As the Igbo are clamouring to produce the president of Nigeria in 2023, the President of Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), Professor Uzodinma Nwala, has expressed his doubt over its possibility.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the ADF president said: “I know the people we are dealing with, so I have my doubt. They feel they have conquered the whole territory; what is it in sharing power with anybody, or surrendering it to anybody. That is the situation.”
Nigeria faces challenges on all fronts, what gave rise to all these?
We have been in this mess for long. It didn’t start today; it is part of the history of this country, part of the processes of the making of this country. So, there is no way you can just look at it from the surface, you have to be a student of Nigerian history, a student of the colonial history of Nigeria, the post independence period of Nigeria and the history of the nationalists. Over and above all, you have to be a student of political history and political ideology.
What is Nigeria? We say it is a federation. A federation of what? It is a federation of nationalities. Europeans referred to them as ‘tribe’ but the more modern concept is ‘nation’ – Yoruba nation, Igbo nation, Hausa nation, Fulani nation, Ibibio nation, etc. Nations are people of different languages and different cultures with internal variations. We should ask God why He created human beings in various socio-cultural types- one is a Yoruba, the other Igbo, the other is Ijaw, etc. These are the primary groupings of human beings according to nature. You can’t create a political state outside these human groupings; bringing one or two groups together without having deeply embedded internal contradictions. Even in a purely national setting, where you have one nation state and one language, there are internal differences, but it is not as acute as the one you have in Nigeria. Nigeria is a multi-national state; you can’t just bring together artificially as the British did and expect that you have peace and self development, or you bring them together and hand them over to one overlord, the Fulani and expect to have peace, no. We want growth as much as possible. Europeans were in our situation before when they had multi ethnic empires thriving upon crises, but today European nations have settled down to their nations – nation states. France is one nation, people of one language one culture; Spain in one nation, England is one nation, Germany is one nation and that is why you have stability there. They are now coming together to form federations, strong unions – what you call, European Union, a union of equals. It doesn’t matter your population and union of free people and union based on self-determination that any of them can walk out tomorrow, just like British has walked out. When you look at Great Britain itself, which is the only surviving so- called federation, what do you have? The same federation in name, the same Great Britain in name because of the army they put together etc; Wales is as independent as Scotland; Scotland is as independent as England and gradually they are moving to full autonomous political existence. Each of them is recognized in World Cup as a nation.
This is the problem; Nigeria is an artificial multi-national federation, not put together by the will of the people, but to suit European interests and later on to suit British-Fulani interest of managing a conquered people. That is the problem you have.
You have identified the genesis of the problem, then how do we resolve it?
There is a booklet published by Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), people refer to it as the Green Book. There is no other work that can rival it in terms of telling you and others within this wobbling federation the way forward. It is a memorandum for everybody.
For the Igbo, the way out is to organize themselves as a nation state with full political autonomy in control of their security, police and other intelligence forces, in control of their economy, in control of their judicial system. A situation where you flood Igbo land with Fulani magistrates and judges is an artificial situation, which means that Igbo are slaves; a situation where you have Fulani soldiers, Fulani policemen hovering around and harassing everybody in the streets of Igbo land is an artificial state, and you can’t have stability in that kind of situation.
Even when you talk of Biafra, which has become the thrill of the people because of their search for freedom, Biafra is a multi-national entity, Ojukwu brought together at that time. Even in the old Eastern Nigeria made up of Biafra, there were serious contradictions. The Efik were struggling to assert themselves, likewise the Ibibio; the Ijaw were trying to assert themselves. All of them had their heroes; they were not ready to subject themselves to full manipulation and control of the Igbo. One contradiction that tells you the nature of Eastern Nigeria / Biafra as a multi-national state is what happened when Zik had problem in Yoruba land. Because he was not a Yoruba, Yoruba nationalism swept him away from power. When he came back, the Igbo, the dominant group in Eastern Nigeria had to push out Eyo Eta to have Azikiwe take his place. This is the part of the sin we are suffering today; why the Efik people nurse internal anger against the Igbo. The Efik should be on their own as a nation, the Ijaw should be on their own as a nation, and if we all want to come together in a union like the Europeans have done, we come together, sit down and agree on the terms and make sure that each nation has its own internal autonomy. This is the way the world is going. East Africa dissolved into separate nation states. Unless we get this lesson clear we will continue deceiving and fooling ourselves. Since we formed Alaigbo Development Foundation, our interest is Igbo nation, and then how Igbo nation relates with her neighbours.
