More than two years after he was sworn in as Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari touched down at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, southeast Nigeria, in November 2017 for a two-day visit.
Buhari, who took over from President Goodluck Jonathan on 29 May 2015, visited the south-eastern states of Anambra and Ebonyi where he assured the people of his administration’s commitment to providing roads, power, and other projects in the region.
It was his first official trip to the region which barely looked towards his direction during the 2015 general election. In the presidential election, Buhari, who ran on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) polled a total of 198,248 votes (he got 0.00% of votes in Anambra), his worst votes tally in all the six regions.
The incumbent, Jonathan, secured 2.5 million votes.
The 97% – 5% claim
But the paucity of votes from the southeast notwithstanding, analysts say President Buhari delivered key projects to the region in his first term. This is in spite of the president’s controversial 97% – 5% remark during a state visit to the US two months after his election.
Nigeria’s southeast region, inhabited by the Igbos, comprises Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo states. It has the lowest number of states among the country’s six geo-political zones.
While speaking at the United States Institute of Peace in July 2015, President Buhari said: “The constituencies, for example, that gave me 97% cannot, in all honesty, be treated equally on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%. I think these are political realities.
“While, certainly, there will be justice for everybody … constituencies that by sheer hard work got their people to vote and ensured their votes counted must feel that the government has appreciated the effort in putting the government in place.” Although the president was responding to a question about his plans for the Niger Delta, the statement reverberated across both the south-south and southeast regions: the former gave Buhari 418,590 votes – the next least votes after the southeast – in the 2015 election.
Although the president’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, attempted to walk back the comments days later, saying “they were taken out of context” key highways in the southeast remained impassable for most of his first term and the region continued to lag behind the rest of the country in federal government infrastructure projects.
Impact on business
The lack of infrastructure and the impact on prices that creates is hurting the strong industrial base of the southeast – a potential jewel in Nigeria’s crown that somehow remains unclaimed by successive administrations.
“We use cotton fabrics imported from China, we buy a yard of the cotton for around N500,” says Chidiebere Anyanwu, who runs an underwear manufacturing company in Enugu. “But as of last week [when] I went to Aba to buy the same fabrics, a yard was selling for between N700 and N800. When I asked some of the importers why the sharp disparity in the price of the raw materials, they will tell me that Buhari [has] to improve on the exchange rate.”
“Sometimes you see local government people coming to ask for taxes here and there and I ask myself: What is the government giving to me?” says Anyanwu. “The business is mine. I pay my workers, I pay for light, I pay for security. They have not done anything for me, frankly. So I will say the Buhari government has not been favourable to small businesses.”
In response to claims of marginalisation of the region by southeast governors, the government in 2018 published a list of 69 ongoing road and bridge projects in the southeast. According to Lai Mohammed, the minister of information and culture, the governors’ claims “flies in the face of available evidence”.
During his first term, Buhari’s APC government began several projects in the southeast including 600km of roads across the five states, the continuation of early works on the Second Niger Bridge, allocation of N16bn SUKUK bonds to four critical road projects, and disbursement of N679m N-Power stipends to over 22,000 graduates.
The administration also began the payment of pensions to Biafra Police officers who were granted presidential pardons in 2000. The 2018 budget allocated up to N10bn for the development of the Enyimba Industrial Park and Nnewi Auto Park, as part of the federal government’s Special Economic Zones initiative.
Other projects included the Ariaria Market Electrification Project, the completion of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Mausoleum (contract originally awarded in 1996), and the revival of the Ebonyi State Fertiliser and Chemical Company Limited, to boost fertiliser supply in the southeast.
In terms of road infrastructure in South East, No President since 1999 can beat @MBuhari ‘s record. He completed roads. Abandoned roads came alive with mobilization of contractors back to site. Road intervention from budgetary (no cut here); Road tax & HDMI. counter my factMarch 28, 2023
Buhari’s first tranche of appointments after he assumed office in 2015 was criticised for leaning heavily in favour of his northern region: of the president’s first 100 appointments, 81 were northerners.
