As a citizen of Imo State that very closely shares about the same birthday with my State of Imo (with just two years gap), events happening in Imo State that shape the destiny of our people whether positively or in the direct opposite, matter to me a lot.
And so it was that the President of the largest black democracy visited my State last week’s Thursday just as this singular visit by the President has become one in which most commentators have not really addressed the import of such a State visit with a view to providing an objective, balanced and sound analysis and to make informed recommendations on how the visit will in the short, medium and long term, benefit Imo State and her good citizens.
It is unfortunate that the visit of the President to Imo State has gained more notoriety and public commentary from a deliberately twisted and slanted standpoint than from a much more broad perspective and from a rational perspective.
As someone who has the belief that speed, precision and decisiveness are some of the finest attributes of great journalism, I decided deliberately to spend few days before committing my thoughts into writing on the visit of the President to Imo State because of the monumental body of negativity that has almost obfuscated the essence, philosophy and raison d’ etre which informed the necessity of Mr. President embarking on such a visit to a region that hasn’t seen him since the last campaign season.
I had had to spend many hours lamenting why most commentators aren’t discussing the speech or speeches or mannerisms of the delivery of speeches by the President, his chief host the governor of Imo State and other influential political figures of Igbo extraction who flew into the Imo State capital to spend the very few hours that Mr. President spent in Imo State.
As an activist, a social critic, a professional Journalist/publisher and a published author of three books that have sold out over 6,000 copies, I have the ideological upbringing never to play down on issues and events happening around my State of birth because basically, all rational beings ought to know that there is no place like home and in our tradition, our home which is our state of nativity go beyond just the mere physicality or mere geographical expression but is deeply and profoundly rooted in spirituality, psychology and indeed is the perfect definition of our BEINGNESS qua tale.
And so I must confess my disappointment that even writers, journalists and commentators that we share the same Ancestral lineage as NDIGBO have spent the last four days since after the Presidential/State visit to dwell on only irrelevance topics such as the texture, colour or mode of the articles of clothing that Mr President adorned during his whistle stop visit to Imo State and also found pleasure in spreading hate filled messages targeting the equally troublesome and loquacious governor of Imo State Mr. Hope Uzodinma.
In all of these shenanigans of the commentators including aboriginal natives of Imo State and the diversionary responses and media positions of the Imo State governor, I sincerely think the winner in all of these is the President of Nigeria who made landmark speech or speeches that should have occupied the times of writers, thinkers and commentators who have rather embraced the mundane and the frivolous in place of discussing hard core thematic areas that the President addressed in his speech such as security, secessionism, the place of the Igbo persona in the making of the nation Nigeria and also failed to raise questions regarding why the governor of Imo State and those who organised the visit of the President left out some key issues such as surprise tours of some towns, villages and significant places of historicity by the August visitor.
Apart from President Muhammadu Buhari who I consider to have made concrete policy speech during his dialogue with select political and business leaders of Igbo extraction, I do also think that the Professor George Obiozor-led Ohanaeze Ndigbo made salient points when it spent quality time pleading for general Amnesty to be granted to detainee members of the proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) including the leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
The State visit of President Muhammadu Buhari offered a quality opportunity for the Nigerian media to now know that Ndigbo have just one body of Representatives known as Ohanaeze Ndigbo so the media put a stop to the organised chaotic reporting of all kinds of kangaroo groups as Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Now that only one leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo spoke officially thus ending the deliberate and toxic media misinformation, can the Nigerian media now stop confusing their readers by quoting fraudsters and ghost politicians as leaders if Ohanaeze Ndigbo?
And so it was that the authentic cultural body of Ndigbo understandably advocated the establishment of major institutions and projects in the South East of Nigeria to bridge the apparent infrastructural imbalances and neglects that the people of the South have had to face in the hands of all Federal administrations.
Shockingly, the media mouthpiece of the Conservative North known as Daily Trust wrote a very thoroughly objective news story of the Thursday event. The clear area of lacuna that hasn’t been addressed was how the President was just invited to spend just a day in Imo State rather than also spend a night to have a panoramic and real time view and experience of Imo State and South East of Nigeria.
