In this interview with MAYOWA SAMUEL, the spokesperson of apex socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, Alex Ogbonnia, speaks on how the Federal Government can address the security challenges in the South East and finally restore peace. Excerpts:
Some weeks ago, Asari Dokubo, threatened Igbos while parading a rifle on social media. In another video, he urged the president to allow the South East to leave Nigeria, saying the country is better off without them. How do you react to these repeated outbursts by him against the Igbos?
A lot of the Igbo boys, youths and Nigerians are responding to him already. I don’t think it’s enough to attract the comment of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide. Ohanaeze Ndigbo is like what puts the Igbos together, we can’t bring ourselves down to Asari Dokubo, I don’t think Ohanaeze as a body can be drawn to that level. If I comment now, Asari Dokubo will begin to reply to Ohanaeze. I don’t think it deserves any attention from Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide. That’s why the president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo is not responding to him.
After he brandished the gun on social media and issued the threat, many called for his arrest for threatening the lives of some people which he did a day after he returned from the Presidential Villa. However, many say the Federal Government is turning a deaf ear because he’s an ally of the president. Are you disappointed that till now, the government has been silent about his actions?
People are calling for his arrest, but you also said the government is adamant towards it, isn’t it? It must not be Ohanaeze saying it. So, we don’t want to be drawn to his level. When it comes to that of the presidency, whether they are doing their work or not, that’s a security challenge. When it’s the appropriate time, we’ll address that issue, that’s an entirely different thing. That’s part of the security challenges in the country.
“When we said it’s the turn of the Igbos to produce the president of Nigeria, you saw what happened, deliberate efforts were made to deny Igbo that opportunity and you think they’ll be happy. Those who have suffered injustice for a long time will never be happy, except if all these areas of differences are taken care of”
The reason for the last question is that there is an Eze in Lagos who said they were going to defend themselves against attackers of their shops in Lagos. This was during the election period. But in less than 24 hours, he was arrested. If I’m not mistaken, he’s still in detention as we speak and he’s been charged to court. But it’s not the same in the case of Dokubo, who actually issued death threats. How do you see the inconsistency in the two scenarios?
A man wielded a gun but nothing happened to him but another person said he’ll defend himself, but something happened to him. Anyway, Ohanaeze in Lagos is already handling that. The refusal to arrest Asari Dokubo is part of the security challenges but at the appropriate time, it will be discussed.
Since Tinubu became president, he hasn’t mentioned anything about the detained IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu. Is this a cause for worry for Ohanaeze?
Our president, Dr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu has already made requests, and it’s one of the demands he has made to the presidency. So, we’re awaiting his response. That he hasn’t made a pronouncement about it doesn’t mean he didn’t hear it.
What about the lukewarm reaction and sitting on the fence attitude by the government of the U.K where the detained Kanu is also a citizen?
I don’t know the governance structure and modalities of the U.K. It’s not for me to know why they’ve not done anything. I am more worried about Nnamdi Kanu, every day we say it.
But Ohanaeze made an appeal to the same UK government for the former Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, seeking leniency. Why can’t Ohanaeze make a similar appeal for the UK to help wade into Kanu’s matter since he’s also their citizen?
It was an appeal, it was to the British High Commissioner. That appeal has been established, we’re awaiting their response. We’re talking about Nigeria, where a court of competent jurisdiction has released him. We’ve not done our own work, but we’re now going to begin to query the UK.
We’re saying that the one here, let’s take care of it. A court of competent jurisdiction has released Kanu, they should release him. Let’s do that one before we begin to attack the UK.
The composition of the leadership of the National Assembly witnessed Benjamin Kalu from Abia State, emerge Deputy Speaker of the Assembly. Is Ohanaeze satisfied with the South East representation in the NASS leadership?
We’ve decided not to comment on the National Assembly leadership structure. It has not attracted our attention. Remember we issued a statement that the lawmakers should vote their conscience, that we were not comfortable with the zoning but it has not attracted our comment. The way the selections were made is not abnormal in a democracy because there’s what is called consensus.
The DSS last week, made a controversial reaction to suspended CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele’s choice of Maxwell Okpara as his counsel, just because he is also a counsel for the detained IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, wondering if there was a link between Emefiele and IPOB. How do you see that comment by the DSS?
As Ohanaeze spokesman, I don’t want to be involved in unnecessary controversy. I talk when it becomes very necessary, not to begin to join issues with small people, just like when Asari Dokubo was speaking. For example, if Iwuanyanwu said that Asari Dokubo said this and that, how does that sound? I told people that they can’t draw the person of Iwuanyanwu or the spokesman of Ohanaeze into joining issues with them. We can’t afford some of these controversial things, or joining issues with them, it belittles us.
