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Interview: When Nnamdi Kanu was first arrested, his release was engineered by Ohaneze -Ohaneze Spokesperson
Interview: When Nnamdi Kanu was first arrested, his release was engineered by Ohaneze -Ohaneze Spokesperson
Hon. Chidozie Alex Ogbonnia is the National Publicity Secretary of Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide. He was also a former member of the Enugu House of Assembly. The Pacesetter Frontier Magazine had a chat with him in his residence, few days after President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to Imo state, on burning issues. Dateline: September 16, 2021.
What are the core objectives of Ohaneze Ndigbo?
Ohaneze Ndi Igbo is the umbrella body for Ndigbo, we have a lot of Igbo organizations, Ohaneze is the umbrella body. Ohaneze Ndi Igbo is the apex, sociocultural body for the interest of the Ndigbo wherever they are. As the name suggests, every Igbo person, man or woman, anywhere in the world is a member of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo. It’s not exclusive to anybody, any Igbo person is welcome to be a member of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo. The objective is basically for the furthering of the Igbo interests, Ohaneze takes an overall view of the social, cultural, economic and political dynamics of the country and influences Ndigbo on how to go about it. But ultimately, for the interests of Ndigbo.
President Buhari recently visited Imo state and by implication, the South East. Was that visit necessary? What was the essence?
In all fairness the President, Muhammadu Buhari made a statement in the past that those who supported him in the election would get 95% while those that didn’t would get 5%. He didn’t hide it and so far, it appeared that he had been following that policy in his appointments. His appointments are so lopsided against the people of the South East, Nigeria, which hence propels the agitations against what you may call injustice or marginalization. People in the South East are not happy with what is happening. Therefore, they are not happy with anyone that identifies with the President.
However, in public life one thing that is important is Diplomacy. At some point, you will need to apply diplomacy. When Buhari said he was coming, we had two options; tell him not to come, or use his coming to open an entirely new vista of relationship, embrace him, tell him our problems, and Ohaneze chose the latter. He left with a few things. One, we complained to him about the injustice done against us. It’s there in the address by the National President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor. Ndigbo are interested in being a part of Nigeria, provided there is the value of justice, equity and fair play. Two, that Igbo youth agitators in various detention centers should be released. We let him know we are prepared to work with him if his attitude to us changes. A lot of other things were discussed. We had the opportunity to discuss things one on one with him.
We have been meeting with him in Abuja. If you look at the security structure of the country, from the IG of Police, to the Army, to Navy, to Customs, you wouldn’t find any person from the South East in the head of these bodies. It aggravates the thought process of the Igbo people. We are not fully represented in the national security architecture of the country. So far, there are certain ministries that are classified as Grade A ministries, like Works, Finance, Agriculture, Education, Power, etc., no Igbo is a minister of any Grade A ministry. And when you look at the allocation of public utilities, Ndigbo are not treated appropriately. The same thing with other political appointments of the kinds. All these propel the agitations we have among our people. Ohaneze has been trying to use her diplomatic dexterity to get something out, but it appeared the President was not listening to us. His visit to Owerri opened a new chapter of relationship we hope to explore. That’s our position on that.
It’s at least about six years since the President has been on the seat, that’s six years of the use of diplomacy to get him lean a bit to the South East in his policies and appointments for better political and structural inclusion, but nothing to show for it yet. What gives you the faith that this time would be different?
We are not saying that his coming to Imo has dramatically changed the relationship, but we have to believe there will be a change. No condition is ever permanent. We will continue to try, the worse is not trying at all. We will keep trying so that when we have exhausted this option, we will be fulfilled that we played our own side of the bargain. Ohaneze philosophy is that Nigeria is for all of us. Ohaneze does not give momentum to leaving Nigeria, that’s the point of divergence we have with IPOB. Our point of convergence is in agitation against marginalization. IPOB is interested in referendum and exiting the country, but Ohaneze is in interested in harnessing the resources and expenditure, and managing the people’s common wealth right. We are also interested in using the Ndigbo’ adventurism to explore the resources in other parts of the country. We realized that the frontier spirit of the Ndigbo is second to none in the entire Africa. I worked in ECOWAS Parliament, I had the opportunity to visit almost all the countries in West Africa, I discovered that Ndigbo are in control of, at least, the electronics market in almost all the West African countries. I went to South Africa, the same thing. The markets are controlled by mostly Ndigbo.
You go to Port Harcourt; in their markets you will be speaking Igbo because Ndigbo control the market. The same thing in Akwa Ibom and Calabar. In fact, in Calabar, they call cell phones Onye na-ekwu. Back then, Ndigbo were the ones that could easily own phones when GSM first came to the country, they would answer to calls on the phone with the phrase, Onye na-ekwu, so the Calabar people easily nicknamed cell phone Onye na-ekwu. That illustrates the magnitude of the Igbo presence in Calabar.
