Elder statesman and Second Republic member of the House of Representatives, Chief Ralph Obioha, is bold and courageous. He has always barred his mind frankly on crucial issues not minding whose ox is gored.
The former National Chairman, Justice Party, has paid his dues as far as politics in Nigeria is concerned. He was not only at the forefront, but also a committed leader of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) in Canada and the United States, and lost almost everything he had in the struggle.
The former chairman, Ohanaeze Ndigbo caretaker committee, told Sunday Sun on why he disagreed with the Igbo approach to the politics of Nigeria, what the Southeast should focus on, Nigeria’s debt burden, border closure and the challenge of leadership, among others. Excerpt:
You have always disagreed with the approach of Ndigbo in the politics of today Nigeria…?
(Cuts in) Yes, and it’s based on my fear that we will not gain with our present approach. I have fears for the Igbo in Nigeria, there is no beating about the bush on the issue and that is Ndigbo should recalibrate their approach, their attitude and the way they should view Nigeria as their due part of the stakeholders in it. The Igbo have the legitimacy to be major players in Nigeria, Africa and in the world. They should become a player like others and stop this sympathetic approach. They are bona fide Nigerians and I don’t know where a person that is given a bigger piece of the pie and the person is more interested in a smaller pie of that big pie. So, I have that fear mostly on the Igbo approach and attitude in Nigeria and some of the adventures they are rather getting into. For many years, decades, we have been on the pretense that Nigeria is a rich entity, Nigeria is not a rich entity by any standard; 4,000 megawatts of electricity supply, Venezuela that is also an oil-producing country with a fraction of our population is going with over 20,000 megawatts of electricity, Ghana is fast exceeding us in that provision of power. When you are talking of development, the beginning of it is energy. This is useful in agricultural development, for education, etc, in everything thinkable energy is required to propel and process it. So, the first thing is for us to make that admission. I keep always asking for the support of the government, if we all work on the same page the chances of having progression in our lives which is the major thing why we are existing, a better living standard, a better provision of amenities that help human development, whether it’s Yoruba or Igbo or Hausa, all of us need basic things: good education for our children, good hospital for our ailment, good housing for our accommodation, it is basic. I am still left in isolation of what I see every day and I am not ready to play on the line of thinking that it will be an advantage for us (Igbo) to begin to appear sympathetic, thinking that if we don’t get the presidency then we should secede and start looking for Biafra as the solution.
IPOB has embarked on a sort of what one may call operation disgrace Nigerian politicians abroad…?
(Cuts in) I have always opposed both IPOB and MASSOB in their approach and many people keep calling me, telling me that I am endangering my life, but that is my view of what is happening. At my age, I should not be afraid to express my view, especially when I am convinced that it is a better alternative. At present if they want to test their popularity let them call for a plebiscite and gauge the feeling of generality of Ndigbo. Do you know what America is fighting for? Do you know what China is fighting for? Do you know what European Union is fighting for? They are all fighting for market. The market is all this fight we hear about, Ndigbo have the market of over 150 million population and they are still restless. This truth needs to be told. I had a visitor this morning that came and was telling me how Ndigbo have been marginalized and he was weeping up sentiments on how we are neglected, but I told him that all that the Igbo need is to put their acts together and we will fly. We do not need the presidency as a do-or-die case. The Igbo can survive very well without it, so we should stop saying that if we don’t get the presidency we will get out of Nigeria. It is a wrong approach. When we play our cards well and establish fully on the talent that God in His infinite wisdom has bestowed to us we will make things happen. And who told you that the presidency will not also come in due time? Ndigbo have all it takes to survive in Nigeria and be reckoned with if we organise ourselves well. I tried to convince my white friends when we were doing NADECO that the Igbo is marginalized, but they said no that it is the Igbo that is marginalizing others given the vast market they control in the country and other black people around the world. They told me that they have Ambassadors in Nigeria that the best houses in Nigeria are in Igbo land, that the Igbo own 75 per cent of Abuja, that Igbo own almost 50 per cent of Lagos and other places, so what am I talking about? We have the highest per capita educated people, almost every Igbo, including my housemaid in Enugu is a graduate. Okay, tell me…is there any family or compound that you will visit that does not have a graduate in Igbo land? It does not exist anymore. They have graduates, they have doctors. Most Igbo traders you will see at the Alaba market or Onitsha market are educated. Go to all the higher institutions in Nigeria and get the number of Igbo in those institutions, the number will shock you. These are the indices that you use in judging development, the standard of a people. So, we should stop behaving in a way that is beggarly or attracting sympathy. No, we are more than that. The white man is not interested in Dangote being the only rich man in his domain or among 50 million people; they will rather have 500,000 Igbo that are rich where there are 10 million people.
