Igbo leaders under the aegis of Ohanaeze Ndigbo rose from a meeting in Owerri, Imo State yesterday with a warning that the unity of Nigeria would continue to be threatened unless justice and fairness were ensured and regretted that Nigeria as a nation had not done well to champion the unity of the country 56 years after independence.
This is as groups comprising civil society, socio-cultural, religious and community based organisations drawn from the South East and South South zones called for an early referendum on the report of the 2014 National Conference.
The meeting which was held at the Imo International Convention Center (IICC), Owerri, Imo State started at about 4pm and rose by 9pm with governors of Imo, Abia attending while the deputy governor of Enugu State represented her state governor while those of Ebonyi and Anambra States took permission.
Other leaders who were present at the meeting included former governors of old Anambra state, Chief Jim Nwobodo, one-time governor of Anambra, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former military governor of old Imo, Rear Admiral Allison Madueke, former Minister of Finance, Kalu Idika Kalu, Colonel JoeAchuzie (rtd.), Prof. Anya O Anya, Prof. George Obiozor, Dr. Paschal Dozie, Chief Simon Okeke, and the Ohanaeze Ndigbo President, Chief Gary Enwo-Igariwey, traditional rulers from all the states of Igbo land, and a host of others.
The host governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha stated that the time for the Igbos to cry for marginalisation was gone because Igbos were capable of liberating themselves and become self-reliant.
According to him, “there is no better time to unite than now. We shall all rise and take our rightful position in the scheme of things in the nation. As unique people we must live up to expectations as a people of special stock.
“My dream as Igbo is to see that day we will be economically sound and export to other nations. Our people are not marginalised, our problem is finding a way to come together and take the Bull by the horn. When that happens then we will be happy as a people”, he said.
For Professor George Obiozor, the country is not ready to solve the problems of the past, regretting that for 56 years as an independent nation it still revolves with uncertainties.
“We are lagging behind because the leaders have not found it right. The unity of Nigeria has not been guaranteed. The 2015 elections should have taught this country a lesson which revealed that Nigeria is still divided as they voted according to ethnic divide”, he noted.
He warned that as far as there was injustice in the system, there would be no unity because those whose justice, fairness were denied would have no interest in peace.
Dr. Paschal Dozie noted that Igbos should forget the past and face the future, stressing that the leadership of Igbo nation had to rekindle the effort to change the land for a better future as the young ones had to learn from the old ones.
Ezeife and Madueke maintained that Igbos should return to that collective way of doing things they were noted in order to move forward.
For Madueke “we should be doing things together as we did in the construction of Imo Airport which he initiated as the military governor of old Imo state, noting that it was that spirit of Ndigbo that we have that airport today which happened to be the only airport in the country that was built by its citizens”.
The groups for the referendum numbering over a dozen made the call in the resolution adopted at a meeting held in Umuahia. They noted that it was predicated on their strong belief that a referendum on the implementation of the confab report “is the only way forward to save Nigeria”.
They condemned “the hounding, arrests and intimidation of IPOB members, innocent youths, whose only sin is their loss of faith in the lop-sided, unfair and unjust unitary Nigeria where some regions are continuously treated as conquered people”.
Recalling the contemptuous disposition of President Buhari towards the confab report the groups condemned the decision by Mr. President “to consign the only solution to the myriad of problems afflicting Nigeria to the archives”.
They insisted that the document must be retrieved from the archives, and early referendum conducted to determine the fate and future of Nigeria.
On the federal government’s reaction to those expressing opposing views, the groups vehemently condemned “the apparent decision of the FG to crush dissenting voices”, insisting that dialogue and negotiation would engender peace, harmony and stability of the nation.
The groups that were represented at the meeting under the umbrella of Old Eastern Region Movement include Traders Organisations, Students Groups, Traditional Rulers and Town Unions, CAN, Age Grades and Socio-cultural Organizations from the South East and South South zones.
There were also representatives of Igbo in Academia, South East Professionals, Niger Delta Youth Forum, PFN, World Igbo Congress, South East Traders Associations, Igbo Survival Movement, South East Congress, Igbo Women Assembly, amongst others.
The forum agreed to be holding bi-monthly meetings “until a larger and broad based coalition was built amongst like minds in the South West and Middle Belt for a stronger demand for a referendum on the 2014 confab resolutions”
In the course of deliberations the interim chairman of the group, Bishop Michael Ibeneme lamented the continuous heaping of false allegations on the IPOB members in order to criminalise them, saying such wicked plots would only deepen division in Nigeria.
“The IPOB are unarmed, non-violent mass movement of millions of young people, who are completely tired of the injustice in Nigeria as presently constituted. Everyone knows they are a big headache to the Federal Government but the resort to laying false allegation on them in order to incriminate them has turned out to be the last straw, there is a limit to what people can take,” he said.
He condemned the “obvious plot to continue killing and arresting them (IPOB members) in the hope that they would eventually turn around and suddenly fall in love with this unitary Nigeria where they have been permanently relegated to second class status will never work. The F.G. is clearly applying the wrong strategy. We want a referendum now.”
Leader of the Igbo Women Assembly Mrs. Maria Okwor, who is deputy chairman of the meeting said, only a referendum will solve the problem now.
“Our children are massacred daily, arrested in their sleep on trumped up charges of planning to bomb China, Canada, and Germany. No evidence, no proof, this Abacha style is only designed to intimidate and cow everybody into fearful silence,” she said.
Okwor insisted that the federal authorities was wrongly reacting to the agitation of restructuring Nigeria into true federalism as it had resorted to “employing brutal suppression to terrorise and intimidate citizens”
“We insist on an early referendum to decide the future of Nigeria. Brutality and suppression will never work. We can’t be intimidated. I am 81 years and Buhari and the DSS cannot intimidate me,” the activist octogenarian said.
Founder of Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) and deputy secretary of Igbo Leaders of Thought, Evang. Elliot Uko harped on the need for the group to build broader and strong coalition across the country in order to harness opinions from more experienced minds in the task of redeeming Nigeria.
“Yes, there is bitterness, discontent and anger in Eastern Nigeria today, but we must try and carry everybody along. Those who are yet to see that restructuring is the only way forward must be converted. We would open their eyes to see that Nigeria can never move forward unless we revert to true federalism,” he said.