From Magnus Eze, Enugu
The Association of South East Town Unions (ASETU) recently organised a two-day emergency security retreat in Enugu where far reaching resolutions were taken in consonance with all the Igbo communities at local government coordinating levels.
National President of ASETU, Chief Emeka Diwe, talks about the retreat and the implications for Ndigbo.
What prompted the recent emergency security retreat organised by ASETU in Enugu?
The retreat was necessitated by a number of issues. For some time, our people have come under constant attacks by armed herdsmen. Every other week, farmlands are overrun and destroyed, and vulnerable and defenceless farmers butchered in cold blood by these herdsmen. Women are raped, killed and in some cases their throats slit open by herdsmen. Yet nobody has been held accountable for these atrocities. Not a single herdsman has been brought to book over these heinous, reprehensible and barbaric acts! Increasingly, our people are losing confidence in the apparatus of the state to safeguard their lives and property. To make matters worse, the governors from Igboland have not done anything to assuage the pains of the people and put a stop to the outrageous carnage to which they have been subjected. Our people feel betrayed by the governors, and the truth is that the governors worry less about the menace of the herdsmen because they are not directly affected by the onslaughts. How many of them or their children have been attacked by herdsmen? Are they exposed to such danger? Do they know the agonies of homes that lose their mothers, sisters and wives to brutal rape and murder by herdsmen? Are their wives and daughters exposed to such despicable encounters?
We have severally written the governors for two years on the need to enact anti-open grazing laws. Till this moment, we have never gotten any response from any of them. The evil acts of the herdsmen stem from their unchecked and unbridled mobility. Once that is curtailed, once it becomes illegal for herdsmen and their cattle to wander about, the destructions, killings and rape will consequently come to a stop. So, this constituted one of the reasons we convened the emergency security retreat.
Another issue was the EndSARS protests which youths across the country recently organised. We felt the urgency to put the issue in proper perspective and avert the threats which a wrong narrative would pose to our people. The manner the protests were hijacked by both hoodlums and persons with ulterior motives is condemnable. And because an Igbo person on internet radio was heard making broadcasts about killing, maiming and destruction, uttering all manner of unprintable things, we were further compelled to meet, reflect and draw a conclusion that whatever statement made by the radioman does not have the consent of the Igbo and the strength of our collective authority. We are known as very peaceful, accommodating, industrious and hospitable people.
Throughout history, our people have never promoted lawlessness, anarchy and violence. Therefore, in unison, all the Igbo communities rose up to reject and disown anyone who preaches violence and murder, especially of security operatives, and who thereby imperils the lives and property of our people across Nigeria. We needed to take this position in order to save our people from the reprisals that would have come in the wake of such reckless utterances.
Why did ASETU have to bring all the Igbo communities to a retreat for a decision to be made?
You need to understand the peculiarities of the Igbo which underscore our leadership patterns. The system of socio-political organization we have evolved is remarkably different from what you see elsewhere. We are genetically republican and as such democratic, and in Igboland, popular power resides with the assembly of the people, not with a single figure. The Igbo are the clearest manifestation that sovereignty belongs to the people. Whether at the level of the Umunna or Umuada, undiluted democratic procedures are followed in taking decisions. And, of course, the institution of the Town Union which represents the assembly of everyone within each community rigorously follows that timeless tradition in conducting all of its affairs.
Thankfully, all the Town Unions in Igboland have coalesced into one umbrella union which is ASETU. An institution reveals itself in what it upholds and honours. It is incumbent on us Town Unions to keep alive that enviable democratic and republican culture of the Igbo.
This is the reason that everything ASETU does must have authorization of all the communities in Igboland at various levels of representation and must reflect their collective aspirations. In the retreat, we did not just limit ourselves to the Town Unions in Igboland, we brought together all Igbo Town Unions in Nigeria, which we refer to as the Nigerian Diaspora, as well as all Igbo Town Unions abroad, which we call the International Diaspora, who joined us virtually and made very wonderful contributions.
