During last year’s Yuletide festivities in which as tradition demands, millions of people from diverse sectors of life trooped down to their indigenous home towns in the South East of Nigeria from across the globe to celebrate with loved ones, this writer also spent quality periods in the South East.
But unlike several millions of our people whose major point of attraction in going home for Christmas is to be with loved ones, yours faithfully as a professional journalist and human rights campaigner did also moved round the South East States to catch direct impressions of the state of infrastructures due largely to the existential fact that the South East of Nigeria suffers from severe infrastructure deficits.
With possible exceptions of Enugu and Anambra States whereby there is semblance of functional state administration and high quality good governance, all other states in the South East like Imo, Ebonyi and Abia States are cursed with the most disturbing thieving administrations ever witnessed by humanity. Imo and Abia have in the past two decades always have the misfortune of producing some of the most incompetent politicians as governors and state legislators. The legislators sent to the National Assembly from most South East States operate in Abuja like merchants who are in Abuja to enrich their families.
But throughout the movement I had around the South Eastern States, a common noticeable trend emerged depicting the reality that indeed the South East of Nigeria is witnessing first class infrastructural emergency just as the home truth dawned on this writer that steps and mechanisms must be put in place and meticulously implemented to once more restore the commercial pride that the South East of Nigeria used to enjoy in times past. The agitation for self-rule is engineered by the total marginalization of the Igbo States but this systemic marginalization are primarily self-inflicted because the South Eastern States have in the last two decades failed to use the resources of their States constructively to lift their people to their better selves.
Aba and Onitsha were two significant centers of commerce and trade but due to longstanding neglects by successive administrations, especially that of Abia State, the critical infrastructures of roads network, proper urban planning and environmental sanitation of Aba city has taken serious nose diving.
My quick trip to Aba confirmed the widely circulated report that Aba has become the emerging dirtiest commercial center in all of Nigeria even as the poor state of infrastructure noticed in that usually commercially viable city is a clear reminder that urgent steps must be taken by critical stakeholders to fix those broken down facilities which have made life brutish, horrendous and brutal for the millions of residents who toil day and night productively to put food on the tables of their families even as they genuinely pay their taxes to government.
The criminal gangs that specialize in kidnapping and all sorts of dare devil activities seem to have staged deadly come back which goes to show that the security architecture has spectacularly collapsed.
But in all of these bad states of social amenities, the almost complete absence of the effective social services of professional policing of most states of the South East goes to show another hidden fact- that the South East is currently witnessing human rights emergency.
The entire Federal Security Institutions that operate in the South East States most especially in the capital cities, usually operate with hostile mindset as if to say the South East of Nigeria is a conquered territory.
This calls for urgent remedy and reminds me of the need for immediate surgical overhaul of the nation’s policing institution through carefully crafted Constitutional reforms that would take into account the need to create vibrant state policing institutions to make the police not only professionally effective in crime detection, prevention and enforcement of relevant anti-criminal laws and strategies, but would also create the enabling environment for the people to own the process of providing security of lives and property of their people.
Right now, the police in most city centers in the South East operate like automated teller machines for the comprehensive dehumanization and extortion of the citizenry.
Where then is the respect for human rights in the South East of Nigeria?
The other day, Amnesty International issued a carefully compiled evidence-based report of criminal brutality that sympathizers of the Indigenous People of Biafra faced in the hands of the Nigeria Armed Forces who constitutionally ought to protect the sanctity of lives of the people.
The scandalous fact that nearly 150 persons belonging to the Indigenous People of Biafra were gruesomely killed by soldiers and police last year’s May during peaceful demonstrations is a cause for worry just as this signposts the urgency in reviewing the effectiveness of the enforcement of human rights provisions as enshrined in the Constitution, chapter four.
In Enugu State, the effects of the two or three attacks by armed Fulani herdsmen against some farming communities are still fresh in the memories of most people I met and interacted with.
As I asked earlier, where is the place of human rights protection in the South East? As we know, human rights can be summed up in the following phrase: “human rights are the non-negotiable elements which are necessary in order that life may be life. Therefore, human rights embody not just the traditional civil and political liberties but also the economic, social and cultural right.”
The factual claim of marginalization of the South East of Nigeria in the scheme of redistribution of national wealth by the Federal government cannot be over emphasized. There is total or near-total absence of critical infrastructures built and maintained by the national government in the South East except for very few moribund national assets such as the highly dilapidated federal roads infrastructures and the sub-standard international Airport- the Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu which ironically is the only International Airport in the entire Igbo heartland even when statistically the South East accounts for over 45 percent of all international travels by Nigerians.
Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), a very reputable South West born lawyer who was named few years back by the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) as a living legend of human rights has the following words to say regarding the general poor situation of human rights in Nigeria.
His words: “Fundamental human rights in Nigeria are contained in Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. These rights are inalienable, significant and fundamental to the survival and wellbeing of any nation. The developed world has made gargantuan efforts in protecting these rights in their respective countries. It is heartrending and deplorable that in Nigeria, we still trample on these rights with impunity. Recently, the Lagos State High Court was dismayed to see the extent of horror, barbarism, ruthless brutality and dehumanization meted to a young Nigerian lady, Miss. Uzoma Okereke by Naval ratings. The court ordered that the Naval authorities pay her compensation of N100,000,000.00. The court also ordered that unreserved apology should be offered to her.”
