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The Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series #17

Nigeria:
A Meeting of the Minds
(Col. Joe Achuzie in Conversation with Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye)

by
The Chinua Achebe Foundation

About Col. Achuzie

 

Born seventy years ago,

Chinua Achebe

Prof. Chinua Achebe

 

Col Joe Achuzia

Col. Joe Achuzie

in the present day
Delta State, Col Joe Achuzie has been involved in the programmes and activities of Ohaneze Ndigbo, the apex socio-cultural organization in Igboland, for the past fifteen years. Since he assumed office as the Secretary-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, he has been distinguished by his frankness in public communications, and the passion with which he canvases the Igbo position on matters of national and regional interests.  He believes strongly in one, united Nigeria, where equity, justice, fairness and mutual respect for one another are unreservedly operational at all levels of governance and social interactions. He is of the opinion that the deterioration in the country is as old as the country itself, and that the only way to ensure harmony and progress in the nation is to convoke a conference of ethnic nationalities where the thorny issues plaguing Nigeria could be properly addressed.

                                

After the Biafra/Nigeria in which he played a prominent role, he was detained by Nigerian authorities. Fearing he might not survive the incarceration, he wrote his book, Requiem Biafra, to articulate his role in the war, and check attempts by later writers to, in his own words, ď superimposed falsehoodĒ on him.

-----------------------------------------------------

 

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye has published articles as well as poems and short stories on various social, literary and political topics, which have appeared in several newspapers, magazines, journals and internet sites in Nigeria and abroad. The most recent, Jenniferís Handbag was featured in Confluences, an anthology of short stories published and launched recently (July 2005) by the Association of Nigerian Authors, Lagos branch.  Educated at the Universities of Port Harcourt and Ilorin, Ejinkeonye is currently on the Editorial Board of the Independent, a national newspaper published in Lagos, Nigeria, where he writes a well-read column every Wednesday

 

         

                      WHERE THE RAIN BEGAN TO BEAT US

 

Q. Sir, do you think it is possible to identify a particular period in Nigeriaís  history when the deterioration commenced, or should we assume the downward slide is, perhaps, as old as the nation itself?

 

A. Nigeria, in my opinion, started deteriorating from day one. The gladiators who fought for our independence made all the classical mistakes. They failed to understand that those

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who pitch themselves in mortal combats to gain independence for the people should quit the stage for peaceful gladiators to take over. You cannot be a warrior and a peacemaker at the same time. No. But, they tried to combine the two, and so failed woefully.
 And weíve been going down ever since.

 

Q. Why does your generation speak nostalgically about the good old days? 

 

A. The good old days is a cliché used by people reminiscing about their secure lives as adolescents, and referring to the past as ďthe good old days...Ē The bad old days then begins when they have to start taking responsibilities. (Laughter)

 

 

Q. So, there have been no good old days in Nigeria?

 

A. No, there has been nothing like that.    

 

 

                     

 

 

 

A PEOPLE AND THEIR LEADERS

 

Q. Blame for Nigeriaís endless woes has tended to be heaped on its leadership, the consensus being that this has remained the main source of our problems. What then accounts for our perennial failure to solve a problem we have clearly identified?

 

A. Yes, we all know that the problem of Nigeria is leadership; but as I have said, the gladiators in the field who fought the mortal combats to get us independence did not realize that their period of leadership ended with the ceasefire. They should have allowed the peacemakers who were not as battle-hungry as they were to take over. This inability to effect a change of baton is largely at the root of Nigeriaís leadership problems.

 

Q. What blame might be Ďapportionedí to the electorate?

 

A. You canít apportion any blame to the electorate. A lot depends on the mechanism that is in place for elections. Every election requires umpires that are independent, not subject to any powers, whether high or low. And for Nigeria to have such umpires, may take years. Unfortunately, elections succeed within a culture that we have not yet imbibed in Nigeria.

 

         

Q. There are suggestions that the most effective way to make INEC truly independent and free from manipulations, especially from the government in power, is for its top officers -- its Chairman, in particular -- to be appointed by a body made up of representatives of political parties, and its funding to come from a consolidated revenue fund.

 

A. I donít believe that. My ideal INEC is an INEC that metamorphosed out of a law that grants it total independence, and also insulates it from persecution of any type, so that, when we are looking for an INEC chairman, we will go for somebody that meets certain criteria. In fact, such a person, under normal circumstances, should be equal to the task if the mantle falls on him to lead the country. It is such a person that can be an independent INEC chairman. And I donít think you can get it by the amorphous contribution of every political party. Neither can you get it by involving the president in the nomination process. 