How will what you have stated come about?
It will not come about through struggling. It will come about through the kind of struggles raging now at various levels of the Nigerian federation. The Igbo must have to ensure that they have internal solidarity to protect and defend themselves. That is the message of ADF agenda, what we are fighting for.
Unfortunately, in a situation where you have an ethnic nation dominated by another nation, you always have internal agents working not for the interests of their people, but for the interests of their overlords, and the Fulani are very good in that kind of manipulation of other people under their domination. This is why they have installed many people in Alaigbo who serve as their agents. But those people are like oil hanging on top of water; they are not deep rooted in the mind and spirit of our people. Let’s continue with what ADF is doing; to build a very powerful ideological political base; a movement to move Igbo nation and make these other agents irrelevant in our society. That is the way forward and as we go, we continue to maintain the struggle and tell Buhari and the Fulani, ‘you cannot lord it over us’.
In terms of security challenges confronting us now, we must find the best way to hold them back. We may not have the same armament to face them face to face, but there are strategic ways we can overcome them. Already there are internal crises, other ethnic nations are waking up and within them there are also internal crises. ADF is working to ensure that Igbo nation has a future, having internal strength, global presence and global respectability.
You have mentioned security. Early this year, when the Southwest came up with Amotekun, most people in the Southeast applauded it and said it was the way to go for the region. The governors said they were going to do something in that direction, but later started hobnobbing with the IGP on community policing that would still be taking orders from Abuja. However, recently, we heard of Eastern Security Network (ESN), allegedly set up by IPOB, but the governors have condemned it. What is your position on this?
Let me tell you something, nature abhors vacum. That is what we teach in physics. You must have read my statement when I resigned from the Security Committee of the Southeast, for the same reason that the governors are not sincere. If they were sincere, we wouldn’t have the kind of situation we have now. You should know how many of our youths are allegedly being killed every day and the many that have been allegedly abducted and sent to the North and other places. You knew what happened in Emene, Enugu State and what happened the other time in Obigbo, Rivers State. These are the kind of things we are suffering because our governors have continued to hobnob with the enemy and refuse to serve the interests of their people.
Let’s come to what Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB are doing. Security, even within the present Nigerian federation has many layers. There is a level of security challenge in Nigeria, which falls on the laps of the government of the federation. There is also a level that falls on the laps of the regions – in the North, there is what they call, Hisbah for maintaining their internal security. The Yoruba nation has set up Amotekun, which is regional and is perfectly justified.
We in the South East due to pressure from ADF and other organizations forced our governors to work with us set up similar regional security architecture, but our governors later sabotaged it.
There is also a level of security challenge, which falls on the laps of various individual states. There are things various states can do to protect their people. There is an existing anti-open grazing law in Imo State enacted during the time of Chief Udenwa as governor of the state.
ADF, through its Legal Bureau headed by Barristers Max Onyeukwu and Max Ozoaka had prepared an Anti-Open Grazing Bill, which was forwarded to all the seven states in the Igbo speaking areas of Nigeria. Up till today, that Bill is yet to be passed. Here we cannot blame the Federal Government. Our governors and the legislature are to blame. But it is a serious matter. What could be more important for any government than the security of its people?
There are also levels of security that fall within communities. I remember when I was a child, in my community we have community guards, the women also made sure that their farms were protected. Communities have rules to make sure that certain animals are not let loose to graze freely and destroy our crops; certain animals are tethered and if any animal is found in farms, the women or the youth will arrest it and the owner would pay before it is released. Communities also have communal laws to deal with miscreants and thieves, and within such context, they don’t depend on the federal government, and they don’t depend on the state government to protect their communities.
Even today, when you talk of the Fulani herdsmen harassing people in their farms, it is not only that the federal government is backing them, but the state government can do a lot to protect their people.
Where the states fail to do their work of securing their people, the various communities can protect their farms. It is their fundamental duty and right to do so. And they can do a lot to protect their farms. In addition, various organizations of women, youth, Civil Society Organizations equally have a duty and right to organize for the protection of their people as much as is within their power. The right of self-defence is a fundamental right that should not be tampered with by any government, unless it is a government operating as an army of occupation.
