• Says restructuring is above NASS, NCS
In this interview with CHUKS EZE, university don, Professor ObasiIgwe advises President MuhammaduBuhari to be more cautious in handling present challenges in the country, especially as regards self-determination agitation, hate speeches and restructuring, and encouraged him to also desist from “addressing hate speech with hate speech.”
Some people kicked when President Buhari shifted the job determining whether torestructure the country or not to the National Assembly (NASS) and National Council of State (NSA), what about you?
I would say that it is normal for some people to be afraid of any change because those who benefit from existing conditions would invariably oppose change while those that mean better for the country would advocate for change. Restructuring in Nigeria is inevitable, and the reason is because under the present structure, Nigerians are being impoverished; Nigerians are divided.
According to President Buhari himself, there is so much corruption that it can even pull down the country. So, it is obvious that restructuring has to occur. And the restructuring that we are advocating for is simply the reordering of the units of political administration with all the attendant changes in distribution of incomes; legislative and all other lists, whether exclusive, concurrent or residual. So, all these will come into restructuring. But there is another issue that concerns the Igbo.
Is it about marginalisation?
It is rather about those endorsing Igbo ethnic cleansing. Those who say they are Igbo leaders and taking Ndigbo for a ride. There is suspicion now that they have been paid to endorse the ethnic cleansing in Southern Igboland, by Yakubu Gowon and Diete-Spiff alliance, and others which make the Igbo leaders to start restricting the concept of Igbo to the South East; meaning that it is only the Igbo in the south east that do not have a tender access to the sea.
What is wrongwith that?
Everything is wrong with it when it is unlawfully and cruelly imposed on the people. The Igbo who have been spreading this falsehood are number one enemies of Ndigbo; they would never be forgiven except they change their ways. The Igbo are contiguous to the coast and to the sea.
The Igbo brought other tribes in the east into coastal history. The Igbo, for over 600 years opened and used Bonny, opened and used IgweOcha – now called Port Harcourt; and since 1869, they opened and used Opobo. It is true that centres of gravity have been changing; but during the slave trade, which was imposed on the Igbo, the centre of gravity was Bonny. So the Igbo concentrated on Bonny through IgweOcha (Port Harcourt).
But when the slave trade ended and oil trade started, the centre of gravity shifted to Opobo. Then, with the end of oil trade, rise of independence and export of coal, the centre of gravity shifted back to IgweOcha. So, Igbo coastal history has been very clear and known to everybody. The Igbo were able, in the process of that coastal history, to rescue Ogoni and resettle them in the place they are today.
How do you mean that Igbo recued the Ogoni?
O yes, it is in the Ogoni history. The Igbo were the people that manned the Ijaw war canoes, their canoe houses and so on; which means that about 90 per cent or more of the present Ijaw nation, from the central ijaw land, particularly Bayelsa, are of Igbo stock. That also implies that it was the Igbo that played the central role in bringing the eastern tribes into coastal history.
So, no one can now come and say it is these same Igbo that would be removed from coastal region because there was an ethnic cleansing. The Igbo have to get that attitude right; I mean the central Igbos. They have been blaming the Ikwere, the Bonny, Opobo, Etchie, Ndoni; the Ahoada and so on, for betraying the central Igbo during the civil war.
That is not true. These MbaMmiripeople were being bombarded by British and Soviet tanks, Soviet jets, Arab pilots, European weapons and all that; and as they were being bombarded, the only way they could survive physically, was to tell Britain that they were no more Igbo. Remember that somebody that is dead has no name to answer. Therefore, it was an attempt to survive that made some of them denounce being Igbo.
Those who did not denounce being Igbo were killed. And as Nigerian soldiers were killing the MbaMmiri people, one commander in the Nigerian army threatened with boast that they would kill every moving object. When that was happening, some of the MbaMmiri people ran to the central Igboland, now called five eastern states. But some senseless Biafra soldiers shot some of them in the process.
Why would Biafra soldiers shoot at fellow Igbo?
They weresuspected of sabotage, and in the process, they were shot some of them like they were also shooting some inland Igbos. So, the task before the Igbo leadership now is to go and reconcile with the southern Igbo – the Mbammiri people, and explain to them that after all, the victimisations were spread all over. During that time, Biafra soldiers were suspecting people from Wawa, from IjekoEbe, from Ogbo, MbaMmiri and everybody.