Simon Ekpa has been making sit-at-home declarations for Mondays, and residents in the South East adhere to it more out of fear, rather than in solidarity for the detained Kanu. What’s Ohanaeze doing to curb Ekpa’s excesses?
Anytime we’re able to draw the government into our view point, any time we’re able to convince the government to key into our position, it’s a major success. We’ve been able to draw the attention of the governors of the South East and they’re working hard on it. We’re in collaboration with them and they’re working.
But despite these collaboration efforts you just mentioned, these killings, occasioned by the Monday sit-at-home, still go on unabated. They even threatened to invoke sit-at-home in Lagos. These collaborative efforts that you said are working don’t look evident to many residents, don’t you think so?
We’ve condemned what he’s doing, and the governors are cooperating and working with us on that.
Before the dastardly act of the IPOB members, Governor Peter Mbah of Enugu State threatened to revoke the licenses of those who observed the sit-at-home on June 24. But on that June 24, sit-at-home enforcers killed some people in an Ebonyi market for disobeying the order. They also laid down pupils and teachers, beating them up. When residents hear these, do you think any governor can be justified to make such threats especially since there’s no security? Should they be punished for trying to avoid losing their lives and livelihood?
There are two options, and we must choose one. Either we obey the constituted authority which is the governor or the non-state actors. So, it’s like a battle line, one group must win. For me, even Simon Ekpa, wherever he is, knows that he’s doing injustice to his people to paralyze activities in the South East. Simon Ekpa knows it’s not the right thing to do and people are actually feeling the pain.
It’s either we allow it to continue or we halt it. So, what the governors are doing is to halt it. With time, we will overcome. I’m sure Simon Ekpa will not be happy that people are dying. He has an option, either to keep killing people or to stop killing his people, and I’m sure he’ll definitely take the option of no longer killing his people, but to sit and watch things like that is not the appropriate thing to do.
His stand has been for the release of Kanu which the government has refused to yield to…
But Kanu told him that he’s not supporting what he’s doing. There’s already a contradiction within the group. Powerful said Simon Ekpa, what you’re doing is not in our own interest. So, I’m sure that Ekpa must have conscience in him, to tell him that people in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu States are not happy with what he’s doing. The Nnamdi Kanu he said he’s defending is not happy with what he’s doing. So, it’s a thing of conscience. I’m sure that with time, I don’t see him continuing with what he’s doing.
What collaborations or efforts has Ohanaeze made to families of those that were killed by the sit-at-home enforcers in Ebonyi state, maybe in terms of visiting them or whatever support?
Ohanaeze is not an implementing agency, we’re a persuasive organisation. We don’t have the capacity to carry out some of these things. Assuming we were able to persuade the government to key into our philosophical framework, then our job will be almost done. If you’re talking about schools, they are owned by the government; if you’re talking about the markets, government authorities are in charge of the markets. So, the relevant authorities are the people that will step in under such circumstances, not Ohanaeze.
The main thing is for the families to know that we are on their side mentally and psychologically. By the time you condemn something, and express your sympathy to the family, then what else? We have division of labour of course, roles and responsibilities. Certain things are within the periphery of the government to carry on their assignment. We want the families to know that we’re on their side; we empathize and sympathize with them. We condemn what has happened and we’re urging the government to intervene in their difficulties and challenges. Ohanaeze has done its own work, we’re a persuasive organisation.
Last week, the court ordered the DSS to allow Nnamdi Kanu access to the doctors of his choice. What’s your take on that decision?
If you search on the internet, you’ll see where we said Kanu must not die in prison. That’s the level of our deep concern and we’re addressing the Federal Government. When we’re talking about the Federal Government, they have three arms of government. But one knows that the chief executive is in control of the whole paraphernalia of the whole government. I’m sure that if the executive decides today by giving an executive order, some of these things will change, and I’ve often made it clear that all the talk about Kanu, all the restiveness, separatist agitations and all of that, is a product, outcome, effect…the cause is somewhere.
What people are seeing happening in the South East is just an outcome, it’s an effect, what you’re seeing is manifestation. People sometimes don’t see the cause, the cause is alienation and marginalisation of the people of the South East, making it impossible and difficult, if not impossible, for them and their youths to get jobs, thereby creating a hazardous and not conducive environment to survive.
