By Uche Nworah
Many South-Easterners were happy to see the five South-East Governors together last week. It has been long since we last saw them in such a ‘united front’ posturing. Perhaps it was the occasion of the newly constituted National Economic Council by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu that brought them together. In their first-ever meeting since the new Governors of Enugu, Ebonyi and Abia states were sworn -in, the governors elected the Governor of Imo state, Hope Uzodinma, as Chairman of the South-East Governors Forum (SEGF).
This seeming unity is a departure from the cold war that existed among the Governors in the last dispensation when meetings of South-East Governors became a colossal joke and assault on the feelings and aspirations of the people of the South-East. The Governors during that time towed different political lines and didn’t seem to agree. They prioritised the interests of their various political parties, so not much was achieved. Even the SEGF secretariat was poorly funded, secretariat staff were owed, and they cried out severally in the media.
Their meetings then were attended mainly by their Deputy Governors, showing how less important the Governors considered the forum. There were just too many egos to massage, to the detriment of the interests of the region’s people. While South-West governors were discussing regional development, integration and cooperation through their Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), none of such discussions occurred in the South-East.
Even in the heat of major crises such as the economic meltdown, insecurity issues in the region, the Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB situation, the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges, there was no synergy or attempt to come up with a collaborative agenda for the South-East region.
All that appears to be in the past now, hopefully. We have new Sheriffs in town, newly elected Governors, and not-so-new ones. There is much expectation from people of the South-East. The Governors should play less politics and show more leadership for their people. During a prayer rally in Abia state, the Ala Igbo Development Foundation (ADF), a regional non-governmental organisation organisation, urged Governors of the South-East region of Nigeria to initiate programmes and policies that will positively impact the lives of the citizens. The South-East Governors roll call; Alex Otti, Abia State (Labour Party); Peter Mbah, Enugu State (PDP), Francis Nwifuru, Ebonyi State (APC), Charles Soludo, Anambra State (APGA), and Hope Uzodinma, Imo state (APC).
There is so much to do and less time to do them. Reducing insecurity in the region should be top on their agenda. Kidnap-for-ransom has become a thriving business in the area. Gangs now engage in criminal enterprise in the name of freedom fighting. They inhabit ungoverned spaces, camps and forests across the region. Cross-boundary crime has become the norm. The people of the area are scared and scarred permanently. The Monday-Sit-At-Home orders have further decimated the economy of the region. Businesses and people are leaving the part in droves for safer environments. The Governors must come up with urgent solutions to fight insecurity. In doing that, technology, intelligence gathering, providing adequate security gadgets, and commensurate compensation for security officials should be prioritised prioritised.
There is so much youth unemployment in the region. How to economically and gainfully keep the teeming youths engaged should be another agenda for the Governors. An idle man is the devil’s workshop goes a famous saying. Many of these unemployed youths have become willing tools in the hands of manipulators who have enrolled them into the kidnapping business in the name of freedom fighting. Others have resorted to rituals and patronising patronising ‘digital dibias’ and other get-rich-quick schemes to make it. The South-East region is now awash with pastors and native medicine men promising young men and women fame and fortune. They advertise on social media and lure unsuspecting young men and women. ‘Ibute Ike’ and ‘Oke Ite’ are popular phrases amongst our teeming youths, replacing expressions such as ‘Igba Mbo’, ‘Olu Aka’ and ‘Oge Nke Chukwu Ka Nma’. The South-East Governors must devise measures to control the activities of these dibias confusing our young men. During the administration of Governor Willie Obiano in Anambra, a Special Adviser was appointed to manage the activities of traditional medicine practitioners. That template could be strengthened and replicated across the South-East states.
The fallout from the 2023 general elections is now felt by Ndigbo living in other parts of Nigeria. Lagos, in particular, has become a sore point. The Lagos state legislature plans to enact anti-settler laws, even though such laws go against the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, which guarantees every Nigerian freedom and rights to live anywhere in Nigeria and acquire properties legally. This is not the time to open the constitution. Desperate times call for desperate measures. This is the time for shuttle diplomacy. The South-East Governors must engage with their Brother Governor in Lagos state to convince him to intervene and avert the looming economic disaster that will hit Ndigbo hard if the laws are passed. Their properties and businesses in Lagos are under threat.
Already, anti-Igbo policies in Lagos state are rearing their heads. Viral videos last week showed Igbo traders moving their goods away from Alaba International Market. The traders were given just 24 hours to move out their goods by Lagos state government officials who planned to demolish some plazas. Many speculate that the planned demolitions are part of vengeance against Igbo traders for voting Labour Party during the 2023 presidential, gubernatorial and state assembly elections.
However, Gbolahan Oki, Lagos State Building Control Agency, LASBCA, General Manager, denies this. He was quoted in the media as saying, “LASBCA identified at least 17 buildings in Alaba International Market, Ojo Local Government Area, as being in an advanced condition of distress and in need of immediate removal”.
Some shopping plazas marked for demolition by LASBCA include; G80 Alaba Rago Road, Good Season Shopping Complex, the building on 840 Ojo Igbede and the structure behind Oba Oseni Plaza, among others.
The Governor of Imo state, Hope Uzodinma, being a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), should urgently lead the other South-East governors to Governor Babajide Sanwoolu of Lagos state to resolve this and other pending issues affecting Ndigbo living in Lagos. High-level public diplomacy is required to prevent the escalation of the crises. This will be a litmus test of the seriousness of the newly inaugurated South-East Governors Forum. It should not be business as usual.
Dr. Nworah, a media, communications and branding consultant can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.