By SKC Ogbonnia
President Muhammadu Buhari’s long-awaited cabinet is now complete. As in any political endeavour, there are winners and losers.
Socially, similar to the Yorubas in 2011, the Igbos appear to be on the losing end thus far in 2015, particularly with representation to the upper echelon of the government. The underlying rationale is that the positions of the President, Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker, Chairman of the ruling party, and the Secretary to Federal Government were hailed in the past 16 years as the main enchilada of the party in power and thence rotated among the six political zones of the country.
Of course, there is considerable merit in Buhari’s argument that trust earned from the yore is an important criterion for sensitive positions. There is also no gainsaying that the president is set to bequeath to the entire Nigeria a lasting legacy. Quite frankly, any person disclaiming the prevailing boon of the man’s aura is viewing the history from a blind spot. Yet, the principle of federal character cannot be wished away at this stage of national development. It goes without saying that the theory of Taxation without Representation was well tested before Nigeria opted for national independence over British rule.
Politically, there is the need for caution. Both the All Progressive Congress (APC) as a party and the president himself are not impolitic. Every discerning mind is aware that any attempt to marginalize any zone in a country of belligerent ethnic groups is a premature death sentence for our hard-earned change. This is even more so when considered that the 2019 election is likely to feature two strong presidential candidates from the North. The veiled implication is that every breadth and depth of Southern Nigeria guarantees to be a battleground for votes, come that year. The gist is that President Buhari is committed to his pledge to carry every zone along before long.
Strategically and economically, the Igbos stand to gain big time under Buhari’s government regardless.
First and foremost, no degree of amnesia can erase from existential memory the fact that Nigeria ’s problem in the past 16 years was never the lack of political positions or projects being attracted to any zone. It was definitely not the lack of the funds to execute the projects. The bitter truth is that the funds were commonly looted with impunity by those in positions of power.
But if the truth is told in full, which this report is set to accomplish, nowhere was the problem of looting project funds more prevalent than Igboland. The major reason is simple: While the North and West have been consistent with strong opposition activities in the national politics in recent years, which in turn help for a measure of checks and balances for projects in those regions, the reverse has been the case in the East.
It is not a new story that South-East and South-South zones were predominated by the then ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a party penchant for conferring immunity to the activities of its members, however feigned. To this end, Igbo politicians were always spoon-feeding the helpless masses with vain rhetoric on dividends of democracy. And any attempt by independent citizens to crosscheck the projects they claim to attract was seen as an unclad sin. But that was then. The now is where the elixir of Muhammadu Buhari comes in.
For a change, a leader is poised to demonstrate that there is a day of reckoning in the earthly Nigeria . For a change, a cabal whose entire raison d’être of being politics is to loot project funds is rattled. For a change, a leader is determined to recoup the funds looted from vital projects in Igboland towards completion. Needless to say, the list includes the dateless rallying cries, such as 2nd River Niger Bridge , Dredging of River Niger , Akanu Ibiam International Airport , Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, and Owerri Cargo International Airport , among others. It is worthy of note, however, that these projects were reduced to mere money-spinners for individual bank accounts while Igbos manned the positions of Senate Committee Chairmanships on Works and Aviation, Ministers of Aviation and Finance—with the Secretary to the Federal Government as well as the adopted son in then president, Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan—all in tow.
Further, given that the shenanigans with the aforementioned projects are common knowledge, the Igbo civil society can now be emboldened by the regnant ‘Fear of Buhari’ to petition the anti-corruption agency on many other phantom programmes fully funded but abandoned in different parts of Igboland. Notable among them are the constituency projects said to be attracted by members of the National Assembly and, of course, other state and local government projects.
The second major area the Igbos stand to witness ultimate succour from Buhari is newer government undertakings. Besides the revitalization of Coal-to-Power severally promised by the president, the political climate is warn to resuscitate the abandoned gas pipeline initiative across Igbo hinterland and to develop the huge gas deposits in the South-East. Suffice to say that these power projects received zero attention despite the fact that Igbos produced consecutive ministers of Power in the last regime with that of Petroleum Resources at a stone throw.
