Dr Joe Nworgu, the secretary-general of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, was a delegate to the 2014 national conference. In this interview with Christopher Isiguzo, Nworgu speaks on the place of the Igbo in the current political dispensation. He says the Igbo do not regret voting massively for ex-President Goodluck Jonathan at the last presidential election, even though he lost. Excerpts:
How have the Igbo fared in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari nearly two years after the president’s inauguration?
Candidly, the situation of the Igbo nation had been bad before Buhari, but President Buhari has heightened it to an unprecedented level with his anti-Igbo policies, nuances. Since after the Nigerian-Biafran war, successive governments have been very very anti-Igbo. The three Rs by Gowon was just a slogan, nothing happened in terms of reconciliation and trying to bring back the Igbo nation into the Nigerian middle. It was just lip service, sloganeering, downright wickedness, which I think God should not forgive all those who took part in that. So, Gowon pretending Nigeria Prays is just lip service and confusion.
What did he do? He was toppled on July 29, 1975. He had five years from the time Biafra surrendered to effect changes but he chose to do nothing, just sloganeering. So the trend has continued, the trend of wickedness, insensitive, non-affirmative action, nothing whatsoever. Look at the North-east, a self-inflicted situation, see the billions of money being poured in, Nigeria’s money. Nothing was brought into Igbo land and all their policies have been anti-Igbo land. Under Buhari, we had watched him during his first coming, December 30, 1983 to August 27, 1985, if you look at what Buhari did, you will see, it was against Igbos.
When the president was knocked out, Shagari was kept under house arrest, his vice, Ekwueme, who had no constitutional functions, was imprisoned. He came back as chief executive of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), if you followed what he did there, 66 per cent of Nigeria’s money was spent in the North-west, South east got 6.3 per cent. Then, he comes back and said he wants to be the president of Nigeria, the answer from Igno land would be no, given your pedigree and your past actions to Ndigbo. Your answer was no, we know you. You are not going to be good to us, we did not vote for him. I repeat, we did not vote for him based on his past outings.
He won, nonetheless. What did he do? Rather than being a broad-minded person, his first appointments, 32 of them, he gave northerners 25, andseven for southerners and none for South-east. He boasted in Washington that those who gave him less than five per cent need not expect to be treated at the same level with those who gave him 95 per cent. He went ahead to implement it that way, he put the Igbo nation on the alert. This is his attitude, anti-Igbo.
Lai Mohammed, who is an internationally acclaimed propagandist, thinks he can wall-paper through by saying other appointments would come, they’ve all come. Apart from the constitutional positions states are entitled to, what is the actual post given to us in terms of affirmative action? The answer is nothing. The Igbo nation is not happy with him and cannot be happy with him except he changes his actions quickly.
With the two past experiences we had with him, Igbos were suspicious of him and his tendencies. Consequently, they refused to vote for him because it would be like taking a risk.
We learnt Buhari wrote to visit Ohanaeze Ndigbo during the campaigns but was refused several times. Don’t you think this could be the reason Igbo people are getting this sort of treatment?
Very good. He wrote to Ohaneze Ndigbo through the secretary-general, Dr Joe Nwaorgu, that’s I. It was brought to me by Osita Okechukwu. I took the letter to Ime Obi, and it was discussed. Okechukwu who was not a member of Imeobi was also invited and he witnessed the discussion. It was decided that any presidential candidate that wanted to see Ndigbo should see Ndigbo. I told Okechukwu that we were waiting for his candidate to come. This is part of the reason why Chief Mbazulike Amaechi waged war against us. The following morning Amaechi phoned me that he was the highest Igbo political officer and that if Buhari wanted to see Ohanaeze, it should be in his house and I told him no, that it should be at the secretariat. This is the background to the so called clash in Ohanaeze.
I said Buhari would see us at the secretariat, that we were ready for him. Osita was to send back the message to him. Okechukwu thought he was playing politics to the extent that I even called him to find out when the then APC candidate was coming but he told me, General was busy visiting, when he is ready, he would tell me. But he was visiting other groups and ignored the Igbo. On February 1, 2015, Osita phoned me, that the president was then ready to see us; we knew that APC people were having series of meeting in Mbazulike Amaechi’s house. Rochas Okorocha, Senator Chris Ngige, and a few other people were meeting them with Raph Obioha and co and Osita was calling to say they were now ready, I told him not to worry, that he should phone me at the same time. I knew the following day was the day we were going to endorse Jonathan. I told him to call me the same time, that I will have news for him.
Don’t you think that endorsement was a misadventure?