 

 HIS IDEAL NIGERIA

 

Q. What would be your ideal Nigeria? Indeed, what is it that seriously tasks your faith in Nigeria -- something that demoralizes you when you think about the country?

 

A. What pains me is the issue of ethnicity. However, I am a chieftain of my ethnic group, because I wanted to insulate my people against the various attacks arising from the multiplicity of ethnic groups in a country like Nigeria. For this country to move in the right direction, instead of all these conferences that have been so far convened, there should be a conference of ethnic nationalities, where we are able to identify and consolidate those things that bind us together, and jettison those things that continually divide us. Until that is done, all talk about one Nigeria is fairy tale.

 

Letís face it. Every group is suspicious of the other. We must realize that nobody is a fool. Platitudes cannot put food into oneís stomach. Platitudes cannot give us good roads. Platitudes cannot put our children in good schools. Platitudes cannot find our children jobs after their national service, and these are largely due to ethnic issues that must be solved first before any person envisions ruling Nigeria. You cannot say -- Oh, ethnicity doesnít exist, or I donít want it. And if you claim that you donít want it, then what are you doing about it? The only person I will consider capable of telling me about the issue of one Nigeria is someone who, tomorrow, is ready to call a meeting of ethnic nationalities in order to resolve the issue of ethnicity once and for all.

 

This is what plunged us into the first coup, pushed us into the civil war, and directed the activities of the military through the civil war. It continued to direct the activities of the military after the civil war, and continues to direct the activities of the political parties in the country today.

 

 

 

  OHANEZE AT NPRC

 

Q. Ohaneze Ndigbo, whose Secretary-General you are, sent representatives to the just concluded National Political Reforms Conference (NPRC). What made you think any good would come out of that Conference?

 

A. Ohaneze didnít send representatives to the Conference. For Ohaneze Chairman (Prof Joe Irukwu) to be there was an imposition by the presidency on Ohaneze. We didnít take kindly to it, because he did not impose on the conference, the president of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the president of Afenifere, or the others. Why must it be the President of Ohaneze that he had to ask for? For that, we call it an imposition. Prof. Irukwu had no option, but to attend.

 

Q. A call to national duty?

 

A. Thatís right. So, people shouldnít be saying that Ohaneze sent people to the conference. Ohaneze did not send anyone there.

 

Q.  Now assuming there was a formal request for you to send representatives, would you have obliged?

 

A. If there was a formal request we would have sent people who would represent us adequately; because the leadership of Ohaneze, we believe, should remain in the background, directing the affairs of the body.

 

Q. There were newspaper reports that you were dissatisfied with the performance of the group that went there. Was that true?

 

A. Yes. I said I was disappointed, because there was no cohesion. Those who attended the conference, though NdiIgbo and even members of Ohaneze, were sent by their governors. And instead of carrying out Ohanezeís programmes, they carried out their governorsí programmes. That was my grouse.

           

ETHNICITY AND DISCONTENT 

 

Q. What, in your view, is the cause of so much discontent in the nation? Do you think that fairness and justice and equity are well Ö?

 

A. Yes, like you said, fairness, justice and equity, are what everybody wants. But fairness, justice and equity cannot exist in a multi-ethnic environment; hence I have said that until Nigeria solves the issue of ethnicity, it cannot be one country. Either ethnicity takes a back seat, or all groups must be fused together to give a semblance of one ethnic whole.

 

Q. Apart from convening a conference of ethnic nationalities, what other things do you feel can be done to adequately solve the ethnic tension plaguing the nation?

 

A. You cannot just remove ethnic tension, because it is only when a person from one ethnic group sees himself as part of other ethnic groups that he will be able to regard  everything that reaches him as fair.

 

 THE IGBO QUESTION

 

Q. There is what is now widely acknowledged as the ďIgbo QuestionĒ; what actually is this Question, and how is Ohaneze resolving it?

