‘North holds the key to Igbo presidency in 2023’

Immediate past Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nworgu, in this interview with Southeast Bureau Chief, LAWRENCE NJOKU, examines the relationship between President Muhammadu Buhari and Southeast among other national issues.

How would you describe President Buhari’s stance towards Southeast in the past four years in relation to your earlier position that his presidency won’t serve the interest of Ndigbo?
Four years ago, I was Secretary-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and I recall making public statements on how best it suited the Igbo and I did not factor President Buhari into it. I had followed President Buhari when he was head of state in 1983 through 1985, when he took power from the civil administration. He accused them of corruption, reined in most politicians of that era, 1979 to 1983, into prison.

Alex Ekwueme, who was vice president, with no constitutional powers or authority, was taken to prison, while the president, Shehu Shagari, was kept under house arrest in his house. Ekwueme was being looked up to take over the presidency in 1987.

In fact, that coup of Buhari is suspected to be aimed at preventing Ekwueme, an Igbo man from taking over from Shagari because Shagari had just won his second term. It was projected that after his eight years, power would come south and his deputy, Ekwueme, would take over. This was Buhari for us.

After the coup, when the head of state, Abacha, started the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), he made Buhari the Executive Secretary. If you analyze the activities of PTF, you would find out that 66.9 per cent of PTF expenditure went to the North West (Buhari’s zone). We of Southeast got 6.3 percent. This tendency is what we analyzed and said if this is his attitude, his leading anything will not be in Igbo interest and these are the antecedents we projected and said, ‘no; this type of person who has this mindset cannot serve Igbo interests and we have been vindicated.’

In 2011, the then Ohanaeze led by Ambassador Ralph Uwaechue led the Igbo nation to vote for Jonathan. 2015, I was then Secretary-General; we repeated what we did in 2011. We voted Jonathan unconditionally.

Beyond voting for Jonathan, we were looking for an Eastern bond to rectify whatever perception people had about what happened in 1953 when Nnamdi Azikiwe, coming back from the Yoruba debacle, unseated the minority person who was head of government business, Prof. Eyo Ita, and from that time, there had been a gap between the Igbo and the minority groups, especially Calabar and Akwa Ibom block.

So, we reasoned that voting an Ijaw person and a minority, unconditionally and equivocally, will help cure this lacuna and the result on the ground is positive. We are now working a little more harmoniously with our brothers from South-South. I should have thought that President Buhari, having seen the way we voted, should not have used his 97 per cent and five per cent theory. But that was what is on the ground. Nobody can pinpoint anything that has occurred in Igboland since he assumed office.

Are they in roads, basic industry, airport; politics is being played with the second Niger Bridge? I can’t judge him in the positive in terms of his performance here. I have not seen any new thing he has done that should endear him to Ndigbo. He has failed us just like I said and I don’t see him changing in his second term.

But has the snag always been that Ndigbo does not like Buhari?
It is not whether we like him or not. We are in opposition and that is part of democracy. We don’t need to assure him of anything. It does not mean that because he has won the election, all of us should start following him; that is not so. There must be principles. The Liberal Party in England has very few members, yet they have remained there. Everybody needs not to be at the same party. You can’t take up a group and said because they did not vote for you then you won’t do anything for them.

So, our views about him have not changed. He has appointed ministers and retained some of them from Igbo based on their performance. Once you have won an election, you become the president for everybody. Take the countries we are calling democratic countries; will a democratic president say because the Republican people did not vote for him, hence anything for the Republican states? That is not democracy. You win an election; some people are in opposition. The opposition is part of democracy. See Britain, where I’m conversant with – the Conservatives and Labour – they interchange governance. It will be a poor perception to say that only the people who voted for me that I should attend to.

How do you feel about the growing insecurity in the country?
It is going from bad to worse and the government has a lot of blame. It is a lack of adequate response to the insecurity that is encouraging some people to act lawlessly. Let us take the Boko Haram, for example. The government told us long ago that they had been technically defeated, but a few days ago, Boko Haram attacked people in Maiduguri and the town is in fear. What this means is that they have not been defeated. The other threat is from Miyetti Allah and their cowboys are known as herders. You can see that they are attacking every part of the country and the government has not made any categorical statement concerning their activities.

These people are carrying AK-47 roaming around the country and nobody has tried to dislodge them even as they are unlawful. They kill, they maim, they rape and not a single person has been apprehended and the people are living in fear. They are protected and therefore can do anything they want to do. That is the fault of the government and it shouldn’t be so.

Another cause is unfairness in the body polity, which has continued to generate agitations. When a government is perceived to be biased against a particular person, some of the people might react. As at now, it is very clear that some people are reacting. People have also been calling for a national dialogue to discuss our relationship, but those that the present structure favours are saying no. Majority of Nigerians want the 2014 confab reports implemented. The first statement made by Buhari on it is that it will be thrown to the trash, but he is a stakeholder as all of us are stakeholders in this federation and our own views should be heard and respected. That report should be tabled to the Senate because it is not stale and not time-barred. It contains decisions by some of the best brains in Nigeria drawn from the various zones, religions and ethnic groups in the country. Buhari should implement it to reduce tension in the country.

