President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday stayed away from the maiden South-East Economic and Security Summit in Enugu, which started about 48 hours after some pro-Biafra agitators warned him not to set foot in Igboland.
Buhari was meant to be the Chief Guest of Honour at the summit, which held in the Enugu State Government House, according to the programme of the event.
Although the President was expected at the event, as noted by several speakers who spoke during the event, he did not show up, neither was he represented.
Also, ministers from the South-East, who were slated to make presentations at the event, all stayed away.
A pro-Biafra group, the Indigenous People of Biafra, had in the build up to the summit, issued a statement, warning Buhari to stay away from the South-East, in his own interest.
IPOB, whose leader, and director of pirate radio channel, Nnamdi Kanu, is being held by the Federal Government, accused Buhari of ‘persecution’, and threatened ‘a breakdown of law and order’ should the President attend the summit.
While no mention of the IPOB warning was made throughout the opening session of the summit, Buhari’s absence was a major talking point as several speakers expressed surprise, and confusion, at the development.
The Chairman of the South-East Security and Economic Summit, former power minister, Prof. Barth Nnaji, in his opening remarks, observed, “We have not seen the President.”
Later on, in a presentation by the summit committee, Nnaji had to substitute Buhari’s name with that of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who attended the event as the ‘Distinguished Guest of Honour’, in the introductory part of a prepared address where he was to thank Buhari for attending the occasion as the Chief Guest of Honour.
Instead of thanking Buhari for gracing the occasion as the chief guest of honour, as stated in the prepared address, Nnaji thanked Obasanjo for attending the event as the distinguished guest of honour.
Nnaji also thanked the Enugu State government for undertaking to sponsor some aspects of the President’s visit.
The chairman of the event, former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, drew attention to Buhari’s absence.
“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,” the retired diplomat said.
Anyaoku went further to express regrets that Buhari was not present at the event.
Rounding up his address with a call for the restructuring of the country, he said, “I had hoped that Mr. President would be here to hear me.
“Like Cato, the Roman senator who always ended his speeches by calling for the destruction of Carthage until his call was heeded, I will restate my assertion that if the Nigerian federation is restructured to have less federating units, this country will achieve greater stability and faster pace of development, and there will no longer be a need for the Federal Government to bailout many of the non-viable 36 states."