Dr Dozie Ikedife was once the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The elder statesman is not happy with the state of affairs in the country but believes all hope is not lost after all. In this interview with WILLY EYA, he speaks on various issues including agitations by various groups in the South East, recent election by Ohanaeze and support for a president of Igbo extraction by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
What are your preliminary thoughts on the state of the nation with emphasis on the dwindling fortunes of the economy?
The economy is not in the best shape. But it is often said that after the storm comes calm. Obviously, this is not the best of times in Nigeria but the good thing is that there is a renewed emphasis on other sources of revenue.I believe that Nigeria would surmount the present economic situation.
From what are you drawing your optimism?
My optimism is drawn from few points. The first is that Nigerians have been made to realise that an economy that is dependent on one source or one product is a weak economy. We had sustained the nation’s economy through emphasis on agriculture, before and after independence. But later, we shifted emphasis to oil. From the last administration under former President Goodluck Jonathan to the present one, there has been a sustained emphasis on agriculture. That means that we have identified our problems and we are beginning to solve them. If you have not identified your problem, solution to it may be elusive. Different states are laying claims to be the best producer of one agric product or the other; be it beans, rice, name it. And that is a very healthy sign. Number two is that we had neglected the solid minerals side of revenue generation. Now, attention has been drawn to it and it is going to help us. Number three is that we are trying to protect our industries so that we manufacture and export, rather than import and consume. When we manufacture and export, certainly it would shore up the value of our currency. So, all these are positive signs. Number four is the emphasis on extravagant lifestyles and the determined fight against corruption in all shapes and sizes and colours. All these are positive things that sustain my optimism that Nigeria would get out of her bad economic situation. Certainly, we are going to get out of this. This is more so if you consider that Boko Haram is being contained and insurgency is being dealt with even though the problem is still there. But I think that government should listen more to all manner of agitating voices. They should listen carefully and bend backwards where possible, and make adjustments where necessary. They should listen carefully where they must and rationalise with people with a sincerity of purpose and honesty of mind.
But some are worried that since President Buhari’s government came on board that the spate of violence and killing has been on the increase. The most recent and gruesome report is that of the Southern Kaduna massacre. What do you think is really the problem?
Certainly, I am very much worried about the state of affairs in Southern Kaduna and generally about killings in different parts of the country. I am more worried because many a time, where they expect the government to make a categorical statement and say something serious and take some action that is meaningful, they seem to be indifferent and approach the situation with kid gloves. One of the ways governments deceive the public in managing crisis is by setting up committees. Governments would say they are setting up commission of enquiry, investigative committee, or this committee or that. Many a times, you do not hear the report of such committees. These sometimes give cause for concern. The fact that farmers’ farms are invaded, the owners intimidated and sometimes killed, is certainly not healthy. Government must take the report of such committees serious, take action and do something positive about it. Many would say such violence is not supported by the government but the social contract between the government and the people demands that the people’s lives and property must be protected. And when the people’s lives and property are not secured, then virtually everything is lost. There is nothing that is more important than a person’s life. People want justice to be done and to be seen to have been done. When government takes drastic action, people who perpetrate such crimes would think deeply of the consequences next time. If people commit such a crime and they are not investigated, no trial or punishment, they could any time use weapons and kill people at will. Life, even for a very sick person, still has value. Life should not be taken for granted and just cut short just like that. It is not correct and certainly not acceptable.
You are a statesman from the South East zone, how do you feel about the incessant killing of IPOB and MASSOB agitators. Don’t you think the present government is not careful in handling some of these agitations?
That is part of what I am saying that government must tread softly. When people are demonstrating peacefully, they should not disturb them. People demonstrate peacefully with their placards and you retaliate with AK47. It is certainly not right. If people are orderly and some are not, pick up the disorderly ones and take them to court. The nation’s courts are still there. Let them match forward as they want so long as they are not disturbing the peace of the people and the ordinary passers-by. You allow them so long as they are not fighting among themselves or fighting passersby or law enforcement agents. If they go for permission for a rally, such permission can only be denied if there is a suspicion that it may turn out rowdy. But if there is an assurance that the demonstration would be peaceful, there is nothing to worry about it and resort to shooting people. Hear the demonstrators; let them talk and display their placards. Even in colonial times, people used to demonstrate, as long as you did not disturb the peace of the public.
You were once the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, how do you feel about the recent election of the former Minister of Information, John Nnia Nwodo as the new head of the apex body? What do you think should be the agenda of Ohanaeze under the new leadership?
The election was conducted well but my message to them when they were conducting the election was that they should make sure there was no imposition of candidate. I told them to make sure there is no irregularity or cutting of corners. Let the people’s will be expressed. That is democracy. The report I got was that it was done that way, even though there were also reports of undue interference by some state governors. The state governors do not control Ohanaeze and they would never do. This is because state governors represent one political party or the other. Ohanaeze is apolitical. It is socio-cultural and should not be subjected to the influence of any political party or politicians. That is basic and fundamental. From the report I got, the new President General, John Nnia Nwodo had an overwhelming victory. We assume that it was an expression of the people’s feelings. Then, on that supposition, he has enjoyed the support of the entire people and he must not forget that Ohanaeze is a socio-cultural organisation. I am confident that Nnia Nwodo would certainly carry the cross of Ohanaeze honourably and move the organisation to greater heights not only in Igbo land but in the country as a whole. He has been involved in Ohanaeze activities for many years. He was among those that drafted the constitution of Ohanaeze. His brother, from the same father and mother who was governor of Enugu State, Okwesilieze Nwodo gave the present secretariat in Enugu to Ohanaeze. So, the Nwodo family has been part and parcel of Ohanaeze. He has a wide reach and he is a well connected person. He has a good pedigree, good education and exposure and I do not see why he should not succeed and be one of the greatest President-Generals of Ohanaeze.
Recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was reported to have expressed his support for Igbo presidency with many commentators agreeing with him that it is long overdue. What is your response to the development?
My take on that is to say Obasanjo’s support is noted. Quote me and say that Obasanjo’s campaign for Igbo presidency is noted. My statement is pregnant with meanings. Anybody who knows how some old men talk would know that my statement that his support is noted is loaded with meaning.
There are already insinuations in many quarters that even though majority of Nigerians may concede the presidency seat to the South East, it would be difficult to realise because Ndigbo can hardly speak with one voice. Do you think that could indeed be an obstacle?
That has been the major problem of republican populations. Each person wants to express his opinion. And the issue of not speaking with one voice is universal. There is hardly any society except in totalitarian countries where one candidate scores 99 per cent of the votes. There is no topic you can raise where people have freedom of opinion and expression without fear of the consequences and you see everybody concurring on the same topic. No. That is because any topic you pick has two sides. Any proposition has pros and cons. It is not really the reason of not being able to speak with one voice that people see things differently. What the Igbo need is not the ability to speak with one voice but having cohesion toward a set goal. If 75 per cent of Igbo toe the same line, then it means we are doing very well. But you can never get 100 per cent Igbo speaking with one voice. If you achieve that, then you are dealing with one voice and not human beings.
How do you reconcile the move for Igbo presidency with the agitations for self -determination by many Igbo groups like MASSOB, IPOB etc?
Nothing happens for nothing. That is really a reflection of the degree of neglect, bypassing, denials and marginalisation. Somebody was telling me that the Igbo are no more talking about Nigerian presidency but self-determination. So, for many Igbo, Nigerian presidency is no more the issue. It is like too little coming too late. But of course if the people of the South East are invited to provide a president for the country and they do, mark it on the wall, it would be the beginning of a real forward movement for Nigeria. The main people that make up the South East are the Igbo and they are very fair-minded in sharing. If they want water to run in Enugu, they would want water to run in Abeokuta, in Kaduna, Maiduguri, Bayelsa etc. If there is anything to share, they would make sure that every corner of Nigeria gets a fair share of it. If there is appointment to be made, they would make sure they distribute it equally and instead of not giving others, they may even deny their ethnic groups just to make it known that they are fair in the distribution. That is the difference between the Igbo and the rest of the ethnic groups in Nigeria. Do not forget that the Igbo are the most travelled ethnic group in the country. They are virtually everywhere. They believe in uniform development involving everybody. They believe in politics of inclusion, rather than circles of exclusion. That is the Igbo man. So, an Igbo man becoming the president would be the real beginning of the forward movement of the nation.
But the problem has always been that power brokers from the North do not believe that having fought the Biafran war that the Igbo should be allowed too early to lead the nation. Some would argue that the thinking in the North is that the time is not yet ripe for a president of Igbo extraction considering the level of agitations in the South East at the moment.
What about the North East? What about the 12 Sharia states in the North? What do you think about them? Why are they not talking about moving away from Nigeria? This is a very unfortunate view. Who are they to be saying this? Whoever is talking like that is talking as if his head is blocked. Isn’t that supercilious and overbearing? Isn’t that inconsiderate and playing God? My brother, whoever says that, tell him to shut up. Do not let that be repeated anywhere because such statements are so annoying. It is very provocative.
There are those who believe that part of the problems of the South East zone is that there isn’t enough cooperation among the governors of the zone. Do you agree with that?
If the governors work together, it is for their own good. The South East is not made up of only governors. The governors are five in number only. If you add their deputies, then 10. So they are insignificant in number. There are many other bodies, organisations and groups that exist in the South East. The governors have powers, no doubt but their power is derived from political parties. The governors’ role is to provide infrastructural amenities for the people. And in any case, you do not expect them to work together when they represent different political parties. In the South East, there are five states and there are three political parties in control of those five states. There is the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Anambra, All Progressives Congress (APC) in Imo and the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) in the other three states of Enugu, Ebonyi and Abia. Somebody was whispering to me the other day that some of those governors are moving into the APC. That would show you that their concern is how to win the next election.
Do you agree with the emerging impression that the present government is gradually uplifting the standard of infrastructure in the South East even though the people did not vote for Buhari?
First of all, it is wrong to say that people of the South East did not vote for Buhari. There are some people from the zone who voted for him. Some of us have scientific backgrounds and we hate unnecessary exaggerations. The public would be happier when they see the second Niger Bridge, when they see new Federal Government’s roads in the zone and other infrastructural amenities. When we see an aircraft taking off in Enugu to land in London, United States, Germany and other parts of the world, we can clap for the government that yes, they are improving infrastructure in the South East. Let us see the things being done.
As somebody who has seen it all, if you sit down and reflect, where do you think Nigeria is going?
I cannot predict where Nigeria is going.
Are you in any way worried about the rumoured health challenge of the president?
That Buhari is the president of Nigeria does not give him immunity from sickness. I have never seen in any part of our constitution that the president cannot be sick. But I do not know what mindset people who go on pronouncing somebody dead have. How are such people comfortable when they go to lie in bed. Osita Osadebe used to sing, ‘Igbuem igeri anum’(if you kill me, will you eat my flesh?). Even me in my village, the news of my death has spread several times before. Somebody called me when they were spreading the news but he did not know what to say because he was hearing my voice and I told him that I know that you heard that I am dead and that is why you are phoning and that you would be the first person to phone somebody who is dead and he answered him. You also recall that when Nnamdi Azikiwe was alive, they carried a rumour that he had died but he later lived longer than all those people who spread the rumour. In fact, he went for the funeral of all of them. What I say finally is, may Buhari live long.