By Sunday Agbo, Phil Okose & Damian Duruiheoma
President Muhammadu Buhari spent much of his two-day working visit to Anambra and Ebonyi states, his first official visits to the south east geopolitical zone since becoming president about 28 months ago, pledging his administration’s commitment to addressing the huge infrastructure deficits in the region as well as other related development challenges confronting the zone.
Stressing that south east remains an integral part of the country, Buhari insisted that his administration would fulfil all promises he made, earlier in October, to the south-east zone during the visit of the zone’s leaders to him.
According to the president, “The leaders raised several concerns on the condition of roads and other infrastructure in the region and I want to assure that we will deliver on all our promises. The 2018 budget captures several strategic projects in the region which includes roads, power, agriculture, social services, among other areas.”
Orient Daily recalls that during the run-up to the 2015 presidential election, General Muhammadu Buhari had promised Nigerians ‘Change’ through a plethora of development policies, programmes and projects chronicled in his ‘Covenant with Nigerians’ document as well as the APC’s election manifesto. Featuring prominently on his campaign promise was the construction of a second Niger Bridge, one project that has suffered prolonged neglect.
For instance, during his campaign stop in Owerri, Imo state, the then APC candidate and other party leaders made series of promises to the people of the South-East region of Nigeria. Prominent among them was the construction and rehabilitation of many dilapidated federal roads in the region. Roads earmarked for urgent repairs included the Owerri-Port Harcourt Road, Owerri-Aba Road, Enugu-Port Harcourt Road and Enugu-Onitsha Road, among others. Buhari also pledged that his government would be proactive in the promotion of industrial growth in south east, massive investment on infrastructure as well as encourage businesses. Buhari, particularly pledged to remove bottlenecks placed on the path of Igbo business men and women at the Nigerian ports and borders by those they portray as the agents of Jonathan’s administration.
There was also a signature promise of “political inclusiveness that will not have the Igbo left behind or marginalised as experienced in President Jonathan’s administration on the platform of the PDP”. APC leaders had pledged to use the Change mantra to address the long-drawn cries of marginalisation from the region. Although, Buhari eventually managed to poll 198,248 votes in 2015, representing 1.3% of the 15,424,921 votes he used to win the election, many anticipated that he would take his defeat in the zone in his strides.
What some thought to be the bitterness of the APC-led government towards the Southeast was seen in a seeming Freudian slip during Buhari’s 2015 visit to the United States when he was quoted as saying that he would not compensate those who voted 5% for him in the same way with those who voted 97% for him. However, 28 months after Buhari took over the reins of governance in Abuja, there is a general feeling that his government had neglected its commitment to the southeast.
Expectedly, Buhari’s visit to Ebonyi state drew mixed reactions from the citizens. From Abakaliki to Aba, down to Awka, Enugu, Onitsha, Owerri and Umuahia, and other townships and communities across the five south east regions, opinions are sharply divided over what the Buhari administration has done or not done to improve the infrastructure, living conditions and livelihoods of the people of the zone. Orient Daily findings show that while a cross section of politicians from the All Progressives Congress (APC) argued that Buhari had fulfilled his campaign promises to the people of the south east, those in opposition political camps insist that the south east geopolitical zones had not fared better. Even ordinary folks are not left out of the debate, depending on individual perceptions and political leanings.
The chairman of Ebonyi state APC, Pastor Eze Nwachukwu, told Orient Daily that the people of south east had gotten their fair share from the Buhari administration. He said: “The promise Mr. President made during his campaign is for Nigerians. He stated it clearly to fight insecurity. Any place in Nigeria that there is a breach of insecurity, he did not hesitate to address it. He promised to fight hunger through agriculture and revamp the economy. You can see this happening.
“He promised to create job. You can see the N-power project and the direct credit scheme going on. In all these programmes, the south east is getting their chunk. In the appointments, so far, made which update has been published, you see that the south east had her chunk despite the few states that had not been accommodated to equate with others. But the promise is there that in next appointment, he will balance it up. When you come to road and infrastructural development, several times he has inserted in the budget the second Niger bridge for the south east; it is not Mr. President’s fault. We should blame the PDP who played down on the project.
He argues further that “in all these federal government programmes, south east has received their share, the bailout fund from the Paris Club inclusive. So, those peddling rumours that the president is doing nothing should have a re-think”.
