Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State has countered Information Minister Lai Mohammed for asserting that the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) and bandits in Northern Nigeria are the same.
Mr Mohammed at the weekend described the secessionist group and the herdsmen-turned-bandits as criminals who should be violently dealt with.
The government propagandist also dismissed claims in some quarters that the Buhari administration was giving preferential treatment to the criminals that have resorted to abduction of school children for ransom.
Speaking to Vanguard Newspapers, Mr Ikpeazu who joined his colleagues to proscribe IPOB in 2017 appears to be defending those he once branded terrorists for peacefully demanding the restoration of the defunct Biafra Republic through protests.
He described the separatists’ demand as ideologically driven which cannot be resolved through the barrel of a gun as the information minister suggested but through intense dialogue.
“We must engage with IPOB. Yes, we must find a way to talk about the issues at stake,” Mr Ikpeazu stated. “These people are not as bad as the ones in the North-East or North-West who go to schools and seize the whole population of teachers and students or invade the mosques and churches and kidnap all the worshippers, and nobody can find them until a ransom is paid.
“I believe that there is some ideological sense in what these people in the southeast are saying. There is something to listen to even though it is criminal to take up arms against the state.
“There is a message they are trying to pass in the process. We need confidence building among ourselves rather than use words that we should not use even as leaders. Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder but the solution is not too difficult to find,” the governor said.
He posited also that he regards Nnamdi Kanu as a citizen of his state and not as IPOB leader hence his decision to prioritize Kanu’s welfare.
“I care about his welfare and I care that he should be tried in a just and fair way. I am happy that they want to bring justice to bear by looking at the allegations against him and trying him fair and square but I would not want him to be treated as if he was a convict when he has not been convicted.
“Not until otherwise, he is still my citizen and as his father it behoves on us to care for him after all the prodigal son had a father,” he added.
Why South-East governors can’t tame IPOB
He also said the five state governors of the South-East geo-political zone are handicapped and this accounts for the reason they are not able to counter orders coming from the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB)
Mr Ikpeazu acknowledged that himself and his colleagues were doing their best which is adjudged not enough.
Although the secessionist group which introduced the weekly sit-at-home exercise every Monday have suspended it, residents in the Igbo predominant area are still complying with the order which the group said was a protest to pressure the federal government to release its detained leader Nnamdi Kanu.
Mr Kanu was intercepted and abducted from Kenya and brought back to the country to continue facing his treasonable felony trial after fleeing from Afaraukwu home when soldiers in 2017 raided his compound and killed dozens.
“The South-East governors are handicapped. But we are trying our best,” the Abia helmsman said, explaining further that their inability to control the police was why they are unable to counter the directive of the group that has enjoyed massive support from locals.
“That is why when IPOB gives sit-at-home order; the governors are unable to counter effectively because they do not have control over federal police, which are neither adequate nor well equipped to deal with security challenges.
“If you call governors the chief security officers of their states and they cannot determine the number of policemen they can deploy and the kind of equipment to use, then it becomes extremely difficult for governors to take control of security issues in the South-East,” he added.