Prince Ben Onuora, president of the Igbo socio-cultural-cum-political association, Igboekulie, has cautioned the members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, for their caustic utterances on notable Igbo leaders and governors.
In this interview, he said that IPOB derailed in their fight against the injustices meted to Ndigbo in Nigeria by insulting Igbo elders.
Onuora, a legal and management consultant, also took a cursory look at APC’s recent effort to make an inroad into the Southeast and suggested how the party could sweep more votes from the region. Excerpt:
In 2015, you were among the very few Southeast groups that expressed support for the APC before their victory at the presidential polls. After four years in government, what have been the high and low points of the administration?
In 2015, our members in Igboekulie were utterly dissatisfied with the acute corruption and poor governance of the President Jonathan-led PDP administration. We were scandalised by the slide into avoidable decay and felt we needed strong leadership to stem the tide. Four years after, it has been a mixed bag – improvements in some areas and unbelievable retrogression in others. For the record, President Buhari and APC campaigned on the basis of three cardinal programmes in 2015 – security, fight against corruption and improvement in the economy. The deadly activities of Boko Haram have been partially curtailed. However, it has been promptly replaced with murderous banditry and horrific killings of Nigerians in their homes and the highways by armed herdsmen. Sadly, the Federal Government acts as if it is helpless while the perpetrators of the evil, act with incredible impunity, such that even army generals are scared of travelling by road. This APC government took decisive steps to expose monumental corruption perpetrated by the Jonathan administration, particularly the sharing of over $2 billion meant for the fight against Boko Haram among PDP top officials. Commendably, many arrests were made and huge stolen funds recovered by the EFCC. However, the tremendous goodwill from this initial success has largely been frittered away as the Federal Government opted not to demonstrate the same zeal when confronted with allegations or even proof of corruption by its friends and appointees. Apart from some uncoordinated efforts in high places, the FGN has not unveiled or implemented a strategic plan to deal with corruption in its agencies and the private sector. On the economy, a few good steps have been taken. In agriculture, local production of foodstuffs is being vigorously encouraged, though the policy is facing the challenge of farmers who are being killed and their crops eaten up or destroyed by invading herdsmen and their cattle. There are road and rail construction going on across the country and a marginal improvement in the power supply. There are many areas of avoidable failure in the management of the economy. Massive borrowing with increasing debt service obligation threatens our future. Disgraceful delays in the appointment of ministers (six months in 2015 and three months in 2019), create uncertainty and hurts the economy. Devaluation of the naira, insecurity and epileptic power supply have led either to the high cost of production or closure of factories in some cases. All these have resulted in severe unemployment, reduction in the standard of living. From the above analysis, it is clear the APC government has not done very well for Nigeria. For me, the high point of the performance of the APC in the Southeast is the commencement of construction work on the Second Niger Bridge, which directly links many states in Nigeria. The low point, for us Igboekulie would be the discrimination against the Southeast in meaningful federal appointments.
Senator Orji Kalu has been given the task to rebuild the APC in Southeast, what would you suggest to him to position the party well in the region?
I wish Senator Orji Kalu luck in this assignment. I assure him that it is a herculean task, though not insurmountable if those who gave him the assignment are prepared to do all it takes to achieve success. The first and urgent thing the APC needs to do is to advise the president to be presidential! He should see himself as the father of the entire nation, not a part of it. In 2015, the president’s first 45 political appointees had no Southeast person among them. Admittedly, the Southeast did not vote for him then, but that should not be an excuse for any person who wants to be seen as a statesman to consciously alienate a critical part of Nigeria. When he thereafter proceeded to make his infamous evidently repulsive 97 per cent and five per cent reward statement for those who voted for him as against those who did not, he sealed the mistrust with the Southeasterners. These acts, which have remained largely uncorrected can only make the task of Senator Kalu more difficult. What the Igbo only ask for is equity and fairness in Nigeria. Is that too much to ask for from the APC? The sad thing is that each time the opportunity for fresh appointments comes to the president, rather than correct the anomalies, he reinforces them. Just take a look at the recent appointment of ministers. The Southeast is already disadvantaged in that as it is the political zone with the least number of states (five), ended up with six ministers, three of whom were appointed ministers of state while the Northwest zone with seven states got eight senior ministers in grade A ministries. So, I candidly advise the APC and Mr President to rule Nigeria with fairness, improve the living conditions of the masses and visit the Southeast to inaugurate or commission federal projects and industries. We do not like the fact that the president only visits us during campaigns wearing the Isiagu Igbo attire.