Technical Assistant to the governor of Ebonyi state on security, Comrade Obinna Odefa, shared a similar view, stressing that Buhari has partly met his campaign promises to the people of south east. He revealed that the 5 percent political appointment Buhari promised the region has been met. “His appointment, we got 5% actually. In terms of infrastructure and other developmental projects, I will not say the south east has not gotten its fair share but as he visits Ebonyi in no distant time, he will see the need for him to commence a lot of things in the south east.
Mr. Odefa, however, demanded for establishment of the ministry of south east affairs to address the problem facing the Igbo people, adding that the killing of the Igbo by the Fulani has not been addressed. “He needs to consider establishing the ministry of south east that will take care of the affairs of the south east. The herdsmen issue is giving the people of south east sleepless nights. Our people are being killed at various fronts. Security agencies turned their back pretending they do not know what happened.
He stressed that how Buhari treats the people of the south east geopolitical zone would determine the support he will get in 2019. “If he works well for us, may be in 2019, the south east will have a re-think and work for his re-election. So many roads in the south east are bad. Like the Enugu-Port Harcourt road. Every other zone has got a railway. We need one in the south east that will go through Enugu to Abakaliki, from Abakaliki to Ogoja, Calabar and Uyo. We need a network that will link the entire south east and south south”, he posited.
However, senior technical assistant to Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi state on ‘Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), Mr. Chigbo Uzor, argued that Buhari has failed to fix bad roads in the south east.
Uzor, a former member of Ebonyi state house of assembly and former council boss, described the federal roads in the region as terrible, stressing that there was nothing for the south east to celebrate with President Muhammadu’s administration.
According to him, “To be frank with you, he (Buhari) has not been very fair to us in the south east. You need to pass through Aba to Port Harcourt; you need to pass through Enugu and Onitsha, you need to pass through Enugu and Makurdi. The roads are federal roads and they are terrible roads. They are terribly bad. So, Buhari has not remembered us.
Hon. Valentine Okike Uzor, member representing Onicha West in Ebonyi state house of assembly also rated Buhari’s performance in the south east as average. “I will say yes and know to the fulfillment of the campaign promises of Mr. President to the south east in the sense that governance is not an easy task. I will be saying that the economy is not too good, the government in the centre should do more, at least if we cannot have it better like it was in 2015, let us get back to status quo.
The Igbo National Council (INC) insists that the southeast region has been deliberately marginalised under Buhari. A statement issued by INC President, Chilos Godsent, in Owerri read: “The INC is of the view that the PMB-led federal government has abysmally failed the Southeast due to marginalisation of the zone by the government. Consequently, INC’s condition for the South-East to support PMB for a second term is that APC should zone its vice president ticket to South East.”
east the reason to support him for second term because he had only done the opposite of what they promised the Igbo in the 2015 election campaigns.
“Buhari promised political inclusiveness but it is this same Buhari who openly said that the Igbo did not vote for him and, as a result, he would not leave people that gave him 97 percent for the people that gave only less than three percent votes. He has maintained it.
“This man forgot that if the Igbo did what they did in 2011, he wouldn’t have been the nation’s president today. If you recall in 2011, only south east gave Jonathan about 7 million votes. That same Jonathan did not get up to 3 million votes from South East because we felt he disappointed us and Buhari did not take all these into consideration before saying that we did not support him and, since then, what has followed it has been gross marginalisation of Ndigbo”, Chief Okoro said.
Okoro who is the government liaison officer in Njaba added that, because of the president’s actions against the Igbo, all the ongoing projects started by the previous administration had been abandoned.
An Owerri-based lawyer, Linus Ohaga, however, accused Buhari of treating the Igbo as if they were outcasts. According to him, Buhari ordered the killing of armless IPOB members “who were going about their peaceful agitation for freedom from his own oppression and even went ahead to brand them terrorists when they were never a threat to anybody.
“I will not forget to mention that, under President Buhari’s watch, Fulani herdsmen had killed the Igbo in their own land while their women are raped with reckless abandon with the president not doing enough. This is in the area of security where he has failed woefully in my own rating as an Igboman”.
Ohaga stated that in the area of failed road and other infrastructure in the South East, “Our people have stopped complaining because we know that President Buhari is not for us. He stopped funding all the ongoing road projects in the region and said that his administration did not include south east in the railway projects because of paucity of funds. We’re actually taking note of these things and I’m sure he’s coming to offer explanations on why he has marginalised us this bad. But I can assure you that if he’s coming to seek for our support, I’m sure no right thinking Igbo man will listen to him”.
