NNAMANI: We Need Political Re-awakening In Igboland
Former two-term governor of Enugu State, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, in this interview with IKENNA ONYEKWELU explains the historical background to the recent political realities in the country, stressing that the change that happened provides the opportunity for true Igbo leadership to emerge and regrow the Igbo nation for Nigeria’s leadership.
A lot of sides exist about the recent election suggesting a paradigm shift and interrogation of history, what is your take on it? HISTORY is being made in our country today.
But for those of us who are alive to witness the events of the country, it represents a great change. I have to take you back to history to understand what is going on, to understand where I stand as an Igbo man. You have to be a true Igbo man to be a true Nigerian; that is talking about ethnocentrism and ethnicity.
We have to go back to history when our forefathers said let us wait, not independence now, let us wait for our northern brothers and sisters to join. And they all waited for one Nigeria, one, two, three; whichever order you want to place it; it is a triangular power situation that brought us to this day.
So 57 years after where are we? That troubles me. The fact that a government can be formed with virtually zero input from Igbo land saddens me. It means that the Igbo leadership has failed. The wrong people have led us; jobbers, mediocres, have led us. When you get to the table, jobbers and mediocres negotiate for us because the Igbo man appears to be intimidated by intellect.
He celebrates wealth! Let us go back to history to discover how it all began. We were in total control; the army, the police, external affairs, banking industry, the economic sector; we were in total control. Ndigbo were number one in this country, today it is arguable whether we are three or four.
We had problem with operation wetie, the Hausa-Fulani/Yoruba coalition, the NPC and the Akintolas. Of course there was the AG, (Action Group) of Awolowo and M. I. Okpara. That era ended with a military intervention and of course an ill-fated Biafran war, which I would describe as a war of blame.
Never fight a war of blame. Was it Igbo versus the rest or eastern Nigeria or versus the rest of Nigeria, because eastern Nigeria was not synonymous with Igbo land? So, who fought? Was it Igbo versus the northern Nigeria or eastern Nigeria versus northern Nigeria? So when the states were carved up, that was the end, because the oil was gone; the oil was supposed to be the bargaining chip for international assistance.
So the richly endowed Nigerian army descended on Biafran people who were squeezed into what appeared to be few local government areas. Rather than fight for a war of independence, rather than fight a war of dominance, we fought a war of survival, each man on his own; mano amano! Second coalition: Gowon-Awolowo; North and Yoruba coalition.
Remember we were in control, University of Lagos, University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, but we lost everything and went through a gradual redeeming process. However, over the years, in the years of the Nigerian union, others have done everything possible to displace Igbo intelligentsia, so that those who argue for us are not equipped, they are not intellectually equipped. At best they had first degree, when you have LLB (Bachelor of Law) or BA (Bachelor of Arts Degree), you are just starting.
You are just being introduced, you are not even a professional, you are just being introduced to the art of reading, to the reading culture, to the spirit of exploration so that you can read and go further. Those who have no certificate were talking for us. It was an attempt to deplete the Igbo resource, so the Igbo first eleven never showed up in the past sixteen years in this country.
It was a gradual emasculation of the Igbo man. So traders or political frauds, fronting for people outside Igbo land we now associate with speaking for Igbo. The mediocres had no political ideology, moving from one party to the other. Privateers, people looking for one tariff or another, one contract or another; people who carry CVs going from one place to another, they became the Igbo elite.
False elite, the elite planted by outsiders. Igbo man has to seek acclamation outside Igbo land, Onye ana amaghi ná beya, aga amaya na be ndiozo? Esi begi eje beonye, onyemuru gi, onye k’ibu; (Can you trace your root? If you are not known at home, could you be regarded abroad? What is your identity?). People who could not be recognised in their ward, when they go to Abuja, they represent Igbo.
People with very scant education now represent us. People who cannot face you and say no, who are intimidated by integrity, independence; they are representing for us. Those who talk for Igbo were created by others; they are not part of the first eleven. When you sit at table, you look at the other side, you want to be smarter than others, and that is what happened to us.
What is the result? Even the federal government would be formed without Igbo. That is why I want to go to Abuja! I want to go to Abuja and sit at that table. Because these are my contemporaries; these are men of my generation. Most of these were governors and they know my capacity, we know our levels.
I want to talk to them; I want to talk for Ndigbo with others. Not the emergent new age politicians, rent taking politicians, the political class created by others outside Igbo land, leadership of Ghana-must-go; mediocres, perpetual appointees, and professional appointees, seeking relevance at the top.
That is the problem today; the Igbo are missing in action. We need a conference of citizens of Igbo extraction based on representation on quality and merit to discuss how we are going to regrow what our forefathers built and get back to the main table in Nigeria. Right now we are not at the table.
Right now we are not in the room, we are outside waiting for the smoke just like when you choose the Pope. There are no Igbo inside that room, we are outside! How many Igbo today can you mention are without bias, may be Chekwas Okorie.