 

A. The Igbo Question or Equation, which ever you choose, is the dissatisfaction

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among
Ndigbo. This, again, brings us back to ethnicity, and the fact that, as a group, we are having a raw deal in Nigeria. The war ended over thirty years ago, yet we are being denied our rightful place within the organized society known as Nigeria. What we are saying, to use an Igbo adage, is: ďEmee nwata ka emere ibe ya, obi adi ya nmaĒ (If you treat a child the same way you treat other children, that child would be happy, and would not have any reason to feel cheated). We feel we are being cheated. We feel we are being marginalized. We feel we are being treated as the dog of the earth. And we are saying: Enough is enough! We will not have it any longer. And that is why we are saying that, come 2007, that a Nigerian of Igbo extraction must be given an opportunity to rule this country, because we feel we are qualified and competent. We have the men. If you donít find them in the South-East, you will find them in the South-South. Thatís what we are asking for. And any attempt to deny us this will not spell very good for 2007.

 

Look at what is happening in Nigeria. The Igbo people are hungry. They donít have enough. They see the whole country swimming in wealth, yet only leftovers are thrown out to them. In every other part of Nigeria, bridges are built all over the place. Yet to spare a dime to build a second bridge over the Niger, so as to relieve the terrible congestion, has become impossible. Also, to dualize certain highly strategic roads is difficult. The roads that you find in Igboland were built long before Independence.  And note that when we say Igboland, we mean as far as Agbor, all the way to the borders of Ikot-Epkene, and then, down to Ahoada -- all these constitute what is known as Igboland. We are not talking about land mass here. We have no problems with where anybody comes from. Nigeria can even be divided into two hundred zones instead of the present six zones, we donít care. They can go ahead and make a state out of every family; we have no problems with that, so long as each person sees the other as his brother.

 

Q. And treat each other fairly too?

 

A. Yes, and treat each other fairly.

 

Q. Now the Biafra/Nigeria War ended more than three decades ago. Without meaning to open old wounds, may I ask: Why did you go to war?

 

A. We didnít go to war, because we felt we were being marginalized. No. You must separate the problem of Nigeria before the Civil War, and the reasons why the Igbo fought. The Igbo fought when the pogrom started, and they were being killed and pushed out of the federation. So, to ensure that they stayed in the federation, they had to fight or else, it would have meant being dispossessed of their land. So where were we expected to run to when the hostilities started -- to Cameroon? So these were the reasons. Again, you must try to differentiate the reasons for the Civil War from the reasons why Nigeria had a coup, and some people carried out ďOperation Wetie,Ē and the civil strife the country has experienced since the 1950s.

 

Q. So it was merely a battle for self-preservation?

 

A. Exactly.

 

Q. Can you tell us, as an Igbo leader, whether it is true that Ndigbo are hated by Nigerians of other ethnic groups? Can you confirm the widespread impression that the Ndigbo are constant targets of needless aggression in other parts of the country? If yes, is there anything about the Igbo that provokes this aggression?

 

A. If there is any aggression against the Igbos, I will say that they are responsible for it. Look around, and you will see that of all the three major ethnic groups, neither the Hausa/Fulani -- that is, the Arewas -- nor the Yorubas, would go to any part of the Eastern Region to set up a home. Itís only the Igbo that would go to another personís land, and make the place his home; even make himself more comfortable than the owner of the place. This has a way of generating envy and resentment. And that is the cause of what appears to be hatred against the Igbos. Well, it isnít hatred, just envy. Go to several Yoruba cities, except recently, most of the houses there were built by Igbos. Go to the North, the best houses you will see there were built by Igbos. Go to Abuja, almost ninety percent of all the buildings there, including hotels and everything are owned by the Igbos. How do you expect that there will be any love lost between the indigenes there and their august visitors --the Igbo?

 

Q. So what happens to the quest for a united Nigeria? If Ndigbo are making homes in various parts of Nigeria, is it not a clear indication of their belief in one Nigeria? Or do the others do not believe them?

 

A. Only the Igbo believe in one Nigeria, and pay the required dues to make it work. The others merely pay lip service to one Nigeria, for the purpose of what they call federal character. Put a Northerner in a position within the governance of this country, and he will surround himself with fellow Northerners. Put a Yoruba man in the same position, and he will do the same. Itís only the Igbo man whom when put in a position of authority, will not allow another Igbo man to come close to him. He would rather work with non-Igbo to prove that he is civilized. In fact, he wonít even speak the Igbo language at work. But how can you be the only civilized person in a country of uncivilized people? You will stick out like a sore thumb. And thatís what the Igbo are -- they stick out as a sore thumb within the context of one Nigeria.

 

Q.Now, given the situation youíve described, as an Igbo leader, what is your advice to Ndigbo?

