By Ikeugonna Eleke and Abuchi Onwumelu
The election of leaders of the national assembly last week, which saw the South East geo political zone unable to produce any member in the leadership position of the two chambers of the assembly has been greeted by mixed reactions. While some people think the problem of the zone was self-inflicted, others believe that the marginalization against the people of the South East has become even pronounced. Ikeugonna Eleke and Abuchi Onwumelu reporting.
During the election of leaders for the Senate and House of Representatives, Senator Ahmed Lawan of Yobe State in the North East emerged as the Senate President, while Hon Femi Gbajabiamila from the South West Zone of the country was elected the speaker of the House of Representatives.
The Deputy Senate President went to Ovie Omo Agege from South South, while the Deputy Speaker of the House of Reps was clinched by Idris Wase from North Central. The South East Zone was completely shut out.
This is after President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo from the North West and South West respectively were elected in February, while President Buhari had earlier appointed Justice Mohammed Tanko as the Chief Justice of the country, leaving the South East out of the power sharing equation.
But reacting to the fate of the South East, a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Engr Anthony Okeke said, ‘This is part of the things Governor Willie Obiano saw very long ago and advised us against voting with sentiments.
‘Who can blame the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government for the way the leadership position in the senate was shared? We displayed a lot of emotion in the South East during the election, and we put all our eggs in one basket. We cannot play that kind of politics and hope to succeed.’
For his part, a grassroots politician and Special Adviser to Governor Willie Obiano, Comrade Obi Ochije Modilim, blamed what he called the divisive politics of the Ohaneze Ndigbo leadership through its endorsement, noting that it was the reason for the failure of the South East to produce any position in the national assembly.
Ohaneze, the apex socio-cultural organization of the Igbo Nation, it will be recalled, had thrown its weight behind the candidacy of the People’s Democratic Party’s, PDP’s, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, for the presidential election, citing his favourable disposition to restructuring as the chief reason for its support. Atiku’s choice of a prominent Igbo son, Mr Peter Obi, was also another reason for Ohaneze’s support.
But Modilim wonders how Ohaneze, a body that represents the Igbos, which also has both PDP and APC sons, could have endorsed only the PDP.
‘That is bad leadership. When Nwodo came on board as the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, we all rated him high as a man who knows where he is taking the Igbo people, but that blunder of endorsing one political party was a big mistake.
‘As for not being able to produce any position in the National Assembly, I want to tell you; we did not work, so we cannot eat. How do we hope to be a part of a government that we rejected? My advice is that Igbos should start now to do everything to let the president recognize them by also supporting this government, we cannot keep playing divisive politics,’ Modilim argued.
But for Ichie Damian Okeke Ogene, President of Ohaneze, Anambra Chapter, what played out in the National Assembly only vindicated the stance of the body ahead of that election.
According to him, the organization foresaw what he described as a dubious arrangement.
Okeke Ogene who stated this in an exclusive interview with Fides in his office in Awka, insisted that the national president of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, had been vindicated at last.
‘Chief Nnia Nwodo said it that Buhari is never the best for Nigerians. He said that Buhari will never change, and now everyone has seen it. He has been like that since his time as Head of State. We are not surprised. Nigerians are crying. The suffering is no longer for Ndi Igbo alone,’ Ogene submitted.
Ogene who is also the chairman of Anambra State Association of Town Unions, ASATU, said the arrangement should be condemned by any well-meaning Nigerians, noting that Nigeria had been more divided than ever, adding that President Buhari’s divisive and parochial antecedents were there for all to see.
Echoing Ogene’s views is Barr Hanson Uzochukwu, who contended that the inability of any lawmaker from the South East extraction to make it to the leadership position of the National Assembly showed how badly marginalized the zone was.
He disputed the notion that not supporting President Buhari in the last election was enough reason to sideline the entire zone as was recently seen in the election of leaders of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
To him, even though the APC performed badly in the presidential election in the zone, the APC still had several of its members who supported the president with vigour. He believed that such men deserved to be supported by the APC Government despite the party’s poor performance in their zone.
‘Let me tell you, people do not know that this government is hell bent on making the country a northern enclave. It is not about whether Igbos supported him or not during the election, but it is about him fulfilling a lifelong ambition.
‘I bet you, if this government was truly democratic, despite performing badly in the South East, are there no people from this zone who are trusted? Why not give powers to such people? Since we already know that the president was behind the election of both Gbajabiamila and Lawan, what stops him from finding a senator or Reps member from the South East, and who is also from the APC, who can be supported to win the office of the Deputy Speaker or Deputy Senate President? It did not happen because if this government finds a way it can make all the positions go to the north, it will do it,’ Hanson argued.
But speaking on the way forward for Igbos in Nigeria’s Politics, Modilim averred, ‘We have the right to aspire for positions in Nigeria, but the problem is, which zones are going to work with the Igbos? We have not built alliances with other zones of the country. If we spend political energy, without building alliances, it will be hard for us to ever produce a president in Nigeria.’
He therefore urged Ndigbo to continue to push, and also to work in synergy with other zones to be able to produce the president, while also charging the present generation of politicians to think beyond being president today or tomorrow, but to create a relationship and the enablement that would help generations of Igbos coming behind to become president of Nigeria.
Although arguments for and against the blacking out of the South East Zone from the scheme of things in the National Assembly; even in the Government of Buhari, could go on and on, the general belief is that in a democracy, people are free to make their choices without let or hindrance, for once that becomes the case, it will no longer be democracy.
Additional report from Jude Atupulazi