Daily Trust saw the visit as follows: “There was a standstill in Owerri, Imo State capital on Thursday as South-East leaders converged to join Governor Hope Uzodinma in receiving President Muhammadu Buhari who was in the state for a one-day official visit.”
“Vehicular movements in and out of Imo were grounded as security agencies took charge of all the major roads in the town. Markets and stalls in the capital city were locked as residents stayed at home.
The measures might not be unconnected with the stay at home order issued by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) over the president’s visit.”
Here are the atmospherics of the state visit to Imo State-: After landing at the airport, the president who was decked in Igbo traditional attire inspected a guard of honour before he was driven to Owerri city centre for the inauguration of four projects executed by the Uzodinma administration.
At the event were Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, Abia State Deputy Governor, Ude Okechukwu, former Senate President Ken Nnamanni, leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, traditional rulers, serving and former members of the National Assembly and former chief of army staff Gen. Azubuike Ihejjirika.
They also included former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Rear Admiral Ebitu Ukiwe; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema and Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Uche Ogah, among other party stalwarts.
The projects inaugurated are the Ihiagwa/Nekede/ Obinze road, the Ballon-driven underground tunnel which is checking flooding in Owerri, and the Egbeada Byepass road.
Buhari also commissioned the ultra-modern Executive Council Chambers before he went into a closed-door meeting with Igbo leaders, traditional rulers and other stakeholders.
President Muhammadu Buhari took his audience through a guided tour of his thoughts on what he wants to be remembered for beyond his active political career in 2023 when he spoke at a town hall meeting with the South-East leaders.
In what I think is the philosophical underpinning of his State visit to the State generally known as the Eastern heartland,
the President said that he would want to be remembered as the President who stabilised Nigeria in the area of security, economic prosperity and triumph over corruption.
He said, “If there is no security, there is nothing anyone can do no matter how much you try or the initiative you have. Security is the number one priority and then the economy. When people feel secure they will mind their own business.”
The President told South-East leaders that while fighting corruption in Nigeria had become very sophisticated and difficult, he would continue to strive to leave a lasting legacy of integrity and accountability.
‘‘Nobody can accuse me of having companies or mansions anywhere in the country and I thank God that I try to keep myself as clean as possible so that I cannot be taken hostage.
‘‘I will do my best to ensure that Nigerians that try hard, succeed in their efforts,’’ he said.
On the forthcoming 2023 elections, the president reaffirmed his commitment to free, fair and credible polls, urging the leaders to honestly educate their constituencies on the need to hold their elected representatives accountable.
Acknowledging the resourcefulness and enterprising spirit of the Igbo people, the President said, ‘‘The fundamental thing about the Igbo people is that there is no town you will visit in Nigeria without seeing the Igbos being in charge of either infrastructure or pharmaceutical industry.
‘‘Therefore, it is unthinkable for me that any Igbo man would consider himself not to be a part of Nigeria.
‘‘The evidence is there for everyone to see that Igbos are in charge of Nigeria’s economy.’’
Noting that no country could make any meaningful progress without the development of infrastructure, the President expressed regret that successive governments at the federal level contributed to the decay of critical infrastructure in the country.
He promised that the federal government would complete ongoing key projects in the South East, including the 2nd Niger Bridge as well as the railway lines and routes linking the region with other parts of the country.
‘‘I firmly believe that when you get infrastructure right, Nigerians will mind their own businesses,’’ he said, adding that as a group, the Igbos stand to benefit more from the ongoing development of infrastructure in the country because ‘‘they are more enterprising.’’
On fighting insecurity the president promised to assist the people of Imo State to overcome insecurity and solve infrastructural deficiencies of the state.
Speaking while commissioning the Egbeada- Onitsha bypass named after a prominent son of the state, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Buhari said that he was impressed with the level of development in the state.
