National President of the Association of South East Town Unions (ASETU) Chief Emeka Diwe, in this interview bared his mind on many topical issues, including the insecurity in the country and agitation for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction, come 2023. He spoke to MAGNUS EZE.
Why the renewed concept of town unionism in Igboland?
The town union matters so much to every real Igbo person. It is the truest manifestation of our genetic configuration of abiding republicanism. From the word go, the institution of the town union has been saddled with the responsibility of providing a credible and dependable structure for engendering development, peace and unity in all Igbo communities. The consciousness to preserve this enviable heritage of the Igbo nation and accentuate the fulfilment of its objectives necessitated in the main, some level of interaction among all the town unions in the South East. So, as to create a platform for cross-fertilization of ideas, social mobilization, political education and peer review. Today, the brainchild of that consciousness is the Association of South East Town Unions (ASETU), which is a formidable coalescence of all the town unions in the South East.
You recently led your group to the 2019 edition of the World Igbo Congress in Texas, USA. What informed your participation?
As you may already know, the World Igbo Congress is an annual event put together by Igbo people in the Diaspora to brainstorm on the challenges of Ndigbo and proffer solutions to them. This year, a formal invitation was extended to ASETU by the leadership of the Congress. It was their view that part of the reason that the effectiveness of their prior initiatives has never been sufficiently felt by Igbo people back home was the gulf that existed between them and the Igbo grassroots. To fix this deficit, they opted for a partnership with the town unions. It is a symbiotic kind of relationship. That was why we went to America to address them.
How would that benefit people at the grassroots whom you represent as town union leader?
In many ways. First, there was an acknowledgement that the bottom-up approach to solving the Igbo security challenges in Nigeria, as ASETU has persistently canvassed, remains the best approach. The destruction of lives and livelihoods in Igboland by armed herdsmen is an issue that gives everyone concern. And so it was resolved that the World Igbo Congress would partner with ASETU to implement our security framework, invigorate our community-level intelligence units and energize our local vigilantes. This has brought succour to the poor, vulnerable and defenceless people at the grassroots who are targeted for extermination by the armed herdsmen. You see, security is a local affair which can only succeed through the involvement of the local people. The town unions represent the closest administrative units to the people at the grassroots. And, most importantly, the leadership emerges through a credible and unadulterated democratic process. So, the people have a sense of participation because the leadership is authentically theirs. Every Igbo man, unless otherwise ostracized over an abominable act, is a member of his town union. So, it was our resolution at the World Igbo Congress to leverage on that to keep the insecurity wolf permanently away from our land.
Does the move not amount to resorting to self-help?
You need to get this clearly: the right to life is an inalienable right. Nobody can take it away from a people. It is a natural right which the institution of the state was called upon to protect. Whenever the state fails to guarantee this right, the people should assert their right to self-defence. The whole idea of the social contract between the sovereign and the people which forms the philosophical basis of modern governance is for the purpose of protection. Men without government, or what is often referred to as the pre-political state of nature, were never gentle savages. They were rather threats to one another. A great man could be murdered in his sleep, and a mighty man overpowered by a mighty number, and so human life was nasty, solitary, brutish, short and a survival of the fittest. So, government is in place as a correction of these inadequacies. However, in present Nigeria, government has been grossly unable to discharge this first obligation it owes us. Banditry, abductions, killings and destruction of property have become the order of the day. It is our duty as a civil society to intervene to protect our people and save the country from relapsing into anarchy.
How far have you gone in implementing the security framework and what is your assessment of the outcome?
We have ensured the revival of the vigilance groups in many communities across the South East. When these groups are strengthened, they will have the capacity to protect the defenceless and vulnerable people at the grassroots who are usually the soft targets of herdsmen. We have also established robust intelligence-gathering modules within the communities. We are working on a whole lot of things, and we are never relenting and we are reviewing what we are doing. A few weeks ago, we held the 2019 ASETU retreat in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, for that purpose. But, very importantly, we are also focusing on soft security initiatives. The greatest factor that fuels crime is economic deprivation. The level of deprivation in the South East is unbearable. So, we have introduced the “Aku Ruo Ulo” (Think home) investment initiative to catalyse and boost the Igbo homeland economy through a backward integration model, which is a self-help paradigm, for which the Igbo are exclusively known.
What is the Aku Ruo Ulo initiative all about?
