The oppression of Igbo in Nigerian state is beyond marginalization

Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, renowned estate surveyor and valuer holds a doctorate degree of the University of Cambridge and a former Secretary-General of apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo. He was also a representative on the national confab organised in 2014 by the President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. 

In this interview with Sunday Sun, he spoke on the disturbing security challenges, the suspended controversial RUGA project, the relationship of President Muhammadu Buhari and Ndigbo, the anti-corruption fight and the 2023 Igbo presidency, among other critical issues. Excerpt:

How do you feel on the spate of security challenges in the country?

This is a notorious fact because it is being handled with kid gloves and rather than address the root cause of insecurity, government is pursuing symptoms by fighting organisations that are not causing insecurity, proscribing organisations that do not pose a threat and now the El Zakzaky group. It was IPOB and now the El-Zakzaky group and the two organisations from the word go have specific representation as to their motto: non-violence. You proscribed them with your Python Dance, and they were not a threat to Nigeria. They were expressing tacit, factual, life disadvantages that they are encountering, these are disadvantages that are glaring and Ohanaeze has also been harping on it.

We use a mild word: marginalization, it’s not marginalization; it’s beyond marginalization, its large scale injustice, it’s gross neglect, etc. what we have today is deeper than marginalization. How do you flog a child and say he should not cry? When you talk they say you are supporting IPOB, we support what these groups are saying in terms of the fact that the things they are shouting about are the same things we are also shouting about in our organisation and we know it’s nothing, but the truth. Instead of addressing this issues government turns its face the other way. It is the same with this Shiites group issue.

What did the Shiites do? They said release their leader, I think the safest thing government should have done is to release their leader and even the court has given that pronouncement, yet you still held the man and the wife in detention.

Why is it that our government does not obey court rules and they are selective on the ones to obey, why? Look at what Malami, the ex-while Attorney-General saying: that they are kept for security reasons, that they are security risk. Should the executive be superior to the judiciary? Judiciary is the final scope, the buck stops with the judiciary and any pronouncement by the judiciary must be obeyed and government must obey what the judiciary has said that the man has been granted bail and government must obey that.

The government must also grant Dasuki bail, I don’t see what Dasuki has done. And if the court has given a verdict that you should release him, why disobey the court? Our president says he is fighting corruption, most of the people he is appointing as ministers now have cases with EFCC, now they have joined APC and their sins are forgiven. Is APC the law court? APC is not, it’s only a political party.

The government must be serious about insecurity and there should be a comprehensive approach in solving it if you are sincere. They know the root cause of insecurity and should address those issues rather than going after simplistic symptoms.

But what do you think is the root cause?

Dissatisfaction in the land, there is total dissatisfaction in the land. I once discussed Almajiri problem with one Prof Yadudu when we were at the National Confab 2014 and he pointedly told me that this Almajiri issue is a social problem and I agree it’s a social problem, so that should be addressed. It is now a national issue, it should not be left to the Imams, the Federal Government should strongly come in and address the issue.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan tried by building some Almajiri schools and he was condemned, but it was a step in the right direction to address the social malaise. Another cause of dissatisfaction is nepotism, it has become the hallmark of the day that people suspect that Mr President is not a Nigerian patriot. Nigerian patriotism means you should work for Nigeria not for only a section of Nigeria.

When you work for a section then you are a sectional patriot, a Nigerian patriot is a person or a Nigerian that is working for all Nigerians, doing something in the interest of all Nigerians, and it is inclusive of all Nigerians not for a section. You can see that Nigeria is worst and deeply divided today than ever in its history and what do you think is causing it?

What is your take on the RUGA controversy; although it has been suspended most people are still suspicious about its re-introduction?

The suspicion comes from the fact that the government has not been straight with the people. You can’t be saying one thing and the result is a different thing all the time. You are saying one thing and you mean another thing, people will lose faith and trust and that is the issue.

Government is not by Wayo (deception), you say one thing and be doing another thing. It is a question of trust, you earn trust, it’s not taken for granted, you cannot be running the government of deception and deceit and you expect the people to trust you. The Southeast governors and Ohanaeze have said there will be nothing like RUGA in Igbo land, it is an ill-digested concept, insensitive to the environment and timing is very elementary.

