President Muhammadu Buhari is to visit south-east Nigeria this week, his spokesman said, his first trip since taking office to the region formerly known as Biafra.
Calls for secession have become increasingly loud in the last few months in parts of the south-east, where the president is unpopular, prompting Buhari to say he will not allow Nigeria to be divided by separatist groups.
A million people died in the 1967 to 70 civil war over the short-lived Republic of Biafra. Buhari, a 74-year-old former military ruler who took office in May 2015, fought in the war as a young soldier on the government side.
Spokesman, Garba Shehu, said the president would visit the campaign run by his All Progressive Congress party in the state of Anambra ahead of gubernatorial elections in the next few days.
“Mr President will be visiting two south-east states of Ebonyi and Anambra,” said Shehu. Buhari would leave Abuja on Tuesday and return the following day.
Tensions in the region rose following the release on bail of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the region’s best known secessionist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Government designated the group a terrorist organisation in September and deployed troops to the region to crack down on secessionists.
Kanu, on bail after being charged with treason, has not been seen since September 14, when IPOB says his home was raided by soldiers. The military denied raiding Kanu’s home and said it is not holding him.
“We are yet to know our leader’s whereabouts or that of his parents. Buhari is not the type of person any governor should be welcoming to their land,” said an IPOB spokesman in a statement urging the president to “stay away”.
A Nigerian minister in September said secessionists were sponsored by government’s political opponents.
Government has repeatedly rejected the accusation Buhari, a Muslim northerner, is opposed to development of the mostly Christian south-east, where people are mainly from the Igbo ethnic group.
Nigeria’s 180 million inhabitants are split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims and around 250 ethnic groups mostly live peacefully side by side.