What is your take on the controversial Ruga settlement?
There is nothing like Ruga settlement. Herdsmen led by Miyetti Allah are just a trade union for cattle owners. Is there any settlement for motor spare parts dealers? Is there any settlement for cocoa farmers? Do you think the land the Yoruba use for their cocoa is enough for them? There is no inch of Nigerian land without an owner. Every land in Nigeria is owned.

The concept of ownership is deeply based on jurisprudence and there is a gross misconception about the ownership of land both by government and citizenry. The concept is vital; there can be concurrent ownership of the same piece of land, known as the theory of proprietary land unit. It is a lack of understanding of ownership that is making the Land Use Decree to be misinterpreted.

The governor is holding land in trust for the people of that state and this does not make him the owner of that land. The governor cannot walk into any land and take it. This was handled during the 2014 confab and the recommendation of that confab on the Land Use Act should be looked at by those in government to comprehend what it entails.

The way reactions are made in this country has continued to escalate insecurity. Some groups have become virtually lawless, talking anyhow and nobody is reining them in as a group. They are heightening insecurity by talking anyhow, boasting that their position, especially on Ruga, must be implemented, but on whose father’s land? The Southeast governors have said, ‘no’; Yoruba has said, ‘no’; Delta, Middle Belt, and South-South have all said, ‘no’. So how are they going to implement it, excerpt taking actions that call for resistance?

Is there any difference between this Ruga settlement and Ranching?
They are two different things. Before the war, Eastern Nigeria had a ranch in Obudu. It is a different thing altogether. This Ruga thing means a settlement and the Federal Government will use ‘our’ monies to establish a brand new settlement just for a group of persons because they are from the president’s tribe. There can’t be Federal Government expenditure on private business that has ethnic dominance, colouration. If you say motor parts business, Igbo are dominant in it and if you say the financial group, the Yoruba are dominant, just as the Hausa/Fulani before the war were dominant in groundnut production. So you cannot transplant somebody’s business all over the country.

Some northern leaders are beginning to tie their support to the Igbo presidency in 2023 to their (Igbo) acceptance of Ruga settlement programme? How do you react to that?

I’m not speaking for Igbo because I’m no longer Secretary General of Ohanaeze. So, I can only echo what the governors have said. They have said that Ndigbo does not want Ruga. Tying anything to 2023 has no meaning whatsoever. We are not really interested in 2023; we are more interested in restructuring this country. 2023 is a distraction. Our position is that the country has to be restructured and that there must be equity, fairness, law, and order. These are core values that the Igbo are pushing for – justice for everybody and a clement environment for all Nigerians to realise their potential.

The compelling factor or force that can make Igbo realise the presidency lies with the north based on the 1999 constitution and that is why we are calling for restructuring. That constitution was written for them by them and for themselves. So when Abdulsalam Abubakar is calling for peace, you will begin to wonder how, when he is the architect of that constitution. He passed it. That is the cause of the entire fracas in the country. Let us have a brand new constitution comprising all components in the interest of Nigeria. We can go back to the 1960 constitution but it will not be the way it was then. We must have a flexible constitution that accommodates all shades of opinion.

Southeast governors are experimenting with Forest Guards to check rising insecurity in the zone. How feasible is that?
There used to be Forest Guards even before the war. It is a type of overseer to what is happening in the forest zone to prevent fire and to protect endangered animals. You won’t have people killing elephants for their tusks, which is among the endangered animals.

The aim is to ensure that there are law and order with happenings around there, which is a very welcomed thing and it should be done immediately. It should be a collective thing because if one state’s boarder is not secured, it will affect the other and that is why I’m happy that it is Southeast governors that are pushing it. It should be done immediately because the environment is really tensed and it has to be doused immediately. There is fear, hatred, and any little thing that can spread danger through rumours and gossips.

What is your perception of current Ohanaeze leadership so far?
I will, first of all, give kudos to Nnia Nwodo for standing on the path that we have been moving since 1994. During the 1994 conference led by Chukwuemeka Ojukwu and Ekwueme, Igbo stood for restructuring. In 2001, we repeated restructuring. In 2005, we repeated restructuring.

In 2014, the document we went to confab with repeated restructuring and that is where Ohanaeze has always stood. For the result of 2014 events, a synergy was established from that conference between Ohanaeze, Pan-DEF, Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum and that synergy has been built upon to the present stage where they can now issue joint statements. Nnia has sustained it. Ohanaeze has represented Igbo interest and I’m 100 percent behind Nnia Nwodo.

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