Igbo people have said no to it, that it won’t be operated in their territory, you can’t change the resolve of Ndigbo on the issue unless you are looking for something else.

So, you share in that view too?

I am 100 per cent behind Chief Nnia Nwodo (President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo), I support the submission that we don’t want RUGA operation in Igbo land. What is being presented to us as RUGA is beyond what you think it is. We are wiser now. RUGA is a gone issue for us we cannot accept it. You can’t have cattle moving around the villages, destroying farmlands, raping women and all of that, destroying our agricultural dispositions, no, we cannot accept it; it is another way of killing us slowly. When you destroy our farms from where we sustain the rural population, you have destroyed our population; we won’t allow others to destroy our people.

At what point, did the country degenerate to the situation it is at the moment?

The point of departure is President Buhari’s regime. This large scale abandonment of law and order occurred, took a new turn with the Buhari regime. This is not the first time we are having the Fulani, sometimes they have clashes too, but it was localized before, but today they are operating with reckless abandon and a group of herders or cow owners calling themselves Miyetti Allah are there boasting, encouraging and financing brigandary, making all sorts of wild, inciting statements that amount to treason and the Federal Government is looking the other way.

But Miyetti Allah still insists that RUGA settlement must go on, including in Igbo land or else…?

(Cuts in) Else what will happen? That is an empty threat. They should perish that thought, they cannot overrun Igbo land, its mission impossible, let me repeat: they cannot overrun Igbo land, they cannot!

Don’t you think they have the population to do that…?

(Cuts in) Listen, let me tell you, Britain did not even overrun Igbo land with ease then, not to think of now. You have to conquer us village by village and we are not cheap people and the Nigerian civil war showed it. It was a pyrrhic victory, by the time the war ended both sides were tired even though Nigeria won. The Fulani cannot overrun us; that thought is unthinkable and should not arise because we have outgrown such a threat.

What is your take on the Igbo and 2023 Presidency, is it feasible because the North is still insisting that it will remain in the region?

They (North) are at liberty to say that because the 1999 constitution which is the cause of most problem we are having in the recent time made it open to everybody to run, so they are legally permitted to run for it in 2023. Ndigbo are also legally permitted to run for it in 2023, so if you have to vie for it you must take positive steps towards realizing it, it is not a fait accompli, that it’s coming to us in 2023, you must take the right steps towards achieving that purpose, reaching out, appealing to the conscience of Nigerians.

You know some people are saying that except the Igbo man becomes the President of Nigeria that the war has not really ended, actually the war has ended, we were defeated, January 12, 1970, we surrendered unconditionally, now 50 years since 1970, if you want the Presidency, you must now reach out to other people, appeal to their conscience that it is high time we (Igbo) led this nation, because with our population we are major stakeholders and by our development strides in the country we are very patriotic people. We have developed nearly all parts of Nigeria, everywhere in Nigeria if you see an Igbo man there you will find one little house he has built there or a viable business he has established, showing by example that other people should also join hands to develop the country.

Igbo is a challenge to other Nigerians to act like Nigerians. Ndigbo are the only people that I can say are patriotic Nigerians, so if we want the presidency we must take positive steps towards it by canvassing, reaching out and building bridges.

Some people say the Igbo are developing other places because they do not have a place to develop in their region?

That is not true, it is perhaps thinking borne out of ignorance. Is it in terms of landmass? Is Britain bigger than Igbo land? Development does not mean building bungalows, there are high-rise buildings that will take your population, is Shanghai in China bigger than Igbo land? Mexico City that is the biggest place in American contraption, is it bigger than Igbo land? Over half of Mexico population lives there, what of London? So, it’s not a question of the land area because we have the land, but the entrepreneurial spirit of the Igbo, their nature to mix with others, to accommodate others, to explore and develop other areas make the difference.

You said the Igbo should play the right politics for the 2023 president of Igbo extraction, you think they are reaching out the way it should be?

I have seen some Igbo groups taking steps towards that, I mean reaching out and building bridges. There is the 2023 Igbo presidency group, there is Nzuko Umunna group, there is the World Igbo Assembly among other groups that are working towards it, but it’s also a political party issue because zoning was done by the political parties.

