Abuja and Lagos — Following the refusal of the relevant security agencies to apprehend some Northern youths under the auspices of the Arewa Youths' Consultative Forum (AYCF) which recently issued a quit notice to Nigerians of South-eastern extraction, leaders in the South have resolved to work together to protect the interest of the region.
They also resolved to pursue the restructuring of the country and called for concrete steps to be taken on the implementation of the 2014 National Conference report before October 1, 2017
Rising from a meeting that lasted for about four hours yesterday, leaders of the three geopolitical zones in the region - the South-west, South-east and South-south - declared in a communiqué that they were forging a common front to pursue the interest of the region, noting that rather than reduce the issue to the North and the South-east, it was an issue of the entire Southern and Northern Nigeria.
The communique signed by Afenifere chieftain, Ayo Adebanjo, on behalf of the South-west; founding Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Chief Albert Horsfall for the South-south; and former Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (rtd.) for the South-east, also criticised the manner in which the federal government and the acting President Yemi Osinbajo have handled the ultimatum given to Igbos resident in the North.
Part of the communique read: "We the people of Southern Nigeria, comprising the South-east, South-west and South-south of Nigeria, decided to come together to forge a common and formidable front for the 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 the 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 on 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 the 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 issue of Nigeria's restructuring.
"We therefore resolved 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 the 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 the strongest terms the activities of Fulani herdsmen who have taken over the entire Southern and Middle Belt of Nigeria, including invading state Houses of Assembly preventing them from making laws; cows going into classrooms and chasing our children out of schools; killing our farmers on their farms and raping their wives.
"Now, 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 as the system of government founded on democratic principles and institutions in which the power to govern is shared between the national and the federating units.
"Such units have control over their own affairs and are bequeathed equal status with their constitution, which is consistent with the federal constitution.
"We affirm and are resolved on the implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference aimed at the complete transformation and restructuring of our country and to build and confederate Nigeria's 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 people 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."
Some of the eminent Southern leaders present at the meeting which held at the Lekki, Lagos home of Adebayo included General Alani Akinrinade (rtd.), President, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Nnia Nwodo, Secretary, Afenifere, Mr. Femi Okunrounmu, Dr. Okey Anueyiaya, Chief Sydney Dike, Chief Eric Ebeh, Walter Ofonagoro, Senator Bucknor Akinrele, Ogita Iyalla-Finnih, Dr. Kunle Olajide, Chief Mike Uwaka and Abdulaziz Ude.
Others were Chief Goddy Uwazurike, Prof George Obiozor, Prof. Joe Irukwu, Charles Odunukwe, Iyaze Ebigwe, Col. Tony Iyiam, Senator Femi Okunrounmu, Dr. Amos Akingba, Supo Shonibare, Chief Tokunbo Ajasin, Senator Bassey Henshaw, Air Comodore Idongest Nkanga (rtd) and Chief Guy Ikokwu.
'Enough of the Bloodshed'
The meeting of the Southern leaders came on the heels of Osinbajo's meeting yesterday with traditional rulers from the South-east.
During the meeting, the acting president informed his audience that enough blood had been spilled on Nigerian soil, warning that events hurtling towards further bloodshed in any part of the country would be resisted.
The acting president made this remark at the opening of his meeting with the traditional rulers at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja, in continuation of his meetings with leaders of Northern and South-eastern Nigeria.
Osinbajo, who told the traditional rulers that yesterday's meeting had become imminent in view of the influence that the traditional rulers wield in their respective domains, said many Nigerians had paid the supreme sacrifice for the unity of the country and hence, attempts to toy with such sacrifices by dragging the nation towards another civil war would not be allowed.
Recalling the protracted agitations for secession in the South-east as well as the attendant ultimatum from the North, the acting president said both incidents were in grave violation of Section 2 of the constitution which recognises Nigeria as both a sovereign state and an indissoluble entity.
Observing that such agitations were predicated on perceived marginalisation and compromised safety in such regions, Osinbajo submitted that the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that such perceived injustice is dealt with, pointing out that Nigeria's greatness lies in its unity.
"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 that they hold especially in their relationship with those that live in their kingdoms.
"This was the reason 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 the separate consultations and we want to take advantage of it as much as possible.
"Most of us are aware, especially for those who have been following the consultations, that we have worked very hard to ensure that the representations across the two zones that we are interested in consulting with initially, is as wide as possible and we have tried to inculcate that even in our meeting with 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 violate 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 2 that Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known by the name 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 are seeing all over the place will be met with the full force of the law.
