‘To overcome marginalisation, South East should make itself crucial’
Against the backdrop of allegations of political and socio-economic marginalisation of the Southeast geo-political zone of Nigeria in the current dispensation, Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu has canvassed an inward-looking solution for the region.
The cry of marginalisation which became more strident when the zone found itself in the opposition camp after the 2015 general elections, has led to renewed agitations for a restructured federation with some, particularly the youths, going to a secessionist extreme by calling for the resuscitation of defunct Republic of Biafra.
Ikpeazu who is the Chairman of the regional integration committee of the South East Governor’s Forum (SEGF), told a group of reporters that the only way the Igbo can overcome the problem of marginalisation in Nigeria is to make themselves indispensable in the scheme of things.
Although he said the SEGF under the leadership of Ebonyi State governor; Dave Umahi is already tackling all the issues arising from marginalization of the Igbo “very well but quietly” and meeting with other segments of the country, he (Ikpeazu) personally has a strategy of indispensability.
According to him, “It is this attitude that we are trying to also transfer to our people. Work very hard, acquire as much good education as possible and innovate extensively to stay on top and make yourself indispensable to wherever you find yourself.”
He said, “The strategy is the driving force behind our administration’s commitment to support and promote the resilience, industry and entrepreneurship of an average Igbo youth, which manifest in the Aba enterprise.
“Aba is everybody’s city because everything that happens in Aba affects people, not just from the Southeast, but across Nigeria. My electioneering campaign focused on what can be done to rebuild Aba as an enabler for rebuilding Abia and even Igbo land. In terms geography, Aba is strategically located at the confluence of South East and South South geo-political zones of Nigeria, as it shares borders with Imo, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, and others. Therefore, whatever affects them, also affects Aba.
“The flux between the cities and the commercial activity, the energy and power that Aba exudes, has become a strong anchor or nectar for all kinds of development including commerce and industry.
Aba has at least 15 markets, which are sectionalized according to the needed items. If you want to drive development quickly, you can’t take away Aba, especially in Small and Medium Scale Enterprises.
“Aba captured 3 of the 5 pillars of development of this administration, hence, the impossibility to ignore Aba. The popular saying that if you get Aba right, you get Abia right is apt. Moreso, and actually the least important, is that I come from that environment, and I know the huge and enormous potentials it brings to bear on the development of not just Abia but of Nigeria.
If we are thinking of getting out of recession, Aba must be the focus of Nigeria.”Speaking on the alleged disenchantment of the people of the South East against the Nigerian system, Ikpeazu said, “It is very unfortunate that a part of the nation feels the need to agitate for fairness and equity within the federation. Social mobilisation is very important and even more important than infrastructure. We have not mobilised Nigerians from the centre socially and that is where our leaders have failed.
“Nigerian leaders must bring hope for our people not despair. A situation where a young man from a part of the country cannot compete favourably with his peers in other parts of the country should not be acceptable to us as a country. If my son cannot secure admission even though he is very bright because the admission procedure is skewed against him, as it is happening now in Nigeria, then something is definitely wrong with us as a nation.
“In Abia we are bringing hope to our youths because every leader should be a vendor of hope. My strategy in Abia is to focus the minds of our youths on hard work and creativity. We are sending 100 people to China for one year to learn how to make shoes. Not because we are not good, but we need to add some icing on our cake. We are using the Chinese model of technology transfer and standardization of export products.
“Criminality in Nigeria is occasioned by too much energy and creativity in the youths not finding positive outlets. Let us get it right at the Centre through fairness and equity as well as providing positive outlets for the massive energy of our youths. Then all will be well.”
Ikpeazu also commented on the menace of Fulani herdsmen across the country and how Abia State is handling the social and security issues around it, saying unlike his Ekiti State counterpart, Ayo Fayose, he cannot legislate against open grazing or impede their operations.
According to him, “I did a little check and discovered that there are more Abians in the north than Ekiti people, with due respect to my Ekiti counterpart. Whatever action I take must take cognizance of that fact. The Igbo man is everywhere in this country, adding value to the society they settled in. We are everywhere. The Igbo man contributes to the society and even learns to speak the local language for full integration.
“Abians also add value to wherever they are by employing youths from that place, building structures and generally living peacefully with others. I make bold to state that 60 percent of Nigerian youths working directly and indirectly through the private sector in Nigeria are employed through the efforts and contributions of our people. If you want to effectively distribute wealth in this country, the best channel is through the Igbo. It is therefore natural for me to consider all angles in taking decisions. What if there is a reprisal for whatever action we take here, how will that affect our people living outside our state?
“We believe in ensuring the safety of our visitors against all odds. So what we did was to create conflict resolution committees at the local government level, after a critical study of the areas the herders live and visit. We have 2-3 layers of conflict resolution.
“But the major problem with the conflicts is the inability or lack of understanding of local sentiments and the idiosyncrasies of the Hausa/Fulani man, which I understand because I lived in the north for seven years. A Hausa man man will ram his Vespa on your newly-bought car and after showing some remorse will say, “Allah Ya Kao,” which means the accident was an act of God. He can say that to a fellow Hausa but an Igbo man because of cultural differences will say “which God? My friend, repair my car.”
“Until he is satisfied that it is better to let go than to insist on repair, the Igbo man may not be placated even if up to twenty persons are begging him. We are aware of these cultural differences and our conflict resolution approach is tailored to use this knowledge and solve real and potential conflicts. For instance we will ask the Igbo man whose farm has been overrun, what is the cost of your damaged crops and the Hausa man, how much is your cow? And we will pay them to restore peace.”
Condemning the current unitary system that Nigeria is operating instead of true federalism, Ikpeazu said, “In the first instance, there should not be any “federal roads,” because there are no federal citizens. Let the funds for fixing of so-called federal roads be given to state governments with monitoring by the relevant federal agency or ministry. Most of what the Federal Government is doing should be done by the state governments while the Federal Government should concentrate on generating and monitoring guiding policies.”
Speaking on the call for a restructured federation, the Abia governor said the process of moving the country towards a true federation should commence in order to address the myriads of problems facing the country.
According to him, “I believe we should start spending time on the way forward in Nigeria, instead of Federal Government spending too much time on money appropriation. Recession is a huge opportunity and we are yet to fully tap the opportunities presented to us by this recession.
“For instance, without recession, we won’t be working so hard on Made-in-Aba, increased agricultural production with over 4 million palm seedlings and a mushroom industry that can guarantee a minimum of N70, 000 daily to an Abia youth.
“Nigeria needs to tap into the prevailing recession instead of focusing on huge appropriations and issues around sharing of money. If the Federal Government is serious with tapping into the opportunities presented by this recession they should look towards Aba and focus on using Aba as the model to bring out the best in Nigerians.”