Leaders of thought in both northern and southern Nigeria yesterday supported the position of South East governors and other leaders in insisting on a united country and distancing the region from secessionist calls by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, (IPOB).
The apex northern sociocultural group, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), and its counterpart in the South South zone, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) said the country is better off united. They, however, said there is a need for justice and equity as well as better governance for all Nigerians.
The ACF said Igbo people are better off remaining part of a united Nigeria than leaving to form their own country.
It also said the denouncement of IPOB by governors and other leaders of the South East should have come much earlier than last weekend.
The statement by the ACF came on the heels of the South East leaders’ repudiation of IPOB and other separatist groups calling for the separation of the South East from Nigeria citing unfair treatment of the region, especially under the present administration.
After a meeting of governors and other political, religious and cultural rulers of the South East region on Saturday, Governor Dave Umahi, who is chairman of South East Governors’ Forum, disowned IPOB, condemned the activities of the outlawed IPOB, saying the group does not represent the interest of the Ndigbo.
But speaking through the national publicity secretary of the forum, Mr Emmanuel Yawe, the ACF said, “We have always wondered why the Igbo, who were the forefront of Nigerian nationalism, have abdicated their enviable national status to a bunch of upstarts.
“If there is any ethnic group that has benefited from a united Nigeria, it is the Igbo. They have a large population and a little land. As aggressive merchants, they are found in the biggest cities and towns as well as the smallest hamlets of Nigeria.
“If they spearhead the breakup of Nigeria, they will generate a lot of hatred from those who love Nigeria and want it to remain united. They should not delude themselves into thinking they will be allowed to stay here after causing such a catastrophe. They will have to leave.
“Can their small landmass, which is not fertile for agricultural purpose, contain and serve them? No. The Igbo elders who experienced life in Biafra should have warned the secessionist about what hunger can do.
“Have the young agitators in IPOB and Eastern Security Network (ESN) ever heard of Kwashiokor before? Let them goggle the word and see the pictures, then they will know what hunger can do.”
The ACF admitted that Nigeria need to be better governed but that it should remain one, adding that the negative consequences of a breakup for all Nigerians, Africans and the black race are grave and far outweigh the benefits.
It also commended the pronouncements of the South East governors and leaders, even as it urged them to match their words with action “to redirect the energies of their misguided youth.”
On its part, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) said it backed the resolution of the South East governors and leaders to condemn IPOB’s activities.
The pan Niger Delta group, while stressing that the statement by the South East leaders cannot be faulted, however, noted that some of the protestations across the country are reflective of the anger against biases and injustice in the polity.
Spokesman of PANDEF, Hon Ken Robinson, told LEADERSHIP that “as the apex organisation in the South South and Niger Delta, as a leadership group we have continually made our position clear that we are not for separation of Nigeria.
“The position of the political leaders in the South East cannot be faulted. We agree that there are situations on the country that are completely avoidable, the discrimination, biases and injustices, it is glaring but we don’t think, as leaders, that going our different ways is the answer.
“However, for those who are aggrieved we consider some of their actions as protestations. As the only way they find to express their dissatisfaction just like the EndSars protest which demonstrated their disaffection with police brutality.
“Some actions have gone to the extreme, some have become condemnable but they are protestations against the biases and indiscrimination and injustice in Nigeria.
“And that cannot be underplayed that people are not happy at the way and manner things are being done, the way federal government controls the affairs of state is unacceptable. It is completely biased against some sections of this country.
“It is as if they don’t belong to the country, as if they are slaves. And so people have a right to be angry. But how this anger is expressed is another issue. Some can be condemned, that is why, as leaders and fathers and leaders, it is our place to say this is not good, and I think that that is what the South East leaders have done.
“For use in the South South we have continued to persuade our youths not to resort to violence because the insensitive government will use it to decimate us. So we have continued to urge our youth not to employ violence. But there is a limit to that.
