By Paulinus Nsirim
On Sunday, November 8, 2020, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike held a historic meeting with South-East Governors, the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo and the Igbo Community in the State at Government House, Port Harcourt, to deliver a strong, unambiguous message reaffirming the unity and peaceful coexistence of all ethnic nationalities in Rivers State.
The backdrop of the meeting was the rife propaganda proclaiming an unsubstantiated massive extra-judicial response to the recent carnage, destruction and killings unleashed on Oyigbo by some criminals.
The criminals had hijacked the peaceful, youth driven, national consciousness #EndSARS protests across the country, to propagate a myopic and secessionist agenda.
They crossed the line of civility and responsible agitation, which had hallmarked the #EndSARS protests, by killing six Soldiers and four Policemen, stealing their guns, burning down all the police stations and courts in the community and visiting a reign of unprovoked terror and widespread intimidation on Oyigbo residents and this posed a real threat to the peace and security of the area.
They even proceeded to instruct some of their members in Port Harcourt to replicate the carnage unleashed on Oyigbo.
This was fortunately repelled by the law enforcement agencies to avert what would potentially have snowballed into a full blown crisis, with reprisal attacks on virtually all fronts in Rivers State.
The Rivers State Security Council swiftly imposed a comprehensive curfew on Oyigbo and the other flashpoints in the State where breaches of peace and signs of wanton destruction had reared their ugly heads and mandated security agencies to fish out the hoodlums and criminals who carried out the gory destruction and killings in Oyigbo.
The military, in its now established modus operandi, also instituted its own independent search and recover operation to track down rifles stolen during the mayhem, ostensibly to forestall any attempts by the culprits to deploy the stolen weapons in nefarious acts.
The stories that emerged in the wake of the military operation, was thus the reason for the historic meeting between Governor Nyesom Wike and the Igbo leaders in Government House, Port Harcourt.
To put the crux of the meeting in its proper context, the Chairman of South East Governors Forum, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State, started by saying that the visit was not at the instance of Governor Wike but was initiated by the South East leaders to find out the truth of what transpired in Oyigbo.
Governor Umahi who led the delegation of Ndigbo to Rivers State, said: "We are here to interact with you. We saw a number of things in the social media about Igbos in Oyigbo and as leaders, we put heads together and requested to meet with Governor Wike".
Governor Umahi who spoke after listening to Governor Wike's narration of IPOB's atrocities in Oyigbo, which culminated in the imposition of curfew in the entire Local Government, said they were in Rivers State to ascertain the veracity of the news circulating in the social media over alleged killing of Igbo people living in the State and according to him, their findings has proved otherwise.
"We can claim here from your own accounts and as your leaders back home, that all what we read in the social media are all lies," the South East Governors Forum chairman declared unequivocally.
The Ebonyi Governor who frowned at the extremist impunity and audacity of IPOB in Benue and Rivers State, stated emphatically that: “I find it nauseating that IPOB could go to Benue and Rivers States to hoist its flag and claim the territories belong to the Igbo people. Igbo leadership are opposed to this stance by IPOB."
He then warned Igbos to be wary of IPOB as the group was bent on instigating another civil war that will result in the murder of Igbo people.
"I have lived in Rivers State for quite sometime. My children were born in Rivers State and I can tell you that in all these years there has never been any form of discrimination against us in Rivers State.
"Let us call a spade a spade. Ndi-Igbo have massive investment and infrastructure all over the country and somebody wants to start a war for us so that Igbos will be slaughtered again. Who brings war upon himself?” he asked rhetorically.
Governor Umahi, who revealed that he has investments in Rivers State, urged Igbos living in the State to respect the Government and people of Rivers State in order for them to continue to live and do business in the State peacefully. According to him, Ndi-Igbos cannot support any form of criminality.
"Let me tell you something. We Ndi-Igbos do not support any form of criminality so I urge you not to buy into anyone who is a criminal from our side. We feel so free with our host Communities and have lived happily with them without any form of discrimination"
Umahi who recalled an incident in his Community a few years ago sounded a note of warning: " Soldiers do not tolerate seeing a civilian handling a gun not to talk of stealing their rifle."
In his own comments, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia state, whose boundary with Rivers State is Oyigbo Local Government Area, stated that it will be unfortunate if the Igbos wage war in Rivers, because that will be like waging war on itself and assured that leaders of the Southeast Region of the country, will continue to work for the safety of Ndi Igbo and all Nigerians wherever they are.
Ikpeazu said the Igbos believe firmly that Governor Wike's leadership would support their businesses to thrive.
According to him, the Igbos could not have asked for a better leader than Governor Wike at this point in history.
He warned Igbos to be wary of the Information they get from the social media. Governor Ikpeazu recalled how Aba would have been set ablaze a few years ago when some miscreants posted in the social media that people from a particular ethnic group had invaded the State.
According to him, if not for Divine intervention, the fake information would have resulted into an ethnic war.
Writing on his verified Twitter handle which captured and summarized the parley with Governor Wike, the Abia State Governor described the meeting as successful, saying that his Rivers State counterpart had assured the SouthEast delegation of the security and safety of Igbo businesses, lives and property in Rivers State.
Governor Ikpeazu tweeted: "The meeting between leaders of the South East and the Governor and leaders of Rivers State in Port Harcourt yesterday was quite successful. We are satisfied with the assurances of Governor Nyesom Wike that Ndi Igbo and their investments in Rivers State are safe. According to Ikpeazu, Wike urged Ndi Igbo to remain law abiding and go about their businesses without fear or anxiety.
"This therefore becomes an auspicious moment to remind our people of our socio-cultural and economic affiliations with our brothers from Rivers State. Ndi Igbo must stick to our age long tradition of hard work, industry and penchant for contributing meaningfully to the development of our host communities.
"It is not in our character to malign and disrupt the peace around the place where we strive for our livelihood! Respect for laws of the land and constituted authority should remain our watchword!
"On our part as leaders of the Region, we assure our people that we will continue to pursue the protection of their lives and property wherever they are through constant consultations and dialogues with relevant authorities."
Spokesperson and Eze Ndigbo in Rivers and Bayelsa, Eze Maduagu Ajaele and Lady Regina Uwakwe, in their reactions, commended Governor Wike for his wide spread infrastructural development in the State, noting that he had created an enabling environment for Igbo businesses and families to thrive and Igbos have been living peacefully in Rivers State as Governor Wike has always carried the Igbos along.
"Under the administration of Governor Wike, the Igbos have thrived in the State. Also, the Igbos have contributed to the development of the state in many ways. Most edifices in Port Harcourt are owned by the Igbos and other people.
"Wike has made an Igboman, Hon. Emeka Onowu, a commissioner for two times now. We therefore plead with our leaders who have come to know the truth to please advise our Igbo brothers and sisters here in Rivers State to be careful and not to be involved in anything that will constitute an abuse to the hospitality of the host communities," they enthused.
Also speaking, the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, showered encomiums on Governor Nyesom Wike, describing him as a champion of restructuring of Nigeria and a man who loves justice.
He further said he was very elated to hear from Igbo leaders that under the leadership of Governor Wike, Igbo businesses have continued to thrive in Rivers State.
Chief Nwodo, who declared that the meeting had reinforced the existing affinity between Igbos and the people of Niger Delta, also warned that the leadership of Igbos cannot remain aloof while some misguided few who did not experience the brutal reality of the last civil war continue to fan the ember of disunity.
He added that as someone who not only witnessed the civil war but was an officer, there was nothing good about war. Nwodo urged the Igbo Community in Rivers State to seek peace.
On her part, Mrs Josephine Anenih appealed to the women to ensure they put their children in check and train them to desist from nefarious activities since they would be the hardest hit if anything goes wrong in the community.
The former Rivers State Governor, Dr Peter Odili lauded the Igbo leaders for the peace initiative and decision to visit Governor Wike and called on all to join hands with the Rivers State Governor to move the State forward.
Dr. Odili, who noted that every Governor desires peace to govern and Governor Wike is no exception, stressed that the people of the State have endorsed every measure taken by Governor Wike to ensure lasting peace in the State.
Governor Nyesom Wike had earlier set the tone for the interactive session with Igbo Community in Rivers State and the visiting South East leaders delegation at the Government House auditorium, when he stated emphatically that he will be the last person to kill igbos or fight against their interest.
“I can never kill or fight Igbos. I will never kill Igbos. Why would I kill Igbos,? How can people believe that I can send the same soldiers who were brought here to rig the election against me to go and kill Igbos. It is fake news. I have no control over the military.
“What happened was that Rivers State has been very peaceful and suddenly overnight, we woke up to hear that some people had killed six soldiers and four policemen. And to show you that the people who did these things are criminals, one of the Policemen killed was Igbo. So does that make sense?
Governor Wike, who declared that Rivers State will continue to be home to people of the Igbo Ethnic Nationality, said that in the wake of the Oyigbo crisis, people peddled the rumour that he is chasing Igbos out of Rivers State, but this was not true because the State has an enduring relationship with the Igbos.
"Tell your people, Rivers people will continue to live together with Igbos. Don't allow your sons to tell you lies. We don't have any problem with Ndigbo. Rivers state is a place that accommodates everybody and we must continue to accommodate everyone. But you have to obey rules. Don't allow criminals to dictate to you.
"Nobody should give Igbo people a bad name. Igbos are innovative and hardworking. There can't be Nigeria without Igbos. Nobody should take them for granted. But that doesn't mean you must allow criminals to spoil your name.
South East people have very intelligent people that can be leaders in this country. Rivers State will never fight Ndigbo," he assured.
The Rivers State Governor who said he would not wage war on Oyigbo Local Government, which is the Local Government of his Party Chairman, also expressed his appreciation for the support of the Igbo Community.
He added that this was the reason he appointed an Igbo man Commissioner into the State cabinet in his first and second terms.
"If I hate Igbos, I won't appoint your son into my State cabinet. I have a two term Commissioner in my Executive Council from Igbo. He sits on the highest table in the State where he is aware of any key decision of the State. So Igbos are well represented in my government. What is being said is far from the truth," he stated.
Governor Wike said that he was willing to listen to any complaints against him or the government but will not condone criminality.
Other dignitaries who were also present at the meeting were the Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dr Nkem Okeke, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Deputy Governor of Rivers State, Dr. Mrs. Ipalibo Harry Banigo; former Governor of Rivers State, Sir Celestine Omehia; the Chairman of Rivers State Traditional Rulers Council and Amanayanabo of Opobo, King Dandeson Douglas Jaja, National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Uche Secondus, among others.
The quest and commitment to ensure that there is peace in Rivers State, is the responsibility of all and sundry who live and do business in every part of the State and Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike's firm, determined and pragmatic leadership has ensured that the State continues to enjoy sustainable peace, inspite of the provocations of both sponsored state actors and proscribed groups and interests.
Governor Wike has also made it abundantly clear that he will neither compromise the interest and indivisiblity of Rivers State nor the protection and welfare of Rivers people and it is in recognition of this unwavering pledge that the interactive meeting with the South-East Governors, the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo and the Igbo community in the State at Government House, Port Harcourt, achieves greater significance, especially now that relative peace and calm has returned in Oyigbo.
This meeting, coupled with the earlier parley Governor Wike held with the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo leaders of the Non-indigenes community in the State, will go a long way to consolidate the collective effort and dedication of all to continue to maintain and sustain the peace in Rivers State.
It was only fitting and quite apt therefore, that after a very honest, boisterous, colourful and forthright meeting, where all sides spoke their minds with great candour and admirable brotherhood, the President General of Ohaneze NdiIgbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, would break out into this popular Igbo praise chant, reserved and befitting only for leaders and champions, for Governor Wike:
"Wike, Wike, Wike kai gé söö; má önâ jéjé, má önä nä nä, Wike käï gé söö..." loosely translated to mean: "Wike, Wike Wike we will follow, whether he is coming or he is going Wike we will follow..."
The chorus of the song resonated all round the place as it was taken up with lusty gusto and great fervour and enthusiasm, by the impressive crowd that had converged at Government House, Port Harcourt, which rose with one loud, vibrant voice, in standing ovation, to pay glowing tribute to a fearless and courageous leader, a peacemaker and a champion of the people at a time like this.
Nsirim is the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State.