Elder statesman and Second Republic member of House of Representatives, Chief Ralph Obioha has paid his dues as far as politics in Nigeria is concerned.
He was the leader of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) in Canada and the United States, former chairman Ohanaeze Ndigbo Caretaker Committee and former National Chairman, Justice Party.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, he speaks on June 12, underperforming political parties, the security challenge in the land and what Ndigbo need to do about their God-given gift on commerce among other challenging issues. Excerpt:
Looking back, how do you reminiscent on the June 12 struggle?
It’s sad that the struggle claimed several lives, Bashorun Abiola, his wife, Kudirat, Alfred Rewane who was murdered in cold blood and many other lives that were claimed during the struggle. Many people have asked whether the democracy we have today is what NADECO fought for. I can say it is not Uhuru yet, of course, you know that democracy is an evolving experience. A lot of advanced democracies went through a lot of teething problems over decades and over hundreds of years to get to where they are. So, I will say that despite all the inadequacies we have made some strides. At least we have been able to have an election where a sitting president was defeated by an opponent and there was a smooth and peaceful handover.
June 12 was not an easy struggle. As I have said in previous interviews most of us lost so much. I lost a bank, a commercial bank, First African Trust Bank; I lost a brewery, Safari Brewery that was brewing Hercules beer; I lost a cement bagging plant in Port Harcourt, Castle Cement, and a vegetable oil company. I was employing at least 2,700 Nigerians and about 17 expatriates in my factory. Most of us who went on exile lost everything we had here. The recognition, honour of Abiola and the June 12, by the government, I think is commendable.
Is there any need to review the status of underperforming political parties in Nigeria?
Yes, there is a need. What IBB came up with: the two party systems, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC), was a very brilliant idea, but like everything good in Nigeria, it is always besieged with a lot of criticism and people run away from it. If we have two political parties, it’s either you are in one or the other. So, to now have 97 political parties that clog the voting ballot creates a lot of confusion at our level of development. Major democracies in the world limit this thing to very few numbers of political parties; the USA is about three parties at the maximum, Great Britain the same thing, France the same thing, but you come to Nigeria you grapple with 97 political parties, let’s be honest, it doesn’t augur well for the growth of democracy. If there is any way for us to return to even where structures were built, 774 party offices throughout the federation, party headquarters in all the states, etc, how do you handle 97 political parties? It’s just an albatross on the democracy in Nigeria. We cannot say that the democracy we are practicing today is of the will of the people. It is a kind of compromised will of the people by using all kinds of reasons to distort it.
What is your take on reforming the electoral process? Most people are complaining that the electoral process is skewed to one side
In that particular argument what has killed it? Nothing. Democracy is the rule of the majority. There is often this talk about the North is favoured…I do not agree. If there is a different alignment were the Southeast, South-south, Southwest, and Middle Belt was able to configure something together they can checkmate the other two regions of the North. So, to always say that it is skewed against…,for instance, the Igbo, I don’t believe that. The Igbo must admit that they do not have the electoral strength to determine their victory alone, so they must build bridges and I have been preaching this for a very long time. We must build bridges on a principle of give and take, on a principle of accommodation, the Yoruba learned their lesson and they built the northern bridge and they are reaping the dividend now, but they are reaping an inferior dividend as far as I am concerned because to them they have taken number two as being satisfactory to them. There was a time number two was also satisfactory to the Igbo, but I believe that if there is a very strong alliance between the other regions by checkmating the two regions of the North and say…hay gentlemen, it’s enough, enough is enough. But to always believe that it is sentiment is not the best approach. Nobody gives you what the person is holding, nobody gives you what he is holding conveniently, nobody gives you the power you strategize to get it.
Like the Igbo saying that power should be handed over to them in 2023 for the Presidency?
This is the time to work for it, I repeat; this is the time to work for it. It will not just come on a platter of gold. We must build bridges now and re-strategize.
What is your take on the security challenge in the land?
