From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
ISSUES surrounding the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), infrastructure decay and underdevelopment of the South-East, among others, topped discussion when President Muhammadu Buhari met with governors, ministers and federal lawmakers from the zone and the leadership of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, yesterday.
The governors in attendance were: Abia, Okezie Ikpeazu; Enugu, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; Ebonyi, Dave Umahi, the Imo deputy governor, Eze Madumere and the deputy governor of Anambra, Nkem Okeke. Lawmakers in attendance were: Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, representing Abia South.
The President of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who told State House correspondents that the interaction was frank and robust, expressed confidence that Buhari, in all sincerity, will address all issues, with time.
Nwodo, flanked by members of the delegation he led to the meeting, said: “We had a frank and robust exchange. We discussed the problems of the South East and as head of state, he is the final repository of an appeal for the resolutions of those problems. We went into great details about each of those problems and I have confidence that he will give it the attention they deserve.
He further noted: “We dealt with problems of development in the south-east, basic capital projects which have for a very long time been neglected not just from this government but for a very long time. Major arteries of federal highways in the South East have been in the complete state of disrepair. Enugu-Onitsha, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Aba-Ikoyi Ekpene are virtually impassable.
“We talked about the inland waterways and the dredging of the River Niger. We talked about the reticulation of gas pipelines on the south-east. We export gas from the South-East to other parts of the country, but there is no reticulation of the pipeline and industrial clusters in the South-East.
“We talked about the only international airport we have in the south-east which has the very bad infrastructure in terms of the buildings that have been ravaged.
“We got assurance from the president that he will deal with each of those problems.”
Asked if the issue of marginalization was discussed, Nwodo said: “That was the opening line and that was why we singled out these things. Like I have said, these problems have been there overtime and we have had several presidents, it didn’t just happen in the last two years. But we expressed the desire that he should be able to address them.”
Asked if the president’s promises can be trusted, he responded that “there is no reason for me to doubt him because this is the first time I have had this interaction with him. I have the feeling that he spoke to us very frankly.”
Asked if the issue of IPOB formed part of the discussion, he said, “We came here for the issues of developments in our place.” When prodded further he said the issue of IPOB came about as the symptomatic consequence of the continuous marginalization of the South-East over a long period of time. “Understandably, our children are restive and we want to make sure that the Federal Government is responsive to the issues that have cumulated to fan up these agitations.”
On devolution of powers, Nwodo said: “We did talk about the issue of devolution of powers, the constitution, the paucity of the states and local governments in our place and the President has asked that he be given time to look at this more holistically.”
President Buhari had in his Independence Day broadcast blamed the elders and leaders of South-East for IPOB’s agitation, insisting that they should have warned those daring to agitate for Biafra to give up the idea because of the consequences of the civil war suffered by the region.
A statement by the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said President Buhari assured stakeholders from the South East that the region will benefit more from roads and coastal rail projects, which are of critical importance to the economy.
He declared that 2nd Niger Bridge, the East-West Road and the coastal rail project, are receiving utmost attention from Buhari’s administration.
The President said counterpart funding from the Chinese government would substantially fund these projects, which when completed will improve the welfare, well-being and economy of the people in the region.
“I thank you for articulating your demands and I want to assure that we are doing our best for the country. If we can stop people from stealing, then there will be more resources to put into projects that will create employment for Nigerians,” the President said.
Responding to allegations of under-representation of Igbos in his government, the President said: “I gave South-East four substantive ministers, namely, the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Investment, Science and Technology and Labour.
“Seven states in the North got Ministers of State and of the two Ministries headed by your sons, I cannot take any decision on foreign policy and investments without their input,” he said.
The President also promised the leaders, he will visit states in the zone soon. (The Sun)