By Ifeanyi Okali
It was Holly Black who said, “We don’t need to be good. But let’s try to be fair”.
Since the beginning of the current political dispensation in 1999, there is arguably any region that has been unfairly treated like the South East region of the country. It has again resonated with an age-long animosity, strife and suspicion, leading to a heightened campaign for self-determination and balkanisation in sheer contrast to the dreams of our founding fathers.
Apart from being the only zone that has not produced an elected president since Independence in 1960, South East has in what some persons have described as a conspiratorial gang up been perennially relegated to the background in power equation and balancing since 1999. Worrisomely, while the South West region for instance can boast of producing the country’s leader for the second time in former President Olusegun Obasanjo and now the president-elect Bola Tinubu, same also goes to the North West region which has produced president twice in the botched administration of Umar Musa Yar’Adua of blessed memory and the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, both of who are from Katsina state.
In all these, one may be tempted to ask, where is the South East region? Nigeria stands on the tripod of three major ethnic groups – the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa which some have christened WAZOBIA. The Hausa and the Yoruba have enjoyed the support and active backing of Ndigbo in emerging the country’s leader when the South East overwhelmingly backed the election of Obasanjo in 1999 and later Yar’Adua in 2007 who unfortunately passed away before the end of his first term in 2010.
The amplified call for the South East to receive reciprocative support from other regions of the country to produce the president has not yielded any fruitful results. Irrespective of brazen injustice and alienation against Ndigbo, they have continuously shown faith and commitment to the nation building and peaceful co-existence. All lobbies and appeals for the major political parties to zone their presidential tickets to the South East have remained a voice in the desert and no one cares to listen.
When President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 emerged the President along with his vice, Yemi Osinbajo, expectations were high that the third citizen (Senate President) would ordinarily emerge from the South East in the spirit of equity and fairness. That expectation was however slaughtered on the slab of politicking and mischievous permutations. That was the first time in the history of Nigeria that a whole region missed out from number one to the fourth leadership position. While Bukola Saraki (Yoruba) emerged the Senate President, Yakubu Dogara (North East) became the fourth in the hierarchy of the country’s authority when he emerged the Speaker of the House of Representative. Again, one is left but to ask, where is the South East?
While this intervention is not to bore you with the catalogue of injustices Ndigbo have nursed in the very recent periods of our national history, it is worthy of note that these deliberate efforts to murder fairness, equity and justice cannot be extricated from why we have an increasing separatist agitations in parts of the country particular the South East that has not enjoyed the opportunity of leading the country despite its population and contributions to national development and economic growth as clearly seen in their roles in trade and commerce in all nooks and crannies of this country — Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Calabar, Gusau and where have you. South East is not in short supply of ably qualified men and women, who are perfect specimens of competence and character, who have raised the tempo of excellent service in the public and private sector as well as those who have demonstrated selflessness and unpretentious commitment to the project Nigeria.
One patriot standing tall in this league is a former governor of Abia state and the Senate Chief Whip, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu whose voice has resonated so loud in the campaign for inclusion of South East in the nation’s power equation.
In fact, he was practically moving house to house last year, calling on his party the APC and the opposition PDP to zone their presidential tickets to South East in a national consensus for the president to emerge from that region in 2023. That never happened. Despite fierce criticism by some self-serving “Igbo champions” his consistency in demanding equity and fairness has remained unshaken. This also informed his decision to vie for the office of the Senate President in the 9th Senate, powers that be thwarted that vision, yet he has not failed in demonstrating support and commitment to the leadership and business of the senate and the National Assembly in general as the number four in command in the reverend upper legislative chamber.
He has defended the programmes and policies of the Buhari-led federal government, publicly acknowledged the government’s efforts in blurring the line of discrimination with gigantic infrastructural development as signposted in the second Niger bridge, remodeling of Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu, construction of Port Harcourt-Enugu expressway and litany of projects for which he has marketed the APC-led federal government in the South East.
A cosmopolitan leader, green with ideas on how to position the country on the pedestal irreversible progress and development, OUK as his supporters call him has a rich network across the country and beyond. There is hardly any state of the country where he does not have friends. His business interests are dotted everywhere beyond the shores of the South East. He has built the bridge of love across the country and honoured with chieftaincy titles in kingdoms all over Nigeria.
As a former governor for eight years, his footprint of excellence particularly in human capital development, infrastructure, education, inclusiveness and prudent management of resources are there for all to see. He is a leader who does not alienate himself from the plight of those he leads. His ability to relate with everyone on a one-on-one basis irrespective of the status difference, call you by your name, seek your opinion on a very critical matter that easily endears him to people and this is a hallmark of an excellent leader.
In the National Assembly where he currently represents the good people of Abia North, he enjoys the support and cooperation of his colleagues in carrying out his legislative functions which have seen quality bills and motions he sponsored see the ray of light. He is popular and well respected among members of the parliament. The legions of projects he has embarked upon and completed in the last four years is such that has dwarfed the record of any representative from that district in history — the farmers’ support, the students’ support, scholarships, road infrastructure, empowerment schemes and humanitarian interventions are superbly next to none.
As preparations for the inauguration of the tenth National Assembly gears up, the ruling APC must make good use of this opportunity to douse the flaring temper in the South East and fade the tone of separation by ensuring that the zone is supported to at least produce the number three citizen of the country since the first and second positions are already occupied the Yoruba in the persons of president-elect, Bola Tinubu and his vice Sen. Kashim Shettima from the North.
Sen. Kalu is a ranking Senator and a senior member of the APC and possesses what it takes to fill this gap, both in experience, composure, candour, confidence, humility and managerial dexterity. He will be a Senate President for all and it will be a win-win for his party and our country.
Nigerians are not difficult to please and I believe making frantic efforts to incorporate the South East in the scheme of affairs will assuage the bad blood bred by marginalisation of the region especially in this outgoing government where no single South Easterner is in the security architecture.
We can get our acts right in the tenth National Assembly leadership and it begins with the emergence of an Igbo legislator as the head. Sen. Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu has the experiential war chest and pedigree to shoulder the responsibility.
Let Us Think Big And Positive!!
Ifeanyi Okali writes from EBEM OHAFIA, Abia State.