So, let no one appropriate the injustice to himself; let us understand each other and make peace. What I am saying is that it is not the MbaMmiri people that hate the central Igbo. After all, why should you associate with somebody who does not know what he is doing? So, it is all of us that have to go to our brothers, try to thrash these things out and maintain the integrity of Igbo homeland, contiguous to the sea as it is.
The English imperial masters noted that the Igbo are contiguous to the sea; so, we do not accept ethnic cleansing, codenamed Abandoned Property. We have stated this severally. So those Igbos who are equating south east with Igbo and Igbo with south east are complete disappointment and they should be ashamed of themselves.
They go to Lagos and tell the Yoruba that Lagos is no man’s land. Lagos is Yoruba and not a no man’s land. Those I am talking about have defecated on Igboland like birds that would defecate inside their nests and run away. They are a shame and complete disappointment. Lagos is Yorubaland and Ndigbo are there as grateful migrants in Yorubaland.
They should change their ways, come home and reconcile Ndigbo. What we are advocating is restructuring. Restructuring is the way out or Nigeria’s problems. It is not attempting to land-lock Ndigbo and using the minority of Igbo in Mbammiri as pawns in the chess game of other minorities.
Some APC stalwarts have severally alleged that most of those agitating for restructuring do not really know what they want; is that the case with you?
It is a lie; do not mind them. Those calling for restructuring understand very clearly what they want. The Afenifere want a Yoruba homeland – six states plus Yoruba sections of Kwara, Kogi and other states.
The Ijaw people want a united Ijaw homeland, possibly up to River Mahin and Santa Barbra. These are the conscientious Ijaw people who do not want to be involved in land-locking Ndigbo via the ethnic cleansing fraud. The Ogoni people want self-determination. The Anang, Efik, central Ibibio and Ogoja want their own homeland, just as the Igbo want their homeland, contiguous to the sea.
What is the meaning of not understanding what they want? We want units of political administration to be this way in the south – every southern ethnic group must retain her original independent and contiguous access to the sea.
The Ogoni desires to be joined by the Andoni to form a unit. This restructuring can be in two parts: If we want to restructure to redistribute power among the elites, we can then do it on the basis of creation of local governments among the Igbos. But we have transcended that. We are now talking about not only units of political administration, but also the national question.
That nationalities – people who share the same language and culture, should be organised as a single community; translate, not only exist in nature, into constitutional process and say: okay, Igbo, you remain one nation, contiguous to the sea; Yoruba, you remain one nation, contiguous to the sea; Ogoni and Ndoni, one nation; Ijaw, one nation; Efik, Anaang and Ibibio that share the same language, together with Ogoja, one nation.
Then when we have achieved that in the south, there would be an option for mergers. Do you understand? So, Benin, Itsekiri, Urhobo would have an option to join the Igbo, Yoruba or to come together on their own, or each one to stand on its own, as the case may be. Restructuring in Southern Nigeria is clear and definite. There is no doubt about that and the APC Chairman, (Chief) Oyegun knows that.
What is your rating of the President’s performance in the last two years?
In terms of war against corruption, I would score the President 20 per cent because he is recovering some looted funds. But there some pertinent questions I want to pose to the President in the area of corruption. Has he been able to stop corruption as he had promised, or at least reduce it to barest minimum? Has he been able to stop corruption in the civil service or economic sector? What about the issue of political corruption, especially inside his government? What about financial corruption? It still abound.
We all heard about the grasscutting saga, which is taking ages for government to deal with conclusively. What about the issue of economic corruption and sabotage? The President has left the former eastern region behind, by way of official neglect; that is economic sabotage. He has allowed the criminal-minded Fulani herdsmen to have a field day in criminality.
When we are talking about herdsmen killings, they are talking about cattle rustling – things that have nothing to do with herdsmen killings. They are talking of herdsmen farmers clash when it is herdsmen that are killing farmers in their homes and farms.
