By Daniel Kanu
Elder statesman, university teacher, celebrated estate surveyor and valuer, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, holds a doctorate degree of the University of Cambridge.
He has served the apex-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, as deputy secretary, as well as the secretary-general.
He was a representative at the national confab organised in 2014 by the President Goodluck Jonathan government.
Dr Nwaorgu is a strong contender for the position of president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which election comes up this month.
In this exclusive chat with Sunday Sun, he speaks on his role in the Igbo cause, his vision, Igbo marginalisation by the organisation and the 2023 presidential ambition of the Southeast people among other critical issues. Excerpt:
You are running for the position of the president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Do you have fears, especially on the unconfirmed rumour that the establishment is against you due to your hard stance on critical national issues?
I do not have any fear. I know that the establishment is against me, they have every reason to be against me because they know my antecedents. They know I am a hard core Igbo man, I speak the truth on behalf of Ndigbo and that is my characteristic and nobody will expect me to waver at this point in time in my life. When I held positions on behalf of our organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, I was on oath to protect and project the Igbo interest which connotes that when we are done in as Ndigbo I will speak up. I am not a coward, I cannot see the truth and conceal it because of fear. So, I am an Igbo man, I have always been an Igbo man and will always be an Igbo man, even after death, anybody who sees my name will know I am Igbo, so if anybody thinks, I Joe Nwaorgu will see Ndigbo being maltreated and stay on the side or remove my eyes that I did not see, that is absolutely evil that I cannot tolerate. If I hold office, I will perform the function of that office to the best of my ability. If standing firm on the truth and justice means being a hardcore, or hardliner, I have no regrets.
And you will not be biased?
I don’t have that trait. If you hear what people who know me have said about me, they will say or tell you that I do not accept injustice of any kind, I do not tolerate injustice of any kind, that is my upbringing. From my house when I was growing up in Zaria. Igbo union meetings used to be held in our house, my brother was the president, so I have seen Igbo people act as brothers and sisters, that is my background. And then, when I went to Secondary School – St John’s College, Kaduna – it was reinforced. Everybody belonged to a class. If you are in class two or three and a junior student who is from another tribe insults someone in your class, what you are going to do to him is exactly the same thing you will do to an Igbo person that did that, that you will do to another person whether Hausa or Yoruba or any other tribe. Everybody belongs to his class, there was no tribe, no religion, that is my background and it will not alter, so I don’t have any bias, but hate injustice done to anyone. It is sad that in today’s Nigeria, Igbo marginalisation has taken a dangerous dimension. Do we fold our hands and watch? That is the question.
Looking at Nigeria where you grew up and now, at what time did things begin to go wrong?
We did not tolerate injustice when there is an injustice against Ndigbo and I am an Igbo man, I will speak up against it, it is not directed at anybody, if there is an injustice against Hausas I will speak up against it or against the Yoruba, that’s just it. Injustice of any kind is injustice and I do not tolerate it. We want equity, we want justice for all, open a fair playing ground for all, that is our position.
But the injustice you are talking of now was not pronounced in the earlier republics, like the first and second republics. At what time did it become fully projected into the system?
Immediately the pogrom took place in 1966 and Nigeria invaded Biafra in 1967, hostilities brought about hatred, thereafter when we lost the war in 1970 the Federal Government that claimed 3R (Restructure, Rehabilitation, Reformation) did not implement even a single R, until today, that putting Ndigbo and the entire Eastern region down has been a policy of the government, but it is at its peak under the present Buhari’s regime.
Some critics have argued that the perception of Buhari as an Igbo hater is wrong because even as you speak, it is said that one of the biggest projects of his government is in the Southeast, the second River Niger Bridge, and most abandoned roads are getting serious attention?
We commend him for this project, but that is not all about governance. Have you looked at how all his appointments are skewed towards his people? Have you looked at that? Have you looked at the level of nepotism exercised by this his regime? Look at the recent police promotions of the 27 commissioners of police there, it’s only one Igbo name there. Is it because we are not intelligent? Is it because we are not educated, we are not competitive; we are not hardworking, or what? On what basis, what criteria was it done and the Southeast will be found wanting? Where is the equity? Everybody is now more intelligent than us (the Igbo), but when it comes to JAMB, you now create a high cut off for Igbo states, when it comes to unity schools entrance, Igbo states are now graded to be highly educated states, but when it comes to employment and promotions we are now the last. Is that justice? No. I don’t need any response the answer is no. That is the type of thing I am talking about and when you speak against it you are tagged a hardliner.
But you know that there are some other factors that are considered for promotion…?
(Cuts in) Which factor should be greater than merit? Which genuine factor will you consider and the Igbo is found wanting? Please they should stop amusing themselves. Qalifications? And the Igbo is last? Who will hear that and believe you? There is no part of the world who will hear such a thing, that the Igbo are last in Nigeria as far as qualifications are concerned. We, who have led for over seven decades? We know how minions are promoted ahead of those who are superior to them. What type of qualifications are you talking about that the Igbo will lag behind? If you set exams for that exercise or for any job, will the Igbo come last in this Nigeria? The answer is capital no, Igbo can never come last. So disabuse your mind of the word qualification or merit. Forget those abuse of words. All that you see are still part of the agenda to put the Igbo down and we will continue to resist it.
Some eminent Nigerians have called for the restructuring of the country…?
