Three months into his first term in office in 2015, former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nworgu, had chided President Muhammadu Buhari, accusing him of nepotism. Nworgu had said Ndigbo would not fair any better during Buhari administration because he had carried on as if Ndigbo were not part of the country. Nworgu, who was then reacting to the over 32 appointments made by President Buhari, who did not include any Igbo person, said he was not surprised since it was in tandem with the character of the president. Nworgu said Buhari did a similar thing with projects during his era at the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF).
Last week, the presidential request for an approval of the senate for a loan of 22.7 billion dollars from China’s Exim bank received the nod of the upper legislative chamber. The loan, according to President Buhari, would be invested in the improvement of infrastructure in the country. He said the loan was to “ensure the prompt implementation of projects under the borrowing plan with specific emphasis on infrastructure, agriculture, health, education, water supply, growth and employment generation, poverty reduction through social safety nets programmes, governance and financial management reforms among others.
It was not the first time the president was making such request. In fact, the 8th National Assembly turned it down when he first made it following allegations that details of the expenditures were not clear as well as the debt burden it could place on the future generation of Nigerians.
Sources indicated that the Senate approved the request after a committee headed by Senator Clifford Ordia scrutinized and vetted it for approval. It was also a day when some senators were away from the chamber on an Independent National Election Commission’s (INEC) retreat in Lagos.
Details of the loan, when it was made public, reveal that the Southeast zone was excluded from the projects it is intended for. None of the projects captured in the loan for execution when it is eventually received falls within the zone, just as other zones will enjoy a measure of succour from it. Available details indicate that Southwest will get $200,000,000.00 while south-South, excluding Edo State, will get $4,270,000,000.00. North West will get $6,372,000,000.00, Northeast will get $300,000,000.00 while North Central will get $6,531,000,000 while $5,853,900,000.00 is reserved for general expenses.
This has set the Southeast zone on warpath. Nworgu, who got wind of the development, stated that the exclusion of Southeast zone from the loan has vindicated his earlier position on President Buhari. He stated that the president’s alleged discontent against Ndigbo would never change. He insisted that should there be any zone requiring improvement on her infrastructure, it should be the Southeast, which according to him, suffered neglect in the hands of previous administrations.
There is a growing anger among the people of the zone. They have accused the Buhari government of not only stifling the zone, but demonstrating that he does not regard them as being a part of the country. They claim that they have not got a fair deal from his government since it came on board in 2015.
They have therefore called for their inclusion in the loan request or its outright cancellation.
They listed projects requiring the Federal Government’s intervention to include revamping the dry ports in Aba and Owerrinta, Onitsha sea port, the various dilapidated highways in the zone, the Enugu coal plant, industries that have gone moribund in the zone, completion of the 2nd Niger bridge among others.
Drumming home the need to ensure the equalization of the zone with others in the loan, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has insisted that doing so would promote virtues that would unite the country, adding, however, that the loan, if allowed in its current format, could seriously undermine Nigeria’s unity.
Deputy National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Chuks Ibegbu, stated that denying the zone meant that the country was on its way to implosion. He added, however, “we need to be sure the story is true and if it is true, we will use all that we have got to resist it”.
Ibegbu stated that it was bad enough that the zone had been on the receiving end since the present administration came to power, explaining that it had engaged in various development projects, including the rail project that has been denied the zone.
The public outcry over the exclusion of Southeast from the loan did not stop with the masses. Governors of the zone had waded in it to find ways to ameliorate the situation. They had, after their meeting last Sunday, initiated contacts with the presidency and the National Assembly. They had returned to the people with assurances that issues pertaining to the loan would be addressed and sued for calm.
“The South East Governors believe that we can deploy dialogue, negotiation and good understanding to right any perceived injustice, rather than engage the Federal Government in a battle of which nobody is expected to win the boss.
A statement from the governors said, “We have written to Mr. President and the leadership of the National Assembly on this matter and we believe that the inclusion of the South East Rail line corridors, development of our Coal Plant in Enugu and development of limestone deposits in the South East should make the list with the loan.
“We must, however, continue to thank our dear president for his unstoppable kind attention on the construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge, renovation/expansion of Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Reconstruction of Port Harcourt-Enugu two-lane expressway, and other projects in the South East by the Federal Government”.