Policy Briefs

South-East’s destiny, politics and revival

By Oseloka H. Obaze  ~~

All politics is local, economic and personal. As Nigeria grapples with recession, geopolitical regions and states consider new vistas for stability, wealth creation, development and indeed, survival.  Unfettered development results from political and economic power. But reality continues to prove most Nigerian states, including south-eastern states, almost incapable of simultaneous self-sustenance and development.  While the best solution to this challenge is purposeful leadership and regional cooperation, tortuous politics is killing zonal collaborative initiatives.  This reality is more biting in the south-east geopolitical zone.

Recently I came across a paragraph that encapsulates the Igbo conundrum. It ran thus: “Most of us hope for good government. We vote, we serve, and we speak out for causes we believe are fair and just. But political solutions remain powerless to change the conditions of our hearts.”  On 24 February, 2014, southern political leaders convened the Southern Leaders’ Summit in Calabar. That all-parties summit hosted by Gov. Liyel Imoke of Cross River State, was attended by governors of other southern states, elder statesmen, traditional and religious leaders. Anambra State was represented by its leaders of thought from various parties. On the margins of the summit, I experienced two poignant events. The first was personal. Olumide Braithwaite, the son of late nationalist politician, Tunji Braithwaite, approached me and said, “Sir, I want to thank those who put this summit together. It was long overdue and represents what people like my father have worked for all these years — southern unity.”

The second episode was even more telling; all the governors present met at Gov. Liyel Imoke’s Lodge, for a short meeting of ‘Principals Only.’ In a show strategic collegiality, they negotiated and agreed on the points of the Summit communiqué — no recusals, no contest, no ego and no objection.  That communique, which was consequently adopted and read out by Chief Olu Falae, was signed Falae, Chief Tony Anenih, Governors Liyel Imoke, Peter Obi, Olusegun Mimiko, Martin Elechi, Emmanuel Uduaghan, Godswill Akpabio and Mr. Rasaq Oladesu. The communiqué, inter-alia, committed to a “united and indivisible Nigeria based on the principles of justice, equity and rule of law with ample respect and understanding for cultural, linguistic and religious differences;” a quick “passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) currently before the National Assembly” and “an increase in revenue allocation to the federating units in a way that takes cognizance of the new responsibilities and residual powers of the federating units.” It was an unprecedented show of bipartisanship.

Recently, as part of Anambra 25th Anniversary ceremony, HRM Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha spoke of political and economic stagnation in the south-east, and urged the geo-political leadership to overcome their collective ennui and “revive the moral and cultural values that were high in the region.”   Achebe’s propitious and courageous admonishment, delivered with unfettered candor and apolitical moral authority found a captive audience.  Notably, HRM Achebe also opened up a long overdue debate. Belated as that clarion call was, he who dares, wins.

As Nigerian political and economic forces realign ahead of 2019; with the Lagos Commonwealth becoming Africa’s 5th largest economy; the devastated North-east with Kano State as an appendage, is just about to be rebuilt with massive infusion of internally and externally sourced funds; and a $10 billion “Marshall Plan” about to be unfurled for the Nigeria Delta. As at now, the PIB remains on the drawing board, but Lagos State is set to begin receiving oil derivation payments from December 2016 due to exports in the Ajei (OML) offshore field; not so Anambra and Enugu States, which along with Kogi stake claim to ownership of the Anambra Basin oil wells (OPL 915/OPL916). It is bad politics that hinders a resolution of the crisis in ways that would allow Anambra, Enugu, and Kogi to respectively get 13% derivation, or in the worst case scenario, share the 13%.

What fate awaits the south-east; becomes an urgent and heady question? As Nigeria’s democratic structures evolve, the outlook and mindset of some compatriots engaged in partisan politics appear marooned.  Regrettably, this is more so in the south-east. Several cogent reasons can be conjectured.  Bad politics leads to bad governance; or in the least, distractions and dissonance. Secondly, the worst mistake in politics is the inability to separate politicking from the requisite demands of good governance. In the south-east we face other challenges too. South-East politicians and industrialists suffer evident disconnect; because south-east moneybags tend to equate personal favour extended to them with entitlements due to the Igbo nation.  We scramble for federal positions, and end up placing square pegs in round holes.  It’s over two years since the south-east Governors’ Forum met with all the principals in attendance. What this says, is that Ndiigbo no longer talk as umunna or umunne.

For now, we observe, but fail to grasp the curious mix presented by the subsisting national governance mosaic and political and socio-economic grid. Whether we admit it or not, an indisputable power balance exist in Nigeria with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) controlling and sharingthirty-five of the thirty-six states in the federation with a 22-13 ratio.  In the mix is a lone state, Anambra, controlled by the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA).  Anambra exist politically, but not as political bride; key balancing player or swing state.   Anambra is also not latched on to the political grid — not with the ruling party and not with the main opposition.  Consequentially, by this curious twist that is akin to a disabled and extremely burdensome child; but one loved all the same, the south-east continues to wallow in tortuous politics?  In Igbo folklore nkemdiche is not an ennobling appellation.

For good or bad, Anambra State, which is the undisputed fountainhead of Igbo nation, is a political aberration in its present political disposition under APGA, and exists purely for sentimental reasons. On record, APGA which controls Anambra, is not the only registered party controlled by the Igbo; however, the other parties control no government.  Though APGA had the prospects of expanding throughout the five south-east states and beyond, it has not.  APGA’s potentials and capacity notwithstanding, the vision, political will and commitment to expand is even less convincing. The party did not grow under Gov. Peter Obi and has not grown under Gov. Willie Obiano.  The party did not grow under former Chairman Victor Umeh; and it has not grown under incumbent Chairman Victor Oye.  In the words of Marvin Gaye: What’s going on?