That is political corruption. What about the issue of militarising the eastern region, unleashing army and mobile police men on their roads, with the attendant extortions the people are being subject to, impoverishing them on daily basis? That is security corruption; and you know that security and economy are intertwined. So, that is why I scored Buhari 20 per cent on war against corruption.
And you said that restructuring can also take care of that?
Absolutely! That is why I said that the armed forces and entire security system would be reorganised so that nobody can use them to pursue ethnic or religious goals again. For instance, why should unarmed IPOB and MASSON demonstrators be killed en masse and buried in mass graves, while Boko Haram terrorists are being forgiven and rehabilitated, just as Fulani herdsmen are being sent weapons through the air, only for the army to rush to scenes of their operations when they must have finished their dastardly acts and gone away?
The allegation has been that the reason the army even surface at all after the attack of the herdsmen is for them to prevent possible retaliation from their victims. These are the issues in Nigeria. The Shiites demonstrators were initially shot at, but now, to protect northern interest, they are not more being killed. But even at that, we still insist that El Zakzaki should be released, so that the Shiites in Nigeria would enjoy religious freedom. We cannot be enslaved to the murderous system – the Wahhabi system imported into the country from Saudi Arabia. No, Nigeria should be a modern state. That is what we are saying.
Why are you against the six geopolitical zone arrangement, as is being advocated by some of your kinsmen?
I have already stated that those pushing for such arrangement, on what they call south east region, are enemies of Igboland and they should be ashamed of themselves. This south east zone is the same East Central State (ECS), that was carved out by Gowon to separate the Igbo from the sea, and then to ethnically cleanse the southern Igbo or central Igbo and then pronounce the Igbo landlocked. The Igbo have been against this ethnic cleansing alias abandoned property and land-locking up to the Oputa Panel in 1999.
Why should a group of Igbo go and endorse this ethnic cleansing by evolving what they call south east geopolitical zone? Why should we, of all the zones in the country Igbo be the ones without access to the sea? I maintain that those people are enemies of Igboland and they should hide their heads in shame.
Who are these enemies of Igbo that you have been referring to?
They know themselves, there is no point mentioning names here. Conscientious Igbo are not in support of six geopolitical zones. What we support is to let each state, even though improperly created; even though not favourable to everybody, be the basic unit of a restructured Nigeria.
It is not a question of devolution of powers; it is rather that states must possess their powers, own and control their resources and have everything inside those states so that, as they move in that direction, there would be a referendum on mergers. Let those who wish to merge, merge with those they want to merge with and create a region with those they want to create with.
It is not for anybody from anywhere to go and decide that these people should be a region and those people should not. That should be a question of referendum or plebiscite of where people wish to belong. The reason for that is that there are Igbo in the South-South, for instance.
Would such people like to be a minority in the South-South region or would they like to associate with other Igbo and form a single Igbo homeland, contiguous down to the sea? Inside the South-South, there are the Effik and Anang, there are also the Ibibio, Ijaw, Ogoni, Ogoja and others. So, the South-South is an awkward arrangement and you cannot carve out some Igbo to minoritize them under some other people and call that a zone.
We are saying, let the present states be the basic units of restructuring; let powers and resources be taken back by these states then let there be a referendum or plebiscite on who wants to join who. You would be surprised that some middle belt groups would like to join the Igbo or join whoever they want.
The discussion about the south east being left with only five states against other zones is meaningless. And another tragedy of the advocates of the so-called south east, is an attempt to equate south east with Igbo and Igbo with south east.
In fact, we are suspecting that those are agents of security services being paid to solidify the ethnic cleansing fraud against Ndigbo. But the thing is that it is not too late for anyone to change position, after all, the Fulani/Hausa northerners changed their position from Araba in August 1966 to independence.
They are still changing their position and have now come back to restructuring in the way they think is good for them. The Ijaw people were originally from single Ijaw homeland, but now they have changed that to South-South.The Ogoni people were for Ogoni self-determination; why should the Ogoni leave their self-determination to now answer South-South?
Why can’t the OhanaezeNdigbo, led by the able NniaNwodo, also press for changing from South East to Igboland? Before now, the only true Igbo that we had in OnanaezeNdigbo, was Amb. Ralf Uwechue.The others sold out to other Nigerians.It was when Nwodo came on that he began to realise that he is President General (PG) of OhanaezeNdigbo and not the PG of South East. We all want to unite under Nwodo because he knows his onions. So, we are not after South East.
