By Stanley Ogbu
President Muhammadu Buhari is fast enchanting the hearts of South-Easterners with some improbable gestures through the Nigerian Army. Even the worst critic of the president is falling for his allure. Who wouldn’t? In the last five years, President Buhari has brought steady development and progress to the region, unmatched by his predecessors.
The groundbreaking ceremony of the Nigerian Army Reference Hospital in Nkwagu Military Cantonment, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State is the latest. While this innovation has attracted widespread compliment, it is just another in a long list of numerous projects to alleviate the plight of the masses in the region.
Since assuming office in 2015, President Buhari has succeeded in changing the ill-perception of sentiment and bias driven against a particular zone. In the South-East, in particular, some forecasted that the president would chastise the region for not supporting his re-election.
Not minding such intuition and criticisms, however, President Buhari like the true nationalist that he is, has continued to provide succour to the vast majority of the populace and drive projects that would have meaningful impacts on the lives of Nigerians irrespective of region.
The Army Reference Hospital in Abakaliki, according to the Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col. Sagir Musa, is designed to provide easily accessible and adequate health care services to Nigerian Army personnel and their families as well as the host communities.
This means the medical facility will not be for the exclusive access of military personnel, rather would serve the entire host community.
As a strong critic of the Buhari administration and one who fervently opposed his election, I must admit that the passion this administration has shown in the development of the South-East made me swallow my words, without water.
I vehemently opposed Buhari’s presidency for three major reasons. Like many others, I was made to believe that his only agenda for the South-East is to deny it of any tangible project and to further make the region insecure, something of revenge for not supporting him.
I was one of those who had misinterpreted the president when he said those that gave him five per cent cannot be expected to be treated equally with others that offered more. Clearly, I blew the statement out of proportion.
However, with the ongoing projects in the South-East under this administration, I admit misjudging the president, hence I’ve begun to review my stand.
Apart from the Second Niger Bridge which work has gone far and looked promising for delivery, the Buhari administration has shown that it has the interest of all at heart.
Like the Army Reference Hospital in Abakaliki which construction is to start in earnest, the interventions of the administration in the region through the military, particularly the Nigerian Army, have been most remarkable.
For one perceived to loathe the South-East, I was shocked when the same president approved the payment of the entitlements of war veterans that fought during the civil war.
The president is using the Army as a tool to touch more Nigerians. The South-East and indeed other parts of Nigerian have profited immensely from its Corporate Social Responsibility since the appointment of Chief of Army Staff, Lt.Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai.
The Nigerian Army, in the past half-decade, provided basic social amenities aplenty in the region just as in other parts of the country. Chiefly among them, potable drinking water, construction of bridges, the establishment of health centre res, provision of clothing and food items to communities.
According to the Chief of Army Staff, these projects and services are meant to strengthen the existing civil-military relations and turn the minds of Nigerians towards the positive actions of the Nigerian Army towards providing security and development in the country.
More impressive, though, the ventures cut across religious and ethnic barriers in the six geopolitical zones of the country. In the South-East, for instance, Central Primary School in Akpochiro and medical centres in Mbaito, both in Imo State were renovated.
The Nigerian Army took this Corporate Social Responsibility to another level by inaugurating four solar-powered water projects in different settlements in Obeititu autonomous community of Mbaise Local Government Area of Imo State.
A glut of intervention programmes in the six geopolitical zones of the country has aided the army to provide other essential services in the region which includes assisting civil authority initiatives in the provision of essential services like petroleum product distribution, telecommunications, medical and educational services.
The Nigerian Army, in a bid to ensure peace and security in all parts of the country also stepped ahead to settle disputes and conflicts in the South-East. It held a stakeholders peace meeting involving traditional, religious, political and youth leaders with the conflicting communities of Azuofia Edda, Okpuitumo, Ofomana in Osopong community of Abakaliki Local Government Area in Ebonyi State and their counterparts in Ogorude and Ofumuna communities in Obubra Local Government Area of Cross River State.
On top of that, the Nigerian medical and other corps have also been rendering invaluable services to communities thereby alleviating the suffering of the masses. And in the bid to enhance the cordial relationship with the civil populace, the military commissioned an Armed Forces Radio for swift dissemination of information. The army then established a team to monitor and report human rights violations by soldiers.
Further to that in 2016, it set up a desk to prevent human right violations while ensuring close monitoring of such allegations. More are in the pipeline. For now, let Ndi’Igbo cut the president some slack. He deserves our support.
Ogbu is a legal practitioner based in Abakaliki.