Being conclusion of interview by former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, first published yesterday.
Is what is happening in the country due to the failure of the elders?
It is the failure of the Nigerian polity, not the elders; all becaue the polity is not counselling them enough. So, it’s not the failure of the elders of southeast. IPOB is almost in every part of Nigeria, not only in Igboland. There is agitation because we have not been treated well. But President Buhari had asked the question onve, ‘your people were finance minister and many other people given appointment in the last administration and they did not do all those things’. He said that the roads he is fixing today, those people failed to fix them.
Will the Presidency zoned to the South-East end the agitation?
I will not say that if the opportunity is given to the South East ro produce the President today, the agitation will go down. I will only say that the development will help in streamlining things because both the elders and young people are feeling cheated. I feel cheated sometimes, but because I have a lot of exposure; because I have travelled far and wide and have relationships with the northerners and the Yoruba, I don’t feel so much cheated. This because I know that many of them mean well even though they don’t have access to implement that ‘meaning well.’
Nigeria’s Presidency should not be based on where you hail from; rather, it should be based on competence. I am a very competent and every other person that will come from that region is also competent. It is only when south easterners have ruled the country, that the country will have a new direction because if you travel to Sokoto, after the aborigines, the next people living there are Igbos. In Kaduna, it’s the same thing. Even right in your village, after the people from your village, the other people living there are Igbos. So, it is only an Igbo man in the saddle that will say no, my brothers live in Sokoto, I must treat Sokoto the way I’m treating the people of Abia and so on. This is the way it should be and this is how we can enjoy democracy.
Are South East elders talking to the Biafra agitators?
I think so. The governors in the zone under the leadership of Dave Umahi, met and they are talking to the youths, I am also talking to them even though I’m not a governor but I have had opportunity to meet most of them.
I believe if Biafra will be a success, people like me bhave led it because I am sure Nnamdi Kanu doesn’t have the reach to the American government, nor to people in the UK, Germany, France or Canada. We have access to these people and they are not thinking along that line, they are thinking of Nigeria as a big integral entity. What we have to do is to review our strategy, including Nnamdi Kanu himself. He can say whatever he wants to say, he has a right to carry a flag, sew his dress with Biafra, travel across the country. nobody should touch him because there is freedom of expression in the country and it should be respected.
What I can’t understand is some intellectuals supporting Biafra and that disturbs me because I have gone to the deepest part of the US government and they declared that never would they allow the country to disintegrate. I have gone to the deepest part of the UK government and they also told me in confidence that they would never allow Nigeria to disintegrate. So, why are we wasting our time.
You need a person to back you up whether you are disintegrating or not.These are world powers; it is world politics. Whether you like it or not this is the truth. These world powers also look after the world.
What do you make of the quit notice by the Arewa youths to the Igbo?
The quit notice means nothing, absolutely nothing because the people that gave the notice are people who do not know what this country stands for. Nobody should be disturbed. I’m not disturbed, I am still investing in my farm in Maiduguri. The quit notice is not in tandem with the convention that guides the existence of Nigeria as an entity. However, I congratulate the Northern Governors Forum and the South East Governors’ Forum, for the way they handled the issue. My appreciatiom also goes to a lot of well-meaning Nigerians.
I was also impressed by the Acting President on the consultations he made with the Igbo and northern leaders even though he would have invited people from other parts of the country like the Middle Belt, South West, because the problem is everywhere. If the killings begin in the North and people think that it is Igbo people who are being killed. Whether you are Yoruba or Edo or from any other place, the person also will be killed too. The Acting President should invite other people not only the Igbo.
Another issue is that there are many hate messages going around in Nigeria. The thing is increasing because politicians are feeding from politics the Politics of bitterness. So, they peddle a lot of rumours in the system. This is not right because many of our politicians do not have a second address, or where they could fall back on if politics is over today. So, politics is a do or die affair and this is not right.
No reasonable northern elder would do that; did Adamu Ciroma say so? Did the notice come from Jubril Aminu, Ibrahim Babangida or Abdulsalami (Abubakar)? Will Aliko (Dangote) support that? Only those who are looking for cheap popularity are ranting.
It’s just like me calling for secession, you would think that I’ve gone nuts. The unity of the country is not negotiable.
