As the President Goodluck Jonathan administration comes to an end this week, the South East region- though it did not vote for the All Progressives Congress – is upbeat that Muhammadu Buhari would rebuild the decayed infrastructure in the zone to earn its confidence. MAURICE OKAFOR in Enugu reports
As the countdown to May 29 hand over date comes to an end this week, speculations and arguments have continued to dominate public discussions in the South Eastern states of the country, on what would be the fate of the Igbo political elites who are jostling for political appointments in the incoming President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. And on whether the South East zone, densely populated by the Igbo tribe would be given plum positions in the new administration.
Most importantly is the issue of whether the monumental infrastructural decay and negligence which have remained the bane of economic development of the zone, since after the Nigeria civil war in 1970 would be addressed by the Buhari’s administration. Many of the people of the zone hold the view that most of these decays were not addressed by the outgoing administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, comparable to the great support he enjoyed from the South East zone during his elections.
The bottom line of the series of arguments, opinions and speculation boils down on how to hold President Buhari accountable to the Igbo nation just as he would be dedicated to the North East zone, North Central, South West etc that voted massively for the All Progressives Congress, APC and Buhari in the 2015 general elections.
The Hallmark checks revealed that the alleged fears of the Igbo nation marginalization by the incoming administration is the major reason why some group of Igbo leaders have consistently been paying solidarity visits to the President-elect at his Abuja residence in the past one month.
It is noted that a collection of Igbo leaders, which included Chief Ralph Obioha, Dr Dozie Ikedife, Chief Mbazuluike Amaechi, among others joined a group of the Igbo political class to declare their absolute support and cooperation for the incoming Buhari’s administration.
President-elect, Buhari has been quoted to have said he would run an all inclusive government, which to a great extent raises hope that no section of the country including the Igbo will be denied its own fair share of democracy dividends and plum political position in the Buhari administration.
As the birth of a new democratic dispensation under Buhari is just by the corner, all eyes are already looking up to see if the next Nigerian President would live up to his words. An Enugu based political scientist cum activist, Dr Godsmark Eddy Ugwu, in a telephone Chat told Hallmark that President Buhari cannot afford to marginalize the Igbo nation during his tenure.
He said the Igbo are contributing immensely to the stability of the democratic process in the country. He argued that though the dynamics of politics before 2015 saw majority of the zone’s political gladiators aligning with Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which is the ruling party, there are still many of the gladiators who were at the fore front of opposition to the PDP through APGA, or CPC and ANPP that lately fused to form APC.
Dr Ugwu stressed it would imply the practical demonstration and hard work by the incoming administration to lure majority of Igbo into the APC ahead of 2019 general elections. He disclosed that it amounts to wishful thinking to hold the view that the Igbo nation would clinch to one party, just as the PDP never had full control of the five states of the zone in the past two terms because the people of the zone in their egalitarian and entrepreneurial nature do not concur to ‘the dictates of a king’ [Igbo enwe Eze].
The Hallmark recalled that Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who before the latest political development by the virtue of his position as Deputy President of the Senate, is the highest political office holder from the South East zone, during a caucus meeting of PDP stakeholders in Enugu state assured that the South East PDP caucus and the entire people of the South East zone would give maximum support to the incoming administration.
Ekweremadu stressed that there is no iota of truth in the speculation making round the streets that many Igbo political stakeholders in PDP are planning for mass defection into APC, predicated on the party’s loss of the March 28, Presidential election to APC.
Said he; ‘I have also heard a lot of permutations on the possible mass defection of Ndigbo to APC in the coming dispensation. While I will not hold brief for all the PDP stalwarts of South East origin, especially because our constitution provides for freedom of association, I can assure you that on PDP we stand. At least count Senator Ike Ekweremadu out of any defection to the opposition.
“PDP leaders in the South East are committed to further repositioning and strengthening of the party. We may not have the presidency, but we are strong in the states and remain the party to beat. On PDP we stand.
