Southern, middlebelt leaders in handshake across the Niger want herdsmen declared terrorists

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A convocation of Southern and Middle-belt leaders in Enugu on Thursday has faulted President Muhammadu Buhari for the Federal Government’s refusal to declare the herdsmen as terrorists, as was done to the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra. They requested the federal government to immediately declare both the Myitte Allah Cattle Breeders Association and rampaging Fulani herdsmen as terrorist groups.

The convocation met under the auspices of Handshake ‎Across the Niger; a Celebration of Igbo/Yoruba Friendship Beyond Brotherhood, organised by a pan Igbo group, Nzuko Umunna. The event, hosted by the leaders of Afenifere and the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, was also attended by the representatives of the South-South and the Middle Belt.

Those from the South-West included Chief Olu Falae, Ayo Adebanjo, former Ondo governor Olusegun Mimiko, former aviation minister, Femi-Fani Kayode, among others. The Middle-belt delegation, which included a former governor of Kwara State, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, was led by ex-Plateau Governor, Jonah Jang.

The South-East representatives include: the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, former Governor Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Deputy Governor of Imo State, Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe, who represented the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, representatives of both the Enugu and Anambra governors among other dignitaries.

Others at the meeting were Prof. Anya O. Anya, Prof. Pat Utomi, Igwe Alfred Achebe of Onitsha, Chief Ifeanyi Uba, Yinka Odumakin, wife of former military leader Aguiyi Ironsi, Victoria, son of the late Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, who was killed with Aguiyi-Ironsi in the 1966 counter-coup, Donald.

The convocation declared that a minority part of Nigeria, the North West and North East, cannot hold the rest of the regions with over 99 million population to ransom by refusing to agree on restructuring Nigeria.

They particularly accused Buhari of spearheading the anti-restructuring posture and warned that if the country is not restructured before the 2019 general elections, Nigeria may be heading towards disintegration.

There was however drama when shortly after Nwodo began his speech, which bordered on restructuring, an array of pro-Biafra apologists, who had stormed the summit in their numbers, disrupted his speech with a shout of “No, No, we want Biafra not restructuring; IPOB are not terrorists, herdsmen are terrorists; Nnamdi Kanu we know, who are you?”

The voices of the Biafra sympathisers, comprising mostly elderly women, rented the venue, overshadowing the speaking President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo‎.

Chairman of the Local Organising Committee, Chief Ifeanyi Ubah had hectic time calming the agitators but announced that the pro-Biafra members would be given time to express their anger against last year Operation Python Dance.

When normalcy was restored, Nwodo stated that the Fulani herdsmen are daring the Nigeria unity, adding that it was unfortunate the federal government has refused to declare the herdsmen as terrorist group.

He stated that the essence of the ‘Handshake Across the Nigeria’, was to correct age-long misconception and suspicion among the Igbos and the Yorubas.

Speaking on the need for Igbo/Yoruba brotherhood, he said, “Today, we have come to say thank you to the Fajuyi family for paying the highest price of solidarity and brotherhood to the Ironsi family and by implication to Ndigbo.

“The late Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, in offering to go along with his boss and guest rather than leave him alone to be slaughtered, was dramatising brotherhood. We will be betraying him and his legacy if we do not continue to promote that brotherhood.”

Leader of Yoruba group and representative of Chairman of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo stated that the meeting was a catalyst for unity of Nigeria which the ‘enemies of Nigeria’ do not want to take place.

He noted that it was not a gang up meeting or a forum for formation of a political party, but a meeting against common oppressors of the progressive Nigerians.

According to Adebanjo, “it’s only restructuring that can guarantee your rights in Nigeria. Cheating, injustice and even corruption can only be wiped out through restructuring.

“The question of restructuring is not debatable and not in the hand of any individual not minding his position.”

On killer herdsmen, Adebanjo said he had no trust on the ability of the police to quell the activities of the group as the police hierarchy had already described the killings as communal clashes.

He further lambasted Buhari over his handling of the killings, stressing that “even when someone in the caliber of Falae was kidnapped, he didn’t utter a word. He has also refused to identify Fulani herdsmen as terrorists.

A former Aviation minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, while also insisting on restructuring, also condemned the activities of the herdsmen.

“We know who does slaughtering. Yesterday, it was Benue. Before Christmas, it was in Taraba. The other day, it was Numan,” he said.

Fani-Kayode, in the same vein, asked Buhari to explain what happened to IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu.

The former minister relayed goodwill messages from the Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, and the Aare Ona Kakanfo-designate, Gani Adams, to the conference.

In his remarks, Jang described the meeting as most timely and appropriate, calling on the organizers “to extend the handshake across the River Benue and all the minorities.”

Coming up with a communique, delegates at the conference “decided to collaborate closely to create mutually beneficial opportunities, build a strong alliance to advance their ever-growing mutual interests, while striving together to meet the common responsibilities of building a united, coherent and prosperous nation – a state of free peoples, freely relating to one another across the dividing lines of tribe, religion, region and politics.”

They added that the conference was not a one-off event, “but only the first of a progressive and continuous re-socialisation project that will, in short order, reach out to embrace other compatriots in the South-South , Middle Belt, North-Central, North-East and the North-West geopolitical zones of the country.”

The southern and Middle-belt leaders, according to the communique, decided to establish a standing Joint Action Committee to drive the process. The composition and mandate of the Joint Committee and its sub-committees, is to be made known in due course, according to the communique.

During the meeting, a minute silence was observed in honour of the victims of herdsmen attacks in Benue State and other parts of the country.

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