Ichie Damian Okeke Ogene is the Vice President of the pan Igbo socio-cultural organization in Nigeria, Ohaneze. A group that aims to represent the interests of all Igbo communities within and outside Nigeria.
In this interview with News Patfinder Editor, Pamela Eboh, Okeke-Ogene dsescribed President Mohammadu Buhari’s adminustration as a failure, saying that it has plunged the country into more corruption, division and insecurity.
He said that Ohaneze Ndigbo still stand on the side of fairness which is the emergence of an Igbo president come 2023.
While saying that the movenemt of the presidential candidate of the Labour, LP, Peter Obi has gone beyond his control because of the younger generation’s hunger for a new Nigeria, he warned that anybody planning to rig the 2023 presidential election will only be inviting chaos
Q. What is the stand of Ohaneze Ndiigbo with regard to 2023 presidential election. Are you on the part an Igbo president or open to whoever emerges?
A. The stand of Ohaneze Ndiigbo has never been changed. We are standing for a South Easterner to be the president of this country, Nigeria and that’s because we believe in fairness. Its the turn of the south and in the south, its the south east.
Q. Ohaneze as a pan Igbo organisation is expected to be the mouth piece of the Southeast but that appears to be far fetched. The governors in this zone always sing in discordant tones when it comes to issues affecting the zone. What is your take on that?
A. They are individuals and they have their one vote. We as a cultural organisation, we go with the peoples’ wish. We are very close to the people. We consider our actions based on their belief. We are no longer in the era of Nnamdi Azikiwe where you say, leave my state for me, I will deliver it, no those days are gone. I for example, I have four kids and I can not determine who they will vote for because they are all matured. Their generation is being marginalized so they cant continue to follow me in my own way. They have their own opinion.
Q. Peter has become an unprecedented force, a movement embraced by all and sundry. Do you think this movement, like in the days of Pharoah and children of Israel will be the breaker for a new Nigeria come 2023?
A. Peter Obi’s movement is not Ohaneze movement neither is it a southeast movement. Its a movement of new Nigeria. You can equate it with what happened in SouthAfrica. What started revolution in America was when a black man was asked to stand up for a white man in the bus, riot broke out and it was led by Martin Luther King. After many years, a black man from Kenya, Barrack Obama became the president of America, that’s apart from a lot of blacks that have become senators and all that. It has never happened until that revolution came. In SouthAfrica, it took late Nelson Mandela twenty seven years to liberate South Africans fron apartheid. So, Obi’s movement is a libration movement. Like he said, he is not desperate to answer president, the movement is even beyond Peter’s control. Its just like a trailer that is fully loaded and descending a hill, where it would land, me and you don’t know.
Q. Are you positive this movement will turn out good?
A. I tell you, some people feel that their generation is being marginalized and they are capable of fighting for it and they are on it. If its not now, it will still eventually come because its a movement that is ordained.
Q. Former senator from Kogi State, Dino Melate recently came out to say Peter Obi has all it takes to be the president of Nigeria but that his time is mot yet ripe but that of the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. Whats your take on that?
A. Every Nigerian knows Dino Melaye as a Nollywood star, I never knew him as a prophet. So, he’s acting film and he is enjoying it. As far as I’m concerned, Dino Melaye can not speak for Nigeria, he can only speak for his pocket and his fellow Nollywood actors. He is aspiring to be a Nollywood actor.
Q. There is fear that the powers that be, the Fulanis specifically will not be open to hand over to Obi who is from the Southeast, even if he wins, rather they will shoot for war. Does that worry you?
A. I tell you, nobody’s body is made of iron. Everybidy is made of blood and there’s no one that cast his life on a stone. There’s this ablution that people do give to the Fulanis as extraordinary human beings. Nobody is extraordinary, we are same flesh and blood. Its question of time. Change is always constant, so when change comes, it blows away even the toughest. So, leave Nigerians to decide what 2023 will turn out.
Q. Igbo is known for speaking in discordant tones, especially as it concerns the major stakeholders. Does that not worry you, bearing in mind that it remains the major spoiler for the Southeast?
