By Chief Sir Emeka Asinugo, KSC
Professor Francis Emeka Otunta, Vice Chancellor of Michael Okpara Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State and Imo State Returning Officer of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC made the stunning announcement of former Deputy Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, the Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha’s gubernatorial victory at the polls on Tuesday, 12 March 2019.
Imo citizens heaved a sigh of relief after the announcement. Since then, the good people of the state have continued to count down on the day their fortunes would finally be turned around for better. So far, judging from the massive jubilation that has continued to rock every nook and cranny of the state since the result of the election was announced, it is obvious that the people have exhaustively expressed their gratefulness to God for un-strapping them from the grip of an out-going government they generally regarded as dictatorial, a government they saw as a civilian army of occupation.
But they cannot rejoice forever. Before the newly elected Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP government of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha is finally sworn into office, there definitely is the need for Ndi Imo to prepare their minds for the great tasks ahead. The time has come for Imo people to begin to prepare their minds and carve out the roles they want to play in the months and years ahead both as individuals and as corporate bodies in the development of their state. How can Imo citizens, as a people, help their favoured son, Emeka Ihedioha to succeed and lead the people out of the woods in which they had literally been confined by the out-going government? What must they do?
It is important for Imo people to condition their minds properly. It is crucial they know what is happening to them and what could even happen in future if they failed to take their destiny and the destiny of their children and children’s children in their own hands, given the opportunity God has already offered them. Our people have a proverb that a man who does not know where the rain started beating him will never know where he dried his body. So while Imo people prepare their minds for the swearing in of the Ihedioha-led PDP government, they must not forget that part of their problem in Imo came and is still coming from Nigeria. And so, they also have to prepare their minds to be diplomatic in dealing with any issues that would ultimately challenge them from outside their state.
It is almost five decades since the Nigeria-Biafra war ended. Yet, most Igbo who were either born in Biafra or fought on the side of Biafra are yet to be re-integrated and fully rehabilitated into the Nigerian mainstream. Most of them come from the Igbo heartland. Others come from the riverside areas like the Niger Delta region. Marginalization which was one of the fundamental reasons for Nigeria’s civil war is still very much the problem of the country. As a result, fresh agitations are drummed up every day in many parts of the country. They come in many ways – in the form of religious rivalry, political party hatred, banditry, kidnapping, ritual murders and so on. The Nigerian system only succeeded in breeding ethnic militias of sorts all over the place posturing as local champions of ethnic interests.
In the Deep South, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND and similar militant groups became the dominant voices of the people. Armed militia groups like the Oduah People's Congress, OPC in the southwest; the Movement for the Realization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB and the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB in the southeast and Arewa People's Congress, APC in the north, all sprang up supposedly in defence of ethnic concerns.
Even as I write this, security in the land is a matter of speculation. Not only have Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen continued to make the lives of Nigerians a nightmare in the north, the daily cases of kidnapping in some of the northern states like Zamfara these days leaves a lot to be desired in the security arrangements of the country. In the south, the menace of armed robbers, cultists and ritualists have continued to make many of the people sleep at night with their eyes half open.
Each succeeding government since Nigerian independence in 1960 failed to rehabilitate the majority of the people from the east for reasons best known to them. And that is why it has become mandatory for Imo people to develop themselves by themselves, just as they did in the days of Dee Sam Mbakwe. But to do so effectively can only happen when there is trust among Imo people. If Imo people cannot begin again to trust each other, even if it means playing the fool for a while, they may not be able to maximize the use of their manpower and mineral potentials in the development of their state. They know that no one is wise in a state where everyone is wise. So, they must be cautious not to give that impression that all Imo people are wise or that all Imo citizens are stupid. Justice is the name of the game.
As we all know, the Federal Nigerian governments that have ruled this country over the years, including the PDP government of Dr. Jonathan had only one idea of continuity in common. They shared the tendency of knowingly or unknowingly creating conditions of official corruption which continued to make the country’s rich families richer while the poor families were made poorer. Those poor families became marginalized from the enormous wealth the country boasted of, from its vast oil fields and its many solid mineral deposits.
Citizens moaned daily because of lack of simple but very important amenities like safe drinking water. The Water Boards in practically all the cities in the country suddenly disappeared. Urban dwellers were then expected to drill borehole in their houses in the city. The average urban resident who could not afford to sink a borehole was forced by circumstances to resort to fetching water for domestic use from shallow wells or buy water from water peddlers. And most times the water was not hygienically purified, creating health hazards among the people.
Overcrowding in houses in the cities and its attendant socio-economic problems which included environmental degradation also contributed to the problem. Graduate unemployment gave rise to an ever increasing spate of sophisticated crimes. Youth restiveness, cultism in schools, an increasing wave of armed robbery along the country’s highways, drug addiction and things like that became the trend in modern Nigerian society. Lack of jobs pushed an increasing number of youths into the tricycle transport business. A good number of them encountered road accidents on daily basis.