When you say northern elders, I don’t know whether the Sultan, Emir of Kano and the likes are among them. If all these people had come out to say we should quit; then we will quit. We are not afraid of quitting. But Nigeria’s unity is more important.
Those who have fought a war before, we congratulate them for fighting although many people lost their lives and so those lives are very precious. Those lives needed not be lost. All the lives being lost to Boko Haram, etcetera, are enough.
What would you tell Igbo traders scattered everywhere in the North as the October 1 deadline draws closer?
Many of the traders came from Sokoto, Kaduna, etcetera to see me privately and I told them that they didn’t have any issue and they should stay put and continue their businesses. Nobody can touch Igbo people because this is our country.
I have also been talking to the northern youths, I called the secretary of the northern youths and their chairman. We were supposed to meet; however, we have been talking on the phone. That threat is not serious, I have said it, let Babangida, Abdulsalami; TY Danjuma and all of them sign that we should quit, then we will return to our place. We have a land called Igbo land. If northern elders come today and say the Igbo must leave, we will leave.
It is not a serious matter because nobody should take those boys serious, I don’t take them serious, I know when the North would speak, I was trained by northerners, I would see their hands when they speak, the boys do not represent half per cent of northerners so it is not important.
All my life I’ve lived in the North. I went to Barewa College for an exchange programme. I also attended University of Maiduguri and I lived with them. So, I know when northerners are serious. It is not yet a serious matter and no Igbo man should take that threat seriously. But if anybody kills any of our brothers, we will fight back, we will not take it slightly that some people will kill us and tell us sorry. It is not going to be that easy.
Even before we start talking about restructuring; what do you think should be done?
The hatred is so much and I think the only way we can live is to get the Imams, Pastors, Reverends, Bishops to start preaching peace in their places. They should stop empowering the people to fight non-Christians or non-Muslims. They should stop empowering people to fight Igbo or Yoruba, they should stop empowering the people to fight innocenr people. We cannot imagine that if something happens in Pakistan, they will come here and kill Igbo people or kill southerners, it is not acceptable, if they burn a Quran somewhere in Bangladesh, some people wil storm a market in Sokoto and start killing Igbo people. It is not right, the behaviour should be stopped by all Nigerians We will not take that again.
I can’t immagine it that in 2017, some people would start killing others just for nothing. I built the Central mosque in Umuahia which the Emir of Kano opened, He gave me a title even though I’m a committed Catholic. But that doesn’t make any meaning to me. It takes a good Christian to respect a good Muslim. So, we should not be killed by anybody, we can disagree but not by killing.
So many people are apprehensive thinking of how to move before October 1…
I have told them not to move. They are not moving anywhere. This is why the Imams, the church leaders, everybody have roles to play. Let the northern elders talk to those youths not to kill any Igbo man, if they kill Igbo people in terms of the quit notice, it might redefine the equation of Nigeria and if you kill us because you asked us to quit, then you are asking us to decide where we want to be.
What I am saying is that nobody should kill us on the basis of quit notice. We will not take things lightly, I am telling you that and I’m serious about it. I have never spoken this way. They should talk to the young people like we are talking to our own young people, the Biafran people have never killed any northerner because they don’t want to see a northerner. Our youths are only carrying their flag and shouting Biafra among themselves. If they spoil any shops, the shops are owned by Igbo people, if they loot; the loot belong to Igbo people, you cannot say because you gave quit notice of October 1, you would then go and start killing the Igbo, we will not take it lightly. We will ask either America or France, and they will define where we want to be.
How do you think that Nigeria can become progressive state?
We Nigerians are not asking for many things; we are only asking to be given justice, fairness, rule of law; whether you are Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba. For instance, if I’m driving against the traffic light, punish me like you would punish ‘A’, if am found guilty of stealing public fund, punish me like you would punish ‘A’; that is equity. If a court of competent jurisdiction has given an order, obey that order, and proceed on appeal; that is what we are saying and Nigeria will be a better place to live, make sure they are not giving me position because I am from this part of Nigeria or another. Instead, give me a position because I can do the job. because the problem of Nigeria is not politics, the problem with Nigeria is economy, and until we solve that economic problem, the country will not make some progress.