       

A. As a leader, I would prefer a situation where even the lion and the lamb can lie down together without any aggression from one to the other.  But you see, that is far from reality. A Northerner will tolerate an Igbo man as long as he (the Northerner) remains on top. A Yoruba man will tolerate an Igbo man as long as he (the Yoruba man) is on top. But if the situation is reversed, he can only tolerate an Igbo man on the condition that the Igbo man doesnít bring another Igbo person near himself. The same too applies to the Northerner in relation to the Igbo man. So, the Igbo man must learn to behave like the fowl in our proverb. When she finds herself in a new environment, she will resort to standing on one leg. After she had mastered her environment, she will then bring down the other leg, and stand firmly. So, each time an Igbo man gets to the North, for instance, he should first look back and ask himself how Northerners who live in Igboland conduct themselves?  Do they build mansions? Do they set up business empires? If you realize that they donít, then, when you get to his place, you do as they do when they are in your own area. Else, he will feel antagonized by your presence, because, it would appear you are trying to show him that you are cleverer, smarter, or more civilized than he is. I would also advocate the same thing, when an Igbo man goes to live in the West.

 

Q. But what do you see as the ultimate solution to this problem; this suspicion that is everywhere? What can be done to ensure the total absorption of Ndigbo, so they could live anywhere in Nigera without any fear of molestation?

 

       

A. When you talk of the Igbo being fully absorbed, you make it appear as if the Igbos are a pariah nation, a pariah group. Why should they seek to be fully absorbed in an arrangement they were party to in the first place? The nation, Nigeria, was packaged by three groups, the Igbo, the Yoruba, and the Northerners, that is, the Hausa. When the colonial masters were here, this was their interpretation of the arrangement. Why should the Igbo now come and beg to be accepted? If they donít want the Igbo, let them say so and the Igbo will go away. But if they expect that going away means leaving the land for anybody, that canít happen! Going away means that, the Igbo will begin to draw boundaries or veils between the belligerent groups that donít want them.

 

ABANDONED PROPERTY

 

Q. What does the phrase, ďAbandoned PropertyĒ mean to you?

 

A. Abandoned property is a language coined by people intent on perpetrating daylight robbery. You cannot abandon what you own, in your own home, in your own land. You cannot live in Nigeria, and tell another Nigerian that he abandoned his property in his own home? How does property become abandoned in this situation; where is it abandoned -- China, Korea, Kenya or South Africa? Before the so-called abandoned property issue, the entire Eastern Region was one; the Western Region was also one. It was the same thing with the North. These three regions came together to form the country now known as Federal Republic of Nigeria, and by that act of federation, they all became one. The implication then is that somebody from the Northern Region, for instance, can go to the Western Region and own some property or to the  Eastern Region, and vice versa. Why then should it be that all of a sudden, properties acquired in the same country are declared ďabandoned,Ē yet everyone is still claiming to be in a federation? Some people are being told that they ďabandonedĒ their properties and other people, including the government put in place to protect the people and their property illegally exploit the benefits from those properties. That just canít be fair.

 

Q. How can Ohaneze ensure that this matter is amicably

resolved?

 

A. It is not for Ohaneze to see to how the matter should be addressed. The balkanization of the arrangement called the Nigerian Federation, has now transferred the responsibility to get this matter resolved to the various state governments. It isnít Ohanezeís responsibility, because although Ohaneze represents all Ndigbo, it cannot speak for the Igbo in different states on such issues like the ďabandoned properties.Ē The reason is that by virtue of the creation of states, there are some Ndigbo located even in some of the states where the ďabandoned propertyĒ issue exists.  So what do you do in that case? The issue is the responsibility of those in authority, in government, like the governors of the various states that feel short-changed by the fact that their citizens are being denied ownership of properties they acquired in other states.

 

INTER-ETHNIC DIALOGUE

 

Q.  Does Ohaneze attempt to engage its counterparts in other zones or ethnic blocs in meaningful dialogue?

 

A.  Yes, leaders and executives of the different ethnic nationalities meet from time to time to exchange notes to see how unity can be fostered. Like I said earlier, the only way to solve Nigeriaís problem is to let the ethnic groups dialogue among themselves; they should come together to exchange views and see how to remove those areas that cause discord amongst them, and package together those things that give them all common relief. Maybe from there we will start thinking in terms of one Nigeria, because ethnicity is fallout from tribal sentiments.

