It has become the norm these days for faceless goons and amorphous groups to read riot acts or roll out orders for residents of the South East over one triviality or another. What it takes to confine the people indoors is a mere escalation of an audio recording, with threats of violence, on the social media. And the people, out of fear, normally comply.

You might not blame the people for deferring to the directives. They are helpless. In a situation where there is no assertive leadership to galvanise and assure them of their safety, it would be foolhardy of any resident to defy the order. To paraphrase the foremost statesman, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik), it is only a mad man that confronts an armed aggressor with bare knuckles. It is indeed a no-win situation.

The South East is presently on all fours. I had on this space, on Friday, September 17, 2021, attempted an analogy between the South East and Somalia. Somalia, situated in the Horn of Africa, is a country that ordinarily has everything going for it but has failed to utilise any of the factors in its favour. It is a country of one religion, one language, one ethnic group and a common ancestry. These factors could have taken it far but Somalia has been in the news for the wrong reasons and has remained a reference point for state failure. It is a state where law and order are in flight and the citizens live at the mercy of warlords.

The South East shares some similarities with Somalia. As Somalia lays claim to a common ancestry, the Igbo of the South East have various myths and legends on their origin but seem to agree on the theory of autochthony, that is, not migrating from anywhere but having ancestors that sprouted from the soil in their present areas of domicile. But in a more painful comparison, both entities are in the throes of insecurity. Living in the South East, now is akin to residing in Somalia. The South East has become a zone where one, literally, cannot sleep with two eyes closed because of uncertainties.

As in Somalia, it all boils down to failure of leadership, especially the political elite. The politicians from the South East are the problem of the zone. It is their failure to assume responsibility and provide genuine leadership to the people that has created room for elements on the fringes of lunacy to prance about, assume positions of influence and act as champions of the masses.

For long, many of those elected or appointed to leadership positions in the zone have seen it as an opportunity to enrich themselves and their families and not a call to service. Consequently, the region has become a byword for failure and object of mockery before others. From whatever angle it is looked at, the developments in the region are disturbing. Come to think of it, that was a zone that had produced men and women of class in all aspects of national development.  

These were a people who the literary icon, Chinua Achebe, captured in his concise book, “The Trouble with Nigeria,” as, though not having advantage of early head-start, “wiped out their handicaps in one fantastic burst of energy in the twenty years between 1930 and 1950.”

You may not fully appreciate the iconic feats of the era unless you take the story from the audacity of Zik and the late Premier of the region, Michael Iheonukara (M.I.) Okpara, in lifting the area from near ground zero, such that, by 1964, it was described as the fastest growing economy in the world by Harvard reviews.

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This was a product of conscious planning, anchored on visionary leadership and clear-cut agenda for service. The ambitious programme, often referred to as the ‘Okpara Revolution’, found expression in large-scale state plantations, in addition to peasant production. The result was the region growing in wealth and esteem.

In a short while, such industries as Enamel Ware Factory, Port Harcourt, Hotel Presidential in Enugu and Port Harcourt; Aba Textile Mills; Modern Ceramic factory, Umuahia; Catering Rest House and Modern Shoe factory, Owerri, had sprang up, offering employment to the people and revenue to the region.

In addition, a cement factory was established at Nkalagu, Nigerian Breweries established a plant in Aba, a tobacco and glass-making plant was located in Port Harcourt. In the same Port Harcourt, Trans-Amadi Layout was set out as the industrial hub of the region.

Foundations were laid for Calabar Cement Factory and a giant textile mill in Onitsha. Permatex Spinning and Weaving Company was soon to take off in Enugu, while Sunray Flour Mill and a vehicle assembly plant were established in Port Harcourt. Cashew and palm oil plantations as well as extension farms sprang up in different parts of the region.

The beautiful vision was garnished with well-paved roads, streets and residential quarters in the metropolitan cities of Aba, Owerri, Umuahia, Enugu, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Abakiliki and others. The good story continued in the Second Republic, with Sam Mbakwe in Imo State and Jim Nwobodo in Anambra.

Even lately, in fact, seven years ago, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had rated the South East the most human security-secure geopolitical zone in Nigeria. The verdict was contained in its 2016 national human development report for the country. This is no longer the case. In place of development, chaos, insecurity and outright lawlessness have taken root.

In place of dedicated leadership, charlatans have taken over, throwing up brigands that make life uncomfortable for the people. To worsen matters, there is no unity of purpose among the governing class. It is doubtful if any of the elected officials from the zone at state and federal levels or their predecessors can call a meeting on the issues affecting the area and receive commensurate response. It is that bad.

So, the issue at hand goes beyond the elite from the South East finding momentary comfort in their places of residence outside Igboland. No matter the length of their stay outside, they will always be treated as strangers when it matters most. There must be conscious efforts to reclaim the homeland. The current set of leaders in the zone have failed. But the situation is not irredeemable. With the forthcoming elections, the people have another chance to elect candidates with proven records of integrity and competence. Getting the South East back on track requires taking away leadership from con artists and serial journeymen who have failed in other fields of human endeavour.