Senator Ekweremadu’s treatment in Germany and the mixed reactions it generated, seemingly pitched Igbo youths against pan-Igbo groups like Ohanaeze and Southeast governors. What is your take on this seeming uprising between the youths and the elders?
Igboekulie strongly condemns the attack on Senator Ike Ekweremadu in Germany. We do not support assault because the dividing line between it and threat to live in a mob-like environment is very thin. I understand the reason for the attack is that IPOB sees the Senator as a ‘’traitor’’ to the IPOB cause. I am unable to reconcile the attack and the claim with this assistance. I believe that the support for the Biafran cause cannot and should not be by force or conscription. Both IPOB and non-IPOB members have equal right to choose whether to support the cause of Biafra as being pursued by IPOB or not. That choice should not be influenced by mob action, especially by young men and women who may not fully understand or appreciate the issues or their implications. However, Igboekulie supports and, indeed, recommends street protests by Ndigbo and other Nigerians aimed at demanding accountability by their incompetent and often corrupt leaders. As the great Prof Chinua Achebe recognised years ago, the main problem of Nigeria is poor leadership. I believe that as a people we are very docile. This is why leaders here have, with impunity, elevated inept leadership and brazen theft of public funds meant to alleviate the poor living conditions to an art. If such unwanted leaders manipulate the electoral process to return to power, the people have no choice, but to show their disapproval in any way they deem fit, within the ambits of the law. After all, when a child is beaten, he should be allowed to cry. With some governors and political leaders doing well in the Southeast currently, we are pleased about the gradual replacement of some of the really bad leaders. We have some persons in the national and state assemblies who are utterly useless to the Igbo, who must leave.
Many hold the belief that Igbo leaders were too quick to denounce IPOB, especially looking at how other radical groups like Niger Delta militants, OPC, and Boko Haram were shielded by their regional leaders. Do you share in this notion?
I will answer this question by telling you that an Igbo proverb captures the situation perfectly. ‘What an elder sees while sitting down, a child may not see even if he climbs to the mountain top’. Secession from Nigeria either through referendum or war is not a tea party. Ndigbo are not unanimous on this issue. Some are in favour of it, while some are against it. Yet some favour it, but disagree with IPOB’s methods. Whatever may be the case, a good leader must listen to the opinion of others because no one has a monopoly of knowledge. We appreciate the frustrations of Igbo youths, but there are many things they may not fully understand or appreciate because of their limited experience in life. Some of the utterances and actions of IPOB leaders and members are capable of endangering the political, economic and social stability of the Igbo in Nigeria. As Igboekulie, we have had discussions with the President of Ohanaeze, Chief Nnia Nwodo and other credible Igbo leaders over this matter. We are convinced, that denouncing and insulting credible Igbo leaders and branding them as traitors are acutely wrong. Many people are making concrete sacrifices for our people. They do not deserve to be rubbished by young men and women who live mostly abroad and have very limited information about the situation back home. I will say no more on this. Those other groups you mentioned have leadership that often listens and defers to elders from their localities. Go and investigate this. In any event, how many times do you hear them denounce their leaders in public? That is the difference, a very important one at that.
What is Igboekulie’s view on Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB? Many see him as the authentic voice of the youth. Do you share this perception?
Igboekulie’s view of IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu is that they are entitled to have an opinion on the state of the Igbo in Nigeria. We believe they should concede that others have the right to hold a different view. There are several ways of finding solutions to the existential challenges of a people, not just one. Even if a solution is agreed upon, there could be differences in the details of implementation. As elders and as professionals, we in Igboekulie are very interested in what kind of message Nnamdi Kanu and other Igbo leaders of influence pass on to the youths. Our problems or challenges are not going to disappear overnight by a proclamation of Biafra or denouncing Nigeria as a zoo. We need urgent discussions in Igboland on various challenging issues, including basic discipline, integrity, hard work, our traditional apprenticeship, and mentoring programmes, leadership emergence methodology, respect for elders, proliferation and bitter contest for Ezeigbo around the world, promotion of our culture and revival of dwindling interest in Igbo language by Ndigbo, especially our youths.