APGA’s arrested development has implications for Anambra; but far more implications for the southeast and for southern unity.  APGA’s non-expansion reality is traceable to insidious politics. Its political record is replete with challenges; which by the way also bedevil other political parties.  Then also, there exist some inherent contradictions that are being touted without their full implications being internalized and evaluated. How can APGA be an Igbo party and a national party simultaneously?   True, it has a sprinkling of non-Igbo executives, but hardly a broad-base of non-Igbo members nationwide. The non-Igbo members of APGA only surface when it’s time for ad-hoc measures and macabre politics. But one swallow does not the spring make. Unquestionably, Anambra is worse off for it, but I know it’s is near heresy to say so publicly.  But someone has to say so.  In truth, APGA has failed to be for Ndiigbo, the vanguard and rearguard party such as UPN, CAN, and AD were for the Yoruba nation. That fact is incontrovertible.

Presently new political formations and realignment are continuing, as it should be.  Some results will be positive and others nondescript. Recently, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) registered and re-registered ten new political parties, bringing the number of registered political parties in Nigeria to 40. The  new and re-registered parties are Better Nigeria Progressive Party (BNPP), Democratic Alternative (DA), Masses Movement of Nigeria (MMN), National Action Council (NAC), National Democratic Liberty Party (NDLP), Nigeria Elements Progressive Party (NEPP), National Unity Party (NUP), Nigeria People’s Congress (NPC), Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) and Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). The new parties will all struggle for space and relevance.  Such political realities compel a rethink.  No state, no party wants to be marginal, which is not the same as being a minority.  And that is the fate confronting the newly registered parties, as well as APGA.

Despite all the positives APGA represents for Anambra and for the Igbo nation, Anambra will do better, will be better served, if it is mainstreamed into the national political grid.  But who will say so without being excoriated by those who think they understand politics best, and those who claim to be stakeholders, when indeed, they are stake-takers.

Southern Nigeria must think of southern comfort, wellbeing and renaissance. The south, especially the south-east is losing value. Hubris has made it impossible for the southeast to act in concert on a number of issues, politics, governance, economics and infrastructural development.  If the southeast has any residual clout, they have been unable to leverage such influence. Not being united means inability to engage with the south-south and southwest constructively.   It would be a behemoth task to rally all southern states to a follow-up leadership summit.  And that’s the provenance, if one was ever needed.  The 2019 presidential elections will be a political watershed moment unlike any other for Ndiigbo. If not united, Ndiigbo will lose out again!

So long as bad politics subsist, good governance will take flight, perfunctory and cosmetics political efforts notwithstanding.  The potentials of the south-east to leapfrog in development, investment, solid infrastructure and wealth creation is huge.  The prospects are waiting to unfurl and be tapped fully.  The southeast retains great potentials, and Anambra, singularly so with its renowned Onitsha-Nnewi-Awka (ONA) Industrial Axis. But it is not a feat realizable for Anambra, as a standalone state.  The status of Anambra given its great potentialities is not in tandem with the marginal scope and impetus a fractured APGA confers on it. Change is required to uplift Anambra and the south-east. Three possible options are feasible: Anambra remains under APGA with the party rejiggered or allied with another party to expand exponentially.  That will require new thinking and reformed leadership.  Second, Anambra could rejoin the main opposition PDP and benefit from the laws of numbers, along with inherent PDP liabilities. Third, Anambra could join the ruling APC party and be shielded by the federal might; this is however, an unlikely, if not risky proposition.

The travel of the south-east from the biblical land of “twelve springs and seventy palm trees” to Canaan represented by self-sufficiency and renaissance, must start in Anambra, with a reinvigorated harvest of ideas. Anambra must return to the era of gumption for excellence that fostered the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nwafor Orizu, Kenneth Dike, Pius Okigbo, Chinua Achebe, Louis Ojukwu, Z.C. Obi, Louis Mbanefo, et. al – men who in life and death are universally identifiable just by their surnames and respective accomplishments.

A troubling combination of strategic and geopolitical realities, well beyond sentiments, compels a rethink. Anambra being cued on the right trajectory requires its being within the pertinent realm or orbit of excellence.  It has thus become imperative that Anambra State must be mainstreamed, so that the southeast can again find its voice, interface in mutually beneficial ways with the rest of the south, and equivocally solicit and get its entitlement from the federation as a matter of collective rights – Igwebuike.

Bringing about Igbo Renaissance, calls for vision, creativity, strategic leadership and commitment. Anambra is a key link. However, the time for groveling is long gone; it’s time to shift the Igbo nation from the corridors of power to the room of power by applying our creative leadership and entrepreneurial skills and leveraging our comparative advantages. Hence, Anambra people have a hard and strategic choice to make. Beyond the prevailing sentiments that choice must be in tandem with either the ruling party or with the main opposition party. Straddling the fence can no longer be the preferred option.  Such disposition is simply not feasible or beneficial to the Igbo nation. Controversial as this view is, I’ve lent my voice to a long overdue debate. May our Ndi Anambra deem it proper to respond in unison to the clarion call Igbo Kwenu; Anambra Arise!

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.

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