“How long can we continue to persuade our youths and that is what bothers us. Some have said that we are too soft, but as leaders we know the consequences of war and violence – all that the people have laboured for will go down in one day.”
LEADERSHIP reports that secessionist agitations have been rising in both South East, South South and South West regions by separatist groups who have accused the Buhari administration of not promoting an ethnic agenda.
Governors’ Position Will Improve Security In Region – Northern Elders
Another northern group, Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), has also hailed the decision of the leaders of the South East to disown IPOB and all pro-Biafra agitators, saying such a move will improve security, isolate trouble makers in the region and promote unity.
Speaking exclusively with LEADERSHIP in Abuja yesterday on the development, the spokesman of the NEF, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said NEF welcomes this decision by the governors and other elders of thought from the geopolitical zone.
He said the NEF will have a round table discussion in the next few days with the leaders of the South East to discuss how to further deepen the relationship between the North and South-East.
Baba-Ahmed said the NEF is convinced that the speech made by the South East leaders is profound and significant as it will assure northerners that they can reside in the South East and will in turn give the Igbo who are residing in the North the confidence that they are safe.
He said the NEF believes that commitment of the Igbo leaders to the unity of the country will lead to a boost in general security.
The spokesman of the NEF said northerners will continue to relate with the Igbo as their brothers, and give them the confidence to reside in the north.
According to him, “For us in the North, we will continue to relate with the Igbo that are spotted all over the country as our brothers and we will continue to give them the comfort and confidence that they need to reside with us.
“NEF welcomes this decision by the governors and other elders of thought from the South East. This is what is expected of them to do at a time when they opt to step up to assume the position of leadership, and be more proactive and speak for the Igbo, not allowing the IPOB amongst other outlawed groups to speak for them.”
Baba-Ahmed said the north will continue to give the Igbo a sense of belonging and nobody will threaten them.
He continued: “Amidst the recent uprising we did not ask any Igbo man to leave the North. We did not threaten them.
“We will continue to give them a sense of belonging. No one will threaten them or ask any Igbo man to leave or be killed.
“We have always known that there is a mainstreaming opinion that is committed to Nigeria as one entity.
“We were worried about the uprising in the last few months. So, literally, we welcome this development and feel it is the right way to go and we believe that it will now isolate the trouble makers.
“What the Ohanaeze and the South East governors said is exactly what is expected from leaders of any zone.”
Let’s Build Nigeria Together, Northern Youths Tell Region
Speaking in similar vein, northern youth organisations under the umbrella of Arewa Youths Consultative Forum (AYCF) yesterday hailed the denouncement of IPOB by the South East governors and Igbo leaders, calling for all Nigerians to join hands to build a better country.
The forum explained that the quit notice issued to the Igbo in the North by some northern youths some time ago was not meant to send South East people away from the region but a reaction over the activities of IPOB.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP in Kaduna, the president of AYCF, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, who described IPOB as a big scam, called on the federal government to seek the extradition of IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu to the country to face the full wrath of the law.
AYCF said, “From the onset, some of us know that these boys claiming to be acting on behalf of the entire Igbo was a scam. It is not too late as South East governors and Igbo leaders have now denounced IPOB. Some of us also believe that the majority of the Igbo want a united Nigeria.
“Most of my friends were Igbo when I was school and even today many of my friends are from the South East; they are good people.
“For us the northern youths, when we issued the quit notice to Igbo in the North, we did it to react to the activities of IPOB and not really to send the Igbo away from the north. I believe if South East governors and Igbo leaders had taken actions like this long time ago, it would not have gotten to this level we are in now.”
The forum added, “Next is for the federal government to track Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB, from any country back to Nigeria to face the full wrath of the law. IPOB has killed too many people and it is time for them to account for their actions. It is time now for us to join hands and build Nigeria,” Shettima said.
South East Leaders’ Action Insufficient – CNG
However, another northern group, the Coalition of Northern Groups, has declared that the South East governors should not be trusted because they are covering up for IPOB. It insisted on a referendum on Biafra, saying it is the only guarantee for a peaceful future.