Chekwas Okorie could be anything today if he wanted; he could have been governor, minister, oil block owner. Then Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, after those two tell me others who have not been polluted or seek acclamation from outside. There may be others, may be JSPC Nwokolo, there must be others, but they are very few.
There are very few Igbo who can represent their views free of bias, business, political or intellectual deficiency. Intellectualism, you don’t buy it. You must read. You have to read history, the constitution; you have to read the Bible, you have to understand the stories of how we started this country.
How Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe ended up as the leader of NCNC; how Azikiwe was to form the government of western Nigeria before the cross carpeting, how he came back and dislodged Eyo Ita.
You have to come back to history. Ask yourself about the first coup. The Sardauna was shot surrounded by women, Sodeinde was shot with his wife on the bed, Maimalari was shot, Wash Pam was shot, Tafawa Belewa, Okotie Eboh, they were all shot.
What about the Igbo? While the constitutional vacuum was created why don’t they take it? If Tafawa Belewa was shot and there was constitutional transfer of power, we would not be where we are today.
Ironsi kept power; they advised him on unitary government. Onye uno ya na-agbaoku ona achu oke, (If your house is on fire must you chase rodents?). During the night of the coup when the soldiers stopped him, he told them to clear and they cleared, if they had shot him, it would have been a different story. Okpara and Akanu Ibiam were placed under house arrest.
That is the story of Nigeria today. We need to have Igbo citizens’ conference! Who can facilitate such a meeting? Chekwas Okorie can do it. Ogbonnaya Onu can do it; it has to be done! We have to enter into the sanctum of power. Whether it is UPP, PDP or PDC we have to find a way and gradually walk ourselves back to the centre of Nigeria politics.
It is not four years, it is not two years; it is going to take time and planning. What are the criteria for attendance? Merit! Intellectual content of a man, brain is power. You can solve problems with brain, man is not just a mass of flesh; it is intellect. When you look the other man in the eye, you know who is smarter then you talk. We want to send our best, we have our best and not the confirmed mediocres.
Mediocres that pander to the whims and caprices of non-Igbo, they seek acclamation in Abuja, they carry Ghana-must-go in Abuja and they come back to become leaders.
Why does every policeman want to be posted to Igbo land? Every custom officer wants to be posted to Igbo land. Every Resident Electoral Commissioner wants to be posted to Igbo land. INEC commissioners come here every four years and they have bazaar, they have a harvest.
RECs come to Igbo land and make millions and write results without election because they don’t conduct election. No process, you have polling booth result sheets and rather than collate results at the ward collation centres, a well-trained INEC officer will tell you to bring it to the local government. When you get to the local government he tells you that the hall is too small for the agents.
Do you think what is happening in Igbo land is eclipse of leadership or alienation of the people? It is a façade. It is a faulty leadership. The leaders are trapped either by poverty or intimidation, lack of ideas.
The Igbo big man who is intellectually unequipped, who hardly reads; he has not read about history or constitutionalism. The changes happening in Nigeria today are not unusual, it happened before. So there is a wave of militarism in Africa.
It happened in Egypt, so it is clear that Nigeria cannot live in isolation because of globalization. Remember this election was supposed to be Christian versus Muslim or north versus South, but globalization killed it. Nigerians said no, it is about merit, it is about quality.
It was not Christian versus Muslim, it was not North versus South, it was content. The same thing happened in Ghana, incumbent lost in Ghana. Opposition went up in Senegal; opposition won in Guinea, opposition won in Kenya, why not Nigeria? So it is the same way for Africa, Africa has come through some travails for hundreds of years, from slavery, colonialism, military dictatorship, poverty, HIV, Ebola; call it whatever you may. That is the story of Africa.
The story of poor elite, blind elite, opportunistic elite those who were at the right place at the right time they became elites. No middle class, you are either too poor or you are too rich. Overnight you can become a millionaire. Just by some tariff adjustment you become a millionaire. Just by policy adjustment in Central Bank, you can become a millionaire.
The true elite is to take care of the poor; that is why you need your generator, you need your fence to be wired, you need a mobile policeman and you need your borehole. With your private jet you can fly out to get proper healthcare. How can you have problem? What is the veritable way of harnessing, bringing together people with this intellectual bent? We need a conference, we need to sit down and talk.
And the tribes have to come together; it has to do with the equality of the tribes. It has nothing to do with the National Assembly; it has to be on equality of the tribes. All the tribes that occupy the Niger area, all the African ethnic tribes that occupy the area called Nigeria bordering the River Benue, the Sahara and then the Atlantic ocean will come on equal basis, not number; one individual per ethnic nation.
We decide how we move on. And for the Igbo, we have to have our own ethnic conference or citizens’ conference on equal representation. We know our people; we know the Nris, Aros, the Nkanus, the Nsukkas, on equal representation for Igbo citizens’ conference, of people with content.
You need the best to run your banks, you need the best in industry; you need the best to run the government? The biggest business is government and if you want to respect the flow of the dynamics of power, you have to have content.
