Presidency expresses regrets over botched meeting with South-South leaders

…PANDEF carpets FG over failed parley

The presidency yesterday expressed regrets over the failure of a presidential delegation to honour a scheduled meeting with governors and leaders of the South-south slated for Port Harcourt on Tuesday. The meeting was at the instance of the presidency.

It attributed the absence of the delegation, which necessitated a last-minute cancellation of the meeting and drew the anger of the South-south leaders, to the timing conflicting with an emergency National Security Council meeting, which held in the State House on Tuesday.

The Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, who was supposed to be on the delegation to the Port Harcourt meeting, participated in the Security Council meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari.

The South-south Governors’ Forum, chaired by Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, irked by the non-appearance of the presidential delegation, had demanded an unreserved apology from the presidency, for what they considered as the shabby treatment of the South-south leaders.

Leaders of the zone, who had gathered at the venue of the meeting in Port Harcourt, had to depart after waiting, to no avail, for the presidential delegation.

However, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) rejected the explanation from the presidency and insisted that the government should apologise to the zone.

But the presidency, in a statement by a presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, moved to calm frayed nerves as it assured the zonal leaders that the absence of the presidential delegation was not intentional.

It said the presidential team, to be led by Gambari, was already prepared to leave for Port Harcourt, when they were instructed to suspend their departure and attend the Security Council meeting.

It stated that information conveying the presidency’s regrets for inconveniences caused by the development had already been transmitted to the hosts of the meeting.

It added that the team’s absence was caused by the gravity of the security situation in the country as well as events that accompanied the #EndSARS’ protests.

It assured the South-south leaders of Buhari’s commitment to hearing from leaders of various regions of the country, adding that a new date for the meeting will be communicated to them.

The statement read: “The presidency wishes to explain that the absence of the federal government delegation at the planned meeting with governors and stakeholders of the South-south region was necessitated by an emergency security meeting summoned by the president, certainly not out of disrespect.

“The delegation to the meeting, under the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, ministers and heads of security and intelligence agencies, were in full readiness to proceed to Port Harcourt until they were directed to stay back for the emergency security meeting.

”This information and regret for the inconveniences caused were conveyed to the hosts of the meeting through what we believed were the right channels.

“As may have been gleaned from the statement read by the Minister of Police Affairs, Mr. Muhammad Maigari Dingyadi, the extraordinary National Security Council meeting, under the president, was called in view of the gravity of the security situation affecting all parts of the country, including the South-south in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests, and the need to rise to protect our national security and territorial integrity.

“The president is strongly and resolutely committed to hearing from leaders, stakeholders and our youth on burning issues affecting all parts of the federation, and to this effect, a new date for the meeting with the South-south will be agreed after due consultations with the parties concerned.”

Notwithstanding the presidency’s conciliatory response, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) has described the failure of the federal government delegation to show up for the meeting as one insult too many.

PANDEF, in a statement by its National Chairman, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (rtd.), said the absence of the government team was a demonstration of contempt and disregard for the zone.

It said: “The reason offered for the deplorable action is completely untenable and unacceptable. This is one insult too many. How else can anyone explain what happened? If not an act of disrespect, disregard, and contempt to the entire South-south zone. They went to the North, South-west and South-east, met with the people, no emergency security meeting was summoned to stop them from attending those meetings. But when it was for the South-south zone, an emergency arose to scuttle the meeting.

“We have cross-checked and are yet to ascertain that there was any national security threatening situation to warrant their staying away.

“What they have told us, in essence, is that we do not matter but the truth is that we do matter. It is awful and preposterous for anyone to delude that we do not matter. That they can treat the region that has sustained the country for decades, in this way and manner, only speaks to the kind “upside-down” thinking that has kept the country in its unworthy state”.

The group echoed the demand of the South-south that the presidency should apologise to the zone.

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