At a national security meeting with service chiefs and other heads of security agencies Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari emphasised the need to keep Nigeria one.
The emphasis was a follow up to the president’s address to the nation Monday morning, which he used to rally the citizens behind a united Nigeria and dismiss secessionist campaigns.
Mr. Buhari “talked about the unity of the nation which is non-negotiable,” Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonisakin, told reporters after the meeting at the State House.
“We have all been fully instructed to ensure that directive is carried out to the letter.”
Although Mr. Olonisakin said other security issues, like Boko Haram, kidnapping and farmers-pastoralists clashes, were also mentioned, the military chief hinted that the threat posed by separatist groups was seen as urgent and serious.
Secessionist agitations have become a serious security concern for the Buhari administration since the arrest of Nnamdi Kanu in October 2015.
Mr. Kanu, who leads the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, was charged alongside three other members of his group by the Nigerian government. He was granted bail in April.
Mr. Kanu amplified his campaign for Igbo secession with a new radio station he launched in the United Kingdom in 2014, but his fame soared following his arrest and trial.
His campaign was buoyed by decades of criticism of the Nigerian Constitution as an unworkable document.
The separatist leader said the Nigerian state as currently constituted put citizens of Igbo extraction at a disadvantage, a perception shared by some other ethnic nationalities.
Amidst his trial, Mr. Kanu continues to push for Igbo secession, while regularly putting his popularity to test.
On May 30, thousands of residents in the Igbo-dominated eastern part of the countrycomplied with a stay-at-home order which Mr. Kanu urged in memory of the 1967 Civil War.
At least 500,000 Igbo were said to have been killed during the war, which ended in 1970.
Earlier this week, reports emerged that IPOB had launched a ‘secret service’ to protect its members and pre-empt any clampdown by security agencies with its own counter-intelligence.
His exploits have not gone without notice by other ethnocentric elements across the country.
President Buhari, who had been in London since May 7, was not on ground to attend to the crisis until his return last Saturday.
“Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable,” Mr. Buhari said during the address which aired at 7:00 a.m. Monday.
“We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble and when things get bad they run away and saddle others with the responsibility of bringing back order, if necessary with their blood,” he added.
Mr. Buhari urged all those with disparate concerns, which he acknowledged could be legitimate, to direct them to the National Assembly or the Council of States, the two bodies he said have the constitutional powers to make fundamental changes to the federal system.
The president said Nigerians can live in any part of the country they desire without fear.
But Mr. Olonisakin said Mr. Buhari ordered escalation of security measures to deal with all belligerent elements.
He said the directive “will be carried out by the military and the security agencies” in order to protect “lives and properties.”
The military will intensify intelligence operations in response to a recent surge in Boko Haram attacks, Mr. Olonisakin said, urging Nigerians not to see the frequent attacks as indicative of Boko Haram renewed vigour.
Others at the meeting included Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Ibok-Ete Ibas; Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar and Inspector-General of Police, Idris Ibrahim.
The National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, was also present, as well as the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari.