Prominent leaders from the Southern part of the country, including retired generals, civil servants and activists from the South's three geopolitical zones rallied yesterday, warning that the quit notice by Northern youths to the Igbo in Northern Nigeria would be taken as a declaration against all Southerners.
The Southern leaders in a stern declaration called on the Northern youths to withdraw the ultimatum handed down to Igbo, warning that failure to do so, will be taken as an ultimatum to all people from Southern Nigeria to quit the North.
The leaders also handed down an ultimatum to the Federal Government to implement the report of the 2014 National Conference by October 1, 2017, noting that it will see to the complete transformation and restructuring of the country.
The stern declarations by the Southern leaders came as Acting President Yemi Osinbajo in continuation of his troubleshooting missions averred before South-East Traditional Rulers that agitations for secession by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and the ultimatum issued to Ndigbo by a group of Northern youth groups broke the laws of the country.
Also yesterday, top presidential aide, Senator Femi Ojudu revealed that the Presidency opted not to invite IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu to the troubleshooting sessions because the government did not consider him an Igbo leader.
Among the Southern leaders present at yesterday's meeting were Chief Ayo Adebanjo, former Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Alani Akinrinade (retd); former Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (retd); President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo; his predecessor, Prof. Joe Irukwu, former director-general of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency, NIA, Chief Albert Horsfall, Senator Femi Okurounmu; Bassey Ewa-Henshaw and Koforowola Bucknor-Akerele.
Also present were Dr. Okey Anueyiaya, Chief Sydney Dike, Chief Eric Ebeh, Dr. Walter Ofonagoro, Ogita Iyalla-Finnih, Dr. Kunle Olajide, Chief Mike Uwaka, Ahaji Abdulaziz Ude, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, Prof George Obiozor, Charles Odunukwe, Iyaze Ebigwe, Col. Tony Nyiam, Dr. Amos Akingba, Mr. Supo Shonibare, Chief Tokunbo Ajasin, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (rtd), and Chief Guy Ikokwu.
In a communiqué read by Mr Yinka Odumakin, the Southern Leaders said the meeting became imperative, following the ultimatum given by the Northern youths to the people of the South East to vacate the north by October 1, 2017.
The eminent leaders said they decided to forge a united front to avert the danger arising from the ultimatum.
The communiqué, which was endorsed by Chief Adebanjo (South West), Ebitu Ukiwe (South East) and Albert Horsfall (South-South) warned that any attack against anybody from the South will be considered an attack against Southern Nigeria.
The communiqué read: "We the people of Southern Nigeria comprising South East, South West and South-South of Nigeria decided to come together to forge a common and formidable front and sustenance of sound principles of national development, equity, fairness, social justice and political emancipation.
The meeting held against the backdrop of the ultimatum given by the Arewa youths to the people of South-East and by extension to all Southerners to vacate the north by October 1, 2017 and the refusal of the Nigerian state to activate the law against any of them, giving us the impression that these youths are not acting on their own but by the back of their establishment.
"We consider the need to avert the impending danger arising from the ultimatum given by the Arewa youths.
"We agreed that there is a growing demand by our people and other Nigerians to form a stronger federation in which principles and practice of true federalism are upheld.
"We observe that the cry for self-determination will continue unabated and become much more stringent unless the Federal Government sincerely addresses the issues of restructuring of Nigeria.
"We, therefore, resolve that we reject the attempt to reduce the current crisis in Nigeria, flowing from the unresolved nationality question to an Igbo and North affair.
"The meeting, therefore, insists that any further discussion on this crisis should be between the entire South and the North of Nigeria. The South-East is advised to consider any further meeting where the South-West and South-South are not involved as Southern Nigeria because the issues involved affect all of us.
"We also demand that Arewa youths and their sponsors must withdraw the quit notice given to the people of the South-East as failure to do so, will be taken as an ultimatum given to the entire Southern Nigeria to quit their region and any attack against anybody from the South, will be considered an attack against Southern Nigeria.
"We, therefore, advise the Federal Government to take seriously and live up to the primary responsibility of any government which is to protect the lives and property of every citizen of Nigeria wherever they may reside.
"The meeting also condemned in strongest terms the activities of Fulani herdsmen, who have taken over the entire Southern Nigeria and Middle Belt of Nigeria, including invading state Houses of Assembly, preventing them from making laws, cows going to classrooms and chasing our children out of schools, killing our farmers on their farms and raping their wives."
On the need for restructuring, the leaders said "we also resolved on the need for the restructuring of Nigeria and to uphold the principles of true federalism as agreed by the founding fathers of Nigeria and practiced effectively in the years before the first military coup in Nigeria.
"We reaffirm our stand on true federalism is the system of government founded on the democratic principles and institutions in which the power to govern is shared between the national and the federating units. Such units had control over their own affairs and bequeathed equal status with their constitution which is consistent with the federal constitution.
