President travels to troubled region amid secession calls
NIGERIA: Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is visiting two southeastern states to boost his All Progressives Congress party’s chances in a region where there have been growing calls for secession.
The visit comes at a delicate moment in southeastern Nigeria, where the Indigenous People of Biafra, known as Ipob, and its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, have stepped up a secessionist campaign.
Buhari’s administration has designated the group a ‘‘terrorist’’ movement and vowed to prevent the breakup of Africa’s most populous nation. A bid to establish an independent state 50 years ago sparked the Biafran War, which claimed more than a million lives.
During his two-day trip, starting yesterday, Buhari will meet Tony Nwoye, his party’s gubernatorial candidate in Anambra state elections on Sunday. He will also hold talks with Ebonyi state governor David Umahi, who is a member of the opposition People’s Democratic Party and chairman of the South East Governors Forum.
The president’s trip to the region might give residents ‘‘assurance that they are part of Nigeria and the accusations against his government of marginalising their people is something that he is addressing’’, said Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Policy and Advocacy Centre.
‘‘I think people get a sense that President Buhari doesn’t listen, and if he begins to listen, his relationship with the people will improve.’’
The Nigerian security forces can ill afford more unrest. They are already stretched in their battle against Islamist militants in the northeast, where violence has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people since 2009 and pushed the region to the brink of famine.
Africa’s top oil producer is also grappling with sporadic militant attacks in the southern oil-rich Niger River delta, which last year cut monthly oil shipments to their lowest level in about three decades.
Ipob, which has campaigned for a boycott of the Anambra gubernatorial election, threatened in a statement to disrupt Buhari’s visit and vowed that ‘‘he will not go back alive’’.
‘‘I am asking you all not to buy into the senseless propaganda on secession,’’ Buhari said in Ebonyi state. ‘‘My presence here today is a demonstration of our strong belief in the unity of Nigeria,’’ he said during a speech delivered at the Abakiliki township stadium.
Buhari, a 74-year-old former military head of state, clinched the
2015 presidency despite winning just 7 per cent of the vote in the southeast, with much of his support coming from the country’s north and southwest. He has not said if he will run for re-election in
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari receives honours and gifts from local leaders during his tour of Ebonyi state in the country’s southeast.