"And the reason why it is so is because enough blood has been spilled and many hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost.
"Many have paid for the unity of this country with their lives and it will be wrong of us as men and women of goodwill in this generation to toy with those sacrifices that have been made.
"This is why men of goodwill in our generation must not tolerate any tendency that drags us in the direction of yet another civil conflict.
"But we must be sensitive to the reasons why there are agitations by the various young men across the various zones of this country. Many have to do with perceived marginalisation.
"Some have argued that safety in different zones has been compromised. But I want to say the only way to make things right is to do things right.
"And it will be wrong of us to approach even our grievances by threatening to disobey the laws or by threatening the integrity of our nation.
"What the federal government is committed to doing is ensuring that we listen to all the reasons, the various suggestions and the various agitations and the reasons for those agitations and to ensure that we do justice to all persons, regardless of where you are from in this country.
"That is the commitment of the federal government which I am able to make to you today.
"I recall that President Muhammadu Buhari said that as a person who served in the Nigeria Army, he committed his life to the service of this country, and that he did so not alone but with others from the North, South, West and East of Nigeria.
"And that he fought side by side from Congo to so many related places where he had served the country, protecting each other's lives and ensuring that all of them were safe.
"That in the Nigerian Army, they were men and women from all parts of Nigeria and that is the reason, according to him, he is so committed in ensuring that Nigeria remains one united country.
"Our greatness lies in our being together and I believe very strongly that as our royal fathers, you will ensure the message is clear to all, that the greatness of any people lies in their ability to work together despite our differences, despite the types of offence that have been caused between each other.
"The greatness of any community lies in our unity. We trust that you our royal fathers will give us the right directional advice to ensure that our country remains together," he stated.
DSS Warns Agitators, Tribal Jingoists
Meanwhile, the Department of State Services (DSS) yesterday also warned regional agitators and tribal jingoists in the country against hateful utterances and misinformation likely to threaten the unity of the country.
In a statement signed by Tony Opuiyo on behalf of the DSS, the agency said: "The Department of State Services has watched with keen interest the disturbing trend desperate and mischievous elements that have tended to steer the ship of our nationhood to calamity and irretrievable destruction.
"Only recently, the Arewa Youths in a press statement called for the relocation of the Igbos from the North. Unfortunately, this development has been followed by a release from an unknown source styled, Niger Delta Watchdogs, threatening all Northerners to quit Niger Delta region.
"Meanwhile, another group went to the extent of harvesting from the internet, a horrific accident scene, for the purpose of making it look like a site of massacre of the Igbo ethnic group by Northern youths.
"However, the service has been able to establish that the purported murder scene being depicted as a field of massacre was a high casualty accident scene which occurred along the Owo-Akure road, Ondo State, on the 3rd March, 2016."
The DSS said that those behind the "misleading and despicable acts" have since been warned to desist from anything capable of causing disaffection and stoking nationwide tensions.
"Consequently, the service, in line with its statutory mandate of ensuring the internal security of the country, wishes to inform the public that it 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.
"To this effect, it warns, in very clear terms, all those who are charting the course of disunity among Nigerians to desist from their divisive actions.
"The service is also not oblivious of the efforts of some miscreants to ignite fear and cause ethnic tensions across the country. It strongly condemns in its entirety the call for relocation of anyone to places against their wishes.
"Such relocation order is not only illegal, it is strongly viewed to be against the spirit of our constitution which allows for freedom of movement and association, among others.
"The DSS, therefore, frowns at the tendency some ethnic chauvinists easily and cheaply resort to hate speeches, misinformation and total manipulation of information, especially on the social media simply to fan the embers of discord and subvert the efforts of government in implementing its policies for the good of everyone.
"Well-meaning and law abiding citizens and residents are enjoined to disregard persuasions by these tribal jingoists to make our beloved country a theatre of the absurd and bloodletting.
"It is time for us Nigerians to show our humanness and patriotism which have been our defining strength as one united indivisible nation," it added.
The DSS also said that it has commenced a detailed investigation to get the perpetrators of the hate campaigns as well as their sponsors.
"At the appropriate time all those involved in these condemnable acts will be unmasked and decisively dealt with in line with the laws of the land.
"The service wants to reassure the entire populace that it will not leave any stone unturned to ensure that those who are bent on causing a breakdown of law and order are not spared," it said.
It encouraged anyone with useful information to volunteer same to the DSS or the nearest security agency or formation for prompt action.