Jude Chinedu, Enugu
Paramount ruler of Nike ancient kingdom, Igwe Julius Nnaji, is one of the most influential monarchs in Enugu State. In this interview, he addressed a number of issues including the future of Nigeria.
He is of the opinion that the country has regressed largely due to a deliberate plot to deny the Igbo an opportunity to lead the nation, asserting that Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023 will right the wrongs and place the country on the path of recovery. For him, the Igbo should not be the ones begging for the position.
Igwe Nnaji also spoke on the threat posed by the influx of Northern youths into Southeast and the activities of herdsmen in the zone while recounting his own personal experience in the hands of herders.
Lately, especially during the ban on inter-state movement, there had been influx of Northern youths into the East. What’s your reaction to it?
The question is; when people say things, those who are supposed to work towards it and know whether what the people are saying is true don’t even care. Are you telling me, that if you go into the bush now and use the law enforcement agencies like police, army, that you’ll not find many people who are having AK-47 and other weapons of mass destruction roaming inside the bush of Enugu State without anybody challenging them? It is not a question of whether it’s true. It is the truth. And the worst part of it was that those who were told to man the borders were doing nothing. I heard that sometimes, when people come to the border, what they do is that these Almajiri people would squat under the cow and once the vehicle passes, they are already here. My fear is that if these people want to sweep us, they will finish us in a day. And people should think seriously about it. Let them not say that they are exaggerating it. What are they doing? They get what they called Forest Guards and all those things. What are the Forest Guards doing? Are they trying to tell us that there are no people like that? Just within two weeks, no fewer than three kidnap cases took place in Owerri area of Imo State. The people who are kidnapping, are they not the Hausa/Fulani people? They demand money, they pay the money; they release people. The last one, they demanded money, someone took the money to them, they arrested the woman that went to drop the money and they started another one. So, I don’t think we are serious about it and we are already praying to God that anybody who is in his house as somebody carries war to them, both grasses and everything will fight for them. If not so, we are vulnerable; seriously vulnerable in this state. I don’t know of another state.
The governor at that time directed the security guards at the local level, traditional rulers and the neighbourhood watch groups to engage in trying to stop the movement of these persons from other states. Are you saying this approach wasn’t effective?
If they say the traditional rulers, does it mean that the traditional rulers should go to the border and stand and wait for the people or those people they are paying the money? The police did not help us then. Our people should have been charged to man the borders. Our people would have known that allowing people to come in because of N5,000 will mean exposing us to our enemies. That was the problem. The problem was that things were not done the way they ought to have been done. If you said the security guards should go and secure the borders, what did you give them to do that? What do they have? What could they have done? Were they expected to use cutlasses to fight people who are with guns? I remember during the Nigeria-Biafra war at the initial time when the war was reaching the border. They collected many young boys and told them to go to the war front. What did they give them – machetes. How many of them came home? All of them were slaughtered. We should not do that this time around. We are all wiser; if they want us to fight our war which is now written on the ground because it is not yet on top; there is war coming up. If we want to do it, we must do something. We should arm those boys not telling them that they’re supposed not to have a gun. They should have the guns under the authority of the state government to secure our borders and secure our inner areas. If they do it, it will be a better thing, but if we are just giving lip services, God be our help.
Do you think the way the government is going about the community policing issue in the Southeast is the right way?
The question is, if you check other regions that have done the same thing, the Igbo people have a different scenario. That is not how they did it in other areas. When they did it in Southwest and other areas, it was properly done. No one told them how to do it. The police only came to endorse it. Why should our own be different? I was there when it was being done. Ohanaeze President General, Chief Nnia Nwodo and Bishop Chukwuma told the IG of Police our own idea; how we want to police ourselves. If they are saying, you are a conquered people and should not be allowed to police yourselves, let them tell us openly that we should not defend ourselves; that we should leave ourselves open and bare to people. What do they call this community policing? It started about 25 years ago when I was still in service. Since then what has come out of it? It is nothing, but just one of those things they use to bamboozle us.
Herdsmen have been committing all sorts of atrocities in the Southeast. What’s your experience as the chief security officer of your community?
It has been a terrible thing; awful. I tell you that these people have made it impossible for someone who is interested in farming to go to the farm. If I’m talking of other people, I’ll talk of my personal experience. My wife had over 55 hectares of land where she is farming and every time she had crops on it, these people will come in the middle of the night and clear everything. And when you complain, they will say arrest somebody so we will pay. We have arrested them twice and they have not paid a penny. And if you kill any of their cows, they will ask you to pay. I want to ask, is cow more valuable than crops that people are eating? How many people can afford meat? If you can’t eat vegetables and other things, how can you eat meat? If you go to the restaurant to eat food, you will ask the person to give you food. You may now request for meat later on if you can afford it. But here they go ahead to destroy people’s farms. The worst is that if a woman goes to farm alone and she is not so old enough, they will rape the woman and destroy everything in the farm and nothing will happen. And we call ourselves one Nigeria. I don’t know where that one Nigeria is coming from. I’ve not seen it and it’s not written anywhere. Even if it is written, it is not being practiced equally to everybody.
