Secessionist agitations in the South-eastern part of the country especially by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, was one major issues that dominated discussions during the 2017 Anambra State gubernatorial debate held in Awka, the state capital, on Sunday.
Chief among the hurdles before the successful conduct of the election is the call for its boycott by the Nnamdi Kanu-led separatist IPOB.
The group said it does not want the November 18 election to hold until the Nigerian government accedes to its demand for a referendum for the realisation of the breakaway state of Biafra.
However, Mr. Kanu’s whereabouts remain unknown after clashes occurred between IPOB members and soldiers, who were on a military operation in Abia State.
As the clashes continued, the military labelled IPOB a terrorist organisation, a decision later backed by the federal government through a court order. Meanwhile, Mr. Kanu’s lawyer accused the army of kidnapping his client on September 14.
Despite being labelled a terrorist organisation, IPOB on Friday staged a demonstration in Onitsha, the commercial nerve of Anambra State, threatening voters not to participate in the November 18 governorship election in the state.
Sunday’s debate organised by Channels Television gave the candidates from the five major political parties vying to become the next governor a chance to promote their plans to the public.
One of the questions thrown at them by the moderator was on how they would resolve the IPOB agitation when elected.
“If I become governor, I will engage these angry IPOB youths positively because most of them don’t have work. I will create jobs for them. I am an activist and I am one of them so I know how it feels like to be overlooked,” Tony Nwoye, the All Progressives Congress, APC flagbearer said.
For incumbent governor Willie Obiano of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, restructuring is key to calming down the frayed nerves of the IPOB youths.
“It’s time to sit down and restructure once and for all,” he said.
Godwin Ezeemo of the People’s Progressive Alliance, PPA however blamed former ministers from the region for not addressing critical issues affecting the people when they were in power, hence the agitation.
“IPOB emanated out of the fact that the South-eastern youths have been marginalised particularly in this administration and nobody feels good when his rights are denied.
“Besides that, in Jonathan’s administration, the South-easterners occupied choice ministerial positions and they did nothing like building of roads, creating jobs and making good policies for the region. They couldn’t provide leadership and that is why we are having problem. They were in ministries of aviation, finance, petroleum etc.
“So in this dispensation, because of the fact that they said we didn’t vote for them, we were denied our own piece of the cake.”
Mr. Ezeemo added that if elected, he will address those issues causing agitations.
The People’s Democratic Party, PDP flagbearer, Oseloka Obaze, was however critical of the Nigerian government for proscribing IPOB on one hand while ”Niger Delta militants and Fulani herdsmen are left out.”
“The Niger delta militants were not declared terrorists, we also have the Fulani herdsmen and none of them has been proscribed. I do not understand how this governor can sit here and young people who are unemployed, who are looking for a source of livelihood are branded terrorists and proscribed. We’ve had election in the state before and IPOB never said don’t vote. Why this is happening on his (Obiano) watch is because it was mishandled. We have to have an adoptive government that can accept responsibility”, Mr. Obaze said.
He said if elected, his government will create more jobs especially for the IPOB youth.
The United Progressive Party candidate, Osita Chidoka, has a different view. He said IPOB problem goes beyond unemployment.
“This issue is fundamental structural problem with Nigeria. It only manifested indifferent forms. It manifested as MASSOB in 2001. The leaders of MASSOB was charged to court and imprisoned and bailed.
“You should not forget that Nnamdi Kanu was the London chairman of APGA. The whole idea of APGA was a party that will represent the interest of Ndigbo, uniting the Igbos in Nigeria. It was the failure of APGA, it was APGA turning into a money making machine. APGA derailed from its function as a party that will speak for Ndigbo that led to the new wave of agitation.
“The people agitating all over the world are not unemployed, they are doctors, they are lawyers, they are Igbo people. They are saying that there is a feeling of impotence and inability in the construction of the current Nigerian state to properly address the issues the people are having and that the Nigerian state needs to be renegotiated. That is what they are saying.”
Meanwhile, a political pressure group, the Northern Front For Equity and Justice, in Abuja on Monday called on Igbos to put their acts together and forge a common front saying they can produce an Igbo president by 2023.
The leader of the group, Yunusa Sule, said their position follows recent agitations by IPOB and other secessionist groups for a separate nation. The group said the Igbos can thrive under a united Nigerian if they play their cards right politically.
According to the group, the agitations point to the injustice and marginalisation ravaging different ethnic nationalities in the country, not just the Igbos.
The group said it was saddening that despite the contributions of the South-east to the nation, it was yet to produce a president.
“When Gen. Yakubu Gowon, a former head of state of Nigeria declared, ‘No victor, No vanquished and’ proclaimed the 3RS of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation after the civil war, it was targeted at healing the wounds of the ill-fated war.
“But 47 years after, the people of the South-east still feel short-changed in the rulership equation of this country as they are yet to produce a president of Nigeria”, the group said.
It added that rather than play the secessionist card of politics of exclusion, the Igbos should re-strategize politically.
“It is in this regard that notable Igbo leaders like Owelle Rochas Okorocha and Dr Orji Uzor Kalu have always called on Ndigbo not to play politics of exclusion. These two leaders have shown great patriotism as they rejected any attempt to divide this country.”