Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, has said that the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the South East, has put to rest the false narrative that the federal government hates the region.
Onyeama, who spoke to Daily Sun, said there was a false narrative that sought to create a divide between President Buhari and the South East, adding that with the President’s visit, the false narrative that the President has not connected with the region has been dispelled. Moreover, the people of the zone really embraced the President during the visit.
The former Deputy Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) spoke on this and other sundry issues.
President Muhammadu Buhari just returned to Abuja from a visit to the south east. What does the visit mean to the people of the region?
It means a great deal because there has been a narrative that has sought to create a divide between Mr. President and the south east. And it has been a false narrative. So, it was very important for Mr. President to go there and to engage with the people of the South east and for the people of the South East to hear from him directly and to also see and hear what he has been doing for the area; what he feels about the region and to completely dispel this false narrative. So, it was very, very important and what we saw was a real love affair between him and the people of the south east region.
The visit was first to Ebonyi state, a state governed by an opposition party and the president later touched other states. What does this signify?
It signifies his ability to look beyond mere politicking and look at the country as a whole. And it signifies his willingness, his leadership and his readiness because what they called him during the visit was ‘the father of the nation’that‘the father has come home.’ So, you could see that irrespective of the party in power in the state that he assumed his role of being the father of all Nigerians, including very much, the Nigerians of the south east means a lot.
You played a prominent role during that visit. How did you feel and how was the response of the people like?
I felt highly honoured to have been involved in that historic visit. And as per the response, it was magnificent! It was really magnificent! And it was spontaneous and extremely welcoming. It was very interesting because it was clear that the people had not bought into this false narrative and they have genuine affection for him. First and foremost, they have a lot of respect for him. They know that this is a man who means well for the country in the sense that he is not out for personal gain. They know that and they can see that and his reputation is well known. But of course, there was this narrative that somehow, he has not connected with the south east. But they really embraced him. That is what I can say.
So, the talks that the Federal Government hates the Igbo are now a thing of the past?
Yes. That himself, his appointments and… it really was a narrative that was obviously designed to achieve a purpose and I think it has been dispelled now.
With the visit, are we expecting a mass exodus into the APC?
We certainly hope so. But what Mr. President has always said and this is just very interesting: he just wants free and fair elections. He believes that it is important and whatever the people want, let’s empower them to decide for themselves. Let each vote count and leave it to the people to decide. And the people are not stupid. They would see what he is doing, they know what he inherited and they can see his sincerity. For him, that is enough.
In the area of infrastructure, what is the President putting in place for the south east?
A number of things, a number of roads that are going to be put in place and there are the railways that will go through the south east as well, and the second Niger Bridge which is really at an advanced state and of course, the airports that are being upgraded too.
The president told the people of the south east to forget about Biafra. What is your take on this?
What he said was that Nigeria is greater together, that there is so much that binds us together and we should really take full advantage of that and everybody, every section of the country would be the winner.
As the minister of foreign affairs, how have you been able to handle that issue between our nation and the outside world, more importantly that you are from the south east?
It is really a straightforward thing. Mr. President’s position has always been that we have a constitution and whatever we do, let’s abide by the constitution. Don’t get involved in violence, in militancy and all that; that the constitutional framework is there for the peoples’ voice to prevail or to hold sway.
So, when I engage with the outside world, I tell them that this is basically the position of the president: that he firmly believes that this country can achieve great things together, that there is a real bond among the people of this country, but that there is also the constitution and the democratic institutions which people should also use to express themselves or if there are aspirations that they have, doing it within that democratic framework is better. But what we are against basically is just the use of militancy, and violence and so on to drive agitations.
Are there plans to sustain the gains recorded during the President’s visit?
Absolutely! Yes, because the thing about the President’s visit also is that the governors themselves, don’t forget we have a three tier system, so, ultimately, at the state level, it is really the state government that has the responsibility. You have federal projects, of course, and that is ongoing, and that would be sustained at the federal level.
But I think that for the state government, it is important that they work closely with the federal government. And I think that is another aspect of the Mr. President’s visit that I think is extremely impressive, how supportive of Mr. President the governors of those states are. You have Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, he was there and of course, we know he is in the same party, but very supportive. But you had the governors of all the other states who were there. Enugu State, they hosted him when he arrived and of course, Ebonyi State and Abia State. They were all there and they all have very, very close relationship with Mr. President. So, as regards sustainability, the elements to sustain are very much there.
But was there any deal between the President and the people of the south east during the visit?
Deal? What kind of deal?
Because with the visit, people began insinuating that the President must have struck a deal with the south east, so as to key into his administration. Was there any?
No, no, no. Not at all. Mr. President doesn’t operate like that. He is very sincere and very transparent and I think that is what is needed; for the south east to, number one, to see him and to appreciate that he appreciates the region and that in his plans, the south east figures very prominently in the vision and the plan that Mr. President has for the country. And I think it was important for that message to get across and I think the south east also understood that it was really important for them to be part of a team, that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why they should feel in anyway alienated and that they can be part of the team and it will be for the benefit of the whole country. And Mr. President made the point that in the area of enterprise and so many other areas, that the south east has so much to contribute and has really impressive assets and that this should all be deployed for the greater good.
As the leader of APC in Enugu State, what efforts are you making to deliver the President to the people if he chooses to contest in 2019?
In the south east, we have a few challenges with the party. When I say in the south east, in Enugu State in particular which is where I am the leader, so, we are trying to do all we need to do to make the party in the south east truly ready to take on the challenges for us to deliver Enugu State and other states in the region to the APC.
Are you sure you will surmount the challenges?
Only God can be sure of anything, but what we as human beings can do is our very best.