Buhari: My Visit to South-east, Strong Ex­pres­sion of My Be­lief in One Nige­ria

Says Ndigbo and Nige­ria are in­sep­a­ra­ble Pledges to boost agri­cul­ture, power sup­ply, in­fra­struc­ture in re­gion

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Omololu Ogun­made and Ben­jamin Nworie in Abaka­liki

In his visit to the South-east since as­sump­tion of of­fice, Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari yes­ter­day ar­rived Ebonyi State where he re­marked that the visit was a strong ex­pres­sion of his be­lief in Nige­ria’s unity.

The pres­i­dent also pledged to im­prove agri­cul­ture, power sup­ply and the pro­vi­sion of in­fra­struc­ture projects in the re­gion when the 2018 bud­get is passed.

Buhari, whose visit to Ebonyi had been tagged the first pres­i­den­tial visit to the state in the last 17 years, was con­veyed by a Nige­rian Air Force he­li­copter with the reg­is­tra­tion num­ber NAF-540 from Akanu Ibiam In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Enugu, to the army bar­racks in Nk­wagu in Abaka­liki, the Ebonyi State cap­i­tal, at about 11.15 a.m.

He was ac­com­pa­nied by the state gov­er­nor, Chief David

Umahi.

Umahi was among other South-east gov­er­nors who had re­ceived him at the Enugu air­port.

The pres­i­dent, who was re­ceived at the army bar­racks by dig­ni­taries from the state, sub­se­quently com­mis­sioned six projects and there­after pro­ceeded to the Gov­ern­ment House where he met no­table lead­ers of the state and tra­di­tional rulers from both Ebonyi and the South-east who con­ferred on him two tra­di­tional chief­taincy ti­tles.

The pres­i­dent re­called how some Igbo lead­ers had vis­ited him at the State House, Abuja, last month to ex­press con­cern over the poor state of in­fra­struc­ture in the re­gion, as­sur­ing them that re­sources meant to ad­dress their con­cerns had been cap­tured in the 2018 bud­get cur­rently be­fore the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

The pres­i­dent promised to con­cen­trate on power and agri­cul­ture projects as well as other so­cial ser­vices in the re­gion when the bud­get is op­er­a­tional and praised the state gov­er­nor for the projects be­ing ex­e­cuted by his ad­min­is­tra­tion in the state, de­scrib­ing them as laud­able.

The pres­i­dent who was con­ferred with the chief­taincy ti­tles, Enyioma 1 of Ebonyi, mean­ing a trust­wor­thy friend of Ebonyi, and Ochioha Ndigbo, mean­ing the leader of Igbo peo­ple, by both the Ebonyi State Coun­cil of Tra­di­tional Rulers and South­east Coun­cil of Tra­di­tional Rulers re­spec­tively, ex­pressed ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the ti­tles as well as the warm re­cep­tion ac­corded him, say­ing he was glad for the op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­act with peo­ple of the state.

He said: “I am de­lighted to be here in Abaka­liki to in­ter­act with the good peo­ple of Ebonyi State and in­deed the South-east re­gion as a whole. I want to ex­press my grat­i­tude to the peo­ple of Ebonyi State for their hos­pi­tal­ity and warm re­cep­tion since I ar­rived the state.

“My pres­ence here today is a demon­stra­tion of my strong be­lief in the unity of Nige­ria. As the most pop­u­lous coun­try in Africa with over 300 eth­nic groups, our di­ver­sity is al­most unique.

“When I met with the lead­ers of the South-east in Abuja last month, they raised sev­eral is­sues of con­cern in­clud­ing the state of the roads and in­fra­struc­ture in the re­gion.

“I will like to com­mend Gov­er­nor David Umahi for his vi­sion and com­mit­ment to the de­vel­op­ment of this state. Some of the projects I com­mis­sioned since my ar­rival are laud­able.

“I am also grate­ful to the tra­di­tional rulers of Ebonyi State for the hon­our be­stowed on me with the tra­di­tional ti­tle of Enyioma I of Ebonyi. I thank you for this hon­our and warm re­cep­tion.

“I want to as­sure you that we will de­liver on our prom­ises. Our 2018 bud­get in­cluded many projects for the re­gion in the area of power, agri­cul­ture and so­cial ser­vices,” he said.

The pres­i­dent was em­phatic that the Ndigbo is syn­ony­mous with Nige­ria just as Nige­ria is syn­ony­mous with Ndigbo.

The pres­i­dent who cel­e­brated what he de­scribed as the in­ge­nu­ity of the peo­ple of South-east and their tal­ent for trade and com­merce, said the Igbo eth­nic group and Nige­ria were in­sep­a­ra­ble.