Another resident of Owerri who simply identified himself as Ebenezer opined that the only thing that would worm Buhari and APC into the minds of the Igbo and South-East in particular would be if the administration revived the Onitsha Inland Port and Oguta Inland Port while the jetty at the Imo River should be utilised.
“These were ports the British colonialists used to transport agricultural produce from the hinterlands to the Atlantic where it finally went to Europe. The inland ports, when revived, will solve the problem our businessmen are trying to import or export their goods and this will encourage industrialisation”.
Chilos Godsent, President of Igbo National Council (INC), also argued that the Buhari-led federal government has abysmally failed in the South-East “due to orchestrated conscious and deliberate marginalisation of the zone by the APC-led federal government”, lamenting that the marginalisation of the South East by President Buhari remained the worst in the history of Nigeria as a country.
“The APC-led federal government is rooted on tribalism, nepotism and conscious suppression of the South-East Nigeria people; its appointments have been lopsided against the South-East zone negating the quota system and principles of federal character”.
Chilos and Ebenezer stated that, for the APC and Buhari to receive any support from the south east, the administration had to live above board in the region by completing all the ongoing road projects started by the previous PDP administration as well as include the zone in the ongoing rail project because “it’s not only our people that will use it. Dangote, Otedola and all businessmen would use it”.
Imo state APC chairman, Barrister McMorris Agbasi, however, stressed that there were positive results from the Buhari administration that people of the zone should be grateful for. According to Agbasi, apart from the promises made on infrastructure, President Buhari outlined three areas, including security, corruption and the economy for immediate intervention on assumption of office.
Latest checks by Orient Daily reveal that construction works are ongoing at the site of the second Niger Bridge. Scores of structures are being demolished at the Harbour Industrial Layout, Ogbaru local government area of Anambra state, to give way for the road that will lead to the second Niger Bridge in Onitsha.
Some of the affected buildings that had earlier been marked for demolition included those located at the refuse dump site along Onitsha/Atani Road, Iyiowa Odekpe.
However, reactions from residents and prominent Igbo people have trailed the alleged commencement of work on the second Niger Bridge with the latest coming from the general secretary of the Okpoko community, Comrade Raphael Agu, gubernatorial candidate of Better Nigeria Progressive Party (BNPP), Mr. Ikem Ohanugo and former president of the defunct Onitsha Markets Amalgamated Traders Association, OMATA, Chief Gilbert Obi, who said that it was normal that whenever election comes up politicians would commence some funny work on the bridge as is being done now just to facilitate their canvass for votes.
In the words of Agu, “I am a member of the committee of stakeholders on the construction of the Second Niger Bridge and we have our meetings with the engineers handling the project, including officials of the state ministries of works and environment.”
“When they wanted to start work on the project we thought they were serious and we attended meetings periodically with the engineers then not knowing that it was a political jamboree that we were attending as nothing tangible was put in place to show work had commenced in earnest by the federal government.
Even now that they started about three days ago to demolish some buildings along the route where the road to the bridge will pass through, we see it that it is because of the Anambra state gubernatorial election billed for tomorrow. The federal government-ruling party has a candidate and wants votes for him. By this demolition, they want to deceive us to vote for the candidate and, after the election, work stops. Who is deceiving who?”
“For three years, we have not had meeting again. Nothing is being done on the project proper; no foundation of the bridge and no sign in the site to show work is on. My three plots in okpoko were among those earlier demolished and they promised to pay compensation and that has not been done till today.”
Contributing, Ohanugo said, “it is unfortunate that Igbo are being continuously deceived by the claim that work on the project is on. He stressed: “you don’t play politics with human lives. The second Niger Bridge thing has been on for more than 10 years, from Obasanjo to Yar’Adua to Jonathan and, now, Buhari. Any time there is election, they start talking about the project. I don’t know who is fooling whom. I don’t know why Igbo continuously believe they will work on the project.
I keep on saying it that the infrastructure you put in place will speak for you during election, be you federal or state government. They are not building it for the Igbo. It is to link up the South east with the South South so I don’t see why they continue to play politics with that project”
Earlier Chief Obi said, “the N2 billion they said they paid as mobilisation fee to the construction firm, according to vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, shows they are no serious with the project.
What is N2 billion to a big project like that, is not even enough to move the equipment to the site. Playing politics with the project by the federal government for more than a decade now is unfortunate”.