Chief Solomon Ogbonna is the president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Lagos State. He speaks on the state of the nation and the need to save the Igbo language and culture from extinction.
It has been observed that Igbo language takes the backstage in some Igbo engagements. What is your view?
Those Igbo ignoring Igbo language are those who want to be more English than the Queen and the British Monarch. In Ohanaeze Ndigbo Lagos State, I have made it compulsory that anybody who wants to contest any post must be fluent enough in speaking Igbo language. If other leaders especially our political leaders will follow the same step, no Igbo person will contest any election from councillorship to presidency if he or she is not fluent enough in Igbo language. Nobody should be elected village head, town leader and even traditional ruler if the person is not fluent in Igbo language. This stipulation is the only thing that will bring Igbo language back to the centre-stage in all Igbo engagements. In my business as art collector, I traverse the best cities of the western world, attending art exhibitions and auctions. My contacts and friends in the sector are members of the high class in the western world who appreciate art and can afford buying them; yet I am proud of my Igbo language. If you want to ignore Igbo language, you can go to non-Igbo speaking areas to contest for positions. In the same vein, non-Igbo citizens of Nigeria are welcome to contest for posts in Igbo states; and they are not bound by this stipulation. It is all about one Nigeria.
Some Igbo appear uncomfortable with your fraternity with the Yoruba especially your visits to the Ooni vis-à-vis his statement that Igbo are from Ile-Ife. They also accuse you sell out for endorsing Sanwo-Olu. What have you to say?
The greatest enemy of Ndigbo is not the Hausa and their religion Islam. The biggest threat to us is not the Yoruba man and his ideology. The most potent weapon that is beclouding us in our history is the same old child crying in the desert- disunity, being caused by some disgruntled Ndigbo. I am not selling out Ndigbo to any tribe, but building good relationship between Ndigbo and people of other tribes and nationalities. Furthermore, I am a culture and tradition activist, and hold traditional institutions in high esteem. One of the key factors breeding disunity among Ndigbo is our disregard to culture and tradition. Most of the people kicking against my visits to the traditional rulers especially Ooni are those Igbo who scorn our culture and tradition.
As per Ooni’s statement that Igbo are from Ile-Ife, few disgruntled Igbo are berating him. In their bid to fight imaginary enemies, they distort facts, mislead and misinform the public. My response when Ooni made the statement that Igbo are from Ile-Ife was: ‘whatever will bring peace between Igbo and other tribes including Yoruba, I am in support of that.’ It is one of Ooni’s moves in advocating unity and peace among Igbo and Yoruba. It is pertinent to note that His Royal Majesty, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, the Ooni of Ife is an ambassador and advocate of peace. He demonstrated this sterling quality shortly after his coronation by meeting with the Alaafin of Oyo. I am neither historian nor an archaeologist, but an art collector, so it is not my place to state the origin of Igbo. These few disgruntled Igbo are those who want Ndigbo to remain in perpetual political opposition in Lagos State, encouraging enmity between us and our host community, at the expense of our vast investments. These few disgruntled Igbo don’t care a hoot about the consequences of their warring posture on Igbo investments in Lagos. I take solace in the fact that many eminent Igbo business men/women and industrialists in Lagos State appreciate the bold step I took in endorsing Sanwo-Olu and launching Igbo into the mainstream of Lagos politics, as they contacted me and sent goodwill messages.
What is your advice for the Igbo?
Yes! To achieve the type of unity and strength we are struggling for, we have to honour Ndigbo who died during the civil war. We should institute Igbo Remembrance Day to honour and commemorate the labour of our heroes past-which shall never be in vain. The day should be an annual event that will enable us pay homage to the fallen Igbo heroes in defence of our tribe. It must be a festival of sober reflection for us and those who died during the civil war. Gatherings for the event will not be for politicking; neither will it be for chronicling of people’s profiles and praise singing. It should be a red letter day event, completely devoted to our fallen heroes. It should be a day all businesses, shops, markets, etc. must close down and all of us and those at work observe a minute silence in honour of these great people. Let us be pragmatic. Leadership is sacrifice, not an enterprise.
Ndigbo should explore more of the conventional media (TV, Radio, Newspapers and Magazines) in projecting and protecting the interest of Igbo. I am not talking of the social media without rules of engagement. To some Ndigbo, it is a taboo for any Igbo person to speak through the conventional media. Some of these Igbo are comfortable when you speak through the social media where they trade insults, abuse and bully. In the social media, some of these people feel that abusing your leaders and elders make you great and unique. For instance, when Ooni statement came up, they jumped at it, to abuse and insult leaders and elders they perceive as supporters of my administration. Ask what is causing the jealousy and anger; and the answer is that they are blocked from hijacking Ohanaeze affairs for their selfish interests. They are very smart in recruiting people into their fold with lies and fabricated stories. Not to worry, lies have short life span.