By Tobi Soniyi, David-Chyddy Eleke and Bassey Inyang
Separatists agitating for the independent state of Biafra in the South-east of Nigeria have been told in stern terms by President Muhammadu Buhari to perish the thought, saying the indivisibility of the country under his watch is sacrosanct.
The president spoke tuesday in his Daura, Katsina State home while receiving members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) serving in the town and told them that in spite of the failure of leadership that engendered feelings of alienation, particularly in the South-eastern flank of the country, Nigeria was still big enough for all its people to live happily together.
Buhari advised NYSC members from the South-east serving in the town to tell their colleagues agitating for Biafra to forget it.
The president also called on the country’s youths to make Nigeria great again through the pursuit of knowledge, patriotism and commitment to values that promote national unity.
“Tell your colleagues who want Biafra to forget about it,” he told the corps members from the South-east, adding: “Nigeria is big enough for us and potentially big enough in terms of resources.”
There have been agitations, particularly among young people in the South-east, for a separate state of Biafra. Two groups — the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) — have been at the vanguard of these agitations that have led to bloody clashes between the agitators and security agencies several times.
But Buhari, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Malam Shehu Garba, said separation was not the answer to their grievances, telling them that the nation had passed that route before with dire consequences.
“As a military commander, I walked from Degema, a border town between the North and the East, to the border between Cameroun and Nigeria. I walked on my feet for most of the 30 months that we fought the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, in which at least 2 million Nigerians were killed,” he relived the experience to the about 100 corps members that came to visit him.
He added: “We were made by our leaders to go and fight Biafra not because of money or oil, because oil was not critical factor then, but because of one Nigeria.
“So if leaderships at various levels failed, it was not the fault of the rest of Nigerians who have no quarrel with one another.
“So please tell your colleagues that we must be together to build this country. It is big enough for us and potentially big enough in terms of resources.
“Those who work hard will earn a respectable living. I have seen this country, I fought for this country and I will continue to work for the unity of this country.” the president said.
The president urged them to remain focused in life, pursue their dreams and reject those fanning the embers of discord and disintegration of Nigeria.
He specially recognised corps members from the Niger Delta and South-eastern states serving in Daura and praised the vision of former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), in setting up the scheme in 1973.
Buhari said the scheme had promoted national unity and cohesion creditably by exposing young people to the uniqueness and cultural diversity of Nigeria.
“I asked for those from the other extreme of Nigeria because I very much appreciate the NYSC scheme and whenever I see General Gowon, I always thank him for that,” he said.
In his remarks, Mr. Egbewumi Adebolu, the Corps Liaison Officer in Daura, thanked the president for the honour of receiving them and making their stay in Daura memorable.
He said the youths strongly believed in the programme of the president to reduce unemployment and create jobs for more Nigerians.
Adebolu thanked the president for his personal gifts of cows, bags of rice and cash to corps members in the community for Salah celebration.
But the MASSOB, which celebrated its 17th anniversary in Awka, capital of Anambra State, yesterday appeared oblivious of the presidential charge for unity as it said that it was sure it would achieve an independent state of Biafra without firing a shot.
A statement by Mazi Stephen Okonkwo and Comrade Ugochukwu Onyema, Coordinator and Secretary of the group respectively in the state, said the group’s members were ready to commit their lives to the struggle for the restoration of the sovereign state of Biafra through non-violence.
It dismissed claims of splinter groups from it, saying that such confusion was orchestrated by its former leader, Chief Ralph Uwazurike, who had been expelled from the body by members who were disenchanted by his leadership style.
“17 years of our long walk to freedom can never be jeopardised, compromised or corrupted,” it said, adding that: “The reformation and rededication of our new leader, Comrade Uchenna Madu, has brought back our lost confidence and trust on Biafra actualisation,” it said.
The celebrations reverberated in Ikom, Cross River State as its members took to the streets of the sleepy town in commemoration of the founding of the group.
The pro-Biafra agitators, who thronged Ikom town in the early hours of the morning from Ogoja, Ugep, Obubra, Obudu, Abi and other parts of the state, gathered close to the Ikom township stadium before embarking on a peaceful procession through some major streets of the commercial town.
Scores of the MASSOB members dressed in uniforms, and waving flags symbolising Biafra, sang pro-Biafran songs and the Biafran anthem as they marched peacefully during the short street work which took them through Okomo Layout to 4-Corners, about 400 metres from where they took off.
Cross River State Zonal Leader of MASSOB, Samuel Okah, who led the street march said the event marked 17 years of peaceful struggle for the actulisation of Biafra as a nation for the people of the defunct eastern region of Nigeria.
“It has been 17 years of peaceful agitation by the people of Biafra led by Chief Ralph Uwazurike; and we are making steady progress for the coming to fruition of our efforts which is a clear demonstration of the fact that peaceful efforts get more mileage than violence,” Okah said.
Okah said there was nothing anybody could do to stop the actualisation of the Biafra nation because its time had come.
He said it was high time President Buhari allowed people agitating for self-rule to go and chart a course for themselves as new nations.