- Buhari: I gave South-east four substantive ministers , North has seven ministers of states
By Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
Igbo leaders, led by Deputy Senate President, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu and the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Igbo socio-cultural group, John Nnia Nwodo, yesterday met with President Muhammadu Buhari in Aso Rock and alleged perpetual marginalisation of the South-east region.
The delegation comprising governors and deputy governors from five states of the zone, National Assembly leaders and ministers from the South-east, urged the President to address their plight, during the meeting held behind closed door.
Answering questions from newsmen after the meeting, Nwodo who said the group had a blunt and fruitful discussion with the President, said successive governments had abandoned infrastructural developments in the region, resulting in what he described as infrastructure deficit.
According to him, the emergence of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) which has been campaigning for the secession of the South-east from Nigeria was a product of the region’s marginalisation.
He said the situation had continued to make their youths restive.
Nwodo listed issues they tabled before the President to include cases of abandoned major roads such as Enugu-Onitsha, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Aba-Ikot Ekpene roads, in the region, which he said were no longer motorable.
He also said the delegation called the President’s attention to infrastructure decay in the main airport in South-east, Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu as well as the need to dredge the River Niger, reticulate gas pipelines in South-east and devolve powers to the states.
He said the President in his response, requested for time to comprehensively examine their complaints, pointing out that he was frank in his expressions and they had no reason to doubt him.
“We had a frank and robust exchange. We discussed problems of the South-east and as Head of State, he is the final repository of an appeal for the resolutions of those problems. We went into great details about each of those problems and l have confidence that they will give it the attention they deserve.
“We dealt with problems of development in the South-east, basic capital projects which have for a very long time been neglected not just from this government but for a very long time, major arteries of federal highways in the South-east have been in complete state of disrepair. Enugu-Onitsha, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Aba-Ikoti Ekpene roads are virtually impassable.
“We talked about the inland waterways and the dredging of the River Niger. We talked about the reticulation of gas pipeline on the South-east. We export gas from the South-east to other parts of the country, but there is no reticulation of the pipeline and industrial clusters in the south east.
“We talked about the only international airport we have in the South-east which has very bad infrastructure in terms of the buildings. We got assurance from the President that he will deal with each of those problems.
“Like I have said, these problems have been there overtime and we have had several presidents. It didn’t just happen in the last two years. But we expressed the desire that he should be able to address them.
“We came here for the issues of developments in our place. We talked about IPOB as a symptomatic consequence of the continuous marginalisation of the South-east over a long period of time. Understandably, our children are restive and we want to make sure that the federal government is responsive to the issues that have cumulated in the quintessence of these agitations.
“We did talk about the issue of devolution of powers, the constitution, the paucity of the states and local governments in our place and the President has asked that he be given time to look at this more holistically. There is no reason for me to doubt them because this is the first time I have had this interaction with him. I have the feeling that he spoke to us very frankly,” Nwodo submitted.
A statement issued later by the president’s chief spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, over the meeting, added that the President told the delegation that he came to government with clear conscience, pledging that a substantial part of counterpart funding from the Chinese government would be deployed to fund infrastructural deficit in the region.
On allegation of under-representation of the Igbo in his government, Adesina said the President told the delegation: “I gave South-east four substantive ministers in the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Investment, Science and Technology and Labour. Seven states in the North got ministers of state and of the two ministries headed by your sons. I cannot take any decision on foreign policy and investments without their input.”
He said the president promised the leaders that he would visit the states in the zone soon.
Present at the meeting besides Ekweremadu and Nwodo were: Chairman of the South-east caucus in the National Assembly, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Governors of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, his Abia and Ebonyi States counterparts, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu and Dave Umahi while the governors of Imo and Anambra States, Rochas Okorocha and Willie Obiano, were represented by their respective deputies, Eze Madumere and Dr. Ikem Okeke.
Others were Ministers of Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonaya Onu, Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geofrrey Onyema.