Marginalisation cry in Southeast is real – Eze Samuel A. Ohiri
• We Cannot Sweep Issues Of Peace And Harmony Under The Carpet
In the face of recent clamour for secession by some segments of the country, Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo recently met with 20 traditional rulers from five states of the Southeast on June 18, 2017 at the Aso Rock Villa. The Palace Watch reached out to His Royal Majesty, Eze Samuel A. Ohiri, Chairman, Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers, who was at the meeting.
What transpired at the meeting?
Expectedly, the Acting President expressed concerns about recent happenings in the country, vis a vis recent agitation by MASSOB, IPOB and the counter threat and quit notice issued by the Northern youths to Igbo people to vacate their areas within three months. He appealed to all of us to learn to live together as Nigerians and members of one united indivisible country.
He, however, warned that people should desist from making inflammatory and hate comments. He said since we are a nation of laws and constitution, nobody should do anything that is unconstitutional, and that the Federal Government is ready to enforce laws of the country, whenever the need arises, stressing that any person that violates or attempts to violate the laws will be prosecuted.
He appealed to all Nigerians across board to be involved in ensuring there is lasting peace in the country. He explained that that was the main reason he invited traditional rulers to discuss with him on how to ensure that some of these challenges and problems are addressed and resolved. In a nutshell, what the Acting President said was that we all need to live together as members of one country, who have stake in whatever happens to the country.
Were there any specific demands made by the royal fathers from the Southeast during the meeting?
After the Acting President’s address, we had to respond. Because he was the one that invited us, we wanted to hear what he had to say first. As you would expect, in a situation like this, we had no prepared speech. So, after hearing him out, we knew the reasons for the invitation. We told him that we are aware of these agitations, but we as royal fathers, we have been trying to engage the youths in discussions and meetings. The message we have been preaching as traditional rulers is that of peace, love, unity of the county and brotherhood. On our part as traditional rulers from the Southeast zone, we have been trying to build bridges of love and peace across Nigeria. We then thanked him for the invitation and the concerns he had expressed. We also thanked him for the actions he has so far taken to address the issues that have given rise to the present tension in the country, in a deliberate effort to ensure peace and harmony reign in the country, as they are serious issues that should not be swept under the carpet.
We said we are aware that he had also invited and met with such groups as the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo and Igbo political leaders a few days ago. We told him we are aware that he has also reached out to leaders from other geo-political zones in the country and had discussion with them. We applauded his approach to the issues, as these are trying times for our country, and if such matters are not properly handled, there is every tendency they could get out control.
Thereafter, the Acting President asked for our advice and the way forward and how we could assist him in bringing about lasting peace to the country. We told him that on our part, we have been talking and advising the youths in our region on the need to be peaceful and maintain decorum in all they do, in an effort to calm them. Sadly, most of the youths leading these agitations did not witness the Nigerian Civil war, while most of the traditional rulers who met with the Acting President did not only witnessed the ugly war. Indeed, very many of us participated in it.
So, in view of our experiences during that civil war, we are aware that war in any form is not a pleasant experience. We stressed that we do not see the sense in anybody wanting to go to war over issues that could be amicably resolved through dialogue at a round table. The truth is that some of these youths do not understand why we are taking the position of peace and dialogue in matters like this.
We then went ahead to mention some of the things the youths in the Southeast are complaining about, whenever they come to our palaces for discussion. The youths from the Southeast definitely have their reasons for agitating. And some of the issues they have been raising, which we told the Acting President to immediately look into, are that of marginalisation and discrimination. They strongly believe the Southeast region is being marginalised in the national scheme of things. Citizens from this zone are being dehumanised; that people from the Southeast have been killed in some parts of the country and nothing happened to their killers. They have also been complaining about the horrible state of roads in the Southeast zone, with no Federal Government presence in terms of infrastructures. They are also complaining about the issues of discrimination in the area of employment in the Federal Civil Service; that Federal Government needs to improve on the issue of appointment of Igbo indigenes in public service. They have also been complaining that none of the service chiefs as at present is from the Southeast zone; that nobody from the region is in the kitchen cabinet of the present administration.
The Southeast youths are also concerned and worried about the deliberate exclusion of the Southeast zone from the new rail-track project being built across the country, saying these are signs that the Igbo people are no longer wanted in Nigeria. They also cited the just released 2017 Federation budget, stressing that minimal amount was deliberately allocated for projects in the region in comparison to other parts of the country, especially some parts of the North.
Another issue the youths have been agitating about, which we also made known to the Acting President, is that of other zones having six and seven states, while the Southeast has only five states till date. So, they are saying they want this imbalance addressed immediately. The facts that must not be ignored is that, these are children that were born after the unfortunate civil war. While growing up, they have continually observed that these issues they are complaining about have not been addressed. They are now wondering when this ill treatment of the Igbo people will stop. You can’t blame them.
