By Chidi Obineche
Frontline nationalist and First Republic Minister of Aviation, Chief Mbazulike Amechi speaks on Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Southeast governors and the Igbo question in Nigeria.
He also speaks on the Buhari administration, the new ministers, the structure of the nation, among other national issues. The nonagenarian is the only surviving member of the pre- independence Zikist Movement. Excerpts:
How do you react to the beating up of former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu by members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, in Germany and the threat to attack and arrest Buhari in Japan?
I have always held the view that the government of Nigeria should not have banned IPOB. There is no evidence that IPOB was a violent organization, at least in Nigeria. They have been holding their demonstrations all right, but they have never been violent. The Federal Government did not act wisely. They did not put the whole picture in proper focus and assessment before acting. I have also held the view that even at a low level, they should have sent a minister or someone at that level to have a talk with them. They should not have been driven by such desperation, creating the impression that it was a pre-conceived idea waiting for a ripe moment to execute. But it may have served their purpose at the time. However, their silence over time was taken for capitulation. But their recent activities overseas are a cause for concern as it doesn’t help their case. I do not have the story of what happened in Germany between IPOB and Ekweremadu. That is why I declined to talk when some reporters tried to talk to me on the incident. I needed to be fully abreast of the situation before talking. But further probing into the matter makes it a lot clearer to me now. I watched the Channels Television interview with the Chief of Police in Nuremberg. The Chief of Police said it was about 30 people who were on demonstration and they confronted the honourable gentleman and he just jumped into his car and went away. And when the television station reporter asked him to know if the German police was investigating the incident, he said “investigate what?” He played it down and said there was nothing to investigate, adding that under their laws, people are free to demonstrate. He ruled out any criminal intent and it was beamed on our television sets. Western countries do not attach much importance to this instinct of crushing demonstrations or protests no matter the type. They see such as part of democratic expressions. They have their own idea of what constitutes a threat to peace and not as we do here. But whatever be the case, they should not have been violent. They could have made their case without being violent and the world will listen to them. They are free to hold demonstrations without being violent. In many western countries, you see their citizens who are aggrieved holding demonstrations; protests and the governments do not ruthlessly bring them down. We see them pelting rotten eggs, bananas, oranges at their leaders and it is not viewed as treason or terror. In Nigeria, such actions are seen as a challenge to their authority and might. We demean this issue of treason. Even criticisms of government are taken as treasonable felony and people are clamped into detention sometimes for speaking truth to power. Some are killed in the process, often extra-judicially. That is why we have become the laughing stock of these advanced countries. But from all that I know, violence is not good and must not be deployed, no matter the level of provocation. And then, the action of the governors; the Southeast governors and Ohanaeze was not right. For them to have colluded with the Federal Government to advise them to proscribe IPOB and declare it a terrorist organization leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It is indefensible. Secondly, how do you compare IPOB and their activities with what the Fulani herdsmen are doing? Curiously, not one of them has been charged to court in spite of the unceasing blood-letting and brigandage they have unleashed on the nation. Yes, some of them have been apprehended, but not one of them has been charged to court. Are the herdsmen above the laws of Nigeria? Who are their godfathers? Is this government not setting a very dangerous precedence that may go awry in future? Why are they flaunting power as if they don’t know that power is transient? Is the nation prepared for the eventual repercussions of this brazen display of power in the future? These are some of the questions the government needs to provide answers for. Those in power should have sufficient sense of history.
Do you put it down to naivety on the part of Ohanaeze and Southeast governors to have acted the way they did by sacrificing IPOB?
On the part of Ohanaeze and Southeast governors, it was betrayal. It was not naivety, it was total betrayal. The Southeast governors do not behave like true Igbo people. They act in ways that betray their conscience and portray them as self-serving and selfish. They should not have acted the way they did. They are there today; tomorrow they will not be there. But they will leave behind a trail of deeds that will haunt their children in years to come. Dr Okpara would not have acted the same way they did. Let them go and read history books. I would not have acted the same way they did. Let them go back to history and see how Dr Okpara and I led the workers in the House of Representatives during the census in October 1962. I had the guts to go to Enugu and Okpara gave Tafawa Balewa ultimatum, ordered those who were poised for a showdown with the people out of Enugu and they were forced to withdraw it. Men must be men. Our governors are not acting like true Igbo people.
But they are Igbo people with Igbo blood running in their veins. It may have been borne out of impatience with IPOB. Don’t you think so?
They may be Igbo sons, but whatever the case it was, they did not act like Igbo sons. They did not display that spirit for which Igbo are known for. They chickened out and sacrificed their sons on the altar of safeguarding their interests and power. In the present dispensation, outside Igboland, who does that? They must answer this question. Who does that? If you are truly an Igbo man you must act like an Igbo man. The politics of today, the nationalism of today is miles apart from what they see and do. There is opportunism in careerism and they have told everybody that they are opportunists who are ready to do anything to remain in power. Holding power is at the pleasure of your people who put you there. Never mind the highly flawed democratic process we have endured that has produced charlatans as leaders. People are in politics not because they want to fight and sacrifice. People are in politics for what they can gain from politics. That was not the orientation and inspiration in our time. Let them go into the past and understand the true meaning of politics.
