I read the piece under reference written by one Godfrey Ekwunife and published in some national dailies of January 24, 2018. In the said piece, Mr. Ekwunife called to question the competencies and genuineness of intentions of political leaders of the South East. He called out Senators Ike Ekweremadu and Anyim Pius Anyim for tongue-lashing. He branded them self-serving politicians, who had only used their positions to feather their nests rather than represent the South East.
Ekwunife practically recycled and copiously quoted from a similar opinion earlier expressed by Honourable Chudi Offodile in his book, The Politics of Biafra and the Future of Nigeria. These lines from Offodile’s book are of particular interest: ”His (Ekweremadu’s) politics remain unabashedly self-serving. As a serving senator, he ensured the election of his brother as chairman of their local council and another as a member of the Enugu State House of Assembly. Deploying his huge financial war chest, he was about to disrupt the zoning arrangement in Enugu State to run for governor in the 2015 elections. The firm resistance mounted by the former governor, Sullivan Chime, ensured that the Nsukka zone took their turn.
“Anyim and Ekewremadu are from two neighbouring communities, though in different states…. The tragedy is that the crucial Enugu-Port Harcourt highway, which connects Aba, Umuahia and Okigwe, remains a death-trap. These gentlemen prioritized roads leading to their village mansions, ancestral shrines and farmlands over the all-important Enugu-Port Harcourt highway.
“The Enugu-Onitsha highway with the highest vehicular traffic in the Southeast connects the commercial centres of Onitsha and Nnewi to Enugu International Airport, but the road to the airport is no longer passable. Yet, for eight years, Ekweremadu, as Deputy Senate President, signed off on the national budget before its presentation to the President for assent”.
I do not intend to defend Anyim or Ekweremadu. But the premises whence the conclusions of their intended indictment are drawn are not founded, and therefore spurious and misleading. This notion that federal legislators are responsible for the absence of infrastructure in the South East in particular since 1999 runs contrary to the workings of the three arms of government.
Before I dissect this, however, let me first address clear misinformation by Offodile recycled by Godfrey against Ekweremadu. At no point did Ekweremadu’s brothers occupy Enugu State House of Assembly seat and Chairmanship of their local government simultaneously. The same Hon. Mathias Ekweremadu, who served as Chairman of Aninri LGA is the same person that now serves in the House of Assembly. Enugu people, who understand the intrigues of Enugu politics in the days of Sullivan Chime, also understand the political dynamics that threw Matthias up. But Chime’s calculations did not work. Even at that, which law prohibits the relative of an office holder from aspiring to a political office?
Also, it is fabrication to say that Ekweremadu wanted to be governor in 2015. He rather disagreed with ex-governor Sullivan Chime’s dictatorial decision to unilaterally retire all serving federal lawmakers. I have also keenly followed Enugu politics well enough to know, and on a very good authority, that Ikeoha turned down overtures by former PDP National Chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, even in the presence of former President Jonathan, to ditch Chime and pick PDP gubernatorial ticket in 2011. Ekweremadu bluntly refused and practically delivered a second term ticket to an ungrateful Chime. So, it is baffling that Offodile regurgitates the ex-governor’s propaganda in his poorly researched narratives.
Now, fairly understanding the workings of government and the roles of legislators in budget formulating, passing, funding, and completion of projects, one can easily see that Godfrey and Offodile narrative papered over certain facts, thus making their positions unfeasible, and implausible and fueled by perceived grievances over personal loss rather than common good.
As a former member of the House of Representatives, Offodile understands the limits of the powers of a legislator in Nigeria. It is for them to shout, but up to the executive to act. Last year, the FG took multi-billion dollar China Exim bank loans for railway infrastructure, deliberately excluding the Eastern Railway Corridor despite the fact that the zone would be part of the repayment. Rather than pander to the alarms raised by South East Senators, President Muhammadu Buhari extended the railway master plan to Duara and Niger Republic.
You would only blame Ekweremadu if these strategic South East roads were not captured in the budget over the years. Apart from budgeting process, a legislator can only lobby and lobby. And I believe Ekweremadu particularly has done greatly and several federal projects in the South East came through the efforts of a few like him.
It is particularly to the credit of Ekweremadu’s sagacious leadership that the South East now boasts of an international airport. It is on record that he led the delegation of the South East Senators to request the long-awaited and politicised international airport from late President Umaru Yar’Adua in November 2007. Yar’Adua instantly directed the former Minister of Transport, Diezani Allison-Madueke, to issue a statement designating the Akanu Ibiam Airport an international aviation facility. Since the FG said it had no funds to immediately capture the upgrade of the facility in the 2008 budget, Ekweremadu mobilised the Enugu State Caucus of the National Assembly to channel all the funds that would have gone into development projects for their constituencies into the project. Yar’Adua, who was touched by this sheer selflessness and determination, then directed that the funds they so-consolidated be augmented to get the project into the 2008 budget.
It is easily recalled that the same forces that have ensured that the Onitsha Seaport does not fly and have held the Calabar and Port Harcourt ports down tried to truncate it. For instance, even when contract for the airport upgrade was finally awarded, former Minister of Aviation, Babatunde Omotoba, told a rather baffled South East, while on the inspection of the upgrade project in 2009, that he was not aware Enugu had been designated an international airport. Thus, it was after lobbies that led to the appointment of Mrs. Fidelia Njeze and subsequently Senator Stella Oduah as Ministers of Aviation following the emergence of former President Goodluck Jonathan that real progress was made. Appointment of Senator Hope Uzodimma and Hon. Nkiru Onyeagocha as Chairpersons of Aviation Committees of the Senate and House, respectively, also brought legislative pressure to bear.
Apart from additional contracts for the upgrade by Jonathan, I recall Njeze’s first assignment in collaboration with Ekweremadu in this regard was to ensure the gazette of the facility by the FG as an international air facility so that nobody wakes up tomorrow and try to sing a different tune like Omotoba. Even though the airport deserves much better than what we have today, the real achievement is giving Ndigbo a direct access to the world.
Indeed, I ran into a document where Ekweremadu listed hundreds of projects he attracted as a federal legislator extending even beyond the South East.
It is difficult to find a legislator, who has achieved so much even as a Senate President. Such projects to his credit included the several federal roads connecting Enugu State and Ebonyi State. I honestly do not see why the likes of Offodile believe Ekweremadu should apologise for developing his constituency. Besides, one would wonder if Enugu and Ebonyi States are no longer part of the South East. Interestingly, there was no way the construction of highways linking Enugu and Ebonyi States could have prevented the construction of the Enugu-Onitsha Road and Enugu Port Harcourt Expressway, since they were all independently captured in national budget over the years. Maybe, it would have been better if the roads were constructed in the north as happened in many instances.
The truth is that the reason Jonathan could not construct the East-West Road after six years; the reason Obasanjo could not construct Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in eight years; and the reason Abuja-Minna Road is in bad shape despite producing Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar is the same reason Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, and other signature projects were not done – executive laxity.
Indeed, I rather duff my hat for Ekweremadu and South East Senators to whom we owe the little attention we are getting, though they lack the powers to award contracts.
Meanwhile, he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. Unlike Senator Joy Emodi, who moved many motions that resulted in Senate resolutions calling on the FG to fix the Enugu-Onitsha Road and construct the 2nd Niger Bridge, Offodile, who represented Awka North and South in the House of Representatives, has no records of such legislative activism for the transformation of the South East region. A comparison between his efforts as a legislator and that of Ekweremadu could have removed his unfair assessment from the realms of hypocrisy.
–––Mefor is an Abuja-based Forensic/Social Psychologist and Journalist