At Independence in 1960, the country Nigeria rested on a tripod of East, West and North.
By 1963, the tripod was further adjusted to rest on a more stable four legs of East, West, Midwest and North.
So, while the North remained just one Region, the South had three Regions upon attainment of a “Federal Republic” status in 1963.
The equitable configuration of the 4 Regions as at 1963 wasn’t that based on size of landmass, religion, population or any such considerations but largely on the yearnings and aspirations of the people.
In other words, the four Regional configurations as at 1963 were essentially people centered and people oriented based on perceived common interest.
The colonial masters left us with a tripod stool but we made it a veritable table on four legs with a level playing field where equity, fairness, justice and good conscience reigned upon becoming a “Federal Republic of Nigeria” in 1963.
Then, we had a country where, though tribes and tongues differed but in brotherhood we all stood.
Then, we had a country that allowed people to aspire to be anything they chose to be so long as they had the ability, capacity and/or natural endowments.
Then, we had a country where resourcefulness and competence prevailed.
Then, our diversities were seen more as attributes and not defects.
Then, we hoped for a better and brighter future.
Then, our youths were ipso facto leaders of tomorrow.
Then, we were hopeful of a better tomorrow as against the prevailing situation in today’s Nigeria where people tend to look back and relish more on the good old days.
Then, we had good conscience and the fear of God Almighty devoid of religious fundamentalism and acrimony.
We weren’t in anyway utopian but, we were making steady positive progress despite some political misadventures and miscalculations until the military adventurers struck in January 1966.
Whereas the North was initially opposed to the independence of Nigeria claiming that they weren’t ready for it yet, the other parts of Nigeria differed to them in the hope that with time, we shall all be on the same page particularly in terms of common national aspirations and common good.
Despite the reluctance of the North for an earlier independence for Nigeria, the position of Head of Government was somehow ceded to the North which was just one leg of the tripod, to make them feel and have a sense of belonging in the independent Nigeria among other factors while the South that actually championed the Independence of Nigeria and constituted the other two legs of the tripod made do with mere ceremonial position of Governor-General which was later redesignated (ceremonial) President in 1963.
Such was the force and power of brotherhood that prevailed at that time. Africa and indeed the entire world looked up to Nigeria to provide leadership as a potential power block for the entire “black” race.
In all the governance adventures since independence in 1960, the East had always been or so it seems, a very dependable ally of the North while not necessarily neglecting their historical ties with the West and Midwest.
The choice to commence this discussion from independence in 1960 is deliberate because whatever happened before then was arguably totally determined by the colonial overlords.
At least, it could be argued that from 1960, our destiny as a country has been in our hands or so it seems.
In the last 61 years after independence, we have governed ourselves as an “independent” country. So, whatever we have made of our self governance from independence to date, to a large extent, are essentially ours to which we are fully liable for the successes and/or failures.
In other words, we have been lying on our bed of governance the way we laid it for ourselves ever since!
From independence to date, we have had various and varied regimes of both military and civilian governments at the Federal and Federating Units levels.
Specifically, we have had 15 Heads of Government since independence to date out of which the North alone has produced 10 out of the 15 Heads of Government and would have ruled Nigeria for about 45 years out of 63 years of Nigeria’s independence by 2023; while the entire South of Nigeria put together had produced only 5 Heads of Government mainly by default out of 15 and would have ruled for a total period of about 18 years out of 63 years by 2023.
Our federating 4 Regions as constituted in 1963 by the founding leaders of the independent Nigeria have since been commuted into a 36 States structure with a Federal Capital Territory as at today; not by consensus, not by plebiscite, not by negotiation, not by any constitutional provision but by a cumulative skewed military fiat.
What used to be one North then has now become 19 States plus a Federal Capital Territory while the three Southern Regions have been decimated into mere 17 States.
The existing 36 States was further regrouped off record into 6 geopolitical zones with 3 of the geopolitical zones in the North and 3 geopolitical zones in the South for administrative convenience namely: North West, North Central and North East for the North; and, South West, South South and South East for the South.
Grouping the leadership of Nigeria since independence by geopolitical zones, it is evident that the cumulative years the present 6 geopolitical zones have ruled Nigeria is as follows:
North West has ruled for 22 years
North Central has ruled for 18 years and,
North East has ruled for 5 years .
South West has ruled for 12 years
South South has ruled for about 6 years and,
South East for only 6 months by accident!
A. The North West have produced Heads of Government as follows :
1. General Murtala Ramat Mohammed – July 29, 1975 to February 13, 1976 (7 months)
2. Alhaji Shehu Shagari – October 01, 1979 to December 31, 1983 (4 years, 3 months)
3. Major-General Muhammadu Buhari – December 31, 1983 to August 27, 1985 (1 year, 8 months)
4. General Sani Abacha – November 17, 1993 to June 08, 1998 (4 years, 7 months)
5. Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua – May 29, 2007 to May 05, 2010 (2 years, 11 months)
6. Major-General Muhammadu Buhari – May 29, 2015 to May 29, 2023 (8 years) – hopefully.
Total = 22 years.
