By Emeka Mamah and Dennis Agbo, Enugu
Prof Elochukwu Amucheazi is both a member of the Igbo Leaders of Thought, ILT, and Ohanaeze Ndigbo. In this interview, Amucheazi who is the National Secretary of ILT spoke about Igbo leadership, lip service to fight against corruption: true federalism and restructuring as well as the problems within the South East Governors’ Forum, SEGF, and efforts to reconcile them. He also, said that Ndigbo would never regret rejecting President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2015 election, and would vote for Jonathan again en-masse if he stands for another election tomorrow.
What have you been doing after MAMMSER?
After MAMMSER, I became the Director General, National Orientation Agency, NOA, from 1993 to 2011. Since then I have been involved in one thing or the other. In fact I just ended as the pro-Chancellor, Anambra State University; before then I was the Chairman Anambra Broadcasting Service before I became the pro-chancellor of the university now called Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University. So I am still in the arena, so to say.
What about politics?
Well, everybody is a politician but I am not vying for political power.
What is the major difference between the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Igbo Leaders of Thought?
Ohanaeze is the apex socio-cultural organization of Ndigbo whereas Igbo leaders of Thought is a collection of, call it, intellectuals who are concerned about the welfare of Ndigbo. It is a think tank, generating ideas, interacting with all other Igbo organizations; selling those ideas; in other words mobilizing our people for the welfare of Ndigbo.
But the Aka Ikenga claims to be the intellectual arm of Ohanaeze?
I am not aware of that kind of claim; I am not sure any organization can claim that. I am in Ohanaeze and the current constitution of Ohanaeze was drawn up by my committee, I was the chairman. So I am not aware. Is Aka Ikenga not located in Lagos? But I think it is just one of the organizations. You have to appreciate the political culture of Ndigbo; we are an egalitarian society and individuals are bubbling with enthusiasm to contribute and so they can come round, form organizations and explore how they can make their own contributions. So we have Aka Ikenga, we have Nkpoko Igbo, we have Ala-Igbo Development Foundation, we have the World Igbo Summit Group and so many other organizations and no one can claim any particular/ special relationship with Ohanaeze. Ohanaeze is just the umbrella organization of Ndigbo. We call it socio-cultural, not necessarily political.
Does it have anything to do with the saying that Igbo have no leaders?
Who said Igbo have no leaders? No, no, no! The common saying is Igbo don’t have kings but I think it is probably taking it literally not that we don’t have leaders. There is no community that doesn’t have a leader or leaders, starting from your primary community.
The former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme is a foremost Igbo leader who is now over 84 years. The problem is that we don’t have those who will take over from people like him or Prof Ben Nwabueze among others
Ekwueme is an Igbo leader, very prominent, an intellectual and everything that you need in defining Igbo leader you have in Ekwueme and therefore he is a foremost Igbo leader, at least till today but we have others coming up as well. We have Nwabueze, Ebitu Ukaiwe, Ndubuisi Kanu and a good number of others. I think that what confuses people is the dominance, politically, of young traders in government; compradors in government; people reared by erstwhile military dictators, who managed to have cornered a lot of money and they are everywhere in Igbo land. At the moment they seem to be at the helm of affairs because they are governors, they are these, they are that.
But they are not necessarily the Igbo leaders. In every community there are leaders, at the moment the impression is about these people who are in government, who control tools of government but it is not always the case. They throw their weight about because of the way things are in this country but it is not that Igbo do not have leaders. You see, at critical moments, Igbo leaders emerge. In the 1950s you saw how Dr Michael Okpara emerged. During the civil war you saw how Emeka Ojukwu emerged. They were in the forefront, but not that Ojukwu or Okpara were the only leaders. There is this collective leadership that is associated with Ndigbo.
•Prof Elochukwu Amucheazi Why some of these governors are failing is that sometimes they fail to consult the real leaders; people who matter. Because of the way things stand in this country they think about their patrons, so to say, from up there, but how long will that last? I believe tomorrow will be bright for Ndigbo. A crop of leaders are coming up, not just this present day party leaders. As a matter of fact, look at this small boy, Nnamdi Kanu who is being detained, how do you evaluate him? An Igbo leader must be selfless, must be well focused; must be dynamic and prepared to move the people forward. Many of these governors don’t have these qualities, so you have these chaps coming up and I can assure you many more will surface even before you know it.
Don’t you believe that some of these groups like IPOB and MASSOB are there because Nigeria has refused to be restructured?
It is obvious; there is consensus all over the country that we must go back to genuine federation. Everybody agrees that a few individuals are dragging their feet. It is not as if they don’t know that there must be restructuring. If you do not restructure, the country will disintegrate and it is as simple as that. Sooner or later, we will have what happened in other parts of the world- Central Africa, Europe and Asia and so on. Even the other day Britain was pulling Europe in a way, Scotland is even thinking about that and even the other day, California started saying its own. If you don’t restructure you cannot hold people down. I said it the other day that coercion or force has never held people together forever. Dictators have come and gone and there is a consensus that Nigeria has to be restructured.
How do you want the country to be restructured?
Ekwueme talked about six constituent federal units, that is, the present six geopolitical zones. They can become the federating units of the federation. You see there are criteria for balanced federation. The constituent units must be reasonably sizable; they have to be reasonably viable in a way; they can stand on their own. That is why Ekwueme came up with six geopolitical zones. At the moment you have all these tiny units called states, they cannot become units of a federation and that is why we are running a unitary system of government which is not good enough for Nigeria. Right from the word go, even the British that created Nigeria realized that Nigeria must be a federation which was why they came up with three federal units and later the civilians added one and we had four. It is only these military dictators who are not qualified, who didn’t understand anything about how to govern human society that treacherously brought about this so called 36 states so that they can run the country as a unitary system of government.
Do you think restructuring would quell issues like agitation for self- determination like in the case of Biafra?
It is possible but many have been pushed to the wall. It depends on the powers given to the constituent units. You can have a federation, you can have a confederation, so it depends on what will be agreed upon.
How do you react to Obasanjo’s recent call for Igbo Presidency in 2019?
I do not think it is a subject for discussion. I do not have answer to this. I don’t think I will waste my time addressing that question. Why do you think one should listen to that kind of advice? Is it an advice or whatever you call it? I think it is just a distraction.
Do you think Biafra can stand on its own?
I guess you are talking about self- determination which is a guaranteed human right. The issue is not viability or no viability. When it comes to that really; you look at all these tiny countries in West Africa, are they even bigger than Anambra State, how much more the five eastern states assuming it comes to that? Senegal, the Gambia, Benin Republic, Ghana and the rest of them put together! What is our population? What is even the land space as it is? If our people determine today, that this area at the border between Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Imo and Enugu, where you have this cattle market (Lokpanta) and the rest of them, create that area and call it a community of its own; give it a charter for 50 years and you will see another Dubai there. It is possible to transform this place called South East within five years.
Even Israel, what is their population; what is their land mass? The issue really is the principle of self- determination. That has to be accepted. This idea that some chaps are asking for this and you start shooting them down, that is unlawful, that is not helpful; you are alienating people more and more and therefore creating tension. That is not a way to build a nation, common nationality and identity; that is not the way! I have said it before that coercion; that is force, has never held any country together.
Look at the old British Empire, look at all empires all over the world, they have come and gone. Even the so called modern empires, those who disintegrated a few years ago… Sometimes I get worried that people are not coming up constructively with suggestions on how to make this country one country. With common identity you can transform this country but not with a unitary system of government.
What do you think should be done with the resolutions of the National Conference under former President Goodluck Jonathan?
Government succeeds government and that is part of the problem we are talking about. The main problem this country is facing now is restructuring the country. Whatever you are coming up with, whatever policies and programs you are coming with, unless you restructure this country, you are going nowhere. So let us face the issue facing us. Whether it is parliamentary, presidential, whether this section will produce the president or not, the point we have on the floor here is look, let’s restructure Nigeria!
You want to survive as a country, sense of belonging; every person will now have a sense of belonging and brings out his best. The constituent units will now come out with programmes, transform their areas just as we did in the 50s and there will be development really in all ramifications. When you talk about development, it includes human development, economic development, infrastructure and all that. You cannot do it under this unitary system. What is the essence of government, is it not about human development? You cannot do it unless you have appropriate structure and that is what we are saying that the structure is not there, therefore you are just dancing in a circle.
Is it correct to say that the north is shying away from restructuring because it involves resource control which may put them at a disadvantage?
Yes it involves resource control but they won’t be disadvantaged. The latent energy is there, you will be surprised! Even this cattle thing we are talking about, they will establish ranches there and we will go there and buy. They will produce more milk from the cows which is what Argentina is doing. There are minerals that are not tapped and so many things. The point is that each unit will now be challenged to mobilize its resources and so on and you will see rapid development in all dimensions. I have no doubt about that.
Do you know why the South East Governors have not been having their meetings for almost two years now?
We have mediated on that. The Igbo leaders of Thought have gone to see three governors so far and we made suggestions. This is part of the disturbing development we are having and it tells a lot about the qualities and characters of the present leadership, but we’ve been appealing to them that it is in their interest that they meet. Like I said we have gone to three governors, we have sent letters for appointment and we are waiting for the other two. We have gone to three states. We are waiting for appointments from two.
Did they tell you why they are not meeting?
How do you think they will tell me?
What did you deduce from that?
What do you think yourself? I said it shows the quality of leadership. There maybe one or two of them that may not cooperate with others, it is possible. It is unfortunate. If they see themselves truly as leaders of Ndigbo, they should know what Ndigbo stand for and want. People have said some of them are so self-centred, they are not really bothered. It’s a pity.
What will you suggest as a way out for them?
We are praying they overcome whatever the obstacles are and see the wisdom in coming together.
Based on the alleged marginalization of the South East by the present administration, do you think Igbo should regret voting for Jonathan in 2015?
How can a President have that kind of opinion if truly he is a president of Nigeria? Did he ever say that (he will carter for the 95 percent that voted for him more than the five percent that didn’t vote for him?) Do you expect every person to support one particular person? Till tomorrow, if you ask Ndigbo to vote again today and Jonathan is in the race, they will vote for him. Never mind all these shenanigans. You are talking about APC and these, they don’t even understand.
Why do you think some people are joining the APC?
It is understandable. You have to analyse the characters that are joining APC; they want to join the government in power. Are they joining because of Ndigbo, are they there to defend the interest of IPOB, MASSOB, the generality of Ndigbo or are they going because of their personal interest? These are the issues. It is in their own perception about themselves in the context of Igbo interest. All in their personal interests! These are some of the issues we must think of. It is freedom of association.
If you think you have electoral value but when the time comes, some of them may even lose their wards. If the APC gives the impression that it is anti-Igbo as symbolized by the President who described five percent and 95 percent of supporters as the way he is going to distribute resources, do you think the people will be quick in supporting these fellows in spite of all their sermons and untenable arguments that you just belong to get your entitlements? Even some of them who are there what portfolios were they given, are they really recognized? Are they really taken seriously? I was told of one of them who has been struggling to see the president and they wouldn’t even allow him and he is preaching to people that you have to get there; join for you to belong. You think these people you are seeking their friendship don’t know who you are?
What kind of social mobilization do people need in this political confusion?
What political confusion? It’s all over the world. You have a foreign system of government foisted on you; you are being told you have to learn how to operate the constitution. That’s why we are confused between presidential and parliamentary systems, the electoral system and all kinds of problem but if we get the structure right, I can tell you that proper leadership will emerge and we move forward, there won’t be that kind of confusion you fear.
Some critics have accused President Buhari of allegedly fighting corruption in both the Legislature and the Judiciary with insecticides but using deodorant to fight same malaise in the Executive, with the kid gloves on the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, and the EFCC Acting Chairman as examples. What is your opinion on this?
What is still surprising me is that Magu is still parading himself as the acting chairman of EFCC. I am surprised because if you are not confirmed after six months in an office, you automatically cease to retain your position and almost one year and his papers were thrown out and so he ought to go. We understand they have re-submitted the papers but why he is still there is what I don’t understand. My own way of looking at it is to ask whether the government is really fighting corruption. As I said before, political corruption is even worse than the so called economic corruption.
If you look at the appointments Buhari has made, you will find out that they are tilted to one side.
In the first 41 appointments made, the armed forces, security agencies and the rest of them, do you have any Igbo man there? So what is corruption then? Economic corruption is all over the world particularly in a capitalist system.
Every government fights corruption and I expected Buhari to evolve a system of convincing every person that he is really fighting corruption. Some of his close aides have been mentioned . We are watching; Nigeria is watching and the whole world is watching and that is why people are not convinced that there is serious commitment to this fight against corruption. Look at the problems that we are now having about the Chief Justice of the Federation. Few days to the expiration of his service, people are saying why should it take this time for his papers to be forwarded to the Senate?
What message do you think the President is conveying when he has travelled severally over medical issues yet his government discourages patronage of foreign goods?
Objectively, the President should have the best treatment. To be honest, the standard of medicare here is not the same as that of the countries overseas. I don’t approve that he should not travel on medical grounds
But the President pledged to end medical tourism
Who said he has not shown commitment? Is it because he went for treatment overseas? There are still others going outside to receive treatment even when they are not presidents. I think we should be more open-minded in this kind of a thing.
Do you believe in the think home imitative for the Igbo?
But it has been there; remember that the former governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife has a think home philosophy estate. Go to the villages, everybody has a house there; even those who before did not think about coming back to the East.
Igbo are cosmopolitan in nature; we are everywhere in the world but that doesn’t mean they forget their homes. So when people talk about think home, they are saying come and build your factories here. We accept the country as a nation and everywhere we are we feel at home but that doesn’t mean we must all come home. I wish others will appreciate and behave like Ndigbo.
You don’t see an Hausa or Yoruba man owning a house in Enugu but our people are everywhere. What about all these multi-nationals that are owned by the British and the rest, they are also everywhere.
What about the factories, Dunlop and the rest, they are owned by foreigners, so it doesn’t mean you cannot invest elsewhere but what people are saying is because of the non- acceptance of Ndigbo, hostility to Ndigbo, bitterness against Ndigbo, that in spite of whatever we do, you discriminate against us, you don’t give us equal rights and citizenship. Look at what they did in the census, they scrapped ethnic identity.
How do you do that kind of a thing? So you do everything possible to humiliate and destroy our psyche. That is why we say, look, stop investing elsewhere come home and invest.