By Ayo Fadimu
The Governors and leaders of the South-South geopolitical region have demanded for an unreserved apology from the presidency for abruptly aborting a crucial stakeholders meeting scheduled to hold in Port Harcourt on Tuesday.
The presidency had fixed a meeting for Tuesday with the Governors and other leaders of the region to discuss burning national issues affecting the region and the aftermath effects of the EndSARS protest. The Federal Government delegation was supposed to include all the Ministers from the geopolitical zone and other persons.
Addressing South-South leaders at the Banquet Hall of the Government House, Port Harcourt, Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, who presided over the session, narrated the botched meeting which was called at the instance of the presidency, through the office of the Chief of Staff to the President, Agboola Ibrahim Gambari.
He explained that the meeting time was adjusted twice from 11am to 1pm on Tuesday, on the excuse that the President, Mohammedu Buhari, was meeting with Director of Department of State Services (DSS) and the Inspector General of Police, who were supposed to be part of the presidential delegation for the South-South meeting.
Governor Okowa, who is also the chairman of South-South Governors Forum, said he later got a call from the Chief of Staff to the President on Tuesday afternoon, announcing the eventual cancellation of the meeting. According to him, he felt really disappointed that the region could be treated in such disdain.
Okowa said the people of the region have been embarrassed, disgraced and disrespected. He stated that the South-South geopolitical zone is a very important component part of the nation and the governors feel insulted because the traditional rulers who had gathered for the meeting, deserved to be revered.
“As governors, we feel very touched and very sad about what has happened. And having also listened to our youths, we can feel the anger. As a mark of respect for our people, because you are actually the stakeholders of our region, we felt it was necessary for us to consult with you before taking any decision, if we take our decision without consulting with you, then we would have added to the disrespect that has just been meted on you.
“We call for a public apology, not for the governors alone. We call for a public apology because this meeting was not called at our instance. It was called at the instance of the Presidency. The time was changed last night. We understood and we talked to our people. Some of us did not sleep in trying to put things together. We have gotten to a very bad start. So, we are going to convey this message to the chief of staff to the president.
He further continued: “We deserve as a region unreserved public apology to the region, particularly to our traditional rulers and the leaders in this zone, which include our Christian leaders, opinion leaders, our women and our youths, and also the governors of the zone who were voted into office and that is the least that we expect for us to accept the reconvene of this meeting.”
Former President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Ledum Mitee, said he considers the abrupt cancellation of the meeting not only as an insult but an effrontery on the people of the South-South zone.
Similarly, member of the 2014 national political reform conference, Ms Ann-Kio Briggs, said the Federal Government on Tuesday demonstrated the value it actually place on the South-South geopolitical zone.
On his part, the President of the Ijaw Youth Congress, Peter Igbifa, accused the federal government of taking the South-South for granted.
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, who hosted the meeting, described Rivers State, which is the capital of the South-South as safe.
Present at the meeting were also Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River; Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom; Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa; and Godwin Obaseki of Edo State.
Other eminent persons present included: the National Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, rtd; former President, Nigerian Bar Association, Onueze Okocha (SAN); among others.
In the meantime, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio has apologised to delegates in Port Harcourt who had arrived for the scheduled meeting of the Presidential Delegation to the South South Region.
The meeting of the Presidential delegation which was to be led by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari was called off due to urgent State matters at the eleventh hour.
However, Senator Akpabio who was already in Government House, Port Harcourt met with some of the delegates and apologized that the meeting had to be rescheduled. The Minister was accompanied by the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei and other officials of the Commission.
Speaking with reporters at Government House, Port Harcourt, Senator Akpabio explained that President Muhammadu Buhari meant well for the South-South Region and appealed to the people to continue to support the administration to deliver dividends of democracy to the region.
He expressed the hope that Stakeholders from the region would engage with the Presidential delegation when the meeting is rescheduled and apologized for the botched meeting.