Top leaders of the South-East geo-political zone including some serving ministers have shunned questions on how to end the agitation in their region being spearheaded by the proscribed group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Daily Trust reports that in the last couple of weeks, many security operatives have been killed and security formations and INEC offices destroyed allegedly by the security arm of IPOB, the Eastern Security Network (ESN).
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This is just as northerners who are carrying out their lawful businesses, especially foodstuff merchants in the South -East have been attacked and their wares stolen or vandalised by members of the proscribed group.
Daily Trust had selected 10 prominent personalities from the South-East cutting across political divides to proffer solutions to the menace of the group which is agitating for the breakup of the country.
Those contacted by our reporters included a former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, Minister of Science and Technology Ogbonnaya Onu, former Senate President Ken Nnamani, former Governor of Anambra State, Jim Nwobodo, and former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili.
Also contacted were; former Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Sam Amadi and President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo World Wide, the foremost Igbo sociocultural organisation, Ambassador George A Obiozor.
Three questions were asked; to state their position on the agitation in the South-East, the way out, what they have done to end the agitation and their position on the secession agitation.
Ekweremadu, Onu, Ngige, Okorocha silent
Efforts to get former Deputy Senate President, Ekweremadu to speak on the matter failed as the promise by his media aide, Uche Anichukwu, to send the comments by his boss to this paper was not fulfilled as at the time this report was filed.
Also, Minister Onu refused to comment on what he had done to solve the crisis in the South-East of the country.
This newspaper had called Onu’s mobile line several times last week and on Monday without an answer. His media aide, Sunny Onyeukwu, didn’t answer calls made to his line too. Messages sent to them were not answered either.
Also, when contacted, Chief Nwobodo declined to comment, saying, “I am not feeling very well, so I am not in a position to say anything now. For some days, I have been on the bed; I am still on the bed now.”
Similarly, Ngige was not forthcoming when efforts were made. Contacted, the spokesman for the ministry, Charles Akpan asked one of our correspondents to write formally to the minister.
A formal letter dated June 1, 2021, which was signed by the Managing Editor of Daily Trust, Stella Iyaji requesting to interview the minister was submitted on Friday, June 4 but a feedback was yet to be given at the time this report was filed.
When called on phone, one of the aides to the minister, Mr Nwachukwu told Daily Trust that his principal had been busy holding series of meetings across the country but promised to get back anytime the minister is ready.
The appointment given by the aides of Okorocha to one of our reporters for an interview with their boss hit the rock yesterday evening. After waiting for more than three hours, our reporter was told that the interview has been rescheduled for today.
Abaribe, Ezekwesili, Amadi speak
But a former federal Minister of Health, Prof. Ihechukwu Maduike, said Ndigbo supports an egalitarian and inclusive Nigeria based on justice, equity and fairness.
“We support restructuring and a president from the South-East in 2023. We seek a genuine reconciliation and reintegration policy towards Ndigbo,” he said.
Also, Professor Sam Amadi blamed the current crisis in the South-East on President Muhammadu Buhari’s alleged mismanagement of the country’s diversity amidst the agitation for the restoration of Biafra earlier commenced by MASSOB during the government of Olusegun Obasanjo.
“But the recent wave is a Buhari’s creation. Buhari mismanagement of national diversity encouraged very radical and broad agitation across different regions of Nigeria. President Buhari’s failure to engender trust in him as a national leader aggravated separatist sentiments especially in the South-East.
“But we need to rebuild national cohesion. We need to deescalate the crisis. South-East leaders need to work with northern leaders to end the crisis. We can rebuild the trust again and build a country based on justice and equal prosperity,” he said.
On his part, the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said that the sudden spike in violence in the South-East and the attendant killings and destruction of public facilities under any guise was condemnable, unacceptable and must never, for whatever reason, be condoned.
Abaribe said the mounting violence, which had thrown the zone into confusion, called for “deep” investigations to unravel the actual identities of the perpetrators.
He, therefore, called on the Inspector General of Police “to dig deep in his investigations to unravel the actual identities of these unknown gunmen determined to create a state of anarchy in the South-East.”
Similarly, a former Minister of Education, Obiageli Ezekwesili blamed President Buhari for the agitation in the region.
She said: “The real question is how the government of President Buhari so grievously mishandled its saga with IPOB that it degenerated into the current military action against innocent communities and even churches in the South-East? “Every reasonable person should see that it is wrong of the federal government to conflate or confuse the South-East for IPOB. They are not one and the same. The South-East is a region in Nigeria with citizens that are entitled to their dignity of life according to the 1999 constitution.”
On his part, the former Senate President Nnamani called for the usage of modern technology to fish out the real perpetrators of the killings and other forms of violence in the South-East part of the country.
He told Daily Trust in an exclusive interview that this is to prevent the killings and punishment of innocent while the real perpetrators remain on the prowl.
He also condemned the violence, saying that the perpetrators do not mean well for the region and the country hence must be stopped.
“Burning police stations and attacking the police is barbaric and uncalled for. If you are running from danger, it is the police that you run to for protection. Now that you are attacking the same police, where would you run to if need be? It is a dangerous situation and invitation to anarchy,” Nnamani said.