I am much worried about the situation. I believe that all this grandstanding and posturing, if anybody can bring a practical pathway to the presidency about how to contain the security challenge, I am telling you that Buhari will embrace such a person to look at that platform, but for this mouthing about herdsmen and all that it doesn’t resolve any issue. If somebody comes up with a practical platform on how to do it…you know we have no institutions of security anymore? The police are totally rubbished, we started with community policing, it is just what is left now there could have been mayhem everywhere, all these village security apparatus (vigilante) is just what is helping out. Let me illustrate one incident that happened exactly a week today. I sent somebody from Enugu to come to be a guard in my village house, the police raided that very day he arrived and took him up. It took an intervention that involved money and manpower etc; to bring out an innocent young man, so this type of thing does not arguer well for a society in any way, form or manner. What I believe is that elder statesmen, leaders in Nigeria should gather together and come up with a practical solution. You see whenever you challenge somebody, like in the case of the president and you say he is a member of the herdsmen group, you are pushing him to a corner of trying to defend himself and in doing that defense he may probably turn a blind eye to the issue. For example, if you say …you know that this thing is paining the president endlessly… you have not achieved anything with that approach. Language is a very important communication skill; the approach has to be different. We have been on this approach for how many years now and it doesn’t yield any fruit? In Nigeria, we have the resources, both manpower and natural. It is to translate them and we need that leader that has the capacity to translate all the potential that abound. Nigeria should actually look out for such people (leaders) wherever they may be. Nigerians must understand that the path they are following are quick fixes and it is not sustainable anymore.
So, you think it’s important to de-centralize the operations of the Nigeria Police?
You know every time we have a problem in Nigeria we go to the other extreme, as it is, we can put something together, like say, state police can be, but there will always be a federal one in case of any abrogation of individual rights or citizens, especially from outside that particular place. The United States has federal police; they also have state police and even county. In England, it is the council that does the policing, but they have reached a level where the council police, for example, will not want to treat you badly because you are not from the state or council. It will never happen. But in our case, we always look for a situation that will be determined by one man and yet we have case studies that are tested in other lands and have worked. Here the Inspector General of Police can just make a statement and ask his boys to arrest everybody in so and so place and nothing will happen. Here, one man decided to make one Saturday Clean-up day and everybody will be made to obey. Also, like what we observed recently where one man will pass an order and say people should sit-at-home (in Southeast). What does that mean? Are the Igbo making any income out of that exercise in this difficult time? If at the instance of the Igbo who will weigh all this thing and say, an argument has been made that we lost so many people during the civil war and we should have a day set aside in remembrance of their memory…do you know that is more compelling than to force people to sit-at-home because of Biafra. Some of the things that we are witnessing here are not supposed to be so. Some people are not speaking out, why? You say something and you may be hound down in your house.
But the way Nigeria is going many people are advocating for the restructuring of the country?
What is the advantage of restructuring to Ndigbo? In the present day Nigeria, the most advantageous group is the Igbo. God gave us special skill, special gift on buying and selling. We are everywhere in the world looking for market and doing our businesses, we are excelling in commerce that is where the Igbo are excelling. I Chief Ralph Obiora was the Chairman of NADECO in America and North America, whenever I raise the issue that the Igbo are marginalized they frown at it. Some of them are bold enough to stand up and say no, that the Igbo are the ones marginalizing all the other groups. At first, I was angry, but later when they laid their argument that the Igbo have the highest standard of living of the black people in the world. There is no argument about that. In my village in Arondizuogu, the houses we have here you cannot get it in most states in the country, almost all the houses have water system, they all have generators etc, so the white man who has all their embassies here and who are doing all the census and calculations believe that for us to have the highest standard of living, in education, in intellectual, in health because our doctors are everywhere in the world. The number of doctors of Igbo origin in America will shock you. Are you aware of the population of Ndigbo in America? Let me not shock you with the population, Houston alone has over 250,000. The number of Igbo doctors in America is not less than 175,000. Now let me give you this assignment to undertake: there is not up to 1,000 Fulani/Hausa in America. So, having all this advantage all we need is to maximize it. When you make this argument among our Igbo folks they say it’s an individual effort, but it goes beyond that. Ndigbo need to have a re-think on who they really use their God-given gift. Tell me; is there any compound in Igbo land now that a vehicle does not enter? Is there any compound in Igbo land today that does not have or produced a graduate? Is there any compound that does not have well-built houses with zinc (there may be just pockets of few that are not)? There is no other way you access standard of living outside this indices and parameters. Nigeria is deficient in energy, which is the prima donna of whether we should advance or not. Nigeria is deficient in the institutions of the state, our police are malfunctional, and our judiciary is nothing to write home about. All the other institutions of the state are lacking in one thing or the other. What Nigerians should concern themselves about really seriously is to find out who will bring the performance forward because moving Nigerian forward will involve a person who will have a vision, a programme, and a person with a target.
How do we overhaul the military in a democracy given what the army did during the last election?
Did you note that whenever there is recruitment in the army, sadly enough the Igbo are always the least applicants, although for some reasons the Igbo don’t like the Army? All this overhauling the army came about when it looks like it is now tilted towards the Northerners taking over all the positions. But you find out that it is a climbing thing, a climbing ladder, when you are not there at the lower ladder there is no way you can be there at the up. These are part of the things that Ohanaeze Ndigbo should be looking into, creating a think-tank to look into such issues as this, among others.