We demand justice and equitable treatment-HRM Eze (Dr.) Eberechi N Dick
• We Got Assurances From President Buhari
On Thursday, December 1 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari, played host to the South-East Council of Traditional rulers in Aso Rock Villa Abuja. During the meeting, the President again reiterated the essence of unity and need for one indivisible Nigeria, urging those contemplating its break up to have a rethink.
The President warned: “The question of having another country out of Nigeria is going to be very difficult. From 1914, we have more than 200 cultures living with one another. God had endowed this country with natural resources and talented people. We should concentrate on these and be very productive.”
Addressing specific issues raised in the address by the traditional rulers, the President gave assurance that the South-East will also benefit from the new railway architecture being put in place by his administration.
On the traditional rulers request for more representation for the South-East in his government, the President said that he was “very conscious of the sensitivities of the South-East,” hence his government gave the region’s four out of five states senior ranking Ministers in the Federal Cabinet.
President Buhari used the occasion to appreciate the good work of the Ministers from the South-East in the Federal cabinet saying; “the Minister from the South-East region of the country, are doing very well in the discharge of their duties.”
The President therefore, appealed to the traditional rulers to do all within their powers to persuade their people to give his government the chance to discharge his duties to the country. He also urged the traditional rulers to continue to serve as beacons of culture and traditions of their people.”
President Buhari assured the traditional fathers of his government’s readiness to fight kidnapping and cattle rustling, which he described as “unfortunate.” Stressing that “now that my government has managed to bring to a manageable control the crises in the North-East, the crises of kidnapping and cattle rustling will be our next target.”
Earlier in his address, the Chairman of the South East Council of Traditional rulers, His Royal Majesty, Eze (Dr.) Eberechi N. Dick (JP), requested President Buhari to show more interest in Federal Roads in the South-East among other projects begging for completion. He urged the Federal Government to do something urgent about the Herdsmen, whom he alleged are terrorizing and displacing farmers in most villages in the South-East.
The Palace Watch took on Eze (Dr.) Eberechi N. Dick, to know what necessitated the South-East Council of Traditional Rulers’ decision to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja at this point in time. The following is the interaction took place.
MY BROTHER, a country is just like a human being. When any part of the body is sick, you cannot say such a person is healthy. It is, in this light that we decided to meet with the Nigerian President and articulate our demands and see how we can help the President bring about a lasting peace in Nigeria. You will agree with me, it’s only in a peaceful Nigeria, that business can thrive, lives and properties will be protected.
Now that your people have made their requests, what would you say the South-East Council of Traditional Rulers took away from the meeting with President Buhari?
A lot. You can’t just quantify in one fell swoop the benefits of our meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari. For instance, we need patience, we need time and we also need understanding to get the President to do what he has promised to do to improve the lives of the people of South-East Nigeria. The President for instance, is now very familiar with the demands of the people of South-East; let’s assume, before we met with him, he did not know the true feelings of our people. He now knows our mindset as traditional rulers of our people. The President at the meeting gave us the assurances of his government to meet some of our demands and the government’s readiness to improve the lot of our people. As you will agree with me, there is now a better understanding of what the issues are on both sides. When we met with President Buhari, he also spoke to us about his government’s worries and sought our support and assistance and that, we are ready to do, once the people of this region are factored into the scheme of things.
What exactly were your demands from government?
We spoke about the South-East Amnesty Programme, the deplorable state of Federal Roads in the East, the relegation of oil producing states of the South-East in NDDC projects. The neglect, if you like, call it the exclusion of the people of the South-East in key Federal appointments. We also asked for the Federal Government’s support in putting to a halt the consistent attacks by Fulani herdsmen on the people of the South-East, these unabated attacks have resulted in the dislocation of various communities in the South-East. We can’t continue to fold our arms and allow these atrocities to go on, hence, the appeal to the Federal Government to do something urgent about this ugly situation.
For example, with regard to our demands for the appointment of sons and daughters from the South-East into key positions in the Federal Government, the President assured us, that he will look into the matter almost immediately. The President on his own promised to extend the new railway facilities the government is building to the East.
We thanked the Buhari’s administration for awarding the construction and maintenance of the Niger Bridge and Federal Roads within the South-East geo-political zone, but requested for the immediate rehabilitation of the Aba-Ikot-Ekpene-Onitsha-Enugu, Owerri-Port Harcourt, Owerri- Abakaliki Federal Roads. We gave him our unalloyed support for his leadership and programmes and the fight against insecurity in the country.
