About Col. Achuzie
Born seventy years ago,
Prof. Chinua Achebe
Col. Joe Achuzie
Prof. Chinua Achebe
Col. Joe Achuzie
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 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
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
A. No, there has been nothing like that.
A PEOPLE AND THEIR LEADERS
Q. Blame for
A. Yes, we all know that the problem
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
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.
Q. What would be your
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
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
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
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
Look at what is happening in
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
Q. So it was merely a battle for self-preservation?
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
Q. So what happens to
the quest for a united
A. Only the Igbo believe in one
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,
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
Q. How can Ohaneze ensure that this matter is amicably
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.
Q. Does Ohaneze attempt to engage its counterparts in other zones or ethnic blocs in meaningful dialogue?
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
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
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
Even the lordly
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,
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
ANAMBRA POLITICAL CRISES
Q. There is a growing
impression that throughout last year, Anambra was the troublesome baby of
A. No, you are wrong. Anambra is not
the troublesome baby of
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?
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
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.
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
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
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 and ten years, and participated in the vicissitudes that visited
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.
Q. Many people have reservations
about the political parities we have in
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
THE CURSE OF OIL
Q. People are saying that
crude oil appears to have become a curse to
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?
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
BNW Advocates' Island
BNW Advocates' Island
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?
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
Q. Thank you very much, Sir.
A. You are welcome.
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.
Founder and Chairman, Board of Directors of the Chinua Achebe Foundation
Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series: Col. Joe Achuzie in Conversation with Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye