By Rotimi Fadeyi, Sony Neme, Nosa Akenzua
The Presidency has explained the absence of the federal government’s delegation at a planned parley with governors and stakeholders of the South-South region, saying that it was necessitated by an emergency security meeting summoned by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Expressing regrets over the incident, the presidency said a new date for the meeting with the South-South would be agreed after due consultations with the parties concerned.
A statement issued on Wednesday by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said: “The Presidency wishes to explain that the absence of the federal government delegation at the planned meeting with governors and stakeholders of the South-South region was necessitated by an emergency security meeting summoned by the President, certainly not out of disrespect.
“The delegation to the meeting, under the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, ministers and heads of security and intelligence agencies were in full readiness to proceed to Port Harcourt until they were directed to stay back for the emergency security meeting” According to the statement, “this information and regret for the inconvenience caused were conveyed to the hosts of the meeting through what we believed were the right channels.
“As may have been gleaned from the statement read by the Minister of Police Affairs, Muhammad Maigari Dingyadi, the extraordinary National Security Council meeting, under the President, was called in view of the gravity of the security situation affecting all parts of the country, including the SouthSouth in the aftermath of the ENDSARS protests, and the need to rise to protect our national security and territorial integrity.
“The President is strongly and resolutely committed to hearing from leaders, stakeholders and our youth on burning issues affecting all parts of the federation, and to this effect, a new date for the meeting with the South-South will be agreed after due consultations with the parties concerned.
“Once again, the unavoidable postponement of the meeting is regretted.” Leaders of the South-South geopolitical zone had demanded a public apology from the Federal Government over the botched stakeholders meeting in Port Harcourt on Tuesday.
Governors of the South-South led by Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, who were in Port Harcourt for the parley, had informed the stakeholders comprising traditional rulers, religious leaders, opinion leaders, youths and women from the zone that the presidential delegation which convened the meeting, had cancelled it.
Okowa informed the people that the Presidency gave an emergency security meeting called by President Muhammadu Buhari as reason for cancelling the Port Harcourt parley.
Irked by the information, the stakeholders expressed displeasure with the development, describing it as disrespect to the people of the region and called for an immediate public apology from the Presidency.
They said that the action of the Federal Government amounted to treating the South-South and its people with disdain, and warned on the consequences of undermining the zone.
But in a solemn appeal to douse tension, Governor Okowa implored the people to remain calm. He said that the governors were as pained as the other stakeholders over the disappointment, and assured that they would definitely convey the feeling of the people of the region to the Presidency.
“We understand the anger in you, and on our own part as governors, we are also angry because the South-South zone is a very important part of this nation.
“There is no doubt that we the governors also feel insulted and we feel very sad and touched at what has happened.
“We felt it was necessary to consult with you as critical stakeholders because if we had acted on the information without consulting you, that would have added to the insult already meted to us.
“Together we call for a public apology because the meeting was not called at our instance; it was called at the instance of the Presidency.
“Some of us didn’t sleep trying to put things in order to make this meeting a reality. “We will convey this message to the Chief of Staff to the President that as a region we deserve public apology, particularly to our traditional rulers and opinion leaders and also to the Governors that you voted into office.
“This is the least we expect before this meeting can be reconvened,” Okowa stated