“Barriers to political equality, such as our seemingly entrenched though informal rule for zoning candidacies according to regions of origin, need to be de-emphasised and ultimately abandoned in favour of an emphasis on qualification, competence and character.”
The statement above was recently made by Governor Nasir El Rufai, a northern politician, just 6 months after his party’s northern presidential candidate, President Buhari, secured a second term in office via a less than credible election.
On the face of it, Nasir is right: ideally qualification, competence and character should be more important than geo-political zone-of-origin in the selection of a President, but in Nigeria, things are far from ideal. Nigeria cannot afford to use this nebulous concept — competence — as the main criteria in selecting a president if it truly wants progress. This might sound oxymoronic, but allow me to attempt to explain why this actually makes sense.
Without going into the details of the Nigerian civil war (1967–1970) and its remote and immediate causes, at the end of it the Igbos were a devastated and technically defeated ethnic group. The Nigerian State had employed genocidal tactics that led to the loss of lives of millions of men, women and children from a food blockage, and a post-war integration plan left many Igbos financially insolvent.
President Gowon’s Reconciliation, Reconstruction, and Rehabilitation (3Rs) plan announced at the end of the war was never adopted and implemented with any real conviction. Compared with other rehabilitative policy interventions like those set up to placate the Niger Delta (the creation of a Niger Delta Ministry; the Amnesty Programme for militants, and the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission) and the more recent North East Development Commission established to help rebuild the North East (the current theatre of war between the Federal Government and Boko Haram), I cannot identify any dedicated agency created to rebuild the people and infrastructure of the South East in the aftermath of the attritional 3-year civil war.
To address this lacuna, just before its desolution to pave the way for the newly elected House, 8th House of Representatives quietly passed a historic bill they eloquently titled “A Bill for an Act to Establish the South-East Development Commission to Serve as a Catalyst to Develop the Commercial Potentials of the South-East, Receive and Manage Funds from Allocation of the Federation for the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Reparation for Houses and lost Business of Victims of the Civil War and Address any Other Environmental or Developmental Challenges, and for Related Matters”, which sought not just to address serious environmental challenges buffeting the region, but also hoped to serve as an institutional platform for the material restitution of people back to their pre-war positions.
This was what “); background-size: 1px 1px; background-position: 0px calc(1em + 1px);”>Senator Oduah said when the Bill was passed by the Senate last year: “…Justice is being done…this bill is about righting the wrong and closing the gap…of disparity and marginalisation that has led to agitations in the region.”
The SEDC Bill was passed by the Senate and House of Representaives in the 8th National Assembly to, in part, help recognize and heal the wounds inflicted by the civil war, and to address the acute sense of dislocation from the Nigerian State caused by the perceived marginalisation of Igbos in the aftermath of the war.
It is yet to be signed into law by President Buhari, who fought in the civil war as a Major with the Nigerian Army.