How would you react to the nation’s rising debt profile because at the last count Nigeria’s debt has hit N26.2 trillion?
It’s a leadership deficiency. The painful thing about the borrowing is that it is used for paying salaries. Have you ever heard anything like that? A situation a country borrows to pay salaries? If it is for capital projects, for development of infrastructure it could be understandable. The power plant in Aba has been frustrated. If that power at Alaoji had produced the 250 megawatts that is the capacity it can power Aba and Aba will go into a productive evolution that will impact the empowering of Nigeria and even Africa. People were coming from Zambia, Nairobi, Dakar etc; to come to Aba to buy in the past, why is it no longer so? That is why I keep saying that Ndigbo should think and reflect on survival strategy that will still leave them highly relevant in the system because there’s much they can offer. So, as I said earlier to borrow money to pay salary is again the issue of leadership.
Different political zones are already strategizing for the presidency to be zoned to their region. Where do you stand in the area of the zone to produce the president of Nigeria?
I just told you that we are borrowing money to pay salaries, is that a proper thing to do? Have you ever heard about a country that has not quite finished an election they are talking about another election?
But it’s happening here in Nigeria?
Yes, I know, but it’s a contradiction that there is no answer for it. If you want an answer to it…just tell me how you can answer about the fate of a child that will be delivered in 2023? These are the sort of things that hag gars the mind and scatters the brain. But if you need my answer I will rather say as I have always explained that Ndigbo are using the wrong approach for 2023 presidency. We have subscribed to democracy, democracy has a prescription that states that the largest number will win, but we don’t have the number to get it yet or do we, answer me?
Ndigbo may not have the number, but if they build the necessary bridges, of course, yes or you think they cannot still get it?
The way we are doing it are we building the needed bridges? You cannot abuse the president who controls the electoral body that supervises election at least for now. You don’t need to call him names, he deserves our respect. You cannot wear slippers to receive an audience with the president of any country. If you are told that you will be meeting with a president you go and adorn yourself with your best clothes. We (Ndigbo) have been mouthing building bridges, what bridges have we built? We must change our attitude. There are a lot of internal things we need to do, there must be confidence-building among our people first. We need to talk to ourselves as Ndigbo.
You have seen Nigeria inside out both as a keen observer, political player and now statesman; could you say this is the Nigeria of your dream?
No, not at all.
At what point did we start getting it wrong?
Well, I will tell you that we started getting it wrong by the incursion of the military into governance that was when we started getting it wrong. Command and obey style does not give room for development.
What is your take on border closure?
Well, no nation opens its border without monitoring it. There must be border control. We should have called it border control rather than border closure, that was a mistake they made. The right word is border control. It is part of the cluelessness of the present government, the use of communication, the use of language, no nation ever leaves its border to become a free entry point. It is border control, movement control.
How can we get our electoral process to function well by producing a free and fair election?
President Buhari said recently that he is not prepared to leave the succession to treasury looters and all that. We must encourage him on that. One thing about leadership, when you run a man down as a human being the reaction is always to become vindictive, meaning in the sense, you want to show you’re right. So, for him, to have said that there should be an avalanche of support for him, if he can do that it will be a good legacy. If everybody perceives that the election to be conducted is free and fair, it will be a big boost for any salvation this country will enjoy, but if we don’t get it right the journey will still be farther. We have to go back to the basics, look at our electoral act, electoral laws and ensure we are committed to making it work. The attitude of the human element, the people, voters, security operatives, electoral umpire, etc, to cheat, manipulate or cause violence etc, must change.