That is what ADF has been preaching. We have stated this position in several documents issued singly as well as jointly with other organizations.
ADF is therefore launching what is called, Akurulo Cooperative Movement (ACM). We want to make sure that our youths are organized to farm and produce food in their own lands; we are making sure that we are not going to depend on the North for yam, tomatoes, onions, pepper, etc. Ironically, even cassava is being brought from the North. What a shame! When some years ago, our women were exporting cassava to the North, onions and tomatoes to the North, but now it is the other way. We are going to address insecurity through farming. If the youths engage in farming, they will not allow anybody to stray into their farms; they will protect their farms, they have self-defence instruments, whether you call it gun, knife, machete, bow and arrow or catapult. That is the way to go.
There is nothing wrong with organised groups setting up their own security organization to help protect their people who appear to be abandoned. So, if it is what Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB or MASSOB are doing to help our people, so well and good, provided it is not an adventurous exercise. They should show themselves as serious group not just a media outfit. I don’t see meaningful defence group advertising themselves like a circus show; they should be more serious. We don’t want the Afra-Ukwu incident to repeat itself. ADF is still in court challenging the Python Dance horrors, which consumed several of our innocent youths. We must be very strategic in addressing our security challenges and avoid suicide mission.
In a matter of days, Ohanaeze will hold its election, and this has generated so much acrimony and rancor unlike in the past, do you see that organisation still being credible after the election?
First and foremost, Ohanaeze cannot be more credible than it can be whether you have crisis of election or not. We have always said that our people have a very idealistic idea of Ohanaeze. We invest much power theoretically on Ohanaeze than is practically possible under the existing circumstances. We should throw our minds back to the origins of town unions and federations of town unions, the process that produced Igbo State Union. Igbo State Union was structured and had very strong root in various communities, in the various areas where Ndigbo lived. Igbo State Union was an arm of the anti-colonial struggle.
The leaders were doing all they could to resist colonialism; they were doing all they could to lay the foundation of modernity – schools, hospitals, colleges, etc; they were responsible for that. They were working hand in hand with the political authority led by Azikiwe and others, but they were also guiding him and the other leaders, giving them advice.
An example was when Zik tried to remove Michael Okpara from the Cabinet, Z. C. Obi, President of ISU and his men went to him and told him not to do that as it would create problem for them. If we have problem in Ohafia area, it would spill into Arochukwu, Calabar, etc. Zik listened to them, and they went and advised Okpara in the same way. They moderated that and it was what saved Okpara, otherwise Zik had already thrown him away. Our town unions had that kind of moderating influence.
Ohanaeze is meant to serve as our Nzuko Amala ( village or community meeting), where all interest-groups meet to discuss and plan for the common good, where everybody comes together, the elders, youths, various organized groups and bring their ideas on the table, age grades bring their ideas on the table, women bring their ideas, churches bring their own ideas and they discuss and agree on what should be done to help the community, and empower the various groups to play their roles.
But unfortunately, the Igbo State Union (ISU) was smashed after the war because it provided Ndigbo the strength during the war. So after the war, we were left rudderless. Then the same man, whose life also was mixed with the original formation that brought together Ndigbo, and energized Igbo unions into Igbo State Union, I mean Dr Akanu Ibiam, started again to revive the Igbo Town Unions, but this time, gave it the name, Ohanaeze.
Since that time, there has been a struggle between Ohanaeze trying to play the role and recreate the image of the Igbo State Union on the one hand and the federal forces wanting to erode and control it. To worsen matter, the ambition of the governors has become a very menacing factor eroding and rendering Ohanaeze rudderless and ineffective. This is what Ohanaeze is suffering today. You can’t have an Ohanaeze that the federal government will not try to control. But what is happening now looks like we are coming to a watershed. This election may help us retrieve Ohanaeze to the point that it will serve general purpose for Ndigbo.
Having said all these, I must remind us that it is a misconception to think that Ohanaeze is everything and everybody must work within its structures to be effective. It is important to compare Ohanaeze with similar socio-cultural groups in the North – Arewa; in the West – Afenifere; in the South South – PANDEF, etc. Let’s take the North, apart from the Arewa Consultative Forum or even the Northern Elders Forum, there is the Arewa Research and Development Foundation, Myetti Allah, Boko Haram etc. The Arewa Consultative Forum has always respected and worked with the other formations they have in their region.
