President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday pleaded with Niger Delta militants to “give Nigeria a chance”, vowing to keep the country intact despite widespread ethnic and religious divisions that threaten unity.
Buhari gave the advice when members of the Federal Executive Council, Service Chiefs, the acting Inspector General of Police Ibrahim Idris, traditional rulers, religious leaders and other residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) paid him Sallah visit at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He called on well-meaning Nigerians to persuade the militants to give peace a chance, saying that his administration would continue to ensure justice and fairness in the country.
The President vowed that his administration would ensure that Nigeria continued to exist as a geo-political entity despite the activities of the militants.
“On security, we have made a lot of improvement in checking the activities of Boko Haram.
“We are now concentrating on the militants to know how many of them (there are) in terms of groupings, leadership and to plead with them to try and give Nigeria a chance.
“I assure them of keeping to the saying by Gen. Gowon that to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.
“In those days we never thought of oil, all we were concerned of was one Nigeria.
“So, please pass this message to the militants, that `one Nigeria’ is not negotiable and they had better accept it.
“The Nigerian constitution is clear as to what they should get and I assure them there will be justice,’’ he said.
Buhari also appealed to those in possession of Nigeria’s stolen funds to return them peacefully and negotiate with the government.
According to him, Nigeria is seriously in need of the stolen funds to uplift the quality of life of its citizens.
“And please tell those with plenty of money, which does not belong to them to try and negotiate and return it in peace so that both they and us will be in peace.
“Otherwise, we will continue to look for it,’’ he said.
Speaking earlier, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, noted that the past one year had been tough for the government and Nigerians because the Buhari-led administration had been busy clearing up the mess it met on ground.
He, however, stressed the administration’s commitment to placing the country on a sound footing, saying: “things are already looking up.’’
He prayed that the President would continue to get the wisdom and strength to overcome all challenges facing the country.
The Minister of FCT, Alhaji Muhammed Bello and the leadership of the Presidential Villa Chapel presented Sallah greeting cards to the President.
Buhari had earlier performed the 2-Raka’at Eid-el-Fitr prayer at the Mogadishu Mosque in Abuja.
The prayer was led by the Chief Imam of the Mosque, Major Hamisu Mustapha, whose sermon centred on the need for Muslim faithful to continue to exhibit the virtues of the Ramadan fast.
Meanwhile, the militant group, Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) has blown up a Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipeline at Eleme, leading to the Nigeria Liquefied National Gas, NLNG, in Rivers State.
The militant group claimed responsibility for the attack via its Facebook page NDavengers on Wednesday, just as it took a swipe at the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, over his comments that the group kill and kidnap for no clear reasons.
It said, “By 3.00 am, yesterday, strike team 2, carried out a major strike, bombing NNPC pipeline at Eleme leading to NLNG. You won’t stop us.”
This is coming barely 72 hours after it blew up oil installations belonging to Chevron Nigeria Limited and Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NPDC, in Batan Community, Warri South West Council Area of Delta State on Monday night.
In a statement issued by the spokesperson of the group, Mudoch Agbinibo, and posted on the group’s website, while denying the allegations by Garba Shehu, asked the presidential aide to get his facts right.
Shehu’s statement on Tuesday had claimed that the militant group which has wreaked havoc on the nation’s oil production in recent times, ply their trade in killing and kidnapping and asking oil companies in the region to stop operating.
Shehu’s statement reads, “Out of the blue, a group calling itself the Niger Delta Avengers, NDA spouts. They kill soldiers and policemen. They kidnap and kill oil company workers. Piracy on the high seas. They asked oil companies to stop operations and pack out of the Niger Delta region.
“They blow up oil pipelines, power and other infrastructure. They attack and kill prominent individuals, ransacking homes up and down the coastal areas, including lately, Lagos and Ogun states. All these for what.”
However, the militants said, “We want Garba Shehu (Senior Special Assistant to the president on Media and Publicity) to go and get his record straight. Niger Delta Avengers have not killed and kidnapped oil workers, we are not into sea piracy, and we have never killed Policemen.
“The Buhari led Government knows the people attacking soldiers and killing policemen. It’s their sleeper’s agents that are doing it, so they should stop tagging Niger Delta Avengers to killing, kidnapping, ransacking of policemen, soldiers and individuals in the region.”
It also dismissed reports that the group had entered into dialogue with the federal government during the recent ceasefire before resuming fresh hostilities.
“We the Niger Delta Avengers have not negotiated with anyone. So we don’t know where Mr Garba Shehu and General Babagana Munguno, the National Security Adviser, are getting their information from.
“If they have been negotiating with anybody it clearly shows they had been negotiating with fraudsters and their (national security agency) created militant group,” the statement added.
In another post on its Facebook page on Wednesday night, the NDA wrote “Our fight is legit, we are at war already, but it’s so unfortunate most of us don’t know by now. The heart of the nation is being neglected. They call us 5 percent, but we have been the people to always bear the burden of this amalgamated nation. Not anymore.”