It is an action plan for making our wealthy brothers and sisters who reside outside Igbo land to begin to consciously, gradually and seamlessly repatriate their wealth back home. In this way, more jobs will spring up and social vices will nosedive in Igbo land. It is the development of the Igboman in Igboland. It is painful to note that the greatest number of individual wealthy Nigerians is among the Igbo yet this reality has not reflected in the existential conditions of the Igbo in Igboland. The aggregate wealth of our people is scattered across the globe, and their business nestling everywhere. But with the repatriation of just 20% of our wealth back home, no Igboman will think of residing outside Igboland. We will be cheating ourselves if we don’t realize this. We are blessed with human resources to become the Dubai of the UAE and the California of the USA. We must therefore end the ongoing capital flight which will also lead to an end to brain drain, and with the multiplier and accelerator effects, Igboland will become the attraction of Nigeria and Africa. You saw the technological heights we attained even in a war situation under Biafra? You see what Innoson and Coscharis are doing? That’s the way to go! The Igbo doesn’t believe in sharing other people’s resources or unearned wealth. We bring out our best under excruciating conditions. We have the capacity, the ingenuity and the technology. The sharing of oil money has taken us backwards. The people that need oil should keep taking oil, but after looking inward and implementing our Aku Ruo Ulo initiative, they will bring the oil money back to us by purchasing our goods and services. They will need our shoes, cars and textiles. They will come to us. That is the ultimate restructuring. It is the economic restructuring of Nigeria. It is what we can do for ourselves as Igbo people. That is a restructuring that can never be restructured again. That is what we are talking about.
What do you make of the ongoing agitations for Igbo Presidency come 2023?
There is nothing wrong with anybody saying their minds. This is a democracy. But it is unfortunate that most of our people always fall for the antics of some northern elements. The current debate over a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction come 2023 did not start in the South East or the South South. It began from the North as an antithesis to the agitations for restructuring, referendum, remaking of the Constitution and secession which the various Igbo groups represent. The northerners just flew a kite that they would hold onto power for hundred years, and our people began to debate it. They began to agitate for power. They quickly dropped other noble agenda which all aim at addressing the Igbo question in Nigeria forever. The worst of all is that integrity and credibility are scarcely talked about. Some say, “Even if an Igbo thief should be President, let him be. He is our thief.” But this mind-set is deeply wrong. If Igbo people as a collective wish to put forward one of us to run for President, the first criterion should be integrity, not just because he is Igbo. He must be somebody with a proven track record of integrity and poised to lift the people off the economic quagmire and dung pit the country has been plunged. However, the agitations you see are really self-serving and obviously a diversionary tactic from the Igbo course of action.
What course of action are you talking about being deviated from?
It is mainly about the security of the lives and property of our people. More than the Presidency, we need to rediscover ourselves. We need to develop a backward integration through the Aku Ruo Ulo model. A consortium of ten Igbo wealthy men can build four international airports if allowed! We need to restructure Nigeria economically. Aku Ruo Ulo is the restructuring that cannot be further restructured. In addition, some of our people are concerned about a holistic solution to the lopsidedness of the Federation. There are constitutional and structural encumbrances to our prosperity. We ask ourselves if we have agreed to live together as one entity. That is the meaning of referendum. We should also ask ourselves the terms and conditions for living together. That is where vaunted political restructuring comes in. To be sure, I am not in doubt that if Nigeria genuinely desires to develop, there are many eminently qualified Igbo men who have everything needed to take the country to the desired level, not just the next level. Truth is that there are very many fundamental questions which are about to be swept under the carpet through the gimmicks of Igbo Presidency. If we don’t resolve them now, they will continue to haunt us. A Nigerian President of Igbo extraction will make no meaning to an average Igbo if the most pressing questions are not resolved.
What is ASETU’s relationship with Ohanaeze Ndigbo?
Ohanaeze is the most prominent elitist apex Igbo pressure group. The town unions evolved since time immemorial as an expression of the democratic and republican proclivity of Ndigbo. They are the grassroots structures that see to the development of Igbo communities. ASETU, being the collection of all the town unions, works to ensure the attainment of the goals of the town unions. In addition, the town unions are functional administrative units in all Igbo communities which exercise both legislative and adjudicatory functions and work to ensure the security, peace and development of the vast majority of our people at the grassroots.
The town unions mobilised against former Imo governor, Rochas Okorocha before he left office. How do you assess the administration of Chief Emeka Ihedioha in the state now?
Considering the level of decay he met upon assumption of office, I think Governor Ihedioha has done well so far. What Okorocha had run in Imo was a bazaar economy. The resources of the state were frittered away through a multiplicity of white elephant projects. The internally generated revenues ended up in private pockets. The local government sector was strangulated and the health sector died. Today, some of these sectors are coming back to life. Imo State Housing Corporation has come back. The most touching thing was the plight of the pensioners under Okorocha. But today pensions are being paid to our senior citizens who had put in their best to work for our state yet Okorocha chose to starve too many of them to death by denying them their pensions. That was one of the requests we made from Gov. Ihedioha when he assumed office and he quickly granted it. Recently, the Commissioner for Finance announced that before December, Imo would record a billion naira per month as IGR. The highest we had under Okorocha was three hundred million naira. So, the Governor is working.
But I would further advise that the Governor places more emphasis on the integrity of the members of his team. No matter how wonderful his vision is, if he does not work with people of integrity, the result will not be very positive. Then again, a painstaking needs assessment should always be carried out before locating projects. What one area needs may differ from what the other needs. For instance, some local government areas may need stadia while the most pressing needs of the others may be water, health centre or access road. So, a prognostic analysis of the impact of projects should always be conducted before embarking on them.