We’ve always denounced violence
President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo World Wide, the foremost Igbo sociocultural organisation, Ambassador George A. Obiozor in a chat with Daily Trust, said it was not true that Igbo leaders have been silent over the insurrection in the South-East.
He said the allegation was politically motivated and should be dismissed. He, however, stated that dialogue and not military approach remains the best solution to the crisis at hand.
He said, “This allegation is not only extremely wrong, it has serious political motives. Consequently, it should be dismissed and disregarded for its real intention is a seasonal political attempt to put obstacles on the possible political cooperation or harmony between Ndigbo and certain leaders and sections of Nigeria.
“It is an old game whose political values or significance has long evaporated into historical oblivion. Our national political leaders should put on their thinking cap. Let political wisdom prevail. Peaceful options build and unite nations faster and more enduring than military and violent means,” he said.
Killers in S/East are Boko Haram soul mates — Soyinka
Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has said that those who are responsible for the killings and destruction in the South-East geopolitical zone are soul mates of Boko Haram insurgents.
Soyinka said; “I hold no brief for those who resort to burning down police stations, slaughter their occupants simply for the crime of earning a measly monthly pittance, torch electoral offices and assassinate politicians in calculated effort to set sections of the country against others in the promotion of their own political goals.
“These are largely nihilists, psychopaths and/or criminal lords, soul mates of Boko Haram, ISWAP, Da’esh and company, not to be confused with genuine liberators. All over the world, throughout history, elections are denounced, boycotted, and generally delegitimised without recourse to wanton butchery.”
Wamakko, Kwande tackle South- East leaders
The apparent silence by the South -East political leaders has infuriated their colleagues in the North. Speaking on the matter, a former Governor of Sokoto State, Aliyu M. Wamakko berated South-East leaders for their “silence” over the rising spate of insecurity in the region.
He said unlike northern leaders who had been pacifying their aggrieved followers not to retaliate some of the atrocities committed against Northerners living in the East, “leaders from the South-East feel they can allow their own people to do what they wanted”.
He added that Northern leaders “may have no choice than to stop dousing the increasing tension among our own followers.”
On his part, a former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Switzerland, Yahaya Kwande, said the continued killing of northerners in the Southern part of the country by IPOB would lead to another crisis if not urgently nip in the bud.
In an interview on Monday, Kwande condemned the activities of IPOB, urging the South-East leaders to call their people to order to forestall reprisal.
They’ve abdicated their responsibility to gangs — ACF
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has accused the apex Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo of abdicating its responsibilities by subjecting themselves to the dictates of IPOB and ESN.
The ACF, speaking with Daily Trust in Kaduna, said it was shocked and disappointed that Igbo leaders have abdicated the leadership of their ethnic groups to gangs, describing the situation as a terrible embarrassment to the Igbo tribe and the country.
The Forum’s National Publicity Secretary, Emmanuel Yawe said: “As far as we know, the Igbos benefit from the unity of this country more than any other ethnic group because there is no state or location in this country that you will not find an Igbo man with serious investment.”
He described the silence of Igbo leaders to killings and attacks in the South-East as disappointing, saying Igbos such as Zik of Africa played a heroic role in creating Nigeria and the survival of Nigeria was to the advantage of Igbos.
“Niger State alone has a landmass that is three times the size of the South-East, so if you drive all the Igbos because they have created Biafra and have to leave Nigeria, anyway, and you send them to that enclave, they will be so populated in that place because they are not sure whether the South-South will also agree with them,” he said.
“They have seen the evil of one ethnic group rising up against a region of the country. It happened in 1966 when some four or five Igbo majors decided to assassinate the whole northern political and military leadership. The danger those four caused the Igbo race is unimaginable,” he said.
Arewa elders: Secessionists must avoid another war
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF), on Monday, warned the leaders from Igbo extraction to prevail on the secessionists in the South-East region as soon as possible to avoid another war in the country.
Briefing journalists in Abuja after a stormy closed-door meeting, the northern elders stressed that the silence of Igbo leaders is no longer golden in the face of killings of Northerners in the region.
According to the spokesman of NEF, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, the Northern leaders have resolved not to allow any war in the country, saying the silence by Southern leaders meant they were supporting the secessionists’ agitations.
“The forum has arrived at the difficult conclusion that if support for secession among the Igbo is as widespread as it is being made to look, and Igbo leadership appears to be in support of it, then the country should be advised not stand in its way,” Baba-Ahmed said.
The closed-door meeting, presided over by its Chairman, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, maintained that it would not be the best choice for the Igbo or any region to leave the country all well-meaning Nigerians have toiled to build.
Speaking further, the forum insisted that attacks and killings of Northerners and federal government employees and destruction of national assets must stop, adding those who carried out the heinous crimes must be arrested and prosecuted.
By Ismail Mudashir, John Chuks Azu, Zakariyya Adaramola, Abdullateef Salau, Abbas Jimoh, Idowu Isamotu (Abuja), Lami Sadiq (Kaduna) Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos) & Ado Abubakar Musa (Jos)