President Muhammadu Buhari Friday said that his government has been fair to the South East geo-political zone in terms of appointment which he said was evidenced in the allocation of four prominent ministerial positions to the zone.
The President also assured leaders from the zone that his administration will benefit them more from roads and coastal rail projects, which he said were of critical importance to the economy.
But the President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo told the President that the South East had remained marginalized by successive administrations, which he stated was the reason behind the recent agitations by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
According to Nwodo, IPOB is a symptomatic consequence of the continuous marginalization of the south east over a long period of time.
President who met with the leaders of the South East led by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu which had in attendance the President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nwodo, the governors and federal lawmakers from the area in a closed-door at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, told them that 2nd Niger Bridge, the East-West Road and the Coastal rail project, were receiving utmost attention from his administration.
President Buhari in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, 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.
He said, “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.”
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 he would soon visit states in the zone, adding, “I want to assure you that I came into government with a clear conscience and I will also leave with a clear conscience.”
Earlier, the President of Ohaneze, while articulating the demands of the zone to the President highlighted the issue of state creation, restructuring, federal projects in the South East namely Enugu-Onitsha road, Enugu-Port Harcourt road and Aba-Ikot-Ekpene road, among others.
Nwodo also demanded urgent presidential interventions on the Enugu Airport, reticulation of the gas-pipelines in the South East and the standard gauge plan for railway construction.
Commending the President’s remarkable achievements on security and the fight against corruption, Nwodo declared: “we are ready to work with you. We are determined to work with you. We know you are a decisive leader and we know God will continue to give you the wisdom to govern Nigeria.’’
Also speaking, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State expressed satisfaction on the outcome of their discussions with the President on critical issues and topics affecting the region.
Umahi, who is the Chairman of South East Governors Forum said, “You have no hatred for any state. You have treated all states with equality. What one state gets in the north, the other gets in the south.”
Speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting, Chief Nwodo said, “We had a frank and robust exchange, we discussed problems of the south east and as head of state he is the finale 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 they will give it the attention there 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 disrepair. Enugu-Onitsha, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Aba-Ikot Ekpene are virtually impassable.
“We talked about the inland waterways and the dredging of the River Niger. We talked about the reticulation of gas pipeline 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 ravaged by …
“We got assurance from the president that he will deal with each of those problems.”
On whether the issue of alleged marginalization of the zone came up in the meeting, he 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.”
Also responding to the question on whether the president’s promises could be trusted, Nwodo 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.”
On whether the issue of IPOB came up in their 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.”
Speaking on the issue of 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”.
Members of the South East delegation included, the Deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnnia Nwodo, Governors Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia state and the deputy governors of Imo and Anambra states.
Others were the Chairman of South East senate caucus, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, the Deputy Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, Chukwuma Onyema, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama and the Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu olelema.