When a young man comes to one’s palace and you tell him, please don’t do this, don’t do that, they usually ask, ‘Your Majesty, please tell us why is it that every other geo-political zone in Nigeria has six or more states, while the Southeast zone has only five? These are very germane issues we sometimes find very difficult to answer.
While the agitations by Southeast youths may not be faulted, but the approach of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is no doubt infuriating youths from other zones. What are traditional rulers in the Southeast doing to put him and his followers under control?
Our own style as traditional rulers is to continue to engage our youths in dialogue, and educate them on the need to avoid violence, no matter the circumstances. As far as I know, Nnamdi Kanu has not yet approached any of us for a meeting. As you are aware, he has not been resident in Nigeria. He only sneaked into the country on a few occasions. It was during one of such trips that he was arrested in Lagos and kept in detention for a very long time, until he was recently granted bail. So, we have not had any contact with him.
Anyhow, we have been dealing with some of his supporters, and have been doing our very best to talk to them. We have had reasons to tell these supporters of his, that war is not the best thing to go for in any civilized society. We have also told them that the issue of marginalisation of the Southeast and other issues they have been complaining about can be discussed without necessarily going to war. We have also assured them, that we will continue to talk to the powers that be, until these very important points they have been complaining about are addressed.
As far as I know, Nnamdi Kanu has not reached out to any of us traditional rulers for guidance, discussion or whatever. Kanu has followers across the Southeast zone and the country in general. We have all this while been trying to talk to some of his followers. As traditional rulers from this part of the country, we will continue to preach peace.
But I am told Nnamdi Kanu’s father is a traditional ruler. Are you saying his father does not attend any of your meetings?
Yes, I am equally told that his father is a traditional ruler, but I have not met him. I also do not know him in person. As an Igbo traditional ruler, I can imagine that he is probably talking to his son. But sometimes, no matter what you do or say to make your children see reasons over some issues, they won’t listen, just because they already have their own beliefs and mindset over such issues. So, I’m just imagining that Kanu senior is talking to his son.
But when we hold meetings as traditional rulers from the Southeast and discuss issues that bother and concern all Igbo people, if even his father did not attend such a meeting, I am sure that whatever decisions reached will get to his father in his palace. So, I am very sure, that Kanu senior might be talking to his son, though to what extent his son listens to him, I can’t say.
Now that Southeast traditional rulers have had the opportunity to present their grievances to Federal Government, what are your expectations?
We honestly expect that Federal Government this time around will, without any hesitation, begin to address all the complaints of Southeasterners, if they honestly want us to remain peaceful and in harmony and remain one indivisible country. Personally, I believe everybody is entitled to his or her opinion on any matter, but nobody is entitled to another person’s facts, which are sacred and are there for everybody to see. Whether people from other geo-political zones believe it or not, there is this very strong perception and belief in the whole of Southeast that the region is not properly treated in the national scheme of things; that deliberate efforts are not being made to carry them along. Since President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration came into power, there is this speculation in the Southeast that the current administration has been seriously discriminating against the region, just because we did not vote for him.
I am from Imo State and do not think that that assertion is true, because Imo is an APC controlled state. My governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha is also an APC governor. He is not just an APC governor, but he also happens to be a very active member of the APC. But if you come to Imo State today, you will not find any Federal Government presence in terms of infrastructures anywhere in the state. There is no road project or anything we can point at from the centre. I know of so many young men and women from Imo state, even from my own ward and kingdom, who worked tirelessly for APC’s victory in the presidential election, as well as the governorship election in Imo State. But there is nothing they have benefitted so far from the APC government at the centre. I tell you, this group of youths is frustrated. It is as bad as that. I am talking in terms of appointments by the Federal Government.
During the last elections, the Imo State governor was called all manner of names, such as Boko Haram and Ewu Hausa in the entire Southeast, just because he was resolute in his support for President Buhari. But so far, the projects one could call Federal Government projects in Imo States are those Governor Okorocha has undertaken and donated to such Federal Government agencies as the Police, the Navy and the Army. From the foregoing, it is clear to all that the marginalisation cry in the Southeast is not only true and real. The government of the day at the center needs to look into it.
When the issue of the Niger Delta agitation started, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua set up amnesty programme. That was wise and good and it worked. That move helped to douse some of the tension in that region at that time. Even recently, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo made a very smart and intelligent move to again douse the tension that was brewing in that region. He toured the entire Niger Delta Region to feel their pulse and it worked. This particular move helped to address some of the issues people of that region were agitating about. Today, as a result of that move, the level of vandalisation of pipelines and crude oil facilities has reduced considerably. This has resulted in the increase of our daily oil output as a country.