When President Muhammadu Buhari eventually visits Owerri, Imo State capital, today, the exclusion of Ndigbo from heads of security agencies, continuous agitation by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) that has almost paralysed the Southeast region, 2023 presidency and near absence of Federal Government’s presence in the region will be prominent among issues Igbo leaders are going to present to him.
Already, despite the threat by IPOB that residents of the zone should shun the President’s visit and stay indoors as a sign of protest over the continued detention of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, Owerri is bubbling with the presence of the crème de la crème of Igbos in readiness for the visit.
It was gathered that the parley, which will feature political leaders from the region, including the five governors of the zone, National Assembly members and captains of industry among others, will be led by the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
It is the first time Buhari will be parleying with Igbo leaders since becoming President in 2015 amid some hostilities towards the Presidency fueled by some statements credited to the President, such as the ‘five per cent versus 97 per cent’ comment at the U.S. Institute of Peace summit, and more recently, ‘dot in a circle’ and a tweet on IPOB, saying he will speak to them in a language they understand, which sparked the row leading to Twitter ban.
Though he had visited the states of the zone before now, they were either for his presidential campaigns or to commission projects executed by the governors.
For instance, when he visited Imo in 2015; Anambra, Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi states in 2018, they were specifically for the commissioning of projects or for his reelection campaigns.
However, today’s visit will enable Ndigbo to lay bare their mind on several developments that have not only threatened their existence in the country, but would also foster peace, development and unity of the country.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo stated that the visit would create “a turning point” in the way and manner the people of the zone perceive the rulership of the President, stressing that it was an opportunity for Buhari to make pronouncements that will either elicit joy or sorrow among the Igbo and the rest of the country.
Speaking to journalists, National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, said: “This coming is offering an opportunity to create a turning point. There is something that he will say in the gathering and everybody will begin to jubilate, there is something that he will say and everywhere will be on fire.
“We are at a critical juncture. It is a landmark visit and we hope that he will use the opportunity to make pronouncements that will endear him to the people. But let me quickly remark that we don’t have an Igbo in his service chiefs; we don’t have a grade A Minister in his cabinet. The cause of the crisis in Nigeria today is as a result of injustice. When you relegate Igbo, it says a whole lot of who you are. So, all Nigerians should rise and condemn injustice. When we do the right thing, Nigeria will start moving.”
Ogbonnia, however, stated that the zone, in spite of the call for total lockdown by IPOB, was upbeat on the visit, stressing that “no effort will be spared in telling President Buhari that we are an integral part of the country and should be treated as such.”
It was also gathered that a meeting of all Igbo leaders with their governors and representatives at the National and House of Representatives would take place last night to fine-tune issues that would be laid before the President.
But an elder statesman, Chief Chekwas Okorie, who was spotted in Owerri for the meeting, insisted that it would not be lamentations all the way.
He stated that Ndigbo would commend Buhari for the infrastructure development that had taken place in Igboland under his watch as well as the COVID-19 interventions undertaken by his administration.
He, however, stated that despite the commendations, “I can tell you that the issues of Ndigbo have been drawn up several times that may not require repeating. But we are just going to articulate the same needs and observations and see the extent he will address them.
“For a start, our Igbo land is almost militarised. It is like an area under siege. We need security but it is a bit overwhelming as if we are in a state of war. So, I will like that aspect to be highlighted so that our people will be given a freer passage and space to breathe. The number of checkpoints by military men, not even police, is on the high side.
“Then the issue of the IPOB being branded a terrorist organisation. We feel that branding was done in haste and there is nothing that stops the President from taking a second look at it. Once you rebrand it and lift the terrorist tag, we can proceed from there and perhaps consider granting Nnamdi Kanu and all those detained over agitation for Biafra conditional freedom that will make them come out.
“Kanu attracts a lot of sentiments from the young ones and we need the tension we are experiencing now to be reduced. That is why I am asking our young ones to allow the senior citizens to intervene in this matter. For instance, it does not make sense to me to ask people not to come out when their leaders are supposed to sit down and discuss matters bothering them. When you shut yourself from discussions, what else can you do? I will suggest a more diplomatic and political approach than what they are doing now.”
The leadership of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) advised the political, traditional, religious and opinion leaders of Igbo land to demand the release of Kanu from President Buhari during his visit.
National Director of MASSOB, Comrade Samuel Edeson, said: “It is imperative that Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is being subjected to inhuman torture at the DSS detention cage because of Ndigbo. He represents the aspirations of Ndigbo in Nigeria.”
FORMER Imo State governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha, however, has said that President Buhari visited the state three times under his watch and does not deserve the unnecessary attention given to today’s visit.
Okorocha, who welcomed the President to the state, disclosed in a statement by his Special Adviser (Media), Sam Onwuemeodo, that in his previous visits, “the President commissioned or inspected some of the landmark projects of Okorocha, including the International Cargo Airport, ultra-modern police headquarters and prison headquarters.”
Okorocha disclosed other areas visited as: “the Orji flyover, Akwakuma flyover, Concorde Junction tunnel, Assembly Junction tunnel, Imo International Convention Centre, magnificent Justice Oputa High Court complex, ISOPADEC headquarters, new Governor’s Lodge, Government House Chapel, Odenigbo Guest House, Alaba International Market, Naze Ultra Modern Market, Egbeada International Market, Automobile International Market, Artisan International Market and a lot of other signature projects of Okorocha.”
MEANWHILE, Imo State government has unsealed the banks it shut down on Monday night in Owerri. Residents of the state had woken up on Tuesday morning to behold almost all the banks in Owerri sealed.
Though IPOB had suspended the sit-at-home order it earlier declared would be observed every Monday, banks in the state had closed for the fifth consecutive Monday, apparently out of apprehension.
The Owerri Capital Development Authority (OCDA), which sealed the banks for not having ‘building approval’, yesterday, unsealed them.
When contacted, the General Manager of OCDA, Innocent Ikpamezie, said officials of the banks signed an undertaking to obtain the necessary papers from the development regulatory agency within an agreed time.
Ikpamezie said government decided to allow the banks to reopen in the interim because they render public service.
REACTING, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has blasted the governor, Mr. Hope Uzodinma, for sealing up banks on Monday.
HURIWA said the governor will be held accountable before the International Criminal Court (ICC) if anything untoward happened to Imo citizens, who may feel strongly to staging public demonstration against the visit of President Buhari to the state.
The group, in a statement issued yesterday in Abuja, by its national coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, expressed shock that Governor Uzodinma is spitting fire against citizens who are planning to exercise their constitutional rights.
The statement read: “We condemn the threats by the Imo State governor to unleash violence on the people should they attempt to assemble peacefully to protest the actions and inactions of the current Federal Government, including the alleged abduction and illegal subjecting of IPOB leader to illegal rendition in Kenya before being flown back in handcuffs after a week of alleged torture and physical abuses.”
The Imo government said it has put adequate security measures on ground for the President’s visit. The Commissioner for Information, Mr Declan Emelumba, said the government will spare no effort to ensure there would be no security breach in any part of the state during the visit. He warned that any person or group that would cause a breach of the peace would face the full wrath of the law.
He said the President would inaugurate some completed state government’s projects. He listed the projects to include the first phase of the Naze-Ihiagwa-Nekede link road and a balloon drainage system designed to check perennial flooding in Owerri.
Emelumba further said the President will inaugurate the Egbeada bypass, built to check traffic congestion in Owerri metropolis and the new Government House executive chamber.