I lived in Kano, at least the Sabon Gari Market in Kano is 90% Igbo. The same thing as Sabon Gari, Sokoto, Zaria, Kaduna, and more. Ndigbo have a high level of properties, when you talk about the people with many properties in every corner of Nigeria. People from other parts of the country are not as willing as the Ndigbo to own properties outside their states or zones.
Ndigbo control the market economy of the country. When you have a budget of N20b in Kano, that budget comes to the market. No budget escapes the market. When it comes to the market, Ndigbo will grab it, in spare parts, in building materials and more. This is how it is. We want to maintain it, for our people to feel safe wherever they are in the country. We will develop our own place at our own pace. Not everyone understands these socioeconomic dynamics. When they gave a quit notice to Ndigbo in the North, we recorded about 14 million Ndigbo living in the North. They pleaded that they didn’t want to come home. They pleaded that they didn’t want to leave Nigeria. We are careful not to hurt the relationship because it will affect the over 14 million Ndigbo living in the North. That’s why we are opposed to hate speech. We are surrounded by other ethnic groups, giving them pejorative names or stereotypes is not to the advantage of Ndigbo scattered in every part of the country. Oje mba enwe ilo is the Igbo philosophy that insists that a traveler should not acquire enmity to himself. Ndigbo are travelers. If you are hurting the Northerners here, there are lots of Ndigbo living in the North that will bear the pain. This is why we should be careful. Ohaneze tries to manage the crisis because we seem to appreciate it more, we understand the diversity of Nigeria more, and that’s why we are careful the way we manage this crisis. If you go through history, you will discover that some countries made up of too many ethnic groups eventually broke up. Nigeria will ultimately break up, but this break up has to be carefully managed so that you don’t create unnecessary enemies, losses, and deaths. We can all do that amicably.
I have a friend in Ghana who is from Abia State. I visited him; he has a large compound in Ghana. I asked him why he built such large asset in another country, he told me he had no interest in coming back to Nigeria, that he wanted to be seen as an Igbo in Ghana. He was ready to be buried there. This is to show you that economy is the osmotic force driving social life, driving everything.
When you have the economic force, you become the osmotic force gravitating everyone to yourself. Ultimately, it is where you find your wellbeing that is your home. Ndigbo in Kano feel at home in Kano, they feel at home in Sokoto, in Kaduna, in Ghana and more. Ndigbo’ frontier spirit, adventurism, and traveling capacity is something we don’t play with. Oje mba enwe ilo should be the guiding philosophy. It is immodest to tell the Yoruba man that he’s not wise, to tell the Hausa man that he’s not wise, it’s not a good way to go. Instead, let them know we are friends, we are in their homes.
Talking about the need to remain in Nigeria as one, lately, there are more talks about Igbo presidency than there are talks about restructuring, why is it so? Perhaps one is more important than the other.
First, we don’t want to make restructuring, as it is, entirely an Igbo agenda. What we did instead was to have what we call Southern and Middle Belt Leadership Forum, led by Chief E. K. Clark. We realized that the South South region is clamoring for restructuring, just like the Middle Belt, the South West, and Ndigbo. All the people clamoring for restructuring, with common interests can put their interest together and put force to the center. Restructuring is no longer an Igbo thing.
When you look at the President, his body language, what he wants to achieve, his direction, then you look at politics to mean the act of the possible, then you will know how to move. Another part of leadership is that this present National Assembly are so complacent with the executive. Sometimes you don’t see the separation of power in action, you don’t see the checks and balances in action. If we had a well separated and working legislature, we would be able to send a bill and they will work on it through the legislative process, but it doesn’t appear to be so with our Senate President.
As regards Igbo Presidency, we are guided by the demand for equity and fairness. In July, 1998, I was a participant in a meeting that was held in NUC event center, Abuja, where the issue of power rotation was a major part of the discussion. Sen. Chuka Okadigbo was the spokesman for the South. It was resolved that there must be power rotation, but first that power must shift to the South. It was agreed that power must shift to the South after Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar. And after that it should go back to the North, then continue to move that way. After President Obasanjo, it went to the North, President Yar’adua, then to President Jonathan, and now, President Buhari.
It’s now bound for the South again, and the only part of the South that has not got a shot at it yet is the South East. Equity demands that it should come to the South East. Chief Clark has made it clear that it has to be South East Igbo. That’s what equity and fair play means. If this is done, there won’t be any agitation among Ndigbo in Nigeria again, they will feel a sense of belonging.
It appears, according to IPOB and some Igbo masses, that there’s a conspiracy of silence amongst the Igbo elites on Nnamdi Kanu’s detention, except for the meeting of the NASS SE caucus members on September 15. Why’s that?
I am not sure of the elite you are talking about, as far as I am concerned, the highest elite in Igbo land is Ohaneze Ndi Igbo. We have contacted the best of our brains in law, and they are all ready to always appear in court to make sure that due process is followed and Nnamdi Kanu is released. It’s not a mechanical process, to simply say, “release Nnamdi Kanu!” No, there will be a judicial process to the effect of his release. We appointed Dr. Ezeife, a PhD holder in Law from Harvard for Nnamdi Kanu. I don’t know the other elite you are looking for. There’s no conspiracy of silence, we have been talking and working on this.
