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ZONING: IS SOUTH EAST ENDANGERED?

By NBF News
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Ekweremadu
'Is it true that the three wise men that visited Jesus Christ are from the East? Is it also true that the sun rises from the East? How come our own East is filled with a bunch of stupid men (no apology)? If a 'small boy' can add a name or two to his original names to get your votes of about 98 per cent, sack your son after getting your votes, and consider that you only deserve nothing in his government than the SGF post, then you are bunch of idiots'.

The above text message appears instructive. Though offensive and even insulting to Ndigbo, the anonymous text message, which has been circulating around, seems to have captured the controversy trailing the purported zoning of the position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) to the South East. Political observers, especially those from the South East are finding it difficult to come to terms with why Ndigbo should not get either the Senate Presidency or the Speaker position considering the overwhelming support they gave the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last general election. But many argue that because power is not given, but taken, people of the South East may continue to get crumbs from the nation's power equation because of their lack of formidable attitude for negotiation in politics.

South East as underdog
Since President Goodluck Jonathan won the recent presidential poll, the issue of zoning has again reared its head like a recurring decimal. But this time, it is a battle among the geo-political zones to outwit one another in the struggle for juicy political offices. The expanded national caucus of the PDP has in principle agreed that the party should maintain its old zoning formula in the sharing of political offices.

So, the implication is that the seat of the President shall remain in the South South zone, while the seats of the Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and chairman of the PDP shall remain in the North West, North Central, South West and North East, respectively. From the arrangement, the position of the SGF has been reserved for the South East, with many kicking that the zone deserved more.

It would be recalled that under the late President Umaru Yar'Adua, some members of the National Assembly from the South East had cause to complain bitterly on marginalization of the zone in his administration. They accused Yar'Adua, among other things, of relegating the zone to the background. According to them, 'we had at various occasions expressed the view that there appears to be a scheme to exclude the people of South East zone from critical offices at the Presidency.'

Also, since the issue of power allocation under President Jonathan came to the public domain, one question that has again been agitating the minds of critical observers is: after the support people of the South East gave President Jonathan, is the position of SGF all they deserve in the emerging power equation? Many believe it is not a fair deal for the geo-political zone, but others argue that from the benefit of hindsight, the South East, for several reasons, actually got what it bargained for.

In fact, for followers of events in the country and those who understand the dynamics of power, it did not come as a surprise that the South East was relegated to the background ahead of the incoming administration. Since 1999 when democracy was reintroduced in the nation, the zone had become quite predictable in taking political decisions. It is a national consensus that people of the zone, especially politicians cannot speak with one voice and are usually at the mercy of other zones in terms of relevance in the nation's power equation.

Analysts argue that the power elite in Nigeria do not see the South East as a threat.

Role of South East governors
The discordant tunes from different levels of Igbo leadership in respect of the zoning of plum positions in the incoming administration leave nothing to be desired among the greater percentage of right thinking people. It is therefore, trite to hold the firm position that some leaders of Ndigbo have gone berserk again and rather than face the challenges of regaining their lost glory as one of the important tripods that holds the nation, they go about advertising their buffoonery, impetuosity and chicanery.

In the run up to the PDP primaries, the South East Governors' Forum adopted President Jonathan as the zone's choice candidate. They, among other things, agreed that the Igbo would not accept the vice presidential ticket of any party as a further demonstration of their resolve. That was immediately followed by a unanimous adoption of President Jonathan by the highest socio-cultural organisation of the Igbo, Ohaneze Ndigbo. A prominent Igbo son, Orji Uzor Kalu, who had hitherto declared a presidential ambition, immediately withdrew and pledged to work with the rest of the Igbo to see President Jonathan through.

Political watchers from home and abroad saw that move as the beginning of the Igbo political renaissance and a master strategy for positioning the South East for 2015. Thus, they celebrated the death of discordant tunes that had always been the albatross of the Igbo in national political equation. The governors earned high ratings for that deft political decision. It was believed that in arriving at that political decision, the Igbo leaders had extracted a commitment from the President as to what becomes the lot of the Igbo in the distribution of plum political offices and subsequent power sharing.

The hope of Ndigbo became more magnified when results of the Presidential election showed that Jonathan and PDP amassed over five million Igbo votes as against the abysmal performance of the party in the South West, where the rampaging Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) trounced the PDP's BOT Chairman, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and dusted the incumbent Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, among others. With the loss of the South West to a rival political party, many thought the coast was clearer for the Igbo to clinch the Senate Presidency or the Speaker(ship) of the House of Representatives.

But signs that it was not yet Uhuru for the desired Igbo political rebirth soon began to emerge. From the body language of the governors, it became so clear that they gave the President support without negotiating the place of the Igbo. To add amusement to a vexed issue, Mr. Peter Obi, Governor of Anambra State and Chairman, South East Governors Forum, told whoever cared to listen that they never agreed on any position with President Goodluck Jonathan. Any wonder then why the discordant tunes, which had always marred the unity of purpose among the Igbo, took the centre-stage? And the Igbo are back to square one, holding the short end of the national stick.

While the vast majority of people from the South East were calling on the PDP leadership to consider the zone for either the Senate Presidency or Speaker(ship) of the House of Representatives, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, speaking on behalf of the South East caucus in the Senate, torpedoed the call and dashed the hopes of the zone by saying that they had adopted Senator Mark for the position and called on the party to concede the PDP chairmanship position to the South East. What a betrayal! One would have thought that in arriving at the decision, the distinguished senators had shopped for the support of the North Central to back their aspiration for the seat of the Speaker of the Lower House. That would have been a clincher, but it is on record that neither the North Central nor any other zone had supported the South East and her brothers in the South-South had remained mute.