Igbo man has to go back to content is now that we have to go back to content, we have to go back to the trinity of character of Igbo man; Njepu, it does not mean physical travel, read and acquired knowledge, Igba mbo, strive, never give up, Akpa-Uche, thought or reasoning.
These are the defining features of the character of an Igbo man. We have to develop a plan, we don’t have to seek acclamation from outside; there is no hurry.
There has to be an Igbo citizens’ conference. We sit down and have a time line on how to work our way back into Nigeria. It may take six years, it may take fifteen, it is not emergency we have to plan it. It does not have to be APC, UPP, must not be PDP, PDC, but we have to have the right people with content to develop how we get back to the leadership of this country. Right now we are not there; we are just outside watching for the smoke to come out.
We built this nation. If Igbo had gone their own way in 1957, it would have been an Igbo country, Yoruba country and Hausa country.
But we had to wait to let all of us live. But still we are not number one. I am talking about offices because offices are personal. People get into offices to take care of themselves. There are various dynamics of power, true physical and fiscal federalism.
How do we live together, how do we share our resources, how do we police ourselves; true federalism. How do we devolve powers to the federating states? Federating units are the ethnic groups, not the so-called states that were created through military fiat. Federating units in this country are the ethnic nations. The states are bases for power politics they were not created to represent power dynamics.
So the federating units are the ethnic African nations. The states were created undemocratically. The Ijaws, Igbo, Nupes, the Hausa/Fulanis, yorubas, the Kanuris; bring one delegate each. By this you put a lie to the last conference, why? It was a political distraction to keep the political jobbers busy.
The only national conference is the one with democratic representation. Nigeria is not a federation of states, it is not a federation of regions. Nigeria is a federation of ethnic nations. So who would talk for them? Those ethnic nations that the colonial masters met, they are still around. Their sons and daughters are still around, from ethnic nation came the states and regions and products of political marginalization.
Are you trying to redefine the Nigerian union? I am craving to redefine Nigeria in the light of current historical developments.
Nations are not carved, you cannot force nations. Nations are voluntary associations, United Nations support that; you cannot force somebody to live with you. And we are not even talking about revenue here. Niger Delta can keep their oil because even coming from Enugu, I wouldn’t wish for oil in Enugu. I would not want anybody to drill oil in Enugu here.
The attendant pollution has not been really defined. Nobody knows the toxic nature of hundreds of years of exploitation and the attendant environmental effect of oil in Niger Delta states. Let them keep their oil, the Igbo man has the dexterity of character they will go there and help them with that oil.
They would go there and sell drugs, he will go there and sell spare parts, they will go there and provide them with mechanics and their engineers and they would even go there and provide them lawyers. But there is a constant fear that such thoughts and ideas could lead to dismembering of Nigeria? No, it is too late.
Nigeria cannot dismantle anymore, because many have died and their blood watered Nigeria. So that mustard seed has become a giant oak tree and it has been watered by blood. If it were easy to dismember Nigeria, it would have happened long ago, but not after a lot of people have died.
Each tribe has something to contribute. It is like a fulcrum, a picture on a canvass, if you take out anyone then it ceases. It is too late to dismember Nigeria. Tribes have suffered for it, who will go now? If anyone wanted to go it would have gone long ago. Not after so many people have died. Well today we are in it and we have to redefine it.
Talking about Igbo citizens’ conference, don’t you think the issue of blue blood and other privileged considerations could come up as contending issues to compound representation? There is nothing like that. We don’t have any traditional lineage in Igbo land. We have the Eze Nri, the Obi of Onitsha and we have the monarchical system in well-structured Igbo, the rest were active, they were “leaderless”, fragmentary leadership.
It was makeshift leadership, Umuada, women groups, titled men; they shared power. It was truly democratic. We started practicing democracy before the colonial masters came. So there is nothing like blue blood. Igbo man is known by accomplishments; either you are a greater hunter, a greater wrestler, a great flutist, a great speaker; that is how we are accomplished.
So there is nothing like blue blood in Igbo land, Do you think the republican nature of the Igbo is a plus or minus in the long run? I don’t know what you mean by republican spirit. I don’t like to use such terms, Igbo man is independent but is accommodative. The devastation of the civil war affected his complex. Remember we had the NCNC (National Council of Nigerian Citizens), which was the political arm and we had the Igbo Union, the cultural arm; of course we had the financiers like Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Mbanugos, Peter Okoye, the Mbadiwes; those were the financiers.
Each group knew the role they had to play. Then when the Igbo asked for secession, the northerners called their bluff that they were not ready. So graduates of the University of Nigeria had to be sacrificed.
There is nothing like when a man is defeated, it takes him years to recover. So for the Igbo to recover, we now had proxies who were friends to the military power, they made more money because when you are made a military governor, the first thing is to identify his friend in Igbo land.
I don’t want to talk about what has happened in the past sixteen years politically, when there was a clear attempt to celebrate mediocre leadership in Igbo land. There was clear attempt to celebrate mediocre personalities, and the Igbo who were seen to be smart, there was clear attempt to annihilate them.