We do not regret voting for Jonathan. We had to mend fences. 1953 broke eastern region. 1953, Zik’s incursion in politics in Enugu broke Eastern Region with minorities who felt alienated. From that time on, they never desired to be part of Eastern Region. They were voting for Action Group, with Obafemi Awolowo. We took our time and decided to mend fences with them by endorsing Jonathan. We supported him unconditionally to mend fences with our immediate brothers, we have no regrets. I didn’t say we shall vote for him again if he comes out but I said, we have no regrets for the one we have done.
What’s the way out now?
That is his regime, if that’s the way a Nigerian president would act in terms of nepotism, exclusionism, let it be his history. History will judge him as a Nigerian president, not as Buhari. I have categorically stated that his nuances, his actions are not in consonance with equity. Ndigbo expect a Nigerian president to be president of all Nigerians not a person that would engage in sectional activities geared towards nepotism. Nepotism is corruption. The worst aspect of corruption, really.
Quite recently, the president has been interfacing with different groups across the country and he has not left the Igbo behind. He’s met with traditional rulers, political leaders, legislators, among others. What is your take on this?
Very good, let him actualise it with affirmative action. We want to see the result, not hearsay, we want to eye mark not earmark. Let him put things here to show us we are part of Nigeria. At the moment, he’s been suspected of intentionally pushing us out and putting traps for us to fall for him to have reason for a clampdown. That’s not patriotism for the country.
What are the major issues the president needs to address to make people of the South-east have a sense of belonging?
From 1970, the Igbo have been talking about marginalisation. The Igbo reported the Nigerian state to the Oputa panel. The Igbo reported the Nigerian state’s wickedness, exclusionism, negative treatment meted out to them. We took all that to Oputa panel. President Obasanjo, for whatever reason, never implemented the recommendations of the panel but read Bishop Matthew Kukah’s book, “Witness”, nothing came out from that report from 2000 to 2016, nothing. What has the federal government done for us in terms of affirmative action? Has the federal government intentionally said this commission is for compensation to Ndigbo for their war loses? After all, the war was imposed on Ndigbo by the Nigerian government. It was imposed on us by Gowon who refused to implement what was agreed in Aburi.
After decisions and agreements were reached in Aburi, he came back to Lagos and reneged on them all and turned round to say Ojukwu is a secessionist; who is a secessionist? You that pushed him into it or who? People going about today saying all manner of things, trying to turn history upside down; it’s totally disgraceful. The truth must be known. The war was imposed in us. I’ve not answered you question yet, because I don’t want to answer it. They know what to do because there is wickedness against us from past administrations, not just Buhari. They’ve been very wicked to us
But Igbos had a sizeable number of juicy portfolios in the administration of President Jonathan.
I was taking to my very good friend, a former Chief of Army Staff, he told me that Jonathan’s government was an Igbo government, given the number of key positions our people occupied. Yes, we accept, it’s not Jonathan’s fault, our people were in government. Those our people in government are those to be blamed not Jonathan. You can’t have Minister of Finance, Central Bank Governor, Deputy Senate President, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, SGF, Anyim, all of them failed the Igbo nation, not Jonathan.
Our people that held public offices under Jonathan failed us woefully. Ayogu Eze was chairman, senate committee on works, Ozomgbachi was chairman of the House of Representatives committee on works, what did they do for us, nothing. To be pointing accusing fingers at Jonathan was a total lie, he gave us our due and we thank him very much. He gave us national burial for Ojukwu, we thank him very much. No Nigerian could have done that, he made our hero a national hero. We are very grateful to Jonathan.
What’s your position on the call for true federalism and restructuring?
I totally support that. I was at the national conference; we agreed on that, there should be true federalism. Ndigbo have been clamouring for that in all the conferences. We support restructuring, it was the plank with which we went to the national conference and this restructuring was the fight led by Second Republic Vice President, supported by Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in 1994-95 conference. We advocated for a six zonal structure. It was, however, disregarded, we still stand on it.
Restructuring, true federalism, fiscal federalism, state police, a place for traditional rulers in the constitution in terms of powers and rules, and, to me, a clause that anybody who is not satisfied with this nation can pull out. A clause to the effect that any group that feels unsatisfied with the way things are going in the country can have the option of pulling out will be a check to the excesses of any group that gets into government. Once we have the proviso, anybody who is president cannot act any how he likes.
If Buhari decides to run for a second term today, will you support him?
As Joe Nwaorgu, my answer is no, but as the secretary-general of Ndigbo, no comment at the moment.