 

           

MASSOB

 

Q. As an Igbo leader and chieftain of Ohaneze, you are probably in the best position to tell us what MASSOB means?

 

A. Well, MASSOB is the acronym for Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra. For me as an Ohaneze chieftain, it doesnít convey the type of meaning that should give me joy, for the following reasons: as elders, we believe that since we quit the battle field, all our efforts should now be geared towards winning peace, freedom and total integration for our people. That the youths, because of the severe hardship unleashed in the polity, now feel that they would rather pursue a separatist alternative shouldnít give us joy, because we know the consequences of such a division. Hence Ohaneze is still fighting to make sure that there is no more marginalization.

 

         

 

MARGINALISATION

 

Q.Why do Ndigbo say they are marginalized?

 

A. The Igbo feel marginalized, because, in the first place, they are foremost in education. In industrial and technological pursuit, they are on the front line. In which ever field of endeavor you want to look at, they excel; yet the Igbos have not been given the opportunity to prove their mettle in any of these fields. Mediocrity is being entrenched in the country; in the place of ability or competence, we have what is called federal character.  In other words, once you have, for instance, taken one or two Igbo persons out of ten that are qualified, you must then go and get ten less-qualified people from other places to make up the number, in the name of giving equal opportunity to all. To us, this amounts to marginalization of the Igbo.

 

Again, as you go towards the East, take a look at the roads. Which leads me to ask -- why must it take the Federal Government thirty years to start thinking of rehabilitating roads and bridges that were built or damaged over sixty years ago? Now, erosion is turning arable land in the East into gullies, gutters, and perhaps, tomorrow, a desert. And you are asking me what is meant by marginalization? And yet, from the same East -- yes, Igboland sits on top of oil. If you dig on any part of Igboland, you will find oil; however, the Federal Government will say that because of the cost of exploration there, it should remain as reserve. And yet when they are distributing money based on what accrues to the nation from oil, the Igbo people are excluded. How can you be sitting on top of oil, and you are being told you are not an oil producing area? That is marginalization. The money that accrues from all these resources goes towards developing an arid desert, turning it into an El Dorado.  Desertification came as a result of excessive dryness, the absence of water, but today, trees grow in the desert, because there is now water in the desert. 

Even the lordly Niger can no longer flow, because money from the South-East, South-South, is pumped into the creation of huge dams in the North. In fact, they are almost creating huge lakes -- I donít call them dams any more -- all over the arid land.               

So, we are no longer prepared to have surrogates any more. No more imposition of leadership on the Igbo. The Igbo must search within Igboland for their own leaders. And if by chance or through error of omission such surrogates are imposed on us, and we find out, our children whose future is being mortgaged by such means, will rise up and remove such persons. And whoever agrees to be used for such a purpose cannot be accommodated in Igbo land.

 

         

OHANEZE AND 2007

 

Q. Could you please tell us the programes of Ohaneze Ndigbo, especially, under the present leadership?

 

A. Part of our programme for the past year is called Igwebuike, that is: Unity is Strength. The new executive has spent one year in the activity of mobilizing the Igbo people. And we are doing everything, trying to put in place new executives in the various chapters of Ohaneze in the Diaspora, and at the same time, calling on every Igbo person to realize that they are part of Ohaneze. Just because not all Ndigbo attend meetings does not mean we are not aware of the existence of each and everyone. Nobody is a castle unto himself; no Igbo man will say that he is sufficient unto himself. We are trying to teach everybody that we are our brothersí keepers and that we have a common destiny, one objective. And the only way we can achieve these is by coming together, pulling our resources together, and putting our minds together. When that is achieved, each time the Igbo man breathes, Nigeria should shake, because we know our strength and our mettle. Anybody that says that we are not entitled to it should then come out and challenge us openly.

 

Q. Assuming there is justice, fairness and equitable distribution of resources, would it still be necessary for people to insist that someone from their area must assume the leadership of this country?

 

A. No, but that isnít yet the case. Things are not yet equitably distributed. How long then should the Igbo man wait? We have paid our dues; we have served Nigeria creditably. We have helped to package other people from other areas into the seat of governance. We have even agreed to serve as their deputies. So, now, what is wrong in our saying that we do not want to be deputies any more; that we want to produce the person to occupy the main seat, because we are sure that we have something to offer the country? Since peace and stability have continued to elude the country, we think that maybe we have the right answers. My friend, we must be given the opportunity to salvage this country, if not, the country will perish, and so will everyone in it. We cannot allow the future of Ndigbo to be destroyed because of ethnic rivalry; we will go all out to salvage our future, even if it means that in doing so, it becomes something else. We must try or die in the attempt Ė for the children of Ndigbo.

