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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Nigeria's president warns separatists 

Looking thin but sounding stronger than his last television appearance, Muhammadu Buhari said he was troubled by social media posts calling for splits in his country 

Nigeria's president Muhammadu Buhari has promised action against corruption. Reuters
Nigeria's president Muhammadu Buhari has promised action against corruption. Reuters

Nigeria's president Muhammadu Buhari said on Monday 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.

Mr 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 Mr Buhari travelled to London for medical treatment on May 7, campaign groups have stepped up calls for a separate south-eastern state known as Biafra, evoking memories of a 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.

Mr Buhari, a northern Muslim, has spent more time out of Nigeria so far in 2017 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 on Saturday, the 74-year-old said: "I was distressed to notice that 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."

"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".

Mr 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.

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 President Buhari to have a change of approach towards the resolution of the ongoing agitations and threats to national security by adopting constructive engagement to resolve the issues," the council said.

Mr Osinbajo held talks in June with regional leaders in an effort to quell tensions after Muslim activists demanded the eviction of Igbo people from the north over their calls for the creation of 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.

The Opec member has taken a hit from low oil prices and the impact of attacks on energy facilities last year in the Niger Delta.

Buhari, who won an election in March 2015, said it was in the interest of Nigerians to come together to face the challenge of economic security and promised to "reinforce and reinvigorate" the fight against Boko Haram insurgents in the north-east.

Suicide bomb attacks and raids by the Islamist militants have increased in frequency over the last few months, killing at least 170 people since June 1, according a Reuters tally.

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