What worked 60 years ago will be impracticable now, says Ogbonnia, Ohanaeze spokesman

Chief Alex Ogbonnia

Chief Alex Ogbonnia is the National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Igbo apex socio-cultural organisation. In this interview with RAPHAEL EDE, he says Nigerians will benefit from a President of Igbo extraction

What is your forecast for Nigeria in 2022 considering the challenges facing the country ranging from economy to insecurity? 

There is this resilience that has been going on with Nigeria. At a point, things will appear very precarious, but before you know it, Nigerians will overcome. There are many instances where it appears things are going so bad, but before you know it, things will turn around. I want to say that although last year was  bad because of the resilient spirit of Nigerians, I am very confident and optimistic that there will be a lot of changes. In the first place, this is electioneering season. By electioneering, it presents hope, it presents enthusiasm. It presents characters. It presents an entirely new phenomenon. You will see a lot of aspirants are coming out, and people are now busy looking at those people who are aspiring for one office or the other. All those things are sources of hope. So with that hope that is something that will help us.

The Igbo are saying that 2023 is their turn to produce a president of Nigeria but the former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has declared his ambition to contest for the presidency. The Igbo have also declared their ambition for the presidency. What do you say?

Well, Nigeria has a pattern. We are talking about democracy, but one fundamental thing about Nigeria is that it  is an admixture of a kind of traditional lifestyle and also the foreign democracy. Traditionally, every Nigerian has a certain level of conscience, a certain level of fidelity towards agreements and understanding. So no matter how foreign democracy can come and tell you A, B, C and D, the point remains an agreement is an agreement and in conscience, most Nigerians respect agreements. What happened is that I was a witness in 1998.  The moment Abacha died and General Abdsallami Abubakar took over, there was a meeting.  In that meeting, it was discussed that there would be rotation of power between the North and the South. In short, the person that spoke for the North on that day was Abubakar Rimi and the person that spoke for the South was Dr Chuba Okadigbo. They are both late now, but other people who were in that meeting are alive. It was eventually agreed that there would be a power shift from the North to the South. Within the power shift, there is also a paradigm of power rotation. In the rotation of power now, we are talking about six zonal structures. It will shift to the South but within the South, it rotates between the South-South, South-West and South-East. When it shifts to the North, it is also rotating between the North-Central, North-East and North-West. So, that was why the first power shift was to the South and in the South almost all the political parties – mainstream political parties zoned their presidency to the South-West. The late Dr Alex Ekwueme struggled for it, but the majority of Nigerians decided that it should go to the South-West to address the issue of the June 12, 1993. So later on, Olusegun Obasanjo in his way of doing things insisted that it had to shift back to the North and that was why Yar’Adua became the President of Nigeria. And after that, Nigerians went down to the South, this time around to the South-South and thereafter it went back to the North and now it is coming down to the South, it is supposed to go to the South-East. Many Nigerians know that in South-East today, we are having a kind of instability, insecurity of all kinds;  insecurity arising from mass agitation of the people. The insecurity arising from unemployment, poverty, poor infrastructure and more importantly is what appears to them as marginalisation or trying to scheme the Igbo out of mainstream of the Nigerian democratic structures.

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Talking about agitation, the Indigenous People of Biafra has become a dominant force in that regard. Late last year, Igbo elders visited President, Major General Mohammadu Buhari (retd.) and appealed to him to release the detained IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu and solve their agitation through a political solution. But the President said he would not release him, insisting that Igbo elders should have checked him when he was making subversive comments in the United Kingdom.

Insecurity has become the hallmark of this country. Few days ago, over 200 Nigerians were killed in a single attack in 10 villages. Yet the President categorically stated that he did not support state police. How do you reconcile the killings and the President’s opposition to state police?

One thing that is clear to the President and every other person in Nigeria is the inability of the federal police to contain the crime wave in the country. It is very clear. So it requires additional effort. In an Igbo society for example, we have this concentric outward growth from family – kindred – hamlet – town – local area and state. Naturally, and of course by local administrative mechanism, you discovered that each one has leadership; you can see the organisation that has been in place in Igboland in what we call indigenous political system. If you harness it to our advantage, you see it will help to check security. When we say security is collective responsibility, it will come clearer by the time you look at the family, kindred, hamlet and so on. With a social network among leadership of these structures, we constitute a security. So what we are looking at is a synergy between securities provided by these structures to complement the efforts of the federal police in order to achieve results. That is what we call ‘Ebubeagu security network’. So what we are looking at is the most efficient process by which we can stop crime in Nigeria; we have looked at all those things and found that state security architecture should complement the federal police. We are not talking about eliminating federal police but complementary security architecture. I believe the President will understand it when we explain it more to him.

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But with the daily killings going on despite the amount of money the Federal Government has deployed in the fight against insecurity, do you see conspiracy on the security agencies?

 Let me tell you Nigeria is a criminal enterprise in itself. At every point in Nigeria, you are finding crime including the religious bodies. So by criminal enterprise I mean from the presidency down to the councilor, all the churches, the Islam and so on you will find criminals among them. Have you not heard or read that the Chief of Army Staff , Chief of Air Staff and Chief of Naval Staff are all involved in embezzlement of funds that were meant for to contain one thing or the other, to fight Boko-Haram and things like that. Now it has become the philosophical framework of the leadership. If the leadership comes and says this is what I want and stands by it all these things will begin to change. I am very optimistic that by the time we have another leader, who will come with an entirely new mindset and develop his own philosophical framework and the people will understand his body language, things will begin to change.

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What is your take on the President’s insistence on a grazing route for herdsmen?

The point is that the President knows that it is very difficult, impracticable, in fact inconceivable for somebody to think that what worked very well about 60 years ago, will work well 60 years after. So when we talked about grazing routes, some of them have been overtaken by urbanisation, by new roads and growing population. So the issue of grazing routes is no longer there in the first place. Secondly, he is talking about grazing routes and we are talking about banning open grazing in the whole of the South-East; so you can see that his position is interfering with the state positions in the whole south as a whole, not just the South-East alone.

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