Leaders Stand United Against Hate Speech by Northern Group

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  • FG warns against undermining nation’s peace, el-Rufai orders arrest
  • Northern govs beef up security, counterparts in S’East hold emergency meeting
  • ACF: We appreciate frustration of the youths, will not condone breach of law

Our Correspondents

The outrage over the ultimatum given by a coalition of Northern youths to Nigerians of Igbo extraction to leave the north within the next three months or face negative repercussions was fast and furious yesterday, with the federal government, Nigerian Northern Governors’ Forum (NNGF), Yoruba, Igbo and Middle Belt socio-political groups, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CBN), and several notable Nigerians condemning the ultimatum as reckless and ill-thought.

The federal government also assured Nigerians, especially Igbos, that there was no cause for alarm, even as it warned rabble-rousers against making incendiary statements capable of undermining the country’s peace and security.

But in order not to leave anything to chance, the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, ordered the arrest of members of the northern youth coalition that issued the ultimatum, while governors of the 19 Northern states moved to beef up security and protect the lives and property of all Nigerians resident in their states.

The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), on the other hand, came to the defence of the youths, saying it understood their frustration with the activities of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), but would not encourage any act that is not in conformity with the law.

Speaking after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said there was no cause for alarm over the threat issued by a group of Northern youths, assuring the public that the security operatives were on top of the situation.

He said: “What I want to assure you is that the security organisations are very much on top of this matter.”

Also, in a statement last night, Mohammed warned Nigerians against making statements that were capable of undermining the country’s peace and security.

He also asked Nigerians to feel free to reside in any part of the country of their choice, saying that the government had the capacity to maintain law and order.

He said there was no reason for any Nigerian to feel unsafe anywhere in the country, warning that the government would not tolerate any threat to the unity, peace and security of the country under any guise.

“There is zero tolerance for actions and speeches capable of inciting one part of the country against another, and the security agencies are fully on the ground to deal decisively with any individual or group that engages in incendiary activities,” Mohammed said.

He advised all Nigerians, irrespective of where they reside, to go about their daily activities without fear.

Northern Govs Ask Igbos to Remain Calm

In their reaction, the governors of the 19 Northern states disowned the coalition of Arewa youths who issued ultimatum to Igbos to vacate the Northern part of Nigeria within three months or be forced to leave.

Borno State governor and Chairman of the NNGF, Kashim Shettima, spoke on behalf of his colleagues in Maiduguri yesterday evening.

The governors said they were in touch with heads of their security agencies and had taken measures that will guarantee the rights of all Nigerians to live in any of the 19 states in the three geo-political zones within the North.

The governors also called on the security agencies to arrest the youths and probe the motive behind the call, saying the call by the youths was a “suspicious act that falls in line with recent the trend of arms smuggling and coup rumours, which may not be coincidental”.

Shettima said: “On behalf of the governors of the 19 Northern states, we totally condemn such irresponsible pronouncements by those groups; we condemn, we disown, and we are totally distancing ourselves from those faceless groups, who don’t have the mandate of the people of Northern Nigeria to make such loud pronouncements.

“Section 41, Sub-section 1 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is very explicit in safeguarding the rights of all Nigerians to reside in any part of the country with no hindrance whatsoever.

“But then, when you see a toad dancing in the broad daylight, the drummer is not far off from the main road. We wish to call on the security agencies to beam their lenses on these groups, and unearth the faces behind the mask.

“Some months back, there were cases of importation of arms, illegal importation of arms intercepted at the ports, then we started hearing rumours of a coup d’état.

“Now, a group, or a bunch of groups that do not have the mandate of the people came up with remarks capable of destabilising the North and the country as a whole.

“We are one nation tied to a common destiny, the governance of Northern Nigeria is not in alignment with those pronouncements, and we will take whatever measures that are necessary to safeguard the lives and property of Nigerians living in any part of the North.

“I am in contact with most of my colleagues, and they all talking to the heads of security establishments in their respective domains because we cannot afford to take chances.

“We cannot afford to toy with the destiny of this country. The 19 Northern governors wish to call on our brothers of Igbo descent to remain calm and go about their legitimate businesses.