Children were condemned to street hawking and street life. Exploitative child labour, unaffordable healthcare delivery, commercial sex and sexual exploitation, girl prostitution, juvenile abortion, teenage motherhood and child abandonment, youth drug addiction and delinquency culminating in crimes all became the order of the day. The danger was that children became hardened criminals. These and various harmful traditional practices against women, such as female genital mutilation remained indications to government of the high level of underdevelopment and deepening poverty that existed amongst the people despite all the wealth.
In terms of reconstruction, the World Bank estimated that 50% of federal roads were deteriorated. Due to the poor conditions of Nigerian roads, people frequently died in road accidents while many more people sustained various degrees of injuries every year. The power sector remained perpetually epileptic and could not even support small or medium size industrial development.
Soon after the civil war, Gowon had launched his Second National Development Plan. The plan had five primary objectives. It was to build a free and democratic society. It was to evolve a just and egalitarian society. It was to create a united, strong and self-reliant economy. It was to turn the country into a great and dynamic economy and a land full of bright opportunities for all citizens.
Nearly 50 years after the Plan was launched, not one of those goals has been attained. Instead of a free and democratic society, Nigerian society became para-militarized – with ethnic militia movements of sorts growing sporadically in all parts of the country.
Instead of the just and egalitarian society Gowon planned, Nigerians had an unjust and insecure society characterized by child abuse, ritual killings, extra-judicial murders, cultism, kidnapping, ethnic riots and religious rivalry. Impunity crept into the social way of life, not from the back door but from the front door.
Instead of being united, strong and self-reliant, the nation continued to be divided along ethnic and religious lines. Nationalism still remained a strange vocabulary in the lexicon of the average Nigerian.
In terms of resource control, “federal character” [whatever that meant] and what became known as “as man know man” continued to displace merit and right.
Instead of bright opportunities for all citizens, Nigeria continued to be a country where the vast majority of citizens were seen as failures. Corruption and unemployment continued to characterize the country’s political leadership.
The result of this sort of situation was that the bright ones who should have shaped the future of Nigerian nationalism travelled abroad to live and work for foreign countries. They travelled out in search of “greener pasture”. And Nigeria suffered brain drain.
Nigeria should have had 24/7 electricity supply by now. The country should have had good high ways, well equipped schools and hospitals that would spare the people the shame of seeking for medical attention abroad. Nigerians should have been obeying traffic lights when they turn red. The sanctity of life should have been respected as a fundamental human right. But that is not the case after nearly 60 years of self rule. This is why some agitators saw the country as a “zoo”.
Some of us who live abroad still feel the shame. One young Nigerian in my workplace recently asked me why white people didn’t respect us, Africans. I had to explain to him. These people know us well. You are a graduate from your country. You come here to become a dishwasher in a public kitchen. You come here to become a cleaner on the streets, and in restaurants. You come here and begin to wash dead bodies. And you are a university graduate, coming from a country widely touted across the world as rich in oil and other mineral and human resources. Why would white people respect us?
But if our leaders had used our money to build good roads, good industries and factories, well equipped schools and hospitals and so on, some of the rich white people would be sending their children to study in Nigerian universities. Some of the white people would be coming to Nigeria to look for work. That is the only time they will begin to respect us both at home and abroad. I had to explain to the young man why we are in the soup we find ourselves, even overseas.
So, while Imo people wait for the newly elected Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP government of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha to be sworn in, the people of the state must begin now to prepare their minds to partner with the new government to salvage the state from the ruin it was sliding into and put back in good shape all of those aberrations that were literarily created by the out-going administration in the guise of development. As I have said somewhere else, the people of Imo state cannot expect all their problems to be resolved during the single or double tenure of a sitting governor or two-term government for that matter. State development implies continuity and one government continues from where its predecessor stopped.
Apart from being the most rapidly progressing state in Nigeria, Imo is already acknowledged nationally and globally as home to the most brilliant students in Nigeria. The government and the people must maintain the momentum. To develop such a state to international standards is not going to be an easy task. The people of Imo must definitely know the enormous task that lies ahead of the new administration. They also know that the new governor will need their full support to carry them along in his programme. It is a heavy cross Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha will be carrying. And he will need the cooperation and support of all Imo people. To think that even Jesus Christ was not allowed to carry his cross alone! At some point, Simon the Cyrene was pulled over to help him carry his cross. And by the same token, while he is regarded widely as the savior of Imo State, Ihedioha must not carry his cross alone.
- Asinugo is a London-based journalist, author of ‘The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’ and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (imostateblm.com)
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