"We affirm and resolve in the implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference aimed at complete transformation and restructuring of our country and to build and Confederate Nigeria unity through peaceful and harmonious unity, progress and genuine development.
"We want concrete steps taken on the implementation of 2014 National Conference Report before 1st October 2017.
"We resolve to reawaken once more the spirit of friendship and mutual respect among our peoples and extol our common determination to pursue peace, progress and enhance the continued existence of Nigeria just as we commend the convener of this dialogue in bringing us together. We appeal to them to continue to do so in future."
Osinbajo blasts Arewa youths, IPOB
Meanwhile, Acting President Osinbajo in continuation of his troubleshooting missions yesterday met with South East Traditional Rulers during which he flayed agitations for secession by IPOB, and the ultimatum issued to Igbo by northern youths. He said both sides disregarded the constitution at a meeting in the Presidential Villa.
Warning that different groups across the various zones of the country, should not approach their grievances by threatening to disobey the laws or by threatening the integrity of the country, he said that enough blood had been spilled and hundreds of thousands of lives lost in a bid to ensure that the country remained one.
Prof. Osinbajo who disclosed that he would be meeting with traditional rulers from the north, today, said: "In planning these meetings I was conscious that we should have a separate set of meetings with our traditional rulers because of the peculiar and the unique positions they hold especially in their relationship with those that live in their kingdoms.
"This was the reason why we chose to have two separate meetings, one with the South-East Traditional Rulers, and tomorrow evening I will be having one also with traditional rulers from the north.
"I want to emphasise that it is the unique position that traditional rulers occupy that is behind separate consultations, and we want to take much advantage of it as much as possible.
"Most of us are aware especially for those who have been following the consultations; we have worked very hard to ensure that the representations across the two zones that we are interested in consulting with initially are as wide as possible, and we have tried to inculcate that even in our traditional rulers today.
"As you are aware there has been agitation from some of our youths in the South-East urging secession, the creation of Biafra. In apparent response young people in the northern states, under the aegis of Arewa youths have purportedly issued an ultimatum where they have set a date for the eviction of persons from the South-East region who live in the northern states.
"Those agitations, the manner of those agitations, the method and objective are wrong, unlawful and the violation of the laws of Nigeria and the constitution of Nigeria. I want to repeat that both the agitations for secession and the ultimatum to leave the northern states are wrong and a violation of our constitution.
"Our constitution says in Section Two that Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known by the name the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
"That is the law of our country. Let us not be in any doubt about the fact that the Federal Government is committed to ensuring that our country remains united, and that anyone who violates the law in the manner such as we see all over the place will be met with the full force of the law."
The delegation of the South East Traditional Rulers was led by the Chairman, South-East Traditional Rulers Council, His Eminence, Eze Dick Eberechi and some of the selected monarchs from the zone which included HRH Eze Cosmas Agwu, Eze Lawrence Agubuzu, HRM Eze Raphael Ikegwuruka, HRM Eze Chijioke Okwara, HRM Oliver Ohanwe, HRM Eze Samuel Agunwa, HRM Igwe Apostle Kingsley Chime, HRH Igwe Barrister Julius Nnaji, and Igwe Barrister Raphael Eze among others.
The closed-door meeting which started about 3:30 pm also had in attendance, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and Minister of State, Education, Prof. Anthony Anwuka, Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, National Security Adviser, Major-Gen. Babagana Munguno, and Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin.
Why Kanu was not invited, by Ojudu
Meanwhile, Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Senator Femi Ojudu, said yesterday the Presidency ignored inviting the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu because he was not considered a leader of thought in the South-East.
He, however, said Kanu's non-invitation did not mean he would not be invited, if there was the need for the Federal Government to do so in future.
Ojudu said: "Well, the thing is that we were looking for leaders of the people, leaders of thought and we do not see him as a leader of thought in the East.
"Maybe opportunity will come at one time or the other for him to be engaged. But so far, what we have done is to look at people who have influence in the communities, whether it is religious, traditional, political, social or governance. These are the people we brought in for discussion."
He also said the South East leaders, including Ohanaeze Ndigbo, coming to see Osinbajo have neither asked for a referendum on Biafra or secession, saying they only complained about marginalization in appointments and harassment by police at road blocks.
The Special Adviser assured that their concerns were issues that could easily be addressed.
He added: "Nobody has tabled that in all the discussions we have had, nobody, I can tell you. Ohanaeze came with a prepared document. They never talked about referendum; they never even talked about secession.
"They made complaints about police harassment at road blocks. They made complaints about losing some key positions, not being appointed into security positions and all those kinds of things.
"And these are things that can easily be addressed. Nobody canvassed secession at those meetings; nobody canvassed referendum."