The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex socio-political organisation of the Igbo, Chuks Ibegbu, speaks to IHUOMA CHIEDOZIE on issues surrounding the quit ultimatum given to Igbo by the northern youths
What is Ohanaeze’s position on the ultimatum given to the Igbo to leave the North?
Ohanaeze believes in the rule of law, Ohanaeze has advised the security agencies to do their job. It is their duty to protect lives and property. So, they should ensure that nothing happens to the Igbo living in the North. Ohanaeze has called on the Igbo in the North to go about their normal activities and to be law-abiding. Ohanaeze however advised that they should be vigilant. Ohanaeze has also called on northern leaders to caution their youths. Ohanaeze has equally asked the Federal Government to address the situation.
Is Ohanaeze impressed with the response of northern leaders and the Federal Government to this ultimatum?
The Arewa Consultative Forum has, through its publicity secretary, condemned the action of the northern youths but we want the ACF to go beyond condemnation. There has to be practical steps to tackle this matter beyond press statements. It is quite interesting to note that the young men have continued to make threats despite the outrage expressed in several sections of the country over their action. This suggests that maybe they have elders who are prodding them. In the same vein, the Federal Government has also condemned the action and said it will arrest the youths who issued the ultimatum. But we are surprised and disappointed that, so far, those youths have not been apprehended. Rather, they are still going about, issuing more threats. It is unfortunate and disappointing that the Federal Government has not been able to arrest these unruly youths.
Leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, was arrested and charged with treason for calling for secession. Don’t you think that the action of the northern groups is similar to Kanu’s?
This is a similar offence. In fact, these northern youths have committed a worse offence. They accused Nnamdi Kanu of calling for secession. These northern groups are also calling for secession. They want the North to secede. They have asked the Igbo in the North to leave, and they are asking northerners in the South-East to leave. They are simply plotting the disintegration of the country. Nnamdi Kanu never asked northerners in the East to leave. He was only talking about self-determination, which he has the right to aspire to under international laws. The question every Nigerian should ask the Federal Government is, how come you clamped Nnamdi Kanu in detention for calling for self-determination, but you have not arrested these northern youths who are promoting secession?
Is Ohanaeze asking the Federal Government to treat the northern youths the same way it treated Nnamdi Kanu?
Of course! That is the only way the government can convince Nigerians that there is justice, equity and fair play in this country. The authorities know that these northern youths are calling for secession. The Federal Government should arrest them and also charge them with treason. That is what we expect the Federal Government to do.
You said the northern youths were sponsored.
That is obvious. About three days after making the threat, despite outrage expressed across the country, they are still holding meetings, issuing more threats. Are the security agencies not seeing the youths holding meetings? They are not ghosts; surely the security agencies should have access to the venue of their meetings. How come none of them have been arrested? What is giving them the confidence to continue to issue threats?
Will Ohanaeze recommend similar quit ultimatum to northerners in the South-East?
No! The Igbo are too sophisticated to engage in such behaviour. We will never ask the northerners to leave. They are welcome and nobody will molest them in the South-East. The Igbo have never asked their visitors to leave. In fact, we are encouraging the northerners in the South-East to expand their businesses, build factories and prosper as much as possible. Come to think of it, the Igbo have always been hospitable – the first Mayor of Enugu, Mallam Umoru Altine, was a northerner. Don’t forget that northerners have been doing business in the South-East for centuries; nobody molested them. The Igbo are very hospitable and we can’t change because of this provocation. If the northern youths should ask their elders questions, they will learn that Igbos contributed immensely to the development of the North. In the 1930s, the Igbo unions set up schools in the North. Majority of the current crop of northern intelligentsia are beneficiaries of those schools set up by Igbo unions in the North. The North owes a debt of gratitude to the Igbo. Instead, they are repaying us with ingratitude and threats. But Igbos will not be provoked into taking similar steps against northerners that are living in the South-East.
How does the Ohanaeze want this crisis to be resolved?
We expect the leaders of the North to call their boys to order – they should summon them. Also, we expect northern leaders to reach out to the Igbo, in order to mend fences. They should take practical steps to resolve this problem. We expect the Federal Government to be more practical in handling this matter. This development is a clear indication that all is not well with Nigeria’s current structure and that is why we are insisting on restructuring. If the country is restructured, there will be no need for any section of the country to issue such threats to another section. We should not forget that agitations for separation are not peculiar to the Igbo alone. The funny thing is that, even as we speak, the North is faced with the problem of a violent quest for secession, which is being championed by the Boko Haram sect. Boko Haram’s demand for Islamic rule in the North is another form of agitation for secession.
