That day was just like any other day. I was in the office trying to get a lot of work done as I had an appointment with someone I was supposed to interview by 3pm. So, in the silence of the Fides Newsroom, I typed away on my computer and life was good. Shortly after, one of our reporters walked in and changed the channel from CNN to Channels TV. I asked her why she did so and she said that she just saw the commendation service of the late Chief (Dr) Alex Ekwueme being aired on Channels TV as she walked past the reception. I tried watching it for a while and decided to return to my work. After a while, other reporters joined her in watching the program. I just faced my writing. And then, I heard him speak!!! At first, I just didn't bother looking up from what I was doing. However, I was forced at some point to take a break and look up and I saw him, standing in all his glory. Handsome, confident, noble, great orator, sound. These are the few words I can use in describing this great piece of God's creation. My colleagues listened enthralled. I was awed and speechless. He spoke every word in the Igbo language. Not a word of English. Then, he sang a dirge for the late Ekwueme and ended his speech. I was about asking my colleague who he was when I heard him being introduced as John Nnia Nwodo! He walked down from the podium and dignifyingly walked up to the casket, bowed before it and walked to his seat. I just told my colleagues, I must look for him and get to interview him. I must meet him in person. They knew I wasn't joking because whatever I set my heart to do, I do. Today, I enjoin you to read the first part of an interview I had with this amazing orator and proud son of the soil. In his Enugu residence, he bared his mind about the travails of Ndigbo, his views on restructuring, herdsmen menace, extra states creation for the Southeast, his challenges as Ohaneze PG and the way forward for Ndigbo. Kindly enjoy this interview of this cerebral, eloquent and humble 3rd Degree Knight of St John's International…
Kindly introduce yourself, Sir
John Nnia Nwodo. I happen by the grace of God and the people of Ndigbo to be President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo.
So, what has it been like since you took over the mantle of leadership of Ohaneze Ndigbo.
Extremely busy. I never knew that this job was this tasking. But it's like I got into the job at a time that there was so much focal attention on Igbos and so much anxiety about Igbos and about their place in Nigeria. So, Ohaneze had to be in the centre of it all. I've had an unfair share of bombs, attacks, as well as a multitude of commendations. I thank God so far.
Recently, Ohaneze visited the president of this country, has anything good come out of that visit?
Ohaneze didn't just visit the president of this country. A delegation of Igbo leaders led by Ohaneze visited the president and that delegation included our five south east governors, although the governor of Anambra state was represented by his deputy because he was in the turbulence of his re-election at the time and could not skip his campaign appointments to make the trip. We were also accompanied by the deputy president of Senate and the Igbo leadership in the House of Representatives and the senate namely, Representative Chuks Onyiam as well as Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe. Our demands were numerous. We called the attention of the president on the neglect of federal infrastructure in the south east. We frowned at the fact that there was a standard guage railway program that excluded us completely. We frowned at the fact that the Onitsha Waterways on the River Niger as well as the bridge were in total neglect. In the case of the waterways, a lot of inland ports had been built all the way from Anambra through to Benue and Kogi and the water was not dredged. So, it's like putting the cart before the horse. They built the embarkation ports, but they didn't dredge the water. So, the ports are dilapilating because of lack of use and maintenance but the track is not used at all. And, budget after budget, there is no provision for it. We frowned at the fact that our only gateway out of Nigeria, the Enugu Airport, was in a state of complete neglect. The terminal building has been abandoned since the exit of President Jonathan, the contractors working on the railway lights switched the lights and walked away. The warehouse there which was intended to handle cargo, the contractor has also abandoned the site, obviously due to non-payment. The structures that were already built there for maintenance of old structures and any administrative buildings have been ravaged by tornado and ill-finishing. So, we just have an airport in name which has lost its potential for extreme commercial and civil activities. We brought that to the attention of the president. We deplored our marginalization in the political structure of this country. We were unhappy that among the six geo-political zones, we have the lowest number of states in the country and that our total number of local governments were equal to the total number of local governments in two states in all the regions in Nigeria. And therefore, the amount of federally collected revenue that come to us was extremely limited. Therefore, our state and local governments were jaundiced by illiquidity and their capacity to create jobs, maintain social services of education, environment, water provision, roads, health, were in serious jeopardy and at best, they were barely able to meet their recurrent expenditures and this was not a happy situation to be in and because of that, a lot of people in our place are dissatisfied. The youths are restive. They have no confidence in the political Nigeria and a number of people here subscribe to self-determination. We talked about many other things. We talked about the fact that the leadership of the security structure of Nigeria were totally a demonstration of the president's lack of confidence in anybody from the Southeast. No security arm. Not even the least arm like the Road Safety Corps or the Civil Defence has an Igbo man heading it. No ministry bearing our security, whether it was defence, whether it was police, whether it was internal affairs, has an Igbo man at the head. Immigration, Customs, Police, Army, Air force, Navy, the State Security System, National Intelligence Agency, which deals with foreign intelligence. None of these has an Igbo man at the head. We are very aggrieved by this kind of situation and the president gave a detailed reply. He regretted the administrative structures in the south east and felt it was something that the legislature could do something about and was prepared to nudge the legislature in this direction. The state of Niger Bridge, the River Niger Waterway and the Standard Gates Railway System as well as the Enugu Airport, he asked the Chief of Staff to call a meeting between him and the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Aviation with a view to dealing with some of them. I now hear that there has been a rehabilitation of the runway in Enugu Airport and that there is a federal government policy to concession the airport to a private investor who would make it much more active because of funds. I am waiting to see the adverts come but haven't seen them. I do hope that before this is done, something will happen in the current financial year. Nothing has happened in respect of the other issues.
You mentioned the South Eastern governors. What's the relationship between Ohaneze Ndigbo and these governors like?
Structurally, these governors belong to Ohaneze and members of the Ohaneze Ime Obi which is the highest policy-making body of the Ohaneze. Secondly, we have an informal relationship being the Southeast Leaders Forum which comprises of leading personalities in the south east, members of the National Assembly, Speakers of the State House of Assembly and the national executive of Ohaneze. I have been privileged to have been invited to a number of meetings of the Southeast governors and in the process of this interaction, Ohaneze has managed to interface with them on the problems. You see, they are the executive heads of our states, charged with political responsibilities for the administration of the states. Whatever we are doing as a socio-cultural organization won't necessarily overlap with their constitutional responsibilities. So, we have a duty to relate with them on a continuous basis so that we do not sink different…and when we do, we can manage it pragmatically
What's your take on herdsmen terrorism, grazing fields and ranching?
Ohaneze has gone public. We don't want the colonies. We don't support it. We don't think that we should cede our lands permanently to anybody because he wants to undertake his private business. We have always accommodated all sorts of people here. People have grazed here since I was born and before I was born and I'm 65 now. They have grazed in consultation with local communities. They have been allowed access to lands were there was no farm but in the past five years, they have come armed and they destroy our farms, they loot our property, they rape our women and no sensible host will give a place of permanent habitation to anybody who indulges in these acts. Secondly, I do not see that this practice is existing in any other part of the country. People from here farm in the north. They have never been given a colony to farm and it's not in our practice. In the Southeast, we have the smallest piece of land area per capita and a lot of our children are finding it difficult even to find land to build their homes. So, we don't have enough land to give to people to graze on a permanent basis. Secondly, the fact that herdsmen are now armed with automatic machine rifles which are not freely given, which the law does not permit you to hold. Our security forces have found it impossible to stop them from carrying these arms, so it makes it very difficult and dangerous for anybody to give them permanent grazing lands because we would be arming them with a permanent occupation and with automatic rifles to disseminate our people and murder and plunder us with reckless abandon. The Nigerian security system has found it impossible to police the fulani herdsmen and it tends to give the impression that there is a plan which the government is conspiratorial to use the Fulani herdsmen to advance a political cum religious occupation of parts of Nigeria that are not fundamentally moslem. And to that extent, we condemn it in the strongest terms and we resist it with everything we have. Only recently, the Inspector General of Police has shown a partisan tendency in his proclamations. He went to Benue and before he could study the situation, he said it was intercommunity clash. It is preposterous. Only recently, he is asking vigilante groups to disarm. First of all, where does he derive his authority? Is it by an act of the national assembly or what? I mean, does the law allow him to literarily disarm people who have lawful licenses to arms. Or has the law about firearms be changed in Nigeria as to give him that prerogative to disarm anyone who has lawfully obtained a gun? Again, we have had tremendous achievement in the Southeast as a result of the vigilante groups. It started in Anambra and as speculated, everywhere and it has reduced crime, considerably. To be continued…