Are you saying that the traditional rulers are not empowered enough to tackle security issues in their domains?
Yes, we have nothing; nothing for us at all; so that if you are saying of anything you have to be sure of what you are saying and know what you are doing to get what you want. It is not there.
What’s your view about the call for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023?
We should not be begging for Igbo to be president. If Nigeria wants to get out of the problem we are into now, they should look for an Igbo man to make president. They should allow an Igbo to rule this country. And if they allow an Igbo man to become president, that is if they will not return to what we saw before the Nigerian-Civil war, you will see a different thing. You will see openings. You will see many things. You will see how people are spurred to bring what they have in their minds. But if Nigeria wants to remain where they are, after taking two steps forward they will take five steps backwards, I don’t care.
You are of the opinion that the solution to Nigeria’s many problems resides in the Igbo?
The problem is that we have never been there. If we have been there, we will compare those who were there and know the difference. Why are they afraid of having an Igbo man there? Why is it that the entire Nigeria in its generality does not want an Igbo man to be the president of Nigeria? I mean executive president not ceremonial. Zik had been the president, but it was Abubakar who was calling the shots. Let them make an Igbo man executive president and I bet you, within three years, if you don’t see things changing let them not know that Igbo is an enterprising tribe; people who know what is good. Even now that we are being oppressed, we are doing our best. If you give us opportunity, we shall have many things. A Nigerian president of Igbo extraction will remember all parts of Nigeria. After all, if you go to the North, the development you see there are Igbo. Go to Lagos and Abuja you see the same thing. We do it because we believe in one Nigeria. Other tribes do not believe in one Nigeria. How many Yoruba have property or something in Igbo land? How many Hausa have anything in Igbo land? But go to the North, go to the West and you see where our people invested their money more than even in Igbo land because they believe that Nigeria should be open to everybody.
People say that the failure of Igbo to get to the highest level of leadership in Nigeria is due to lack of unity; do you think the Igbo are not united?
How can you talk of unity when you have not tested it? Ask Igbo to produce a president and you will see it. How can they say we are not united? They are using it in other to make us look foolish. We are not foolish like that. We are wise. Throw the bone to us and you will see as a dog whether we will not wrestle it from the spirits.
Why do you think that there is high rate of land racketeering in Enugu and how do you handle it in your community?
It is something that has been blown overboard. If some people are wise enough and they want to buy land they should do the right things. The problem is that the creation of so many autonomous communities has done more harm to our people than good. When my father was the leader of the Nike clan, such things never happened. But after they came in and carved out about 11 autonomous communities of Nike, can I go to the other people and tell them what to do in their own area? If you come to my own community, the problem people have is that they want to get land on a platter of gold and they will not come to me. They will go to anybody that claims to have land and after they have paid huge amount of money and they go there, the true owner of the land comes in. By that time they will come to me and I will tell them who the true owner is with documents. And they will go to town saying they bought land at Nike and have lost. Why shouldn’t you lose when you decided to go through the backyard? You should come through the proper channel. The traditional ruler is there, who is the custodian of land matters. Why should you go through the backyard? There is a matter I’m handling now; somebody whose lease has expired. He came through the backdoor to renew a lease that doesn’t exist again. That is one of those things. I remember one which my younger brother sold a land which my father sold to someone else in 1983 in 2008. They came here. My brother did it. And I called somebody like Igwe Ozoekwem to come and sit with me on judgment. When I passed judgment and told the man who bought the land in 2008 that he is not the owner of the land as someone else had bought the land from my father in 1983; Ozoekwem couldn’t believe I would do it, but I did it. If someone says he has land to sell and produces papers, come here and get clearance and everything will be okay. It is just like the one they call ‘Ogba n’eche agu’. I don’t support it. The youths go to the field and harass people and they part with their money. And when they are doing it, they will say they are doing it on behalf of the Igwe. Who has during that period driven to me and said Igwe are you aware of this? Nobody does that. They will only go to the place where they drink beer and say what they like. I don’t have the time to go there to defend myself. No, I can’t do that. They will continue saying what they want to say, but I know what I do. It is their palaver. Some people will come in now and have the money to buy land but when they are duped they go on air or the place where they drink or the press to say all manner of things. I am saying that nobody had ever come here and I approved a land sale or change of land ownership and eventually the land is disputed.