President-General of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo, in this interview culled from Premium Times, speaks on the renewed agitation for Biafra, marginalisation of the Igbo race, 2019 presidential election and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
You are about five months old as president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. How has it been?
It is a sheer weight of responsibilities – the magnitude of the expectations of the people that I am serving, the sheer volume of literature that I have to consume in order to be properly guided by the things that I say and the conversations that I undertake, the volume of travels, the complete loss of privacy and availability to my children. You know I am a single parent because I lost my wife three years ago. It’s been a challenge how to cope with all these.
You talk about expectations of the people. What are these expectations?
It doesn’t appear to me that the quality of people that had been elected as Ohanaeze leadership was as high as in this executive. My deputy is a retired deputy Inspector General of Police. We have a vice president from each of the states except the states that produced the president and the deputy. In Anambra, the vice president is a top businessman. He owns a hotel in Lagos; he is into real estate; he is into heavy importation. The one from Abia is a retired commissioner of police. The one from Delta is a consultant dentist. The one from Ebonyi is a consultant pediatrician, a professor and former deputy governor. The legal adviser is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. His deputy is still the attorney general of a state. The secretary is a lawyer of over 20 years of post-qualification experience. The treasurer is a chartered accountant. So around the table I have about three lecturers on the executive. So we are very highly qualified people. These people are undertaking subcommittee work and generating so much work and activity. And so everybody is busy. Secondly, we are running an open administration. Everybody knows what we are doing. And the people were feeling that before it was not like this. So they are coming to us in a way they never came to Ohanaeze. And because of that the responsibility is too much. To answer my phone is a problem for me. I literarily leave it in silent mood just as I have done now in order to conduct this interview. If I leave my phone on I will probably not be able to do anything. If I dare open it I will stop this interview.
Does that suggest you have regrets taking up the position?
First of all I reluctantly accepted the position. I didn’t want to. I felt that it was time for younger people to take up the responsibility. You know why? I started by telling you that I have a historical tragedy. Every man wants to die before his wife but my wife died before me. And I have young children and this is the time to watch them rigorously. It distracts me from strong parental responsibility. But you know we are all instruments of God and if it has become a collective view of my people that I should do this job for them it has become the view of God and with God all things are possible. Those things I regret about that I am challenged by this job, God will help me.
One basic issue people talk about the Igbo is the issue of unity. Did you meet that challenge of unity and how are addressing the issue?
I think before I came there was some split in Ohanaeze. That doesn’t exist anymore. Before I came the southeast governors were not meeting, that doesn’t exist anymore. Thank God I was part of the council that brought them together to meet. So I don’t see the issue of unity as an issue at all. All the traditional councils in Igbo land meet with me. I don’t know where the disunity is now.
So, we can emphatically say that the Igbo race is united today?
Inside your family I don’t know if you 100 per cent united. In Yoruba land there are two socio-cultural organisations but we know the one that is primary. In the north there is Northern Elders Forum and there is Arewa Consultative Forum. In the South-South, it is more diverse. So I don’t know what you are looking for. There is nobody that is as more united as the Igbos in the contemporary history.
There are some organisations like that in the southeast.
If you know of anyone tell me.
I used to know Mkpoko Ndigbo…There are some minor organisations like that.
It is an affiliate organisation of Ohanaeze. There are not less than, if you like, a hundred thousand organisations in Igbo land but they are all affiliated to Ohahaeze.
If that is the case I know there are Igbos in Delta and you have mentioned that you have a vice president from there. I know the Ikwerres in Rivers State….
The secretary general is an Ikwerre man. They are part of the leadership of Ohanaeze.
But it seems the governors of the south east don’t have a strong forum unlike those
in other zones.
The governors in the north are more divided and their division is very clear as in the parties they belong to and they don’t make any bones about it. They meet once a month sometimes. Southeast governors meet every month now. Since February the southeast governors meet on the last Sunday of every month. And if there is some major things….. like this Sunday is anniversary Sunday for all of them because they were all sworn in on May 29. And so many of them are going to have their anniversary celebration this weekend. So they are not likely to have a meeting this weekend. There is no month they have not had a meeting. So if that is your indication of unity they have the same unity as you have in the north. But it does not stop them from belonging to their political parties. And unlike the northern governors they have a physical secretariat in Government House. They have a ministerial council of commissioners of finance and economic planning who meet before them and produce memos for their meetings. And they have got an economic advisory committee made up of serious economists drawn from various states.