We should reconcile ourselves and the time to do that is now. Why would you have Anioma people go along with Uroboand some Ijaw, Itshekiri and Isoko? The Urhobo, Isoko, Itsekiri and Ijaw are good brothers and sisters from our own angle, provided that they also know that, together with the Benin whom they have a lot of relationship with.
But some of them are not inclined towards the Igbo. During the war, they were the people that showed federal troops how to annihilate the Igbo. We tried to unite with the Ogoni, we showed them a place to stay, treated them well; we boosted the Ijaw population and all that came to not; all that they saw was that Igbo was exploiting them.
When they had no resources to exploit, the Igbo were the ones sending food, palm oil and everything to them, brought them into Atlantic history and all they later saw was exploitation. When AdakaBoro was being mistreated in the Nigeria Police, it was Igbo that brought him to Nsukka and made him king, but all he saw was exploitation.
The truth is that when they had nothing, it was the Igbo that provided the food, the agriculture, the technology that built them to nationhood. Instead of being grateful, they refused to remember all that the Igbo had done for them and see the humiliation of the Igbo as their triumph. But like I had pointed out earlier, it is not all of them that are not inclined to the Igbo. We point out some of these things so that their younger generation would be exposed to the truth.
For the purpose of clarity; who are the Igbo and where are they located in Nigeria?
Good! That is the question I have been expecting from you. The Igbo have long been established… go to page 51 of the Willink Commission and you would see the description of the Igbo there, that the Igbo are contiguous to the sea, down to Bonny and Opobo. You can see that may Igbo do not even know themselves?
That is why I pity those doing this South East thing. The Igbo are people who speak Igbo language in various dialects, from Igbakiri, in Edo State, down to Agbor, Kwale and other parts of Anioma, Asaba and so on. The Igbo are the Bonny, the Ikwere, Opobo, Echie, Ahoada, Ndoni and so on; the Ijekebe and Mbammiri as a whole; the Ogbo, Wawa, Owerriand so on. These are the Igbo.
We are known by one language; we are known by a democratic tradition; we honour women. We are known for traditions such as the age grade system, new yam festival, and so on. But above all, we speak the same language. It was the Bonny, Opobo, Ikwere, Echie and so on that gave us the Igbo Bible, called Bible Nso. They saw western civilization before others.
It was Nzeogwu, from Anioma and Azikiwe, from Anioma to Onitsha that gave us freedom and an attempt at renewing Nigeria. It is we, the central Igbo that are just after money and more money. And these other Igbo that are fed up with us; they are frustrated about us. We cannot remain in Asokoro, Lekki Island and so on and be talking of South East; who are we fooling?
What about the Igalala; are they not Igbo originally?
No, there are Igbo in other places, like the Igala. We know our history, that the Igala, together with most parts of Anambra and Nsukka, are all the same Igbo. But we are not imposing that on the Igala people. It is for them to choose whether to be governed by the caliphate;it is up to them to be slaves to anybody.
And if they want to come and re-join their brothers and sisters in a democratic setting, it is up to them. But it is improper for any Igbo to unilaterally bring the Igala nation, the Ijaw, Tiv, Ibibio and so on into a Biafra. We want them to join us inside Nigeria, in an expanded eastern region. That is our goal; or if Nigeria does not want us, then we settle in a Biafra.
What is wrong with that? Inside that Biafra, all ethnic nationalities would be in charge of their resources and be providing support to the central government. The Igbo are not interested in exploiting or oppressing anybody. I do not know why some people take delight in oppressing the Igbo. We are not also interested in anybody’s oil.
Why should I be interested in Ijaw oil, Ogoni oil and all that; for what reason? I depend on my hard work; let them depend on their oil, even though we continue to condemn the devastation that has been inflicted on Ogoni, Ijaw and the rest by the Nigerian government. So, let nobody preach south east south-south to us again or the issue of south east having lower number of states than the rest of the zones.
There would be no federal allocation in a restructured Nigeria. There would be no issue of state creation or creation of local government arrears. Every unit would determine what they want and how they want it.