By Chikezie Ogbonna
Chief Dr. Nnia Nwodo is the outspoken President General of the Pan Igbo Socio Political Group, Ohaneze Ndi Igbo. In this exclusive interview he opened up on a lot of burning issues especially as it relates to the place of the Igbo nation in scheme of things in Nigeria.
The Choice Flame: People say you have a personal hatred for the Buhari led Government, however, is your vociferous opposition to this government’s policies your way of standing for the principle of justice and equity?
Nnia Nwodo: I was trained to respect the truth! I had my early education at St Patrick’s. The Parish Priest was Father Michael Eneje as he then was who later became His Lordship, Bishop of Enugu Diocese,( may his soul rest in Peace.) He had always been an alternate Father for me, from my childhood
I was brought up with that early injunction about upholding the truth under any circumstance and believing that the only one to fear and honor is God. If I’m on the side of God, put a gun in my head, I’ll still say what I am saying and the life of Christ is the life of conviction.
A man who is prepared to give up his life when he has the power of life and death just to redeem us, walking in his image teaches me to hold tenaciously to my point of view when I know it is right.
The views that Ohaneze has held in our political space have been historically devolved. The constitution we operate in Nigeria today is a constitution imposed on Nigerians by the military. Notwithstanding the constitutional conference that they held to distill the issues of determination, the issues were determined at the highest supreme military council at the various eras of military rule and were promulgated into law by a group of soldiers who constituted themselves into the parliament of Nigeria. They had power to make laws and they shared the responsibilities of legislative and executive functions, they also fired and hired Judges as they liked, overruled decisions of judges, so they were despotic. The constitution amendments neared the hand prints of the military, the irony of it is that, our constitution starts with the sentence, ‘we the people of Nigeria’, we the people of Nigeria did not make that constitution. It was made by the military and the armed forces ruling council that made this constitution had no equal representation of the constituent parts of the country. They were represented according to the ranks of officers in the armed forces and they were in majority of northerners, in the armed forces ruling council. In fact, the worst represented area was the South East, both in rank and in number, because a good number of our senior officers where retired as a result of the war. It was not a democratic platform for distilling the feelings of the various parts of the country and coming to a constitution agreed to voluntarily by all parts of the country, that is why you have a federation that only exists in name but not in structure or implementation. The political dictionary of a Federation is a voluntary willingness of the federating units to form one political union called a country which does not compromise their independence but stipulates regulations under which they can have common services as applied to all of them. If you look at all Federal Government in the world, there is none like the Nigerian one.
The Nigerian one is the only that is federal in name and unitary in character. The Nigerian one is the only one where the federal government has exclusive control over mineral resources that are in the federating unit.
We are like a conquered land, the constitution our people agreed to in 1963 did not give the federal government such as power. The first oil well that was discovered in Nigeria was in Eastern Nigeria by the government of Eastern Nigeria. My father was the Minister of Commerce and Industry and had the privilege of commissioning the first oil well in Oloibiri in what is now Bayelsa State.
That oil well is owned exclusively by the Federal Government. All they do is to give pittance to the various states in accordance with a revenue formula promulgated by the army not agreed to by the people of Nigeria. Our national assembly is constituted according to that phony character; there is no equality of federating units.
This makes it impossible for us to have an agreement in the country as to what we want. We are forced into a Union that is not of our own volition.
We tried in Biafra and failed and after the failure in Biafra, they’ve tightened noose and made it more difficult, right now in our country, you don’t need to look hard to know that the whole place is skewed; no security arm of this country is headed by an Igbo man.
The current President seems to have a disdain for our people, mistrust for our people that he doesn’t think that anyone of us is capable of heading any of the security arms. In other to appoint an Inspector General of Police, he had to retire two Igbos who were Deputy Inspector General of Police who were senior to the Inspector General of Police. It is not because any of them had any previous queries or disciplinary actions against them, they come from a place that disqualifies them from being Inspector General of Police.
I find this reprehensible, condemnable, nepotic and totally unarguable and if you put a gun in my head I’ll continue to say so.
As a leader of Ndi Igbo, I cannot preside over the subjugation of my people to second class citizens in their own country. Look at his cabinet and look at the kind of ministries. He tells us that we have ministers of cabinet rank, who is deceiving who? A cabinet position is important according to the responsibilities of the minister and the resources available for this responsibility. Namely, what is the strength of the ministry in terms of man power? What is the capital allocation in that ministry, how does it impact on the life of people. Having said so, I want you to look at the ministerial allocations to the South East. The Ministry of Science and Technology exists in name. If you look at the federal vote, it is probably the ministry with the least capital allocation. If you look at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is just a management of foreign relations which already has a number of established career officers who are ambassadors who churn out the policy, who have been chosen on the bases of a skewed federal character that gives the minister no room to help anybody from this part of the country.
He (President Buhari) is abroad half or three quarters of the time that he is not even having anytime to interact with us to know what our problems are. Minister of Labor is just a management of trade relations with the trade unions; he has no bearing on infrastructural development in Nigeria. The Minister of State for Education is a Professor who has been made to act under an accountant as his cabinet Minister; it is the tail wagging the dog.
How can I be more qualified but I am a subordinate to you in the ministry because of where I come from?
What do you really want me to say that you don’t already know?
The Choice Flame: The core duty of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo is to work for the interest of Ndi Igbo. What are the steps your organization is taking to unite Ndi-Igbo into a strong political relevance?
