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Debating Obasanjo's record toward Nigeria's South East and South-South

Special to USAfricaonline.com
USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
NigeriaCentral.com
The Black Business Journal

By Pini Jason


SUMMARY OF ESSAY:
Nigeria's President Obasanjo has a record of discovering his manhood once he sees or hears anybody from the two zones. This high-handed tactic was used in another form during his state tour of Bayelsa state in 2001. Retired Gen. Obasanjo not only adamantly refused to show penitence for his destruction of Odi, he tried to mangle history by implying that the resources the people are asking for are indeed war booty the federal side captured from Biafra! If I did not sacrifice my life to defeat the Biafrans, he implied, where would you have been to be clamouring for resource control? He repeated this insensitve taunting of the people during his state visit to Delta state.... During his first tour of Rivers State, soon after his election, Obasanjo wrestled the microphone from Mr. Oronto Douglas, an environmental activist, at the Port-Harcourt civic centre because he dared call attention to the injustice against the area. "What do you know about injustice?" the President thundered. Obasanjo's record of condescension towards Easterners dates back to the late seventies when he was a military Head of State (1979-1983). He shouted down the traditional rulers who presented him a traditional address at a state banquet in Owerri, Imo State.... In all the instances cited above, at issue was the neglect of the people whose resources fund the Federal Government. The question now is, of what political value is it to continue to support such a president who uses such enormous state power to oppress those who voted him into power?

Nze Fidelis Chukwu is the National Vice Chairman of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in the South-East. That is a very important post in a ruling party. Similar holders of such positions in the PDP, men like retired Navy Commodore Olabode George and Dr. Marshall Harry, before he left the party, are people of very high profile; important men who move and shake things in the PDP for their geo-political zones.

But I must say that except a few months ago, when he was advertised to have received some nebulous award, not much has been heard of Chukwu, until he made what was clearly a self-indicting statement last week.

The PDP chieftain was reported to have faulted the leaders of the Council of South-East and South-South States (COSESS) for calling for the rejection of President Obasanjo at the polls next year. He described the eminent elders who have served this country creditably long before we began to hear of the Chukwus, as being insincere to themselves. Reacting to the reported resolution of COSESS that it was only a president elected from the South-East and South-South zones that could redress the injustice and neglect committed against the two zones, the PDP chieftain said that the COSESS leaders had unlimited access to the President and they ought to have exploited that access to make a case for the development of the zones rather than coming in the open to lay their complaints.

Chukwu added that the President was ready to listen to leaders of the Council like Dr. Matthew Mbu, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe and former head of state of the defunct Republic of Biafra (1967-1970) Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, and that it was incumbent on them to first take their case to the President before coming out to complain in the arena. "They should stop playing to the gallery. They have access to the President. Why can't they use it? Are they telling me to go and represent them before the President?" the Nze thundered!

To start with, who does the Nze represent in the PDP as the national vice chairman for the South-East? If he can't represent the zone, why is he there in the capacity of national vice chairman? Does his responsibility stop at the self-abnegating job of defending President Obasanjo's injustice to his people?

This access to the President he is talking about, does he not have it, and what has he done with it on behalf of the zone he represents in the ruling party as national vice chairman? By attacking the leaders of COSESS, Chukwu indicts himself and his comrades in the PDP from the South-East and South-South, who are busy minding their business and counting the fortunes that land in their private pocket while the system they prop up oppresses their people. This is the worst enslavement!

Nze Chukwu's outburst is simply an alibi of a failed party chieftain who now wants to shift the blame to others. He exhibits the traits of the campaign coordinator of old, who, armed with cash, a bundle of 'Aiyepe' lace and a 'tokunbo ' ("used imported") car is let loose on his people to abuse anybody who opposes his sponsors! He did not deny that his boss, retired General and President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, has been unfair to the South-East and South-South zones that overwhelmingly voted for him.

Rather he wants the leaders of the zones to further the humiliation by tip-toeing to Obasanjo to 'beg' him for the rights of the people of the area! That, to me, is not how to represent your people!

It is interesting that Chukwu admitted that as much as the South-East zone was lacking in infrastructure, it behoved on the people of the zone to rise and stem the alleged marginalisation. What then is he belly-aching about? Again it is interesting that he took to task "people from the zone who have been appointed to Federal Government posts," asking them to use their respective positions to advance the cause of the zone. Good talk.

