The South East appears to have a problem of defining what it wants from the Nigerian federation as the next civilian administration gets inaugurated on May 29. Basking in the euphoria of the massive votes the region gave to President Goodluck Jonathan during the April 16 presidential election, some members of the National Assembly from the zone started clamouring for positions in the name of the zone. Specifically, some of these people are saying as reward for supporting Jonathan to win the election, the position of either Senate president or Speaker of the House of Representatives should be zoned to them. To justify this, they insist that with 31 federal legislators on the platform of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and 13 out of 15 senators from the zone elected on PDP ticket, nothing short of Number 3 or Number 4 citizen of the country should be reserved for the Southeast.
There is nothing wrong with zoning political offices. In a country as big and complex as Nigeria and in the spirit of federalism, it is imperative that key positions in government are distributed in such a way that no component part of the federation feels cheated. In fact, when Second Republic vice president, Alex Ekwueme, moved a motion that brought about the current six geo-political structure of the country at the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference, the understanding was that dividing the country into a six zonal structure, was a good way of resolving conflicts arising from perceived domination and marginalization in the country.
Therefore, in a situation such as the one we have now where the president is from the South South and the vice president, Namadi Sambo is from the Northwest zone, it follows that other important positions should go to people from the other geo-political zones. In this regard, the South East, like any other zone is entitled to positions. However, in making demand for the headship of one arm of the National Assembly, one is at a loss as to who those people asking for these positions are speaking for in the South East.
In point of fact, zoning of offices is basically to satisfy elite demand for positions that will enable them continue to appropriate values of the state. What a person from a particular zone gets for having somebody from his part of the country in a position of authority or power is merely a psychological satisfaction of seeing somebody they can identify with culturally occupying an exulted position.
If we take this as a self-evident truth, how will the fact that an Igbo man being Senate President or Speaker of the House of Representatives have a material impact on the average man or the woman in the South East? In the past, Igbo men have been Senate presidents. What did the South East get?
The reality of the situation is that those legislators from the South East jostling for these positions now are only thinking about themselves. They have not sat down to ascertain the political offices that will do justice to the Igbo cause. They are not even interested in the Igbo cause; they are not bordered about the numerous problems the Igbo people have to contend with in the Nigerian federation.
In the 12 years of the Fourth Republic, what really has the South East benefitted from federal legislators from the zone by way of constituency projects? Nothing. Some hardly even visit home to hold meetings with their constituents. Their presence is hardly felt and when they come, they move around their villages and communities like lords of the manor, sometimes in entourage with siren blaring to disturb the peace of otherwise serene communities.
While federal legislators from other parts of the country use their positions to attract projects to their constituencies, the reverse is the case in the South East. In my view, I don’t see anything wrong with the offer of deputy senate president which the South East currently holds (occupied by Ike Ekweremadu) and the position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
Beyond that, what the South East requires from Jonathan is recognition that people from that part of the country are full fledged Nigerians and that they should be treated as such. Over time there has been a perception by Easterners that they are being marginalized in the scheme of things in the country. More than any other part of the country, the infrastructural and ecological challenges of the region are enormous. All over the South East, erosion is threatening villages and communities such that in a place like Aguata in Anambra State for example, villages have caved in under the weight of erosion menace.
Economic opportunities hardly exist in the South East. Whatever level of opportunities one sees in that part of the country is as a result of the entrepreneurial ability of the people. There is no part of the country with the least federal presence than the South East. There is no part of Nigeria with the level of forced migration of its people like the South East. A visit to any village or community in the zone will reveal that there are just two groups of people that one can meet in that part of the country, namely the aged and school children. Generally, able-bodied young men and women have left in droves to other parts of the country where there are opportunities for business and employment. The South East is deserted. This is because once a person is out of school, he must look outside the South East for employment and economic survival.
But the political elite in the South East do not appear to be interested in the welfare of their people. For instance when Anambra State was boiling as a result a proxy war being waged against state under Chris Ngige by former President Olusegun Obasanjo there was silence among the Igbo political elite. Federal legislators from the South East kept mute. It was only Chinua Achebe, who from far away United States, rejected a national award to protest the mayhem in Anambra that drew world attention to what was happening in Anambra State.
The political elite are only after what benefits them personally. The federal legislators now clamouring for positions and mobilizing the South East governors to campaign for them are the worst culprits. The South East needs infrastructure, opportunities for wealth creation and level playing field in the country to excel. If at the end of the day, the position of headship of any arm of the National Assembly goes to the South East, it is all good and well but it should not be made to look like the primary need of the South East.