president Muhammadu Buhari, on Thursday, stayed away from the maiden South-East Economic and Security Summit in Enugu, about 48 hours after some pro-Biafra agitators warned him not to set foot on Igbo land.
Buhari was to be the chief guest of honour at the summit, which held in the Enugu State Government House, according to the programme of the event.
Although the President was expected at the event — as suggested by several speakers who spoke during the programme, he neither showed up nor was he represented.
Also, ministers from the South-East, who were slated to make presentations at the event, all stayed away.
A pro-Biafran group, the Indigenous People of Biafra, had, in the build-up to the summit, issued a statement, warning Buhari to stay away from the South-East — in his own interest.
IPOB, whose leader, Nnamdi Kanu, is being held by the Federal Government, accused Buhari of “persecution”, and threatened “a breakdown of law and order” should the President attend the summit.
Although no mention of the IPOB warning was made throughout the opening session of the summit, Buhari’s absence was a major talking point as several speakers expressed surprise at the development.
Present at the ceremony, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in a presentation on “Sustainable development: Zero hunger,” said the South-East could become the food basket of the country if the various states collaborated to develop agriculture.
He also canvassed cooperation among the governors in the region on other developmental issues.
Obasanjo said, “We have a challenge of youth unrest which is understandable because these are young people who have education without employment, and skills without production. So, you should expect some agitation from them.
“We cannot leave these children. We must take responsibility.”
Chairman of the South-East Security and Economic Summit, Prof. Barth Nnaji, who is a former minister of power, observed in his opening remarks, “We have not seen the President.”
In his address, Nnaji thanked the Enugu State Government for undertaking to sponsor some aspects of the President’s visit.
Also, at the beginning of his address, the chairman of the event, a former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, drew attention to Buhari’s absence.
“I was going to start by saluting the representative of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but I have not been told of such a person,” the retired diplomat said.
Anyaoku went further to express regrets that Buhari was not present at the event.
Rounding off his address with a call for the restructuring of the country, he said, “I had hoped that Mr. President would be here to hear me.
“Like Cato, the Roman senator who always ended his speeches by calling for the destruction of Carthage until his call was heeded, I will restate my assertion that if the Nigerian federation is restructured to have less federating units, this country will achieve greater stability and faster pace of development, and there will no longer be a need for the Federal Government to bailout many of the non-viable 36 states.”
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, observed that the programme printed by the organisers of the summit did not include his photograph and also did not list him among those to speak at the event.
Ekweremadu also spoke on the need to restructure the country, stressing that the current system was not working.
In separate presentations, the governors of Enugu, Abia and Ebonyi states, and the Deputy Governor of Anambra State, drew attention to challenges and opportunities in their various areas.
They also spoke of the need to work together to develop the South-East.
Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, did not attend the summit, and was also not represented.
Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, urged the Federal Government to address the various challenges besetting the South-East, including the bad state of federal roads, the menace posed by herdsmen and the need to upgrade the runway and other infrastructure at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.
Former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme was among the dignitaries at the summit.