Dr. Chu S. P. Okongwu in his 2004 tributes to Ukpabi Asika, took an aside in his eulogies to emphasize the following: “The generation born after the civil war will not know that the former Eastern region, comprising East-Central State, South-Eastern state, and Rivers state, enjoyed a highly developed road network, with probably the highest quality road density in sub-Saharan Africa.
These had been damaged or neglected during the war. Ukpabi Asika planned to reconstruct and modernize these.
Action was also taken to upgrade and transfer to central government responsibility some trunk ‘B’ roads (1, 240 kilometers) and introduce some new federal highways and alignments… .” Dr. Okongwu was East Central State’s Commissioner forEconomic Planning from 1970-1975, and presumably has the data. But that’s besides the point. The real point is that assertion that the East had the “highest quality road density in Sub-sahara Africa” before the damages of war and neglect ruined it all.
The terrible state of roads and interchanges in the old Eastern region, particularly in the current areas now known as the South East zone, remain even now, a sore point; and hard evidence of the neglect of the East by the Federal government since the end of the civil war in 1970. Those who have challenged the current agitation for Biafra, talk of equal opportunity misrule of the federation. But Biafrans present evidence of a specially targeted form of neglect.
There was no reason for agitation for a Biafra from 1970-1983, because in those intermediary years, the East was in recovery mode, and its key intellectual and political leadership, and its highly trained bureaucracy was still intact, and they had the requisite institutional memory to mediate some of the more difficult and challenging obstacles placed on the Eastern states, through both strategic negotiation and initiative. I do recommend Dr. Okongwu’s tributes to Asika to readers of the “Orbit” for a really good context, and a closer understanding of “where the rain began to beat us.” From 1983, a strategic neglect of the East became more pronounced.
Every effort of the past made to rebuild it; including investments in new industry, new skills, and so on, were stripped deliberately, almost as if to stifle the resurgence of its people by Federal authorities. Two marked examples for me includes Dr. Okongwu’s claim that the East Central State’s Data Processing Center, the first of its kind presumably in the continent, long before the current IT craze, was stripped and moved to Kaduna following the 1975 military coup.
Here are Chu Okongwu’s words: “Immediately there was dispatched to East-Central State a mandatory pro-consul in the person of the late Colonel Anthony Northerner Ochefu. His assignment: the dismantling of the East-Central state. Colonel Ochefu dismantled the public service of East Central state.
For good measure he declared that the mainframe computer of the Eastern Data Processing Center was unnecessary madness, beyond the needs and interests of the state. It was summarily dismantled and relocated to the Ahmadu Bello University where it found a necessary sane and needful home. Everybody in East Central state, except Col Ochefu, elements of the army of occupation and their touts, was a thief; the hounding campaign was underway. Cheer leaders and Coryphaei were not wanting in East-Central State.” Buhari was a member of the Supreme Military Council of that regime in 1975.
The same scenario played out following the December 31, 1983 coup at which Buhari was head. A little drama played out in Owerri when, according to close associates of the late Governor Sam Mbakwe, he held out at the Governor’s lodge, Owerri, prepared to call out a mass demonstration starting with street protests from Aba to resist the coup, until he was finally persuaded to give up that move. Buhari appointed his own proconsul, in the person of the then Brigadier Ike Nwachuwku. Again, his assignment: dismantle the gains made in Imo under Mbakwe. Ike Nwachukwu’s first declaration, under what he called the “Imo Formula” was to dismantle all the 42 industrial installations embarked upon by Sam Mbakwe, which were at various stages of development, and to which financial commitments had been entered.
Nwachukwu’s “achievement” was to consolidate the Imo state university under a single campus at Uturu, near his ancestral home, from the five-campus design which had been envisioned on a model of the State of New York University system, by Mbakwe and his team, to evolve into beautifully designed network of university campuses to stimulate strategic development, and carter to a wider range of students and skills development in the long run.
The effect of these was to stultify development in the East and drive a growing population of highly educated and skilled youth out of the East, into the wilderness. Kids who grew up in Government Reserved Areas in the East, for instance, suddenly found themselves living with rats in the ghettoes of Lagos because all the systems created to afford them the opportunity of living productive lives in the East on equal terms with their peerselsewhere in the world were strategically dismantled.
It is called diminution. Divestments, and lack of investments in both industry and infrastructure in the East, especially by the federal government has led to this moment. What these examples suggest is that Nigeria’s postwar domestic policies have, it has always seemed obvious to Easterners, especially the Igbo, been directed towards subduing, rather than reconstructing the East. Even now, Buhari is talking about billions of naira to be earmarked for the “reconstruction of the North-East.”
What about the East that has suffered from a devastating civil war levied against it, and from the mindless exploitation of oil that has rendered what was the entire Eastern region, one of the world’s great ecological disasters, with incidents of new cancers, the result of massive pollution, possibly the highest currently in the world? Easterners consider themselves victims of state-terror. There must be both reconstruction of the East and reparation for the years of discrimination.
These facts will continue to drive the agitation for Biafra. And this is the point that Ohaneze and the South East governors meeting last week in Enugu failed to acknowledge, and which continues to make them irrelevant to the solutions for these agitations.
The governors in the East and Ohaneze may make ex-cathedra claims, but they do not yet speak for these young people, who have clearly defied them in staging their protests.
Again, whoever is advising this president must be plain in telling him that this generation considers him a great part of the Igbo problem, because under his watch as military head, progress in the East was stifled; and the East was isolated in his administrationfrom 1983-85; and as a member of the SMC in 1975, the first postwar moves to “dismantle” the East was set in motion. The onus is on him to show good faith, and dissuade the agitators, or he could show further proof, as some have suggested, that Buhari is rigid and does not listen.