From Chuks Onuoha, Aba
The Abia State Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu has called for the implementation of the 2014 national conference, saying that was the only thing that would guarantee peace in the country.
In this interview, Kalu condemned the recent spate of attacks on public institutions across the Southeastern states, particularly the police formations.
With the recent attacks on security formations in almost every part of the state, where do you think this country is heading to?
What is going on now can only lead to anarchy, where safety of life and property will no longer be guaranteed. It is unfortunate that we have got to this point, where people now attack security agents and formations, particularly the police, which is a symbol of civil authority and democracy. The person who attacks the police does not mean well for us as a country or as a state. The amazing thing is that 95 percent of those officers that lost their lives and those suffering because of these activities are Igbo. All the buildings attacked were constructed by the Abia State Government or communities and individuals from the localities involved. Destroying our own property means that we are cutting our nose to spite our face; we are putting fire to our mothers’ kitchen without knowing it.
Some persons believe that this is an aspect of protest over injustice in the land; don’t you think so?
Injustice will normally lead to agitation, which eventually leads to violence. I think this is as a result of agitation for one thing or the other. In this country, we must ask ourselves if we have been fair and just to all the federating units. Is it right to plan a national rail line and exclude the South East? Is it right to have service chiefs and none is from the South East or Igbo land? Is it right that a child from Abia State must score 130 to be admitted into the unity schools, while a child from another state only needs to score two marks to gain admission into the same unity schools? Is it proper to dismiss the request of Ndigbo to be given the same privilege as the Yoruba were given concerning the presidency? When you look at all these, you begin to ask if there is justification for the people’s agitation or not. The truth is that over time, those who are agitating came to us as their leaders and elders, complained about the problems of the nation and we took those problems to Abuja, and we have been doing that without result.
What is the way forward for this country?
If we want to have a country that makes progress, we must realise that if the rest of the country decides to hold someone from a small part of the country or someone from a big part of the country down, that every other person must remain down to hold that person down and that is the Nigerian problem. They are holding down the South eastern states and the result is what we are experiencing today. If there is fairness in Nigeria, why should somebody agitate? In 1998, as a country, we decided that as a result of what happened during June 12, it was important for us to allow the South West to ascend the presidency, and we asked the two major parties to select candidates from the South West. Indeed, the most qualified presidential candidate then was Alex Ekwueme of Igbo origin; he lost out because of the need to pacify the South West. Today, if we say pacify the South East, some unscrupulous individuals will start making noise. They will tell you that there is no unity in Igbo land. Was there unity in the South West when they had the presidency? Was there unity in the North when Buhari emerged? Why are people creating scenarios and impossible conditions for the Igbo man? These things frustrate the young people and they take matters in their hands and now you are asking us to hold them; what are we holding them with? What we are saying is, call everybody to a round table. Call their leaders to a round table, let us discuss, otherwise we are losing this country. Unless the leaders have another agenda they are yet to make public; unless they want anarchy, if not, they should call everybody to a round table for discussion on the way forward for our country.
The nation and their leaders seem to be at a crossroads; it is not affecting only the South East? What do we do?
We have the 2014 national conference report; implement it if you can’t run through another conference or another round table talk. The facts are clear that different segments of this country have reasons to agitate. People assume that because the North is in power, it is well with the North; it is not true. Some parts of the North are bleeding. For instance Borno, Adamawa and Benue states, are all bleeding. Everybody must sit down and discuss the structure of this country; the current structure cannot lead us to Eldorado. It is not functional. It is wrong; we cannot run on this structure and hope to achieve anything. It is the bad structure in Nigeria that makes holistic development difficult or near impossible.
Are there other reasons for agitations in the South East?
Take the recent railway project as an instance; tell me why a sensible person will refuse to run a rail line through the South East and choose to head to Niger Republic. Which minister does that and has the temerity to defend it? What are you defending, even if you are under pressure from anybody, what are you defending? Does it make sense to you; meanwhile, the whole of the country will pay that loan and you are prioritizing Niger Republic over South East? Again, the only second Niger Bridge you are doing for us, we are paying for it because you are telling us in the document that there will be tolls to pay for it, which means the users are paying for it. In which other part of the country are they collecting tolls? It is this country that built the third Mainland Bridge, why are they not collecting tolls? What about other bridges in the North, why are they not paying tolls entering third Mainland Bridge, These are the issues that led to agitations, and they must be addressed now.
What will the the result of not addressing these issues?
If the issues raised are not addressed, I can assure you that we will gradually lose this country. Constantly, we should stop papering over these things; this is not the first time we are having these issues and managed them and move over and wait for another crises. Young people made a statement in October during the EndSARS protest; that statement they made is what has led us into what they are doing now, because we did not seek means of addressing some of those structural issues; now they have taken their matter into another level. It is unfortunate that they are hasty in doing that, but the truth is that there are structural challenges, which we must solve now.