Chief Ebere Ubani, is the President-General of Igbo-Speaking Community in Lagos State. In this interview with Peterclaver Egbochue in his office, he argues that the last Presidential election was fraught with irregularities. He posits that Igbos are being shortchanged even as he insisted that most Igbo in government are selfish. Excerpts:
Can you share your perspective on the just concluded general elections?
Well, I am one of those who believe that the election was not free and fair. But in order to allow peace to reign, we have accepted the result. So be it. But let me give you few points; in the North, there was serious underage voting, which the electoral officials allowed. Nobody pay serious attention to that. It would not have happened in the South here. There was peace. In the same North, in few places where the PDP won, they started burning houses and even burned the house of one of the Emirs there. Does that show that we are one in this country, the answer is no. So, I thank God for the life of President Jonathan, for the wisdom he displayed; maybe many people would have died by now. It’s a two-edged sword, if he had won, APC would have gone to war but they have won now and there is peace. Wherever they win, the election is free and fair but where they lose, then the election is not free and fair. A typical example is Rivers State where Governor Chibuike Amaechi, is crying fowl. Why is he crying foul? In Imo now, they are jubilating; I can’t understand the kind of politics they are playing. So it is not the best way to play politics. In fact, we are being shortchanged seriously, I mean the Igbos.
You just said now that the Igbos are being shortchanged, by who?
By both political parties, the PDP and the APC. Let me go to the PDP, they are still in government; what was the position of the Igboman? Secretary to Government of the Federation, which is an ordinary appointment from which he could be removed, didn’t you know how the late Yar’Adua removed Babagana Kingibe. We were not the party’s chairman, not senate president and not speaker. We were just playing second fiddle. Why are we deceiving ourselves?
So in the in-coming government, do you see Ndigbo occupying sensitive positions?
I don’t know. Let’s see what they will do when they play it out. Most of our Igbo brothers in government who think they have made it in life are selfish and not after the interest of the generality of Ndigbo. Most of them do not have the leadership quality to carry their people along. Look at Tinubu here, he is a lord here whether anybody believes it or not. If he asks his people to go anywhere, they will go. Since after the death of Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, we have not got any other person to lead us, that is our problem; we don’t have a leader. Self-professed leaders are so selfish that they do not think about others. So how can we go on with this kind of life as a people? Most of them are not accessible; do you have their contacts? When you go to their houses, you have to fill forms before you can see them, you fill forms to go and see your leader? Policemen will embarrass you particularly if you don’t come with the kind of cars they drive, you will not be allowed in. But go to Tinubu’s residence in Bourdillon, and see what is happening there, even ‘area boys’ have access to him. So these are the differences. ‘Area boys’ have access to Tinubu as big as he is. Tell me the Igbo leader you and I know and can have access to now? Can you access Emeka Ihedioha or Ike Ekweremadu? So what are we talking about? And they are all there, playing second fiddle in the PDP. In fact, the PDP has not done anything good for Ndigbo, it is just that we decided to allow the sleeping dog to lie. So, it could be a blessing in disguise that the APC won.
Now that the PDP, which you passionately supported, has lost, do you have regret?
Yes, I supported the President. The President, to me, to an extent, is our brother because he is from the South and the Northerners have seen this country as their property and that is not acceptable by us. If we say we are one Nigeria, why should a particular region think that if it does not produce the president, then nothing else should stand, that is not proper for national cohesion. So Jonathan’s coming was a blessing to all of us who love Nigeria and that was why I supported them. I was not supporting PDP because they have done much for us, no. It was a matter of principle, we wanted to prove a point that this country belongs to all of us. I never voted for Buhari, let it be on record and I didn’t want him to be. It’s a hard truth. Does this country belong to them alone? If the answer is yes, let’s support them but if no, we must support somebody else from another place. I don’t know if people took time to study the out-going government, Jonathan is like a ceremonial president by my own estimation; the Vice president is a northerner, the senate president, a northerner, the Speaker, a northerner, the Inspector-General of Police, a northerner, the Controller-General of Customs, a northerner. Everything that has to do with this country is with the north, yet they are not satisfied. Who is deceiving who? So we are really shortchanged because those who are there do not care. Look at Ike Egweremadu who chaired the constitutional review committee, what effort did he make to ensure the creation of another state for the South-east? Do you know how much we are still losing whenever they share federal allocation? Other geo-political zones share six to seven portions but Igbos share five. No matter how bad a governor could have been, check how much the least paid state gets from the federal allocation, which would have resulted in a little development if it had come to the east.
Given the manner most members of the PDP are defecting to the APC, do you think they can present the king of opposition the APC gave them?
I don’t think so. But there will be opposition with time. It’s a matter of time, most of them will defect back to the PDP and I’ m foreseeing the emergence of another opposition party to replace the PDP. Let me tell you, a lot of people will be offended in APC as soon as possible particularly after the appointments, people will feel slighted that they were not given the positions they deserve. There is going to be problem in APC, there’s no doubt about that. Go and mark it. So there will be another party and it is my wish that it comes up because in fairness to the APC, they made the PDP to stand up. The PDP was over relaxing, thinking that all was well, not knowing that all was not well. Let me tell you, Buhari is a no-nonsense man, he will not take it from majority of them. Who are the APC members? At least about 40 percent of them were PDP members; the acclaimed progressives, somebody like Amaechi, can he change over night? Buhari will soon discover him, that is the truth. Buhari as an individual is a very strict person and his records are there. Very soon, Amaechi will show whom he truly is and Buhari will not take that. He will defect back to the PDP, where anything goes and nobody will question them.
