The presidency, yesterday, condemned a suggestion by the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) that any section of the country that desired to leave should be allowed to go.
NEF had canvassed that the Igbo should be allowed to secede from Nigeria if the people wanted to leave. The group, however, quickly clarified, in reaction to the presidency’s criticism, that it had not instigated any section of Nigeria to leave. It said Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Garba Shehu, failed to quote any statement NEF had made to instigate any part of Nigeria to go.
Spokesman of NEF, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, had said, “The forum has arrived at the difficult conclusion that if support for secession among the Igbo is as widespread as it is being made to look, and Igbo leadership appears to be in support of it, then, the country should be advised not to stand in its way.
“It will not be the best choice for the Igbo or Nigerians to leave a country we have all toiled to build and a country we all have the responsibility to fix, but it will not help a country already burdened with failures on its knees to fight another war to keep the Igbo in Nigeria.”
However, reacting to NEF’s position, presidential spokesman, Shehu, in a statement, stressed that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration was the only democratically elected government that could speak for all Nigerians. Shehu wondered why NEF would arrogate to itself the power it never possessed to speak for the people. He asked Nigerians to disregard such call by NEF for any section of the country to leave the federation.
The presidential spokesman said in the statement, “We are aware of the latest statement from the so-called Northern Elders Forum. We wish to reassure Nigerians that it remains their democratically elected leadership, which takes the decisions that steer our nation – and no one else.
“No self-appointed and unelected group can take this right from Nigerians – no matter how much coverage they might enjoy in the media. Nigerians listen to elected leaders, not opinionated tin gods, who have no traction with any responsible group.
“It is a delusional arrogance that would lead such a group to publicly state terms and conditions for the existence of our nation. Who gave them the right to ask for the exclusion, or expulsion of anyone, group or section of the country from the Federal Republic of Nigeria?
“The Nigerian government does not take guidance or invitations from such groups – only from the Nigerian people, who put governments in office. Any group can refer to themselves as ‘leaders’, but in Nigeria, if you have not been elected by Nigerians to a leadership role, then, you are not – and the government certainly doesn’t recognise you as such.
“Like many other countries around the world, Nigeria is feeling the strain of the current period of volatility and uncertainty. Now is not the time to seek to exacerbate divisions amongst Nigerians. Rather, we call on all Nigerians to come together and work to overcome the challenges we face as one nation, one people.”
NEF to Garba Shehu: You Lied, We Didn’t Instigate Any Section to Leave Nigeria
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) denied instigating a section of Nigeria to leave the country, saying Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, lied. NEF’s Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said this in a statement issued yesterday in Abuja.
The forum stated, “The attention of Northern Elders Forum has been drawn to a statement by Malam Garba Shehu, Special Assistant to the President on Media, claiming that the forum has released a statement instigating a section of Nigeria to leave the country.
“Malam Garba Shehu’s statement did not quote a single word in the ‘statement’, did not mention its signatory or its date.
“As a former journalist, he must know that no self-respecting journalist will take this statement seriously. His statement was entirely a monologue castigating the forum over fiction which only he can understand.”
The forum expressed its belief in the rights of all Nigerians to live in peace and aspire to their dreams. It noted that it also believed in the unity and desirability of a united and strong Nigeria, which would meet the aspirations of all citizens.
NEF added, “When the forum made comments in the past about the challenges to our union, security or governance, it always did so openly and in a responsible manner.
“It is baffling to see this unfair attribution from the presidency, at a time when calm nerves are needed, and statesmanship should be on display.”