That question is unfair, because you have not acknowledged what Ohaneze have done in the last election. Igbos believes that they were in the minority of the voting population in this country and that there was no point going to vote. But after the North gave us quit notice, I went and did a census of Igbos in Northern Nigeria and found out we were nearly 12 million. 11 point something millions of Igbos lives in Northern Nigeria and out of this over 11 million people, about 6 to 7 million of them are adults with voting right.
In Abuja alone, there are 2.2 million Igbos. In Lagos, there are about 3.5 million Igbo voters. There is no state in Nigeria where if you remove the indigenous population, the next population is not Igbo. They have refused in the demographic characteristics of the National Population Commission, for you to reflect ethnic origin or religion. There is nothing in the population commission that shows how many people in Nigeria are Fulani, how many are Yoruba, how many are Igbo, they will never allow it to be done.
Even the bio metrics that require you not to register twice, they have refused it. So, we don’t know who has the correct population in this country, nobody knows.
In the circumstance we have, for the first time I brought it into public view, the Governor elect in Lagos state when he came to talk to Igbos told them that they have found that there are 3.5 million of you registered.
There was a calculated attempt in Lagos to prevent Igbos from collecting their voters’ cards before the election. Even after the collection of voters cards was closed and the actual elections started, Igbos where prevented from going to vote. Those who voted, there votes were burnt and those who burnt them where caught on camera and not one has been arrested till today.
Even leading politicians in Lagos where caught on camera saying we cannot trust the Igbos anymore. We were openly told in the social media that we should go away. Right now, markets developed by Igbos, Yoruba leaders have been appointed to come and superintend over markets developed by our people.
This is slavery and you expect me to keep quiet? Without me, this would not have been in the consciousness of the political leadership of Nigeria. And that’s why they have rigged the elections all over the place. If there’s a real election in Lagos, the Igbos will be very influential in determining who wins and our constitution guarantees us the freedom to live and to vote there, but, we are reminded every day that we are not Yorubas.
I grew up in Enugu, under Azikiwe. The Mayor of this town was a Fulani man called Umaru Altini from Katsina state. He was voted for in Enugu as a member of Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly. If you go back to history, you’ll find John Umoru from what is now Edo state, voted from Port Harcourt to be a member of the Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly, whereas Edo was part of Mid-West, which was the kind of country we had then. You could find Mbonu Ejike being voted as Deputy Speaker of Lagos State or Lagos City Council as it was called then. Nigeria was more united then.
I became SUG president in University of Ibadan. In our time they were not as clannish as they are today. We believed in the sacrosanct of people’s qualification. Now it doesn’t matter anymore and our leadership are to be blamed not the civil war which ended 49 years ago . We cannot continue to emasculate our thinking in this country according to where you come from.
The Choice Flame: You supported Atiku in the last election, and you’ve already said you have no regret supporting him. what should Igbos bear in mind for 2023?
Nnia Nwodo: I don’t believe Atiku lost the election. I believe the result announced by INEC was false. I believe the evidence derived from INEC server that he actually won the election. Part of the problem of this country is the dethronement of truth. Since this is a Catholic paper, I want to use this opportunity to express my disappointment at the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) for congratulating President Buhari, when the context for the validity of the results announced have not been exhausted. I find it a contradiction in terms; I mean the CBCN have been a source of moral leadership for us. Whenever they hold meetings they read their resolutions to us in the Church and we take them as the pronouncements of the leaders of our Church. We take them as the representative of the apostles of Christ in this world now and those who should stand for the very fundamental principles of the Church.
The worst thing that can happen to a country is when the collective will of his people expressed by their votes is vitiated on the altar of falsification. The allegations that are before our courts today are very huge allegations. Any reasonable person or body in the country should wait for the determination of the court before expressing anything. If it turns out tomorrow that the Supreme Court holds that Atiku won that election, how will our Bishops ever be able to talk to us when they cannot exercise the patience to see that the truth comes out?
The Choice Flame: With some outbursts from certain elements in the country, why do some people see Igbos as a threat in Nigeria?
Nnia Nwodo: If you go to a function as a journalist and they say, who was there, you’re likely to identify those of distinction whose names are recognizable. If you come to a country where every state you go to after the indigenous population there the next highest population are Igbos, what do you expect? The Igbos are the most cognizable people in all part of Nigeria. Every state you go to in Nigeria, commercial and industry are the preoccupation of Igbos. when I toured the North during the quit notice, one of the Governors up North said to me; “look, don’t take this things serious, even if Igbos go here, we will have nobody to repair our cars again, all the mechanics and the motor part dealers are Igbos , our people have not learnt this trade. The patent medicine stores are Igbos. In some of our remotes villages, the patent medicine stores are like hospitals that are the ones who treat our people”, the governor said. Now I ask, shall we be punished for our enterprise?
We attract jealousy by people who do not have the capacity of ingenuity and industriousness that we exact. It is part of our DNA to work hard, to preserver, to take discomfort for a long time in other to achieve our objective, other people cannot.
The northerners control practically everything but still wallow in the highest poverty and the lowest level of education in the country. Development is imbedded on our DNA.
The Choice Flame: What is your take on the IPOB’s annual 30th May sit at home to honor Igbo fallen heroes of the civil war?
Nnia Nwodo: This is a society that enjoys plurality. In our local administration, the young people are allowed in the society to do what they must do, same goes to the old. Our young people are entirely free to celebrate our dead in the way they find fit. If IPOB was acting under our constitution it will be an affiliate organization of Ohaneze, it will probably be an expanded part of our youth wing. I don’t oppose them, they did it last year, I didn’t work against it. I have no objection to their sitting at home and of anything; I’ll like to join them to sit at home.
If there’s resources I’ll probably helped them to organize it in such a manner that every Igbo man will participate by going to Church to pray for our dead.