 

 ANAMBRA POLITICAL CRISES

                      

Q. There is a growing impression that throughout last year, Anambra was the troublesome baby of Nigeria. Now, there is no person better placed to tell us what is actually happening in Anambra than the Secretary General of Ohaneze Ndigbo.

 

A. No, you are wrong. Anambra is not the troublesome baby of Nigeria. The situation there is being brought on by an imposition. What you are seeing in Anambra is not targeted at Anambra as currently constituted, but a programme designed for the humiliation of Ndigbo. If you took notice, before the advent of Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju as Anambra Governor, all the military governors or the military administrators that were sent to Anambra were those that were supposed to loot the area, and pay tributes to certain masters outside Igboland. From the period of Mbadinuju, efforts were being made to change the situation but it wasnít possible. When Mbadinuju was the governor there, I remember that I came there to see him, and to speak on his behalf and that of Anambra in respect of the pressures being mounted on him to ensure that he did not serve the people properly. The first election was targeted at removing him, creating a fiasco and setting up Anambra as a cauldron of inconclusive leadership. Anambra is part and parcel of Igbo land. What is going on there, I repeat, is not targeted at Anambra  per-se, but at the whole of Igboland.

 

Q.Using Igbo sons?

 

A. Of courseÖYes.

 

Q. And is there no way Ohaneze can contain the activities of those Igbo sons that are being used to destabilize the place?

 

A. Until we are able to remobilize the Igbo people to return to their position prior to the Civil War and during the Civil War, we cannot wrest the oppressive arm of government being imposed on AnambraÖ

 

Q. There is a belief that, because the present Governor, Dr. Chris Ngige, has been able to cut off those conduits through which Anambraís resources were being sucked away, hell has been let loose on him.

 

A. No, I would not say so. Governor Ngige knows what pact he made, and consequently he is the only one that can extricate himself from the situation. We in Ohaneze have been watching and trying in our various ways to assist. Not to assist to impose Ngige on Anambra or Ndigbo, no, but to assist to extricate Ngige from the quagmire of deceit and oppressive party leadership in which he found himself.

 

         

 IGBO YOUTHS AND EDUCATION

 

 Q. There is current media hype on the low enrolment of Igbo youths in schools; now, if this is true, what is Ohaneze doing to address the situation?

 

A.  The low enrolment I believe is caused by two factors. One is excessive poverty in Igboland, and the cost of education. The youths have now discovered that due to the penalty imposed on Ndigbo by the powers that be in Nigeria, Igbo children, after their mandatory one year NYSC programme, find it difficult, because of their Igbo names, to get employment. So their reason may be: Why litter the place with educated young men, who cannot find job placements despite the promises that education is the way toward fulfillment and better living?

 

Q. But will Ndigbo not eventually lose out in the scheme of things in the nation if Igbo youths continue to drop out of school?

 

A. But thatís the intention of the present Nigerian leadership. Ohaneze and Ndigbo are, however, still doing everything they can to make sure that thatís not the case.

 

         

 ON CORRUPTION

 

Q. Some people are saying that President Obasanjo has stepped up the fight against corruption, while some others maintain that the crusade is only a tool to persecute perceived enemies? Now, how do you see it?

 

A. The country is corrupt. Corruption didnít start yesterday. To stop corruption, you must start from somewhere. I give the president credit for having the will to fight corruption, not minding the cost. There have been other presidents and heads of state in Nigeria -- if you go through the records, you will discover that their records are tainted, not only as harbingers of corruption but leaders of corruption and corrupt practices. At least, we are happy that one head of state has woken up one morning, and decided that enough is enough, no matter the cost to himself.

 

Q. But a number of people are insinuating, based on recent reports, that the anti-graft battle appears to be waged with soiled hands?

 

A. There is nothing like fighting corruption with soiled hands. If you are a good Christian, you must remember that it is said: repent of your sins and you will be forgiven and made whole. We canít say that because I made a mistake in the past, and have now realized the proper thing to do, I shouldnít go ahead and rectify the situation?

