C. Don Adinuba
It is now certain that someone from the Southeast will be appointed the next Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) when Major General Muhamadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) assumes office as Nigeria’s president on May 29. Already, three names have been forwarded to Buhari, according to Dozie Ikedife, a respected erstwhile president of Ohaneze Ndigbo, reputed as the pan Igbo socio-cultural organization.
The three persons in the race are Ogbonnaya Onu, former governor of old Abia State; Oscar Udorji, a prosperous businessman from Anambra State; and Chris Ngige, an outgoing senator from Anambra State. Perhaps unknown to Ikedife, there is a fourth person: Anthony Anwuka, secretary to the Imo State government. The fourth person is seldom mentioned in public probably because he is unknown outside his home state; his strongest credential is that he is an in-law of Governor Rochas Okorocha who, one must admit, has gone beyond the call of duty to market the APC in the Southeast.
It would appear that the race is actually between Onu and Ngige. True, Oscar Udorji is a true Buhari loyalist, one of the few businessmen who could openly identify for years with a leading opposition candidate. True, he has been a major financial contributor to the Buhari campaign. But this scion of the great Chief Jerome Udorji, a public servant par excellence trained at Cambridge University decades ago, is remarkably different from his Chief Jerome Udorji. He has no public service record. Like Oscar Udorji, both Onu and Ngige are fiercely loyal to any cause they set out to pursue. Both have rich backgrounds. Ngige was Anambra State governor for about three years while Onu was Abia State governor for 20months. Ngige is a medical doctor who rose to the post of director in the federal public service. Onu, though a brilliant chemical engineer, retired from the University of Lagos as a rather junior academic. To repeat the obvious, both Onu and Ngige have exceedingly impressive credentials.
Yet, the odds favour Ngige. The outgoing SGF, Anyim Pius Anyim, hails from Ivo, the same local government area in Ebonyi State as Onu. There are more important considerations. Ngige has a formidable national recognition. His successful fight against the notorious parasites and leeches of Anambra State, who called themselves the state godfathers, made national and international headlines. He set the standards for the rapid development of Anambra State where he became an instant folk hero. Ngige is by no means a giant physically, yet he cannot enter or leave a place in Nigeria without the people recognizing that Ngige was there. Those of us who knew him long before he became governor were not surprised that he could turn around the fortunes of Anambra State even in the midst of a vicious fight which targeted his life.
Nor were we surprised that he could take on the monstrous godfathers so boldly, in spite of all their Aso Rock connections which saw the police and even a pliable and malleable section of the judiciary used as a pawn in the political chessboard. Ngige did not emerge from the blue and dabbled into politics. He was for years deeply rooted in Igbo affairs, working closely with personages like the Great Zik of Africa, ex Vice President Alex Ekwueme and former Senate President Chuba Okadigbo. Take his leadership of Aka Ikenga, the Igbo think tank. He was its founding president. The intellectual, far-sighted and bold leadership he provided went a long way to define Aka Ikenga. Under his leadership, Aka Ikenga took the to work in concert with other well meaning groups to produce a constitution which would make Nigeria a stable and united country but also leapfrog in developmental terms. The result was the 1995 Constitution which some call the Alex Ekwueme Constitution.
It was the venerable former vice president who at the 1994/5 Constitutional Conference in Abuja under the Sani Abacha leadership canvassed the the most important features of the 1995 Constitution which made it Nigeria’s best constitution to this day. It is a pity that with Abacha’s death in 1998, Abdulsalami Abubakar who became the head of state, jettisoned the constitution and brought back the 1979 Constitution with a few amendments on the advice of Afenifere leaders. Abubakar was desperate to have the Yoruba people participate actively in the transition to civil rule programme, and so pandered to the sentiments of Afenifere chieftains who were rather emotional in their approach to the Abacha legacy.
Though the 1995 Constitution was fashioned under his leadership, Abacha had absolutely no input in the Constitution. The 1995 Constitution provided for, among other things, the division of the country into six geopolitical zones, the rotation of of the office of the president between the North and the South, increase of the derivation principle in revenue allocation from 3% to 13% in the overriding national interest, etc. It says so much about the power of the ideas of the 1995 Constitution that most of the features of the 1999 are not contained in the extant 1999 Constitution or in any legislation, yet they form the basis of running the country today. Take the six zonal structure. In other words, when Nigeria goes for a more perfect constitution, the key features of the 1995 Constitution will be incorporated in it. The new features will include some suggestions canvassed on the floor of the Constitutional Conference but were rejected by members out of preconceived notions. One is referring to issues like the rotation of the presidency among the geopolitical zones and the election of six vice presidents, with each geopolitical zone producing a vice president. In the event of the president dying in office or impeached, the vice president from his zone will complete the tenure.
Put succinctly, there will be only one term of five or six years for the president. All these constitutional issues are matters for another day. What is important now is that the best person for the office of secretary to the government of the federation is Chris Nwabueze Ngige. He is a solid professional. He has a robust experience in the civil service and in the public service. He also has a good background in the private sector. The senator is a gifted politician, quite popular across the country. He is known for great principles, commitment and loyalty. He also has a tremendous capacity for hard work. Ngige is one person whose appointment to the office will naturally pull the Igbo into the mainstream of the incoming APC administration. His appointment will certainly be a masterstroke for the Buhari administration.