Obinna Odogwu, Awka
The traditional ruler of Isuofia community in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State, Igwe Colonel Christopher Muoghalu (rtd) has given an insight into why Nigeria’s problems are still persisting despite all efforts made by the Federal Government.
The monarch, who was deputy defence adviser to the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, United States, from 1976 to 1978, experienced the pre- and post-independence Nigeria.
The royal father, who also fought in the Nigeria/Biafra civil war, said that the country is suffering from the consequences of Aburi Accord annulment, which eventually led to the civil war.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, he also spoke on other issues of national concern. Excerpts:
You literally had a taste of pre-independence Nigeria and the country during its formative years and can comfortably compare notes with what we have now. Looking at the country our founding fathers left for the generations that came after them, do you think the country has progressed or retrogressed?
This is a very good question because considering my age and situation; it will seem that I am the bridge between the old and new. I saw pre-independence situation in Nigeria. I participated actively during independence. I was already in the army by that time and I had reached a certain level. You asked about the Nigeria of today and those years. Yes! We have a lot of tall buildings, big cars and all that today; but the question one may also ask is, are we happier today? My resounding answer is no. That is the truth of the matter. This is because I saw it all. I saw pre-independence Nigeria up to 1966 and I also live in the post-independence Nigeria, which is today. You may have skyscrapers everywhere today, but like l asked earlier, are we happier now than then? My answer is no. Nigeria used to be a destination for all people. In those days, you may be Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba. We just used the three to define where someone comes from; not what it is today. Even, in those days, you know Igbo people are good travellers. They went to the North, West; they belong to everywhere. Today, they are accused of being overtly ambitious and whatever. That’s most unfortunate. I am an Igbo man. I know we are not angels as such, but we are not the devil all parts of Nigeria are painting the Igbo today. We are a people that go to a place and make that place our home; develop it and after developing it jealousy comes in. And people think that you are doing this or that. Tell me, you are a young man, you know that there are Hausa people here. They make millions of naira on a daily basis from here. But show me one place that an Hausa man has a building in the East or even a Yoruba man. Do they even hire a house to live in? They won’t do that. All the money they make is transported back to their place and we are the ones feeding them. If you know the number of cows killed in Anambra State everyday you will shudder. And at present, no cow is below N150,000? Bigger cows are sold from N200,000 and above. So, you ask me if we are happier today than then? We are very unhappy today than then because I saw the thing. I saw the two situations.
From the picture you painted, it’s obvious things are very bad now compared to the past…?
(Cuts in) It is much worse.
Why is it so? Where did we get it wrong?
The truth of the matter is that, in my opinion, if you don’t put a square peg in a square hole it won’t work. At independence, the colonial masters did what they did and produced the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. But to tell you something, Balewa was not the leader of NPC. You know, for somebody to come and take up that position in government, it is the person that is leading that NPC. Ahmadu Bello was at the head of the NPC. So, he took Nigeria as his garden and told one of his lieutenants, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, to go and ‘mind those people. I know where the real thing is’, which is their place in the North. So, Abubakar was a very nice man; gentle. But in governance, nice and gentility are not the most required attributes to move a people forward. A lot of things didn’t go as they should. Those who fought for independence were shoved aside and those who didn’t know anything about governance were put in the forefront. And that thing has continued until today. That is what is happening. We don’t have a square peg in a square hole.
Are you saying our colonial masters laid a bad foundation for this country; that they are responsible for the myriads of leadership problems we have today?
Yes! They are the cause of our problem. The colonial masters took the North as their darling; they didn’t argue; they didn’t bother them; they didn’t squeeze them to get independence. Awolowo and Zik that struggled for these things were shoved aside. That is the thing because if you fight for something, you will value it more and handle it better. Anything you get on a platter of gold is usually not very much valued by the person because he doesn’t know what it takes to get there. That’s what happened. The British did Nigeria in.
You fought in the Nigeria/Biafra war. What was the experience for you during that bloody battle that lasted for about three years?
