South-East leaders, comprising governors, other political, religious, traditional and socio-cultural leaders, on Saturday, rose from a meeting in Enugu with a strong condemnation on secessionist agitations in the zone as well as wanton attacks on security formations and other national assets.
There have been worries in some quarters over the lack of a categorical statement from governors and other leaders from the zone on the orgy of violence associated with members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the armed wing of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
"We condemn in totality the activities of violent and secessionist group in south-east and elsewhere. We firmly proclaim that we do not support them because they do not speak for South East," they stated in a communique read at the end of the four-hour meeting.
The leaders also appealed to their Northern counterparts and others to protect the Igbo resident in their zones.
Ebonyi State governor and chairman of the South-East Governors Forum, David Umahi, who read the 9-point communique after the Saturday security and strategic meeting, assured of protection of people from other regions resident in South-East.
In the communique, the leaders restated the commitment of Ndigbo with one Nigeria under the platform of justice, equality of rights, fairness, love and respect for one another.
"While we firmly promise to protect everyone either from our region or other regions living in our places, we plead with other regions to please note the threat to our people and please address the threat to our people and protect them.
"We condemn the killing of security agents, burning of infrastructure facilitate and killing of civilians in South-East and even in other regions. We request our security agencies to discharge their duties with the rules of engagement and law.
"We request our nation Assembly members from South-East to please support state creation and state police in ongoing constitutional amendment.
"The impression that Southeast governors are silent over our youths' agitation and secession is not correct.
"South-East governors, Ohanaeze President, National Assembly members and notable leaders from South-East had come out publicly in the past to speak against such agitation.
"In other not to find ourselves in that unfortunate situation, South-East leaders have set up a committee to engage such group and allow the elders to address their fears.
"Meeting South-East leaders and Ohanaeze to liaise with Northern part of Nigeria and other indigenes that are living in South East to come out openly and assure their people and Nigeria that they are safe and well-protected while living in South East.
"The meeting endorsed South-East joint security outfit Ebubeagu and ask all the personnel of Ebubeagu to work with security agencies and respect right and privileges of all those living in South East and her visitors."
Afenifere wants true federalism
Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, yesterday backed the position of the South-East leaders in their support for a united Nigeria and condemning violent secessionist agitations.
Afenifere said while every part of Nigeria has a right to agitate, it must be done without resorting to violence.
Spokesman of the group, Comrade Jare Ajayi in a chat with Daily Trust, said the group also believes in a corporate, united Nigeria where true federalism, equity and justice prevail.
He said, "We want to make it clear that Afenifere does not believe in violence in any form. Afenifere believes that so many things can be achieved without necessarily using violence.
"But at the same time we believe also that every Nigerian has the right to express his or her opinion in any form.
"So those who are agitating for a state of their own, for instance, those seeking autonomy, either the Biafra Republic or the Oduduwa Republic or whatever, we believe that they have the right to do so but what we will not support is to be violent.
"To that extent, we also agree with the South-East leaders that we believe very much in a united Nigeria but Nigeria that practices true federalism.
"[We want a] Nigeria where equity, justice, fairness and peaceful coexistence take place and every constituent part of the country has a right to govern itself within the United Nigeria through practice of true federalism.
"Also, on the issue of security, just like they said security is local, crimes are local as well and therefore solution to it should be local. In other words, there must be state police and community police, not the one controlled from the capital territory."
'A bold step'
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) on Saturday described the decision of leaders from the South-East to distance themselves from the violent secessionist agenda of IPOB as a bold step which must be commended.
Daily Trust reports that the ACF recently accused the leaders of the southeast of abdicated their responsibilities to "gangs" who in recent times have killed security agents and attacked and vandalized government structures.
However, reacting to Saturday's meeting of the key leaders from the zone which condemned the activities of IPOB, the ACF, through its National Publicity Secretary, Emmanuel Yawe said: "It is like they are now rising up to the challenge because there is no part of this country where you will not find the Igbo man, they are all over the country and they need the country."
"If they all go back to the southeast, where will they find the space? So, they are many and their land is small, they need this country.
"Those who are advocating for separation, I don't know whether they know the geography of this country.
"If you drive all the Igbos to the South-East, there will be a major crisis for them so I think the southeast governors have done a wise thing by making this statement and we encourage them," he said.
According to Yawe, nobody benefits from crisis and war situations. He urged Igbo leaders to share their experience and consequence of Nigeria's civil war with their youths.
"There is no part of this country that hasn't got problems. When they go back to their own corner of the country and only Igbos are there, they will discover that the Igbos have more problems than they did while existing with other regions."
He said the ACF had always urged northern youths to show restrain no matter the level of provocation from other parts of the country saying the region has not forgotten how the 1960's retaliated killings set the country in flames.
"You see the thing about the north is that people will be provoking the north and the north will just keep quiet, but once the north retaliates, the whole country will go in flames.
"So we will continue to advise northern youths not to take the law into their hands, they should remain calm and not set the country ablaze," Yawe said.
It's a welcome development - NEF
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) also welcomed the position taken at the Enugu meeting.
The Director of Publicity and Advocacy of the NEF, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed on Saturday said the development was consistent with the issue raised by NEF a few weeks ago when it challenged the leadership of the Igbo in Nigeria and diaspora to distance themselves from the activities of IPOB or run the risk of "looking as if they are escorting the IPOB agenda or it is actually theirs."
"We welcome this development, we think it is in the right direction and we think it will serve the purpose of bringing the Igbo community in Nigeria and outside as well as their politicians into the mainstream of Nigerian politics," Baba-Ahmed said.
He noted that IPOB, like insurgency, banditry and kidnapping represents an existential security threat in Nigeria and called on all elites from all parts of the country to condemn insecurity no matter the political motivation.
"It won't solve everybody's problem if one part of the country condemns it and another part of the country is either mute or indifferent about it and I'm talking about all types of insecurity," he said.
Speaking on the promise of the South-East governors to protect other Nigerians living in the zone, the NEF spokesperson stated that: "We welcome the additional commitment to protect northerners and all other Nigerians, wherever they are.
"Northerners have respected the rights of Igbos to live in peace in the north. Through all these traumatic development in the last few months, we haven't received a single account of any Igbo being molested.
"We encourage northern communities to continue to live with the Igbo, to provide them with protection and welcome them. This is how it should be," he said.
NEF also urged the southeast governors to bring members of the northern communities in the east close to them adding that the NEF hopes to intensify its engagement with Igbo socio-cultural groups and political leaders in the next few days or weeks.
From Tony Adibe (Enugu), Nabob Ogbonna (Abakaliki), Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos) & Lami Sadiq (Kaduna)