By Chidi Obineche
DR Dozie Ikedife, a medical doctor, former president general of apex Igbo socio-political group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and Deputy President of the Supreme Council Of Elders of Indigenous People Of Biafra, speaks on the government of president Muhammadu Buhari and the agitation for Biafra.
Given the way things are right now, are you convinced that the country is on the right course?
Nigeria is a big country. The governance has seen ups and downs with vaccillations, inconclusive and unclear agenda. Now, Buhari has come on with APC with the mantra of change. And yes, mantra of change. The economy presently may not be very buoyant. But if he can kill corruption, and he is tackling it with vigour and determination, if he can do that, then he will go down in history as the greatest hero of Nigeria. But corruption has many shapes. People who stole public money is one aspect. And that is where he is fighting very well like a real General. There is an impression I have that there is something missing. It is to me very important that anything that is due to somebody should be given to that person. That in this country, you should rule with evenness of heart in the distribution of patronages, developments and appointments, spreading across North, South, and West and around the whole country. If the impression is given that one section of the country is not given its fair share of patronages and appointments, then the impression begins to grow that denying even handedness of development, appointments and patronages is an aspect of corruption, and should be looked into with sense of equity and fairness without caring or minding, or without geographical considerations, religious, political support considerations, or political non- support considerations. Because, once you are elected a governor or chairman of a local government, you are chairman of the entire local government. If you are elected a governor, you are governor of the entire state, and you must ensure in the name of equity and fairness, sense of justice, and in clear conscience that whatever you have to distribute, you must do that evenly across board. This also applies to if you are elected a president. So, maybe he is trying to work with people he is familiar with, closely related with. But they only do not make up Nigeria. He is president of the federal Republic of Nigeria and it is his duty to ensure that they don’t have sense of being excluded. It is important. The lawyers say justice needs to be done and must be seen to be done. People are murmuring, and I am sure it may not get to his ears, unless somebody tells him, ‘Mr. President, it appears you are overlooking a segment of this country’. There is need for cohesion. Some of the things that are happening are lending credence to, and giving weight to those who are saying they want self determination, or people who are saying they want their own country marked out, and separated from the rest of Nigeria. A child does not cry for nothing. When a child is crying, there must be something. Either the child is hungry, is abandoned, afraid or is hurt by something. You must listen to the individuals talking, because they are not all fools. And no single individual can claim to be a repository of all wisdom. The president, chairman of a local government, governors, must have listening ears when people are yearning, and at least have dialogue with them. You may discover something, or learn something you have not known before.
With the situation of things now, how do you want this logjam to be broken? The president has been accused of inflexibility, and fully aware of the suppressed yearnings.
I am sorry. I am not a clairvoyant to tell you how the logjam will be broken. But I think that the only way is to keep talking till he listens; to keep talking until he says “What do you say”? Somebody said he is a captive of a cabal. I don’t know if he is a captive of a cabal. I don’t know how true that is. But if he is a captive, he should free himself. He is a soldier. He has been there before. He must know how to wriggle out of a tight corner. It is important, very important that he sells himself better to the entire population. I can tell you without raising statistics that the anger, the dissatisfaction and frustration in the country, people are heaping it on him, even though he is not the cause of it. And he has to show that he is not, or that he is doing something to ameliorate it across board. We have a saying in Igbo ‘Obere ihe ka ana enye okwa ego, osi na ebenebe egbue’( small thing is given to the high chief and he proclaims there is danger). Let him be more fair minded. Let that broad mindedness be more apparent, more visible, more palpable, more appreciated.
Have you been able to write to him, or meet him to table these grievances?
No. Who am I? I am a village man trying to succeed in a corner of Biafraland. This is the tragedy of Nigeria today.
But you led Ohanaeze Ndigbo as president-general before, and you have a constituency. People look up to you to intervene and fight for their cause.
Well, I don’t know whether I have access to the president the way people think. But if I have the opportunity, I will certainly articulate some of these things in a friendly way, not necessarily trying to pull him down. I will point out the deficiencies and make suggestions on how to handle them. That is, I will give him what I call constructive criticism, rather than derogatory, destructive negative criticism. I will be glad to do that. Now that you have said so, I will explore the opportunity.
There are a lot of agitations on this issue of Biafra. A lot of groups on Biafra are mushrooming. Is it now turning to a bazaar, a free-for-all?
I don’t think Biafra is a bazaar. Biafra is the quest for self determination. Bazaar is for people to go out and buy something to eat and enjoy. The people who are talking about Biafra are not enjoying anything. They are contributing to the best of their abilities to talk. I am a member of the Supreme Council of Remnants of Indigenous People of Biafra. We articulated a case against the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We took Nigeria to court. The case is ongoing at the Federal High Court, Owerri. The idea is to draw attention to things that are not right, legally, not by militancy, not by insulting people. There is a fragment of people who also call themselves Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, using what they call Radio Biafra to insult people across board, threaten people, and threaten war. We are not part of that. We are totally talking about peace, dialogue, legal process, diplomatic process. There is a window of opportunity for self determination for any group of indigenous people who are so minded by the United Nations act domesticated by African Union, and by extension Nigeria – the right of self determination by indigenous people. That is part of the Nigerian agreement. That is what we are talking about. Not insulting anybody, not challenging anybody to a duel, to a battle, or disobeying any law. We insist we must obey the laws of the land; we insist that opportunities must be created for people to hear us through the legal process, legally, diplomatically. This is what we are talking about.
Do you think these are realizable, given the Nigerian experience? The agitators are being cut down all the time and President Buhari recently affirmed that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable. And you want to negotiate? How do you want to go about that?
Now, Buhari’s statement is his personal opinion. It is not the opinion of the world. Not the opinion of the rest of the population. I can tell you that, without any fear of contradiction that the feeling of negotiating the terms of existence of Nigeria is in the minds of many Nigerians. Whether you agree with it or not, I am telling you with a measure of authoritativeness that, that is the situation on the ground today. Where he is, he may not be aware of the amount of anger and feeling that people have about this. But how can he be saying that he supports Saharawi Republic to be extracted from Morocco under King Hassan? As military head of state, he supported them and still supports them to secede from Morocco. How can he now say that it doesn’t apply to Nigeria? He cannot have double standards. If he has one principle, he should apply it across board. So he may have been advised to say that. He may even be saying it on his own, but if he gives it serious thought, he should know that he may be going against the grain of the day, the whole world.
Look at what happened to Scotland. United Kingdom, Union of Wales, Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland. Scotland decided to go out of United Kingdom. They went on a referendum. They lost it by 45% – 55%. Narrow loss. Nobody pulled anybody by the ties, or gave anybody a shove, or shouted and insulted anybody. There was no day we heard that there was a showdown with the British police. They canvassed, discussed and it happened. Look at the European Union, after about 30 years, Britain within a very short memory, with a majority of 48% – 52% said they wanted out of the European Union. People will say they committed suicide, or they will be punished. Don’t be surprised that, that is the beginning of a snowball that will roll, gather and grow. Other countries will consider that later. Today, you don’t roll somebody into a union in which the partner is not comfortable. America does it very well. When a man and a woman feel they don’t want to marry again, they get divorced. They do it with speed. The Muslim religion allows divorce. You just say ‘I divorce you’ three times and the marriage is dissolved. Marriage of the ethnic groups into Nigeria was not made in heaven. Representatives of people of Biafra, or Jukun, Nupe, Fulani or Yoruba did not come together to form Nigeria. It was the making of the British administrators.
Please allow me to land on this. They did it in 1913, and put it into effect in January1914. They didn’t ask you whether you wanted it or not. But even then, they put a caveat that after sometime the matter will be reviewed. To say that it is something that should not be discussed is an anathema in today’s democratic dispensation. Discuss anything; change any possible line. To say we must not discuss is dictatorial, unacceptable and not current. We should discuss. What are you afraid of discussing? Discuss, and any superior argument should be accepted. That is the modern way of thinking. If you put somebody in a position that is not comfortable he will be trying to wriggle out of it. But if you discuss with him, a consensus will be reached.
Why do you think the authorities over time don’t want Nigeria broken up?
I am afraid I don’t know their mindset. I cannot predict, but I can only guess. If you are in a position that is comfortable, you won’t want a change. Some people are fairly comfortable with the position of the country as it is today; the structure of governance. But some people are not. You must reason with these people, dialogue with them. You don’t just say they must stay. Nobody is a slave to the other. Democracy is built on consensus; agreement. If it is not there, then it is not democracy.
