Now That Igbo Leaders Have Spoken

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The recent decision by some prominent Igbo leaders to stand for a united Nigeria raises the hope for a better country. Olawale Olaleye writes

Last week’s meeting by some South-east leaders, including their governors, National Assembly members and the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in Enugu State, during which they restated their commitment to a united Nigeria, was a positive sign of the things to come, especially if placed against the growing agitation for secession by some exuberant groups from the region.

Although the Igbo leaders would later declare their support for a restructuring of the country, the process of which they insisted must be on the basis of fairness and equality, the fact that they allayed the fears of other regions about possible secession as being currently agitated was a major step towards arriving at a sensible consensus as critical stakeholders in the project Nigeria.

The meeting, according to reports, was the first by leaders from the zone since some separatist groups like the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of a Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), intensified their agitations for the creation of the Republic of Biafra. But while the meeting avoided giving attention to any of the groups by way of mention, their resolutions may have foreclosed any possible support for the Nnamdi Kanu-led insensate agitation for the break-up of Nigeria.

In attendance were the five South-east governors and they are Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, Rochas Okorocha of Imo, Willie Obiano of Anambra and Dave Umahi of Ebonyi, all of whom had earlier met at the Government House, Enugu, to harmonise their position before moving to the Nike Lake Resort, Enugu, for the enlarged stakeholders’ meeting, which then accommodated other groups.
Present at the expanded meeting were the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, and other members of the National Assembly; former Senate Presidents, Senators Adolphus Wabara and Ken Nnamani; the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, and his predecessor, Enwo Igariwey; former Chief of General Staff, Admiral Ebitu Ukiwe; former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ogbonna Onovo; and a former Deputy Inspector General of Police, Hillary Opara.

There were also deputy governors, state assembly speakers, religious leaders and traditional rulers from the zone. But political appointees from the zone, who are currently serving in the administration, especially the ministers, were not present at the meeting. No reason was however given for their absence.

A seven-point communiqué read by the Chairman of the South-east Governors’ Forum and Ebonyi State Governor, Umahi, called on the federal government and all Nigerian leaders to immediately commence a process of dialogue among Nigerians on the modalities of restructuring the country within a reasonable time frame, while at the same time throwing their weight behind the report of the 2014 National Conference. They also asked the federal government to set up structures that would enable its implementation within a reasonable time.
But in what seemed like a veiled reference to the quit notice given to the Igbo resident in the Northern part of the country by Arewa youths, the Igbo leaders condemned all forms of hate speeches and conduct coming from any part of the country. They also disclosed that they were taking steps to ensure the safety of lives and property of Igbo people in all parts of Nigeria, just as they assured the Nigerian people of the safety of lives and property of all that are resident in their zone.

“Ndigbo are in support of a united Nigeria, where peace, love, fairness, justice, equity and equality of opportunity are paramount, regardless of creed, ethnicity, gender or political affiliation. That we condemn all hate speeches and conduct emanating from any segment of Nigeria. That Ndigbo support the report of the National Conference of 2014 and urge the federal government to set up structures that will enable the implementation of same within a reasonable time.
“That the South-east governors, members of the National Assembly from the South-east and the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo should henceforth constitute the official organs that will speak on behalf of Ndigbo on political matters. The South-east leaders, in consultation with leaders from other parts of the country will engage the federal government on all areas of concern to Ndigbo and to Nigeria as a whole.”
Curiously, this all-Igbo meeting is coming about a month after the quit order by the Arewa Youths was still causing discontent in the country and which had prompted a meeting of Southern leaders from the South-east, South-south and South-west zones. The meeting was reportedly propelled by the refusal of the relevant security agencies to apprehend the Northern youths that issued the quit order to Nigerians of South-eastern extraction.

With a resolve to work together to protect the interest of the region, the Southern leaders further agreed to pursue the restructuring of the country as well as called for concrete steps to be taken on the implementation of the 2014 National Conference report before October 1, 2017, about the same resolutions agreed to during last week’s South-east meeting.

In a communique signed by Afenifere chieftain, Ayo Adebanjo, on behalf of the South-west; founding Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Chief Albert Horsfall for the South-south; and former Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe‎ (rtd.) for the South-east, they criticised the manner in which the federal government and the acting President Yemi Osinbajo had handled the ultimatum given to the Igbo resident in the North.