Do you think that the in-coming administration will look at the confab report even though abinitio his party did not support the confab?
You have already answered it, you said abinitio, they never supported it, a project you never supported, how will you implement it? They will not. So we have lost out once more.
So do you agree with some people who believe that Ndigbo will not occupy any sensitive position in the in-coming government? No, no, which sensitive position? I learnt they are proposing the position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation for Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, as far as I ‘m concern, that is an appointment. Any day Buhari sleeps and wakes up and says I don’t like this man’s face anymore or some people go to gossip to him about this man, he will remove him. But he cannot sack senate president or the speaker. Those are the things we are saying, we are nowhere, the effect of the war is still on us, let’s leave it there.
Is it that Ndigbo are seen as endangered specie by the other tribes especially the north?
Even if they see us as such specie, must we reject ourselves? The problem lies with us, mostly our political leaders and elite, those who have authority.
Given this scenario, what do you thing is the role of the Ohanaeze?
Should it not be its responsibility to handle such issues? The same thing I m saying, selfish leadership; do you know what gave rise to Ohanaeze? It is the former Igbo union, which was the strength of the Igbo people that spoke with one voice in the 1960s, they built Igbo national school in Aba, they built one in Kano and a lot of other things. Now, tell me one single thing Ohanaeze has done, rather than we are this or that? They go and collect billions of money and eat. We are talking about selfishness and individualism tendencies of our leaders here. Those of them in authorities are not reachable, you can’t access them even when you want to give them useful information that can help them, they will shot their doors against you with their retinue of policemen. Go to Bourdillon, area boys are there, the policemen in Tinubu’s house are instructed not to touch them; men and women. Tell me an Igbo leader where you can see such? Look, we have thrown our custom aboard. Look, few months before this season, myself in company of Barrister Onwuyalu, visited Anyim Pius Anyim, in his residence in Abuja for the good of the Igbo race, do you know that he never offered us kola let alone bottle water. We were treated as if we were beggars, secretary to the government of the federation, an Igbo man. As an Igboman, even if I’m a beggar, if I come to your place, you should offer me a kola. I’m not asking you to offer me that kind of drink you give to people in your class. We entered in his residence, it was the day his wife was celebrating her birthday, he never offered us a bottle of water. That is not the Igboman’s behavior. If you come to my house, you are not looking for food but I must offer you kola, I must say drink water, then the choice is yours to accept or not. Onwuyalu is a Barrister, he is eating fine, I’m not a hungry man though I’m not rich. So you can imagine, if he can treat two of us like that, tell me how he will treat others. And yet politically, people look up to him as a leader.
How can Ndigbo come out of this situation?
The solution lies with them because they are already ahead and you can’t jump over them. If you jump them, they will bring you down by all means.
Obviously, expectations are high. Do you see the in-coming government meeting these expectations?
I don’t think so. Buhari is not a magician and he is not a miracle worker by my own estimation. It’s just that during the electioneering campaigns, they made outrageous promises I’m sure they can’t fulfill. You cannot be talking about the leadership of this country without followership. Nigerians are bad followers, we don’t help matters, and we are only good in criticizing. We are spectators that cannot see anything good in those playing the match. But ask us to go into the field, we can’t do anything better. Governance is not easy. But those who are aspiring to govern should have the capacity to face the challenges of governance.
What can they contend with? The challenges are enormous.
Then they should stay away. They can’t stay away because Nigerians need a change. But it is going to be a steady one. But for anyone to tell you that within six months or one year, that there will be light everywhere and that everybody will have work, corruption will go, that is not true. Let me ask you something, people are talking about corruption, I think the Nigerian Police is the appropriate authority to fight corruption but is the Nigerian Police free from corruption, the answer is no. How do we check it? How much do you pay the police man you don’t want to collect money on the road? Have you taken out time to find out how much a Sergeant receives? A Sergeant does not earn more than maybe N45.000.00, what is he going to do with it? We must be realistic. We are encouraging corruption in the Police. Give them a good salary, at least, the least paid Policeman should earn N250.000.00, then give them condition, if you have a slight case of extortion, you are gone. Make the job attractive and you will see more credible people coming in. Corruption will fizzle out from the police and they can now rejuvenate a section of the Police called x-squad, it is there duty to go round and arrest people who are involved in corruption. The in-coming administration must re-organise the police and the judiciary so that if you have a case, within one year, that case is disposed off either for or against. A lot of people do not know the importance of the Police and the judiciary in the society. They are too important if we must move forward as a country. Judiciary is the last hope of the common man. Unfortunately, they are not independent as far as I’m concern. There must be proper re-organisation of the police where the IGP can politely tell the President, sir, what you are asking me to do is not proper, I think it is better this way. You can’t say that to somebody who employed you and who has the right to fire you. The National assembly is busy chasing nothing as far as I’m concern. For instance, Julius Berger is the biggest construction firm that is milking Nigeria’s economy and yet they find it difficult to buy a good bus for their Nigerian workers. They carry them as if they are slaves and yet we have people in the National Assembly who say they are doing over sight function. What are they doing there?
If you have an audience with General Buhari, what will be your advice?
The country belongs to all of us; he should carry everybody along. He will be sworn-in as the President of the Federal republic of Nigeria and not the president of APC. He should carry everybody along mostly the Igbos because if he doesn’t carry us along, well we are watching.