CNG spokesperson Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said: “We note that following our demand for a referendum as the only option, some South East militant IPOB members continue to foment hateful violence against other ethnicities and the Nigerian State, a handful of South East leaders began a frantic move to cover their complicity in the atrocities by denouncing IPOB and its leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
“We note also that while on one the hand, these South East leaders pretend to denounce IPOB, on another hand, they are working to give legitimacy to the IPOB militant wing, the Eastern Security Network (ESN) which they renamed Ebubeagu).
“The extent of deception also becomes apparent in the way these South East leaders give the appearance of dissociating themselves from the Biafran violent agitation and at the same time vehemently attempting to support and justify IPOB’s brand of self-determination bid premised on false claims of marginalisation.”
The group warned the rest of Nigeria, particularly the North, not to allow themselves to fall into another trap of believing the falsehood of the Igbo leaders.
“We categorically hold the rebuttal by the South East leaders unacceptable and insist that a referendum must be conducted to prepare the stage for the final exit of the Igbo from the rest of Nigeria that has never engaged in such violent agitations for breakup at any time,” it said.
Ngige Meets PMB Over Insecurity In South East
Meanwhile, minister of labour and employment, Senator Chris Ngige, at the weekend met with President Muhammadu Buhari over the worrying security situation in the South East.
Speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting at the presidential villa, Abuja, Ngige said he made a proposal to the president.
He said, “We also looked at the security situation, especially in my zone, the Southeast, and we made some proposal to him, based on the yearnings of the people, and what the government also wants.
“And we are following up with dialogue which, at the end of the day is what will happen. We have to talk, we have to discuss. The minister of defence, minister of interior and the Service Chiefs were in Enugu earlier last Saturday and we are going to do follow-up meetings on that again starting from tomorrow.
“We briefed him and he accepted that dialogue is the way to go in all these. Like I keep saying, there is a very thin line between perception and reality, so certain things should be done, at least to assuage the feelings of the people in the area and make them not to feel unwanted; so that area was also discussed.”
Ngige also said he briefed the President on labour issues including the recent strike embarked upon by the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) that paralysed legislative and judicial activities in the country for two months before the strikes were called off.
He said that issues concerning the face-off between the Kaduna State government and the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, was also discussed at the meeting with the president.
The leadership of the NLC had complained to President Buhari that the Kaduna State government had refused to obey the terms of agreement reached between the two parties after the federal government, through the Minister of Labour and Employment, intervened to broker a truce in the industrial dispute between the two.
Senator Ngige said that it was resolved that there was no need for another round of industrial disharmony between labour and the Kaduna State government especially as the country was faced with serious security challenges.
He said: “I had to see him to appraise him with labour-industrial milieu, especially when you know that the judiciary and parliamentary workers, JUSUN and PASAN, respectively had been on strike that lasted for two months. We achieved a truce, drew up an agreement and we have today submitted the copies of the agreement to him.
“We are going to monitor the agreement. He is very interested in it. And if you remember, he had to do an Executive Order 10 in consonance with the constitution, so that we have independence, financial autonomy for the judiciary and the legislature in the states.
“So it is one of the few things and he was happy that, at least, the strikes had been called off.
“We also looked at the Kaduna State government/Nigeria Labour Congress imbroglio. We have arrested the strikes, we have formed committees for the workers through the NLC and the Kaduna State government so that they can do some social dialoguing and reconciliation through that route.
“The NLC just five days ago wrote to Mr. President complaining that the Kaduna State government wasn’t keeping to its own side of the agreement, especially in the area of victimisation of workers. It said that the government of Kaduna state has sacked some staffers from their workforce for participating in the strike.”
Ngige added that he and the president’s chief of staff had advised the president on the situation.
“So, and we are taking action to make sure we don’t have a repeat of what happened in that state,” he said.