Therefore, to think that Ndigbo do not need for example the ADF is a very politically immature way of looking at the social forces and their roles in the struggle in the Federation. Ohanaeze cannot replace Ndigbo Lagos; it cannot replace Aka Ikenga. It cannot even replace the different social media platforms like Nzuko Umunna or Igbo Intelligentsia in so far as they endeavor to play some patriotic role in our struggle.
Yes, Ohanaeze cannot replace the various dynamic organized forces in Alaigbo – it cannot replace organized lawyers, teachers, women and youth organizations, etc. These are various power centers, not controlled by Ohanaeze.
The predicament of Ohanaeze today stems from a fierce struggle between forces that want to organize it on behalf of the people and forces that want to control it to continue dominating Alaigbo. There was suspicion that Nwodo’s election was masterminded at the time the Sultan of Sokoto visited Enugu shortly before the election. People did point out that after Chief Nwodo’s election, his first exercise was to go to the North to thank them and then to represent Gen. Adulsalami Abubakar at a programme in Kaduna. And this was after he had received congratulatory messages from several Northern leaders.
Some are even suspecting that they have set the stage in motion for a particular candidate to be elected as the president general of Ohanaeze. We are watching out how this election plays out, whether it plays out positively or negatively. We are watching to see whether the present struggle to reclaim Ohanaeze is going to succeed or not; whether Ohanaeze will survive and remain relevant or just leave us with a carcass called Ohanaeze Ndigbo. ADF is going to maintain its own; we are going to continue to drive the Igbo Agenda as contained in the ADF manifesto and to see whether we can achieve what the Jews intelligentsia did when they were in our position. ADF does not wish to replace Ohaneaze, but shall continue to ensure that if Ohanaeze must be, then we must have an Ohanaeze that plays a positive role in the Igbo liberation from the terrible situation we are today in Nigeria and in the world at large.
Restructuring of the country, president of Igbo extraction in 2023 and self-determination; of these three which do you think will serve Igbo best short term and long term?
The three, restructuring of Nigeria, president of Igbo extraction in 2023 and self-determination can go together. They are not mutually exclusive. ADF has advocated that the road to peace and development for the various peoples in the Nigerian federation was to ensure that the various nationalities are recognized and allowed to exist as autonomous regions with their own separate and autonomous legislature, judiciary, control over her resources, foreign diplomatic relations, etc. If we move along that trajectory, we are moving along the trajectory of restructuring; we are moving along the trajectory of self-determination and we are moving along the trajectory of president of Igbo extraction. If we have autonomous regions that relate to other regions on the basis of equity and equality, we will be able to define how we share power, especially on items that cannot be shared individually like the presidency. Have you heard of the Arabia Peninsula federation, which is made up of autonomous regions, big and small? Each has control of its own army, judiciary, eternal relations, etc.
But they have a central government that brings them together. The head of it is rotated among them on a regular automatic basis. Any one unit, even if it is 200,000 people, gets a slot against any other unit that may be 10 million people. This is the arrangement we should be aiming at if we wish to live together. Even under such an arrangement, each region should feel free to opt out if it so wishes. We are aiming at a reorganization of this federation, call it restructuring if you wish.
We are aiming at a state of affairs where the Igbo have an internal autonomy, as a self-governing region, in a position to decide who to relate with and who not to relate with. So the items, restructuring, self- determination and 2023 presidency go together, but if we have strong autonomous regions, presidency will automatically rotate; you will not be asking for it.
As it is now, my fear is that with the absolute control of all the organs of power and the structure of the entire nation, Igbo may not get a chance in 2023. That is my fear. But our best bet is to come home and develop our land, economically, politically, socially. That is what I think is the way to go.
As Nigeria is presently constituted, restructuring is not on the table of this government and self-determination is not near, do you see any chance of an Igbo becoming president in 2023?
I have my doubt. That is the only thing I can say.
I know the people we are dealing with, so I have my doubt. They feel they have conquered the whole territory; what is it in sharing power with anybody, or surrendering it to anybody. That is the situation. The way forward is to first reclaim Alaigbo as an autonomous region, work in alliance with all the emasculated regions of the federation, seek the cooperation of the international community, show we have dependable and strategic minded leadership ensuring that we have a strong regional alignment of forces that can successfully drive our agenda for liberation.