I fought in the Nigeria/Biafra war. I was there at the Defence School. I was already in the army. I joined the army in 1955 and went to Zaria for initial military training; concluded the continuation training at 1 Battalion in Kaduna which is now 1 Division. During the war, I can tell you that the British, the French and the Russians, among others, joined Nigeria to undo the East. Despite that, those forces that fought against us realized that they met some determined people in the battlefield. Biafrans were not defeated in the battlefield as such. Hunger defeated Biafra, which was sponsored by Britain, among others. Well, your generation didn’t see the war. I don’t know whether you are familiar with any history book about the war. Biafra gave their best in that war. And had Nigeria emulated what white people do during battles, Nigeria would have been a different place today in terms of development and progress. During the Second World War that started in 1939 and ended in 1945, at the end of the war, both Russia and the West led by America were all rushing to be the one to enter Germany first. Do you know what they tried to do? Not to subdue Germany because Germany had been bombed to standstill. They were looking for their scientists. The ones America got they took them back to their country and you can see where it had led them. The ones that Russia got they took them back and gave them all the privileges to make them comfortable. But at the end of the Nigeria/Biafra war, without anything, without any external support, Biafra gave their bests through ingenuity and inventiveness. You may have heard of what they called Ogbunigwe. Let’s not dwell on this so much because it’s like crying over spilled milk. Nigeria didn’t want to develop that is why they didn’t hold on to Biafran scientists to help them motivate the military today. Today, everything we use in the army is still being imported. We started with countries like India, Malaysia, Pakistan, among others. All those countries are nuclear powers today. Nigeria can’t even generate its own electricity despite its wealth.
What, in your view, should the young people today learn from the Nigeria/Biafra war experience? Even though they didn’t witness it, many of them might have heard stories or read texts about it. How do you expect them to move forward to make Igbo land better?
What I expect them to do is not to sound the gong of war again. This is because if a war is fought on anybody’s territory, it does so much. Even if you win, you have lost because in war all manner of things happen. If you knew how the East was before the war, you will be surprised. These are very industrious people, very determined people. I don’t know whether those attributes are still there. Well, they are still there; perhaps, latent. But they are still there all the same. So, what I am saying is that young people should embrace education, information, motivation, among other attributes that can make a people move forward. If Biafra is the best solution to our problem now, this is because, if you want Biafra to be viable, it has to encompass a number of territories that started initially as Biafra. Like the whole of Cross River State, the whole of Rivers State and others, but today, even those that are Igbo agreed for their names to be changed because they felt that Biafra had been beaten and, therefore, there is no need associating with a loser. But that was a myopic way of looking at the whole thing. The downfall of a man is not the loss of his life. I don’t know whether it was Awolowo or some other eminent persons that said that there is nothing wrong with falling, but there is everything wrong in falling and remaining prostrate; that is, remaining on the ground after falling. When you fall, you should get up again and move on.
I don’t know if you had personal encounter with the Igbo leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, during that war. Did you?
I won’t tell you that I had encounter with Ojukwu during that war. I had personal encounter with him when there was no war. We met on a couple of occasions. That was before the war.
What did he tell you during those periods you met before the war? What were your interactions with him?
Ojukwu was a very highly focused and determined individual. If you remember, he was in Kano during the coup and Ojukwu was a Nigerian to the core. If he had wanted, he could have made those boys to subdue the North, but like earlier generations that fought for Nigeria’s independence, he thought that Nigeria was retrievable. He was a Nigerian to the core, but today what everybody remembers him about is Biafra. Biafra came about as a result of the first law of nature, which is self-preservation. If you knew what happened in Nigeria in the mid-60s, what the Nigeria army did to anybody of Igbo stock, including men, women, soldiers and everything, let me not digress so much. What I want to tell you is that Ojukwu didn’t go for Biafra as first choice. He went for Biafra as a matter of necessity. If he had folded his hands, there wouldn’t have been anybody by now inhabiting Igbo land.
What is your opinion on restructuring and Igbo presidency, which our people are also seeking. Ohanaeze Ndigbo is holding the two with both hands, but appears more interested in restructuring. Would you prefer Igbo presidency, restructuring or both for our people?
