Chief Alex Ogbonnia is the National Publicity Secretary of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo. In this interview with RAPHAEL EDE, he talks about the recent comment of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on restructuring
There have been calls for restructuring of Nigeria but the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), recently asked the proponents to send their demand to the National Assembly. How do you see this?
If you look at the 1999 constitution, you will see a lot of similarities between it and the 1979 constitution. However, there is a fraud in the 1999 Constitution because it says “We the people of Nigeria …” The National Assembly is currently reviewing the constitution, but what it has simply done is to form committees at the various levels where people will come and give their own opinions so that the document that will be produced will appear as people’s constitution.
But I believe that if the President wants restructuring, as a matter of necessity it becomes philosophical framework of his government. He will own it and it will be for him now to motivate people to give support to it, but if he says it should be done by the National Assembly and behind he goes to tell Lawan (the President of the Senate, Ahmad ..) and says “don’t mind those people” then nothing will happen, until he begins to show signs that he wants restructuring. The point is that there are difficulties, poverty, distress and agitation in the land. All these things will continue, if Nigeria is not restructured. What is happening in Nigeria is a product of unemployment and poverty. When we are talking of restructuring, what are we looking at? We are looking at how to bring from what is in the exclusive legislative list, about 68 items, to concurrent legislative list so that the states will have authority over some of the mineral resources within their jurisdictions.
We are also looking at restructuring of local government system in Nigeria. For example, it is injustice for the whole of South-East to have 95 local government whereas the South-West has 187 local government areas. Kano for example is said to be about the same population with Lagos, whereas Lagos has about 20 LGAs and Kano has 44. You can see that Kano and Katsina will be happy with what is happening and it is essentially difficult for them to dislocate what is to their own advantage. That’s in a narrow thinking, but the broader outlook of restructuring is to the advantage of all Nigerians.
Can you tell us what is really happening in the South-East with the renewed vigour for the restoration of sovereign state of Biafra?
Agitations by the Igbo are completely in order. Every person knows that the Igbo are being marginalised, so that the marginalisation of the Igbo is a source of the agitation. Therefore, the more marginalised the Igbo are, the more intensified is the agitation. There is also the issue of attacks by herdsmen.
Whatever anybody can say, the truth remains that when you look at ministries; we have grade A, B and C ministries. Works, Agriculture, Education, Health, Finance and Transports belong to grade A. Is there anyone in the South-East in grade A. The answer is no. If you look at the number of people that are appointed by this government, you look at the service chiefs in Nigeria today, is there anyone in the South-East? No. Ohanaeze wrote the President when there was a change in the service chiefs. We reminded him that the South- East is still a vacuum in terms of service chiefs. By the time he appointed the inspector general of police we thought the post would come to Igbo, buy it didn’t come. When we lost chief of army staff, we thought that the next chief of army staff would come from the South-East because we have a lot of South- East major generals in the army.
Don’t you think that working the document of this country has some impediments that would obviously hinder a President of Igbo extraction from performing?
It depends on the individual. There are two things in government that is what is called structure-function relation. It is the individual that will come up with good policies and programmes. The moment the people see you as a visionary leader, it will help you in gaining followership and support and you will be able to achieve results. Do you know that one policy statement in Nigeria today can create war. One policy statement in Nigeria today can also create peace and progress.
There are reports across the five South-East states that security agencies are killing innocent Igbo youths tagging them IPOB members. Yet political leaders in the zone have kept sealed lips. Don’t you think that is a failure on the part of Igbo leaders?
In the first place, leaders didn’t keep quiet, expect when you look at leaders from just governors alone. I know Prof Obiozor (Ohanaeze leader) has been talking. He has issued a press statement against what is happening. Ohanaeze Ndigbo, through the publicity secretary, has issued several statements against what is happening. We didn’t keep quiet. We are not comfortable with what is happening. If you ask me to compare IPOB and Boko Haram, any day, any time what Boko Haram had done to the country is more devastating. In fact, Boko Haram has been acknowledged as a terrorist group. Armed Fulani herdsmen are terrorists, but Nigeria is trying to create that terrorism around IPOB. There is no reason to tag IPOB as a terrorist group but the people ruling us now want to silent every dissenting voice and that is why Ohanaeze has rejected that tag of a terrorist group on IPOB. They (government) have to de-proscribe IPOB and that is the Ohanaeze position.
The leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo condemns extrajudicial killings. We asked the Federal Government to restrain from that. We also made it clear that Nigeria should not embark on an unwinnable war. That is why in the last article we issued, we said that President Buhari had a choice between dialogue on one side and war against the Igbo on the other. There is no need beating somebody, the person is crying and you are telling him not to cry yet you are flogging him. They should stop the marginalisation as orchestrated by what you call the alienation and profiling of the Igbo. President Buhari has disdain for those who didn’t give him total support during his election. I must also add that the President has done some good work especially on road infrastructure. When I went to Port-Harcourt, I saw that a lot work was going on on Enugu Port-Harcourt road. I am very much impressed. I was also impressed when I went to Second Niger Bridge. I am also impressed on Enugu- Onitsha. I was happy when Akanu Ibiam Airport was awarded. There’s no doubt that he is working, but this orchestrated alienation of the Igbo in the governance structure is not healthy.
Recently President Buhari threatened the South- East (Igbo) in particular with a military action for agitating for Biafra and went to describe the South-East as a dot in a circle. What does Ohanaeze make out of this threat?
The remark of the President about Igbo being a dot in circle it is unfortunate. However, any person knows that Nigeria comprises dots. Where he comes from, Katsina, is a dot. Enugu is a dot. The Hausa are dots and the Yoruba are dots. The Fulani are dots. All these dots are microcosms that constitute the Nigeria. When you are hurting a dot it is affecting the other dots or the larger dot. So you see anybody who has done Philosophy and Social Science will not make this remark he made about the South East being a dot. There is no doubt we are a dot. I agree and there’s nothing wrong in being dot. He meant ill for the Igbo by using medieval interpretation of a dot in the circle, but the truth is without the dot, there will be no a circle.
Recently the Presidency banned Twitter and Nigerians have said the ban be rescindeded. So how does Ohanaeze view the ban?
The fact there is that when you talk about democracy, it has got to do with institutional development and tolerance. It is a dynamic process, accommodating each other, tolerating each other, tolerating circumstances, having a large heart of carrying people along. If there is a principle of tolerance evidently the Federal Government would have left Twitter because Twitter, whether we understand it or not, has become a global instrument of disseminating information. So Ohanaeze is calling on the President to rescind his decision and unban Twitter in Nigeria.
It is more than four months now that Fulani herdsmen attacked Ebonyi communities in the Ishielu Local Government Area but the security agencies have yet to arrest the assailants despite the fact that one of their phones were collected and their call logs handed over to the Vice President. Has the Federal Government done justice to the dead or do you think security agencies have compromised?
The problem is that when these Fulani herdsmen attack communities they are not prosecuted. They go about with AK-47 and they have never been prosecuted. People have been worried, complaining and you (government) will arrest them and take them to police station nothing happens. It is wrong and because of that there is a proliferation of firearms. Right now you can’t determine the number of firearms in this country. This is because the Presidency is liberal to the Fulani herdsmen. It pains me that these things are happening to Governor Umahi because he has tried as much as he can to show himself as an Igbo leader who can also have a good friendship with the North. He didn’t call for a revenge.
What is the take of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo concerning the re-arrest of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, leader of IPOB considering that his arrest was said to have violated the international rules and procedures for extradition?
Well, Ohanaeze leadership is consulting with the leaders of Ndigbo and would soon come up with its position on the arrest of Kanu.