Ekweremadu disclosed that the South East caucus of PDP and the Igbo nation as a whole have nothing against Buhari as a person, but merely expressed their franchise in line with the constitution of the country which permits freedom of association.
“The South East PDP and indeed Ndigbo have nothing against General Muhammadu Buhari as a person or against his incoming administration. We would work hand in hand with him in line with our regional agenda and overall development of Nigeria. We will give him all the support to succeed because he was elected as the President of Nigeria, not as president of APC or nay section of the country in particular.
Ekweremadu further cautioned on the palpable fears of marginalizing Igbo by the Buhari administration if he does not want to dampen his public image and political career. He stated, he has the choice to ensure that no part of this country is discriminated against in the distribution of opportunities and development projects on account of their ethnicity, religion, political affiliation and region or to do otherwise. But I believe that whatever choices he makes will determine his place in history.”
The implication of Ekweremadu’s statement is the fact that he wants the PDP to remain a formidable party in the South East zone. Political analyst hold the view that for the APC to capture the South East zone ahead of 2019 general election if it wishes, the battle must begin with Buhari empowering some of the APC political gladiators in the zone with key federal positions, so they can match the actions of PDP die-hard gladiators ahead of 2015. Towards this direction, Buhari cannot afford to marginalize the Igbo in his administration.
On the basis of delivery of democracy dividends and fulfillment of campaign promises, if the dwindling state of the nation’s economy permits, Buhari cannot afford to marginalize Ndigbo for posterity and projecting the cause of his APC in the South East zone. Hallmark reports that Buhari promised to revive the Enugu coal mines, as a means of sourcing additional energy supply for the people of the zone, when he took his presidential campaign to the state.
Likewise, the President-elect promised to rediscover the industrial potential of Aba as a prime commercial town in Abia state and reconstruct its network of roads. Buhari is not likely to renege on some of his electoral promises to the zone, if APC plans to win the hearts of the Igbo nation and stamp its feet in the zone ahead of 2019 general elections.
At the moment, the expectations that Buhari would compensate some of the diehard APC stalwarts from the South East zone is generating a lot of controversy, acrimony and atmosphere of unfriendliness among the stakeholders from the respective states in the South East. Most of them are reported to be hanging around Abuja on daily basis, jostling for political appointments in the incoming administration.
Many of them who are bent on getting political appointments anchors their hope on their sacrifices and strong support for the party in the zone. For instance, a chieftain of the party in the zone, Mr. Osita Okechukwu were among the core groups who resisted the express and collective endorsement of President Jonathan as consensus presidential candidate of the Igbo as fronted by the ‘Ohaneze Ndigbo’ leadership under Prof Enwo Igariwey.
Okechukwu and other concerned Igbo leaders, who formed the ‘Igbo leaders of thought’ stressed that the Igbo race ‘must learn not to put all their eggs in one basket’. Their contrary view which they stated categorically before the press stirred a crisis in the Ohanaeze leadership and consequently influenced the voting pattern in the zone in the last elections in which APC scored recognizable votes in many of the polling units across Igbo land.
Obviously, many of them are hoping to be compensated with political appointments for their hard work for APC. The strength of their empowerment will actually open door for the APC to capture more states of the South East zone in 2019 general elections.
As at the moment, and in the aftermath of the 2015, APC retained its control of Imo state as Governor Rochas Okorocha, who initially won his first term on the platform of APGA before joining APC, was re elected. The PDP retained Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu states. APGA maintained its stronghold in Anambra state following Willie Obiano’s victory last year.
Political pundits who talked to Hallmark on the fate of the Igbo nation in the incoming administration expressed the view that though his administration may not absorb many sons and daughters of Igbo into his cabinet, comparable to the outgoing administration of President Jonathan. However, based on the common principle of equity and national interest, he is bound to allot ministerial positions to the states of the zone and also favour some of her trusted political allies in appointments. To do otherwise will be counter-productive and politically unwise.