“We the people of Southern Nigeria, comprising the South-east, South-west and South-south of Nigeria, decided to come together to forge a common and formidable front for the sustenance of sound principles of national development, equity, fairness, social justice and political emancipation.

“The meeting held against the backdrop of the ultimatum given by the Arewa youths to the people of the South-east and by extension to all Southerners to vacate the North by October 1, 2017, and the refusal of the Nigerian state to activate the law against any of them, giving us the impression that these youths are not acting on their own but on the back of their establishment.

“We consider the need to avert the impending danger arising from the ultimatum given by the Arewa youths. We agreed that there is a growing demand by our people and other Nigerians to form a stronger federation in which the principles and practice of true federalism are upheld.

“We observe that the cry for self-determination will continue unabated and become much more stringent unless the federal government sincerely addresses the issue of Nigeria’s restructuring. We therefore resolved that we reject the attempt to reduce the current crisis in Nigeria, flowing from the unresolved nationality question, to an Igbo and North affair.

“The meeting therefore insists that any further discussion on this crisis should be between the entire South and the North of Nigeria. The South-east is advised to consider any further meeting where the South-west and South-south are not involved as Southern Nigeria because the issues involved affect all of us.

“We also demand that the Arewa youths and their sponsors must withdraw the quit notice given to the people of the South-east, as failure to do so will be taken as an ultimatum given to the entire Southern Nigeria to quit their region and any attack against anybody from the South, will be considered an attack against Southern Nigeria.

“We therefore advise the federal government to take seriously and live up to the primary responsibility of any government, which is to protect the lives and property of every citizen of Nigeria wherever they may reside,” they said amongst other demands.

Those present at the meeting which held at the Lekki, Lagos home of Adebayo were General Alani Akinrinade (rtd.), President, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Nnia Nwodo, Secretary, Afenifere, Mr. Femi Okunrounmu, Dr. Okey Anueyiaya, Chief Sydney Dike, Chief Eric Ebeh, Walter Ofonagoro, Senator Bucknor Akinrele, Ogita Iyalla-Finnih, Dr. Kunle Olajide, Chief Mike Uwaka and Abdulaziz Ude.

Others were Chief Goddy Uwazurike, Prof George Obiozor, Prof. Joe Irukwu, Charles Odunukwe, Iyaze Ebigwe, Col. Tony Iyiam, Senator Femi Okunrounmu, Dr. Amos Akingba, Supo Shonibare, Chief Tokunbo Ajasin, Senator Bassey Henshaw, Air Comodore Idongest Nkanga (rtd) and Chief Guy Ikokwu.

The South-east leaders have clearly taken a very patriotic position against the pressure on them to stand for their people in the midst of alleged unfairness against the South-east within the nation’s present structure and their effort is greatly noted. But they must also begin to constructively engage the leaders of the two groups that are fanning the embers of secession as well as sensitise their teeming youths on the benefits of staying together as a people.

Although there is no part of the country today without some sense of inadequacy within the collective, even those whose kith and kin are in power, it is also a case of palpable evidence that the South-east might have been relegated to a detestable corner, albeit largely by their own making and mostly through their brand of politics. It still does not change the fact that they remain a huge and critical part of the entity called Nigeria and cannot be treated unfairly on any account

Interestingly, the near-collective gravitation towards one goal – restructuring – by all the ethnic stocks appears the in-thing and which is fast gaining grounds, aided by the call for a reconsideration of the 2014 national conference recommendations might as well be the road to the Nigeria of everyone’s dream. It is also expected that with this position of the South-east leaders, the ruffling of the polity by the agitations for secession would trashed forthwith and allow for a sensible re-engineering of the system towards her prosperity in unity.

QUOTE: Although there is no part of the country today without some sense of inadequacy within the collective, even those whose kith and kin are in power, it is also a case of palpable evidence that the South-east might have been relegated to a detestable corner, albeit largely by their own making and mostly through their brand of politics. It still does not change the fact that they remain a huge and critical part of the entity called Nigeria and cannot be treated unfairly on any account