“The peo­ple of the South-east are known for their in­ge­nu­ity, in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial tal­ent. There is no part of Nige­ria where you will not find Igbo en­trepreneurs, both men and women, con­tribut­ing to the de­vel­op­ment of their adopted com­mu­ni­ties.

“So, I am ask­ing you all not to buy into the sense­less pro­pa­ganda for se­ces­sion. Igbo is Nige­ria and Nige­ria is Igbo. Both are in­sep­a­ra­ble.

“We must there­fore con­tinue to com­mit our­selves to the de­vel­op­ment of Nige­ria, a Nige­ria where we sus­tain our na­tional unity with­out com­pro­mis­ing on our cul­tural iden­ti­ties, a Nige­ria where the as­pi­ra­tions of its peo­ple are guar­an­teed with­out prej­u­dice to tribe or re­li­gion, a Nige­ria where we can sleep at night know­ing that to­mor­row will be bet­ter than today.

“The task of na­tion build­ing is a con­tin­u­ous one. It never stops. Our found­ing fa­thers, from all cor­ners of this coun­try, worked to­gether to ac­tu­alise the cre­ation of one Nige­ria.

“Af­ter in­de­pen­dence, the same found­ing fa­thers worked to­gether to main­tain this one Nige­ria. Yes, they had dif­fer­ences and var­ied opin­ions at times. Af­ter all, they were only hu­man.

“And yes, they had mo­ments of weak­nesses and doubt. But again, no one is per­fect. How­ever, one thing they all pro­tected un­til the end of their lives was hav­ing one Nige­ria for all Nige­ri­ans,” he said.

In his remarks, the Ebonyi State gov­er­nor con­grat­u­lated the pres­i­dent on the chief­taincy ti­tles con­ferred on him and thanked him for his enor­mous as­sis­tance to the state, which he said had re­sulted in a revo­lu­tion in the agri­cul­ture and solid min­er­als sec­tors.

In ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the as­sis­tance, Umahi pre­sented 2,000 bags of rice and 2,000 tu­bers of yams to the pres­i­dent, de­scrib­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion as the fruit of the state’s prayers that the pres­i­dent would en­joy the fruits of the seeds he planted.

‘First is to con­grat­u­late our pres­i­dent for this high­est hon­our be­stowed on you today. It is an hon­our that is well de­served, Your Ex­cel­lency, you have helped us quite a lot es­pe­cially in the area of the agri­cul­ture revo­lu­tion and solid min­er­als. And today, sir, you are with us.

“The prayer of every­one is that you plan to see it; you will be alive to tap from the seeds that you are plant­ing. Today, you gave us a gi­ant leap in agri­cul­ture and so we have here with us 2,000 bags of rice and 2,000 pieces of yam to give to our pres­i­dent.

“It is a prayer an­swered be­cause you have sown in the land of Ebonyi and God has given you the strength and health to par­take in that seed that you planted. We are grate­ful to give back to our fa­ther who has given so much to us,” Umahi said.

Among the ini­tial projects Buhari com­mis­sioned were a 700-me­tre twin Trans-Sa­hara bridge link­ing Enugu and Ebonyi States with Cameroon; the Sen­a­tor Of­fia Nwali fly­over; the 14.5km Abaka­liki-Afikpo road; foun­da­tion lay­ing of the Ebonyi city mall; foun­da­tion lay­ing of the Muham­madu Buhari bridge; and un­veil­ing of the Akanu Ibiam statue.

Also, at a re­cep­tion for the pres­i­dent at the state’s sta­dium, the Pres­i­dent-Gen­eral of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, thanked Buhari for his visit to the re­gion barely a few weeks af­ter Igbo lead­ers had vis­ited him in the State House to draw his at­ten­tion to in­fra­struc­ture deficit in the South-east.

Nwodo then painted the hor­ri­ble state of in­fra­struc­ture de­cay in the re­gion and ap­pealed to the pres­i­dent to ad­dress it.

He said the de­cay in­cluded the rot­ten state of the Enugu air­port, re­call­ing how an Ethiopian Air­line air­craft re­cently lost a tyre while land­ing as a re­sult of the bad run­way.

He also said liveli­hoods in the re­gion were threat­ened by the in­fra­struc­ture de­cay in­clud­ing the di­lap­i­dated state of the Onitsha-Enugu ex­press­way, Enugu-Port Har­court ex­press­way, stop­page of work on the Sec­ond Niger bridge, un­em­ploy­ment, hunger and star­va­tion, among oth­ers.

Nwodo de­manded for the con­ces­sion of col­lapsed ma­jor roads in the South-east to the gov­er­nors of the re­gion to en­able them re­build such roads the way they want them.

The for­mer min­is­ter, how­ever, lauded the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to pay pen­sions to ex-Bi­afran po­lice­men and dam­ages to vic­tims of the Nige­rian civil war.

Also speak­ing at the sta­dium, Umahi urged the pres­i­dent to call some of his ap­pointees to order, ac­cus­ing them of frus­trat­ing ef­forts by the state to ob­tain loans meant for the de­vel­op­ment of the state un­der the guise of pol­i­tics.

He also re­quested for the pres­i­dent’s in­ter­ven­tion in cer­tain chal­lenges con­fronting the state such as non­func­tion­ing dams in the state to­talling 30 in num­ber, which he said would have boosted rice pro­duc­tion.

Umahi pointed out that the di­lap­i­dated dams had re­stricted rice pro­duc­tion in the state to only the rainy sea­son.

He also sought the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­ven­tion in the ex­ist­ing hy­dropower dams in the state for elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion, which he said would go a long way in im­prov­ing the well­be­ing of the peo­ple of the state.

He also drew the at­ten­tion of the pres­i­dent to some fed­eral roads that his ad­min­is­tra­tion had con­structed, lament­ing that such projects were not cap­tured for a re­fund in 2018 bud­get.

Re­spond­ing to is­sues raised by Nwodo and Umahi, the pres­i­dent who was clad in an Igbo Isi-agu (loin head) jumper with a red cap to match, praised the en­tre­pre­neur­ial skills of the peo­ple of the South-east, say­ing Ig­bos are found in ev­ery part of Nige­ria.

He de­plored the ac­tiv­i­ties of per­sons he de­scribed as mis­guided Nige­ri­ans ag­i­tat­ing for se­ces­sion, not­ing that they did not wit­ness the de­bil­i­tat­ing ef­fects of the Nige­rian civil war and coun­selled that as the found­ing fa­thers of Nige­ria had sus­tained the unity of the coun­try de­spite their dif­fer­ences, the na­tion’s unity must be sus­tained.

On is­sues raised by Nwodo and echoed by Umahi, Buhari said his gov­ern­ment was work­ing ag­gres­sively to im­prove in­fra­struc­ture by build­ing roads and im­prov­ing power sup­ply, adding that ef­forts were be­ing made to guar­anty food se­cu­rity for the na­tion.

He told the rather ex­cited gath­er­ing that his gov­ern­ment had re­cently re­solved to mo­bilise con­trac­tors back to the Sec­ond Niger bridge.

He also said N10 bil­lion had been bud­geted in the 2018 bud­get for the Eny­imba In­dus­trial Park and the Nnewi Auto Park which he said would be im­ple­mented in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the states and the pri­vate sec­tor.

The pres­i­dent also dis­closed that pay­ments to ex-Bi­afran po­lice of­fi­cers had com­menced 17 years af­ter they were par­doned, adding that an up­grade of the Umuahia Di­ag­nos­tic Cen­tre in Abia State was in the pipe­line.

He again com­mended Umahi for his stew­ard­ship in the state and ex­pressed ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the chief­taincy ti­tles con­ferred on him, say­ing: “I am Enyioma l of Ebonyi. I am Ochioha Ndigbo,” which earned him fur­ther ap­plause.

The pres­i­dent will de­part Abaka­liki today for Awka, Anam­bra State, to lead the grand fi­nale of the All Pro­gres­sives Congress’ (APC) cam­paign rally for Satur­day’s gov­er­nor­ship elec­tion in the state and will re­turn to Abuja later in the day.

Among those who re­ceived the pres­i­dent were the deputy gov­er­nor of Ebonyi State, Dr. Kelechi Igwe; Min­is­ter of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, Dr. Og­bon­naya Onu; for­mer gov­er­nors of the state - Sen­a­tor Sam Egwu and Chief Martin Elechi; for­mer Se­nate Pres­i­dent, Sen­a­tor Anyim Pius Anyim; for­mer Min­is­ter of Cul­ture and Tourism, Am­bas­sador Frank Og­buewu; ex-Min­is­ter of Health (State), Mr. Fidelis Nwankwo; for­mer deputy gov­er­nor of the state, Prof. Chigozie Ogbu; the zonal Vice Chair­man of the Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party (PDP), Chief Aus­tine Umahi; and Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of Ori­ent Global Ltd, Chief Chuk­wuma Odi.

Other dig­ni­taries who vis­ited the state to wel­come the pres­i­dent were Abia State gov­er­nor, Dr. Okezie Ik­peazu, Min­is­ter of Labour and Em­ploy­ment, Dr. Chris Ngige, Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs, Ge­of­frey Onyema, and his Trade and In­vest­ment coun­ter­part, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah.

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