On Saturday the 24th of August, large crowds gathered at the remodelled Akanu Ibiam international airport Enugu to witness the first designated landing and takeoff of international flights from the airport. Top government functionaries, captains of industry, traditional rulers and others were present to witness the memorable event.
Most remarkable were some amongst the crowd that shed tears as the flight finally took off. But I refused to share in the excitement for the simple reason that the crowd, the tears and the ceremony presents the undeniable testament of the Apartheid policies of the Nigerian government against the Southeast since the end of the avoidable and unnecessary Nigeria-Biafra war which was deceitfully tagged a “war of unity” by Yakubu Gowon and his enablers. And so here we are 99 years after the amalgamation of the North and the South, 53 years after independence and 43 years after the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war celebrating the upgrade of an airport that as of right should have been done decades ago as a mere routine.
The Nigeria-Biafra war ended in 1970 and it has since then taken more than 43 years to actualise an international airport for a region with significant upward mobility and with more population than 60-70% of African countries.
Many of those born in 1970 already have grandchildren, thus for more than a generation successive Nigerian governments implemented a deliberate Apartheid policy that denied the Southeast some of the most critical infrastructure necessary for development as a strategy to keep the region underdeveloped and economically strangulated.
The Apartheid policies of marginalisation deployed against the Southeast found its origins in 1966 immediately after the assassination of General Aguiyi Ironsi and the commencement of the pogrom/genocide which led to a mass exit of Easterners from different parts of Nigeria where they had lived and worked. Subsequent events led to the Nigeria- Biafra conflict.
At the end of the conflict, conspiracies and government policy made it practically impossible for most of those who had left their jobs due to the incidents preceding the conflict to retrieve it. This effectively commenced a well orchestrated conspiracy of marginalisation that drastically reduced the number of Southeasterners in the federal civil service and lesser still in the top echelons of any of the services.
The reality remains that post-war Nigeria has been premised on victimisation, dispossession (abandoned property) oppression, marginalisation and exclusion. Nowhere is this exclusion more evident than in the deliberate denial of critical infrastructure to the Southeast.
The 2nd Niger-Bridge would serve in this regards as a veritable poster child of the conspiracy of marginalisation. The Bridge was deemed necessary to complement the only existing Niger-Bridge that has since been the only gate way to the Southeast with very heavy traffic that is quite often chocked up for hours on end.
It would also naturally add capacity and boost commercial activities within the area. The only existing Niger Bridge had been built for decades and was blown up during the Nigeria-Biafra war before being repaired at the end of hostilities. On several occasions it has been subjected to closure and repairs due to its fragile state.
In spite of the overwhelming necessity for the 2nd Niger Bridge due to the heavy traffic, potential economic benefits and the fragile state of the existing Niger- Bridge, every successive regime since the end of hostilities has refused to build it.
With the return of democracy much hope was raised for its construction but the Olusegun Obasanjo and Yar Adua administrations proved to be continuing with the script of marginalisation as both of them engaged in endless deceit that stunted the project to date.
The half constructed Onitsha River Port abandoned since 1983 for more than three decades represents another core plank of deliberate marginalisation by the Nigerian government.
With the need for increased industrial activity/output and a diversified modern transportation system it became necessary to develop the inland water ways to complement the seaports and open up channels for the transportation of goods into the interior through the Niger-River.
River ports or passage ways traditionally form a major part of the transport infrastructure around the world. The Paris River port is the 2nd busiest port in the whole of the European Union.
The Yang Tze River in China ferries more than half of the country’s goods, while the artificially created Suez River Canal in Egypt and the Panama River canal amongst others provides passage ways and ports for a significant proportion of global maritime shipments.
The Onitsha River Port is therefore a necessary and strategic infrastructure that would significantly boost industrial and commercial activity. Not surprisingly, the Apartheid policy of the Nigerian government made sure the River Port has remained abandoned for more than three decades. Whereas petroleum refineries were sited in Kaduna more than a 1000 kilometres from the nearest oil wells and whereas critical national projects such as steel plants, petro-chemicals, refineries, fertilizer plants and other federal projects of note were sited in different parts of the country, not a single of such projects was sited in the Southeast by the federal government.
In the area of roads, the Southeast by deliberate design has the worst federal roads and indeed the least federal presence in the whole nation.
Since development and growth is impossible without infrastructure it is obvious the federal government by a deliberate Apartheid policy implemented a program of total economic blockade/strangulation of the southeast that has denied the region growth, industrial activity and reduced the local economy to petty trading.
There is no greater way to destroy a people than to deny them the entire critical infrastructure necessary for growth, development and job creation.
One would have expected total reconstruction, reintegration and reconciliation as has been the case in other post-war societies such as Rwanda, Angola, Vietnam amongst others after a bloody conflict which Yakubu Gowon and his enablers designated a “war of unity.”
The post-war Apartheid policies of marginalisation have revealed the real intent of the war as a war of subjugation and internal colonialism.
As we observe the coming on stream of the Enugu international airport 43 years after the end of the civil war, it calls not for celebrations but for sober reflections and soul searching on the implications of a nation and leadership that has since 47 years waged an atrocious and senseless economic war of marginalisation and exclusion against a section of the same country. Can such a nation so invested in injustice survive? I don’t think so!
By Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu