The historic state visit by President Muhamadu Buhari to Imo State penultimate week is one dispensation that will remain significant due to the paradigm shift it may have launched in the country’s political terrain. Beyond any other consideration, it has not only offered a new opportunity and impetus for enhanced cooperation between the federal government and the South East zone of the country. It has also served even tacitly, as a denouncement of the ‘dot in a circle’ expression earlier used by the President, in reference to trouble makers in the South East region, during a recent interview with the crew of Arise Television, and had been amplified as well as exploited by his detractors to cast him in the mould of a nemesis for the South East. The President had visited Imo State on Thursday September 9 2021, in a development that surprised not a few Nigerians and foreigners alike, in both the timing of the visit and the circumstances that preceded as well as accompanied it. Needless to emphasise that the visit had significantly enriched Buhari’s credentials, with not a few now seeing his peacemaker side, since the onset of the face-off between the security forces and restive elements in the South East region. The foregoing notwithstanding, the visit’s success also remains a shining tribute to the hosting Governor of Imo State Hope Uzodinma, for facilitating it with its promise of offerings significant, strategic dividends for the zone.
Placed in context, the visit was ordinarily not expected to happen as it had come at a time of scarcely favourable security ambience in the South East region,` with sporadic clashes between agents as well as sympathisers of the proscribed separatist group IPOB, and the country’s security force. Needless to point out that the situation generated in tow, attendant significant losses of life and property from both sides of the conflict. To press home their case, the IPOB – in their inclination to diminish whatever positive dividend would come out of the visit, had imposed a sit-at-home order throughout the state in a bid to vitiate its symbolism. The IPOB intervention would prove most potent as the President actually met virtually empty streets with only scanty crowds to welcome him to the state. However, even as such may be a disruptive detraction from the ambience of a regular Presidential state visit, the fact remained that the absence of crowds from the streets of Owerri during Buhari’s visit was for all practical intents and purposes, not out of disdain for him. The situation is best attributed to fear of the ubiquitous enforcers of the IPOB stay-at-home order, who as painful lessons from hindsight teach, are known to deploy ruthless, punitive measures to exact compliance with their sit-at-home orders. It is therefore instructive for the President and his handlers to appreciate that his rating among Imolites should not be measured by the size of the crowds during his visit, as the people were simply avoiding danger to themselves.
With the visit having come and gone, the stage is now set for stocktaking by the Presidency as well as Imo State and the wider South East community. This is just as the entire country also needs to learn so much from the ‘Buhari in Imo’ spectacle. For the Presidency, this visit qualifies as a game changer in its relationship with the restive South East zone and by extension, virtually all other sections of the country with similar misgivings over the current state of affairs. However, his response to the galaxy of leaders of the state and the entire South East who gathered to receive as well as honour him was conciliatory, thereby boosting his credentials as a peace initiator, whose enterprise needs to be exploited further by the zone. This point is of utmost importance to the more aggrieved interests in the zone who are still sold to the mindset of adopting belligerence, in chasing whatever cause, including the separatist agenda of an independent Biafra nation. It will be pedestrian and presumptuous not to appreciate that as President of this country who is officially endowed with humongous stocks of intelligence assets and insights, Buhari did not anticipate a possibly cold reception by the IPOB interests in the state including the crowdless streets, and may be, even more insidious contingencies as well as tendencies. Yet he came as it were into the ‘lions’ den’ to demonstrate that peace with the South East, remains his priority anytime.
This gesture of peace building by Buhari should not be allowed to dissipate by the South East leaders and the people, not because they are acting in fear, but because they need to demonstrate the finer values of Ndigbo as ‘Ndi ji ofor acho udo’ (conscientious peace purveyors). Clearly it will not be an easy task especially with the deep seated resentment against the Buhari administration in the zone, over real and perceived injustices, and which had been the main driver for the IPOB campaign. Yet a new leadership conversation and paradigm in the zone has to be generated, as well as such that the IPOB network has to reconcile with. For the IPOB, the truth needs to be appreciated that even if a Biafra emerges today, Nnamdi Kanu may not necessarily be the leader. This is food for thought for whom it may concern.
Meanwhile, for this visit it is kudos to Hope Uzodinma, for one good step forward.