People who have Masters Degrees, when they go to Abuja to seek employment, you hear, Oh Igbo, no, because the people surrounding them are not Igbo people. So, all these selective justice, alienation and also the marginalisation of our people create a harsh environment for them over here. Because of that, you’ll see them carrying all these ignominy and indignities. Sometimes, it’s better for them to leave. That’s why we said that the issue of Kanu is no more a matter of incarceration in prison but sometimes, we should take a political and diplomatic approach. Let’s have a political solution to it, what’s the cause of this problem?
That’s why Ohanaeze asked the Federal Government to invite IPOB and seek their opinion on some of these things, just like when the people of the South South had their own issues, Yar’Adua was able to talk to them and they sorted it out. If they were able to invite people of the South South, herdsmen, Boko Haram, bandits, then why can’t they invite IPOB?
Invite them for discussion, so that we’ll be able to solve some of these things. All these agitations, restiveness and so on, is a product, manifestation and an effect, they’re not the causes in itself. Sometimes, they think it’s only Igbo but in the structure of the body, if one small finger is having a problem, definitely it will affect the whole body. Even if a mosquito bites you at one small point, you’ll realise that something has happened to you.
Some people who are limited in knowledge and experience will think that this is a South East affair, but they don’t know that it’s affecting the whole country. It’s affecting investors from outside, the psyche of investors from outside is that Nigeria is a turbulent place. So, the earlier you bring some of these things to a halt, the better, they know the cause.
When we said it’s the turn of the Igbos to produce the president of Nigeria, you saw what happened, deliberate efforts were made to deny Igbo that opportunity and you think they’ll be happy. Those who have suffered injustice for a long time will never be happy, except if all these areas of differences are taken care of.
“When you have meritocracy and mediocrity, mediocrity takes advantage over merit and competence. how do you think the system will work? Even those who came up with that policy know that they want to kill the country and of course, we can’t grow with it. That’s why we’re talking about restructuring, so that by God’s grace, with restructuring, some components will begin to work harder, begin to review themselves internally and their approach to everything”
You just recommended that the government discuss with IPOB, just like it had with Niger Delta militants, herdsmen, Boko Haram, and bandits. However, an ex Katsina SSG, Mustapha Inuwa, days ago said the money they paid to bandits was used to buy more weapons. Now, rumours swelled last week that the Federal Government was planning to scrap the amnesty program but Pa Edwin Clark urged the president to ignore that suggestion. Going by this, are you still convinced the government will agree to discuss with IPOB, despite the fact that even issues in the Niger-Delta have still not been resolved since over ten years ago after the launch of the programme and that of terrorists in the North?
Well, when you talk about governance, generally, governance has got to do with dealing with issues that arise. When you talk about governance through democratic model, it’s like trying to reconcile issues that arise. There’s what we call thesis, antithesis and synthesis. What does it imply? The people now agitating are the thesis, those opposing them are the antithesis, reconciling and coming with a consensus is the synthesis, it’s always required in any government. That’s a deliberative, consensual model of resolving crises. Definitely there’ll be conflicts, there’ll be crises, they will always come, but you must have a deliberative, consensual approach to reconciling them. That’s why the government is always there to reconcile some of these things that may arise but when you leave them, the longer it stays, the worse it becomes.
For so many years, there has been this disparity between cut off marks for schools in the North and cut off marks for schools in the South, known as quota system. In the North, you hear cut off marks as low as 2, 5, 10 and so on. But it’s a different case entirely in the South, which makes it difficult for even intelligent students in the South who score high marks to secure admission to higher schools. What has been the position of Ohanaeze regarding this?
Not only Ohanaeze, it’s the position of any sensible person. Any sensible person will know that. We are talking about merit and competence against cutting down incompetence and you think society will work? That’s the problem with Nigeria, you have your best eleven, you leave them, you also leave your second eleven, but you go and pick the third eleven and you want them to go and play against Brazil. How do you think we can win?
When you have meritocracy and mediocrity, mediocrity takes advantage over merit and competence. How do you think the system will work? Even those who came up with that policy know that they want to kill the country and of course, we can’t grow with it. That’s why we’re talking about restructuring, so that by God’s grace, with restructuring, some components will begin to work harder, begin to review themselves internally and their approach to everything.
The effect of population and economy will begin to be reviewed very closely, it will task each group to begin to review their lifestyles, that’s what restructuring is about. Definitely, there’s no way, like I tried to point out, we have merit on one side, we have mediocrity, then one will favour mediocrity over meritocracy.
So, it’s a choice for the leadership to choose between mediocrity and meritocracy. Those who are choosing mediocrity of course, they know the dangers, it’s very clear and self-evident, it doesn’t hide itself. It’s unfortunate that leaders in this country have chosen to be back pedaling because that’s a backpedalling process of nation building to introduce mediocre and incompetent people over competence and meritocracy. That’s it.