Unfortunately, the northerners are only interested in IPOB and MASSOB, two non-violent groups who are have not hurt anybody in their activities – unlike Boko Haram insurgents, who have killed and maimed thousands of Nigerians. The threat of secession started with the North. In 1950, during the Ibadan conference, the North threatened to secede if not given half of the seats in parliament. Also, after the counter-coup in 1966, the North threatened to secede until they were assured that power is now in their hands. There has also been agitation for Oduduwa Republic in the South-West, as well as the Egbesu movement in the South-South. Agitation for self-determination is present in all parts of the country, not only the South-East. But Ohanaeze, as a body, is not in support of secession. The Igbo are landlords in Nigeria. The Igbo cannot leave this country for anybody. The landlord cannot leave his house for tenants.
So Ohanaeze is not in agreement with Nnamdi Kanu’s ideas, particularly his call for secession?
Ohanaeze believes more in a restructured Nigeria; a Nigeria that has a level playing field for all sections of the country; a Nigeria that gives each part of the country a sense of belonging. For example, in a country of 36 states, the South-East has five states and 95 local governments; while Kano State alone has 44 local governments. The other time, we saw the statistics of recruitment in the Department of State Services with Katsina State alone having 51 allocations. Yet, we have the Federal Character Commission. We want the FCC to investigate the recent recruitment in the DSS. Abia State got only six allocations; Enugu State, six; Katsina, the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari, got 51 slots. These are the sort of issues that elicit agitations. When there is no level playing ground, do you think people will keep quiet? Abia State alone produces more graduates than 10 states in the North combined, yet you gave them only seven opportunities and gave Katsina 51. We are not saying Nigeria should be divided, but the issues these young men are talking about should be addressed. Instead, it seems they want people like Nnamdi Kanu to shut up without addressing the issues, judging by the bail conditions (they gave him).
So you feel the bail conditions were an attempt to sweep these issues under the carpet?
Obviously; that is what is happening. They want to sweep fundamental issues under the carpet.
What are these fundamental issues?
Forget about the issue of secession or no secession; the fundamental issue we are talking about is restructuring of the country. There is the need to look into the more than 200 recommendations in the 2014 Confab report. Restructuring is the only solution to the problems of the country. With restructuring, even the issue of corruption would be addressed. What generates corruption? When the system is suffocating people, when the system is not properly arranged, people will be stealing here and there. You cannot stop corruption by force. Even the issue of lopsided appointments is corruption. We have to address the fundamental issues.
Are you saying that the agitation for Biafra will go away once these fundamental issues are taken care of?
Of course! Nobody agitates when there is no need for agitation. When there is a level playing field for all sections of the country; when there are jobs for the youths, there will not be any need for agitation. But when there is no level playing ground, when youth don’t have jobs, when you don’t know where the next meal will come from, when infrastructure in some particular parts of the country are in dilapidated condition, there will be agitation. Look at the problem of militancy in the Niger Delta for example, as soon as the Federal Government introduced amnesty, the issue was addressed to a large extent. That same type of thing should be done for the South-East, and the agitation will no longer be there. But that does not mean that there will not be some individuals who would still want to be on their own. Self-determination is an internationally accepted norm. The fact that you do all these things does not mean some people would not wish to be on their own. But you don’t have to mow them down because of that. It is just like marriage; when one of the parties involved say, ‘I don’t want to marry again,’ you do not kill him or her, you dialogue; you discuss and find a way around it. It is compromise; it is not by force.
What is the position of Ohanaeze on the bail conditions given to Nnamdi Kanu by the court?
The President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Barrister Nnia Nwodo, has already stated the position of Ohanaeze on Kanu’s bail conditions. I will only reinforce what he said by re-emphasising that the bail conditions are too stringent and unacceptable to Ohanaeze. Such conditions have not been given in the history of this country. Even when Chief Obafemi Awolowo was tried for treason, he was not given such conditions. It was as if the court gave him some concessions with one hand and took it back with the other hand. We feel that the conditions are unacceptable. Ohanaeze is prepared to take it up through appropriate judicial process. We are not living in a banana republic. We live in a country guided by the judicial process and the rule of law. Whatever Nnamdi Kanu is accused of, if you are granting him bail, you cannot in the same process violate his fundamental human rights. The conditions clearly violated his freedom of association, freedom of speech and freedom of movement. You cannot restrict him when you have not convicted him. It is only when you convict him that you can talk about some of these stringent measures.
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