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Published On: Mon, Jul 17th, 2017

South East/South South governors rekindle old alliance

OBINNA EZUGWU |
Last week Sunday, governors of the South East and South South geopolitical zones, met in Enugu and agreed to pursue inter-regional cooperation and integration for the economic benefits of the two regions. Essentially beside Edo and Delta states, these are tha constituted the defunct Eastern region during the First Republic that later became Biafra.
The governorsin attendance included Rivers State’s Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, Dave Umahi of Ebonyi, Rochas Okorocha of Imo, Udom Gabriel Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, Ben Ayade of Cross River, Henry Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa and the host governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi,
In a communique read at the end of the meeting held at Nike Lake Resort Hotel by the interim chairman of the forum, Udom Emmanel, the governors said they had resolved to work together politically as a people who share common heritage, affinity and culture, and agreed to hold a follow up meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on the 27th of August, 2017.
It was the second meeting of governors of the two regions in recent history, the first being in 2013 when the then serving governors of Delta State, Emmanuel Uduaghan; Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom state, Theodore Orji of Abia state, Peter Obi of Anambra state, Liyel Imoke of Cross river state, Dickson Seriake of Bayelsa state, Elechi Martins of Ebonyi State, Rochas Okorocha of Imo State and Sulivian Chime of Enugu State met in Asaba, the Delta State capital and vowed to ensure economic and political integration in the two zones as well as develop common infrastructure linking the zones, especially federal roads.
As many would have predicted, no further steps were taken. The governors went home and all what they said was forgotten. This time there are reasons some say it is doubtful that the two zones could push through any agreements or programmes in that regard as old wounds perhaps persist, and the interest protected by the rift between them are still very much at play.
Interestingly, the two key actors in the events of 1967-1970, General Yakubu Gowon and former President Olusegun Obasanjo had in the aftermath of the meeting, paid visits to Delta and Bayelsa states, a development that has remained subject of speculations.
The areas covered by the Biafra is a region where no love was lost between the majority Igbo and the minorities that now constitute Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states of the South South. The minorities accused Igbo of dominance in the region, an accusation that had become rife even before Nigeria’s independence in 1960, and had led to the setting up of the Willink’s Commission, chaired by Sir Harry Willink, former Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1957. In 1958, the commission came up with its report in which the following observations among others were made:
“It was suggested (by non-Ibo petitioners) that it was the deliberate object of the Ibo majority in the Region to fill every post with Ibos (in public post and services).….when, however we came to consider specific complaints about the composition of public bodies, we found them in many cases exaggerated or unreasonable.”
“The allegation was put forward by counsel (to petitioners) that the Judiciary (when not European) was predominantly Ibo, with the implication that this caused fear among those who are not Ibos. But it was clearly stated in evidence by Dr. Udoma, the leader of UNIP, that no occasion could be adduced of the judiciary acting with partiality. The fact is that the legal profession is largely Ibos and the reasons for this do not seem to be government action.
“It is therefore inevitable that there should be an Ibo preponderance among Judges and Magistrates. Further, it is the declared policy of Government that the Judiciary should be federal and this does not indicate a desire to control it. Again, the operation and composition of Public Service Commission here, as in the West, appeared to us in no way open to reproach.”
“In the Police, which in this region alone is wholly Federal, the number of Ibos in the higher appointments is not out of proportion to the Ibos in the region. The force is now federally controlled and although there are a large number of Ibos in the lower ranks, this is due to the fact that it has for long been a tradition among the Ibos to offer themselves for recruitment in this force in far greater numbers than any other tribe.”
“We noted that in five years, 1952 – 1957, from a total of 412 secondary school cholarships, 216 were awarded to persons living in the COR areas, while the figures for post-secondary scholarships were 211 out of 623. The latter is about the right proportion of one-third, the former considerably in excess. It was suggested that scholarships awarded to non-Ibos were of an inferior kind and that the best scholarships went to Ibos, but we were, unable to see that this claim held any validity. On the evidence before us, we conclude that the allegations of discriminations in the matter of scholarships are unjustified.”
“It was further suggested that loans by the Eastern Regional Finance Corporation, the Eastern Region Development Board, and the Eastern Region Development Corporation were made with some degree of preference to Ibos. It did appear that most of the loans made by these bodies were to Ibos, but that is not to say that this was necessarily improper. Ibos constitute two thirds of the population of the region and have a bigger share of financial and commercial responsibility than their numbers warrant.”