The PDP leadership had just released its zoning arrangement. Accordingly, the South East was allotted the position of the Deputy Senate President and SGF. Impliedly, the South East failed in securing any of the plum positions germane to the restoration of their diminished glory, all because of what many perceive as the naivety of the South East governors and their lackeys. To worsen the situation, the National Chairmanship position of the party, which was held by the Igbo, was re-zoned to the North East. It would be recalled that governors in the South East were apprehensive of that position. They are lords of the manor, precluding the crystallization of any other power bloc, while riding roughshod over the people. What a shame! The question is: can these governors pass for true leaders? Can they compare with their colleagues from other zones? Governors of the South East do not brook any opposition even as they usually strive to ruin the best hands in the zone.

Critical observers expect the governors to apologize to the Igbo for their political immaturity and inability to present their demands before President Jonathan in Obudu. With the ratification of the zoning they now resorted to blackmailing and intimidating the President from exercising his right of choice.

Analysts find it amazing why the governors think it resides in the public domain to determine whom the President chooses as SGF. It is simple to conclude that they have carried on their devious fancies too far in their quest to destroy every other Igbo man. But it must be stated that the President has the prerogative to decide whom he appoints as SGF and does not need what could be considered as dead sermons of the governors. Many expect them to stop advertising their follies, more so when it is known that past and present governors appointed their brothers and or cousins to such positions without input from anyone.

They have on many occasions squandered the opportunity of their people while presiding over the zoning of public offices. For emphasis, no South Easterner was at the National Working Committee meeting where decisions on zoning were ratified. Recall that it was the South East governors and their lackeys, in what could be considered as a reckless misadventure, that caused the removal of Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo as the National Chairman of PDP, because he stood for reforms and transparency (now the party is toying with the idea of reforming the party again). Having shot themselves on the foot, other zones had a field day. No one could stand up to challenge Obasanjo when he allegedly dismissed South East's agitation for either the Senate Presidency or the Speaker(ship) of the House of Representatives. While leaders from other zones were bulldozing their ways to Obudu to cut deals for their zones, governors of the South East were back home playing the domestic fiddles. There is a saying that whenever a priority is mishandled, a golden opportunity is lost. And this is the lot of the South East.

The governors should be held accountable and be called to order before they force what could be considered their sacramental viaticum down the throats of their people. Little wonder Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu few days ago, asked a very poignant question: 'should the Igbo, with their retinue of egg-heads and wealthy and rich sons and daughters, still allow themselves to be led by blind, visionless leaders?' And he concluded by affirming that, 'Our efforts will pale into nothingness if we continue to live this way.' Certainly, our forbears would be kicking in their graves when they see the insults being heaped on our people.'

But it is heartwarming and instructive that some South Easterners are beginning to appreciate the enormity of the dead sermons from the governors. And this is evident in the plethora of voices revving support for the appointment of Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo as SGF based on proven track record of integrity, forthrightness, deep and penetrating insight into the challenges of building a better Nigeria, boldness in seeking needed reforms and uncompromising attachment to the clamour for making Nigeria truly a great Nation.

His records of achievements as a governor, National Secretary of PDP and later National Chairman speak volume of a burning zeal to make the difference. But as it is known, 'Great spirits have always suffered impunity in the hands of lesser mortals', but as Socrates would say, 'Nothing evil happens to a good man, whether dead or alive.'

Well meaning Nigerians have been calling on President Goodluck Jonathan to give Nigerians a break from the past by constituting a crack cabinet well-primed to bring the nation to the part of glory and recovery. In their estimation, the only way to do this is to put round pegs in round holes. Nigeria can only get better when men of integrity are in power. What Jega's integrity did for Nigeria through the last general election is not lost on Nigerians. And it is believed that the President has passion for good governance and quality service delivery, hence he is set to bring in the best hands beyond the wishes of the South East governors and their lackeys.

The questions the governors should answer are so many. Why should they throw in such weighty support for President Goodluck Jonathan without negotiating the Igbo interest? Can they explain why they plotted the sack of their own brother, the Minister of Interior Affairs, Captain Emmanuel Ihenacho, for primitive reasons outside incompetence in office without even pushing for his replacement? Can they explain why it was easy for them to get governors of other zones to rally against the former chairman of the party, but are unable to get same to support the South East in their bid for the Senate Presidency or the Speaker(ship) of the House of Representatives? Can they explain how the South West that won only three ranking House of Representatives seats got the Speaker(ship) whereas the South East that won over 90 per cent is shortchanged? It is believed that only when they give satisfactory answers to these nagging questions will Ndigbo concede to them that they mean good.

Many argue that since the death of the late ceremonial president of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the zone has not been able to produce a politician or leader that could earn the respect of Ndigbo. The late Owelle of Onitsha commanded such respect as he traversed the length and breath of the country with his brand of politics that pulled the Igbo together. The thinking is that unlike in other zones, there is no politician or leader in the South East in the mould of Zik that could serve as a rallying point for the people again. In the estimation of many, only the leader of the defunct Biafra Republic and Ikemba Nnewi, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, commands such following among majority of people from the zone, but has not been able to assert himself politically.

Analysts argue that the present crop of leaders in the South East have consistently become willing tools in the hands of the elite from other zones, who are not comfortable with the Igbo uniting as a political entity. George Orwell, author of the popular novel, Animal Farm, captured the predicament of the Igbo when he argues that, 'The masses never revolt on their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, as long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed.'