Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said on Monday, in his first speech after his return, that he would stop separatist activists spreading unrest, seeking to reassert his hold on power after returning from his second stint of medical leave this year.
Buhari, looking thin but sounding stronger than his last broadcast in June, said he had been troubled by social media posts calling for splits in a country made up of a mostly Muslim north and a Christian south.
Since he travelled to London for treatment of an unspecified condition on May 7, campaign groups have stepped up calls for a separate south-eastern state known as Biafra, evoking memories of the conflict there that killed hundreds of thousands in the 1960s.
Militants and community groups have also called for the independence of the restive southern Niger Delta oil hub, saying it should receive a greater share of Nigeria’s energy wealth. Islamist Boko Haram militants are fighting for a separate caliphate in the north-east.
Buhari, a northern Muslim, has spent more time out of Nigeria so far this year than he has inside the country, prompting fears he is not well enough to run Africa’s largest economy, which is mired in its first recession in 25 years.
The former military ruler’s refusal to disclose details of his illness have prompted calls for greater transparency.
In a televised speech, his first since his return last Saturday, the 74-year-old said he followed events in Nigeria on a daily basis.
“I was distressed to notice some of the comments, especially in the social media, have crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation,” said Buhari.
“Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable. We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble,” he said, adding that some ethnic violence was “fuelled by political mischief makers”.
He did not mention the recession gripping the oil producer due to low oil prices, the main issue for many normal people trying to survive amid inflation of 16%.
Hours later, his spokesperson said Buhari had written to lawmakers to notify them of his return to office.
Buhari first left for medical leave in Britain this year in January, staying for nearly two months. Both times he handed over power to his deputy, Christian southerner Yemi Osinbajo.
Buhari will be working from his office at home due to renovation works at his main office, Bashir Ahmad, one of his personal assistants told reporters.
After his first return from London, Buhari mostly worked from home on advice of his doctors.
He also travelled to London to see a doctor in June last year over what his officials described as an ear infection.
Underlining the divisions simmering during his term in office, the Ijaw Youth Council, an organisation which represents the largest ethnic group in the Niger Delta, issued a statement on Monday contradicting the president, saying Nigeria’s unity was “negotiable”.
“We call on Buhari to have a change of approach toward the resolution of the ongoing agitations,” it said.
Osinbajo held talks in June with regional leaders in an effort to quell tension after Muslim activists demanded the eviction of Igbo people from the north over their calls for a separate Biafra. Nigeria has about 180 million inhabitants, split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims. About 250 different ethnic groups mostly live peacefully side-by-side. - Reuters