Is the military operation code named “Operation Python Dance” part of the request your council made to President Muhammadu Buhari?
My friend, we are traditional rulers not politicians or military men. We, as a body, are worried about the continuous attacks by Fulani herdsmen on various communities in the South-East, that was why we took our complaints to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Whatever ways or methods he chooses to adopt to get this problem solved is none of our business. All we are after is the safety of our people.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army has dispelled the insinuation in some quarters that “Operation Python Dance” inaugurated on November 28 2016; in the South-East geopolitical zone, was targeted at inflicting harm and hardship on the Igbo people. The Deputy Director, Public Relations, 82 Division, Colonel Sagir Musa, stated this on Sunday, December 4, 2016, while conducting journalists round army checkpoints in Awka and Onitsha, Anambra State.
He said the exercise was to ensure a crime-free Christmas and New Year holidays and free flow of traffic in the zone during the festivities. The Army spokesman said that public complaints against the exercise would be addressed where appropriate; stressing that the fear being expressed by some people about the exercise was unfounded.
Colonel Musa said, a similar exercise had been launched in other parts of the country according to the peculiarities of their security challenges.
Public condemnation had trailed the inauguration of the Operation Python Dance, especially among rights groups and pro-Biafran agitators, accusing the army and the Federal Government of a sinister move to cause hardship on the people of the geopolitical zone.
Are you saying the South-East Council of Traditional rulers is not worried about the continuous detention of one of its sons, Nnamdi Kanu and the agitation of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB? Did your council mention anything about Kanu and IPOB to President Buhari?
I am not going to let you into that. We spoke about all the issues that are of concern to our people. That is why we are their traditional rulers and they are our subjects. One thing we made very clear in that meeting is that, the only way to halt the continuous agitation for Biafra, is for the people of this region to be treated with respect, justice and equity. Once that is done and seen to be done, the agitation for the state of Biafra with time will fizzle out. We are traditional rulers not politicians, so I would not want to be dragged into any political issue in this interview. One thing I am very confident about is that when we have the reason(s) to call our subjects to order, they will listen. Hence, we told the President that the people of the South-East must be treated with respect, fairness and equity. With the type of frankness, candour displayed by President Buhari during our meeting with him, I foresee Kanu’s release; it is only going to take some time.
Most people from your region are daily alleging that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has marginalized people from the South-East in the scheme of things at the Federal level, hence, the cry for a country of their own. What is your council going to do, to change this mindset?
Honestly, we have stated very clearly the feelings of our people and made an elaborate demand to the President. If these demands are met, we will not have any problem whatsoever, in putting our subjects under control. These children are our subjects, once we call them and talk to them, they will listen.
Eze, you keep emphasizing what your council wants the Federal Government to do about the problem of insecurity in the South-East. Let us agree that the Fulani herdsmen are terrorizing your people, are the Fulani herdsmen also to be blamed for the rampant cases of kidnapping, drug trafficking and other crimes, which are alleged to be acts carried out by unemployed youths in your region? What is your council doing to educate the youths in the South-East, so that they no longer see any virtue in crime and get rich quick attitude?
First, let the Federal Government beef up security in the South-East region as the President has promised. At least, let us curtail the activities of the Fulani herdsmen in this part of the country. We are working relentlessly and planning how to reduce criminal activities among our youths. The Igbo people, you will agree with me, all over the world, are hardworking people, who distinguish themselves in whatever profession or trade they find themselves. We are not lazy; we do have internal mechanism of checking crimes in all Igbo societies. That we are trying to revive, it will work and become effective once it becomes operational. Already, some governors in the South-East have adopted these methods, it might not have completely eradicated such crimes but it has to a great extent reduced crime in some of these states.
You keep wishing that the South-East with time will get their equal share in the scheme of things in the Federal Government. Are you not aware that most regions in the Federation are made up of six to seven states, when is the South-East region going to have an additional state to make it six?
I am sure and confident that President Buhari will fulfill the promises he made to us. During the past regime, the effort to create an additional state in the South-East was already in the pipeline. The additional state will come; when President Buhari’s government agrees to look into the submission of the last National Conference, we will surely have our additional state when the time comes.