But don’t you think that IPOB took it too far by declaring that they were going to attack and arrest Buhari in Japan?
That was a joke. They took it to a ridiculous level as you observed. How did they intend to actualize it? First of all, Buhari is a guest of the government of a state. As a guest of the people and government of Japan, all statutory laws and courtesies deserving of a visiting Head of State will be extended to him. He is not a common man in the streets of Japan. What can 200 or 300 young men do to overwhelm the massive protocol that Buhari will receive in Japan? I am sure the government laughed it off. If they said they will demonstrate, one can understand it. But if they said they were there to attack and arrest him, which is where I am lost. Do they think that the Japanese government will just keep quiet and watch them to go and arrest Buhari, a sitting president for that matter?
They wrote the Japanese Emperor and urged him not to receive him, while alleging so many things?
That is the politics there. They can write. It is within their purview to write. But to threaten to arrest him is preposterous. How can they achieve that? It is not even possible for them to arrest a private citizen in a foreign country. As a private citizen, I am entitled to protection by the host country. I believe the whole thing was a joke. I also believe that people saw it as a joke.
How do you situate the RUGA scheme proposed by the Federal Government within the structure of Nigeria?
They are taking advantage of their being in government to use the Nigerian wealth to empower their own people, now that they are in power. That is what they have set out to do. I do not begrudge them, but I am disturbed at the brazen way they are going about it. The issue is that in the East here; in the entire South; we do not want it, because it is tied up with religion; it is tied up with Islamism programme. I have no problem with their doing it in their area. It is their prerogative to do it for their people. In the East, the answer is no. First of all, where is the land to donate for it? We have no land here for RUGA. They must not force it down on people. If they try it here, the ordinary Igbo people here will show them that enough is enough. There is a limit to what the people can take. This has nothing to do with the accommodating spirit of the people. This has nothing to do with patriotism, unity or whatever they may choose to tag it. The other day, they came here in Amichi Nnewi with about 2,000 cows. The people got up and said they are not coming here and they sent them away.
They sent them to where?
I don’t know, but we saw them on television as the youths marched them out of the community. They took them completely out of the environment. We don’t know what happened to them or where they took them to, but nobody has seen them here again. They can go to where they came from. We don’t know.
I would like to know your views on the Presidential Election Tribunal. Do you have confidence that justice will come out of it?
Again, let me say this. I have said it many times. The Presidential Elections Tribunal held before the elections. The day Walter Onnoghen was removed as the Chief Justice of Nigeria was the day the judgment came out. That is all I can say about that. Anybody who saw it and did not know what was to follow is not intuitive at all.
Then, what would you attribute as the reason for the stoic confidence Atiku Abubakar and other challengers of the presidential elections are placing on the tribunal? Is it out of exuberance or sheer incurable optimism?
Do you expect them to just go home and start shrieking? No, they are fighting for history. They want to serve history by providing it with materials. What they are doing is good for the future. If I were in their shoes, I would have done what they are doing. It is expensive anyway, but they have a reason to be doing it. It will serve some useful lessons. Nigeria will not continue to be ruled like this. Nigeria will overcome these difficulties and embrace full-blown democracy sometime in the future, perhaps when some of us are no longer here. That is if Nigeria continues as a country. The rate they are moving now, they are going into a dangerous precipice. I don’t know those who advise him. If you want to break-up this country, call a conference and break it up peacefully. You don’t need to be going about it in a roundabout way. Take a straight course; come clean with it so that there won’t be too much bloodletting before it becomes a reality. What they are doing now is inexplicable. How can you run a country where a section of a country is not recognized for anything? Tell me where that has happened before and there was unity, development and progress? It is not about preaching unity all the time, which is mere lips service. When you throw away all the factors that are the props for fostering unity, how do you expect to achieve it? A leader that yanks off these factors is only promoting disintegration. No amount of threat will stop it unless you resuscitate those factors. They have now resorted to extending their imperial power to other things which the founding fathers of the country put in place and which has sustained its fragility to date. When you plot to economically and politically crush a component part of the country, you cannot be deceiving anybody by talking about unity of the country through their orchestrated RUGA scheme. I see the scheme as mere adventure. If they don’t take care… I don’t know. But the persecution of Ndigbo is not a laughing matter. First of all, they closed the Onne, Port Harcourt port, the biggest port in Nigeria for very laughable reasons, so as to deny Ndigbo who are importers proximity to any port. This is cruel and cannot be rationalized. They know Igbo are importers and exporters. They are mainly traders and so when they collect their goods from far off Lagos, the Customs people will wait for them on the road at Ijebu Ode, Ore, Benin, Umunede and so on, and keep collecting money from them.
Are you surprised that the security structure that Buhari put in place in his first term, which favours the North has been retained in his second term?
And I ask you, is Buhari of 2019 different from Buhari of 1983? Yes, there is a difference. The difference is in the dress. At that time, he wore Khaki. Now he is wearing Agbada.
How do you look at the ministerial composition? He retained some ministers from his first term and injected some new ones. Can they deliver?
That is the usual thing in government. He has the right to retain some old hands and bring in some fresh hands. It is a normal thing in government. He has the right in a presidential system to exercise that right. As for their capacity to perform, that is left for Nigerians as time goes on. Nigerians will evaluate them in the fullness of time.