Dr. Chu S. P. Okongwu in his 2004 tributes to Ukpabi Asika, took an aside in his eulogies to emphasize the following: “The generation born after the civil war will not know that the former Eastern region, comprising East-Central State, South-Eastern state, and Rivers state, enjoyed a highly developed road network, with probably the highest quality road density in sub-Saharan Africa. These had been damaged or neglected during the war. Ukpabi Asika planned to reconstruct and modernize these.
was also taken to upgrade and transfer to central government
responsibility some trunk ‘B’ roads (1, 240 kilometers) and introduce
some new federal highways and alignments… .” Dr. Okongwu was East
Central State’s Commissioner forEconomic Planning from 1970-1975, and
presumably has the data. But that’s besides the point. The real point is
that assertion that the East had the “highest quality road density in
Sub-sahara Africa” before the damages of war and neglect ruined it all.
The terrible state of roads and interchanges in the old Eastern
region, particularly in the current areas now known as the South East
zone, remain even now, a sore point; and hard evidence of the neglect of
the East by the Federal government since the end of the civil war in
1970. Those who have challenged the current agitation for Biafra, talk
of equal opportunity misrule of the federation. But Biafrans present
evidence of a specially targeted form of neglect.
There was no reason for agitation for a Biafra from 1970-1983,
because in those intermediary years, the East was in recovery mode, and
its key intellectual and political leadership, and its highly trained
bureaucracy was still intact, and they had the requisite institutional
memory to mediate some of the more difficult and challenging obstacles
placed on the Eastern states, through both strategic negotiation and
initiative. I do recommend Dr. Okongwu’s tributes to Asika to readers of
the “Orbit” for a really good context, and a closer understanding of
“where the rain began to beat us.” From 1983, a strategic neglect of the
East became more pronounced.
Every effort of the past made to rebuild it; including investments in
new industry, new skills, and so on, were stripped deliberately, almost
as if to stifle the resurgence of its people by Federal authorities.
Two marked examples for me includes Dr. Okongwu’s claim that the East
Central State’s Data Processing Center, the first of its kind presumably
in the continent, long before the current IT craze, was stripped and
moved to Kaduna following the 1975 military coup.
Here are Chu Okongwu’s words: “Immediately there was dispatched to
East-Central State a mandatory pro-consul in the person of the late
Colonel Anthony Aboki Ochefu. His assignment: the dismantling of the
East-Central state. Colonel Ochefu dismantled the public service of East
For good measure he declared that the mainframe computer of the
Eastern Data Processing Center was unnecessary madness, beyond the needs
and interests of the state. It was summarily dismantled and relocated
to the Ahmadu Bello University where it found a necessary sane and
needful home. Everybody in East Central state, except Col Ochefu,
elements of the army of occupation and their touts, was a thief; the
hounding campaign was underway. Cheer leaders and Coryphaei were not
wanting in East-Central State.” Buhari was a member of the Supreme
Military Council of that regime in 1975.
The same scenario played out following the December 31, 1983 coup at
which Buhari was head. A little drama played out in Owerri when,
according to close associates of the late Governor Sam Mbakwe, he held
out at the Governor’s lodge, Owerri, prepared to call out a mass
demonstration starting with street protests from Aba to resist the coup,
until he was finally persuaded to give up that move. Buhari appointed
his own proconsul, in the person of the then Brigadier Ike Nwachuwku.
Again, his assignment: dismantle the gains made in Imo under Mbakwe. Ike
Nwachukwu’s first declaration, under what he called the “Imo Formula”
was to dismantle all the 42 industrial installations embarked upon by
Sam Mbakwe, which were at various stages of development, and to which
financial commitments had been entered.
Nwachukwu’s “achievement” was to consolidate the Imo state university
under a single campus at Uturu, near his ancestral home, from the
five-campus design which had been envisioned on a model of the State of
New York University system, by Mbakwe and his team, to evolve into
beautifully designed network of university campuses to stimulate
strategic development, and carter to a wider range of students and
skills development in the long run.
The effect of these was to stultify development in the East and drive
a growing population of highly educated and skilled youth out of the
East, into the wilderness. Kids who grew up in Government Reserved Areas
in the East, for instance, suddenly found themselves living with rats
in the ghettoes of Lagos because all the systems created to afford them
the opportunity of living productive lives in the East on equal terms
with their peerselsewhere in the world were strategically dismantled.
It is called diminution. Divestments, and lack of investments in both
industry and infrastructure in the East, especially by the federal
government has led to this moment. What these examples suggest is that
Nigeria’s postwar domestic policies have, it has always seemed obvious
to Easterners, especially the Igbo, been directed towards subduing,
rather than reconstructing the East. Even now, Buhari is talking about
billions of naira to be earmarked for the “reconstruction of the
What about the East that has suffered from a devastating civil war
levied against it, and from the mindless exploitation of oil that has
rendered what was the entire Eastern region, one of the world’s great
ecological disasters, with incidents of new cancers, the result of
massive pollution, possibly the highest currently in the world?
Easterners consider themselves victims of state-terror. There must be
both reconstruction of the East and reparation for the years of
These facts will continue to drive the agitation for Biafra. And this
is the point that Ohaneze and the South East governors meeting last
week in Enugu failed to acknowledge, and which continues to make them
irrelevant to the solutions for these agitations.
The governors in the East and Ohaneze may make ex-cathedra claims,
but they do not yet speak for these young people, who have clearly
defied them in staging their protests. Again, whoever is advising this
president must be plain in telling him that this generation considers
him a great part of the Igbo problem, because under his watch as
military head, progress in the East was stifled; and the East was
isolated in his administrationfrom 1983-85; and as a member of the SMC
in 1975, the first postwar moves to “dismantle” the East was set in
motion. The onus is on him to show good faith, and dissuade the
agitators, or he could show further proof, as some have suggested, that
Buhari is rigid and does not listen.