But why has Chukwu not led the way? Why has he not led the Federal Government appointees to Aso Rock to make a case for his people? Nigeria's Works minister Tony Anenih has done so, why not Chukwu? Why then blame his failure on the leaders of COSESS?

The point is that our presidency ought not be reduced to a Mobutu Sese Seko-esque imperial presidency that Nigerians must troop to Aso Rock to beg before they get what is due to them.

The President swore to an oath of office that demands of him equal, fair and just treatment of every part of this country. Going to beg him to do just that is not part of his oath of office! Every Nigerian who feels aggrieved has the right to publicly petition the government. Dissent is a legitimate part of that public petition.

Moreover, COSESS is not in the business of groveling, queuing and genuflecting to a tin god at Aso Rock for matters as elementary as filling potholes or as profound as fulfilling an electoral covenant with a vital section of this country, particularly a section that produces the wealth of the country.

COSESS has gone beyond that. And all those who try to exculpate the president from the impolitic shabby treatment of the area on the untenable ground that the two zones did not enter into a written accord with him are being plainly stupid!

When a man comes to ask for your vote with the consideration that he would protect your interest, and you vote for him, there is no greater political contract than that! Otherwise, your vote does not count for anything. When a man takes your money to run a campaign, he enters into a political contract with you! It is patently fraudulent to absolve the President of a breach of aggreement! The President is, after all, an officer and a gentleman; unless it is being suggested otherwise.

There is a reason why it will be inadvisable for the leaders of the South-East and South-South to subject themselves to the kind of humiliation Chukwu is suggesting.

President Obasanjo, a former soldier, has a record of discovering his manhood once he sees or hears anybody from the two zones of the South-East and South-South .

During his first tour of Rivers State, soon after his election, Obasanjo wrestled the microphone from Mr. Oronto Douglas, an environmental activist, at the Port-Harcourt civic centre because he dared call attention to the injustice against the area. "What do you know about injustice?" the President thundered. "Have you been jailed unjustly before, like I have?" He then turned round and thoroughly berated the traditional rulers of the state, for allowing the "unruly" youths to talk to him like that, a thing Obasanjo would not do to Yoruba obas, no matter what!

This high-handed tactic was used in another form during his state tour of Bayelsa state. He not only adamantly refused to show penitence for his destruction of Odi, he tried to mangle history by implying that the resources the people are asking for are indeed war booty the federal side captured from Biafra! If I did not sacrifice my life to defeat the Biafrans, he implied, where would you have been to be clamouring for resource control? He repeated this insensitve taunting of the people during his state visit to Delta state. Obasanjo's record of condescension towards Easterners dates back to the seventies when he was a military Head of State. He shouted down the traditional rulers who presented him a traditional address at a state banquet in Owerri. His attitude to the people of the East still remains that of a conquering general. That was why he would unpresidentially abuse Chief Ojukwu recently.

In all the instances cited above, at issue was the neglect of the people whose resources fund the Federal Government. The question now is, of what political value is it to continue to support such a president who uses such enormous state power to oppress those who voted him into power?

For how long can a people continue to empower a man who has proved conclusively that he reserves nothing but contempt for the people? If the presidency is such that it dispenses favours only to those who go to 'beg', then something is constitutionally and politically wrong with it, and it is time to take a second look at it!

As for the demand of the people of the South-East and South-South to produce the next president, I see nothing inherently wrong with it except that it appears in conflict with the private interests of the party men, legislators and Federal Government appointees of PDP from the South-East and South-South, who are bent on retaining their positions.

It is in conflict with the fortune hunters and political jobbers who, once more, have an opportunity to sabotage the people's larger interest for cash. Some of the mercenaries and freelancers have made a public vow and boasted that they will work against the people's interest.

The battle line appears drawn. The challenge to the people of the two zones, therefore, is to prove for posterity that a thumb, no matter how fat cannot be bigger than the nose!
Jason, publisher of the Lagos-based Examiner newspaper is one of Africa's leading commentators on public policy and a contributing editor of USAfricaonline.com, NigeriaCentral.com and USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston. He also writes for the popular Vanguard newspaper (Lagos).



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