still here

Nigeria: Ignored by Buhari, the southeast barely voted for Tinubu. What happens next?

By Ben Ezeamalu

Posted on May 16, 2023 12:57

 © Bola Tinubu (photo: @officialABAT)
Bola Tinubu (photo: @officialABAT)

The southeast of Nigeria, from where Peter Obi hails, has a rocky relationship with Abuja. Will Tinubu pay it much attention?

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.”

Government response

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.