By Vincent Kalu
Prolific writer and administrator, Chief Ireke Kalu Onuma has highlighted what the Igbo should do to rise to the challenges they found themselves in Nigeria.
Chief Onuma, who aspires to be the Secretary general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide, noted that he was going to bring his wealth of experience to bear for that critical office.
Ohanaeze goes to poll early next year, why is it generating tension unlike in the past?
Events in the recent years across the country and in Igbo land, especially insecurity of various kinds have revealed an obvious failure of government to discharge their duties to the people, and this has been made worse by the petty ethno-religious politics in the country to which merits have continuously been sacrificed.
People everywhere are disgruntled and looking for solutions to the basic questions of security, food and health however they can, so there is a natural upsurge of interest in all regional organisations, like Ohanaeze across the country as an immediate first alternative to solving their problems. Now, of the Nigerian ethnic groups, Igbo have clearly been on the marginalised side for a long time; so there is naturally for us a higher interest in resolving these issues. It is time for us to talk; it is time for us to take critical decisions that will define our collective destiny and wellbeing. So it is a good development and whatever tensions you find will naturally fizzle away soon and all hands will be on deck for the real tasks before us.
The Secretary general is the fulcrum of the organisation; how are you equipped or qualified for the office?
I must thank and applaud the founding fathers of the Ohanaeze because it is one organization that had been long overdue and waiting for the men with the requisite acumen and bravery to birth it. We are eternally grateful to them. Now, it is time to move the organisation forward and begin the work in earnest. It is time for Igbo wherever they may be to begin to articulate and harness their powers. It is time to begin to build and integrate all Igbo unions wherever they are into a single whole.
I started as the pioneer administrative secretary of Ndigbo Lagos and ran it from scratch and today, it is one of the frontline Igbo organisations of the moment. Twenty unbroken years of service in running a front line Igbo organisation like Ndigbo Lagos will be a useful advantage in my discharge of this duty. In this position, I have worked closely with all Ohanaeze presidents and executives and also all the Igbo governors from 2000 to date. I am therefore well acquainted with the visions, purposes and modes of operation of the organisation and in a good position to re-engineer her to perform better and for greater benefits. Administration, management, organization, networking, bridge-building and accountability are my areas of expertise and experience and I will deploy these to institutionalise Ohanaeze.
How do you think these challenges can be addressed?
Igbo must begin to reinvent herself and this very urgently because the Nigerian ship has suffered severe and irreparable damages and sinking. Igbo must unite. Igbo must also reach out and unite with her neighbors with whom she shares common visions and purposes. Igbo must work towards self reliance by creating workable plans and agenda to address her security, food, health, education, environment and economy. There is no reason why the governments and peoples of the Southeast and South-South cannot begin an immediate and serious effort in addressing her security jointly. There is no reason why an intra-regional railway project that will lay the foundation for the economic development of the two regions should not be immediately in place. There is no reason why immediate and home made solutions to the severe erosion problems that have put a greater pressure on our very scarce land should not immediately be a priority. There is no reason why we should not be addressing the deplorable state of education in our region as a matter of urgency.
How do you plan to handle the problem of Igbo unity and the issue of the many Igbo splinter groups like the MASSOB, IPOB etc?
Misunderstandings and disagreements are normal in any polity. Even siblings disagree. It is our duty to bring all disagreeing parties to a table and resolve whatever differences. Voices naturally will go up and come down and in the end, we can all unite our purposes and march on with one vision. I do not know of any Igbo man who wishes Igbo bad. Therefore, I believe all the groups are working for Igbo good, but with different approaches. As you know, no man can act beyond his knowledge, so I think everyman is acting, as he knows best. Be assured, we shall all harmonize our thoughts and efforts without fail. When we are done with the elections and settled, we shall invite all groups and sit on a table and I assure you that superior reason will rule.
How do you want to handle the Igbo presidency project?
I am not aware of the Igbo presidency as an official project of the Ohanaeze as yet. It is not for me to decide either. When Igbo decide, they will also decide on how to approach it. For now, what remains top on our list is Igbo security and well-being. What we are more concerned with now is building a self reliant, self-sustaining and more resilient Igbo. If the Igbo presidency is going to be a route or vehicle to achieving this when the stakeholders converge, they will decide.
There is a youth wing of Ohanaeze; there are also IPOB and MASSOB, as well as many Igbo youths but not appearing to be aligned to the visions and modes of operation of Ohanaeze. In fact, many times they have come out to accuse the Ohanaeze of being sellouts. What do you have to say about this?
Like I said earlier, no man can act beyond his knowledge. Like the scriptures will say, when I was young, I acted like a child but when I grew up I threw away childish things. I am a trained historian and psychologist and I will tell you that war is expensive and should be avoided by all means. In fact, Igbo in her wisdom has a name, Emenike, literally translated ‘not by power or not by might’. We must learn from our history and the wisdom of our fathers. Within a people’s language are contained their philosophies and beliefs and all that they stand for. There was no town hall meeting at any time in which Igbo sent out her sons to go and execute a coup against the Nigerian government or to go and kill anyone. However, when the young Nzeogwu and his colleagues comprising other Igbo boys and boys from other tribes got involved in a failed military coup, despite the army having already laid down rules on how to deal with rebellious and mutinous elements, suddenly the rules were set aside and the whole army and country decided to tag it an Igbo coup and kill the Igbo.
It is said that shoes of Nnia Nwodo administration will be big for the successor.
Why and how are you going to work with the PG to fit into the shoes and even expand them?
Every man and every regime will do their bit. Ohanaeze is a platform to unite our people and create the enabling environment for us to dialogue and take action on the many issues competing for our attention. I have seen the list of aspirants for the post of Ohaneze president and knowing the pedigree and zeal of many of the aspirants for Igbo matters, I am greatly encouraged. Working closely with several of the President generals of Ohaneze and executives for about two decades now has attuned me to her visions and purposes. The importance of this to create the harmonious working relationship between the secretary, the president and all the other executives cannot be overemphasized. I hold this advantage securely today and consider it a blessing for the next Ohaneze executives and Igbo as a whole.