The preponderance of opinion is that the Eastern Bar Forum has emerged as the most cohesive and better organized of the regional fora within the NBA. Well, at least this is what visitors tell us to our faces and we hold on to this; if they say anything else behind us we don’t care, and if they say the same thing to the other regional fora, we don’t really mind. We can share the limelight.
With such high approval rating, activities of the EBF, like the rising sun, draw attention. So today Calabar is in the limelight, or in the sunlight, because of this congregation.
On behalf of the members of the three branches of the NBA in Cross River State – Calabar, Ikom and Ogoja – I welcome senior advocates, elders of the Bar, the leadership of the Eastern Bar Forum, my brothers and sisters leading Bar branches across the EBF territory and beyond. To our members who are in positions of leadership in the national executive committee of the NBA, I thank you for giving good account of yourselves, and showing the country that, as in the days of old, wise men always come from the East.
I must thank the EBF Governor, his Excellency Uba Anene, for ensuring that this meeting holds on schedule. The details of that struggle will be reserved for his memoirs. To all that have toiled to bring this event to fruition, especially you my colleagues in this audience, however obscure your labour was, we acknowledge your effort and may the Good Lord bless you.
Your Excellency and my dear colleagues of the EBF, we must recognize how important this platform is and put it to good use for the benefit of our people. The EBF is the most organized assembly of highly educated people of Eastern Nigeria.
Our impact must be felt by the larger society. We must use this platform to impact governance within the states of the East, push for coordinated regional economic planning and development, and a fair share of federal attention. Several of the governors of the eastern states for instance, have turned opportunities in their states into problems and obstacles.
They have achieved these feats without a whimper from the EBF. Or may be it is not our business; in which case we may wait for Aba market women, or traders in Ikom, Ikot Ekpene, Port Harcourt or Awka, to take up the responsibility. Unless we do this, the EBF may not find a higher purpose beyond a platform for propagation of political ambitions for NBA national elections. And that will be a gross underutilization of this forum.
At his inaugural address, the Governor of EBF identified this expanded role for the EBF, and your excellency, let me help that vision by saying we need an annual summit of at least three or four days where we invite the political leadership from our region to join us to interrogate our development objectives and circumstances. A summit like that will include brutal review of programmes, policies and projects in the states in Eastern Nigeria, and offer the leaders platform to explain their directions.
We need to co-ordinate our development at the regional level. The economic impact of a reconstructed road in Akwa Ibom is diminished if the reconstruction ends at the border with Abia or Cross River. There are certain projects that are vital to our development but not viable as state projects. Railways for instance may be constructed as PPP projects but this can only be commercially viable if conceived as regional projects rather than state level projects
Presently we have a unique opportunity in Charles Soludo, governor of Anambra state. He easily understands the value of coordinated approach to regional development. He is also leading Anambra state which, in my opinion, is one of the better managed states in the East. So we can approach Soludo to host the first of such summits. He has just assumed office so has time; and is not distracted by immediate elections. Your Excellency, read your inaugural address again, and lead us in that direction. You were very right.
The reason why the narrative in Eastern Nigeria is being conducted by IPOB, MASSOB, and various militant groups in the Niger Delta is because the Eastern elites, including this Forum, have kept quiet and indeed abdicated responsibility. Miscreants lead because good men keep quiet. Take the federal railway program for instance. Standard gauge rail lines have been planned and are being constructed in all parts of the country; except in eastern Nigeria where in this modern age,our federal government still designed narrow gauge rail lines for us.
The official reason given for the plan to build narrow gauge rail lines in the east, as against standard gauge lines for the rest of the country, is that there is no money. So there is no money only when it comes to doing standard gauge rail from Port Harcourt through Enugu to the North?
But in our bid to be politically correct in Nigeria, we the eastern elites are quiet, waiting hopefully for Onitsha market women association to engage the federal government in that discussion. May be as lawyers such issues are not our business; let us concentrate on legal practice and put food on our table. That will be a gross abdication of responsibility. It is not illegal to argue for a fair share of the commonwealth. Or to insist on being treated equally with other regions. So it is our business.
Truth be told; the 2023 presidency ought to have been zoned to the South East if there was some coordinated approach to that demand. But again that’s not or business.
So these are my thoughts as I welcome you members, and friends, of EBF, to Calabar.
Perhaps I have over spoken; perhaps you may find these thoughts vexatious, wanton, untenable and unmeritorious gold digging. Pardon me in that case and you may dismiss same with ignominy. We can however take comfort in the fact that as surely as tomorrow will come, the sun at least will continue to rise from the East.
I wish us all fruitful deliberations.