President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday urged the people of the South-East geopolitical zone not to buy into what he described as the senseless propaganda of secession.
He said Nigeria and Igbo were inseparable.
Buhari said this at the Abakaliki Township Stadium during his state visit to Ebonyi State.
The President said his presence in the state was a demonstration of his strong belief in the unity of the country.
Buhari said, “My presence here today is a demonstration of our strong belief in the unity of Nigeria. As the most populous country in Africa, with over 300 ethnic groups, our diversity is almost unique among nations.
“The people of the South-East are known for their ingenuity, industrial and commercial talent. There is no part of Nigeria where you will not find Igbo entrepreneurs, both men and women, contributing to the development of their adopted communities.
“So, I am asking you all not to buy into the senseless propaganda on secession. Igbo is Nigeria and Nigeria is Igbo. Both are inseparable. We must therefore continue to commit ourselves to the development of Nigeria; a Nigeria where we will sustain our national unity without compromising on our cultural identities; a Nigeria where the aspirations of its people are guaranteed without prejudice to tribe or religion and a Nigeria, where we can sleep at night knowing that tomorrow will be better than today.”
Buhari described the task of nation building as a continuous one.
He recalled that the nation’s founding fathers from all parts of the country worked together to actualise the creation of one Nigeria.
After independence, according to the President, the same founding fathers worked together to maintain one Nigeria.
“Yes, they had differences and varied opinions at times. After all, they were only human. And yes, they had moments of weaknesses and doubt. But again, no one is perfect. However, one thing they all protected until the end of their lives was having one Nigeria for all Nigerians.
“Today, Nigeria is 57 years old. Nigeria has gone through many pains. But it has also achieved significant successes. Its citizens are leaders in all aspects of human development. But we rarely celebrate these successes more.
“Some misguided Nigerians would rather channel their energies to propagating negative stories and senseless rumours.
“Over 60 per cent of Nigeria’s population is under 25 years old. They have little knowledge of Nigeria’s journey. They were not born during the dark days of the civil war and the nation rebuilding that happened afterwards.
“The task of nation-building is a continuous one. It relies on the successful transition of factual knowledge from one generation to another. This means it is our collective responsibility to ensure we do not betray our founding fathers as we transfer the Nigeria project from one generation to the next,” the President added.
Buhari urged parents to speak to their children about the importance of their heritage, culture and being open-minded.
He also asked teachers to teach their students about the history of the nation and how it was a coalition of diversity that brought it to existence.
Buhari also urged leaders to lead by example and show tolerance and acceptance of diversity.
The President said his administration was working hard to address most of the grievances expressed by the people of the South-East and all Nigerians.
He listed them to include unemployment and poor infrastructure.
He added, “We are building roads, hospitals and schools. We are expanding our power transmission infrastructure while supporting the generation and distribution companies to ensure more power is delivered to our homes. We are developing agricultural programmes that will create more jobs while making Nigeria food secure.
“For example, we recently mobilised the contractor of the Second Niger Bridge back to site. We have also made provisions in the 2018 budget proposal to ensure this project is completed as early as possible.
“We are also upgrading the Federal Medical Centre in Umuahia by constructing a Modern Medical Diagnostic Centre. This will further bring quality and affordable health care to the geopolitical zone.
“In the agricultural sector, the states in this region have participated in all Federal Government agricultural initiatives. For instance, Ebonyi was among the first few state governments to sign up to the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative. The programme has already created thousands of direct and indirect jobs in this fertile part of the our country.”
Buhari congratulated the state Governor, Dave Umahi, who he said, put aside his political differences to participate in “this federally led project” that has improved the lives of not only the farmers of Ebonyi State, but the entire South-East states.
“For the South-East, I am pleased to inform you that our 2018 budget proposal has allocated up to N10bn for the development of the Enyimba Industrial Park and Nnewi Auto Park. Both projects will be implemented in collaboration with the respective state governments and the private sector. Again, these are classic examples of the partnerships between the federal and state governments in the region to improve the livelihoods of Nigerians – politics aside.
“In October 2017, we commenced the payment of pensions to police officers who were granted presidential pardon in 2000 after serving in the former Biafran Police during the 30-month civil war. These officers, and their next of kin, have waited for their pensions for 17 years since the presidential pardon.
“I want to assure the Ndigbo that the welfare and well-being of every Nigerian is important to us. We stand for inclusivity and will not leave any section or citizen behind,” he added.
Buhari on Tuesday also assured Ndigbo that his administration would ensure the timely execution of roads, power and other projects in the South-East.
Buhari said this while addressing a meeting he had with the Ebonyi State Leaders of Thought and Traditional Rulers in Government House during his visit to the state.
“When I met with leaders from the South-East last month in Abuja, they raised several issues of concern, including the state of the roads and infrastructure in the region. I want to assure you that we will deliver on our promises.
“Our 2018 Budget includes many strategic projects for the region in the roads, power, agriculture and other sectors.”
The President thanked the Ebonyi State Government for the warm reception accorded him and his entourage.
Earlier in his speech, Umahi, had extolled the Federal Government for its support to the state in terms of agricultural facilities and the Anchors Borrowers Scheme of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“I wish to congratulate Mr. President for this honour of visiting the state. It is an honour that is well deserved. It has helped us a lot especially in the area of “agricultural revolution. It is the prayer of every one that if you plant a seed, you will be alive to enjoy its fruit,” he said.
Umahi, who noted that the Federal Government had made the state giant in agriculture, said, “President Buhari has sown in the land of Ebonyi and God has given you the strength and joy to partake in its fruit.”
The governor donated 2,000 pieces of yams and 2,000 bags of rice, in addition to a white horse to Buhari on behalf of the state government.
Buhari arrived the Nkwegu Military Cantonment Abakaliki at 11.15 am and was received by stakeholders and elders including the Minister of Science and Technology Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; two former governors of Ebonyi State, Chief Martin Elechi and Dr. Sam Egwu, respectively; former Ambassador to Greece, Chief Franklin Aogbuewu; members of the State Executive Council, members of the National Assembly, and the Brigade Commander of Nkwegu Military Cantonment, Lt. Col. Paul Kolawie.
The President had earlier inaugurated the 14.5km Abakiliki-Afikpo Federal road constructed by the Ebonyi State Government.
He also inaugurated the 700-metre dual flyover over the Trans-Sahara route running from Enugu to Cameroon, and the Senator Offia Nwali flyover, all in the state capital.
In addition, he performed the foundation-stone laying ceremony of the Ebonyi City Mall, another flyover and a road tunnel named after him.
The President also unveiled the statue of Sir Akanu Ibiam, a former governor of the old Eastern region, whom he described “as a great Nigerian, whose notable records of humanitarianism, advocacy of free primary education and rural development, will continue to be an inspiration to all.”
Buhari, who commended Umahi for ‘‘his vision and commitment to the development of the state,’’ also thanked the traditional rulers of the state led by Eze Charles Mkpuna for conferring on him the chieftaincy title of Enyioma 1 of Ebonyi (Trustworthy friend of Ebonyi).
At another event with South-East traditional rulers led by Eze Eberechi Dick, the President was conferred with the chieftaincy title of Ochioha Ndigbo (Leader of Igbo people).
Earlier in an address presented on behalf of Ebonyi Elders by a former governor of the state, Chief Sam Egwu, he appealed for more federal presence in the state, particularly the conversion of College of Education Ikwo to a Federal College of Education.
He also called for urgent intervention by the Federal Government to curb intra-communal clashes as well as cross-border disputes in the region.