“Nobody can dare intimidate, harass or dehumanise them in any of the 19 Northern states, our governors will not allow that.”

El-Rufai Orders Arrest

Like his counterparts under the aegis of the NNGF, the Kaduna State Government ordered the investigation and arrest of those behind the threat.

Addressing reporters wednesday at the NUJ Press Centre, the governor’s spokesman, Samuel Aruwan, condemned the threat, saying the government will not tolerate inciting statements and threats to other Nigerians.

The government declared that nobody could temper with the freedom of any citizen, adding that it would ensure the security and safety of all citizens.

Aruwan declared that constitutional right of every Nigerian to own property, move freely and to live in peace and harmony was sacrosanct.

“The Kaduna State Government took exception to the fact that the ‘Northern youths’ did their irresponsible press conference in Kaduna.

“This government has been consistent in taking action to punish hate speech and incitement.

“People who may feel unhappy about irresponsible comments or actions that have taken place in other states must know that two wrongs cannot make a right and they cannot use our state to do or say things that threaten the peace,” the Kaduna State Government said.

Aruwan added that the state government had ordered the arrest, investigation and prosecution of the signatories to the statement.

The state government said: “The Kaduna State Government condemns in the strongest terms the press statement by some self-appointed ‘Northern youths’ that threatened the safety and property of our citizens of Igbo extraction.

“Government assures every resident of our state that their constitutional and human rights to live peacefully and own property wherever they choose is sacrosanct.

“The Kaduna State Government believes in and will uphold the right of every Nigerian to live safely and develop his/her full potential within its territory.

“Reckless disregard for the rights of other citizens drips through the press statement by these ‘Northern youths’ who have chosen to use the discourse around restructuring to promote their own agenda of hate, division and incitement.

“This sort of opportunists cannot be allowed to distort the debate, or turn it into a pretext for a barely-disguised agenda of displacement and dispossession of some citizens.

“We will not tolerate such irresponsible statements and conduct in our state. The statement issued by the ‘Northern youths’ violates the laws of Kaduna State.

“Therefore, the Kaduna State Government has directed that its Ministry of Justice should prepare charges and prosecute the signatories and anyone complicit in arranging this egregious assault on the rights of fellow citizens.

“Preparatory to prosecution, the police have been directed to immediately arrest, interrogate the signatories to the statement and investigate all the circumstances and persons that may be implicated in the matter.

“The Kaduna State Government urges all residents to ignore the threats from the ‘Northern youths’. We are in contact with the leadership of the Igbo community in Kaduna, and we delighted to say that this community, like all our other communities, believes in the strength of the constitutional order to protect all citizens.

“Kaduna State Government wishes to encourage all our people to celebrate the diversity with which the Almighty has blessed us, to continue to shun agents of division, and to stand firm in upholding a common humanity. Everyone has a right to live in peace and harmony.”

Saraki, CAN, Others Condemn Threat

Also, the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, called on Nigerians to tolerate each other and display understanding because there is strength in unity.

Saraki spoke when the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the 19 Northern states and Abuja, led by its Chairman, Rev. Yakubu Pam, visited him at the National Assembly in Abuja.

In statement by his Special Assistant, Print Media, Mr. Chuks Okocha, the Senate President said: “Let me through you appeal to all our people for tolerance and understanding. I want to appeal that we preach tolerance. I believe that it is our responsibility as leaders, to impress on our people to be very tolerant and let us seek unity.

“We also wish to appeal to everybody that we should in our speeches and actions work for the unity of the country, because you made reference to some of the issues but this is not about who is right or who is wrong, we should always ask ourselves that what can we do to unite our people and mend the fault lines.

“This is very important. I am hopeful that we are only going through these challenges because of the state of our economy and I believe by the time the economic recovery plan of the present administration begins to yield fruits, some of these issues will fizzle out.”

In the same vein, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar said the ultimatum was not only provocative, reckless and thoughtless, but also a grave threat to national security and peaceful coexistence of the country.

