Pres­i­dent trav­els to trou­bled re­gion amid se­ces­sion calls

The Press - - World -

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

2019.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Nige­ria’s Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari re­ceives hon­ours and gifts from lo­cal lead­ers dur­ing his tour of Ebonyi state in the coun­try’s south­east.

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