Amaechi Okonkwo, Port Harcourt.
South South leaders comprising top political leaders, traditional rulers, religious, women and youth leaders have demanded public apology from the Federal Government over the failed stakeholders meeting of the region scheduled for Port Harcourt on Tuesday.
The leaders expressed anger and disappointment over the Federal Government team to show up for the stakeholders forum which was scheduled at the instance of the Federal Government.
They are angry that after waiting for several hours Ibrahim Gambari, Chief of Staff CSO to President Mohammadu Buhari, and the Ministers from the South South region and some other appointees of the Federal Government did not show up for the meeting with only the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio only arriving after the meeting has been called off.
The meeting was at the instance of Presidency with the Governors and other leaders of the region to discuss burning national issues affecting the region and the effects of the EndSARS protest.
Conveying the feelings of the stakeholders on the botched meeting, Chairman of the South South Governor’s Forum and Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa demanded a public apology from the Federal Government for it’s failure to come for the meeting.
He explained that the botched meeting was called at the instance of the presidency, through the office of the Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari adding that the meeting time was adjusted twice from 11am to 1pm on Tuesday, on the excuse that the President Mohammedu Buhari was meeting with Director of Department of State Services (DSS) and the Inspector General of Police, who were supposed to be part of the presidential delegation for the South-South meeting.
Okowa said he later got a call from the Chief of Staff to the President on Tuesday afternoon, announcing the eventual cancelation of the meeting saying he felt really disappointed that the region could be treated in such disdain.
The Delta State Governor observed that the people of the region have been embarrassed, disgraced and disrespected.
He stated that the South-South geopolitical zone is a very important component part of the nation and the governors feel insulted because the traditional rulers who had gathered for the meeting, deserved to be revered.
Okowa said; “As governors, we feel very touched and very sad about what has happened. And having also listened to our youths, we can feel the anger. As a mark of respect for our people, because you are actually the stakeholders of our region, we felt it was necessary for us to consult with you before taking any decision, if we take our decision without consulting with you, then we would have added to the disrespect that has just been meted on you.
We call for a public apology, not for the governors alone. We call for a public apology because this meeting was not called at our instance. It was called at the instance of the Presidency. The time was changed last night. We understood and we talked to our people. Some of us did not sleep in trying to put things together.
We have gotten to a very bad start. So we are going to convey this message to the chief of staff to the president.
He went on: “We deserve as a region unreserved public apology to the region, particularly to our traditional rulers and the leaders in this zone, which include our Christian leaders, opinion leaders, our women and our youths, and also the governors of the zone who were voted into office and that is the least that we expect for us to accept the reconvening of this meeting.”
Former President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Ledum Mitee, said he considered the abrupt cancellation of the meeting not only as an insult but an effrontery on the people of the South-South zone.
Similarly, member of the 2014 national political reform conference, Ann-Kio Briggs, said the Federal Government on Tuesday demonstrated the value it actually places on the South-South geopolitical zone.
On his part, the President of the Ijaw Youth Congress, Peter Igbifa, accused the federal government of taking the South-South for granted.
Some of the personalities who attended the meeting were Governors Ben Ayade of Cross River; Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom; Douye Diri of Bayelsa State; and Godwin Obaseki of Edo State. Other eminent persons present included: the National Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, rtd; former President, Nigerian Bar Association, Onueze Okocha (SAN); among others.