 

Q. But assuming that the person appears not to have changed? Did you read the details of Gov Orji Uzor-Kaluís allegations against the president? You are also aware of what transpired during the launching of the Presidential Library?

 

A. I canít believe Ö Orji Uzor Kalu has made his accusations, which I read in the newspapers. I also read the presidentís response. He said that he who is already on the ground need fear no fall. The president feels that he is on a sure ground, that corruption must be fought. He even gave orders to the same authority that is invested with the powers to fight corruption to investigate the accusations against him, and make their findings public. For me, it takes courage,  and somebody with  clean hands to say such a thing.

 

Q. But the EFCC appears to be developing cold feet now?

 

A. Thatís your assumption.

 

Q. No, from newspaper reports today.

 

A. Yes, thatís still your own conclusion and assumption. Did the EFCC tell you that they have developed cold feet?

 

Q. They are saying that they are waiting for Orji Uzor Kalu to supply them with evidence.

 

A. Correct! If you make allegations, you must be prepared to prove them.

 

 

HIS VISION AND PERSON     

 

Q. What would you say is your vision for Nigeria?

 

A. What I expect to see is a Nigeria where all the various ethnic groups live in peace, side by side under a true federation; a federation of equal partners; a federation where spiritual pursuits are allowed to be the personal affairs of individuals,  not that of the state; a federation where every Nigerian is free to ply his trade wherever he wants without let or hindrance; a federation where our children will grow with a vision of self respect wherever they find themselves in this world; a federation where the name Nigeria does not confer pariah status to those that identify with it; a federation where every child that is born in Nigeria can walk with his head high, knowing that tomorrow will be better than today; a federation free of corruption, free of political chicanery and all sorts of vice; a federation untainted by any schism as a result of religion.

 

Q.  Our intention, in this interview, is to seek realistic solutions. You have such wonderful expectations; but how do we go about realizing them?

 

A. Well, I should think that the first step is for everybody who wishes or expects to lead this country to first search his conscience and ask himself whether he has got what it takes to lead the country. He should be asking himself: can I make the necessary sacrifices without trying to enrich myself at the expense of fellow Nigerians? Have I the mental capacity to lead the people out of the present quagmire in which they have found themselves. If his answers are in the affirmative, then the person can bring himself before the people and we will give him the leadership on a golden platter.        

           

Q.  Majority of those who will read this interview already know that you are the Secretary General of Ohaneze Ndigbo. Can you tell us a little more about yourself?

 

A. There is nothing new about me. Iíve been around for the past three score and ten years, and participated in the vicissitudes that visited Nigeria since the late sixties. I also went through the Civil War, thanking God for surviving it, and still thanking Him for the strength and good health to be in Ohaneze for the past fifteen years. And, today, being the Secretary General of the organization, I have only one single vision in my mind: namely, to bring the Igbo together towards the original objective of Igbo togetherness, and to lead them back into the primary positions they used to occupy before the Civil War.

 

IGBO DAY

 

Q.  Another Igbo Day is around the corner. What is the agenda on the table for this yearís edition?

 

A. The Igbo Day will come up on September 29.  We expect that this yearís Igbo Day will signal the beginning of a new era, the beginning of the total mobilization of Ndigbo towards the singular objective most dear to their minds: namely, to produce the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, come 2007. Everything on the ground is pointing towards a level playing field, because the present leadership has completed its tenure in office, if the Constitution is to be relied upon. So, after this one, we intend that subsequent Igbo Days will be fully celebrated in every state, and weíve established it now that the 29th  of September every year, shall be the Igbo National Day. It is our work-free day. It is also a day of reflection for Ndigbo, and we hope that in the future, instead of being a day of sadness, it will turn out to be a day of rejoicing for Ndigbo.

 

         

POLITICAL PARTIES

 

Q. Many people have reservations about the political parities we have in Nigeria today. Some say our present crop of party men are not bound by any ideologies, but by mainly narrow interests.  Is that your opinion as well?

 

A. Well, ideology is a reflection of peopleís mental attitude. You form ideologies by packaging together your various expectations and working out a formula for actualizing and concentrating on them. What people are saying is that the political parties today are an amorphous grouping of people with diverse vested interests, with only one common objective, and that is to use the place as a platform for launching political careers. But to what end? They have no articulated programmes, and so people believe that they are devoid of ideologies.

 

Q. So, what does this portend for the country?

 

A. If you look into all the political parties we have now, none sprang up with the intention of ruling; itís a grouping of strange bed fellows, each looking forward to getting what they consider is their own share of the cake.