Most Northern elders are also not favourably disposed to this idea of restructuring or break up. Can you hazard a guess?
They probably are very comfortable with the situation. But I can tell you that most people in the South-east, South-south and to a great extent, South west are not comfortable with the present arrangement. In Physics we have what is called Inertia, which can be described as fundamental laziness in nature. In other words, let us continue going the way it has been going. People are sometimes very afraid of change. It is not just being conservative. If self determination is allowed, a lot of unknown territories, a lot of unknown things will be thrown up. If you are afraid of the unknown, then you won’t want a change.
Do you see this agitation realizable during your lifetime?
(Laughs) I don’t know how long I am going to live. I am an old man, very old man. I can go anytime. But I see it as realizable in the foreseeable future. Certainly in your own lifetime. You’re a much younger person.
Some people believe that Biafra is landlocked, and it will not survive if they are allowed to go. What do you say to that?
In Africa, there about 54 countries. Many of them are landlocked, and they are surviving. If South-east and South-south come together to form Biafra, where is the issue of being landlocked?
(Cuts in) They are talking about South-east alone.
No. no. no! Is South-east the only place talking about self determination? It is south- east and South-south. Methods may be different, approach may be different. In any case, there are many countries in the world that are landlocked; in Africa, Europe and South America. So, don’t intimidate us with that. There is even a small country surrounded by another country all round in South Africa – Lesotho. They are still surviving. Talking of size; look at United Kingdom; look at the size and the population. Look at Japan. No room for expansion in any direction. They are doing very well. Look at Taiwan. Taiwan has no raw material for anything. They have a good government which allows the people to bring any raw material they want. You have to show what you want to do with the material, the product you want to produce, and where you want to market it, and they will give you all the support. The government will take its own percentage, and you take your own. With the determination, ingenuity, and don’t forget Biafrans are travelers, nothing is impossible. They can go anywhere and survive. If they can survive within Biafraland, the old Eastern region, then they can survive anywhere. They will survive.
Why is this struggle taking so long?
Because of the distance. After the war, Biafrans were emasculated, handicapped. Every Biafran was reduced to the economic power of twenty pounds. They had a lot of properties in Rivers State. Most of them were declared abandoned properties nine years after the war. Then, Nigeria went into indigenization when the people from the South-east and South-south had not even recovered. All the foreign companies – John Holt, UAC, Unilever, etc were acquired by people from the South-west and the North. Anything that its time has come will happen. Two days ago wasn’t its time. If not today, certainly tomorrow. Anything that is due to happen, no human being will stop it, if it is the wish of God. You may postpone it a little, but you can’t certainly stop it. We had great men. Alexander the great conquered the known world of his time, but couldn’t stop the sun from rising or setting. You now go to the outer galaxies, sending missions. But we still live on earth. We still have daybreak and nightfall. Nobody has stopped it. Self determination for the people of Biafra, you can’t wish it away, because it is something not in us, but in our stars. You can’t stop it. You may delay it. Somebody said Biafra is a finished thing. Biafra has come to be a spirit. You cannot kill it.
But there are splinter groups within IPOB. Will that not constitute a hindrance?
It just shows you how desirous people are, forming groups here and there. It shows that the idea is widespread spontaneously. We have one voice. But these things are springing up spontaneously here, there, and yonder. And people’s perceptions of how to achieve it vary according to their understanding. Some people are talking of war. We are talking of peace, legality. Others may be talking of diplomacy only. Others may be talking about other means. But, by and large, since we are talking about one thing, when the voices coalesce, the story will change. Somebody who doesn’t want it to happen may be sponsoring, and encouraging splinter groups. Southern Sudan agitated for separation from Sudan. When they were separated they started fighting themselves. For the past five years, they are still killing themselves because of selfish interest. But we are starting in Biafra, the indigenous government under the Supreme Council of Elders of Remnants of Indigenous People of Biafra. We are starting with we call collegiate leadership. The leadership doesn’t hinge on one person. We have various aspects of administration. Those who can write, let them write, those who can talk let them talk, and those who can sing let them sing. Those who have diplomatic abilities to negotiate let them do that. There is room for everybody.