The seeming indifference among the governors of the Southeast towards forging an alliance that could translate to the overall development of the zone is generating some concerns among the people. In spite of the hefty resources that have accrued to governors in the zone under the aegis of Southeast Governors Forum (SEGF), there is little concerted development in the area of joint ventures.
Despite the various meetings that the governors have held, Southeast has remained under-developed such that industries that are jointly owned in the zone have remained moribund with attendant rising unemployment and poverty. Sources indicate that the implication of the untoward development is the high level of migration among youths in search of greener pastures to other zones and various countries of the world.
At a public forum recently held recently in Awka, Anambra State, a political scientist, Mark Igwenagu, noted that Southeast people remain the most migrated among other zones of the country, explaining that while they have continued to contribute to the development in areas where they reside, the reverse is the case in their home zone.He called for a deliberate policy to be championed by the governors and other eggheads in the economic sector for inventions that could keep its people at home.
Of worry, however, is the fact that these meetings of the governors often ended with written statements on how they intend to pursue the economic development of the zone. Promises such as reinventing agriculture as was the case during the Michael Okpara era, providing the required tools and implements and fast tracking loans to farmers, and joint security for the protection for the people are among resolutions usually reached. However, none has ever materialised.
Last year, the present crop of governors, after a well attended meeting of the forum in Enugu, its chairman and Ebonyi State governor, Chief David Umahi, had announced their intention to construct a ring road linking states in the zone that would cover 430 kilometres to boost the economy and ease of transport. The decision was in realization that the generality of the people are into commercial activities and that the many arable lands used for agricultural purposes would be better utilized should there be motorable roads tat cut into the hinterlands.
Aside the ring road, there was the pledge to build an ultra modern specialist hospital in Enugu to take care of the health needs of the people, while they would intervene on the gas pipelines project and the Aba Independent Power Project to boost the energy needs of the zone.
Many had leapt for joy that the governors were thinking together for the first time. However, it is almost a year now since those lofty promises were made. Many are worried that they may end up not implementing any concrete economic blueprint for the zone like their predecessors.
All the governors who undertook the promise are still in office excerpt Rochas Okorocha who has left office and replaced with Emeka Ihedioha in Imo State. The four others such as Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia and Willie Obiano States are serving their second terms.
Investigations by The Guardian revealed that they realized that the projects might not be as easy as they had planned. It was gathered that apart from individual preferences, convincing members to vote resources for the proposed projects has become a challenge.
There is also the growing disenchantment among members, whereby deputies now represented their bosses at the meetings. For instance, since Obiano won his reelection in 2017, he had not attended the governors meeting personally. He had continued to be represented by his Deputy, Nkem Okeke. Erstwhile governor Rochas Okorocha also stopped attending the meeting at a point when his quarrels with Obiano broke out. He resorted to sending his deputy then, Eze Madumere.
However, when he sensed that Madumere was also interested in succeeding him in office, a quarrel began. He neither sent Madumere any longer nor any other representation to the meeting.AS it is, it is 20 years since 1999 and no tangible project jointly executed by the governors to impact the economic development of the zone. This is a far cry compared to their counterparts from other sections of the country who had jointly revamped industries among others. How long will this continue? Can the Umahi-led Southeast Governors Forum break the jinx?
Former president, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, expressed fears that the current crop of governors may end up like their predecessors, whose economic blueprint never came to light in the zone.“This is because these governors have failed to heed to the well known reason for having a group identity,” he said. “Southeast once had a united forum between 2007 and 2011. It reached a lot of milestones including resolving the unity of Ohanaeze. Today, the zone is grossly divided. People suspect anything that comes from Obiano, Okorocha and Umahi. The essence of unity is lacking essentially due to political differences. The last election is showing that some governors will be going in one direction while their followers are heading elsewhere.
“The new governor of Imo State is the only one coming in. He should work with the older governors, not withstanding their party affiliation to restore the forum to its lost glory. The northern governors are having a field day. It is time for the southern governors to realize that the opposite of north is south. They have ability to work together for the good of all”.
For apex Igbo socio cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, however, the failure of the governors to address prevalence of abandoned projects yearning for resuscitation and completion across the states in the region, accounts for the growing agitation among the youths.
Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the organization, Mr. Chucks Ibegbu, who though agreed that the zone was not getting enough resources from the centre, stated, however, that the much that had been received so far had not been properly utilized.
According to him, “When we hear about governor’s forum, it elicits the interest that at least the major problem facing us as a people could be taken care of by a combined effort. This has not been the case. We are still faced with a plethora of issues and they increase by the day.
“But we have high expectation that this time around they should do well in those areas that they are lacking. What the Southeast needs most is the general wellbeing of her people, youth empowerment by creation of employment, and conducive atmosphere that could promote skills. The governors should utilize available resources to create employment. Some of these governors are travelling a lot and they will tell you that it is an effort to search for investors which we don’t see in the end. They should check their movements.
“All the industries in Emene jointly owned by the governments of the Southeast are no more; the cashew industry is gone. What we have in the zone are hotels springing up in everywhere. There are no encouragement in agriculture; nobody is building factories and these are the things killings the zone.“Our Southeast governors should wake up. They should be proactive like their counterparts in other zones. They cannot continue the same way in their second term. The zone was one of the fastest growing economies during the regime of Michael Okpara. Why is it difficult to reenact? The essence of coming together should impact on the people; otherwise, there is no need for it. They are making promises that have never been realized.”
The governors, however, insisted that they are on course and have contributed to the growth of the zone beyond their predecessors in office. They stated that their economic blueprint for the zone would soon be rolled out.Director General of the forum, Prof. Simeon Ortuanya, said the projects of the governors were on course, stressing that a feasibility study had been undertaken to ascertain how it would work out for the benefits of the people.
He said: “The ring road project, for instance, is being pursued with the renewed vigour. It will come to limelight soon. We have identified the paths and it is going to be handled by a private concern. The feasibility study will soon be done to identify the cost in accordance with our timeline and once this is concluded, it will come on stream.
“Southeast Governor’s Forum was rejuvenated some months ago and they are already moving to make the difference in the zone. We know the enormous challenges our people are faced with. That is why every effort is geared towards those areas of interests like energy, roads, healthcare, education, and empowerment of our people. We believe that working together we can achieve more for our people using the limited resources. We feel their concerns and wish to reassure that our promises are not political but commitment to move the zone forward.”As it is, every eye is now on the governors to deliver in their promise.