The coalition of northern groups, including the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, which gave Igbo residents in the North three-month ultimatum to leave the region, has written to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to facilitate the process of allowing Igbo to leave Nigeria.
One of the leaders of the coalition and National President, AYCF, Alhaji Shettima Yerima, confirmed this on the telephone to The PUNCH in Kaduna on Monday.
In the open letter, signed by five of the leaders of the groups, the coalition urged the Acting President to ease the exit of the Igbo from Nigeria so that they could have their dream country, Biafra.
This, they said, should not be through violent means but in a peaceful manner through a referendum.
Those who signed the letter are Yerima; Joshua Viashman (Northern Youth Vanguard); Aminu Adam (Arewa Youth Development Foundation); Abdul-Azeez Suleiman (Northern Emancipation Network) and Nastura Ashir Sharif (Arewa Citizens Action for Change).
According to the groups, the Acting President should take steps to facilitate the actualisation of the Biafran nation in line with the principle of self-determination as an integral part of contemporary international law.
They added, “We feel that it is risky for the rest of the country, particularly the North, to go on pretending that it is safe for us to co-exist with the Igbo given how deeply they are entrenched in our societies.”
They added that since the principle of self-determination became one of the Charters of the UN, after the World War ll, it was better for the Igbo to go without bloodletting.
The group argued that as the Igbo agitations persisted and assumed threatening dimensions, “we submit that there is the need to ensure that they are given the opportunity to exercise the right to self-determination as entrenched in the aforementioned international statutes to which Nigeria is a signatory.”
They insisted that they were not waging war or calling anyone to violence, but noted that “we nevertheless are also not willing to continue tolerating the malicious campaign and threats of war that the Igbo have continued to wage against us.”
The youth leaders stated, “Neither can we afford to continue giving the keys to our cities to a people whose utterances, plans and arrangements are clearly geared towards war and anarchy.
“We therefore demand that the only enduring solution to this scourge that is being visited on the nation is complete separation of the states presently agitating for Biafra from the Federal Republic of Nigeria through a peaceful political process by taking steps to facilitate the actualisation of the Biafran nation in line with the principle of self-determination as an integral part of contemporary customary international law.
“We submit that this protocol envisages that people of any nation have the right to self-determination, and although the Charter did not categorically impose direct legal obligations on member states, it implies that member states allow agitating or minority groups to self-govern as much as possible.”
The coalition continued in the letter that past experience had shown that the Igbo of Eastern Nigeria manifested their hatred for Nigeria’s unity barely five years after the country’s independence from the British “when on January 15, 1966, their army officers carried out the first-ever mutiny that marked the beginning of a series of crises which has profoundly altered the course of Nigeria’s history.”
They noted that even in recent times, the agitation for the Igbo to have the Republic of Biafra heightened with the activities of Kanu’s IPOB and never opposed by majority of the Igbo.
The coalition added, “Kanu and IPOB have declared full allegiance to a ‘Republic of Biafra’ and continue to preach hatred and war virtually every day, and not for once did any Igbo leader caution them.
“Instead, many of the leaders, including Mr. Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President, the most senior elected Igbo, pay Kanu courtesy calls to prove that he is speaking for the entire Igbo.
“Even the latest statement by the South-East Governors Forum, signed by Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State, in a response to the northern reaction, did not condemn Kanu and Uwazuruike but characterised their action as peaceful.
“While we do not see this clamour for Biafra as an issue over which a single drop of blood should be shed, we, at the same time, insist that the Igbo be allowed to have their Biafra and for them to vacate our land peacefully so that our dear country Nigeria can finally enjoy lasting peace and stability.”
You can’t drive us out of Nigeria, Ohanaeze tells North
But in its reaction, the apex umbrella for the Igbo, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said the North could not drive Ndigbo out of Nigeria.
The Deputy Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mr. Chuks Ibegbu, who spoke to one of our correspondents in Enugu, said Ohanaeze insisted on the restructuring of the country, and not secession.
Stressing that the northern youths lacked the mandate to speak for the Igbo, Ibegbu noted that the Arewa groups were trying to provoke another war in the country.
Ibegbu stated, “In the first place, I want to thank the Acting President for the role he is playing in this situation. He is a peacemaker and he has shown himself to be conversant with the dynamics of leadership.
“The Acting President has told all the parties to allow peace to reign. Igbo are peaceful people; so, we will abide by what he said.
“We are conscious of what the Acting President told the Igbo leaders and the traditional rulers when they visited the Presidential Villa. Therefore, we will not be drawn into taking issue with these northern youths; they are people who have shown themselves to be lawbreakers and warmongers.
“The activities of these Arewa youths have shown that there is more than meets the eye to the ultimatum they gave the Igbo in the North. They simply want to drag the country into another war.”
Ibegbu stressed that agitation for separation was not peculiar to the Igbo, as claimed by the Arewa youths.
The Ohanaeze spokesman observed that the agitation in the South-East was largely a protest against marginalisation, rather than a wish for secession.
Ibegbu added, “That some individuals are pushing for self-determination in the South-East does not mean that the Igbo want to secede. The real situation is a protest against marginalisation.
“We should not forget that even now, as we speak, the Boko Haram sect is still canvassing Islamic rule in the North, using violent means – that is a form of agitation for secession.
“So why should the northern youths ignore the log in their eyes to bother about the speck in another person’s eyes; why the venom against the Igbo?”
Afenifere berates northern youths, reinstates call for their arrest
Reacting to the letter, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, slammed the youth for their position.
The spokesperson for the group, Yinka Odumakin, in an interview with one of our correspondents, asked Osinbajo to tell the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to arrest leaders of the northern groups.
Odumakin argued that the letter signified danger to the southerners in the North.
He stated, “This is a confirmation of what we have said so far. For almost 12 days after their inciting comments, none of them has been arrested by the police.
“That they are giving it back to the Acting President shows that they have an assignment they are carrying out for their sponsors. It also shows that the elders have failed to caution their youths.”
Northern elders split on youths call for referendum
Meanwhile, the Northern Elders Forum and the Northern Elders Council have disagreed on the call by the coalition of northern youths to the acting President to organise a “referendum that will ease out the Igbo out of the country.”
The Chairman of the NEC, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, said the referendum would be unconstitutional.
He added that “any secession could only be actualised by war.”
But the Secretary of the NEF, Prof Ango Abdullahi, believed that the northern youths had made a workable recommendation since both warring parties had not shifted their grounds.
Yakasai stated, “You know that in the Nigerian constitution, there is no place where there is a national referendum for secession. If they (the youths) don’t know what they are doing, you should know what you are doing.
“Only the Independent National Electoral Commission can organise a referendum. That is all. Nobody has the power to organise a referendum. The acting President has no power to organise a national referendum. We are governed by our constitution.
“The only way for any group to secede is through war. There is no provision for any part to secede legally.”
Abbdullahi, on the other hand, said, “The fact that there has been a contact with the elders by the acting President has not yet brought out any resolution to the position taken by both sides.
“So, it looks like there is still a lot more work to do. I believe that what the youths have done is to raise a suggestion. They are emphasing that whatever happens in Nigeria should happen peacefully, and this includes the possibility of separation.
“So, I do not know what the worry is all about. What the boys are doing is to more or less make a suggestion.”