From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
Chief Chris Nnoli is a Kaduna based lawyer. He also the President General of Igbo Community Welfare Association (ICWA), an umbrella body of Ndigbo in Kaduna State. He is also the Deputy President of Igbo in the 19 Northern States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, but directly in-charge of the Northwest zone.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, he harped on how the internal problems among the Igbo politicians may deny them the nation’s number one seat if the issues are not addressed quickly.
Nnoli equally counselled that the Igbo need to lobby other ethnic nationalities in the country to be able to produce Nigerian president, pointing out that the Igbo have enough tested and trusted politicians, including the Chief Whip of the Senate and former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, who are eminently qualified for the presidential race in 2023. Excerpts:
Three years ago, the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) gave the Igbo in the North a quit notice because Igbo agitated for Biafra. But the northern group recently apologized to the Igbo and asked for forgiveness. How do you feel about this?
Well, in the first place, we thank God who prevented the devil from causing any harm to the people. I want to appreciate the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, who intervened when the issue first came up. I was involved in the resolution of the whole issue in the 19 northern states. I served on the five-member committee that met with the Arewa youths. We negotiated with them and secured a firm commitment to peace. They also withdrew the quit notice given to the Igbo and later offered an apology. The apology was acceptable because the Igbo man is interested in peaceful co-existence in this country. No Igbo man will go for anything that will disrupt peace in this country. The apology was a good move and we pray that such thing will never happen again.
How many of your members were affected and how did you take care of their welfare?
God has been so wonderful. When the pandemic broke out we cancelled every meeting among our people, whether it was town union, local government or state meeting, all were cancelled. In agreement with the Kaduna State government directive to lockdown, our people complied. Though we lost some of our members during the period under review, but their death had nothing to do with the COVID-19. On the issue of palliative to our members, I am happy to tell you that some of our wealthy members assisted the association and we were able to distribute some palliatives to our members, who had little or nothing to feed during the lockdown. We raised money and bought food items, which we distributed to over 1,200 members. That was how we were able to cope during the lockdown.
How are your members coping with issues of kidnapping, banditry and insecurity in Kaduna State?
As a matter of fact, nobody is happy about insecurity in the state because for development to take place anywhere, there must be proper security in place otherwise people will not be interested to come and do business in the state. So for us the Igbo in the state, we are not so much affected by insecurity. Our people are playing safe and abiding by the law. However, we have many people that have been kidnapped. We had to pay money to secure their release from the kidnappers. We thank Governor el-Rufai for doing his best because the issue of security is not easy. We pray for him to work hard to ensure that security is maintained in Kaduna State. Before now the issue of kidnapping along Kaduna-Abuja highway used to be so terrible, but the governor has been able to beef up security on the highway, and to the glory of God, people are using the road now with little or no issue of kidnapping now.
Is any of your members still in the hands of the kidnappers?
There is none as I speak, but about two weeks ago, a boy from Ebonyi State was kidnapped. He was later rescued after a lot of negotiation and all that.
Was the boy going to Abuja or coming to Kaduna?
No. The boy was kidnapped from the house in Gonin-Gora area of Kaduna city.
INEC has fixed the presidential election for February 18, 2023, would you say this is too early as the election is three years away?
Well, under the Electoral Act, INEC has the right to decide on when to conduct election. The election timelines are regulated; you give a time when such a thing will take place or happen. It does not mean that people should start to campaign now. It is just an information of the timeline. So, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the date. INEC is doing what it ought to do and there is nothing wrong about it.
Igbo ethnic nationality is seriously clamouring to produce the President of Nigeria in 2023. Do you think they can make it considering the fact that other regions are also interested in the presidency?
Yes, what we are saying now and I keep on saying is that the major tribes of this country that is Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo, it is only the Igbo that have not ruled this country under a democratic dispensation. I want to add that Igbo need to network with other ethnic groups to succeed. For us to succeed in the quest to produce a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction in 2023, we must liaise with other ethnic groups. We must cross the Niger Bridge and shake hands with other ethnic groups and tell them that this is what we want. But if we stay in one place and say this is what we want, it will be a problem for us because politics is about numbers. We need other tribes to give us the winning numbers, because we have qualified persons that can lead this country. So the political parties should beam their searchlight on worthy Igbo people and come up with a presidential candidate for the peaceful co-existence of this country. If you look at what is happening today, the Igbo man is nowhere in terms of leadership of this country. So, for the betterment of this country there is need to support an Igbo man to become the president of this country.