(Cuts in) Restructuring can change some of the issues when there is the devolution of powers to whatever thing you want whether regions or zones because there is too much concentration of power at the center and if you see the number of organisations competing in terms of resource distribution, which are siphoning organisations as far as I am concerned. There is this Steve Orasanya report that spoke of downsizing of the federal structure, how many of those provisions or solutions have been implemented rather new ones, new avenues for milking of the economy are established, so there should be restructuring. We have always stood on that from 1994/95 national conference, 2002, 2005 national conference, 2014 national confab, we have stood on restructuring, we still stand there.
The Southeast is positioning its zone for the presidency in 2023, but the thinking in some quarters is that without restructuring the president of Igbo extraction in 2023 will still amount to nothing?
Listen, we are going for the 2023 presidency because it is equitable, it is our turn, every other area, region or zone have produced a president. Aguiyi Ironsi was there for only six months before he was murdered; only the Southeast has not produced the president of this country. So, the two, restructuring and 2023, are not exclusive of one another. We are pursuing the two things. We want restructuring even if an Igbo man is there in 2023, we shall still be clamouring for restructuring until it is done. That is what will open the economy up. I am appealing to our brothers in the Delta region, Southwest, the Middle Belt, the North will benefit a lot from it too, if we restructure Nigeria and have a President of Igbo extraction. Look at the Zamfara gold issue, it will become normal if the country is restructured, it will be in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians. On this presidency issue, I hope that Nigeria after 50 years that their conscience will be pricked to say it is good to allow the Igbo rule this country to establish a full comeback of Ndigbo into the country. I hope and will like the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to have their presidential candidates from the Southeast (an Igbo). I will vow that any party, APC or PDP that named an Igbo man its presidential candidate, we will support the party, and nobody should expect Ohanaeze to be non-partisan at that point in time. If APC produces an Igbo presidential candidate, Ohanaeze, if I am made the President-General will support that candidate. If PDP does and APC don’t we also will support the PDP that has chosen an Igbo as its candidate.
What of a situation where both the APC and PDP chose the Igbo as presidential flag bearer?
Then Ohanaeze will be neutral. If both do, Ohanaeze will be neutral because which way, it’s an Igbo man.
Some critics are asking why the Igbo desire to be president of Nigeria in 2023 and at the same time clamouring for the realization of the Biafra republic. Is that not a contradictory interest?
What do you think is the cause of the agitation for Biafra? Is it not injustice? The young ones can no longer tolerate the level of deprivation they are suffering. The same thing the young men are complaining is the same thing, we the elders are complaining about, but because they are young people they don’t have the resilience we have. We are saying caution, caution, caution, hoping that the Federal Government will take remedial actions to ameliorate the type of negativism imposed on us as Ndigbo. The young can no longer tolerate the situation because when they look into the future they see that it holds nothing for them, that is why they are striking out. So the onus is on the Federal Government to take palliative measures, they have had sufficient time. MASSOB started this agitation in 1999, IPOB rose recently on the same agitation bid, so why can’t the Federal Government which is the father of everybody take remedial action to show these people they have something to live for. When you push a man to the wall, he has no option than to react, fight back. They are acting that way because they are young, the old people are silent on it not that they are not feeling what the young people are feeling but they are more resilient and are hoping that reason will be found and that is what they are asking for. You are simply pushing the young ones into rebellion by the continuing action of neglect by the government.
How do you react to the saying that the Igbo are their own worst enemy when it comes to politics?
That is a lie, absolute lie, the Igbo are not their own worst enemy. It is in the case of very scarce resources that they compete and struggle, this does not constitute enmity. Igbo are not their own worst enemies, please. It is the competitive nature of the Igbo man, so if you drop something everybody wants to excel, is that enmity? It is a fight for excellence. Who says that if they throw the presidency to Ndigbo, we won’t know what to do?
The election of the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo will soon be conducted and as you said Ndigbo have many qualified candidates for any elective position. What is it that stands you out among the pack of other equally qualified individuals?
The struggle for the President Generalship of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, you should take note, Ohanaeze Ndigbo is an entirely Igbo organisation. I have always been there on issues concerning Ndigbo. I took part, effectively, in the formulation of the Igbo position to the Oputa Panel, we were led by Senator Chukwumerije and he was at the witness box in the final lap at Abuja. I was also there, effectively. I have also served Ndigbo on Ohanaeze by being Chairman, the national planning committee of our annual Igbo day celebration to 2003, 2005,2011,2012,2013 and 2016… Being chairman six times of the less than 10 times we’ve had the Igbo annual celebration in the past 20 years. I also served Ndigbo as Secretary General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo 2013-2017, I don’t want to boast, but I will add deritiously the encomiums poured on me by Ndigbo after I left office are sufficient evidence to that. One can also Google my press statements and positions on vital issues that concerns Nigeria and Ndigbo.
There is a plethora of material on that, just Google Joe Nwaorgu. So, the evidence is very clear that I have performed meritoriously on behalf of Ndigbo. But I want to be at the helm of affairs now because we are in critical waters and it requires an experienced navigator to lead the organization. It requires an experienced navigator who understands the terrain very well, who will hit the ground running from the first day. You need a person who knows the shortcomings of the organization, who knows the structure erected by our founding fathers, all these will be put in place . I have been part of the running of the organization and I know better, now, what it takes to raise the leadership bar and all things will be put in place. Nobody will mislead me or tell me what to do because I have run the organization as Secretary General. And nearly every person that matters in Igbo land from the 1970s to tommorow , those of them who are still alive, they know me, they trust me also. What we require is trust and leadership . Igbo are easy people to work with so long as they trust you, so long as you are open, that is what I am bringing to the table. I will offer the needed leadership that Ndigbo badly needs at this point in time…. Simple. I have all it takes for the assignment.