Chief Chi Nwogu is a prominent business man in Northern Nigeria. He is also the President General of Igbo Delegates Assembly in the 19 Northern States and Abuja- an assembly of delegates drawn from all the Igbo Community Associations (ICA) in all the states of the North. He speaks here on the leadership issue of Ohaneze Ndigbo, the quest for peace and reconciliation among Igbo people in the North and the need for the various South East governors and legislators to come up with a master plan to cater for their people living in the North.
The Igbo Presidency in 2023 is the dream of every Igbo man. In what ways do you think the Igbo can sway the votes of other regions, especially the North, to achieve this dream?
I thank you for this question. An Igbo president of Nigeria in 2023 is paramount in the heart of every Igbo man, especially in the heart of our people living in the North. It is something that we all dream about, our people desire it, we talk about it in our shops and offices, our children know much about it and they want to see it come to pass. It is something we treat with passion and we are surely hopeful that the rest of Nigerians, our brothers and sisters in other regions, would concur with us on this ambition in the same way as we had conceded and supported them to the Presidency in the present and past democracies. So, I tell you that our people in the North are looking forward to that date with hope and enthusiasm. Let me recognise, however, that there is this suggestion of an absence of cordial political relationship between Igbo people and our core- Northern brothers. However, I will want to say that there is no reason for this. First, I believe that the people of the North, the Hausa man whom we have lived with here for years and decades, are a wonderful people. They are easy going people. Those who think that they are difficult to relate to politically or that they can never support the dream of an Igbo man to the Presidency are making a big mistake or do not even understand the Hausa man. The Hausa man is simple if you understand his chemistry. I will give you an example. Anytime you meet any of them, just as much as attempt to speak his language or to like his ways of life, you would have driven freely into his heart. I am sure that if we, the Igbo people, should play it right, endear ourselves to them, they would troop out behind us. I know some Igbo people might not agree with me on this or would call me names. But let me ask you, what is wrong with that? When the North needed the support of the Igbo man to get to power, didn’t they endear themselves to us? When in the recent past, the North needed the support of the Yoruba people to defeat President Jonathan; didn’t they invite them to a political friendship? And the result is there for all to see. This is normal in politics. You who are seeking are the one to beg the other party. Coming back to your question: What the Igbo people must do in 2023 to win the rest of the regions? This is simple. Make friends across boundaries and regions, convert political enemies to political friends, dilute the hot air of differences, be the dove and avoid antagonistic engagements even when some people invite you to exchange words with them or to come to a public fight. Whether it is a Junaid Mohammed or his type that abused our leaders, smile about it. Our governors, our legislators, our chief and captains of industries should come over to the North from time to time, keep personal relationships with their own leaders, come for their weddings when invited and condole with them in times of mourning. And you will see the miracle. Let me say that the North is very important and strategic to the emergence of an Igbo President in 2023 and the earlier we realise this and work with this fact, the better for us in this journey.
Are you suggesting that without the support of the core North, Igbo Presidency cannot come to pass?
Yes! It might not come to pass. Sincerely speaking, we need them. Without them, we are unlikely to have an Igbo presidency in 2023. Or put differently, it is difficult for any region of this country to come to the presidency without the active support of the core -North. Their support is vital in a democratic exercise given their population and their level of political awareness, their level of awareness means that a majority of their population are participating actively and voting during election periods.
How do we relate the Igbo ambition to the fact that the Yoruba people are also angling for the Presidency in 2023?
First, I will want us to agree that in a democracy, all the regions of the country and every citizen of the country are entitled to aspire. It is there in our Constitution. So, the Yoruba people have every right to aspire to lead Nigeria at any given time and date. Even the Idoma, Nupe, Kanuri and so on. Everybody has the right to look for what he wants in politics, but my take is that everybody should know that the Yoruba hasvetasted the Presidency in the recent past while the Igbo have not lived near Aso Rock. So, it is a matter of fair play and equity. Do we want to be fair to all or we want one group and region to grab it all? The answer is clear for all of us. In my opinion, I expect that the Igbo man should take precedence in this regard. But that notwithstanding, the way we should go is not to contest with our Yoruba brothers. I think the way around the issue is to dialogue with them for their understanding. We can still go to the Yoruba people and seek their consent and say my brothers, remember that we stood by you on many occasions in the past. And we can easily convince them. The Igbo man was pivotal to the emergence of President Olusegun Obasanjo. I also know that we supported his administration in every step of the way. We voted for him and we stood by him on all his good policies. I am happy that the much older Yoruba men and women are favorably disposed to a stronger and a more united Southern Nigeria and have not pretended about their very cordial and mutually respecting relationship with Ohaneze Ndigbo and the South- South group. That is where we should begin. Deepen this relationship until it bears the deserved fruits.
