By Simeon Nwankwo-O’diwe
The hoot and holler to de-market zoning in the 2023 presidential election is simply a conspiracy against the South East. I watched one of the founding fathers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Sule Lamido, in a televised interview claim ceding the presidency to the South West in 1999 was a decision of all Nigerians and had nothing to do with the PDP. Sule only works in solidification of the zoning denial, now a rave among northern political apparatchik. The former Jigawa State governor should have also told us that those Nigerians have all died, and that the political parties they formed, some of them now transmuted, are currently peopled by Egyptians. Interestingly, he also skated the elaborate provision of the constitution of his party on rotation of power between North and South. The founding national secretary of Sule’s party, Okwesilieze Nwodo, would later on the TV same station query the whereabouts of the “Nigerian conscience,” which saw two Yoruba emerge candidates of two dominant political parties in 1999 and, later in 2009, brought in the doctrine of necessity. Nwodo couldn’t understand the reason the same conscience is gone six feet below today. The answer is the iron ceiling placed on the Igbo. Really, there is little that separates ethnic suppression from global malign activity, hence, no daylight between it and apartheid. If fellow Nigerians do not see this as beyond the pale, at a time when we need unity to pull the country from the brink, the consequences may overwhelm.
Meanwhile, as the North plays might is right, trumping its superior but heterogenous population as decisive in electoral democracy, it grows amnesia over its pugnacious insistence on Federal Character and other catching-up additives to insulate the disproportional harshness that will haemorrhage its territory, in a competitive socio-economy, where merit is supreme. Another side of the coin! I smile at the skirmishes, almost knocking Tinubu’s head against Osinbajo’s. Asiwaju doesn’t have Caesar’s depth to observe the pastor’s “lean looks” has semblance to Gaius Cassius. Recompense for opportunism is a relish. South West has no business aspiring for presidency when the East has been waiting for 51 years. Afenifere aside, the mainstream politicians in the region, ever vociferous for equitable federation, ironically, appear comfortable with such exclusion. Though the South East is not a weakling but, in our federation, no one part can do it alone.
Tomorrow is an enigma and in the grip of no one. However, buried in the womb of time is foresight and is for only those who can harvest it. Will the South West play Ptolemy, the Pharaoh of Egypt in this 21st century? Pompey had run to his embrace at Caesar’s onslaught. But in a twist, Ptolemy had him slaughtered and his head presented to Caesar. This was to curry favour and secure his rulership of Egypt. A fatal error, it turned out. The unappreciative Caesar, after a year in Egypt, uttered that killing Pompey was not enough to leave Egypt under his feet. He had Ptolemi deposed for Cleopatra and later killed him in a battle. Does it sound like Ilorin? Caveat is the catch over this fringe centrifugal thesis that the Igbo are not fit to rule Nigeria. This metaphor of a Nigerian apartheid version , even after 52 years of ‘No Victor, No Vanquished,’ ought to give way, for hate is contagious. The preference for dangerous liberty instead of peaceful slavery by some youths in the South East can’t be divorced from this.
Whichever way one looks at it, no reason justifies that a people who have excelled in every facet of public life cannot aspire to lead their country, even at a time when they have the sophistication to save the Potemkin village already in fierce decline. My experience last week at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, reinforced thoughts that Nigeria should look eastwards. My flight was 10am and was there earlier enough. The check-in hall was choked, passengers struggling hard for space. But the shock came at the entry to the final departure longue. It was chaotic, a melee. A molue picture of yesterday’s Lagos. There was a stampede but for mature intervention of some sane passengers, airport officials having been overwhelmed by poor handling. It was even on a Wednesday, midweek, when airports are hardly busy.
However, one may be tempted with a false impression of a bubbling economy, where most Nigerians can now afford local air travel. No! The reality is the consequence of the collapse of road transport in a country where rail is nearly non-existent. The majority at the airport today are those who have no alternative, must travel by air, even if they skip meals. Roads are now valleys of death, desperately worsened by striking, pervasive insecurity. There is no stretch of 50-kilometre highway in Nigeria one can drive with one eye closed. So, it is easy for bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers and other armed gangs to take over, torment, kill and main the people.
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Come on! This is the same twin backward indices that Senator Chris Ngige ghosted as Anambra State governor even under a restive 34 months! With meagre resources, he constructed over 500km of quality roads, withstanding the elements till now. The meaning is that, as President, with all the monies we hear being borrowed, Ngige can repeat this feat on federal roads across all the states. Do you know the ripple effects on the economy as well as security of lives? Look at this. A journey from Abuja to Lagos was nine hours in 2014, but now it is 16 hours, while Abuja to Port Harcourt, formerly eight hours, is now 14! My friend, who drove to Obudu last Christmas, spent 20 hours from Abuja. If you restore road infrastructure, life will improve drastically, safety too.
Prevailing insecurity made me flash back to how Ngige rested the ghost of insecurity in Anambra, even while his security details were withdrawn by President Olusegun Obasanjo. It was also at the peak of the MASSOB brouhaha. Forthwith, the Anambra Vigilante Services was born and some of the bad boys abandoned their dens to earn decent salary and free lunch served at each local government headquarters. That is the short of how insecurity ended, until his successors altered the architecture and Ezu floating bodies and other stories we heard came. Nigeria’s is more complex though, but the Anambra experience can’t be written off.
Similarly, the truth is that the decay in Nigeria’s educational system can only be halted by someone with faith in it. Credit for all the laurels, local and international that Anambra wins today goes primarily not to Peter Obi or Willie Obiano. It goes to the visionary and courageous Ngige who initiated and set the return of schools to the missions in motion. With all the forces galvanized against him, his plans for execution of this vision was impeccable, such that the then president of Nigeria Labour Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, whom the state labour congress had brought in for the mother of all shutdowns, was disarmed after going through Ngige’s plan for education and swiftly urged labour to queue behind. Respect and confidence, which university teachers accord him as a conciliator, stem not just from his patriotism but also from his intuitive bearing and effortless recipe to the composite problem of higher education. Having faith in the system is more than all. Ngige has only three children and all are doctors from Nigerian public schools, nursery to university. He knows how to stop the collapse.
That excelling in a small task gives an insight into the result of a bigger challenge makes more meaning for those who know the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), a flagship agency under Ngige’s supervision. It was there that N4 billion grew wings in one day. It couldn’t pay salaries for years. The same NSITF can now effectively discharge its obligations and still save N18 billion between August 2020 to December 2021! What can’t competent and honest leadership do? I’m yet to learn of any other minister that has turned around hundreds of parastatals littering the land.
Thoughtful is that Nigeria doesn’t need a President tucked away in the office. As governor, Ngige would dash into the streets to monitor projects. As minister, Ngige has been sighted at the Ministry of Finance and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, following up payments to university workers and doctors. Which other minister does that? Which other minister passes the night in the office to get Nigeria moving? When people see the relative industrial peace in the country amid the terrible shape of the economy, most won’t realize those that pay the price. Ngige is a book of so many chapters. A few pages here suffice. He can fix Nigeria!