President Buhari visits South East
President Muhammadu Buhari finally paid an official visit to the South Eastern region of the country last week. Against the background of the 95-per cent-versus-5-per cent voters’ statement credited to the President very early in his administration, some never expected he would visit so zone soon. But a nation which voted massively for the President in 2015 expects the father-figure of the Number One Citizen to reign over the entire country. The visit was therefore salutary and healing both as a symbol and as an act of statesmanship. The Presidential visit took place two years into the tenure of his administration. As expected the leaders of the region rolled out the red carpet to receive the President.
All the state governors in the region, irrespective of party affiliation were on hand to receive the august visitor. The traditional rulers in the region bestowed two titles on the man whom some extremists in social media and the now-proscribed Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) had described as an enemy of the Igbo people. The President showed that he is no enemy to the Igbo. Indeed he is President to all Nigerians.
It is true that the region was and is still smarting from the Army invasion of the South East reminiscent of the civil war days. It is also true that no one knows the whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu, the irredentist leader of IPOB. But the visit showed that with some symbolic actions, tension can be reduced, perception can change and we can move ahead as a people. The President said the right things too, striking a chord when he referenced the industriousness of the Igbo people in business.
The tone in which he stressed the unity of the country was more nuanced, modulated and by far better than the tone of aggression which dominated his speech to the nation after he returned from his medical vacation in the United Kingdom. So what changed? What is changing? Did the perception that the President is anti-Igbo help to determine and shape the visit? Is there a new and level-headed adviser in Aso Rock whom the President listens to? Is this all about the 2019 elections? Is the visit a reaction to the secessionist fervor which seems to have seized the minds of some misguided youths? Has the President finally become a politician, a politician who listens to the cries of the people? Would the South East receive adequate attention in terms of appointments to Federal positions and a strategic place in post 2019 elections? What about the horrible state of federal roads in the region?
While the President was visiting the South East, the new Secretary to Government of the Federation flew into London to see the then ailing former Vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme. Earlier on, the President had approved medical evacuation for the former Number Two Citizen. Put together, it would seem that the Federal Government is determined to bring Igbo leadership back into the stream of national belonging. This is welcome. In the trying times which we have found ourselves all efforts should be geared towards creating a sense of belonging in all citizens. The President is that symbol, that focal point from whom the lesser appointees and elected officials take a cue.
The hope is that the visit would be seen as the beginning of real engagement, a rapprochement with the people of the region and indeed all the constituent parts of the federation. One of the abiding principles of democracy is constant engagement with all stakeholders. It does not matter that perspectives or ethnicity or religion is different. There is a common denominator in the equation of a Federal state practising democracy. It is the capacity for difference, for accommodating all shades of opinion. Once they are not a threat to individual liberty, all opinions are and should be welcome. To resort to violence is anathema to the ideals of democracy. To resort to a clamp down on dissent is also anathema to the practice and ideals of democracy.
It is true that there are some extremists, some people who go the extreme mile to provoke tempers. Such fellows should be handled with the aid of established constitutional or legal order. In other words, it is the duty of the law courts to determine how an opinion should be interpreted or judged. Any opinion which the Executive arm finds offensive may not necessarily be offensive to the laws of the land. This is where as a nation we must draw the line.
It remains to be seen what the practical outcome of the visit of the President to the region would be. The Federal Government has already extended a hand of friendship to the region by the President’s visit. It consolidated it by evacuating the now-deceased former respected Vice President to the United Kingdom. But concretely, let there be a massive intervention in infrastructure development. Let the President also officially pay a visit to the Niger Delta to assuage hurt feelings over the long years of neglect.
During the visit he should reinforce the proclamation of his government which ordered the International Oil Majors (IOCs) to move the headquarters of their operations to the Niger Delta. That way he would be seen to engage all parts of the country with a view to ensuring the unity of the federation. He should also make definite pronouncements on the Fulani herdsmen who seem to reinforce the perception that their kinsman in Aso Rock would lift no finger against their acts of impunity in some states of the federation. This is a misperception, dangerous to the polity. Nobody should be above the law.
Finally, I congratulate and commend the President on the visit. Real work should start on the Second Niger Bridge. I also thank the President on the Anambra State elections which held without any arm-twisting tactics from Abuja; as a result the right candidate won the election as Governor. The final impact of the visit would be seen in a direct and immediate intervention in some of the physical challenges which bedevil the hard-pressed region.
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