Chief Gary Nnachi Enwo-Igariwey is the President General of the apex socio-cultural group in Igboland, Ohanaeze. In this interview with Edward Nnachi in his country home at Afikpo in Ebonyi State, he stresses the need for the present regime not to jettison recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, the need for Igbos to speak with one voice on national issues and the need to effectively restructure Nigeria.
You led Ohanaeze Ndigbo to the 2014 National Conference. However, it views on the restructuring of the country failed but some recommendations passed, like that on state creation. How do you feel about the failure to implement any of the recommendations by government?
First of all, Ohanaeze was represented at the confab because socio-cultural groups had a certain number; 15 exactly to represent them at the confab; just as Arewa Consultative Forum was asked to bring 15 people. And we had our representations. So, we were duly represented at the confab and I was present. I took part in the deliberations; specifically, I took part at the committee level -restructuring committee-, and I must say the deliberations yielded results. Our view among others was for the restructuring of the country by having the six zones as federating units. In others words, we canvassed for weak centre and strong federating units just like the country had at independence. There was strong and healthy competition and each region developed at its pace. The state creation issue came up at the confab when zones were accepted as federating units. We now canvassed for the equality of zones in the number of states. What the confab finally recommended was creation of states to make the zones equal and accepting the states as federating units. To still throw more light on your question, we went for restructuring with zones as federating units and got restructuring with states as federating units. The resolutions reached at the conference were in the best interest of this country. I want to say very strongly that it will be unfortunate if those resolutions are not implemented by government. And as matters of fact, the recommendations of the conference were the best and I think should actually take the country forward. For instance, we have a Federal Republic of Nigeria, which means Nigeria, is a federation. But, Nigeria is not running a federal system; Nigeria is running a unitary system of government, which means there is so much power at the centre. And there is clamour for the control of power at the centre, because that entails control of resources and this is responsible for the door- die leadership attitude at the centre. We think that the implementation of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference will go a long way to making Nigeria not only truly a federal system, but will solve most of the problems the country encounters today. So, it is not in any person’s interest that the recommendations are not passed. Let me just say it’s unfortunate that they are not being implemented.
Prof. Wole Soyinka has called for another National Conference to discuss Nigeria’s economy and way forward. How do you view “this in the light of recommendations from the 2014 version?
The problem of Nigeria is not about conferences because we have had several conferences and each conference has always brought with it something good. He hasn’t told us why another conference is needed. Is not just about holding conferences, he hasn’t told us what is wrong with the one we had in 2014; so, the problem of Nigeria today is not just about recommendations for another conference, it is about studying the recommendations of past conferences and implementing them. If there is any one that is not suitable, you say why it is not suitable and then implement the ones that are useful, not going to start another conference. There are people who feel, and argue, that Ohanaeze has lost its relevance and voice considering the mounting agitation by IPOB for Biafra actualisation. Is this a true picture of what Ohanaeze has become under your leadership? Ohanaeze remains relevant to the affairs of Igbo people. It remains the central voice of the people. To think otherwise is to return to chaos. The people not united in one voice on national issues are finished and cannot move forward. We have not lost our responsible voice. Let me state clearly here that Ohanaeze is not in popularity test with IPOB or any other group for that matter, especially on an issue as delicate as actualisation of Biafra. Of course, we are not relevant on that agitation. As a responsible organisation interested in the welfare of its people, we have been analyzing and advising our people in order not to make the mistakes of the last civil war. The wounds and consequences are still very fresh; we have been advising caution and dialogue. That is the only responsible voice at times like this. No responsible organisation will urge its people on the path of war when there are options, no matter the grievances. Therefore, what we advocate is for the restructuring of Nigeria, not the balkanisation of the country. The Igbos have made so much sacrifice for the development and unity of this country and, we cannot put all this on the line, on the altar of some individual ego. This is not the time to test bravery with the lives of our people. That is our voice and we have not lost it. As a matter of fact, Ohanaeze was not created to create Biafra. Ohanaeze is a socio-cultural group; and it is just exactly that. IPOB is a new development. It is saying the same thing others have been saying; Ohanaeze has been up and doing with its responsibilities of being a socio- cultural organisation. And remember there is no political system without a social order. So, we also have interests in political situations at the centre, not within the states, but at the centre where Igbo interests could be represented. What is IPOB asking for? They are asking for Biafra. Good! Ohanaeze is asking for the restructuring of the country not the balkanisation of Nigeria. To that extend, we have made our points clear, and strongly do say that the interests of the Igbos will be better represented by restructuring the country to a true federal system, as the name implies “Federal Republic of Nigeria”. We think that it is only by restructuring Nigeria that each federating unit in this case, we are recommending zones, will develop at its own pace, generate funds, put what it can at the centre and then run its system the way it thinks best because, that was how this country started. The country started by having three regions- the East, the West and the North. Each one was able to develop at its own rate and was able to create its own laws because each had its own constitution; and we think that was the finest moment for this country. The North had their agricultural development in groundnut pyramids and mining. The West also had its own highpoint in cocoa, and in fact, the East had its highpoint in palm produce; each of these regions had very strong export factor; they were the best in the world -the East was the largest exporter of palm produce, the West was the largest exporter of cocoa produce. And you could see what they did with all of these materials. In the West, you could see what they achieved in the area of education, because there were so many scholarship opportunities in the region then. In the East, you could see so many industrial clusters people were beginning to form around Aba and Umuahia. That is the meaning of development, and today all you see is people going to share money at the centre at the end of every month and then allowing productive activities like agriculture to suffer. Yet we think that if the regions are allowed to develop their agricultural systems and all their highpoints where they have potentials of development that they will be able, for instance, to sponsor road projects in their various environments; build industries and put in place whatever laws they feel will make them develop and earn revenue without coming to share money at the centre at the end of every month. This I think has made some to become lazy. No zone or region in the country today, has an idea on how to sustain its economy again. This is not good for this country.