 

Q. Now that Ohaneze is talking about the Igbo producing the next president, considering that the person must come through one of the parties, how do you intend to ensure he is not part of the unwholesome system you have just described?

 

A. If the parties we have now are the ones allowed to produce the candidates, Ndigbo, being part of Nigeria, will automatically use the material on the ground for their own spring board.

 

 

THE CURSE OF OIL

      

Q. People are saying that crude oil appears to have become a curse to Nigeria. We have oil in abundance, but the masses are not benefiting from it; they buy fuel at exorbitant prices; there are hardly any social amenities.

 

A. The oil is not to blame. The oil has benefited us. Why do I say so? Before the advent of oil, our people toiled in the fields, getting calloused hands through farming and all sorts of manual labour. Today, you see them in their big togas, in big babaringas, driving such expensive cars like Sheiks of Arabia, and you are telling me the oil didnít benefit them.

 

Q. It benefited only a tiny few

 

A. Exactly. What you should have been asking is how come we are in the midst of  plenty, and yet  going about, cap in hand, begging. Indeed, just a few among us have cornered, to themselves, the fortune that belongs to everyone. I will say that the people are to blame, not the oil. Itís because they are all -- even those that we say are suffering in poverty -- overfed, thatís why they are afraid to scratch their skins. If not, why canít they come out in their thousands, in their millions, and pull down their tormentors, the few that have cornered the things that belong to many?

 

Q. A passive populace, we have then?

 

A. Passivity is as a result of excessive craving to preserve the body; like the Igbo man will say -- ďaru usoĒ -- that is, when one feels so  comfortable that he cannot afford to be troubled.

 

Q. It could be as a result of fear.

 

A. Fear of what? If you are afraid, you will die, if you are not afraid, you will die. So, why are you afraid, when you know that the ultimate is death?

 

         

 

MILITARY INTERVENTION

          

Q. People are saying that democracy has come to stay, but some others are yet to overcome the fear of the possibility of the military staging a come-back. Do you

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foresee that happening?

 

A. Who is in the military?

 

Q. The same people ruling now, I suppose.

 

A. The military are you and I, our children. They are not strangers. They are not imported mercenaries. Why should any one be putting it into their heads that they must disobey the people that brought them up? Why should you be afraid of them? If you are afraid of them, then disband the military. Why package something that you will be afraid of?

 

Q. The military was once considered the most effective platform for lasting unity in the country. But itís like at some point, such a belief evaporated.

 

A. How can there be unity in an army that is packaged on what you call federal character?  People donít join the army because they see it as a vocation; most of the people in the army are surrogates of certain people who put them there for their nefarious purposes. When we have a proper, well-oriented country, we will put together an army that will be for the protection and the defense of the people against external aggression.     

 

Q. I am ashamed to say that I have not read your book, Requiem Biafra, but could you just share with us what you set out to achieve with that book?

 

A. Requiem Biafra, first of all, was a book that I wrote while in detention.

 

Q. After the war?

 

A. YesÖ while in detention. I wasnít sure I would survive the detention. And I was not prepared for history to portray me unfairly. And so, I wanted to tell my own part of the story, of what took place in the battle, before other people superimposed falsehood on me.

 

 

 MESSAGE TO NIGERIANS

 

Q. What final message do you have for Nigerians?

 

A. All I can say is that all the ethnic groups in this country need to come together to resolve their differences, and that without that, there is no other power that can shape and bring about the Nigeria we all are looking forward to.

 

           

ON THE INTERVIEW PROJECT

 

Q. What do you think about the Interview Project that the Chinua Achebe Foundation is organizing? What is your impression, having participated now?

 

A. I have the greatest respect for Chinua Achebe, because I know him. I knew him through the war. I knew him after the war.  Achebe has a very brilliant, literary mind, and from his books, one can see that his level of thinking is not just on the surface, but deeply engraved. He loves and truly believes in Nigeria as one, as do I and other true patriots. Consequently, I believe that whatever he embarks on is genuinely in the best interest of Ndigbo and Nigeria.

 

Q. Thank you very much, Sir.

 

A. You are welcome.

 

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are not necessarily those of the Chinua Achebe Foundation. The Chinua Achebe Foundation, an intellectual and cultural organization, believes in the right of every Nigerian to express their opinion.

Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series: Col. Joe Achuzie in Conversation with Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye