The National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, Dr Alex Ogbonnia, speaks with AYOOLA OLASUPO on the low turnout of Igbo youths for recruitment into the Nigeria Police Force and the call on President Bola Tinubu to restructure the country, among other issues
The Police Service Commission said the South-East has the lowest turnout of youths for the ongoing police recruitment. How will you react to this?
Ohanaeze has already asked the South-East governors led by Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State, then the bishops in the region, the Traditional Rulers’ Council, and so on to help sensitise our youths to get themselves to apply into the Nigerian Police Force. That is the best we can do. For us, it is worrisome that our youths are not participating in the recruitment window thereby missing the opportunity that is there. Even when you go to the local community, you will find a lot of youths who are jobless. Why can’t they take advantage of this recruitment provided by the Police Force?
One other interesting thing which I think you need to know is that Anambra State is the commercial hub of Igboland, and it is possible that a lot of youths are used to private enterprise. The third one is that the Igbo youths feel that maybe when they go for the interview, they may not be taken. We have seen a situation where an Igbo man scored 300 and some other persons scored 100, but the one that scored 300 would be rejected at the expense of the one that scored 100. So, why waste their time? It’s just like an election; if you know that your vote will not count, it generates voter apathy. When you know that if you go for the interview, you won’t be selected, they can as well say, why are they wasting their time? There is no doubt about the maltreatment that is always directed towards the Igbo people.
The Supreme Court struck out Peter Obi’s appeal against President Bola Tinubu, and there are concerns about the judgment. What is your reservation about the entire process?
Ohanaeze has a position or a reaction to the Supreme Court. Our position is contained in our statement out there but for now, there is nothing to add.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Lagos has congratulated President Tinubu on his recent victory at the Supreme Court, but the group at the national level has not congratulated him. Why is it so?
Each chapter of Ohanaeze has a certain level of autonomy. For instance, Ohanaeze in Sokoto State has the right to act according to the geo-political climate of the state. The ones in Yorubaland also have the right to function in line with the political climate of their immediate locality. We don’t encourage our people to go to a place and begin to fight the people there. It is part of our improvement because we just have to relate with the people around us. It is part of the privilege because we just have to make them independent and understand their principles, norms, and values where necessary. So, it is possible that Ohanaeze in Lagos State congratulated him.
But why is it that the national body has not done so?
It depends on how you look at it because when we write letters to him, we often refer to him as President Bola Tinubu. We always address him as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, what else are you still looking for?
Many Igbo traders are now complaining that landowners are no longer selling lands to them in Lagos State. Are you aware of such a claim and what does Ohanaeze intend to do about it?
I think Lagos State has gained enormously from the Igbo business enterprise in the state. I want to believe that Lagos has tried to create better opportunities for Igbo businessmen to thrive in their state. It is to the advantage of Lagos State that they should open up their state for more people to come and transact their business. Anything to the contrary will be very unfortunate.
Is there any plan by Ohanaeze Ndigbo to intervene in the current power tussle causing a political crisis in Rivers State?
Ohanaeze will be inclined to justice and equity. We are inclined towards justice and truth, and Ohanaeze will not like to get involved in anything that is unjustifiable. So, to that extent, we will get feedback from the Ohanaeze, Rivers State chapter. We have already called the President of Ohanaeze in Rivers State to give us feedback on what is happening, and by the time we receive that, we will be able to take a position. However, we will be duly inclined to justice and equity. There is a percentage of Igbo in Port Harcourt. So, when we are talking about Rivers State, we are talking about the entirety of the people living there, not about the Igbo there alone. We will definitely not keep quiet, but we have to make findings before making our statement about it.
Ohanaeze recently called on President Tinubu to embark on the restructuring of the country. Do you think that should be the priority now, especially with the hardship the people are facing across the country?
One thing about it is that when Tinubu was the governor of Lagos State, he remained at the forefront of the advocacy for restructuring and the South-West has been at the forefront. Surprisingly, when Tinubu got into marriage to former President Muhammadu Buhari, restructuring became an issue; even if you look at the state of the economy, there are committee reports that support restructuring but of course, you know that the document may not be implemented. It is not really Ohanaeze alone that is saying that Tinubu should consider restructuring. The Middlebelt and Ohanaeze issued a communiqué, urging the President to take steps towards restructuring Nigeria. Restructuring is a way to help activate the dormant potential in Nigeria. It is a way for people to work hard and change the environment.
More importantly, by the time people realise that they are in charge of the revenue and expenditure profile, it will make them work harder. This restructuring is what we call regionalism during the time of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, and Ahmadu Bello. It was a realistic approach to the adjustment programme to Nigerian diversity. If people are allowed to work on their own terms, they will be able to know the result. All the geo-political zones we had then were growing; so, restructuring people’s lives cannot be at leisure because we have to know how to work hard and how to sponsor our own government.
In restructuring, we are looking at restricting the country into six geo-political zones, so that the people will organise their own entities because of the diversity of Nigeria. It will be easier for them to manage themselves. There are lots of advantages that we tend to derive from restructuring but when you are talking about it, it will seem as if it is you. Hardly will you see in every federal system that they will go to the centre for federal allocation.
Nigeria is exceptional in the sense that it is the only one where people will start going to Abuja to take allocation. It shouldn’t be. It is the federating units that pay to the central. That is what the federation is known for. The only way for us to grow is to create real autonomy at various levels in what we call regionalism. Each state should also have a certain degree of autonomy and every federating unit should have at least five levels of security architecture. For example, at the federal, state, and local government levels, the community has the right to organise its security apparatus. This is how it should be all over the federating units, but it is not so in Nigeria. There is no way a governor will be the chief security officer of a state and yet he has no control of the police. It is not supposed to be like that.
Do you think President Tinubu should heed the calls that the 2014 National Conference report should be implemented?
That report is talking about restructuring. When they went to Ghana for the Aburi Accord in 1967, they were talking about what is close to federalism. That was what the Aburi Accord was all about, but it was circumvented, and this is where we are right now. Our population is growing at a geometric ratio whereas our economy is at an arithmetic ratio. One is moving faster than the other and that is what we call poverty. If you go to the North, you will find a lot of them, but with restructuring, people will know their boundaries. People will be talking about what they will contribute to society, and it will change our way from a consumption economy to a productive one. In Europe, they used to have about six to seven children but now, they have reduced it to one or two. Even China has already placed restrictions on the number of children a couple should have. All of these things are important if we really want to grow and move out of the poverty that we are now.
Your group also raised concerns about alleged lopsided appointments to the Federal Executive Council. Do you think the Igbo ethnic group is not well represented in Tinubu’s cabinet?
Presently, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide led by Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, has threatened to go to court. We can no longer sit and continue to complain and in the end, nothing happens. When you say you are the President of Nigeria, you are like the father of the country. The thing they have often come up with is that Igbo didn’t support them during the election but that doesn’t make any sense because if you look at it, when the late Shehu Shagari was in that National Party of Nigeria, Igbo entrusted themselves to the Nigeria Peoples Party. When Shagari became President, he appointed a lot of Igbo as ministers, and they were in power.
Olusegun Obasanjo was a President, the Yoruba didn’t support him, but when he came on board, he appointed some Yoruba people into his cabinet. He didn’t exclude the Yoruba. Muhammadu Buhari too did it, but we just ignored that. We cannot continue like this. That is why the president-general threatened that after all efforts, nothing came up. That is not in the true sense of federal character. How will a state have two ministers and another geo-political zone will have about 10? In the South-East, we have just five. It is unfair, intolerable, and unacceptable, and these are some of the causes. When people begin to agitate; if you don’t want them, let them go. We have appealed to President Tinubu to review the appointment. If he refuses to do so, we don’t have an option but to go to court.
The level of insecurity is worsening in the South-East, especially in Imo State. What is Ohanaeze’s contribution toward tackling the problem?
We have advised that a non-kinetic approach should be used in addressing the insecurity in the South-East and when we say non-kinetic, we mean we have the police and the Army at various checkpoints in the South-East but what result has it yielded? We mean we should look for a new strategy because if you are into conflict management, you will look at the causes of the conflict. As you know, people are not happy because there is unemployment in the land, there is joblessness, and they are angry. They say a hungry man is an angry man; so, they are trying to say that they are not happy.
The insecurity in the South-East is an outcome, a manifestation of orchestrated injustice, and conspiracy against the people. It is just an expression of the circumstances that have prevailed in the past. In April 2021, many inmates broke out of the prison, and they couldn’t catch any of them. So, we look at it as an externally instigated crime.
We are saying that we, the Ohanaeze, want to use the non-kinetic approach to address the issue of insecurity in the South-East. We want to use the traditional rulers, the churches, and so on because if they begin to call the boys out, they will know what the problem is and how to solve it. This fire-for-fire approach cannot solve the problem. We want the governors and the people in authority to begin to call the youths. We need to discuss with them just like the way the late former President Musa Yar’Adua also did then. That is our approach to it.
Some people from the South-East who are based outside the region are afraid of travelling home because of insecurity. What is your message to them?
Well, some of us are still living here. They shouldn’t be afraid. Although they have the right to be afraid, we are living here, and we are not dying. That is my message to them; we are not dying. If they have their fathers or mothers and relatives here, they can’t just abandon them because of that. So, we are living and not dying. God is in charge.
Nigerians are currently going through tough times because of the current economic situation in the country. What can be done to change the situation?
The truth of the matter is that this thing in Nigeria will continue because anything that is founded on injustice cannot stand. If you look at governance in Nigeria, the appointments are based on injustice, lopsided, based on sentiments of either religion or ethnicity. When Buhari appointed Service Chiefs from his Fulani kinsmen, what happened? That is a third-world problem. Until the right person or people take over the positions, all these things will continue to be there. I think Obasanjo was really fair in the distribution of appointments and the result was very clear. When Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan, and Buhari came, we saw what happened. The current administration has come too, and we are seeing what is happening.