In his first working visit to Imo State since winning a second term, President Muhammadu Buhari Thursday said it was absurd to him that any Igbo man would be considering exiting Nigeria as the region dominates the economy of the country.
The president also assured that at the end of his eight-year tenure in May 2023, most economic and security challenges faced by the country would have been addressed.
The president made the assertions in Owerri at a town hall meeting with South-east leaders, which was the first time Imo would host a president on working visit since 2009.
“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,” he said.
Buhari also said he wanted to be remembered as the president who stabilised the Nigerian security and economic situations, and delivered prosperity and triumph over corruption.
The president reiterated his commitment to credible and fair elections in 2023, and promised to complete the Second Niger Bridge as well as other on-going federal projects in the South-east geo-political zone.
President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide, Professor George Obiozor, in his remarks, assured Buhari of the continued support of Ndigbo. But Obiozor demanded that Nigerians must be governed by the principle of equity, irrespective.
Buhari stated, “If there is no security, there is nothing anyone can do no matter how much you try or the initiative you have. Security is number one priority and, then, the economy. When people feel secure they will mind their own business.”
The president said, though, fighting corruption in the country had become very sophisticated and difficult, he would continue to strive to leave a lasting legacy of integrity and accountability in the governance.
Buhari said, “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 urged leaders of the region to sincerely educate their citizens on the need to hold their elected representatives accountable.
Buhari saluted and sent his admiration to the Igbo for their resourcefulness and enterprising spirit. He 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.
The president noted that no country could make meaningful progress without the development of infrastructure. He regretted the contributions of successive governments at the federal level to the decay of critical infrastructure in the country.
“I firmly believe that when you get infrastructure right, Nigerians will mind their own businesses,” he said, adding that as a group, Igbos stand to benefit more from the on-going development of infrastructure in the country because “they are more enterprising”.
Earlier in his remarks at the town hall meeting, Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State said Ndigbo believed in a united Nigeria predicated on “justice, equity and fairness.” Uzodinma thanked Buhari for addressing the interests of Igbos through deliberate policy initiatives designed to give the people a true sense of belonging, including the on-going construction of the Second Niger Bridge, among other projects.
The governor said the people of the region would remain grateful to the president for approving the establishment of a Naval Base in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State, adding that as time unfolds, the economic benefits of the base would manifest.
He also commended the president for strongly supporting the appointment of two prominent Igbos – Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu – into key international organisations as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation and Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organisation, respectively.
Obiozor assured the president of the support of Ndigbo.
The Ohaneze president-general said, “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 and no matter how rough the storm is, it cannot drive the fish out of the ocean.
“Mr. President, it is in this context that we see a new dawn in your distinguished presence in Igbo land and believe that on your return to Abuja the significance and substance of this visit will form new foundation of a platform for meaningful dialogue on critical issues of concern to the Igbo nation.”
Obiozor said the president’s visit was a reassurance that there was still reason for optimism for Nigeria and Nigerian unity.
He expressed belief that the visit would mark the beginning of a new chapter of dialogue, cooperation and understanding between Ndigbo and the Buhari administration.
He stated, “Mr. President, after all Nigeria as gone through in its nearly 60 years of chequered history of crises and continuity and the spectacular patriotic role of Ndigbo to ensure its unity and survival, the consistent perception that the Igbos are separatists and secessionists agitators is a historical fallacy.
“Indeed, if the truth must be told, Ndigbo are the most federating unit among all Nigerian citizens. Generally speaking, anywhere in Nigeria you don’t find the Igbos, run away something is wrong there.
“Igbos are market people and travel adventurers. Consequently, what defines the Igbo character is propensity for friendliness and harmonious peaceful coexistence and spirit of universalism of mankind. This is who we are. Our Igbo adage says ‘Ojemba Enwe Iro’, literally translated – a traveller makes no enemies.”
According to the Ohaneze leader, another misconception is that Igbos cannot speak with one voice.
He said, “Mr. President, in spite of all the threats of secessionism or separatism facing the country, there is no doubt that no secessionist element can succeed in Nigeria provided there is good governance based on equity, justice and fairness to all the citizens.
“Your Excellency, the most urgent and imperative need of Ndigbo today is security. The security of Ndigbo in Nigeria and beyond has become a compelling primary responsibility of serious concern for Ndigbo.
“Regrettably, our South-east zone has recently become a theatre of conflict, negating the peace-loving nature of our people. 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.”
Obiozor reiterated later on the Arise News Channel that Buhari’s visit to the Igbo heartland gave the Igbo optimism for the future of Nigeria.
During the visit, Buhari commissioned four projects executed by the Uzodinma government, including the Naze/Ihiagwa/Nekede/Obinze link road, the Balloon Driven/Flood Control drainage at Dick Tiger Road, the Egbeada Bypass road, and the New Exco-Chambers, Government House, Owerri.
Addressing Imo residents at the inauguration of Egbeada bypass, named after Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, the president said he was impressed with the level of work done by the state government.
“I am very pleased with what I have seen and I assure you that I will support Imo State within the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Buhari said.
However, it was observed that the sit-at-home order declared by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) over the president’s visit was obeyed.
In strict compliance with the IPOB directive, residents of Owerri, the state capital, and, indeed, most of the states in the South-east complied fully with the order. Banks, offices, shops and markets were shut and the streets were deserted.
Deji Elumoye in Abuja and Amby Uneze in Owerri