The governors of Nigeria’s South-east region may be preparing to hold talks with IPOB, going by the positions adopted by the governors and other leaders of the region during their Saturday’s meeting in Enugu.
IPOB is a pro-Biafra group which has been proscribed by the Nigerian government.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) quoted the Chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State as telling reporters that the leaders from the region had set up a committee to engage the “agitators” in the region to address their fears.
It is not clear if Mr Umahi specifically mentioned IPOB by name when he spoke with reporters.
But the governor may have very well referred to group when he said “agitators”, as IPOB is the main group agitating for the independent state of Biafra, for now.
This development signals a departure from the previous hardline posture against IPOB and its leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
Although Mr Umahi said secessionist groups from the region were not speaking for the people of the area, he made some remarks that seemed like the kind of thing IPOB and their supporters would like to hear.
The governor, for instance, said governors and other leaders of the region condemned the extrajudicial killings of civilians in the region by security agencies.
He also said that although the South-east remains committed to Nigeria’s corporate existence, but that such union must be based on love, mutual respect and equality of rights, irrespective of one’s religion, ethnic group, political inclination and creed.
The governor said that leaders from the region had noted with concern threats against the Igbo people by some groups in other regions.
“The meeting pleaded with leaders of other regions to note such threats to our people, address it and protect our people,” he said.
Those present at the Saturday’s meeting included Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu.
Anambra and Imo States were represented by the deputy governors, Nkem Okeke and Placid Njoku respectively.
Others were the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe; Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige; Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Uche Ogah, and President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, George Obiozo.
‘It’s difficult to proscribe an ideology’
Governor Ikpeazu, before now, had urged the federal government to open talks with IPOB and other agitators in different parts of Nigeria in order to check the rising insecurity in the country.
Mr Ikpeazu said, “The good place to start is to listen to the crux of their agitation, because some of the things they have mentioned is what is agitating the mind of the ordinary people in the South-east. So, what is wrong in listening? What is wrong in discussing the issues?
“If they say they want somebody in the Security Council, why can’t that happen?”
The Nigerian government, he said, should begin a “conversation” immediately.
When asked about the possibility of holding talks with a group like IPOB which has been proscribed, Mr Ikpeazu said, “You can proscribe an individual, you can proscribe a group, you can proscribe an organisation but it is difficult to proscribe an ideology.”
South-east’s Security challenge
Frequent deadly attacks on security agencies has complicated the security challenges in the South-east. Such attacks, including the burning down of court buildings, INEC facilities, and other public facilities, may be eroding the people’s trust in the government.
The huge success recorded in the recent IPOB’s sit-at-home order could also erode the people’s trust in the political leadership of the South-east governors and others.
Apart from the fact that the Nigerian military may be over-stretched with their campaign against the Boko Haram insurgency in the country’s North-east and other campaigns in other parts of the country, military operations in the South-east, which is seen by many as an extreme option, appeared not to have brought about a lasting peace in the region.
Some gunmen on Wednesday attacked the country home of a state lawmaker in Imo and beheaded a security guard on duty, in what appears to be a new dimension in the security challenge in the state.
The country home of the Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodinma, was similarly attacked in April.
Mr Ikpeazu has said that IPOB was trying to “fill a gap” wrongly and that the group was being energised by the activities of “criminal herders” who invade farmlands in the South-east.
“In the first place what is the genesis of the agitation in the South-east? Some people in the South-east feel unprotected the way things are going and they also feel that some criminal herders that have found their way into our forests were not adequately sanctioned according to the rule book of Nigeria, and that created a gap.
“It is this gap that non-state actors are trying to fill, wrongly though,” he said.
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