“As a country, we must uphold these rights as sacrosanct and sacred. There is no gainsaying the fact that we have not done enough in protecting these inalienable rights to human existence and civilization. All government officials, institutions, agencies, security outfits, individuals etc., must wake up to this national challenge, if we are not to remain stagnant while the world moves ahead. Our efforts in this important aspect of our national life will go a long way whether we will be applauded and celebrated or be thrown into the dustbin of history as a country where nothing works.”
A deeper reflection concerning my observation of the state of human rights in the South East of Nigeria with specific reference to the poor governance standards and the criminal abuse of the budgeting process and execution of projects particularly the execution of projects that impacts on the lives of the people, goes to validate what Feinberg said about human rights.
His words: “Human Rights are indispensable valuable possessions. A world without (them), no matter how full of benevolence and devotion to duty, would suffer an immense moral impoverishment…Rights are not mere gifts or favors…for which gratitude is the sole fitting response. A right is something, which a man can stand on, something that can be demanded or insisted upon without embarrassment or shame. A world with claim-right is one in which all persons, as actual or potential is dignified objects of respect….No amount of love or compassion, or obedience to higher authority, or noblesse oblige, can substitute for those values.”
In Imo State, whilst millions were busy marking the holiest Season in Christendom, hundreds of thousands of pensioners who toiled nights and days for over 30 years as Imo State Civil Servants were left to agonize over the denial of their basic payment rights by Governor Rochas Okorocha who devised a near-evil scheme to deprive these elders of sixty percent of their accumulated pension arrears and emoluments.
The Imo State government forced these old statesmen and women who worked for thirty years to build that State to forfeit over half of their natural rights as retired workers. Imo State is facing serious human rights emergency even as social infrastructures were largely collapsed.
The township roads hurriedly put up by the Imo State government are so poorly constructed just as valid questions are being asked regarding the total lack of transparency, accountability and openness in the selection of contractors and indeed there is poor quality control in most of the State government assets which have in the last seven years cost the people nearly several billions of naira of received Federally shared allocations. Hospitals in the local areas of Imo, Abia, Ebonyi are non-viable even as rural poor are left to die from commonly treatable diseases. In Abia State, there is no running tap water in Aba and most parts of Umuahia.
But my trips around the South East are not all about lamentations. In Enugu and Anambra States, the governors are indeed awake and alive to their Constitutional duties. In Enugu State specifically, Yours faithfully observed phenomenal devotion of the State government in evenly siting viable roads in virtually all the major towns of the State just as Nsukka that used to be a very sleepy city seems to have been awoken with evidential construction of critical projects such as Markets, beautiful roads and schools been observed.
For the people of Enugu State they can heave a sigh of relief that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is determined to elevate the infrastructural status of Nsukka to come at par with Enugu city.
The current urban developmental projects which were pragmatically seen in and around Nsukka will inevitably create the enabling environment for the rapid socio-economic development of Enugu State if methodically implemented.
But the people must partner with their State government constructively to ensure that jobs awarded to contractors are qualitatively delivered as at when due. The Enugu State government in my estimation has so far scored excellent marks in meticulous budgeting mechanism and implementation.
Interestingly, my visit to Enugu coincided with presentation of the year 2017 budget to the Enugu State House of Assembly by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who in any case is a political giant by virtue of the fact that he was a member of the National Assembly as a federal legislator for two terms of eight years just as most people view him as someone who has the vocation to lead his people selflessly. We are watching with keen interest.
The 2017 budget overshot that of the preceding years because unlike the 2016 budget of N85 billion that of 2017 is in the neighborhood of N105.7 billion given the rapidly expanding state infrastructures that spring up in different centers in the State.
According to Gov. Ugwuanyi who presented the budget on the floor of the Enugu State House of Assembly, the state made a modest progress from last year’s budget as they were able to provide the citizenry with many democracy dividends especially in the area of road construction and rehabilitation including regular payment of workers salary.
As a purposeful government that has the interest of the people at heart, Ugwuanyi said that his government would give attention to job creation in the coming year as well as ensure accountability in disbursement of fund as well as fight corruption in all its ramifications.
“We are still committed to ensuring that every community is connected to the National Grid,” he said. He also said that the administration must strive to ensure that all on-going development projects are pursued vigorously and completed in 2017. Tall order you may say but with political will the state can literally move mountains.
While elaborating on the workability of the budget, Ugwuanyi said that the budget has estimated recurrent revenue of over N71 billion while the recurrent expenditure is put at N55, 197,939 million.
The Ministry of Works and Infrastructure got a huge percentage of the budget as N23.5 billion was voted for it. Agric got N464.5 million while Water Resources got N1.5 billion and education which is highly valued by the government got over N5.9 billion.
My candid advice for the Enugu, Anambra and indeed the entire South East governors is that they must know that a lot depends on how well they can enforce the rule of law to guarantee better standards of living for their people and enthrone good governance.
It is only after the South East governors can conserve the wealth of their states, use the resources to build durable infrastructures, develop manpower, only then can the rest of Nigeria join the much needed chorus of demanding that the systemic marginalization of national critical infrastructures in the South East are addressed as a matter of national emergency. But indeed Buhari should give South East of Nigeria it’s due so the people can have a sense of belonging as Nigerians.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and can be reached via www.emmanuelonwubiko.com