Since the re-arrest of Nnamdi Kanu, we have witnessed a lot of continued sit at home orders from his fellow ideologues, where do you think this will lead us?
Ohaneze Ndi Igbo is opposed to the sit at home order, it is not helping anyone. If we continue to destroy the things in the South East because of this, we will only attract mockery from the enemies. In the first place, you should never allow your enemies rejoice over you. The fact that others do not bat an eyelid over your sit at home calls for you to re-evaluate your position. And more importantly, you don’t face the barrel of the gun inwardly, you face it outwardly. Some boys masked themselves and destroyed a vehicle loaded with bread, then motorcycles and more. Now, by doing that, how does it hurt Buhari? The properties being destroyed are all owned by Ndigbo. It’s an outrageous paradox, and it doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe there may be a positive outcome, but it doesn’t make sense. Do you know how many adjournments the court will pronounce in this case?
The best thing is what Ohaneze is doing with the National Assembly, we have Sen. Abaribe, Sen. Ekweremadu and others. We work with them. Prof. Obiozor will not do all the things, but he has people to work with. When Nnamdi Kanu was first arrested, his release was engineered by Chief Nnia Nwodo. He called for nzuko umunna to go and see Nnamdi Kanu in detention then, the likes of Ferdinand Agu, Sen. Abaribe, Osita Chidoka, and others, about seven of them went to see him and reported back to Ohaneze. Ohaneze had a meeting with Sen. Ekweremadu and others in Ekweremadu’s house and it was resolved that Sen. Abaribe should take Nnamdi Kanu on bail. That was how he came out in the first place. Shortly after he came out, he came to thank us but in thanking us, he made some weird and strange statements. He said there wasn’t going to be an election in Anambra. Nnia Nwodo pointed out to him that Anambra had recorded tremendous socio-economic development in the Southeast and that anything that would disrupt that election would create problems for Ndigbo. Nwodo told him that there could be a state of emergency declared in Anambra, that could lead to the appointment of a non-igbo as an administrator of Anambra. Nnamdi tried to point out that by the provisions of the constitution, the Speaker of the House of Assembly would hold sway but Nwodo as a Lawyer reminded him of other provisions of the constitution to support his position, and Nnamdi finally understood. Nwodo also told him that since Anambra had, at the time conducted her primaries, he should identify one candidate and ask IPOB to support him. We also told him that he should keep his religion away from his struggle, since the dominant religion in the southeast was Christianity and that most spiritual leaders who played roles in his release might be hurt if he attempted to create a new religion in the southeast.
It is important to approach things in a certain way, so that you bring the maturity of the old and the impetuosity of the youth to blend into one another for a better success. The meeting point of these two would have brought us a better result than what we are seeing now. We need to respect our elders, say, like the Yorubas and the Hausas. Youths are important, but we must get it right. Down here, our youths seem to be attracted to anyone who curses and insults elders; they see that person as being courageous.
Biafra as-was, seemed progressive, the airstrip, ogbunigwe and more innovations that came with it. Do you think Biafra as-was is attainable now?
First, every Igbo person is Biafran. Every Yoruba is Oduduwa. Biafra is now an identity and a nomenclature. But to look at the geography of Biafra as in Akwa Ibom, Cross River and more, is unachievable. You are talking about what happened 50 years ago, what worked for your grandfather is not likely to work for you, the grandchildren. The world is not static, the world is dynamic. Bayelsa and others were willing to work with Biafra 50 years ago, they are not likely willing to work with Biafra 50 years later.
When you talk about Biafra as an entity here, you have to think about some limitations, like boundary protocol in the states around, like when you are crossing from Aba to Port Harcourt, from Obolo Afor to the North, etc. You have to decide which is better. And you must remember that we have over 300 ethnicities in Nigeria, all of them are complaining. Tell me which of them that are not complaining. No ethnic group in Nigeria is happy. Don’t make yourself a scapegoat, like I said, if things continue this way, everyone will eventually find their way. Countries like ours often eventually break up, the call for secession will get to a crescendo, what matters is, how. It has to be in a way that you don’t hurt the wellbeing of people.
When this call for secession gets to that crescendo you talked about, do you think it’s something restructuring can manage?
Yes, restructuring would help. Without restructuring, we will get to that point of no return. It is the most viable solution to this.
What’s Ohaneze’s stand on the Anti-open Grazing bill?
I congratulated the Enugu State Governor for signing the bill into law. I understand that the Governor of Abia State did the same. We encourage other governors to key into this philosophy. What we are saying is that the herder-farmer clash is not helping anybody. It causes chaos and sometimes deaths. Anything you identify as a source of problem is better removed. This is our justification for asking our governors to ban open grazing. We applaud those that have keyed into it, and we will continue to engage others to do the same.
Contents provided and/or opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of The Pacesetter Frontier Magazine or any employee thereof.
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