By Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia
Groups comprising civil society, socio-cultural, religious and community-based organisations drawn from the South-east and South-south zones have called for an early referendum on the report of the 2014 National Conference.
The groups numbering over a dozen, made the call at the weekend in the resolution adopted at a meeting held in Umuahia.
They noted that it was predicated on their strong belief that a referendum on the implementation of the conference report “is the only way forward to save Nigeria.”
They condemned “the hounding, arrests and intimidation of IPOB members, innocent youths, whose only sin is their loss of faith in the lop-sided, unfair and unjust unitary Nigeria where some regions are continuously treated as conquered people.”
Recalling the contemptuous disposition of President Buhari towards the conference report, the groups condemned in no uncertain terms the decision by Mr. President “to consign the only solution to the myriad of problems afflicting Nigeria to the archives.”
Therefore, they insisted that the document must be retrieved from the archives, and early referendum conducted to determine the fate and future of Nigeria.
On the federal government’s reaction to those expressing opposing views, the groups vehemently condemned “the apparent decision of the federal government to crush dissenting voices,” insisting that dialogue and negotiation would engender peace, harmony and stability of the nation.
The groups that were represented at the meeting under the umbrella of Old Eastern Region Movement included traders organisations, students groups, traditional rulers and town unions, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Age Grades and socio-cultural organisations from the South-east and South-south zones.
There were also representatives of Igbo in Academia, South-east Professionals, Niger Delta Youth Forum (PFN), World Igbo Congress, South-east Traders Associations, Igbo Survival Movement, South-east Congress, Igbo Women Assembly, among others.
The forum agreed to be holding bi-monthly meetings “until a larger and broad based coalition is built amongst like minds in the South-west and Middle Belt for a stronger demand for a referendum on the 2014 conference resolutions.”
In the course of deliberations, the interim chairman of the group, Bishop Michael Ibeneme, had lamented the continuous heaping of false allegations on the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) members in order to criminalise them, saying such wicked plots will only deepen division in Nigeria.
“The IPOB are unarmed, non-violent mass movement of millions of young people, who are completely tired of the injustice in Nigeria as presently constituted. Everyone knows they are a big headache to the federal government but the resort to laying false allegation on them in order to incriminate them, has turned out to be the last straw, there is a limit to what people can take,” he said.
He condemned the “obvious plot to continue killing and arresting them (IPOB members) in the hope that they would eventually turn around and suddenly fall in love with this unitary Nigeria where they have been permanently relegated to second class status will never work. The federal government is clearly applying the wrong strategy. We want a referendum now.”
Leader of the Igbo Women Assembly Mrs. Maria Okwor, who is deputy chairman of the meeting said, only a referendum will solve the problem now.
“Our children are massacred daily, arrested in their sleep on trumped up charges of planning to bomb China, Canada, and Germany. No evidence, no proof, this Abacha style is only designed to intimidate and cow everybody into fearful silence,” she said.
Okwor insisted that the federal authorities was wrongly reacting to the agitation of restructuring Nigeria into true federalism as it has resorted to “employing brutal suppression to terrorise and intimidate citizens”
“We insist on an early referendum to decide the future of Nigeria. Brutality and suppression will never work. We can’t be intimidated. I am 81 years and Buhari and the DSS cannot intimidate me,” the activist octogenarian said.
Founder of Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) and Deputy Secretary of Igbo Leaders of Thought, Elliot Uko, harped on the need for the group to build broader and strong coalition across in order to harness opinions from more experienced minds in the task of redeeming Nigeria.
“Yes, there is bitterness, discontent and anger in Eastern Nigeria today, but we must try and carry everybody along. Those who are yet to see that restructuring is the only way forward must be converted. We would open their eyes to see that Nigeria can never move forward unless we revert to true federalism,” he said.