That day was Thursday, January 22nd, 2016. The occasion was the Economic and Security Summit of South East Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari, the tough talking, body language-fear-inspiring, retired army general Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the federal republic, was scheduled to be at the occasion as chief guest of honour. But as we heard, Buhari did not turn up for the auspicious occasion.
Rumours have it that the president stayed away because of a certain threat by members of the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) who vowed to resist his entry into the south east. Assuming that is true, a president who really cared and wanted to attend the summit even if to prove critics wrong that he is anti-Igbo would have found ways to neutralize the threat by IPOB by reaching out to them. There is nothing wrong if he does so directly or through any of his ministers/aides or even governors of the region. That is what it takes to be a leader!
Anyway, the summit ended successfully, but many were already blaming IPOB for the president’s absence. Those who seem to know better say with the president’s statements, his body language and actions against the Igbo, it was a sealed fate that there was no way he was going to be attending such a summit by the region, one of the chief groups of the president’s proclaimed 5% part of the country!
Following that ill-advised absence, a statement was issued by the presidency through Mallam Garba Shehu, giving some of the most bizarre reasons why a president would not visit a particular region. Part of the statement read: “…some other stakeholders from the South East came and advised him to not go in view of the closeness of the date to Christmas; that given the sensitivity of the period to the people, a presidential visit may come with overexertion and possibly, be disruptive of Christmas”.
It was the same people that willingly and voluntarily invited you, Sir!
The first question one would want to ask is, who are “those other stakeholders from the South East” who came to advise the president? If Garba Shehu could be so detailed as to reveal the identity of Dr Ogbonnaya Onu as the one who passed the invite to the president, one wonders why the actors of a more critical aspect of the event were not revealed. The feeling here is that there was no such advice. This part of the excuse could have been cooked in order to continue to lay the blame of the president’s failure to be at the summit at the feet of some imaginary “stakeholders”.
Furthermore, it is most ridiculous and unbelievable that the reason a president of Nigeria gives for not attending an occasion in the South East is because of its closeness to Christmas and that such a visit could be “disruptive of Christmas” when everyone knows that the Igbo man’s best moments to receive August visitors to his abode are at Christmas and the New Yam festival.
How come Buhari does not know this? One who has been the president of Nigeria before this dispensation ought to know a fair share of his peoples’ diverse cultures especially those of the major tribes!
That was nothing but a lame excuse for the president’s deliberate refusal to be at the summit. It is nothing new but this administration’s continued flagrant display of hatred for the Igbo is well-documented.
It is quite ironical that while Buhari would not attend a security and economic summit in the south east because he would not want to disrupt the Christmas season there, he was very quick and happy to send all manner of security agencies including the military, who are currently doing a python dance there.
The disruption which these security agencies have since been causing to dwellers and travelers to the region since the inauguration of this administration is unimaginable. For example, it is reported that about seventy military/police check points are mounted between Onitsha and Owerri alone, a distance of just about 85km.
This has caused untold hardship to a people and a region that is not in any way at war. Why the needless heavy presence of the army there if not to disrupt the people’s Christmas celebration and dampen their season of joy?
As if that is not bad enough, the presidency has also unleashed men and officers of the Nigeria Customs Service on travelers to the south east. Many Igbo sons and daughters travelling from especially Lagos and other south west states have complained bitterly how they have been forced to part with money ranging from between N5,000 – N50,000 or they have their luggage especially bags of rice bought or received as gifts from offices/friends, and even their cars impounded, leaving families stranded on the road, that is for those who cannot part with the amount quoted by their ‘captors’.
The question is, why are there no such checkpoints by the Nigeria Customs Service and other security agencies in the north even where terrorist activities and murderous invasions of communities by the notorious Fulani herdsmen are at their peak? Are the Igbo the only ones who drive cars that need to be checked by the Customs? Are they the only ones who travel at Christmas which is normally a public holiday season that sees Nigerians of different ethnic origin and religious background travelling to different places?
When has the south east turned to Seme border or any other border as to attract the heavy presence of the Customs if not just to deliberately add to the inconveniences and sufferings imposed by the Buhari-led administration on Ndigbo and disrupt their Christmas?
This proves that Buhari’s excuse not to attend the summit was nothing but exactly what is, just an excuse! Even if the date was not convenient for him, he could have sent a representative be it Dr Ogbonnaya Onu or Dr Chris Ngige or Rochas Okorocha or any other person. But no, it is all about Ndigbo so it means nothing to this president!
The good thing is that the summit held and was successful even without the president.
Ndigbo have since learnt to live without him, and they are sticking together now more than ever before, thanks to Buhari and his anti-Igbo postures!
Jude Ndukwe is a public affairs analyst and can be reached on Twitter: @StJudeNdukwe