By Perpetua Egesimba
Charles Chukwuma Okafor is the Interim National President of Pan Ndigbo Foundation,(PNF). PNF was birthed from the former Peoples National forum which was founded in 1998 and was one of the three major groups that came together to form the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP). In this interview, he spoke about the marginalization of the Igbo and how Nigeria is selling off her patrimony.
What do you make of the advice to the President to sell off the Nigerian Liquified Natural Gas Company (NLNG) and other huge capital-generating sectors as solution to recession?
There, they go again. In 1972, they sold off the first foreign companies to pursue their indigenization policy. Nigeria then was filled with functioning foreign companies, employment opportunities were there, employers go to Universities to recruit fresh graduates and on their first visit to their companies, they will be given their car keys and housing allowances. I witnessed this not that I was told. Where are those companies today? They will always pauperize this nation and see how they will sell our patrimony to certain privileged individuals. Can you imagine someone thinking of buying the NLNG? There are some things that are too provocative. I don’t know why people think that the rest of us are morons who cannot think. Under Obasanjo, they nearly sold off what was left of our economy. The ones they have sold, what is the result?. Those who are advising for the selling of what is left of our national institutions, can they please come up with a data and figures that Nigeria has made so much progress out of the ones that have been sold.
Do you think President Buhari should be given emergency powers to deal with recession?
I am sorry to say as a responsible Nigerian citizen that I do not think that the president has even utilized the powers conferred on him equitably as the president of the nation by the Constitution; the powers have been grossly abused so far. I have asked myself what he needs more powers for? What additional powers is he looking for to address the issue of recession? What he needs is a very dynamic economic management team, what he needs is looking at his cabinet planting round pegs in round holes and not putting square pegs in round holes. In my opinion as a Nigerian, I think it will be disastrous giving such powers to the president who seems to look the other way when certain things that are wrong are going on including the massacre of Nigerians in different areas by the Hausa Fulani herdsmen. There are so many things that happened that made some of us to begin to think that the president does not recognize the sensibilities of other Nigerians. I don’t think the kind of powers he is asking for will be properly handled if given. He should look for other options. Fortunately, this country has abundance of men of intellectual abilities, management knowhow and economic gurus who can help with strategies that will get us out of this mess we have gotten into in just a question of one year and three months.
For long, the Igbo people have continued to lament economic and political marginalization and injustice saying it’s the only ethnic nationality in southern Nigeria yet to produce a democratically elected President after the South-West, South-South and the North have all had their shots.
What is your reaction to this persistent outcry?
The day president Muhammadu Buhari had his last presidential rally at TBS in Lagos in 2003, I happened to have founded one of the groups that campaigned for him that year. Then, he was running with late Chuba Okadigbo. I remember that I raised this issue before him at the Federal Palace Hotel at the Gala Night. If people genuinely want Nigeria to continue, it is not enough to wake up every day and tell people that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable or not. The unity of Nigeria cannot be achieved at the expense of any ethnic group. It can only be achieved at the pleasure of the diverse ethnic groups that make up the entity called Nigeria. The Federal Government has continued to marginalise the South Easterners in the sense that when states were created, they were created under military fiat. The Igbo did not have adequate representation in those military governments.
So, the decision to create were taken in their absence and that explains why we have six to seven states in each of the geopolitical zones, only for the South East with at least the second largest population in this country to be added into just five states. The same thing goes for the local government. Sadly speaking, Jigawa State was created out of Kano State but as we speak, Kano and Jigawa combined, have as many local governments as we have in the entire South East. It has continued on and on, and some people will argue that under Obasanjo and Jonathan’s administrations, Igbo people were allowed to hold prime positions.
Yes, but they were only being used because the position they held didn’t translate to anything for the South Easterners. There were no infrastructural amenities, federal institutions and everything you can think about. The only federal government presence you can find were the prisons; no federal sponsored institutions. Successive governments have continued probably to remember the civil war and continued to punish the Igbo for a war that ended over 40 years ago. The marginalisation is real. I will prefer a situation where the Federal Government will redress the injustice against the South Easterners so that Nigeria can remain as an entity because I think there is strength in unity.
Do you agree with those who insist that the Igbo are a threat to Nigeria’s unity?
The Igbo are not and can never be a threat to Nigeria’s unity. The agitations are there because the Igbo do not enjoy the opportunities the Hausa Fulani and the Yoruba are enjoying in Nigeria. See what is going on in Buhari’s government; people taking bribe. If it were an Igbo man that is in that office, Nigeria would have been on fire now. They always look at the Igbo with suspicion. What I am saying is that, there should be a very free play ground for all the ethnic groups in Nigeria, equal opportunities, fairness in the distribution of the national wealth, amenities and facilities. If that is achieved, I do not think that the agitations will go on. If the Igbo must be kept in Nigeria by force under marginalization, nobody can stop the agitations or tell where it will lead at the end of the day.
In 2015, we witnessed major protests by the Indigenous People of Biafra, (IPOB) and in that protest, people lost their lives.
They have declared another protest demanding that their Leader, Nnamdi Kanu be released. What would be your advice to the Federal
Government to avert a repeat of loss of lives?
First and foremost, I consider it an aberration that a civilian government, a government under democracy is exercising the kind of impunity in flouting court orders. This were the tendencies that APC as a party was complaining under the previous administration. The incarceration of Nnamadi Kanu is very wrong not just because he is an Igbo man, anywhere in the world, it is very undemocratic and unconstitutional. Talking about the protest, you cannot slap a child and deny him the liberty of crying. Look at how much billions this government is budgeting for the reconstruction of North East. Forty years after the civil war, has the Federal Government of Nigeria honored the promises of the Gowon administration on reconstruction, reconciliation and rehabilitation? You cannot hold somebody on the scrotum and tell him not to complain, it’s not right. If Nigeria did not succeed in wiping out the Igbo during the 30 months civil war, it is not now that they will be able to wipe them out. If they wipe out the ones who are in Nigeria, the ones who are abroad will take up the fight from there. This even raises the issue of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs. The Igbo are all over the world, we are busy building Nigeria, turning swamps and deserts into cities. I expect that the Igbo should be appreciated for what they are doing for this country.