Last week President Muhammadu Buhari( PMB) visited the South East for the first time since he became President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria two and half years ago. Was he on a genuine state visit or was he on a campaign mission? Some people believe he was on a campaign mission to Anambra state to support the gubernatorial ambition of his APC party flag-bearer, Mr Tony Nwoye. Such people believe that the visit to EBONYI State was an after thought, a camouflage. To buttress their view point, they remarked that if a presidential visit was actually planned for EBONYI State, the president would not just mainly be commissioning fly overs and laying foundation for new fly overs!
Nevertheless, that this is the President’s first visit to the South East Geo-political zone after 30 months in office tells a lot. It emphasizes the ranking of the South East in the priority of Mr President. I am aware that the President had visited all the other Five Geopolitical zones, some more than once and only comes to the South East last and essentially on a campaign trip. This is in synchrony with the way PMB has treated the South East since he came to office. Despite his denials, the President has discriminated against the South East in many respects but much more evidently in appointments. He had said he would treat those who gave him 97% differently from those who gave him 5% and he has largely remained true to his words. It is necessary to continue to remind him that appointing South Easterners as ministers was not a discretionary matter. He is compelled by the constitution to do so. His discrimination is evident in his discretionary appointments- Army chief, Navy chief, Airforce chief, Chief of Defence Staff, IGP, NSA, COS, SGF, Head of DSS, Head of NIA, head of FRSC, Civil Defence and all the key board appointments and leadership of Parastatals of Government-NNPC, NPA, NBC, FAAN, NCAA etc,etc. Most other objective Nigerians including Northerners and South Westerners have pointed out this glaring anomaly and it seems that PMB is the only one who seems not to see this patent discrimination against the SE people.
What ever may have been said, I believe that it was good that the President visited the South East. As a believer-in-chief in the unity and indivisibility of Nigeria, he needs to do a lot to practice what he preaches. I have urged him along this line endlessly. This visit, though a small step, I believe is a step in the right direction. He himself said that his presence in EBONYI was ‘ a demonstration of my strong belief in unity of Nigeria”. It allowed him the opportunity to listen to the needs and challenges of the people which Dr Nnia Nwodo, the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo amply reeled out at the reception for PMB in Enugu before he proceeded to Abakaliki. Dr Nwodo added” these problems predated your administration but have reached a quintessence under your watch” It probably also gave him the opportunity to see some of the problems for himself. Hence his reassurance, that he has made provisions in the 2018 budget to address the issues of state of roads, power,agriculture and social services in the region just as he had promised leaders of the South East who met with him in Abuja in October.
I do not know how PMB feels after the visit. He had official warm reception in Enugu and EBONYI states. The crowd was there to welcome him. The Traditional rulers gave him two CHIEFTAINCY titles: Enyi Oha 1( friend of the community) and Ochi Oha( leader of the people). Governor Umahi was effusive in his praise of PMB and gave him a gift of 2000 bags of EBONYI Rice and 2000 tubers of Abakaliki Yams, mimicking if not bettering Solomon’s sacrifice of 1000 rams to God. I hope that did not cause excess luggage problem for the president. May be there were some Onitsha traders nearby who could easily have monetized the gift to solve the problem, that is if there was any. But on reflection, PMB would have realized that the people of the South East do not hate him per se. What they hate is the way he has been treating them. I can assure him that if he changes his attitude to the people, begins to treat them as equal citizens of Nigeria, listens to their complaints and takes genuine measures to resolve their problems, they would respond positively just as some did last week when he made his maiden presidential visit to the South East. Sending Python dancers to suppress their complaints is certainly not the best way to win the confidence of the people.
PMB had often asked what the Igbo wanted. I do not know if he has now received the answers. I am not an Igbo spokesperson but I am Igbo and I do feel the pains of the Igbo. But the truth of the matter is that what the Igbo want is not different from what other ethnic groups want- Justice, equity and fair play. The day PMB begins to demonstrate this in action, that day, he will become a hero and win back the minds of many Igbo and indeed all other Nigerians who currently feel alienated. I hope he visits more, fulfills his promises and demonstrates true love for the Igbo if at all possible.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR