(Bloomberg) -- Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said the government won’t allow Africa’s most populous country to break apart amid growing calls for secession by “irresponsible” groups.
“We cannot and will not allow such advocacy,” Buhari said in a national broadcast on Sunday to mark Nigeria’s 57th anniversary as an independent nation. “At all events, proper dialogue and any desired constitutional changes should take place in a rational manner,” he added, citing the legislature as the appropriate forum.
There is a growing secessionist movement in the country’s southeast seeking an independent state of Biafra, to which Buhari has responded by sending troops. A bid to establish an independent Biafra 50 years ago sparked a civil war that claimed more than a million lives.
Nigeria has deployed the army against the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency in the northeast and militant attacks on the oil industry in the southern Niger River delta. The military has succeeded in rolling back the advance of the Boko Haram group and the government is holding talks with representatives of armed militants in the oil region to find a lasting solution to the region’s grievances, Buhari said.
The Nigerian president also visited troops fighting the Islamist militants in the northeastern city of Maiduguri to mark the country’s independence with them. “I thought the only honor I can present to the military and other stakeholders on this great day is to come and address you, who are in the frontline,” he told the soldiers.
Attacks by the militants on the oil-export infrastructure in 2016 slashed output of the country’s main export at a time of low prices, forcing Nigeria into its first recession in a quarter century.
Buhari said the government is focused on securing the country, battling widespread corruption and diversifying its economy to end its oil dependence. “Our administration is tackling these tasks in earnest,” he said.