“That there should be modern streetlight in Onitsha, and not Calabar, was also quoted as example of discrimination; it proved however that Onitsha Urban District Council had financed this measure from their own resources.”
“The question of land was repeatedly raised, it being resented by the Efiks and Ibibios that the Ibos should acquire land at all in their territory while the methods by which it was obtained were also questioned. There is no doubt that on the Ibo Plateau there is insufficient land for the people and the Ibos ate thrusting outwards where possible they acquire land and use it either for cultivation or building…..
“This is a matter which will require legislation sooner or later and it will be delicate to handle, but the economic process is in itself healthy and we had little sympathy with a witness who remarked that there is much undeveloped land in district and he was anxious that it should not fall into the hand of the Ibos….We believe that Governments in Nigeria should be careful not to try to protect minorities by introducing measures that would restrict development.
“A group of miscellaneous grievances and charges against the Ibos from Calabar may be treated together; we were told that the Ibos did not observe local customs in the markets….We formed the impression that jealousy of the Ibos successes in the markets was the main factor.”
While the minorities had demanded for creation of separate states, such did not happen and the region remained throughout the first republic. The fragile relationship between the Igbo and the minorities would eventually escalate when the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe having been stopped in the Western Region in the late 50s, returned to the East to dislodge Eyo Ita, a minority who was already leader of government business and was on the verge of becoming the premier.
This suspicion continued through the pre-Biafra war tensions of 1966 to the eventual outbreak of war in 1967. In a last minute effort to avert the war, the then Ghanaian Head of State, Lt-General Joe Ankrah convened the Aburi Accord at which far reaching resolutions were reached between the then head of State, Yakubu Gowon and leader of the break away Eastern region, Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. The most important of which was the adoption of regional autonomy.
However, what followed next have been subject of debate. Gowon created 12 states separating the Eastern minorities from the Igbo, a move that was welcomed by the minorities, but rejected by Ojukwu who insisted that Gowon should stick to agreements reached at Aburi. Failure upon which he declared Biafra and war broke out.
Perhaps angered by Ojukwu’s rejection of state creation, a vast majority of the minorities turned against the Igbo during the war, and upon the defeat of Biafra, the 12 states remained and the relationship between the minorities and the Igbo never got better. While the Igbo who returned to the North and West were said to have recovered their properties at the end of hostilities, those who returned to Port Harcourt did not enjoy such privilege as theirs were termed abandoned properties.
The realities of Nigerian politics and power play has however, since the end of the civil war, put the old Eastern bloc now comprising the South East and the bulk of the South South into a certain disadvantage, and the lack of unity between them have not helped matters. Thus, it is easy to understand recent attempts to come together and forge common economic and political front.
“We realized that the divide and rule which has kept us apart was what was causing problems for us. When you divide a group, then you can pick up one, deal with them, and then pick the other,” Chief Goddy Uwazurike, president emeritus of Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga told Business Hallmark.
“We said no, that must stop. It is based on that that we met and decided that the South must stand as one. That’s what we did.”
Uwazurike has been an integral part of the recent moves to unite the entire South to speak with one voice in the wake of growing ethnic tensions in the country.
Southern leaders, comprising of Ohanaeze Ndigbo; Yoruba Socio-political group, Afenifere and pan Niger Delta group, PANDEF had met a number of times over the past few weeks to demand a return to true federalism, a demand that is being opposed by their Northern counterpart, The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).
The meeting of the said governors does therefore, come as a surprise. And judging by this history of lack of trust between the two neighbours, some observers say much should not be expected yet.
“The East coming together as it was before the war may look very difficult,” Sir Marc Wabara, entrepreneur, politician and founder of the defunct Hallmark Bank told our Editors in a recent interview.
“But it may not be impossible. Once they come together and review what happened during the war, or what happened after; the implementation of the political schemes that caused the gulf between them- because in life what is most important is that you have a common purpose and feel that political situation is at variance with your common objectives it can be a motivation for you to come together.
“I am one of those who don’t want to draw a line, but as they say, in politics, everything is possible. I know that there was a time when we had a Southern Nigeria People’s Assembly.”
With Nigeria seemingly at crossroads, Wabara noted that what was important was for the leaders to have a common agenda, but most importantly to understand the need and economics of scale that exist in a united Nigeria.
The coming days will perhaps answer all the questions. But as many have observed, the unity of the two zones will put them in a better position to demand more strongly changes in the polity, a prospect that certain political interests would make sure to work against

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