More importantly, the political climate is clement to explore Buhari’s new equity mantra with the view to truly demand creation of additional states and local governments in Igboland through Constitutional Amendment. What is more, the whole hoo-ha on political appointments becomes pointless once it dawns on us that the very Constitutional Amendment was funded to the brim by successive governments but cobwebbed in the past eight years at the den of a senator from the South-East.
Finally, due to intrinsic knack for the Diaspora, the Igbos are bound to benefit regardless of the direction of the different policies and programmes. But the appointment of an austere personality as the Controller-General of Customs is cast with good tidings. Forget the selfish few that thrive on smuggling! A dutiful implementation of extant policies within the Customs has reasonable prospect to reduce the volume of contraband goods flowing into the country. This move will spur the much-needed economic diversification, industrial revolution, and mass employment. The obvious whisper is a Christmas in June for the vastly overlooked Igbo-made products primed to replace fake goods flooding the marketplace from Asia .
Now, for all intents and purposes, consider that Muhammadu Buhari can be accused of many things in his political life, including lopsided appointments, but breaking promises has never been near the top. Then throw in the fact that fulfillment of his promises to the Igbos, including completion of the abandoned projects, will not only boost employment opportunities for the teeming masses, but will also stem the wave of kidnapping and armed robbery common in South-East and South-South Nigeria. Thereafter, reckon that displacing PDP at the national level plus the presence of vibrant APC ministers now from Igboland have the potential to engender the elusive dynamic opposition activity in the region. Best of all, combine it with the common consensus that dynamic opposition facilitates the checks and balances central for effective democratic leadership, by consequence. True.
Confronted with these realities, the Igbo masses cannot help but embrace the second coming of Buhari. For instance, in view of the fact that Nigeria is currently enmeshed in the throes of economic woes, what is a better consolation for the cries of marginalization, unless heavenly, than recovering the looted funds and putting behind us ageless but prime projects, which would never come to pass without the presence of a messianic figure? Even if the looted funds are not recovered, does it require a regal town crier to publicize that it is no longer business as usual for projects attracted to Igboland? What else epitomizes a silver lining than the very point where the era of impunity in Igbo politics is finally seen to be coming to an end, thanks to the fear and hope of Buhari?
The questions above adequately answer themselves. The paradox has exposed the decadent canopy of PDP and its proxies in the East. Having succeeded in the last election with a witless canard that APC would Islamize Igboland; the opposition elites must not hide behind the melodrama of Buhari’s style of appointments to hoodwink the gullible masses again. For sure, any quest for equity is always a welcome idea, but coming this soon from PDP portrays a picture similar to Abubakar Shekau of Boko Haram posing as a keynote-speaker on Western education.
It is incumbent upon Ndigbo, therefore, to place the blame exactly where it belongs. Given that President Buhari has promised to right the wrong in due course, let the current debate serve as a teachable moment for those grandstanding as our leaders. This moment demands that we remind them that, even as political appointment remains important, enduring service delivery matters most. It is imperative to echo with every cadence that, like any other zone or ethnic group, the Igbo people of South-East and those of South-South received their fair share of political positions since the 4th Republic. This should have ordinarily translated to mass development, but that has not been the case. In fact, the records show that the South-East in particular boarded dead last in capital projects despite a commanding presence of appointees from the zone. Today, there is nothing concrete on the ground even for the few projects that came its ways apart from cascading tears of marginalization.
Clearly, the nature of the Igbo problem is difficult to explain. But there is no better way forward at this historic moment than a paradigm shift in perception to vitalize the full sphere of the widely acclaimed Igbo ingenuity. The time is now to admit that the distrust in the polity is deeply rooted in the past, where each ethnic group and generation patently shares blame. The time is now to eschew selfishness and find common grounds where ideas could converge for practical solutions instead of amplifying the echoes of a lifelong pattern of tribal rivalries. Now is the time to recognize that curbing institutionalized corruption is a win-win for all. The posterity beckons on us to turn the page to the future and take an unbiased look at the open buffet of opportunities presented by the current change movement.
(Ogbonnia, a leadership scholar, is the chairman of First Texas Energy Corporation)