An investigation by our reporters has revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure to attend the first Southeast Economic and Security Summit held at Government House, Enugu, on Thursday, December 22, 2016, was caused by intrigues by politicians from the geopolitical zone.
They are contending for supremacy in Abuja.
They are led by Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labor and Productivity, and his counterpart in the Ministry of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, and supported by National Assembly members from the area.
They have been engaged in a battle of wits and intrigues with a group of professionals led by Bart Nnaji, an ex-Minister of Power, and Pascal Dozie, founding chairman of both Diamond Bank and the Nigerian subsidiary of the South African mobile telecommunication giant, MTN.
“Though the Ngige group won at the end of the day in the sense that Buhari did not attend the summit,” said a source in Buhari’s office, “the president’s heart is with the Nnaji/Dozie group.”
The source revealed that Buhari was determined to come in person and had assured former Vice President Alex Ekwueme and erstwhile Commonwealth Secretary General Emeka Anyaoku of his participation, but was prevailed upon by Ngige to decline attendance at the last minute.
“In fact, it was President Buhari who personally chose December 22 as the date for the summit,” disclosed the source.
Buhari, he stated, wanted to use his participation in the summit meant to quicken the economic development of the Southeast to dispel the notion in some quarters that he is against the zone.
But some Igbo members of his cabinet reportedly told him that his visit to the Southeast, the first since he assumed office in May 2015, would have a greater political impact when the contract for the Second Niger Bridge had already been approved by the Federal Government and considerable work done on the Onitsha-Enugu Highway as the Enugu-Port Harcourt Road.
The Federal Executive Council approved the Second Niger Bridge on Wednesday, December 21, 2016.
Buhari, after resisting the advice not to attend the summit in Enugu, changed his mind and sent Mr. Ngige a text message on Tuesday, December 21, saying that he would now visit the Southeast next February or March.
Once the news spread that Buhari was no longer attending the summit, ministers and many national legislators from the Southeast felt it was no longer necessary for them to attend, said a ranking senator from the area. But Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu participated in the one-day summit.
One source said the group that scuttled Buhari’s first visit to the Southeast since he became Nigeria’s elected leader 18 months ago were concerned with portraying themselves as the gateway to the presidency by Southeasterners.
“They may have feared that Nnaji and Dozie were about to upstage him,” said the source.
Despite the president’s absence, the maiden Southeast Economic and Security Summit was well attended. Participants included former President Olusegun Obasanjo who said that he initiated the effort to hold the summit so that the Southeast could regain its position as Nigeria’s center of excellence in entrepreneurship, commerce, technology and communal development and solidarity.
Other key participants included Ekwueme, Anyaoku who was the chairman, former old Anambra State governor Jim Nwobodo, John Holt chairman Christopher Ezeh, ex-Inspector General of Police Ogbonnaya Onovo, former Chief of Army Staff Azubuike Ihejirika, erstwhile United Nations military chief Obiakor, former UN Assistant Secretary General Regina Amadi-Njoku, Budget Office Director General Ben Akabueze, Abia State governor Ikpeazu, Ebonyi State governor Dave Umahi and host governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi while Anambra was represented by Deputy Governor Nkem Okeke.
Speakers stressed the need for the zone to be economically self-sufficient rather than depend on monthly allocations from the federation account.
Explained Onyi Frank Nwagbara of Nile University in Abuja who is the secretary of the group that organized the summit: “The summit had to stress the importance of security in the region because rapid economic progress cannot take place in a crisis environment.
“Apart from killings perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen, the Southeast has been the theatre of kidnappings for ransom which compelled a number of industrialists to exit cities like Owerri, Aba and Onitsha in recent years. Soldiers still patrol the streets of these cities”.