Atiku, in a statement by his Media Office, expressed alarm over the latest dangerous outbursts, warning that it did not augur well for the North and the country at large.

According to him, for a country facing threats of disunity, such an ultimatum and counter-rhetoric was most irresponsible and callous, because it was capable of setting off a chain of ugly events nobody could control.

He called on politicians of all hues to distance themselves from such divisive rhetoric because, according to him, the consequences of such association could ultimately consume them.

Atiku advised that all grievances must be peacefully discussed and resolved through negotiations, and not through threats to fellow citizens.

He also called for restraint on all sides to pave the way for meaningful dialogue on how to restructure Nigeria for the good of all.

The CAN in the 19 Northern states and Abuja condemned the eviction order by the coalition.

A statement by its Publicity Secretary, Rev. Joseph Hayab, CAN said: “We are shocked to read some short-sighted and ignorant group from our region, calling on Igbos to leave the North before October.

“Such call is evil and a threat to national security and unity. Leaders of this group and their sponsors should be arrested and prosecuted immediately.

“If we may ask, which North do they claim to be speaking for and making these evil threat? We are Northerners and cannot recall any meeting where such decision was taken and we will never support or encourage anyone to champion such evil idea.

“What our country needs today is unity for progress not threats from people who don’t know and understand the positive contributions and sacrifice our parents and many people have made to keep this country united to this level.

“The police should arrest them now without delay. They are not representing the North but some enemies of Nigeria.

“We are appealing to peace loving Northerners irrespective of tribe and religion to come out to condemn and disassociate themselves from this group that want to plunge this nation into confusion.”

Afenifere, a Yoruba socio-political organisation, also said the call by Arewa groups, asking the Igbo to vacate the North was not good for the country.

Quoting the words of Chinua Achebe in his book, ‘Things Fall Apart’, Yinka Odumakin, spokesman for Afenifere, said: “They are holding a knife to the tiny rope that still holds the country together.”

Odumakin said unlike 1967, the Northerners have no coalition to fight the Igbos, adding that they would not get support from any Yoruba man.

He called on the Northern elders to caution the youths “lest it may be the beginning of the end of Nigeria”.

“Carrying out their threats would be a prelude to another pogrom,” Odumakin warned.

He said: “I hope that if they still have elders, their elders should call them to order, otherwise, it may be the beginning of the end of Nigeria, as we know it.

“They should know that in 1967, they had a coalition to fight the Igbos but that coalition is no more there today. We know the people that fought the last war and won it.

“I can boldly speak for the Yoruba nation, that if the North thinks they can declare another war against the Igbo, it would not work. If they see any Yoruba man joining them to fight the Igbos, then that person must be a mercenary.

“The Igbos were not fighting, neither were they causing any crisis, but were just trying to make their grievances known in a peaceful manner.

“Why should they be threatened? For Northerners to tell them to leave the North is sad for the polity.”

Also, the Association of Middle Belt Ethnic Nationalities (ASOMBEN) and Plateau Youths Council (PYC) rejected the call, dissociating themselves from such “unpatriotic and divisive tendencies.”

The group described the call as treasonable and called for the immediate arrest of the youths and the people behind the groups.

Secretary to ASOMBEN, Rev. James Pam, said the position of the unknown youth groups was reckless and treasonable, adding that the police, DSS and other security agencies must immediately wade into the issue before it would degenerate.

He said: “Though we don’t believe in the word ‘North,’ the position of the youth groups was capable of throwing the nation into crisis. Our ethnic nationalities and youths are not part of these groups and we don’t subscribe to their position.

“This is a treasonable offence; members of the groups should be arrested and prosecuted immediately, it is a ploy to cause division and crisis in Nigeria.

“The quit notice to the Igbos is against the law, nobody has the right to threaten the life of another, or prevent anyone or group from living in any part of this country.”

Also condemning the call, Chairman of PYC, Dr. Fabong Yildam, said that the youth groups were faceless and had a hidden agenda that could cause pandemonium in the country.

He said it was unfortunate that anybody or group could issue such a statement when the government and other well-meaning Nigerians were making efforts to promote peace and unity amongst diverse ethnic groups in the country.

