Militarized PAP: Nengi and Suspended Students
By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
The venue of the event was lavishly decorated with different cultural regalia to impress, and it did impress. The event, which commenced at about 11 am at a location in Warri, Delta State, saw all present culturally kitted in their numbers, men and women alike. They sat in such a manner that the gathering could be mistaken for a celebration of cultural fiesta. They wore ample smiles and listened to the various speakers with disciplined attention but said little, even as the banter was exchanged at intervals.
Interestingly, the gathering was by no means a cultural fiesta but a meeting of the members of the South-South Ethnic Nationalities Assembly (SSENA), which comprises various regional groups, community leaders, activists, traditional titleholders, stakeholders, religious leaders, captains of industries, students, and think tanks from across the South-south geopolitical zone of Nigeria.
They gathered for a world press conference to, among others, endorse Atiku Abubakar and Ifeanyi Okowa for President and Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as their vehicle for achieving this objective.
Of all that I heard/observed, two need to be highlighted. First and very fundamental, the gathering acknowledged what has been on the mind of Nigerians: politics is about personal interest.
The second and very strategic is that the virtues and attributes of members all through the world press conference essentially suggest that the forthcoming February 25 and March 11, 2023, general elections in the country may be greeted with an ideological shift.
It was observed that Nigerians might be excused to cast their votes not based on pecuniary consideration or gains arising from a candidate’s deep pocket.
Rather, it will be largely a function of interest anchored on past records of performance (scorecards/political history and antecedents) of the political parties and that of their members angling for elective positions on the platform of the party.
There are many facts to back the above assertion.
First, while addressing the press on the kernel of the meeting, the National Coordinator of SSENA, Chief Favour Izoukumor, stated that with the 2023 general elections just weeks away, the peculiar challenges and the interest of the region is once again on the front burner, and there is a need to make a critical appraisal of the political parties, candidates, their manifestos, antecedents, leadership, and track records, as it affects the growth and development of South-South region over the past 62 years since independence.
To further establish insight on what informed the choice of Atiku/Okowa as candidates and PDP as a party, Izoukumor explained that the federal government under the PDP led by President Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military Head of State, through to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, provided extensive support to the South-South geo-political zone.
Presenting the scorecards of these past administrations and how the people of the South-South region benefited, Izoukumor pointed out that it was under the leadership of these great men (Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, and Jonathan) that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was created, 13% derivation fund was allocated to the oil-producing Niger Delta states, the Presidential Amnesty Program, the Niger Delta Ministry, the Nigerian Maritime University of Okerenkoko, the Federal Petroleum University, Effurun-Warri, the Federal University of Otuoke and many others were created.
These institutions and their policies were geared toward the development of the region. It is fair to say that the current peace and tranquillity in the Niger Delta is the product of the then-PDP-led federal government.
While the visitors, made up of journalists and other members of specialized groups, were trying to internalize, as well as compare notes as it affects the above claims, SSENA Coordinator again dished another set of reasons as to why the group is rooting for PDP as a party and Atiku/Okowa as their President and Vice Presidential candidates respectively.
He captures it this way; under the glaring performance of the then-PDP-led government, Nigeria regained its rightful place in the comity of nations as a leader of the African continent. The Universal Basic Education Programme (UBE) was established. PDP brought about astronomical growth of the Nigerian economy, with a 100% GDP growth from 3% to 6%; resuscitation of the national fertiliser companies in Kaduna and Onne (Rivers) as well as grew the excess crude oil account from a paltry sum of $2bn to $43bn, while managing to forge an $18bn debt relief deal with major creditor nations and groups, including the Paris Club.
The group furnished the media present with some examples. It reads; worthy of note is how the PDP considered the South-south region in the equation of Nigeria politics by making a minority ethnic nationality, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a Vice-President and subsequently President of Nigeria. It was the highest political office attained by a minority from the South-South and went ahead to make him the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Under Jonathan’s formidable economic team, Nigeria’s economy was rebased for the first time in a decade, leading to the country’s emergence as the largest economy in the continent after overtaking South Africa.
SSENA boasted that even as the nation braces up for the 2023 general election, the PDP has again demonstrated its ‘organicness’ and love for minority groups by picking Ifeanyi Okowa from Delta State as the Vice-Presidential candidate.
Okowa, according to SSENA, symbolizes a bridge between the South-South and South-East. His adoption by the party was borne out of his sterling performance as a governor of Delta State. His giant strides are evident across the land and are visible to the blind and audible to the deaf. His landmark achievements in Delta State are evident, particularly in riverine communities, where his carefully thought-out programs and policies have created wealth for Deltans.
Still, on why they have thrown their weight behind PDP, the Group again fired; The PDP is known for talent hunting, and they have done it again by picking Okowa in this coming election. Presently, we believe this is the best for the South-South. There is no major political party other than the PDP and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, that has shown interest in the S/S and the Nigerian people, and with his charisma and willpower to pull Nigeria out of the quagmire of hopelessness and to rescue it for a better and greater nation.
Advancing other reasons that are Atiku-specific, SSENA said; It is pertinent to recall that under the PDP government (1999 – 2007), during which Atiku Abubakar served as Vice President and also as Chairman of the National Economic Council (NEC) (from 1999-2011), Nigeria recorded the highest economic growth in history. In 2002, Nigeria recorded the highest GDP growth rate of 15.33%.
The PDP government initiated the fight against corruption through the establishment of anti-corruption agencies such as the EFCC and the ICPC. Under the PDP, Nigeria witnessed private-sector telecommunications, banking, and pension administration reforms. The PDP-led government paid off the foreign debts inherited by the civilian government.
The chronicles of PDP achievements over those years cannot be written without His Excellency Atiku Abubakar getting a prominent mention, both for his tireless effort as a backbone of the reforms and as chairman of the National Economic Council (NEC).
The Group insisted that Atiku Abubakar’s wealth of experience in private and public sectors gives him an edge over all rival candidates in the 2023 elections. They stressed that he had created thousands of direct and indirect jobs for Nigerians in his home state of Adamawa and other parts of the country, noting that Atiku has already pledged a whopping sum of $10 billion to small and medium-sized businesses to create jobs that will solve the unemployment crisis we face if elected president.
“He, Atiku again, promised to restructure Nigeria if elected president. We must recall that the critical demands of the people of the Niger Delta over the decades of marginalization have been restructuring and resource control, as were the cases during both CONFABs convened by former Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan. One of the demands of the people of the Niger Delta presented to the Nigerian government was to restructure Nigeria so that the people of the Niger Delta would benefit from their God-given natural resources. We are aware that of all the candidates and political parties, only PDP’s Atiku has categorically promised Nigerians restructuring and resource control. We believe this will bring peace and transform the Nigerian economy, as it would galvanize all regions to explore their options and available resources for growth and better citizens’ lives. For the aforementioned reasons, we, the South-South Ethnic Nationalities Assembly, hereby endorse Atiku/Okowa PDP 2023 presidential ticket to rescue Nigeria.
To conclude, the organizers argued that their present action has a place in Nigerian political history; We looked at some of the defunct regional political party’s vis-a-vis NCNC and NPC, led by Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello respectively, whose programs, economic and administrative policies favoured the minorities of Edo and Delta provinces (Defunct Midwest region and later Bendel State) and by extension the whole Niger Delta region. We recall that the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, saw the creation of the Mid-West region and, subsequently, the mid-West state, despite the resentment of some members of the political class during that time.
In a similar vein in the 4th Republic, the federal government under the PDP provided extensive support to the South-South geo-political zone, he concluded.
As the author, I have nothing to add!
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) at the Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via email@example.com/08032725374