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Buhari’s instructions to the World Bank to concentrate on northern Nigeria throws a knife at the heart of our nationhood and challenges the hackneyed expression that the ‘unity of Nigeria is settled - Southern Leaders Forum (SLF)

The Southern Leaders Forum (SLF) yesterday condemned the alleged directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim, that the institution should concentrate on northern Nigeria.

Kim had said: “You know, in my very first meeting with President Buhari, he said specifically that he would like us to shift our focus to the northern region of Nigeria and we’ve done that. Now, it has been very difficult. The work there has been very difficult.”

In a statement yesterday by Chief Guy Ikokwu for the South-East; Senator Bassey Henshaw for the South-South and Mr. Yinka Odumakin for the South-West, the forum said: “This directive, without mincing words, is sectional, discriminatory, divisive and against the laudable promise of President Buhari at his inauguration that he would not be beholden to anyone as he was elected to be the president of everybody.

“Giving instructions to the World Bank to concentrate on a section of the country where the president hails from throws a knife at the heart of our nationhood and challenges the hackneyed expression that the ‘unity of Nigeria is settled.’

“There can never be any rationale way such a request should be made by a president with a pan-Nigerian mandate. The only explanation that would have convinced us was if we were told that such a discussion did not take place at all.”

Besides, the forum said it had studied the very rude, bellicose, insensitive and knee-jerk response from the presidency on the matter, saying: “The unfortunate tirade from the office of the president showed a very deep contempt and palpable impunity as 90 per cent of its content was devoted to abusing those who have shown rightful indignation at such a development. It is not on record that even the British colonial masters addressed Nigerians in such scornful and brash language. The only tepid explanation in the spiteful statement was that the president’s request was for the reconstruction of the North-East. But Kim was emphatic about ‘northern region’ and not North-East.”

The southern leaders said they wouldn’t have raised any alarm if the Word Bank chief had stated that the request was to pay special attention to the North-East, as they were sympathetic to the devastation caused there by the Boko Haram insurgents.

“We have since seen figures from projects done in the country by the World Bank within the tenure of the administration, which show that about $1 billion worth of jobs are specifically for the North-East, while about $2.9 billion worth of projects is for the whole of the country, including the northern states.

Just as the North-East deserves special attention, so also are the South-South, South -East and South-West, especially as the repayment of these facilities will mostly come from these parts.”

The African Democratic Congress (ADC) also decried the alleged Buhari’s directive, saying while it recognised the need for special attention for the North-East based on the devastation caused to it by terrorists over the years, it was wrong for the president to direct the World Bank or any international aid meant for the country to be focused on a particular zone.

The National Chairman of ADC, Chief Ralph Nwosu said if, for whatever reason, Buhari directed the World Bank to focus on the North-East “he (the president) must realise that whatever the World Bank is giving as a form of aid to a particular section of the country would be reciprocated by Nigeria in whatever form and when it comes to that, it is not only the section that benefitted that would reciprocate but the country.”

But the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, appealed that the issue should not be taken out of context, urging those blaming Buhari to endeavour to visit the North-East to appreciate the level of destruction.

“The level of destruction we are talking about is not just infrastructure but lives, children that have been out of schools, displaced people and all manner of devastation no single government or state could handle alone. That must have informed the president’s directive,” he said.

Also, the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr. Osita Okechukwu, urged those attacking Buhari over the revelation by Kim to, in the fullness of time, judge him by his project performance across the length and breadth of the country.

Okechukwu said it was not right to judge the president with those allegations, especially when massive projects were going on in various parts of the country.

“The statement Kim made is not as it sounds, for as we approach 2019 general elections, more stories will surface either fake or real. After all, the simple definition of election in liberal democracy is a referendum on the performance of the incumbent. Use your vote to judge his project performance not propaganda performance. Leaders like Buhari come once in a generation, I bet you”, he said.

On Ohanaeze’s visit to the President last week, Okechukwu who had lamented that Buhari’s letter of November 2014 and his January 2017 congratulatory message which were allegedly rebuffed by Ohanaeze leadership, said he was happy that the group finally opened a vital channel of communications with the president instead of “throwing stones from the sidelines.”

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