The truth is that Ndigbo do not have any home base because the Igbo people are not in the APC, it has been shown three times. In 2011, 2014/15 and 2019, Ndigbo are not in APC, Ndigbo are in PDP, therefore, the arena should be that forum and Ohanaeze is playing very good politics at the moment.

They are going with Southern Nigeria and Middle Belt, that is reaching out. Also, there is local reach out, reaching out to our brothers in the old Eastern region. I am sure a lot of reaching out is going on.

There is this thinking that the support for the PDP and rejection of Buhari has continued to affect development in Southeast states in terms of appointments and citing of projects…?

(cuts in) We have seen Buhari twice, first as Head of State, December 1983 to 1985, we saw his antecedents, he was also the Executive Secretary, PTF, the same Buhari had the same attitude against Ndigbo, he put 66 per cent of PTF funds to Northwest and 6.3 per cent in the Southeast, the records are there and you can see the bias. He did it the first time, he did it the second time and he keeps appearing he wants to be our president; we have no confidence in the person with such attitude on Ndigbo.

We didn’t see him as a Nigerian patriot, therefore, in 2011 when he came out we purposefully supported Jonathan, even before his own people because it wasn’t the Ijaw tribe that was the issue, it was who was pitched against him. So, led by Ambassador Uwechue, I also took part in it, we did not vote for Buhari. In 2014/15, I was at the helm of affairs as Secretary-General and we unequivocally asked Ndigbo to vote for Jonathan because we knew Buhari mindset, his antecedents, and if you look at it now, we have been vindicated. I would have thought by now he would have tried to placate Igbo people, but as usual, you will always see his hatred for Ndigbo. You can see that there was no difference between the 2015 and 2019 results. All Buhari actions indicate his disdain for Ndigbo and he has never hidden it.

So, you don’t have any regrets voting whom you voted for?

On December 2016, just before I left office as the secretary-general of Ohanaeze, I granted an interview to The Sun, your paper, and it was in the front page where I said: No regrets voting Jonathan, even the Nation newspaper also carried it.

But the consequence of that action is still being reflected on the appointments given to the Southeast region or you don’t think so? 

We still get our constitutionally-provided appointments, but you remember his 95 and seven per cent voting pattern theory in his speech at Washington that is what was executed. Don’t you see how the security/service chiefs are appointed from a particular region? Listen, nepotism is corruption, it is anti-state, anti-nation.

The president of Nigeria should be a president for all of us, all regions, all Nigerians and we expect to be treated as such, but when you are treated equally like some other Nigerians we cry out, there should be justice and without justice, you sacrifice peace that is why you are getting this uproar. We are asking the president to treat us like other Nigerians, finish.

What is the plan for the appointment of next Ohanaeze president after Chief Nnia Nwodo?

After Chief Nwodo it will be the turn of Imo State to produce the president-general according to Ohanaeze constitution and that will be in 2021 when Nwodo tenure will end.

Let’s move down to Imo State governance and Governor Emeka Ihedioha trying to recover certain things from previous government?

Governor Ihedioha is not trying to recover anything from anybody. EFCC is an autonomous organisation it should not be politicized. Ihedioha is governor of Imo State, voted for by the people as pronounced by INEC, the supervisory body for elections, there should be no politicization of EFCC, EFCC is not part of Imo government. It is not our state alone that EFCC is tackling; after all, you see what EFCC is doing to Governor Goje.

EFCC was after him until he joined the APC, there are so many governors who are ministers now whose cases are in court, but that is a topic for another interview. So, let nobody misinterpret what is happening in Imo to say the governor is after anybody, it is the EFCC and the institution is not part of Imo government. I should advise Ndi-Imo that there is so much rancor in the state, they should settle, get behind their current government and help him clean up whatever they think is wrong. It’s time to see if we can move Imo State forward, there is so much altercation and we cannot be claiming that we are highly educated state and remain the way we are.

What is your impression about the past regime in your state, Imo?

Well, Rochas won the election in 2011, the people voted for him against Ikedi Ohakim, fine, whatever he has done or not done is as a result of people voting for him in 2011 because by that voting they breached the voting system which would have allowed Okigwe to produce a governor for Imo State. So, let what has happened be.

How will you assess the corruption crusade of this President Buhari-led government?

I don’t think there is a headway against corruption. It is the more you look the less you see. That is my view.

(The Sun)