Does Onyeka Onwenu’s termination truly highlight a problem of tribalism in Nigerian politics?

Onyeka Onwenu’s press release, after being relieved of her position as the Director-General of the National Centre for Women Development (NCWD), summarises her brief but eventful experience as an Igbo woman working in the employ of the Federal Government of an ethnically-divided and politically-challenged country – Nigeria. In the moving account chronicled by the Nigerian music legend and former Chairperson for the Imo State Council for Arts herself, Onwenu alleges that the real reason behind her dismissal by President Muhammadu Buhari had more to do with the problematic ethnic situation in the country than with her performance as DG of NCWD.

I was initially dismissed as just a Musician. When that did not work, I was targeted and abused for being an Igbo woman who came to give jobs to and elevate my people while sidelining them.

On February 15, Onwenu and 25 other director generals and managing directors in charge of various government-owned agencies and departments bore witness to one of the many changes that Buhari’s administration is bent on effecting in the country. Following the president’s decision, they were required to handover to the most senior officers in their establishments. However, Onwenu was one of the few who would not ‘go down without a fight’, as the controversy that trails her termination depicts.

In her statement, Onwenu claims that her struggles began the day she was appointed in 2013 by former President Goodluck Jonathan. According to her, operations at the NCWD were in a sorry state upon her arrival and efforts by her administration to reform the centre were regularly strained by detractors in the establishment who remained displeased with her appointment.

When these detractors could not provide answers to the spate of improvement we were bringing, they resorted to sabotage and blackmail.

Regardless of the hardship she endured in form of insubordination, indiscipline, slander, and a lack of cooperation from both within the establishment (Northerners) and from the Federal Government, as detailed by Onwenu, she pushed forward with her vision for the centre while she was there and took her termination in good faith.

When the call came for me to disengage from the Center, I took it in good faith and with thanksgiving to the Almighty, Yes some stakeholders were upset and tried to make a case for me to continue. Their effort was a testimony of God’s grace on my administration, but I also knew that it was time to go. God who sent me there was taking me to a higher level of service.

Some of Onwenu’s accomplishments during her tenure as DG of NCWD include recently granting vocational training scholarships to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the north-eastern part of the country in September of 2015. In general, vocational skills acquisition for women and girls recorded significant progress between 2014 and 2015. And even though NCWD constantly lamented the lack of funding, Onwenu insisted that her administration would not let that deter the vision.

we have resolved to be more focused not to falter; until we place the NCWD; a legacy left us, on the global agenda as true centre of Excellence for Gender Equity and Sustainable Women Development.

While suggestions from news reports appear to testify to the fact that Onwenu’s claim of marginalisation might not be far-fetched, it is seemingly for a reason other than tribalism as she claims. Sources claim that Buhari is embarking on a “purge” to remove top government officials appointed by Jonathan, following a pressing request from members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that they be removed because they had been in their former positions for too long. In addition to this ‘crime’, Onwenu and the rest of the former agency heads that were relieved of their jobs are accused of contributing to ‘budget padding’.

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