The president, who said no society could make any meaningful progress in the face of insecurity and infrastructural deficiency, said that his hope of a better Nigeria had been rekindled with infrastructural progress made by Uzodinma.
Most Imo citizens have reservations understandably concerning this last part of the President’s speech considering that nothing much has been done by the Imo State governor in the last one year except excessive media generated phantom projects.
Ironically, the Imo State governor in his speech sounded more political than a realist.
Mr. Hope Uzodimma, earlier in his speech, urged the president to deal permanently with the issues of insecurity and flooding ravaging the state.
But he misfired. Insecurity is not Imo State’s primary problem unless by insecurity he meant to talk about unemployment and poverty which constitute social and economic insecurity.
But if he means crimes then Imo is one of the least in the area of crime rates compared to even Katsina State which is the home State of the President who will in line with the GrundNorm exit his office and go into a well earned retirement from politics and governance in 2023.
Imo’s problems were exactly what the President pointed out in his speech as aforementioned. The President’s concrete analysis of the infrastructural imbalances in the South East as implied in his speech are the fundamental problems of Imo State and all of South East of Nigeria. It is therefore sad that the Imo State governor displayed ignorance of the Imo State’s peculiar mess just as the guest who is the Nigerian President showed greater awareness and appreciation of the enormous challenges confronting Imo State.
Characteristically, the governor got stuck in partisan politics when he said the Ndigbo believe in a united Nigeria predicated on ‘‘justice, equity and fairness.’’
He thanked the President for addressing the interests of Ndi Igbo through deliberate policy initiatives designed to give the people a true sense of belonging, including the ongoing construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge, among others.
The governor said the people of South-East would remain grateful to the President for approving the establishment of a Naval Base in Oguta Local Government Area of the State, adding that as time unfolds, the economic benefits of the base would manifest.
The governor also commended the president for supporting the appointment of two prominent Igbos into two key international organisations – Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Assistant Director-General of Health Emergency Intelligence, World Health Organisation (WHO).
These issues highlighted by the Imo State’s governor are really not the expectations of the citizens of our dear Imo State whose social issues were rather pinpointed by the President whereas the Imo State governor dwelt so much on irrelevant topics just like most other commentators that opted to embrace frivolous items from the President’s visit.
Conclusively, as a citizen of Imo State, our appeal is that Imo State needs to get her own fair share of federal government’s strategic institutional infrastructures of durable federal roads, a refinery, connection of the towns of Imo State to the national electricity power grid and other economic mainstays such as publicly funded projects to provide water and good sanitation and to check the perennial problems of erosion and flooding.
As I observed earlier, apart from President of Nigeria, the President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo spoke well and he summed up his statement by affirming correcty that only justice, equity can prevent secession.
The eminenty learned President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor, told the president that only justice and equity could stop secessionist agitations in the country.
He also appealed to the president to release Igbo youths detained by various security agencies across the country.
Obiozor described the president’s visit as symbolic, which he noted, would mark the beginning of a new chapter of dialogue, cooperation and understanding between Ndigbo and the Buhari administration.
He said, “Your presence reassures us that there is still reason for optimism for Nigeria and Nigerian unity. Ndigbo are committed to Nigerian unity and there is news for those trying to push us out of Nigeria. Ndigbo in Nigeria are like fish in the ocean, no matter how rough the storm is, it cannot drive the fish out of the ocean.
Obizor added, “In this context, Ohanaeze Ndigbo calls for the establishment of a zonal and state police apparatus to support and complement the existing Federal Security architecture. It is in this same vein that Ohanaeze.”
Imo State citizens should be hopeful and remain vigilant and constantly remind President Muhammadu Buhari just before he ends his second and constitutionally allowed last term in the year 2023 that he owe us the obligations of actualizing his solemn policy commitments he made to us last Thursday.
Eternal vigilance is rightly the prize of liberty as one political thinker once stated. Socrates urges us as follows-: ” Man know thyself. The unexamined life is not worth living”.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights commission of Nigeria.