The recent visit by President Muhammadu Buhari to Imo State in particular, but, in a sense, to the Southeast geopolitical zone was a good opportunity to assuage frayed nerves, assure the Ndigbo of his concern for their welfare and the many issues that bother the people; above all, to offer concrete evidence of his government’s efforts to assuage the myriad complaints of the Igbo ethnic nationality.
The general and the specific concerns of the Southeast were well articulated by the representatives who spoke at the different opportunities the presidential visit offered. President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor itemised issues considered ‘‘most urgent and imperative.’’ He directly told the President that ‘‘the security of Ndigbo in Nigeria and beyond has become a compelling primary responsibility of serious concern for Ndigbo.’’ He regretted that the territory has turned ‘‘a theatre of conflict,’’ and he asked for ‘‘zonal and state police …to complement the existing federal security architecture.’’ Buhari agreed saying that ‘‘if there is no security, there is nothing anyone can do, no matter how much you try or the initiative you have.’’ Indeed, he went on to acknowledge, rightly and in line with Section 14(2) (b) of the Constitution, that ‘‘security is number one priority…’’ But the President didn’t say in clear terms what exactly he would do about this overarching, deadly threat to both state power and citizens’ fundamental rights. On this, it was an opportunity missed to speak to Nigerians in general, from the Southeast.
The decentralisation of the police structure has been suggested time without number by reasonable men and women. Buhari did not utter a word on this even though the manifesto of the APC upon which Buhari rode into power promised this and even more. The political party canvassed for votes with a promise to ‘‘establish a well-trained, adequately equipped and goals-driven Serious Crime Squad to combat terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, militants, ethno-religious and communal clashes nationwide.’’ In respect of Obiozor’s request to the president, Buhari and his party’s campaign promise in 2015 was to ‘‘begin widespread consultations to amend the Constitution to enable states and local governments to employ State and Community Police to address the peculiar needs of each community.’’ Nigerians believed them. Six years after and in defiance of all reason, promises have not been kept.
The people of the Southeast region, through Obiozor, requested the ‘‘release of Igbo youths detained by various security agencies across the country.’’ Buhari was silent on this, again missing a chance to offer a review of their cases and to act on it with dispatch. The Ndigbo demanded federal infrastructure in the region especially transportation infrastructure to move people and goods more efficiently, more safely. Buhari reportedly promised to complete key ongoing projects including the Second Niger Bridge and railway lines. An Igbo leader is quoted to regret that the President missed the opportunity of this visit to ‘‘reintegrate Igbo people, earn their support and …improve his relationship with them.’’ This cannot be truer.
A presidential visit to any people is a chance to iron out social and political thorny issues, demonstrate that you care, approve people-benefitting projects and generate thereby, maximum political support. Instead, Mr. Buhari adopted what can be considered a presumptuous, talk-down posture that was altogether unhelpful to a calming, oneness spirit. Arguing on the premise of the mobile, ubiquitous nature of an enterprising Igbo people, the president said therefore that ‘‘it is unthinkable for me that any Igbo man would consider himself not to be a part of Nigeria…’’
This is a conclusion based on false premise. But beside this, it can be argued that if secessionist thoughts are ‘‘unthinkable’’ for Buhari, it appears not so for some who are sufficiently dissatisfied with their lot in what is supposed to be a federation of willing units. Obiozor pointed out to their august visitor that the issue of secession would not arise at all in an atmosphere of good governance based on equity, justice and fairness to all citizens. He was right. Indeed, demand by sections of Nigeria to pull out of what a revered politician once described as a mere geographical expression, is the culmination of a long running frustration from feeling cheated.
Buhari visited a people aggrieved for a number of reasons. Like a father relating to his children, it is the moral and legal duty of a leader to listen to the people and discuss and work on a mutually beneficial way forward in the highest interest of a united and greater country. After all, this is the intendment of the oath the President swore to: to act ‘‘always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.’’
Feelings of alienation and oppression are thick in the Nigerian air. How can it be morally defensible, or legally justified in the context of Sections 14 (3-4) and 15 (2-4) of the extant constitution that federal positions are glaringly skewed in favour of a section of the country and against other parts of the federation, that in the ministries, departments, and agencies of government, those ‘juicy’ posts, in terms of funding, power and prestige are occupied by persons from one section of the country, to the detriment and chagrin of other federating units? The APC manifesto on which the electorate voted the party into power committed an APC government to ‘‘prevent abuse of executive, legislative, and public offices through greater accountability, transparency, and strict enforcement of anti-corruption laws…’’
This President could have done much better than he did in Imo State. His visit only served to at one level, highlight the promises to the electorate waiting to be kept by his party; and at another level, Buhari’s urgent and imperative obligation to rise to the demands of his presidential oath of office. As ‘leader’ of APC, he is duty-bound to do the needful to redeem the party’s reputation and the honour of its members.