B. The North Central has produced Heads of Government as follows :
1. General Yakubu Gowon – July 29, 1966 to July 29, 1975 (9 years)
2. General Ibrahim B. Babangida – August 27, 1985 to August 27, 1993 (8 years)
3. General Abdulsalami Abubakar – June 08, 1998 to May 29, 1999 (11 months)
Total = 18 years.
C. The North East have produced Heads of Government as follows :
1. Alhaji Tafawa Balewa – October 01, 1960 to January 15, 1966 (5 years, 3 months)
Total = 5 years, 3 months
D. The South West have produced Heads of Government as follows :
1. General Olusegun Obasanjo – February 13, 1976 to October 01, 1979 (3 years, 9 months)
2. Chief Ernest Shonekan – August 27, 1993 to November 17, 1993 (3 months)
3. General Olusegun Obasanjo – May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007 (8 years)
Total = 12 years
E. The South South have produced Heads of Government as follows :
1. Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan – May 05, 2010 to May 29, 2015 (5 years, 1 month)
Total = About 6 years (including the period of acting as President following the doctrine of necessity in 2009).
F. The South East have produced Heads of Government as follows :
1. General Thomas J. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi – January 1966 to July 29, 1966 (6 months only)
Total = 6 months.
By the provisions of the operating 1999 Constitution as amended, the Head of Government of the Federation is designated President/Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
So, of all the geopolitical zones as presently constituted, only South East geopolitical zone is yet to have any substantial turn and/or term at governance at the highest level, having had an accidental Head of Government for only 6 months out of 63 years of Nigeria’s independence by 2023 to which the said Head of Government paid the supreme price with his life in the process about 55 years ago!
From the aforementioned analysis of opportunities to head the government of the Federation from independence to date, all other geopolitical zones have had substantial share of tenure safe South East geopolitical zone.
Meanwhile, the leadership of today’s South East extraction were at the forefront in championing the independence of Nigeria from colonial rule.
Meanwhile, leadership of South East extraction have always provided the needed stabilisers of government since independence in 1960 as can be variously attested to in their assisting to form governments in the first and second Republics to which Alhaji Tafawa Balewa and Alhaji Shehu Shagari, both of Northern Nigeria extraction, emerged as Heads of Government in 1960 and 1979 respectively.
Meanwhile, only people of South East extraction have and are still giving practical fillip to the idea and ideal of one Nigeria by making everywhere and anywhere in Nigeria a home.
Meanwhile, only people of South East extraction have their investments spread across the entire country like no other thus, contributing substantially to the economy and development of other geopolitical zones outside South East even more than they do for their own South East zone.
Meanwhile, only people of South East extraction readily settle down wherever in Nigeria and even intermarry thus building bridges across cultural divides.
Whereas, the people of South East extraction have continued to sacrificially contribute to the socio-economic, technological and cultural development of Nigeria as evidenced by their various massive investments, technological innovations and cultural assimilation across the country including their championing the independence of Nigeria from colonial rule, does it make any sense to continue to deny them any opportunity to contribute their own quota at the highest level of governance in the country Nigeria the next time around?
Having paid the supreme prices in various fields, would it be equitable, fair and just to continue to exclude South East from the Headship of the Government of the Federation more so when all the other geopolitical zones have had substantial turns and terms at the highest level of governance?
What excuse can ever justify the deprivation of Nigerians of South East extraction from producing the President of Nigeria next time around, particularly, come 2023?
As at today, several separatist agitations abound across the country to which the root causes are essentially inequity, unfairness and injustice in various and varied forms.
Only a thin delicate line that has almost snapped still hold the fragile childlike adult called Nigeria together. So, wouldn’t it make better sense now to frontally confront anything that may snap the fragile country called Nigeria into pieces?
Having tried all the other geopolitical zones substantially at the highest level of governance in this country Nigeria safe for people of South East extraction, wouldn’t it be fair, equitable and just to also allow South East to produce the next President come 2023?
Putting all the aforementioned on a scale, is the country Nigeria balanced with the continued exclusion of Nigerians of South East extraction from producing the President of Nigeria, particularly, come 2023?
Therefore, this serves as a clarion call for all the political parties, all people of good conscience, all people of goodwill and all the people that are genuinely interested in preserving and protecting the corporate existence of Nigeria as one indivisible and united country based on Equity, Fairness and Justice under God Almighty, to come together and leverage the South East to produce the next President of Nigeria come 2023 as was done for the South West in 1999.
There are many patriotic, nationalistic, capable and competent Nigerians of South East extraction that can effectively lead Nigeria to become a great nation where peace and progress will reign supreme.
Giving South East geopolitical zone the opportunity to produce the next democratically elected President of Nigeria come 2023 will calm frayed nerves across the country including various separatist agitations and also formally affirm the “No Victor and No Vanquished” proclamation that heralded the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war 51 years ago in 1970.
Allowing the South East to produce the next President of Nigeria come 2023 will certainly not only be a right action in the right direction, it will also go a long way to further assure all Nigerians that Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians; and that, no Nigerian is more Nigerian than other Nigerians!
May the labour of our heroes past never be in vain by the power of God Almighty!
Professor Echefuna’ R. G. ONYEBEADI