Is the Igbo race still marginalised?
You have the answer to the question. If you don’t then you don’t qualify for the work you are doing. We are not president of Nigeria, we are not vice president, we are not president of the senate, we are not Speaker of the House of Representatives, we are not Chief Justice of Nigeria, what else? We are not President of the Court of Appeal, we are not even Chief Judge of the Federal High Court. I have exhausted the three arms of government at the federal level. We don’t have any. The closest we have got to is the deputy senate president and after that there is a yawning gap below. If you go to the executive it is terrible. Let us first of all take the security apparatus of Nigeria. There is a clear vote of no confidence on the southeast as to our eligibility to hold positions in the security apparatus of Nigeria. We are not Chief of Defence Staff, we are not Chief of Army Staff, we are not Chief of Air Staff, We are not chief of Naval staff, we are not head of Nigeria Customs Service, we are not head of Nigeria Immigration Service, we are not head of Nigeria Intelligence Agency, we are not DG of State Security Service, we are not head of Federal Road Safety Corps, we are not head of Civil Defence, we are not Minister of Defence, we are not minister of Internal Affairs. My friend, what are you asking me?
But you have ministers?
Is it conterminous to our population in Nigeria. I know a time when (Shehu Musa) Yar’Adua was promoted from Lt. Colonel to vice president (Chief of General Staff) just to make sure that his area had a sense of belonging. I know a time that Adetokubo Ademola was made Chief Justice of Nigeria just to give the west a sense of belonging. Are you not from Nigeria? I am asking you. The essence of a federation is the unity of different independent units. For the federation to be real and for it to be respected by all parts of the federation, every part of the federation should feel a sense of belonging in the federation.
Does the security situation in some parts of the southeast have anything to do with this marginalisation? We have the IPOB, MASSOB agitating for Biafra.
I don’t think so. Each of the political parties have people from the southeast. So, they have no difficulty in finding people who are loyal to them to appoint into positions of government. I became minister at 31 in the government of Shehu Shagari. That government of NPN did not win the governorship in the state (old Anambra). It did not control the state assembly. But his vice president was from that state. I was from that state. In fact, before me, the minister of health was from that state. His two political advisers were from that state – Chuba Okadigbo and Professor Odenigbo. The minister of education was from that place. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, was from that state. The minister of science and technology was from that place. That was the first time Nigeria created the ministry of science and technology. I don’t know what you are asking. It has never happened like this. Under Obasanjo, his minister of finance was from our place. So what you are saying does not hold water at all. We have OPC in the west. If that was so Boko Haram would have been a reason why there should be no minister from the northeast of Nigeria.
Some people have said that you want to reap where you did not sow. You didn’t vote for the APC and so why should you expect appointments from the government formed by the party?
I have just answered this question. I have told you that under Shagari even though his party did not win in the state, he still had important people in his government. There are people who worked for President Buhari in the southeast. It is an opportunity for him to recruit knowledgeable people from there that can serve him and use it to teach the people that in this court there is justice. Secondly, he would have been respecting the constitutional injunction which requires as he was being sworn in as president is to cease to be a party leader and to make sure there is a reflection of federal character in the appointment. The constitution clearly spells it out that everyone must be made to feel a sense of belonging and he swore to that constitution. And quite honestly as Ohanaeze we are going to test the fulfillment of that provision of the constitution if there is no improvement on what he is doing. It is the only way it will grow the political process.
How are you going to do that?
We will go to court.
Is that legitimate? Is that a proper thing to do? Is it normal?
I beg your pardon. Isn’t it normal for a citizen of Nigeria to go to court to say this provision of the constitution has not been obeyed (and) I want the court’s pronouncement on it, if the president has not satisfied the provisions of the constitution in his appointments? And at the moment we are assembling all the appointments he has made, state by state, region by region. Already what I see is a short-change of the southeast.
The constitution says the president shall appoint at least one minister from each of the 36 states…… Political positions don’t end with ministers. I have just given you the line of people in the security services who are not ministers.
What you are saying in essence is that President Buhari has breached the provisions of the constitution.
I told you that we are compiling his appointments so far which clearly indicates that the south east is shortchanged. If he does not redress it, then it will be a breach and I know he has not finished his appointments.
Is that why Ohanaeze is supporting IPOB and MASSOB?
I don’t know what you mean by “supporting.”