Restructuring, whether Igbo have the presidency or not, is a necessity. Unless you restructure, this country is going to the dogs. Restructuring is very important. And then if you restructure, give Igbo man a shot at the presidency and see what will happen. This is because what kept Nigeria going was when Igbo had ascendency in the civil service and other sectors. They did a lot of things for the country. But somehow all manner of things happened. They were ousted and people took up the positions, but they couldn’t perform. So, that is where we are. We need restructuring. We need Igbo presidency. It is not too much. We have never had real presidency since the beginning of this country. And they know that if an Igbo man becomes a president, this country will move forward.
Looking at governance in Anambra State, how would you rate Governor Willie Obiano’s leadership since he came on board?
Governor Willie Obiano, since he took over from former Governor Peter Obi, has fulfilled his promise at the inception of office where he said that his policy is to innovate, complete and move forward. And he has done just that. There is one thing that stands out for Governor Obiano. It is security. This state used to be a banana state in Nigeria. Our people in those days do their Igba Nkwu (traditional marriage ceremony) in Lagos and other places. But today, you can wake up at 3:00a.m and leave Awka to go to your village. I have done it several times. Previously you can’t do that. So, if there is anything outstanding about Governor Obiano’s governance, it is security. And it is not only security. He has gone forward to do a lot of things in education. And if you remember, recently, four girls from Regina Pacies Secondary School went for a science competition that ended up in the United States of America and they beat other competitors to emerge first. It is common for us never to applaud our own. But that thing happened here in Nigeria. We only find faults, but it is also good to give kudos where it is right and perfect to do so. Let’s come back home. Recently, I was a participant in the Obizi Water Scheme event. This is something that was off the sink in the 60s. I was there at Obizi. That water has turned up. I came back here at our Afo Uzo Market and I saw the water coming out from there. It is not quite finished, but it has been a big start. A lot of things have happened. That water system is something I rank it alongside security for Willie Obiano. And in road construction, we should not forget that what Anambra used to collect from the federal allocation today is very, very small in comparison with what it used to be. Some states don’t pay salaries. Here, we have never missed salaries and pensions for both civil servants and pensioners. We thank God for that. If there is any specific area you want me to touch on this governance because he has achieved so many. I can’t stay here and name them one by one. But overall, Obiano’s governance has given the people of Anambra State hope. There is no doubt that there is still room for improvement. But he has given us hope that this thing continuing from Ngige to Peter Obi to him will continue to move forward.
By next year, our people will be going to the poll to elect Obiano’s successor. Already, some persons are advocating for zoning while some others are opposed to it saying that they want a competent person who would come from any of the three zones as governor. Where do you stand on this?
I know in politics, anything is possible. At least that’s what politicians think. But, how did we go thus far? How did the incumbent governor emerge? It is by zoning. And so far, it has given us what it takes. Let’s not try to change the goal post in the middle of the game. Zoning has served Anambra State so well in the past. It is something that we have tried and succeeded. Let’s take it on for a change and stick to it. That’s my point there. I am not saying this because it is coming to my zone, Anambra South. But I am just being rational and reflective of the future.
Your Highness, some of your colleagues who have spoken to me kicked against zoning. Not too long ago, traditional rulers from Anambra North Senatorial Zone, after their meeting, declared that they don’t support zoning. In view of the position of your colleagues, it is like you’re standing alone.
(Laughs) Let’s put it this way, a leader does not follow the crowd. Forget people who are manipulated here and there. And watch out what is going to happen about that Anambra North pronouncement. Anambra North benefited from zoning and they are insisting that zoning will continue. This one that happened, I know where it happened. It takes us all to make a world. You will always have some people; I won’t say my colleagues don’t know what they are doing or saying. They know. But if I get them rightly, when we stayed together at a seminar of all traditional rulers in Anambra State, we agreed on this zoning. I know that some of my friends and people that I relate with very well from other zones, because this particular arrangement doesn’t favour them now, some of them are kicking. But it is simply natural. People want where it will benefit them. Zoning has come to stay in Anambra State to give amity, progressiveness and honour to governance. There are other people who are eminently qualified from other zones who would want to be this thing. But it happened like that at the beginning, but it was watered down until it hit Willie Obiano. We voted for him. That’s what zoning is all about.