The southeast was the only region that did not get any defence appointment.
The president defended his security appointments, saying they were based on merit.
“The most competent or senior person is the one that gets there,” Buhari told southeast leaders during his re-election campaign in the region in 2019.
“The present chief of army staff, the chief of Air staff, the chief of naval staff, even the previous inspector general of police that just left, I didn’t know them personally before I appointed them. I follow records.”
Tim Elombah, the editor-in-chief of news.band, says: “The only reason he appointed the few he did [into any official role] was the inalienable mandatory ‘federal character’. If he had his way, southeasterners would have watched from the sidelines while the game lasted.”
APC government succeeded in destroying the southeast. Zero traffic of people and businesses in the region. Enter southeast by 7pm and every state turns to a ghost town. Our airports have zero traffic. Nobody is going to the region for any business. Buhari succeeded in his 97% 5%.— Dr. OkaforE (@DrOkaforEmmanu1) December 1, 2022
Buhari’s second term
Buhari was re-elected in 2019 but his votes haul in the southeast remained the lowest among the six regions, although he got twice more votes than he did four years earlier.
Despite the cold shoulder shown to the president, Buhari’s supporters insist no Nigerian leader has as much in the southeast.
“On infrastructure, President [Buhari] did 100% better than the 16 years of PDP (1999 – 2015),” Osita Okechukwu, a founding member of the APC tells The Africa Report.
Perhaps, the greatest gift the president will give to the southeast region will be the completion of the Second Niger Bridge, initially opened last December to ease travellers heading eastwards for the Yuletide. The bridge is a major gateway linking the southeast to most parts of Nigeria.
Other key projects by the Buhari government in the region include the runway of the international airport in Enugu, the concession of the Onitsha Inland River Port, and the Sukuk Bond financing of over 60 roads and bridges.
Analysts say the southeast region would have attracted more federal government attention if their voting numbers for the ruling party during the elections were substantial.
“I concur totally without equivocation. The truism is that Ndigbo (Igbos) were less than politically correct in this fourth republic,” Okechukwu says.
He says he recalls with nostalgia how former senate president Chuba Okadigbo led them into Buhari’s camp in 2002. Okadigbo eventually became Buhari’s running mate in the 2003 presidential election.
“We went round persuading our people to join forces with us, warned them of the danger of putting all our eggs in one basket. If we had been politically correct our reward definitely could have been uncountable.”
‘Magnanimous in victory’
Critics worry the situation may remain the same during Bola Tinubu’s administration.
The greatest mistake President Bola Ahmed Tinubu will make is to zone the Senate President to the igbo. Buhari built the second Niger Bridge,yet his party was despised by the igbos. North Central/West saved APC from defeat,hence they should be compensated. We must be very carefulMarch 26, 2023
Tinubu, 71, emerged as the president-elect during the 25 February presidential election and will be sworn in on 29 May to succeed President Buhari.
Like Buhari, Tinubu polled the least votes from the southeast region. The president-elect secured a total of 127,370 across the five southeastern states; he polled 130,520 votes in Cross River State alone in the neighbouring south-south zone.
Elombah says Tinubu has shown little affection for the Igbos, as was evident during their disenfranchisement in Lagos during the 18 March governorship and state assembly elections in the state.
“Granted, he appointed competent Nigerians during his administration as Lagos State governor, which office he vacated 16 years ago,” he says.
“Taking into cognizance the trajectory of the ethnic and nepotistic trajectory of the Nigerian political horizon, it would be fool-hardy of any Igbo person to expect to benefit from the Tinubu administration this time around, most especially with an Igbo man as his major contender. I’m of the opinion that another 5% of 97% will play out.”
But Okechukwu disagrees, noting that Tinubu won the presidential election, in the first place, because of Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate’s betrayal of the southeast.
“Accordingly, bearing this hard fact that we are beneficiaries of Atiku’s betrayal in mind, the Asiwaju [Tinubu] I know will be magnanimous in victory.”
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