Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze-Ndigbo World-wide, has accused the federal government of double standards in its handling of issues concerning pro-Biafra organisations like the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Ohanaeze-Ndigbo said rather than harassing, killing, arresting detaining and killing members of the groups, there was need for the federal government to go into dialogue with the agitators with an aim of finding lasting peace in the region and country.
President-General of Ohanaeze-Ndigbo World-wide, Chief John Nwodo, who spoke yesterday during an interactive session with journalists in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, said the agitation by MASSOB and IPOB came as a result of marginalisation and therefore needs political solution and not military confrontation.
He said: “Under the Constitution of Nigeria, you have freedom of expression and freedom of association. If somebody says he wants Biafra, he is free to say so as long as he is saying it in a legitimate way. He can take his petition to the National Assembly. He can have a plebiscite, if he wins, fine, if he doesn’t win, he takes it like that.
“The fact that we, their fathers, have not joined them should give a signal to Nigeria that they have not yet become so popular to carry us along and that this matter can be addressed politically. If they see this marginalisation end, if they see the restructuring of the country, they could probably think twice.”
He noted that despite the seditious activities of dreaded terrorist group, Boko Haram, as well as other groups such as the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), the federal government is still dialoguing with them, saying that pro-Biafra agitators would have a change of mind of such gesture is extended to them.
He said: “In North-eastern Nigeria, there is a military group called Boko Haram, armed with tanks and other dangerous weapons. They have ravaged and conquered territories, some of which have been recovered. When they conquer a territory, they displace the people, they displace the traditional authority, they erect their own authority and they put a flag.
“What could be more seditious than that? In other words, they are preaching a new country, their own country. They have a flag. I don’t know any one of them that is in detention; I don’t know anyone of them who is being tried for treason. The federal government is using Heads of State of other countries to negotiate with them.
“There has been several failed negotiation which the federal government publicly admitted and millions of Naira lost. I know of a militant organisation in this part (Niger Delta) called the Avengers, who are as angry as MASSOB and IPOB boys. They have destroyed wells, pipelines. I know the Vice President of Nigeria has visited three Niger Delta states seeking for peace and negotiation in order to keep their children calm.
“I know OPC in Western Nigeria, who is like a military force, saluted at every checkpoint. What has IPOB and MASSOB done to the federal government? Why are they being treated differently? Is this an animal farm where some are more equal than others? If they treat them, I mean IPOB and MASSOB, the way they are treating Boko Haram and negotiate with them, they will probably think differently. If they treat them the way they are treating Avengers, they will probably think differently.
“For that reason, I say to my brothers who are in MASSOB and IPOB, I am your brother and I extend my hand of fellowship. Come and let’s work together. I understand why you do what you are doing; I understand your anger, your frustration and your expectations. In spite of the crude methods they have used to suppress you, you have continued to move on. I feel so bad about our people.”
Nwodo also accused the federal government of marginalising the Igbos in terms of appointments and development.
He said: “Our people feel marginalised. Our people feel unwanted in the Nigerian federation; our people feel ill-treated.
“In this country, the most sensitive positions in governance are the positions pertaining to national security. There is a clear vote of no confidence on the Igbos as being incompetent, incapable, or unreliable of being vested with the headship of any of the security agencies in Nigeria.
He expressed regret that Igbo people were compulsorily retired to [pave the way for junior officers from favoured regions to be appointed into headship of federal agencies.
“There can be no clearer signal, especially when there are senior officers in these services who are senior to the incumbents who were retired from services. I know there were times in this country when a chief justice was appointed to give a tribe a sense of belonging; I know there were times in this country when a lieutenant colonel was catapulted to become vice president just to give a sense of a federal character. When it concerns the Igbos, this doesn’t seem to be the case,” he lamented.
He also said the region had been denied attention in terms of capital projects.
“Look at capital projects in Igboland, since the war ended, coming from Enugu to Port Harcourt is a nightmare. The road is impassable. I thank Fashola who came some days ago and said work would be finished in 17 months. I hope we can believe him because I remember when Jakande was federal minister of works, he told us the Second Niger Bridge would be completed in 18 months. That bridge has not been completed even till date,” he said.
He appealed to Igbo people to realise that they are a special people like the Jews who through dint of hard word transformed the desert to an arable land despite all their travails and security concerns.
He called on Igbos who have their investments outside Igboland, especially in Lagos, Abuja and other parts of the country, to think of bringing such investments back home in order to create employment opportunities for “teeming angry and jobless Igbo youths.”
The President-General of Ohanaeze-Ndigbo said: “At the end of the war, every Igboman was given 20 pounds. The recipients of the 20 pounds have turned into billionaires today, by dint of industry, hard work and outstanding ingenuity. Go to Lagos, half of the real estate in Lagos belong to the Igbos. An Igbo man has a university in Ogun State.
“In Sokoto, an Igboman has a tomato puree industry. Go to Abuja, half of the investments there are owned by Igbos. Isn’t it about time they thought of bringing these back home and start investing in Igboland? So that our children who are so angry with us today because they see no future, can be usefully employed. So that we can develop ourselves.”