There have also been suggestive comments and outright calls for the restructuring of Ohanaeze Ndigbo by some people, which they say has become political and enthrone a more vibrant leadership that will be apolitical. Are you at home with this?
Well, it depends on what you meant by “restructuring and apolitical”. However, every good system needs restructuring from time to time, and it is a normal societal order that there must be change and change also involves restructuring. And I am of the opinion that every large organization like Ohanaeze should go through restructuring from time to time. As a matter of fact, it has gone through major restructuring in the constitution; the duration of every administration has been moved from two years to four years. This is so because, it was seen that two years were not enough for any leadership to do any meaningful thing. So that to me, is change. As for being apolitical, there is no social system without a political order. So, it is neither here nor there to say be apolitical, in other words, you are not going to concern yourself with what happens to the leadership at the centre even when it affects your people. That is wrong. So to that effect I say no, I am of the view that Ohanaeze should be reasonably apolitical, but political to the extent that it knows what is happening at the centre as it affects its own people. That to me, I agree. Vibrant! Ours is a large system. Remember the Igbos are republican by nature and in every large organisation it is difficult to have consensus of ideas. Every organization has its own strengths and weaknesses and our strong points is that we have tried to advance unity among Igbos because we feel that as long as Igbos remain disunited, it will be difficult for them to achieve their goals. Again, in trying to keep the people united, we are also ensuring that the system is not destroyed; to that extent, we have done our best and hold ourselves high that we have been able to keep our people united.
Ohanaeze’s voice is not heard in the current marginalization of the Igbos in terms of appointments into sensitive government positions. Why?
That issue has been properly flogged. It is not right for any part of this country to be marginalised; but we have an answer. This administration has a first-line term of four years. We will wait to see how marginalised we are at the end of the four years. If we are marginalised, we will come together and put our protest votes. That is the civilised way to it, and that is one of the reasons why we need to be united. The federal character for appointment is in the Constitution. So, the interpretation can be sought in the law court. And I want you to know that Ohanaeze has made statement on this issue and we were the first to say it appeared we were being punished because of the voting style of our people in the last presidential election, until the leadership confirmed that we wouldn’t expect the same with the people who voted higher. We kicked against it and said it wasn’t right because the people have a right to vote where they like and as the president of all Nigeria it was wrong to hold something against people who voted the way they liked. And by the way, some of these appointments are constitutional. The constitution stipulates how these appointments should be made; if it is not respected and followed constitutionally, it is wrong. It will be wrong to say we have not said anything about it. We were the first to observe it and raised issues about it and then condemned it frantically.
Recently and for the first time too, Ohanaeze Ndigbo met with the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) in Enugu. What were the gains of this meeting?
Ohanaeze is in the business of meeting all major ethnic groups, Arewa Consultative Forum inclusive. Our people are spread all over the country. The Igbos are everywhere in this country; they are in the North; they are in the West, all over the country. To that extent, it is important that Ohanaeze networks with the leadership of all socio-cultural groups in the country to build friendship, to build bridges so that we can help advance the cause of our people in the respective places where they live. So Arewa, being a very major socio-cultural group in this country, it was important that we meet with them to close ranks and address common issues of interest. For instance, we discussed the detention of Nnamdi Kanu; we discussed the issue of IPOB and its members’ demands; in other words, we discussed Biafra; we also discussed Ohanaeze’s stance on the restructuring of this country as against balkanisation. This is because we think it is only by these kind of interactions that we have to foster peace among the various socio-cultural groups in the country, and we also believe that we have millions of Igbos living in the North, and Arewa being a very important socio-cultural group in the North, can always be our point of contact should there be conflict between the Igbos and others in that region. In other words, we were able to agree on cooperation on major issues in the country including the welfare of our people in their environments. It was a major development.
What is your agenda for Ohanaeze in the next one year?
What I think that is the greatest weakness that the Igbos have is the inability to speak with one voice at very important times. As a people, we are great. Individually, we have made progress; we have made big achievements but collectively we still have issues there. And overtime, we have always had problems with speaking with one voice. Our main thrust is to make Ohanaeze strong to be in a position to address issues as they affect the Igbos. This is not the best of times for the Igbo people. We need to unite our people and make our people to speak with one voice on national issues. There lies our strength.