Clark, Adebanjo, Nwodo, others stranded in Abuja
For about five hours yesterday, leaders of the three major socio-cultural groups in the southern part of the country, South-South Forum, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Afenifere, were stranded in Abuja as their aircraft was allegedly denied landing permit at Makurdi, Benue State where they were to attend a pro-restructuring rally.
The rally was organised by the Middle Belt Elders Forum (MBF). The Chairman of the forum, Air Commodore (rtd) Dan Suleiman disclosed that the denial of landing permit to the southern leaders was why they were absent from the event.
According to him, the southern leaders converged on Abuja to board a flight but were left stranded at the airport over the alleged denial of landing permit.
Suleiman said despite challenges confronting the region, the Middle Belt would remain united and continue to march forward to greatness.
He stressed the need for Nigeria to be restructured to give way to the fair sharing of resources, insisting that justice must be delivered to the people of the region.
Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State appreciated the National Assembly for initiating a bill to establish state and local government police.
He urged an accelerated passage of the bill which, he said, if signed into law would go a long way to address the incessant killings, particularly in the Middle Belt.
"Killing people is another form of corruption and the worst of it all. When one steals one million naira he is prosecuted, but when some people kill innocent people in their sleep, they are allowed to walk freely. This must stop. Nigeria is a great country, but it is wasting away. Every state in Nigeria is a potential country of its own," he said.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State said people of the Middle Belt had lost their ancestors’ investments to the herdsmen terrorists’ invasion.
Ortom lamented that leaders of Miyetti Allah were still moving freely after calls for their arrest at several fora.
He reiterated his call for the arrest of the leaders of the association “because before they commenced the killings this year, they threatened that if the law was not repealed they would unleash terror on the Benue people.”
He said for the country to move forward, everyone must be protected as the law provides. "Both the majority and minority nationalities need each other for survival. The minority groups in the country should not be taken for granted because they too are key holders in the Nigerian project," the governor maintained.
Senator Barnabas Gemade enjoined all nationalities in the Middle Belt to work together as a people of the same culture and race, irrespective of their language and fight until the struggle to emancipate the Middle Belt is achieved.
Prof. Alloy Ihuah said the country needed restructuring, noting that the leaders had refused to learn from past mistakes.
Later yesterday, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum berated the Federal Government for the refusal to allow its members attend the pro-restructuring rally.
At a press conference in Abuja, the group alleged that the trip was aborted on the excuse that the landing permit at Makurdi airport was not approved.
President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, John Nnia Nwodo; President General of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark; Leader of Afenifere, Ayo Adebanjo and other leaders of the forum, who were billed to attend the rally could not do so due to skirmishes at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
The group condemned what it described as a violation of the fundamental human rights of its members to freely associate, travel and express themselves.
Narrating how their flight was aborted, Nwodo said members of the forum from the southern part of the country had gathered at the Abuja airport to board a chartered aircraft, but were first told that the weather in Makurdi was not good enough for landing.
He disclosed that after waiting for sometime, they were given another reason why the aircraft would not be allowed to fly, adding that the Makurdi Airport Commandant, Lt. Col. A. Audu, thereafter demanded to see an approved landing permit for the aircraft.
Nwodo explained that the permit was immediately sent electronically to Makurdi but lamented that they did not receive any feedback from Audu for several hours.
He said they were later told that “for security reasons, civilian aircraft were no longer allowed to fly into the Makurdi airport.”
According to him, each unit of the Southern and Middle Belt Forum has been holding rallies across the country to seek support for its agitations for restructuring and better Nigeria.
Similar rallies had held in Ibadan (Oyo State), Yenagoa (Bayelsa State) and Awka (Anambra State) in the recent past before yesterday’s rally in Makurdi.
“This is a breach of our rights of association and of speech. The Middle Belt people showed us solidarity when we held our rallies, so we needed to reciprocate their gesture,” Nwodo stated.
The Guardian learnt that the rally was to hold with the aim of bringing all the presidential hopefuls from the region together by the leaders and test their popularity ratings to determine who among them would be endorsed for the 2019 presidential election.
If this is achieved, the entire South and the Middle Belt regions would support such a candidate in the next presidential election.