By ADE ALADE
Alleging that President Goodluck Jonathan has not represented the South South region well, a group of eminent persons from the zone has chosen to join forces with the North to stop the rumoured re-election bid of the president. Towards this end, the South-South leaders, led by a former military administrator of Lagos State, General Patrick Newton Aziza, under the aegis of Urhobo Progressive Union (UPU), last week held a closed-door meeting with the leadership of pro-North group, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) in Kaduna.
Details of what transpired during the closed-door discussion were, however, kept secret as journalists were only told that the meeting was “to re-ignite that longstanding relationship, keep it warm and energise it in our national political journey.” Saturday Sun can exclusively reveal that beyond what was made public, the South-South leaders were at the meeting to negotiate the future of their ethnic group after complaining bitterly about their disappointment with the administration of President Jonathan who incidentally is from the same region.
One of the leaders, who joined General Aziza at the meeting, disclosed: “Without mincing words, we are not pleased with the Jonathan administration because we have since discovered that the president has given virtually everything due to the South-South to only his Ijaw people, leaving out the interest of other ethnic groups in the region unprotected.” When challenged to justify the basis of their angst against the Jonathan administration, the source said: “In this administration, the Urhobos do not have the smallest of political appointments, not even a special assistant. So, the government does not favour us in any way and that is not healthy.
This informed our decision to seek cooperation with the North and other parts of the country, which can protect our interest in the next dispensation, that is in 2015. We can’t support someone who has failed and neglected us again. We need to take the destiny of our people in our hands and protect it.” A former governor of Edo State, Chief John Oyegun, who is the Chairman of the South-South Peoples Assembly (SSPA) led by President Jonathan’s kinsman and confidant, Chief Edwin Clark, however, described the UPU move as narrow-minded. He said though the Aziza group is a formidable team, it cannot, however, decide for the entire region.
He also denied that the development was an indication of a crack in the political aspiration of the region. According to him: “I don’t think the visit of General Aziza and other leaders of UPU to ACF in Kaduna suggests a crack in the leadership of the South South. Everything boils down to the subject of their discussion. It could be on security, unity and others. Different groups can hold their meetings depending on their interest. But when the issue borders on the interest of the different geo-political zones, that is a totally different matter.
Their visit does not portend any threat at all. Don’t forget that UPU has been there for a very long time though it is a very small unit and it covers only Urhobos. Urhobos are just a part of Delta, a majority part though. “Such groups will be doing their thing now, but when the time comes and we decide on the interest of our people, we will expect everybody to fall in line. When we get to that point, we will hold discussions with everybody and UPU will surely be part of that discussion.
The issue of where the next president comes from is still too early. We have the presidency now and if our man is not going to contest, then the issue of who to support will then arise. But now, nothing like that yet. By then, we will decide where our interest lies given the alternatives that are on offer. “So, now is the time for a lot of movement, motions, body language but all that don’t affect the position of the South South because UPU does not represent the interest of the South-South; eventhough they are a very important group. We have immense respect for them, they are very well organised but they are not South-South.”
All efforts to get General Aziza’s reaction, however, failed, as calls to his telephone line were neither picked nor text messages to the same replied. Answering questions after the closed-door meeting that lasted for two hours, Aziza had said: “We came to see our brothers; we had good deliberations over what is happening in Nigeria. The Arewas and Urhobos are not strange bedfellows. We share a long political history from the days of struggle for political independence from the British to the days of the First Republic and the post-military politics. We don’t want to bore you with the details of such political affinity and the historicisms, suffice to say, however, that such political affinity was based on mutual respect and equity.
“We seek to re-ignite that longstanding relationship, keep it warm and energise it in our national political journey. ACF, in our mind, share many other similarities with the UPU. Just like the UPU, the ACF is a major platform of convergence of the Arewa people and the veritable positive force for engagement of her people. It also provides an avenue for the ventilation of the views and idea of the Arewa people on critical national issues. It is this similarity of purpose and mission statement in our mind that has convoked this august gathering.”
On his part, ACF spokesman, Anthony Sani, said that the problem of the country has been suspicion among ethnic groups, adding: “But it is a good thing that the Urhobos have come around.” He said, the coming of the Urhobos to the North would eliminate the suspicion, more so that the ACF itself has begun nationwide tour of ethnic groups for peaceful co-existence.