Buhari Travels to Nigeria's Southeast Amid Secession CallsBy and
Anambra state heading to polls to vote for a governor Saturday
Southeast gave Buhari 7 percent of the vote in 2015 elections
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is visiting two southeastern states to boost his All Progressives Congress party’s chances in a region where there have been growing calls for secession.
During his two-day trip starting Tuesday, Buhari will meet Tony Nwoye, his party’s gubernatorial candidate in Anambra state elections on Saturday, the presidency said in a statement Monday. He’ll also hold talks with Ebonyi state governor David Umahi, who’s a member of the opposition People’s Democratic Party and chairman of the South East Governors Forum.
The visit comes at a delicate moment in southeastern Nigeria where the Indigenous People of Biafra, known as Ipob, and its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, have stepped up a secessionist campaign. Buhari’s administration has designated the group a “terrorist” movement and vowed to prevent the breakup of Africa’s most populous nation. A bid to establish an independent state 50 years ago sparked the Biafra civil war that claimed more than a million lives.
The president’s trip to the region may give residents “assurance that they are part of Nigeria and the accusations against his government of marginalizing their people is something that he is addressing,” Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Policy and Advocacy Center, said by phone from the capital, Abuja. “I think people get a sense that President Buhari doesn’t listen, and if he begins to listen, his relationship with the people will improve.”
The Nigerian security forces can ill afford more unrest. They’re already stretched in their battle against Islamist militants in the northeast where violence has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people since 2009 and pushed the region to the brink of famine. Africa’s top oil producer is also grappling with sporadic militant attacks in the southern oil-rich Niger River delta, which last year cut monthly oil shipments to the lowest in about three decades.
Ipob, which campaigned for a boycott of the Anambra gubernatorial election, threatened in a statement to disrupt Buhari’s visit and vowed that “he will not go back alive.”
“I am asking you all not to buy into the senseless propaganda on secession,” Buhari said in Ebonyi state. “My presence here today is a demonstration of our strong belief in the unity of Nigeria,” he said during a speech delivered at the Abakiliki township stadium and emailed by his office.
Buhari, a 74-year-old former military head of state, clinched the 2015 presidency despite winning just 7 percent of the vote in the southeast, with much of his support coming from the country’s north and southwest. He hasn’t said if he will run for re-election in 2019.
“The president is killing two birds with one stone,” Freedom Onuoha, a political science lecturer at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, said by phone from the Anambra state capital, Awka. “He’s helping his candidate and drumming up support for his party ahead of the 2019 presidential election, even if he doesn’t run.”