Notable Igbo elders under the aegis of Igbo Leaders of Thought returned to familiar turf last week in Enugu as they took on the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, warning that the country is on the edge of a precipice, and calling for urgent action. Christopher Isiguzo, in Enugu, reports
After about one year of inactivity, Igbo Leaders of Thought, a body of eminent elder statesmen of Igbo extraction, with renowned constitutional, Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN), as their leader, returned to the scene last week to review activities in the country’s political landscape since the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The elder statesmen who came from various parts of the five South-east states of Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, and Imo converged on Enugu to deliberate on the state of the nation. The group, prior to last year’s general election, was very vocal and took positions on several issues, most of which bothered on security, national unity, and the need for true federalism. However, for over a year, nothing was basically heard of the group. But an inside source had claimed that members of the ILT had taken out time to review events in the country.
Among those who attended the meeting, which took place at Zodiac Hotels, Enugu, were former governor of old Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife; Senator Anyim Ude; former secretary general of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nduka Eya; Chief Enechi Onyia, constitutional lawyer, Professor Race Achara; Professor Elochukwu Amucheazi; Professor Chinweite Ejike; and former ESUT Vice Chancellor and deputy chairman of the South-east Leaders of Thought, Professor Ike Oluka. Others are leader of Igbo Women Assembly, Mrs. Marie Okwor; Prince Chukwuemeka Onyeso; renowned novelist and traditional ruler of Ndi Ikerionwu in Anambra State, HRH Chukwuemeka Ike; and retired Archbishop of the Anglican Communion, Most Rev. Maxwell Anikwenwa.
The group in their communiqué decried what they described as the extreme polarisation of the country along religious and ethnic lines as a result of political activities and agenda of the federal government, and a well-orchestrated invasion of the Middle Belt and southern states “by armed agents and Jihadists equipped with assault weapons (AK47, grenades etc) euphemistically and deceptively labelled herdsmen.”
It stated, “Islamisation obtains when the Quran is brought in as part of the law to regulate the lives of the people, as is the case in 12 northern states. These states have, thus, violated the religious character of the Nigerian state as provided in section 10 of the constitution. The statement by the Sultan of Sokoto recently that ‘nobody can Islamise Nigeria is intended to hoodwink us; the reality, as shown in the actions of the federal government is different.
“The activities of the armed Fulani herdsmen who kill, kidnap, rape, burn and destroy crops and land with impunity have continued without any constraints from the federal government. The herdsmen have been perceived as advanced foot-soldiers of the Fulani Jihadists. We call on the federal government to stop the Islamisation agenda being pursued in these brazen manners. Christians all over the country and the people of the southern states should be on alert over these developments.”
The elders also asked President Muhammadu Buhari to quickly devise strategies that would address the immediate causes of the present economic situation in the country and desist from blaming past administrations for driving the nation to recession.
They expressed dismay over the inability of the present administration to find its feet and address the challenges of governance after over one and half years in office, noting that rather than lead the nation to economic prosperity, the administration had engaged in actions that led the nation to its worst economic situation ever.
The four-point communiqué signed by Nwabueze observed that the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers who are avenging the injustices perpetrated against their area was a major contributory factor fuelling the recession, insisting that something urgent should be done to address the problem.
They stated, “The naira which stood at 50 kobo to $1 in the 1980s and in recent past N179 is now about N500 to $1. A bag of rice which sold recently at N9, 000 now sells at N25, 000, well beyond the minimum wage of the Nigerian workers. School enrolment has dropped drastically, many industries have closed down, banks have sacked thousands of workers, contractors are not paid and so with public servants in many states. Inflation rate hovers around 20 per cent.”
While asking the federal government to respect the laws of the land, the group noted that agitation for self-determination is not necessarily an agitation for secession and as such not a crime, more so when it is guaranteed by United Nation and African Charter. They therefore demanded the unconditional release of the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, insisting that his continued incarceration is one of the major factors inflaming agitation in the country.
“Political agitations for self-determination are taking place in various parts of the world, in Europe, Asia, America, etc, and the agitators are not massacred with state-owned arms and ammunition but are brought to a round table for dialogue,” they explained, adding that the situation here should not be different, as dialogue remains the most appropriate approach to solving the challenges posed by the plethora of agitations. They also demanded the restructuring of the federation.
According to them, the current agitations across the country have made the need for restructuring more imperative. They added that with eminent northern statesmen, including Ango Abdulahi, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Adamu Ciroma as well as the leadership of Afenifre, South-south and Middle Belt political leaders giving their support to restructuring, the momentum could not be stopped any more.
On the current anti-corruption fight, the Igbo Leaders of Thought said though they were not against the fight, they were opposed to the manner the fight was being prosecuted, noting that the fight is highly skewed against perceived opponents of the party in government.
The group stated, “People are arrested and bank accounts frozen without due process. CNN announced that a serving minister has over $700 million in one account in the United States and the federal government has not tried to probe him. The current Chief of Army Staff is alleged to own business in Dubai and no efforts have been made to ascertain the true source of his wealth.
“Appointments to sensitive positions in the public service so far show a high degree of corruption. Today, Aso Rock is controlled by cousins, nephews, brothers and blood relations of the president. It is pointed out that all the critical positions in the security services are held by the president’s kinsmen and tribesmen.
“Chief of Army Staff, Inspector General of Police, Minister of Defence, Minister of Internal Affairs, National Security Adviser, Director General, Department of State Service (DSS), Chief of Staff, ADC to the president, CSO to the President, Private Secretary to the president, Protocol to the president, Director General of Customs, DG of Prisons, DG of Immigration, the sensitive positions of the Minister of Petroleum and FCT are also in the same hands. The acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is still in the seat thereby overstaying his tenure of six months in acting capacity.
“There are also observations that the recent purge of over 40 personnel in the army spanning ranks of Lt. Col. to Major Generals may have been motivated by considerations other than those of the public interest. Is it mere coincidence that they are mainly from South-east and other southern states?”
Nwabueze had on the day of the meeting raised alarm that the federal government was pursuing an Islamisation agenda for the country, insisting that the current killings of innocent Nigerians across the country by rampaging herdsmen is part of the plot.
According to him, “This is a very crucial meeting for us because we have not met for more than a year. And if you look at our agenda, such critical issues for discussion, issues like islamisation agenda and its impact on the unity of the country. Islamisation agenda is real, it’s not something that somebody has just conjured up, it’s there. And it’s been implemented gradually.
Look at the security agencies; every aspect of security. They are methodical in the way they are going about its implementation. Look at Fulani herdsmen menace, it is part of it.”
He said apart from the activities of the herdsmen, the lopsided appointments of heads of security agencies, which “clearly favoured Muslims” was also part of the Islamisation plot in the country.
On the agitation for Biafra, Nwabueze said the agitators should be tactful by demanding self-determination and not Biafra Republic.
He stated, “The agitation for Biafra, you will appreciate what is going on, to provoke the Igbo, to provoke them so that they will say, ah we are pulling out. And then they will launch the final solution to the Igbo problem.
Our people must not play into their hands. All these agitations, I support the agitation, but define your objective. What do you want? Self-determination, okay; that is a vague thing, use it as a cover, don’t come out openly and say you are agitating because you want the sovereign state of Biafra. Sovereign state of Biafra within sovereign Nigeria? You have to be extremely careful.”
On the menace of herdsmen, he asked governors of the South-east states to immediately convene a meeting and take a common position.
“On the Fulani herdsmen, our governors should meet and say we don’t want this anymore, let them go somewhere, let them open somewhere else and give it whatever name they want. But not here, yes, these are the things we want,” he noted.