There was a standstill in Owerri, Imo State capital on Thursday as South-East leaders converged to join Governor Hope Uzodinma in receiving President Muhammadu Buhari who was in the state for a one-day official visit.
Vehicular movements in and out of Imo were grounded as security agencies took charge of all the major roads in the town. Markets and stalls in the capital city were locked as residents stayed at home.
The measures might not be unconnected with the stay at home order issued by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) over the president’s visit.
After landing at the airport, the president who was decked in Igbo traditional attire inspected a guard of honour before he was driven to Owerri city centre for the inauguration of four projects executed by the Uzodinma administration.
At the event were Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, Abia State Deputy Governor, Ude Okechukwu, former Senate President Ken Nnamanni, leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, traditional rulers, serving and former members of the National Assembly and former chief of army staff Gen. Azubuike Ihejjirika.
They also included former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Rear Admiral Ebitu Ukiwe; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema and Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Uche Ogah, among other party stalwarts.
The projects inaugurated are the Ihiagwa/Nekede/ Obinze road, the Ballon-driven underground tunnel which is checking flooding in Owerri, and the Egbeada Byepass road.
Buhari also commissioned the ultra-modern Executive Council Chambers before he went into a closed-door meeting with Igbo leaders, traditional rulers and other stakeholders.
What I want to be remembered for
Speaking at a town hall meeting with the South-East leaders, the President said that he would want to be remembered as the President who stabilised Nigeria in the area of security, economic prosperity and triumph over corruption.
He said, “If there is no security, there is nothing anyone can do no matter how much you try or the initiative you have. Security is the number one priority and then the economy. When people feel secure they will mind their own business.”
The President told South-East leaders that while fighting corruption in Nigeria had become very sophisticated and difficult, he would continue to strive to leave a lasting legacy of integrity and accountability.
‘‘Nobody can accuse me of having companies or mansions anywhere in the country and I thank God that I try to keep myself as clean as possible so that I cannot be taken hostage.
‘‘I will do my best to ensure that Nigerians that try hard, succeed in their efforts,’’ he said.
On the forthcoming 2023 elections, the president reaffirmed his commitment to free, fair and credible polls, urging the leaders to honestly educate their constituencies on the need to hold their elected representatives accountable.
Acknowledging the resourcefulness and enterprising spirit of the Igbo people, the President said, ‘‘The fundamental thing about the Igbo people is that there is no town you will visit in Nigeria without seeing the Igbos being in charge of either infrastructure or pharmaceutical industry.
‘‘Therefore, it is unthinkable for me that any Igbo man would consider himself not to be a part of Nigeria.
‘‘The evidence is there for everyone to see that Igbos are in charge of Nigeria’s economy.’’
Noting that no country could make any meaningful progress without the development of infrastructure, the President expressed regret that successive governments at the federal level contributed to the decay of critical infrastructure in the country.
He promised that the federal government would complete ongoing key projects in the South East, including the 2nd Niger Bridge as well as the railway lines and routes linking the region with other parts of the country.
‘‘I firmly believe that when you get infrastructure right, Nigerians will mind their own businesses,’’ he said, adding that as a group, the Igbos stand to benefit more from the ongoing development of infrastructure in the country because ‘‘they are more enterprising.’’
The president promised to assist the people of Imo State to overcome insecurity and solve infrastructural deficiencies of the state.
Speaking while commissioning the Egbeada- Onitsha bypass named after a prominent son of the state, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Buhari said that he was impressed with the level of development in the state.
The president, who said no society could make any meaningful progress in the face of insecurity and infrastructural deficiency, said that his hope of a better Nigeria had been rekindled with infrastructural progress made by Uzodinma.
Uzodimma, earlier in his speech, urged the president to deal permanently with the issues of insecurity and flooding ravaging the state.
He said the Ndigbo believe in a united Nigeria predicated on ‘‘justice, equity and fairness.’’
He thanked the President for addressing the interests of Ndi Igbo through deliberate policy initiatives designed to give the people a true sense of belonging, including the ongoing construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge, among others.
The governor said the people of South-East would remain grateful to the President for approving the establishment of a Naval Base in Oguta Local Government Area of the State, adding that as time unfolds, the economic benefits of the base would manifest.
The governor also commended the president for supporting the appointment of two prominent Igbos into two key international organisations – Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Assistant Director-General of Health Emergency Intelligence, World Health Organisation (WHO).
‘Only justice, equity can prevent secession’
Also speaking at the town hall meeting, the President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor, told the president that only justice and equity could stop secessionist agitations in the country.
He also appealed to the president to release Igbo youths detained by various security agencies across the country.
Obiozor described the president’s visit as symbolic, which he noted, would mark the beginning of a new chapter of dialogue, cooperation and understanding between Ndigbo and the Buhari administration.
He said, “Your presence reassures us that there is still reason for optimism for Nigeria and Nigerian unity. Ndigbo are committed to Nigerian unity and there is news for those trying to push us out of Nigeria. Ndigbo in Nigeria are like fish in the ocean, no matter how rough the storm is, it cannot drive the fish out of the ocean.
Obizor added, “In this context, Ohanaeze Ndigbo calls for the establishment of a zonal and state police apparatus to support and complement the existing Federal Security architecture. It is in this same vein that Ohanaeze.”