least number of heads of government Parastatals and other extra ministerial agencies. Very few chair Federal Government Boards or Councils. Among the three dominant groups in Nigeria, the South East is the only one that has not been allowed to produce the President of Nigeria since 1970.
- Poor representation in the Federal Public Service
The South East is poorly represented in the Public Service of Nigeria. Many public servants have been retired prematurely and very few are being admitted into the service – Immigration, Customs, FAAN etc.
There was the case of Mrs. Chinelo Anohu-Amazie who headed the PENCOM, who was prematurely retired and her replacement came from another zone in violation to the PENCOM act. Many people remonstrated but nothing happened and that travesty still stands. Is this not discrimination and marginalization rolled into one?
- The absence of the South East in the National Security Council
South East is the only zone missing in the Security Council leadership – Defence, Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Civil Defence, NIA, DSS, EFCC, ICPC, FRSC and National Security Adviser. Security issues are discussed in Nigeria and no voice from the South East is heard. Here the Federal character principle has been jettisoned. Many promising Ssecurity officers from the South East have been retired prematurely. We have complained endlessly but nobody cares.
6.Unbearably poor state of Federal roads in the South East
It is known by the whole world that the worst Federal roads are located in the South East, many of them abandoned. This did not start today. For example, Reporters from Thisday Newspaper and the Channels TV have described the Arochukwu Road in Abia State as the worst in Nigeria!
- Shuttering of the gateways to the South East
The Eastern sea ports are shuttered by official policy. The Inland Ports are abandoned . The so- called International airports are not sufficiently national, to talk of international. Nobody is talking of developing the allocated Dry Ports while some of those in the other zones are up and running.
- Exclusion from the modern railway infrastructure
It took the resistance of the South East Senators who opposed approving a foreign loan for the new standard gauge rail line that nicely excluded the whole of the South East, for anybody to remember. The Federal Government is building several new bridges with funds from the budget, only the 2nd Niger Bridge is to be built by PPP so that it would be tolled!
- Discrimination against South East youths in school admission
It is well known that most of the South East states have about the highest cut off points in common entrance examinations to Unity Schools and Federal Universities. Many Igbo youth including those protesting openly today were denied admissions to Federal schools while their classmates from other zones who scored much lower marks were admitted. How do you explain to such a youth that both of them have equal citizenship rights?
- Refusal to reconstruct the South East
We have the Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC) to deal with ravages of oil exploration in the Niger Delta and to reverse the long neglect of the region and rightly added the Ministry of Niger Delta. Recently we have created the North East Development Agency to help rebuild the North East following the ravages of the Boko Haram insurgency. But since the Nigerian civil war ended with all the destruction that took place in the South East, no development agency has been created. Even the recent effort by the South East Legislators to create a South East Economic Development Agency that will not even be funded by the Federal Government was thrown out in the House of Representatives!
I could go on and on but because of space I will stop here. Can anyone then in good conscience declare that these are not acts of marginalization? When you beat a child, can you also deny him the right to cry? As I said, the South East zone is not the only zone suffering from these acts to some degree or the other. What then is wrong for people to point out these manifest acts of discrimination that is destabilizing the nation? I pray that the country focuses on how to remove these acts through fundamental constitutional reviews or preferably the writing of a new one, rather than demonizing the agitators. Calling them names or even intimidating them will not solve the problem!