Opinion: Leadership Failure And Insecurity In Southeast
By Emeka Alex Duru
Late last year, Simon Ekpa, who claims discipleship of the detained leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, in a viral video ordered the people of the Southeast to observe a sit-at-home from December 9 to 14, 2022. Out of fear and other considerations, the people obeyed. As the general elections draw nearer, there are insinuations that similar directive could be issued by any of the contending forces in the region and the residents, out of fear, may comply and lose their rights of electing those to govern them.
It has become the norm these days, for faceless goons and amorphous groups to read riot acts or roll out orders for residents of the Southeast over one triviality or another. What it takes to compel obedience from the people, is mere escalation of an audio recording on the social media, with threats of violence against those who defy the instruction. And the people, out of fear, normally comply.
You may not blame the people for deferring to the directives. They are helpless. In a situation where there is no assertive leadership to galvanise and assure them of their safety, it would be foolhardy on any resident going against the order. To paraphrase the foremost statesman, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik), it is only a mad man that confronts an armed aggressor with bare knuckles. It is indeed, a no-win situation.
The Southeast is presently on its fours. I had on this space, on Friday, September 17, 2021, drawn an analogy between the uncertain developments in the Southeast and the chaos in Somalia. Somalia is a country that ordinarily has everything going for it but has failed to utilise any of the factors in its favour. It is a country of one religion, one language, one ethnic group and a common ancestry. These factors could have taken it far but Somalia has been in the news for the wrong reasons and has remained a reference point for state failure. It is a state where law and order are on flight and the citizens live at the mercy of war lords.
The Southeast shares striking similarities with Somalia and seems headed towards same inglorious path. As Somalia lays claim to common ancestry, the Igbo of the South East have various myths and legends on their origin but seem to agree on the theory of autochthony, that is, not migrating from anywhere but having ancestors that sprouted from the soil in their present areas of domicile. But in a more painful parallel, both are in throes of insecurity. Living in the Southeast, now, is akin to residing in Somalia. The Southeast has become a zone where one, literally, cannot sleep with two eyes closed because of uncertainties.
As in Somalia, it all boils down to failure of leadership, especially the political elite. The politicians from the Southeast are the problem of the zone. It is their failure to assume responsibility and provide genuine leadership to the people that has created room for elements on the fringes of lunacy to prance about, assume positions of influence and act as champions of the masses. Nature, they say, abhors vacuum.
For long, many of those elected or appointed to leadership positions in the zones have seen it as opportunity to enrich themselves and their families and not a call to service. Consequently, the region has become a byword for failure and object of mockery before others. From whatever angle it is looked at, the developments in the region are disturbing. Come to think of it! That was a zone that had produced men and women of class in all aspects of national development. This was an area from which Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (Ikemba Nnewi) hailed from. This was a zone that within a space of nine years after the 1967 – 1970 civil war, had risen from the ashes of crushing defeat to produce Nigeria’s Vice President (Alex Ekwueme) and Speaker of the House of Representatives (Edwin Ume-Ezeoke), among other top-rank government officials.
These were a people who the literary icon, Chinua Achebe, captured in his concise book, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’ as though not having advantage of early head-start, had ‘wiped out their handicaps in one fantastic burst of energy in the twenty years between 1930 and 1950’.
You may not fully appreciate the iconic feats of the era unless you take the story from the audacity of the Great Zik and the late Premier of the Region, Michael Iheonukara (M.I) Okpara in lifting the area from near ground zero, such that by 1964, it was described as the fastest growing economy in the world by Harvard Reviews.
The surge in development was a product of conscious planning, anchored on visionary leadership and clear-cut agenda for service. The ambitious programme, often referred to as the ‘Okpara Revolution’, found expression in large-scale state plantations, in addition to peasant production. The result was the region growing in wealth and esteem, to the envy of others.
In a short while, such industries as Enamel Ware Factory, Port Harcourt, Hotel Presidential in Enugu, Port Harcourt; Aba Textile Mills, Modern Ceramic factory, Umuahia, Catering Rest House and Modern Shoe factory, Owerri, had sprang up, offering employment to the people and revenue to the region.
In addition, a cement factory was established at Nkalagu, Nigerian Breweries established a plant in Aba, a Tobacco and glass making plant was located at Port Harcourt. In the same Port Harcourt, Trans-Amadi Layout was set out as the industrial hub of the Region.
Foundations were laid for Calabar cement factory and a giant textile mill in Onitsha. Permatex spinning and weaving company was soon to take off in Enugu, while Sunray flour mill and a vehicle assembly plant, were established in Port Harcourt. Cashew and Palm oil plantations as well as Extension farms sprang up in different parts of the region.
The beautiful vision was garnished with well-paved roads, streets and residential quarters in the metropolitan cities of Aba, Owerri, Umuahia, Enugu, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Abakiliki and others. The good story continued in the Second Republic, with Sam Mbakwe in Imo State and Jim Nwobodo in Anambra.
Even lately, in fact, seven years ago, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had rated the South East the most human security secure geopolitical zone in Nigeria. The verdict was contained in its 2016 national human development report for the country.
This is no longer the case. In place of development, chaos, insecurity and outright lawlessness have taken roots. In place of dedicated leadership, charlatans have taken over, throwing up brigands that make life uncomfortable for the people. To worsen matters, there is no unity of purpose among the governing class. It is doubtful if any of the elected officials from the zone at state and federal level or their predecessors, can call a meeting on the issues affecting the area and receive satisfactory response. It is that bad.
There is no how the rising tide of insecurity in the Southeast can be divorced from leadership failure in the zone. So, the issue at hand goes beyond the elite from the area finding momentary comfort in their places of residence outside Igboland. No matter the length of their stay outside, they will always be treated as strangers when it matters most. There must be conscious efforts to reclaim the homeland. The current set of leaders in the zone have failed.
But the situation is not irredeemable. With the forthcoming elections, the people have another chance to elect candidates with proven records of integrity and competence. Getting the Southeast back on tracks, is a task that must be accomplished. But it requires taking away leadership from con artists and serial journeymen who have failed in other fields of human endeavour.
— DURU is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos