Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has blamed the ‘feeling of marginalisation’ of the South-east for the Biafra agitation in the region.
He, however, assured that, if elected, he would tackle the “feelings of marginalisation” in the South-east in order to bring an end to the agitations in the region.
Atiku spoke on Tuesday during the meeting of the PDP south-east leaders in Enugu State.
The event was aimed at “uniting all Ndigbo for PDP” and the presentation of the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, who is Atiku’s running mate.
The PDP candidate said his agenda to rescue Nigeria would benefit the South-east and other regions, stating that his administration will take steps to better the future of the country.
“We must tackle the feeling of marginalisation which is providing an excuse for the separatist agitations in this zone,” he said.
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, the national secretary of the party, Samuel Anyanwu, and governorship candidates of the party in Enugu, Ebonyi and Abia States were among those who attended the meeting.
Others include former governor of Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha, former aviation minister, Osita Chidoka, and some senatorial and House of Representatives candidates of the party in the region.
Also at the meeting were prominent PDP chieftains, including the party’s former spokesperson, Oliseh Metuh, a former Senate President, Anyim Anyim, a senator representing Anambra Central District, Uche Ekwunife, Hyde Onuagulichi, among others.
The South-east has been accusing successive Nigerian governments of marginalising the region since the return of democracy in 1999.
Between 1999 and 2022, several separatist groups have emerged agitating for an independent state of Biafra which they want to be carved out from the South-east and some parts of the South-south.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a major pro-Biafra organisation, now proscribed, was founded in 2014 by Nnamdi Kanu, who is facing terrorism charges in Abuja.
The growing insecurity in the region has been linked to IPOB.
IPOB, in 2021, declared every Monday a sit-at-home, to put pressure on the Nigerian government to release its detained leader, Mr Kanu.
The group would later suspend its earlier order, in preference for the sit-at-home to be implemented only on the days Mr Kanu appears in court.
But, despite its suspension, residents of the five South-east states – Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo, Abia and Anambra – have been observing the Monday sit-at-home order, mostly out of fear.
Atiku, speaking during the meeting, criticised the sit-at-home, saying that it has battered the economy of the region.
The PDP candidate wondered how the separatists would “liberate” the people by destroying their businesses.
“I am aware of how the economy of this zone and the livelihoods of its people are being destroyed by the Monday sit-at-home being imposed by a small misguided youth from this zone.
“It is difficult to understand how you liberate a people by destroying their economy. This has to stop and we shall address all political grievances not just by words but by deeds,” he said.
“I would like to listen to the specific issues peculiar to this zone, which we need to address as a party and as a government. To that end, and without prejudice to what I will learn during this parley, I would like us to have a joint committee of our campaign and the zone, with one representative of each state, to liaise on issues specific to the South-east zone that we will need to address if we work hard enough to win the elections,” Atiku stated.
His visit to the region came hours before the official commencement of campaigns for the 2023 general election.