Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu
Critical issues bordering on restructuring of the country, release of the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, from prison and the ongoing trial of Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, took centre stage at the town-hall meeting organised by the federal government in Enugu monday.
Notable Igbo leaders who attended the meeting took time out to take on President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, insisting that unless a definite position was taken on those issues, the people of the South-east might be forced to rethink their continued membership of the Nigeria-project.
The meeting had Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, Minister of Health Isaac Adewale, Minister for Agriculture Audu Ogbeh, Minister of State for Petroleum Ibe Kachukwu, Minister for Trade and Investment Okechukwu Enelama and Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed in attendance.
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuani of Enugu, Ebonyi Deputy Governor Kelechi Igwe, Ike Ekwremadu and other prominent politicians from South-east also showed presence.
The Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province and Bishop of Enugu Anglican Diocese, His Grace, Most Rev. Emmanuel Chukwuma, threatened that if the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government succeeds in removing Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President, Igbos may be force to rethink their membership of the country.
Chukwuma faulted what he called the lopsided fight against corruption and the marginalisation of the people of the South-east geo-political zone in key federal appointments and insisted that President Muhammadu Buhari must address the issues in order to foster unity and sense of belonging among every part of the country.
The clergyman specifically called on the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, to leave Ekweremadu alone or Igbos would disown him.
“Ekweremadu should be left alone to do his work; he has been elected constitutionally as deputy senate president and nobody can remove him there. If they do that it, it means that this government doesn’t want the Igbos, then you are calling for its secession from Nigeria because that is the high ranking position we have and we are all behind him and he has been performing, and he should be left to perform,” he said.
On his part, the President of the Ohanaeze Youth Council, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, declared that “the plot by some forces within the APC to remove Ekweremadu is a very dangerous mission. Ekweremadu is not a product of the South-east but the entire Senate.
On the demand for the release of Kanu, Isiguzoro maintained that “the federal government must immediately release the IPOB leader; that is the only thing that will assuage the feelings of people of the South-east.”
Former Minister of Information, Chief Nnaia Nwodo, who commended the federal government for the town hall meeting, which he said provided opportunity for government officials to explain so many things bothering the minds of the people, however urged for accelerated action to save the nation from collapsing under the weight of economic and socio-political crisis.
“It took you five months to appoint ministers, it took you five months to approve a budget and you are telling us about rain. State governments have finished building roads. I’m not saying this to castigate the federal government; I’m saying this to say we have to change the gear,” he said.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, who took up most of the issues raised especially on restructuring and implementation of the 2014 National Conference, stated that outcome of any conference where delegates were appointed instead of elected, remains very doubtful and difficult to implement.
He called on Ndigbo to put on their thinking caps and stop wallowing in self-pity, noting that Nigeria is a federation where nobody is ready to pity anybody but to have what they can get.
Ngige assured that if President Buhari decides to call a national conference, people should be rest assured that it would be elected delegates and that the outcome would be implemented to the letter.
“If tomorrow President Buhari says I want to do a constitutional conference, I can assure all of you that you go home and sleep because whatever you lobby and get in that constitutional conference will be implemented to the letter. And we cannot get it by not lobbying other sections of Nigeria because politics is game of numbers, we must have to do so, so that we can take our rightful place in the comity of nations.”
The Minister of Information, Lai Mohamed stated that the essence of the town hall meeting was to meet and interact with them with a view to exchanging views on government programmes and policies.
He maintained that the ruling APC, has started delivering its campaign promises of change.
Stressing that contrary to insinuations in certain quarters that the change promised was a “rouse,” Mohammed said that the change was already manifesting in every sector, adding that a lot had been done in moving the country forward.
The minister insisted that the government would remain undeterred in implementing its change agenda it promised Nigerians.
Mohammed said: “Many have said they are yet to see the change we promised. Many more have called the promise a ruse.
“In fact, they are now mocking us. But we remain undaunted because we know that the change we promised is real.
“In fact, the change we promised is already here, and it is manifesting all around us.’’
Highlighting the successes of the current administration, Mohammed said the current government had been able to put a stop to looting of public funds which was responsible for underdevelopment.
“Before now, public officials simply opened the public till, took as much money as they wanted and walked away without consequences.
“That explains why funds allocated to the military to fight Boko Haram ended up in the piggy banks of many unscrupulous Nigerians
“Today, all those who looted the public treasury are being made to answer for their actions, as impunity gives way to accountability.
“Many have offered to return their loots, and many more are facing charges,” he said.
On the issue of the economy, Mohammed said: “We promised to diversify the economy away from oil, to ensure that other sectors are able to significantly contribute to sustainable development.
“In June 2016, for the very first time, about 70 per cent of the more than N500 billion raised from the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) came from the non-oil sector, while 30 per cent came from the oil sector.
“It was the first time in 2016 that the federal government shared more than N500 billion among the three tiers of government.”
Mohammed said the government was working towards addressing complaints over perceived lopsidedness in appointments.
“There are hundreds of appointments yet to be made. It is an evolving scenario and any lopsidedness is being addressed as we progress,” he said.
On his part, Governor Ugwuanyi called on the federal government to redeem its campaign promises to the people of Enugu State and the South-east.
The governor noted that the appeal had become imperative following the epileptic power supply and bad roads in the country.
He also tasked the federal government to make substantial investment in the Ugwuoba Gas Field in Oji River local government.
He said, “I recall the president’s campaign promise to revive the coal mines in Enugu and utilise it to generate electricity.
“Coal is a major energy source in some countries of the world and we have it in abundance in the state. If this is done it will directly or indirectly create job opportunities for millions of Nigerians.”
Ugwuanyi brought before the Federal Government the Ada Rice Farm Irrigation Project which started in the state in 2007, but have been abandoned, adding that the project if completed would help in making the country self-sufficient in the production of rice.
He added, “Of very critical importance to us is the Ada Rice Farm in Uzo Uwani local government. The project has the capacity for low gravity irrigation and has the potential of expansion to cover 10,000 hectares.
“Unfortunately, only 1,200 hectares of irrigable land have been fully developed. The Federal Government started the rehabilitation of the entire project in 2007. Sadly, progress in this regard has stalled.
“The government of the state will in this regard appreciate the intervention of the federal government to ensure the payment of huge debts owed the state by some federal agencies and establishments located in the state.
“They are the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) and the Federal College of Education, Eha-Amufu which respectively owe N2.3 billion, N10 billion and N190 million in tax returns.
“These institutions have continued to owe these debts even though the state government provides infrastructure and other ancillary supports to them.