The reality of South-East marginalization, by Robert Obioha

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President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

President  Muhammadu Buhari’s first media chat since assumption of office on May 29, 2015, held on Wednesday, December 30 with its high and low points. The programme was well anchored and the president’s performance was somehow good. I commend the panelists for asking probing questions on security, economy and disobedience of court orders in the case of former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) and Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Director of Radio Biafra as well as the South-East marginalization by past and present Federal Government.

I would have been disappointed if the session had ended without a question on Kanu and South-East marginalization, which is also regarded as Igbo marginalization. I salute the esteemed members of the team for their professionalism, especially Ibang Isine of Premium Times, for asking questions that provoked the response that led to this article.

I want to take the president on his pretence of the legendary South-East marginalization since after the Nigeria-Biafra war in January 14, 1970. Buhari wants to know who is marginalizing the South-East (Igbo) and the extent of such marginalization. He also said that his administration has not marginalized the zone in appointments by naming some of his ministers from the South-East and South-South to justify his claim. This is my humble attempt to prove to him that past administrations, including his current one, have marginalized the South-East zone.

The history of South-East marginalization started with Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s creation of 12 states to weaken Gen. Emeka Ojukwu’s resistance to his regime in 1967 before the declaration of Biafra and the commencement of the bitter Nigeria-Biafra war that lasted from 1967-1970. Though Gowon’s 12 states structure had a sense of equity between the North and South of Nigeria at six states per zone, it denied the South-East majority states in the Eastern region as was the case for Hausa and Yoruba in the Northern and Western regions respectively.

At independence in 1960, the nation stood on three regional arrangement or tripod of the North, East and West. The North has Hausa as its major tribe, the East, Igbo, and the West, Yoruba. Upon attainment of Republican status in 1963, the Midwest region was created by Act of Parliament.

Nobody complained about the regional structure in which the entire North was one region while the South was divided into three regions probably because it was an era of true federalism where each region controls its resources and pays a stated proportion of its revenue to the central government.

The regions were almost semi-autonomous unlike the present unitary federalism, a hang-over of military despotism. While the Hausa remains the only major tribe that was in one region, the Yoruba and Igbo had the misfortune of having members of its stock in the North and Midwest regions respectively.

Even under the extant six geo-political zones structure, the Yoruba and the Igbo are the only major tribes with tentacles in North-Central and South-South. There are significant number of Yorubas in Kwara and Kogi States and Igbos in Rivers and Delta states.

Gowon’s 12 states ensured that the South-East, the heart of Biafran revolution, was lumped into one state called the East Central State, while the Eastern Region minorities were carved into two states of Rivers and South Eastern State. This was the beginning of the marginalization of the South-East (Igbo).

Gowon did not stop there. He ensured that some oil-bearing Igbo areas were ceded to Rivers State. When the late Gen. Murtala Muhammed carved Nigeria into 19 states in 1976, the South-East became two states of Imo and Anambra. Thus, Muhammed gave the South-East one out of the seven states he created. It was Gen. Ibrahim Babangida that rose to address the South-East marginalization by giving us additional two states of Enugu and Abia out of eleven states he created. At that time, the zone needed three states to level up with others. The late Gen. Sani Abacha also gave the zone one state, Ebonyi, when he created six states.  Therefore, the South-East has suffered undue marginalization in the state creation structure of Nigeria because at each epoch, it will be less than the other zones. Under the present 36 states structure, which ought to give each zone six states apiece, only the South-East has five and the North-West seven.

In the arbitrary distribution of the nation’s 774 local governments, the South-East has the least. The entire North had 419 local governments while the South had 355. The zonal distribution of local governments is North-West (186); North-Central (115); North-East (112); FCT Abuja (six); South-West (137); South-South (123); and South-East (95). Why was the South-East given 95 when other zones got over one hundred?What is the name of this lopsided structure of Nigeria if not marginalization? Since appointment of ministers, recruitment into the civil service and security agencies and admission into unity schools, federal higher institutions and revenue sharing is based on states and local governments the South-East has been overtly marginalized due to having the least number of states and local governments in the federation. How many Police Commissioners and Military Commanders are from the zone?

Take a look of former heads of government of Nigeria and how many are from the South-East and for how long? If the 36 states structure is based on equity, the South-East would have six ministers from Buhari as constitutionally guaranteed. The South-East has no presence in Buhari’s other appointments despite promises of balancing.  In fact, there is no South-East presence in Buhari’s government despite the fact that some of them staked their lives for his election.

The South-East is not in the security apparatus of the present government as represented by heads of security agencies. It is not among Buhari’s 39 appointments. If these do not represent marginalization, what else? Can the government name any industry or military institution that is located in the zone? The federal roads in the zone are in their worst state. The second Niger Bridge has been on the drawing board of all administrations since 1999. What has happened to the River Ports in Onitsha and Oguta? Can Buhari address the infrastructural lacuna in the zone? There is no way Nigeria can develop with the structural injustice against one zone. The 2014 national conference made far-reaching recommendations to address the South-East structural marginalization and others in the country.

That is the issue the Buhari administration should address and not the pretentious denial of South-East marginalization. The South-East marginalization is real. It is neither a myth nor a fiction.  The zone’s 45 years of marginalization is behind the protests by MASSOB and IPOB. Keeping Kanu in detention despite court orders for his release will further fuel the agitation than quench it.

What will solve the nation’s myriad problems is the restructuring of the country and the need to run fiscal federalism and not the current unitary federalism. True federalism will take care of states and local government creation as well as population census that has always been problematic.

The South-East is not asking for any preferential treatment in Nigeria but for equity and a level playing ground for all the federating units. Nigeria can only develop and achieve its manifest destiny when merit is enthroned in its socio-economic spheres. (Source: Daily Sun)

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