However, a South-east group, Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) said that Ndigbo were not afraid of war.

A statement by its founder, Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, described the eviction order by the Northern youths, as “childish,” stressing that people of the South-east were not afraid of war.

Ugochukwu noted that rather than issue such threat, the group should write to the National Assembly and other world bodies to urgently conduct a referendum so as to secure the future of the country.

On its part, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council (OYC) expressed outrage, warning against any move to perpetrate another round of genocide against Ndigbo.

It also described the action of the Northern youths as “a security threat and a crime against the Nigerian state,” adding that the security agencies should treat the so-called “Kaduna declaration as treason and a call for war”.

National President of OYC, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, stated the position of the group after an emergency session where the youth wing of Ohanaeze Ndigbo discussed the unfolding development in the North.

The OYC asked Ndigbo to ignore the provocative statement from the Arewa youths and called on people of South-east origin “to stay put wherever they are across the country.”

Nonetheless, the Ohanaeze youths said that Ndigbo should not be caught napping and urged all Igbos residing in the North and other areas outside the South-East to “get ready to defend themselves in the event of any provocation and attack from the Arewa youths”.

In his reaction, elder statesman and the Sarkin Fulani of Nasarawa State, Senator Walid Jibrin, also condemned the ultimatum.

Jibrin, who is also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in a statement in Kaduna, said Nigerians were free to live in any part of the country.

He called on Northern leaders and traditional rulers to condemn the ultimatuim.

Jibrin said Igbos are very broad minded people who have helped to develop the economy of the North, nothing that “there is no any village, ward or town where you will not find Igbos leaving peacefully with the people.”

According to him: “Igbos and the South-south people have always remained the allies of the North since independence. Any action that will lead Nigeria to civil war should never be entertained, especially now that Nigeria needs unity from everyone.

“The agitation for Biafra by some Igbo is not enough to abandon all Northern Igbos. I have noted with admiration, the action of some leaders, including the South-east governors who are seriously against the creation of Biafra and will prefer Nigeria to remain an entity and a united country.

“Our past experiences of the Biafran war will never allow any Northern or Igbo man to pray for the bad experiences of the war.

“I want to remind the group calling for Igbos to leave the North that there are equally many Northerners living comfortably in South-eastern Nigeria who have well established businesses in Igbo land.

“Our Northern traditional rulers and elders should quickly come out to condemn the statement by the group by calling them to order and call for peace.”

But the Northern socio-political organisation, Arewa Consultative Forum, stated that the position of the youth coalition was as a result of the persistent agitation of some members of MASSOB and IPOB for the actualisation of the Republic of Biafra, which had continued to threaten the unity, peace and corporate existence of Nigeria.

A statement by the spokesmen of ACF, Muhammad Biu, said: “The ACF appreciates the frustrations of the Northern youth groups with the activities of MASSOB and IPOB members, but would not encourage any act that is not in conformity with the law by any group or individuals, which will do no one any good”.

The forum cautioned against unguarded utterances or statements capable of jeopardising the unity, peace and corporate existence of Nigeria.

It said: “ACF wishes to draw the attention of all concerned, to note that our democratic system of government, which is anchored on law, guarantees free movement of all Nigerians to any part of the country and to also pursue their legitimate livelihood devoid of any hindrance or molestation by any group or individuals.

“Furthermore, the system allows settlement of all grievances through our elected representatives in both the National and State Assemblies and the law courts.

“Any act to the contrary is therefore a breach of law and order that is not helpful.”

S’East Governors Meet

Meanwhile, the governors of South-east held an emergency meeting yesterday over the quit notice to Igbos residing in the Northern Nigeria.

President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo made the disclosure in Enugu last night during a night of tributes in honour of the late Ohanaeze chieftain, Prof. Ben Obumselu.

Nwodo further disclosed that the South-east governors had almost mobilised thousands of luxurious buses and trucks to evacuate Igbos from the North, but for the timely intervention of El-Rufai who had ordered the arrest of the Arewa youths fanning the embers of war in Nigeria.

He said the governors of the South-east zone appreciated el-Rufai’s efforts.