But the Igbo nation at different times producced presidents of the Senate?
You see, that is one of the problems the Igbo people have because if you look at Senate presidency, it was PDP that zoned the position to the Southeast at that time. And because the entire North seems to have the presidency, then the Senate presidency was left for the Southeast when Olusegun Obasanjo was the president. So to us, it is an internal issue because other states too produced Senate presidents. When David Mark was the Senate president he was not affected by anybody. But for the Igbo, it is an internal problem that needs to be resolved in order to move forward because if an Igbo man becomes president today, nobody knows what will happen next.
How do you mean by nobody knows what will happen next?
Because there are internal issues that need to be resolved to enable us work together as a people so that people can join us and work with us to succeed.
You mean Igbo have internal problems that need to be resolved before 2023?
There are internal issues that need to be resolved.
Can you give an example of such internal problems?
Well, there are issues for them to look at. Those issues are there for them to look at and resolve them. They know the problems.
What do you have to tell people who say that Igbo should choose between agitation for Biafra republic and Nigerian presidency?
Well, you see, the issue of agitation for Biafra is as a result of some few people who felt that they are sidelined in the politcal affairs and they are not seen as Nigerians. But for most of us, that is not an issue. The issue is that you must belong to the Nigerian system, come into it, stay in the system and work in the system and also let the system be with you because you cannot be outside the system and work. So the issue of Biafra is about the few that are aggrieved and are protesting over what is not properly done in the system. The issue of electing an Igbo man as president is in the right direction, there is nothing wrong with that. We cannot say because some few people are agitating for Biafra, the majority of the people should be denied what is due to them. Let the proper things be done and it will silence a lot of people. I can tell you that if an Igbo man is made the president today, every other person who felt aggrieved will now feel belonged in the Nigerian system.The Biafra agitation should not be used against any Igbo man to deny the majority of the Igbo who are not for the agitation. It is not every Igbo that believes in the agitation for Biafra. So, I believe the Igbo presidency and the comparison with the Biafra agitation should not arise in the first place. The majority of the Igbo are in support of the 2023 presidency project. It is not an issue for debate either for or against Biafra.
When you talk about internal problems of the Igbo, don’t you think the Biafra issue is one of the problems?
Well, it is part of the problems. It is one of those problems that we are trying to resolve. We have what we call voters education in each state, that is what we are trying to do now. We want to let our people know that they should not say they must want this or that but to participate in the Nigeria system so that the people can believe and trust them. I know that with time we will be able to resolve these problems. But for now we want other tribes to see that the issue of Biafra should not stop an Igbo man from becoming the president of this country. Let us begin to say that we must work with other tribes, all the tribes in Nigeria so that we can achieve what we want at the 2023 general elections.
Do you think that the Southeast has presidential materials?
If you are looking for presidential materials from the Southeast, there are many Igbo politicians that are qualified to run. I know that Orji Uzor Kalu was a governor and now he is a Senator, and I can say that he is also qualified to contest the presidency. So also there are other Igbo politicians who are also qualified to run the race. But the key questions are: what is your pedigree and historical background? These are the things that will determine whether you are qualified or not, to run for the president of this country. It is not just to say I want to contest, but what are your past achievements, can they be traced? And what can you do in the future? Compare them and see whether they work together. Those are the things we are talking about.
From what you have said, it means the Southeast has more than enough presidential materials. Don’t you think that the clash of interest may deny the zone the presidency?It is part of the problem we are talking about, and we believe that when we get to that bridge, we will cross it.
By the time you get to the bridge, are you going to push a consensus candidate to cross the bridge?
(Laughs) When we get to the bridge we will cross it.
What specifically should the Igbo do to produce the president in 2023?
The Igbo people must belong to all the political parties, they must not work with a political party that is sectional, they must relate with a nationwide political party that will support their political aspiration. They must participate in all electoral activities; support the party that is ready to field an Igbo man as its presidential candidate. They must reach out to other tribes and seek their support, and by the special grace of God, the president will come from the Southeast.
What is going to be the contribution of Igbo in the North towards the actualization of the presidential aspiration?
What I know is that wherever we are, we must belong to the political party that is working for the betterment of our people, that will work in support of our people to become president and other leadership positions. The Igbo people are everywhere in this country, and wherever we are we support our people back home. We cannot work apart from what our people are doing to actualize the presidency.