Notable elder statesmen from the South-east, South-south and South-west geo-political zones under the aegis of Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly on Tuesday in Enugu began a three-day conference, with the present state of insecurity in parts of the North and the general election taking the centre stage.
The leaders also raised the alarm over the increasing spate of insecurity and called for a meeting between the southerners and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) in order to find a way out of the logjam.
It is speculated that the elder statesmen might formally endorse the candidacy of President Goodluck Jonathan at the end of their conference.
But, in their various speeches, at the opening of the fifth general conference of the SNPA taking place at the Golden Royale Hotel, Enugu, they clearly dispelled insinuations in some quarters that the organisation was formed to destabilise the nation but rather to strengthen its unity.
The elder statesmen led by the former Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Ijaw national leader, Chief Edwin Clark and Bishop Emannuel Bolanle Gbonigi, made it clear that the organisation was formed by the southerners to show that they equally belong to the country.
They expressed their firm belief in the unity and harmonious co-existence of Nigerians irrespective of religious, political and cultural affiliation.
Clark in his address, specifically noted that “we didn’t form the assembly in order to confront anybody but to show equally that we belong to this country.
“If you are strong and I am strong, all of us will respect each other. This country belongs to all of us,” he said, adding that the group has not only come to stay but would become greater, stronger and better united through selfless inter-regional integration.
“As a body, we shall continue to play that crucial role as an instrument of unity to promote the lofty ideals of the founding fathers of our nation,” he said.
He said the Enugu conference was unique as it afforded them the opportunity to examine the prospects of “our continued existence as one indivisible, united country in the face of the escalating terrorists activities, the ruin and destruction visited on innocent Nigerians daily.”
He said the worrisome senseless killings perpetuated daily on a magnitude no one could ordinarily imagine, makes him to wonder if indeed “we all belong to the same country” in view of the silence by some senior citizens from the North.
In his usual manner, the Ijaw leader expressed dismay that the spate of attacks against President Jonathan were because he’s a minority from the South-south, stressing that from all indications, it had become obvious that the North needed power at all cost.
On his part, Ekwueme said since the formation of the organisation, it had made far-reaching contributions to the overall development of not just the three zones but the nation at large.
He identified the convocation of the national conference as well as the effort at compelling the INEC to review it initial proposal to create 30000 new polling booths which would have caused some political crisis in the polity.
On his part, Bishop Gbonigi who was represented by Arch-Bishop Ayo Ladigbolu, said this year’s general election were crucial to the survival of the nation and therefore appealed to the INEC to put in place all necessary measures to conduct free, fair and credible elections.
While appealing to politicians and political parties not to compromise the peace, unity and territorial integrity of the nation by exhibiting high moral and ethical standard, avoiding inciting statements and conducts in public and private, before, during and after the elections, he also asked the security operatives to maintain security nationwide throughout the same period.
Other speakers including the chairman of South-east council of traditional rulers, Eze Cletus Illomuanya, said in order for the people of the three zones to actualise their collective dream, they must think and act as people of one indivisible entity.
Notable personalities present at the Enugu conference included the President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Gary Igariwey, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, Senator Ewa Henshaw, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Mrs Bucknor Akerele, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, Senator Chris Ukpabi, Senator Ben Collins-Ndu, Prof. Anya O. Anya, Senator Femi Okuromu, Mrs. Josephine Anenih and Commodore Anthony Ogugua.
Others are Mr. Mike Okiro, King Alfred Diete Spiff, Justice Eze Ozobu, Lanre Ogundipe and Mrs. Victoria Akanwa, among others.