SOUTH EAST AND INFRASTRUCTURE DEFICIT: THE PEOPLE ARE WATCHING
The South – East geopolitical zone made up of about five states namely Imo, Enugu, Anambra, Ebonyi and Abia is the heartland of the Igbo-speaking nationality. This zone can boast of producing some of the finest intellectuals and top flight technocrats spread all over the world who are vastly respected in their diverse fields of calling.
The zone produces arguably the highest percentage of undergraduate university applicants yearly which goes to show the elevated scale in which learning/intellectualism has reached among the people of these vast geopolitical area.
But one thing the South-East geopolitical area lacks is the needed and necessary federal presence and the strategic infrastructure that would enable the people to harness their natural and human resources to achieve collective economic growth and advancement of the area. This accounts for the presence of a lot of youth that are jobless and therefore restive. Even Aba that used to be the industrial hub of Southern Nigeria is in a total sorry state due largely to the criminal neglect of the basic social infrstructure by successive governments in Abia.
Onitsha in Anambra State that used to boast of the largest market in West Africa is bereft of the basic infrastructure of even facilities as common as drainage system which the state and local government areas can afford without waiting endlessly for monthly federal allocations.
Last week, I embarked on a two-day study tour of the current state of infrastructure in the South-East with visits to Enugu, Onitsha, Okigwe and Aba and with whistle stops at Owerri and Umuahia, I can state categorically, that South Eastern Nigeria suffers from monumental deficit of infrastructure far worse than what obtains in the other geopolitical zones which I have had the privilege to have lived and worked for years.
Apart from poor road infrastructure affecting virtually the entire federal, states and local government-owned and maintained roads, there is the more serious problem of erosion which poses greater environmental threats to several communities including the home town of Nigeria's second Republic vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme (Oko, Orumba North Local government in old Aguata, Anambra State).
Deadly gullies of huge proportions have enveloped other communities such as Uturu and Isukwuato all in Abia State. The question on the lips of most people interviewed is why the infrastructure in the South East have been allowed to deteriorate to this sorry state and people are asking whether the South-East has political leadership that is charismatic, patriotic, selfless and nationalistic that can speak the mind of the South-East and attract equitable federal development to the zone.
Interacting with people in the rural communities visited last week, I came out with the impression that the people of the South East are totally disappointed with the political leaders from the zone who have consistently betrayed the collective aspirations of the people for their selfish pecuniary goals.
The people for instance questioned the rationale in voting massively for the current President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 election on the promise that the second Niger Bridge and other serious infrastructural deficits suffered by the zone would be addressed only to discover that these vital infrastructure are deteriorating further due to neglect by the federal government.
To therefore read in one of the national dailies that the Ministry of Works has claimed to have executed 98 percent of its capital projects in the 2012 Appropriation Act is one of the biggest fraudulent claims because in the entire South-East, there is virtually no proof of any completed and well maintained federal roads.
On the aspect of erosion, the people wonder why successive ministers of Environment since 1999 promised to address the situation but only end up not doing anything but engage in political rhetoric while the political office holders of the South East at the federal level are only good at shedding crocodile tears over the bad state of erosion in the South East but refuse to use their influence to collectively ensure that South East gets better deal from the aspects of the federal budgets that are eventually implemented.
Only on Monday, media reports claimed that the House of Representatives' committee chairman on Environment and member representing Anaocha/Dunukofia/Njikoka Federal constituency Mrs. Uche Ekwunife wept at the site of very serious erosion disaster in a part of Anambra state.
Oh! what a crocodile tear?
Mrs. Ekwunife, Nigeria's latest crying madam should please note that the people are watching her and her other partners in the National Assembly to see if they would attract federal attention to this serious environmental threat of erosion in the South-East.
Still on infrastructure deficit of the South-East, Emeka Nwosu who is a very senior media practitioner and is currently working in the media office of the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives has strong opinion about it. He happened to have travelled to some parts of the South-East about the same period under review in this piece and his observation is as relevant as it is factual.
His words: 'I just returned from a one-week trip to the South East which saw me traversing Enugu, Abia, Imo and River State. The Enugu/Port Harcourt highway has become an unqualified disaster; a national embarrassment. To move form Lokpanta at the Enugu-Abia border through Okigwe to Umuahia, Aba and Port Harcourt has become a huge problem'.
Unfortunately, the political and traditional institutions have collective betrayed the people of the South-East because majority of the political and traditional elite from that region only visit President Jonathan to solicit for contracts and other personal benefits and do little or nothing for the people.
The youth and other professionals untainted by the lucre of political contracts should unite to fight for the interest of the South East geo-political zone so that a scientific and comprehensive economic rescue/marshal plan for the region should be worked out and implemented because since after the civil war, the successive federal governments/administrations have not deliberately implemented developmental projects to rescue the geo-political zone from the devastating consequences of the 30 months civil war.
-Onwubiko is the head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria