Magnus Eze, Enugu
Former President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Gary Enwo Igariwey is worried about the existential threat faced by the Igbo in the Nigerian federation.
In this interview, he spoke about insecurity in the region, restructuring, Igbo presidency and parlous state of infrastructure in Igbo land.
He also talked about Biafra agitation and the need for regional cooperation in the Southeast, among others.
As former President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, what would you say are the challenges facing the Igbo?
The challenge has always been the issue of unity; the challenge of Igbo people speaking with one voice over time, it’s been difficult to get our people to speak with one voice in critical times. Each time we come together, we’ve shown strength; the same situation has been solved to an extent, but you can still see that we still have that challenge. We need to really come together and accept central leadership in our socio-cultural actions because that’s where our political decisions flow from. If we make our complaints with one voice we’ll be heard better; we’ve found situations where several organizations compete for attentions over time; unhealthy rivalries. But I think that the present Ohanaeze has tried to a large extent in unifying our people; I think there’s been some actual progress in that direction.
What’s your take on the state of the Igbo in the Nigerian context today?
Our people feel shortchanged in virtually all aspects of governance; for instance, you can see in the appointments, our people have felt seriously short changed in this administration, especially in appointment in the security apparatus of the country, we are amazed that of all the security appointments in the country, no Igbo man was found suitable to man any of them. Nobody will be comfortable with that kind of arrangement. These are some of the instances our people have complained strongly about. Yes, as major players in this country, we’ll naturally want to be part to a reasonable extent in all aspects of decision in the country. So, our people have complained seriously and are still complaining about inappropriate appointments.
So, would you say that having an independent state of Biafra is the solution?
No, I wouldn’t go to that extreme; we’ve always advocated for restructuring of the country because we think that if we restructure, every federating unit would struggle to improve its environment and the push for the control of the centre would become less important because action will actually be within the federating units and each federating unit would have the capacity to develop at its own pace. We’ve experimented that before at the beginning of Nigerian federation; we had our three regions all competing favourably and competing to develop its environment; we had resources everywhere. We had resources in Eastern Nigeria; we had good resources in the West and also in the North. Agriculture was a mainstay in the North; the groundnut pyramids were there in Kano; in the West, there was cocoa and the East, palm produce. There was progress and by the way, Nigeria is supposed to be a federation; a federal republic. We’re not running that in the real meaning of that name, we are living a lie; we’re running a unitary system not a federal system. We’ve always advocated that restructuring the country will give it the opportunity to develop and we think that’s the best way out. So, the Biafra agitation is a product of frustration because the people feel the war ended 50 years ago, but happenings show that some people haven’t ended the war. It appears that there are deliberate attempts to hold back development in the Southeast, for instance, and we don’t like that; that’s why some people are going to the extreme by agitating for a separate country where they think they’ll be responsible for their development. But I think that what we want is a strong nation based on the true meaning of federal system where every Nigerian has a sense of belonging in the true sense of it because we are still looking for nationhood; a situation where people will truly see Nigeria as their own and be true Nigerians wherever they live; a situation where if you were born in Kano or Lagos, you should be a Lagosian and treated like somebody born in Lagos. I think we should strive towards achieving that kind of goal.
Don’t you think that we’ve not handled the issue of IPOB and the rest very well?
We’ve not handled it well; I agree with you because they’ve been extreme positions. IPOB came out of the frustration of people; the young people feel that they can’t continue that way; that Nigeria is not actually treating them well. I think that it would’ve been necessary for the Federal Government to listen to what these people are agitating; they’re our people, our children. It’s normal for the father to call up their children. The fact is that the government has not been listening to them, so, when you don’t listen to a son who’s complaining, there’ll always be that tendency for extreme positions. It’s not the best for either IPOB or the country and I think that there is need for a coming together and really listening to what they’re saying and reassuring them that Nigeria is actually moving in the right direction. They need that assurance and what the government should do is to try and listen to what they’re saying and find middle way into what they’re complaining about.
What’s your take on the current insecurity even in Igbo land?
It’s a big threat and no system can survive like that. We’re seeing it everywhere that in our farmlands cows are grazing freely in people’s farms unrestrained; it’s causing conflicts everywhere. I don’t know how a government can allow that to be happening; people are being killed. Naturally, when you threaten people’s means of livelihood, you’ll expect conflicts. What is happening today isn’t in the interest of this country and I think the government must look into the issue of grazing freely. All over the world, people have developed new methods of rearing cows in ranches; the largest producers of beef don’t do free grazing, they don’t have herdsmen; they grow them in ranches. Nigeria has enough space to develop ranches and restrain people from moving cows, grazing freely in the farms; all over the Southeast, there’s this challenge and I think that the government should come together and enact a law against free grazing, that’s the only way to solve this problem because we must remove these areas of conflicts. Government cannot deliberately allow a situation where cows move freely; grazing and destroying people’s crops including the clashes and bloodletting. It’s not only in the Southeast; it’s all over the country, in the Middle Belt; in the Southwest, even in the North, there are these challenges. How will a government allow this to go on? I think that what the government should do is to set up mega ranches in places where it’s their source of income; in the North, there’re areas they’ve developed environments where they can raise their cows. You can’t raise cows all over the country; people have the advantages in what they choose to do; since they’re rearing cows, they should do that in the North where they have the land and the environment to do that. I think that Southeast leaders should come together and find ways of protecting their environment against this kind of assault, it’s getting too much; today people find it difficult to travel freely on the highways. Enugu is good example; the highways are completely dangerous. In fact, I’ve decided not to use some roads now. That’s not good for the environment and business, so, I think that something must be done and quickly too. The governors must come together and agree on the best way of protecting our people; the people feel very unsafe and it’s a major concern. Agriculture is their main stay and this is being breached by herdsmen who’re moving cows freely into people’s farms; if they don’t address it, there’ll be hunger very soon in the Southeast. I don’t think that’s what they want.
Don’t you think that state police could be the solution?
We’ve always advocated for state police; I was in the structuring committee in the last national conference and we advanced reasons it’s necessary to have state police. If you police your environment; you’ll know that you can’t bring somebody from Maiduguri to come and police my own village he has little idea of; he doesn’t know it. There’re several advantages of state police; it’ll be in the interest of this country because Nigeria critically needs security. When you lose the security, you lose the country. So, I think that all well-meaning Nigerians should support the idea of state police system for effective policing.
What’s your opinion about the parlous state of infrastructure in the Southeast starting from the Akanu Ibiam International Airport?
It’s still the continuation of the complaints we’re making. The Enugu airport was bad a long time ago. I find it difficult to understand why after all these years; it’s been difficult to upgrade it to international standard, because it’s entry into an entire zone. It’s amazing that so many years after, we’re still thinking about standardizing it even when we’ve branded it international, there’s nothing international about it. It’s amazing and we’re developing other airports. We’re basically travellers, so, it should be in the interest of the government because we have enough travellers to sustain any airport down here in the Southeast. I think that government should do everything and get that airport functioning in time instead closing it for months. I don’t see why it would take months to repair airport runways if the materials and equipment are available. So, speed is of essence too, and after that, we should continue upgrading of our airports continuously.
The Igbo cry of marginalisation under President Buhari, but there were periods when they occupied very strategic positions like the Minister of Aviation. Twenty years down the line and we’re still complaining. Don’t you think that the representatives have not done well?
To a large extent, the responsibilities of the ministers are different from that of the president. The head of government has a lot to do; it depends on what he wants to achieve. The minister’s role is to execute within the frame he’s been allowed to work. I think if there’s a deliberate government policy to standardize airport, for instance, or develop infrastructure in certain areas; the government will insist on getting those results. We’ve had complaints about funds not being available even when decisions have been made and the funds are not made available; what do you expect; will you still expect work to continue in places where funds have not been made available? I think that every government should ensure that what they start off to achieve is achieved, that to me is responsible governance. We’ve seen development in certain areas in the Southeast. Our governors have been doing their best. For instance, infrastructural development in a place like Ebonyi State, looking at the road networks; bridges, that to me is an example of how government should function. When you set out to do certain things and you go ahead and achieve them. I think the Federal Government should adopt that kind of attitude to set out a goal of what they want to achieve and go ahead to achieving it. The road network in Ebonyi is ongoing and I think it should be emulated by others. And that brings to me to the need for the Southeast governors to come together and we believe in collective development because if they come together and take decisions and insist on linking up their states with good roads, and charging the Federal Government, I think they’ll make progress in the fact that they cannot all depend on the Federal Government. They should also articulate on their own certain projects they think will be of interest to our people.
