President Muhammadu Buhari did not snub a summit in south-east Nigeria, his aide has said.
Mr. Buhari on Thursday failed to show up at a regional economic and security event held in Enugu, the Enugu State capital.
Although he was expected to stand as the special guest of honour, the president did not send any representative, either, organisers said.
Bart Nnaji, the chairman of the summit, observed Mr. Buhari’s absence.
“We have not seen the president here,” Mr. Nnaji, a former Minister of Power, was quoted by The Punch as saying Thursday.
There were speculations that the absence was due to a violent threat purportedly issued by a separatist group in the region. The Indigenous People of Biafra has been campaigning for the independence of the people of the south-east, majority of whom are of Igbo extraction.
The leader of the group, Nnamdi Kanu, has been in government custody since he was first arrested by the State Security Service in October 2015. Members of the group have repeatedly clashed with the Nigeria’s security agencies.
Emeka Anyaoku, a renowned diplomat and former Secretary-General of Commonwealth, also highlighted Mr. Buhari’s absence from the south-east summit, The Punch reported.
“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,” he said.
But former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was invited alongside Mr. Buhari, was on ground at the eventand used his speech to call for a greater unity and advancement of the region.
“The South East is known for their spirit of enterprise and adventure and you have to utilise it for improved development and security.
“You must work together and not be divided. You must shy away from the spirit of individualism and must earn solidarity with your neighbours,” the former leader said.
In his explanation of the president’s absence, his spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said, “The President was presented with a request to attend the Economic and Security Summit by the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu.
“The President happily accepted. The visit to Enugu was scheduled for Thursday 22nd as can be found on the weekly programme. After this was done, some other stakeholders from the South East came and advised him to not go in view of the closeness of the date to Christmas; that given the sensitivity of the period to the people, a presidential visit may come with overexertion and possibly, be disruptive of Christmas.
“In view of this, President Buhari requested that the event be pushed forward to January, 2017. Given his nature, he did not insist. He said if the change of date is not possible, then the event can go on without him. That is what the organizers chose to do.
“The President did not, and he absolutely has no reason to snub anyone one.”