From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The issues of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), infrastructure decay and the development of the South East among others dominated the discussion between President Muhammadu Buhari and South East leaders this afternoon.
Those in attendance we’re South East governors, federal lawmakers from the zone, ministers and the leadership of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo on Thursday.
Governors in attendance were those of Abia, Okezie Ikpeazu, Enugu, Ifeanyi Ugwuani, Ebonyi, Dave Umahi, the Imo deputy governor, Eze Madumere and the deputy governor of Anambra, Nkem Okeke.
Lawmakers in attendance were Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and Enyinnaya Abaribe.
The President of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, told State House Correspondents that the interaction was frank and robust, expressing confidence that Buhari in all sincerity will address all issues with time.
Nwodo who was flanked on both sides by the delegation he led to the meeting said, “We had a frank and robust exchange. We discussed problems of the South East and as president he is the final repository of an appeal for the resolutions of those problems. We went into great details about each of those problems and I have confidence that he will give them the attention they deserve.
“We dealt with problems of development in the South East, basic capital projects which have for a very long time been neglected not just from this government but for a very long time, major arteries of federal highways in the South East have been in complete state of collapse. Enugu-Onitsha, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Aba-Ikot Ekpene roads are virtually impassable.
“We talked about the inland waterways and the dredging of the River Niger. We talked about the reticulation of gas pipelines on the south east. We export gas from the south east to the other parts of the country but there is no reticulation of the pipeline and industrial clusters in the south east.
“We talked about the only international airport we have in the south east which has very bad infrastructure in terms of the buildings that have been ravaged.
“We got assurance from the president that he will deal with each of those problems.”
Asked if the issue of marginalization was discussed, Nwodo said, “That was the opening line and that was why we single out these things. Like I have said these problems have been there overtime and we have had several presidents, it didn’t just happen in the last two years. But we expressed the desire that he should be able to address them.”
On if the president’s promises can be trusted, the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo said, “There is no reason for me to doubt them because this is the first time I have had this interaction with him. I have the feeling that he spoke to us very frankly.”
Asked if the issue of IPOB formed part of the discussion, he said, “We came here for the issues of developments in our place. We talked about IPOB as a symptomatic consequence of the continuous marginalization of the south east over a long period of time. Understandably, our children are restive and we want to make sure that the federal government is responsive to the issues that have cumulated in the quintessence of these agitations.”
On devolution of powers, Nwodo said, “We did talk about the issue of devolution of powers, the constitution, the paucity of the states and local governments in our place and the president has asked that he be given time to look at this more holistically.”
President Buhari had in his Independence Day, broadcast blamed the elders and leaders of the south east, for IPOB’s agitation, insisting that they should have warned those daring to agitate for Biafra to perish the idea because of the consequences of the civil war he region suffered.
In a statement released by the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said President Buhari assured stakeholders from the South East that the region will benefit more from roads and coastal rail projects, which are of critical importance to the economy.
He declared that 2nd Niger Bridge, the East-West Road and the Coastal rail project, are receiving utmost attention from his administration.
The President said counterpart funding from the Chinese government would substantially fund these projects, which when completed will improve the welfare, well-being and economy of the people in the region.
“I know the Chinese are very competent in handling such projects and we will ensure that we get the money for the projects to take off.
“I thank you for articulating your demands and I want to assure that we are doing our best for the country. If we can stop people from stealing, then there will be more resources to put into projects that will create employment for Nigerians,” the President said.
Responding to allegations of under-representation of Igbos in his government, the President said: “I gave south-east four substantive ministers in the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Investment, Science and Technology and Labour.
“Seven states in the North got Ministers of State and of the two Ministries headed by your sons, I cannot take any decision on foreign policy and investments without their input,” he said.
The President also promised the leaders, comprising governors and ministers from the region, the President of Ohaneze, Chief Nnia Nwodo and representatives from the National Assembly, that he will visit states in the zone soon.
“I want to assure you that I came into government with a clear conscience and I will also leave with a clear conscience,” he said.
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