Do you support those who say that the Igbo should not aspire for the presidency in 2023?
Well, they’ve a right to aspire to the leadership of this country at any time, not only in 2023 because they belong to the country. It’s their right to run for any office; however, I think that what is most pressing; what the Southeast and most Nigerians interested in the growth and future of the country are asking for is restructuring. I think that the Southeast would prefer a restructured Nigeria much more than a president of this country. What’s urgent in our mind is restructuring because that’ll enable us to develop our environment to the best of our abilities; that’ll stop the complaints we’ve been making about imbalance in development and side lining of the environment. So, if you ask me, I think that the Igbo man will value much the restructuring of the country because it’ll allow us to deploy our abilities the best we can in a Nigeria that we’ll be free. It’s what every person is looking for; a restructured Nigeria because that means that I can feel free to travel to any part of this country where the laws are in line with what my aspirations are; if I like the laws in the Southwest and I want to go there and invest; I go there. If I like the laws in the Northeast and I want to go there and stay; I go there. That’s the Nigeria we should be looking for. So, restructuring is much more important to me; 2023 is just a date.
As an Igbo leader, how do you feel when you hear some leaders in the North say that the South should forget the 2023 presidency; that the North would still retain the seat?
People who make such statements are not helping this country; if we really see Nigeria as a nation, we shouldn’t be talking about who the Igbo man or Yoruba man is; we should first of all see ourselves as Nigerians. It’s absurd that people can be looking at people only from their ethnicity, it’s wrong and that’s why we think that if we restructure the country, devolve power to the federating units, people will not be struggling for the presidency of the country. That was why Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the Prime Minister of the country while Ahmadu Bello remained the premier of the Northern Region, as leader of the North because he found out that there was more to do in the regions than at the centre. That’s the more reason we should be advocating for restructuring of the country because it’ll take away the fight for the control of the centre.
IPOB has repeatedly said that it’s a non-violent organisation. How do you see the new trend as typified by the attack on Senator Ike Ekweremadu in Germany and the threat to other Igbo leaders?
Nobody will support mob actions; what happened with Ekweremadu was extremely unfortunate and uncalled for. By our tradition, we respect elders in leadership; the assault on Ekweremadu didn’t show they have respect for leadership of our elders. It’s all about frustration for the fact that they feel frustrated, that they’re not well represented; that their views are not being advanced properly. That’s not the best way to approach it because what happened is a dangerous development. I think that leadership in the Southeast should come together to address; it’s our own problem and not a Nigerian problem. We must get the leadership of IPOB to sit down and see reason that their action is not in our best interest; that’s the way I see it. I think that as young men, they’ve every right to feel agitated, but then going to adopt mob action is not the best approach. I still think that dialogue is quite important in everything we do in life. Dialogue is always an easier way out. My advice is that they should try to listen to the elders. If a child without a father, anything can happen to him; it’s still those elders who’ll come to his rescue when there’s a problem; it’s still the elders who will address the situation when things go wrong. So, you do not destroy the elders because you’ll not survive alone. It’s still the elders who’ll provide that moral protection when the chips are down. Therefore, we need each other; the elders need IPOB just like they need the elders too. I do not accept that they should be destroyed; rather, I think that we should listen to what they’re saying and try to address those issues.
Having advised IPOB; what would you tell the elders and leaders in Igbo land?
We must come together and address that issue and nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand. There’s need for the governors to come together and address that problem; we must listen to these people and find ways of bringing the situation under control. We mustn’t let it degenerate. What’s happening now is that we’ve lost control of IPOB and their leadership; they’re going on their own and doing whatever they like. That’s not the best; they could do things that would put all of us in jeopardy. So, I think that the best thing to do is that the leadership of the Southeast; the Governors’ Forum should bring our people together to address these problems. They’re human beings, of course, they listen, no matter how rascally their actions may look, once they decide to talk to them, they’ll listen. I think there hasn’t been a deliberate effort to engage IPOB properly; we’ve failed in that aspect. There has not been a deliberate attempt at listening to them properly and say okay, we’ll try to look into the complaints. We’ve not done this; I think this is the time to do it.