So, convening the retreat was an uncompromising necessity and from the resolutions, it has become clear that our people can speak with one voice on issues that affect us.
What direction does ASETU’s intervention intend to take Ndigbo?
First, in the retreat, we commended the youths for their bravery, vision and patriotism in rising to say enough to police brutality. What has been proven through the protests is that the youths of this country are not docile. We nonetheless condemned the violence that was instigated by some mischief makers in the process. The killing of security agents, burning of public infrastructure and looting of private businesses should not be condoned at all. Particularly, we distanced the Igbo from whatever comments or actions that might have emanated from individuals who parade as freedom fighters. Those people certainly do not have the authority to speak for us, and they have no legitimacy amongst our people.
Collectively, we affirmed that anyone who wishes to drag our people into armed struggle does not mean well for us, and must be resisted.
Second, we further resolved to sustain the pressure on the South East Governors and the respective Houses of Assembly to enact anti-open grazing laws. Our people are in dire need of a legal framework to safeguard them from the rampaging herdsmen.
We also frowned at the ongoing community policing arrangement by the Federal Government in the South. Of a truth, such arrangement is a charade that is designed to fail. Our contention is clear: how would the government be talking about community policing without the involvement of the Town Union leaders who are the administrators-in-chief in their respective communities? It’s a pity! We therefore resolved that what we need is a pan-Igbo security outfit, which will be a home-grown security architecture that can protect the lives and property of our people.
We also rejected the 1999 Constitution which has become an encumbrance to progress of the country. How could we pretend to a federal system, whereas almost seventy items are contained in the exclusive list which only the government at the centre can legislate upon? This is mockery to federalism. Power must be devolved in such a manner as to engender growth, competitiveness and national cohesion.
Also, on the question of a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction come 2023, we resolved to concern ourselves with issues of competence, integrity and credibility. These values, we recommended, must guide the choice of whom Ndigbo will put forward for the job.
What did you do about issues of economic development of Igboland which have lately gained prominence among Igbo groups?
Of course, we acknowledged the primacy of material conditions in social progress. In view of that, we adopted the Aku Ruo Ulo investment initiative as the framework for accelerating economic development of Igboland. This means we must start working on bringing back our wealth to develop our land. This well thought out plan aims at recalibrating the course of our homeland economic growth by making our wealthy brothers and sisters who reside outside Igboland to consciously, gradually and seamlessly repatriate their wealth back home. In this way, more jobs will spring up and social vices will take a nosedive in Igboland.
We must develop the Igboman in Igboland. It is sad that the greatest number of individual wealthy Nigerians is among the Igbo yet this reality has not reflected in the existential conditions of our people in Igboland. The aggregate wealth of our people is scattered across the globe, and their business nestling everywhere.
But with the repatriation of just 20 per cent of our wealth back home, no Igboman will think of residing outside Igboland. We will be cheating ourselves if we don’t realize this. We are blessed with human and material resources to become the Dubai of the UAE and the California of the USA. We must therefore end the ongoing capital flight which will also lead to an end to brain drain, and with the multiplier and accelerator effects, Igboland will become the attraction of Nigeria and Africa.
You saw the technological heights we attained even in a war situation under Biafra? You see what Innoson and Coscharis are doing? That’s the way to go! The Igboman doesn’t believe in sharing other people’s resources. We even bring out our best under excruciating conditions. We have the capacity, the ingenuity and the technology. The sharing of oil money has taken Nigeria backwards. Oil boom has led Nigeria to oil doom.
The people that need oil should keep taking oil, but after looking inward and implementing our Aku Ruo Ulo Initiative, they will bring the oil money back to us by purchasing our goods and services. They will need our shoes, cars, textiles and our technologies. They will come to us. That is the ultimate restructuring that makes meaning. It is the economic restructuring of Nigeria. It is what we can do for ourselves as Igbo people. That is a restructuring that can never be re-restructured. That is what we are working on as ASETU. That is the economic security of the Igbo Nation.