From Okwe Obi, Abuja
The Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) has advised President Muhammadu Buhari to accord special treatment to the people of the South East, warning that the current marginalisation of the zone would not augur well with the country.
NEF Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, who addressed reporters on Monday in Abuja, appealed to the leaders of the South East to protect their region rather than succumb to the acts of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its Eastern Security Network (ESN).
Baba-Ahmed noted that the federal government should grant leeway for the Igbo to secede from the country if that would restore peace and harmony.
According to him, ‘the Northern Elders’ Forum has reviewed events and tendencies which suggest that the country is headed for more crises. Nigerians live in fear of violence today, and in fear of an uncertain future.
‘The capacity of the Nigerian state to secure citizens, protect the country’s territorial integrity and resist violent assaults on our unity is weakening to the levels of making threats that have no impact.
‘Armed criminals of all types have increased their audacious stranglehold over our lives in all parts of the country.
‘Irredentists are increasingly asserting their influence over in the South East and some part of the country, and in the manner that millions of Nigerians now live.
‘Rhetorics from political leaders and ethnic champions who speak in threats and demands routinely suggest that the sentiments in support of irredentism are becoming more widespread.
‘All Nigerians are paying the price of failure of two sets of leaders. At the national level, the administration appears to have lost the capacity to halt the gradual descent of the country into anarchy.
‘Political leaders in the South East appear to have submitted to violence and terror of IPOB and ESN.
‘Muted voices of millions of Igbo cannot be heard so that fellow Nigerians could understand the degree to which secession by the Igbo represents the popular choice. This nation has had to fight a terrible war to preserve the country.
‘The North had paid its dues in that war, as indeed it did in many ways throughout the history of the country.
‘Under our current circumstances, no Nigerian should welcome another war to keep the country together.
‘The North, in particular, has more than enough challenges, and we recognize that violent secession by any part of Nigeria will compound the problems all Nigerians live with.
‘The Forum has arrived at the difficult conclusion that if support for secession among the Igbo is as widespread as it is being made to look, and Igbo leadership appears to be in support of it, then the country should be advised not stand in its way.
‘It will not be the best choice for the Igbo or Nigerians to leave a country we have all toiled to build and a country we all have the responsibility to fix, but it will not help a country already burdened with failures on its knees to fight another war to keep the Igbo in Nigeria.
‘The Forum insists that attacks and killings of Northerners and Federal Government employees and destruction of National assets must stop. Those who have been involved in it must be arrested and prosecuted.
‘Until the Igbo decide whether it wants to secede or remain part of Nigeria, the law applies to it, and Federal and State Governors who have the responsibility to enforce the law and protect citizens must enforce it.
‘We support calls for Northerners who are exposed to harassment and violence to consider relocating to the North.
‘Unlike the postures and complacency of the leaders of the South East, we advise that all Igbo and other ethnic groups from the South residing in the North should be accorded the usual hospitality and security.
‘The Forum believes that it is vital to address amendments to the constitution and achieve major changes in the structure and operations of our Federal system now. Members of the National Assembly elected by Nigerians have lost touch with the people they are supposed to represent.
‘This explains the major distances which exist between the people and the vital national institution which should play a major role mitigating national crises.
‘The National Assembly should explore additional avenues for tapping into opinions that can help redress serious limitations to the Federal system before the 2023 elections.
‘The North is willing to discuss all matters related to constitutional amendments/restructuring with the leadership of the country and other groups who see their presence in the future of Nigeria.’