Rotational Presidency undermines the chances of the best man coming on board. Some have raised issues about competence if power is zoned to the East….
I don’t think that those with this kind of assumption have been fair enough in their assessment of the people of the South East or the Igbo speaking people. There are more than enough competent people in the South East that can rule Nigeria and rule it well. Don’t forget that in Nigeria, Igbo have excelled in administration, we have excelled in business and merchandise, and we have done even marvelous things in different fields of knowledge and enterprise. Up till date, in many institutions and organizations in Nigeria, the most difficult and complex task to be done is usually reserved for the Igbo person in their midst and that is largely because we are oftentimes the most competent resource material available. Certainly, we play very important roles in many sectors of the economy and I think that when it comes to the presidency, we would do even better.
It appears to me that Igbo people are dreamers. How would you get the presidency when some of you are opposed to President Buhari and Buhari is going to play a central role in who succeeds him in 2023?
I am happy you said some Igbo people and not all Igbo people have issues with Buhari. Yes, I know that he, Buhari, did not get all the votes he would have wished to get in the South East, but now that he is the President of Nigeria, Buhari is now a father to every Nigerian and certainly he would not see these issues the way you are seeing it. The second point I want you to take home is that Igbo people in the North, the Igbo people that I am privileged to be their leader, have no issue whatsoever with the present administration or President Buhari. We, like the rest of Nigerians, are appreciative of the progress recorded by the administration, although some areas could be improved upon. We, Igbo resident in North, you know that we love him and we supported him in the last elections and our leadership and our Ezes in the North, we went to Aso Rock to demonstrate our solidarity. And therefore, I don’t agree with you that the Igbo people as a whole have issues with the President. In fact, I want to use this opportunity to appreciate President Buhari for one or two of the projects that he has extended to the people of the South East- the Second Niger Bridge, the road networks and so on and to also beg him to do more for our people in the East because we are really, really suffering, suffering far more that the media have been willing to report, far more than many regions in Nigeria. Our people need more of government interventions.
In one word, I will say “ great”. I think the man is one of the best things that have appeared on the landscape of the Igbo leadership in the present times. He understands the problems of the tribe; he represents the face of the Igbo man, he pushes for the solution with vigour and energy. Without prejudice, I am rating Ohaneze Ndigbo very, very high. The issue of restructuring is very important to the realisation of a just Nigerian society and their concerns in this regard is well represented. So, they have performed marvelously well and excellent on this front and on many fronts. I will vote again and again for Chief Nwodo.
But some of your tribesmen are opposed to Ohaneze Ndigbo while some are opposed to his leadership, yet you have these applause for them……?
Well, everybody must not stand under the same roof and I am not surprised that everybody is not seeing this thing in the same way. You cannot have 100 percent of peace and stability in every institution, talkless of a very large socio-cultural institution like Ohaneze Ndigbo. However, my advice is that those who are opposed to the present Ohaneze Ndigbo’s leadership should come closer, present their idea and agenda, share it with the leadership of the body and I am sure theirs too would be accommodated. You cannot be far away or removed and be criticizing, there should be a roundtable discussion. What you have in mind may be superior in quality to what they are doing, but as long as you present it as public criticism, the matter would be misunderstood. These things are better as dialogue than as criticisms. This is my advice to these people opposed to Ohaneze Ndigbo.
Igbo governors are accused of abandoning Igbo in the North. They give them nothing and where they reside, their host governors exclude them from policies, privileges and opportunities. How do you relate to this phenomenon?
Honestly speaking, you are speaking my mind. This is a major problem and if I tell you that it is not biting us hard, then I am a lair. But on our part, we are thinking of how to go about addressing the problem in a responsible manner. Again, like I have argued previously, our choice of presentation and approach is important. We have been abandoned by our home states. The employment they embark upon in our home states, we are not included. The empowerment they give out, we don’t get a dime and we have children who have just left school and are desperately searching for jobs. Oftentimes, the rule and not the exception is that we should be taken care of by our states of residence. But this too is another sad tale. In many of these Northern states, the issue of non-indigeneship is stark real. The governors may make some fine and inclusive statements in the media about how accommodating and friendly they are with the non – native communities in their midst, while the local community’s leaders may support these claims for various reasons, but in general, the truth is that the host governors are also not doing anything much or worthy of mention. Maybe, one or two of these governors, like that of Kano, are trying a little bit in this regard, but generally, the situation is bad, very bad. We are like birds of the sky held up in the air with no tangible support from anywhere. I want to, therefore, appeal to our state governors, the Presidency and the National Assembly to enact a special law that would address the needs of Nigerians living outside their state of origin. We certainly need some sort of palliatives to help us cushion our present challenges. We need help.