Leaders of Southern Nigeria held an emergency meeting in Lagos yesterday where they urged the Federal Government to take urgent steps against the ultimatum given to Igbo to vacate the north as any attack on any easterner would be considered as an attack on all.
At the meeting by the apex Igbo and Yoruba socio-cultural organisations, Ohanaeze and Afenifere, and the South South, the groups condemned the way the government is handling the matter as if it were a crisis between the north and the south-east alone.
The quit notices indicate mutual distrust among the ethnic groups. They can only be effectively stopped by the government resolving the fundamental issues of alleged injustice and marginalisation in the polity.
In a statement signed by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who led Afenifere; former Chief of General Staff, Com. Ebittu Ukiwe (rtd), who led Ohanaeze; and Chief Albert Horsefal, who led the South South, the groups posited that the Igbo leaders should stop negotiating with the Federal Government alone on the issue of the northern youths ultimatum.
The southern leaders said they decided to come together in the interest of peace, equity, social justice and political tolerance. While reading the communiqué, the National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, Senator Bassey Henshaw and Chief Okey Anaegbwu noted that the failure of the Federal Government to arrest the brains behind the unwarranted ultimatum gave an impression of impending doom and the only way to avert such, not only now but in future, is to restructure the country to achieve true federalism.
The groups called on the government to live up to its responsibilities by condemning the activities of the Hausa, Fulani herdsmen, who are invading the entire south. They also insisted on restructuring the country based on the principle of its founding fathers.
The leaders urged the government to implement the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference as every necessary decision that could make Nigeria a better federation is contained in the report.
Others present at the meeting include Chief Mike Uwaka; Ohanaeze President General, Chief Nnia Nwodo; Chief Supo Sonibare; former Minister of Information, Dr. Walter Ofonagoro; Prof. George Obiozor; Chief Goddy Uwazurike; Chief Abdulaziz Ude; Mr. Tony Uranta; and Prof. Joe Irukwu
Also yesterday, the Department of State Services (DSS) and police warned the masterminds of quit notices to other citizens to desist or face the dire consequences of their actions.
Two weeks ago in Kaduna, 16 northern groups gave Igbo residing in northern states October 1, 2017 to quit. This was followed last week in Port Harcourt, Rivers State by a retaliatory declaration by a coalition of Niger Delta militant groups, ordering the northerners to vacate their region by the same date.
The DSS, which has the statutory mandate of ensuring internal security of the country, had been criticised for not acting promptly to arrest the northerners behind the anti-Igbo move. Even the order by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State and the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris for the arrest of the Arewa youths did not yield any result.
A statement by the DSS spokesman, Tony Opuiyo, yesterday reads: "The Department of State Services (DSS) has watched with keen interest the disturbing trend desperate and mischievous elements have tended to steer the ship of our nationhood to calamity and irretrievable destruction.
"The service, in line with its statutory mandate of ensuring the internal security of the country, will stop at nothing to deploy all resources at its disposal to identify and deal with all those culpable, as well as maintain peace and order in every length and breadth of the nation."
The Nigeria Police said it saw the ultimatum by the groups as illegal, unlawful, provocative and capable of causing breach of the peace currently being enjoyed across the country.
In an interview with The Guardian, Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Jimoh Moshood said the police were under strict instructions to maintain law and order and to sustain the protection of fundamental rights of every Nigerian as provided for by the 1999 Constitution.
"No individual (s) or group (s) under any course, guise or excuse have the right to issue any ultimatum or warning to compel any Nigerian to leave or relocate from or to any part of the country without their wish," he said.
Meanwhile, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has warned the youths in the north and Niger Delta against plunging the nation into a crisis by issuing quit notices to Igbo and northerners. The group blamed the frustration of the youths on failure by government to resolve the socio-economic challenges facing the nation.
The ACF Secretary General, Anthony Sani who spoke in an interview at the weekend in Kaduna, said the present agitations by the various ethnic groups across the country and the ultimatum by youths were threats to national unity and cohesion.
"All these are spurred by frustrations posed by socio-economic challenges which can be overcome only by hard work aided by the upsurge in urbanisation and inter-ethnic marriage which tends to promote national solidarity that comes with relative pluralism, rather than insular particularism which goes with divisive ethnic nationalism."
Niger Delta leaders under the aegis of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDF) will this week meet in Abuja to review the threats by militants to northerners and to resume attacks on oil installations in the region.
The Ijaw National Congress (INC) has distanced itself from the quit notice issued to northerners. A chieftain of PANDF and former President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) Ledum Mitee, who spoke with The Guardian from Abuja, said PANDF would meet this week to assess the situation.
Mitee urged the militants not to allow themselves to be unduly provoked by reckless actions by some groups in the north. Besides, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) condemned the hate speeches from different sections of the country, which according to it, has the capacity to alter the destiny of Nigeria negatively.
NGE noted that those sowing seeds of discord are not just destroying the dreams of the nation's founding fathers, but the progress made over the years as a nation, calling for restraint and tolerance among Nigerians, as the country remains stronger together.
The message was contained in a statement by the President of NGE, Funke Egbemode at the Guild's second quarterly meeting held on June 16, 2017. The editors lamented that elders from different parts of the country kept quiet for too long, which has allowed the youths to take over the socio-political space and brought the nation to the present situation. They urged the elders to take keen interest in the affairs of the nation, rather than play the ostrich.
"The guild reminds the hate agents that as major stakeholders in the Nigerian project, editors and journalists fought for the enthronement of the current democratic dispensation, with some paying the supreme price, to birth a constitutional government.
"The guild urges Nigerians to ignore those agitating for the dismemberment of the country and to go about their businesses without fear or let, and focus more on repositioning the country for present and future generations."
The group lauded the swift intervention of the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, which has calmed the situation, urging the government to do more.
"The guild commends the police for the arrest of the kidnap kingpin, Chukwudi Dumeme Onuamadike and other kidnappers and urges that they should do more to ensure the release of the abducted pupils of Igbonla Model College, Epe in Lagos State, who have been missing for more than three weeks now," it added.