A. That’s because we are republicans but let me tell you, majority of these so called stakeholders can not even win ward election in their place if you go by option A4. It has happened before. The thing is, when we elect them into positions of autbourity, they begin to see themselves as lords. Why they say, “Igbo enwe eze” is because those you thought are speaking for the Igbo renege when the chips are down. Go to villages and town meetings and family meetings, with all their monies and all, they don’t fit in. Thats actually how the Igbo know actually who their son or daughter is. Speaking on discordant tones does not worry me because the focused Igbo always go for result. They know what they want. Igbo is naturally adventurous and anybody that ventures, if you don’t succeed in your business, you try another one. He who is down is one who fails and lie down, he who is up is he who fails and rise up. Ohaneze has been consistent on the need for Nigeria to be resurrected because many have been marginalised, the South West, South South, South East, Niger Delta, and even the North. So, the voice of the voiceless is rising now and it has brought a lot of changes. First of all, the new Nigeria revolution has bind all the churches together. Before now, the Pentecostals will say voting and participating in politics is a sin but now they say if you don’t have PVC, you don’t come into the church. The idea of Anglican, Catholic is gradually going away because they have realized that this divide and rule is what has been hitting them. Now the idea of North versus South, some youths in the North have seen that for many years, Northerners have dominated the leadership of this country, both military and civilian rule but they have not fared better than the Southeast nor the South. Check the GDP of the SouthEast, South South, South West and that of the North. Out of school children, drop out, unemployment, its more in the North. There’s still reasonable ones in the North and you know, some of them never want their people to be educated. When former President Goidluck Jonathan started normadic school, they felt he was not doing well by trying to open the eyes of their people because these are the people they use, they hear one thing, go and kill “nyamiri’, unbeliever, infidel, they will go, but when they are educated, they will see the difference.The enlightened ones have even started saying now that there is no place in the Koran where Prophet Mohammed asked them to kill and they acknowledge that to kill is a sin. The bible says, thou shalt not kill. So it is the thing their leaders feed them with. Even here, you can’t rule it out, some of the pastors are using some things in the bible to do business. They read some portions of the bible and interprete it as they like, same way some imams and big men over there do. They use this things to scare us away because we believe there’s no need killing anybody. Remember what Jonathan said; that no blood of a Nigerian is worth wasting for him to be the leader of this country.
Q. Do you think there will ever be a time when Igbo will come together as a force to speak with one voice?
A. Definitely. My generation is gradually leaving, so we are believing the younger generation will put their acts together. And when you talk of Igbo unity, you don’t consider Igbo unity based on self appointed Igbo leaders. Many of them are self appointed leaders, either you are rich or you find yourself in a favourable position. The genuine Igbo are the silent ones. I tell you, in this part of the world, after the war and early 80’s, if you jam a rich man with your rickety car or motorcycle, it’s better you run away because other people will mob you for doing that but today, if a big man jams a keke and he is not willing to buy a new one and make noise, he would be lynched. You see the changes, because they believe that every wealthy man made his money fraudulently or stole government money, which is not true anyway. There are genuine businessmen. There is a lot of Nigerian businessmen who made their money genuinely, like Peter Obi who never used or stole government to be rich. Those ones are inside the communities, giving palliatives and building houses for people without making noise and they are not interested in any political office. But this politicians, they always want to be the lord of everybody. They can instigate those they are building house for to attack you, they will say your money is devilish money, you are taking their star. Why will I want to take the star of an okada rider, do I want to be an okada rider? This is what they use to wash their heads. This group of people are habitual merchandise. Some marchandise Mellon seeds, some stock fish, ogbono, etc and they will come and tell you they will deliver Igbo land for you, nobody born by a woman can deliver Igbo for anybody. It is only the collective will of the Igbo. Watch this coming election, especially the vote count, many of them will be disappointed again.
Q. Can you define an average Igbo man?
A. An average Igbo man is well exposed. He follows a trend. Each one of them always wait for train in the station, they don’t want train to wait for them. Those who think that they will see old order where you ask the plane to wait, that the big man is coming, we have passed that level. And this is no longer the time when you come to a community and one man is the alpha and omega. There’s a lot of alpha and omega in every family now. If they don’t have money, they have well educated people, courageous people who can challenge you with all your money. Any independent people may not get to where they are going in time but they will get to where they are going. Its a matter of time.
Q. What do you think will happen if Peter Obi wins but is not handed over to?
A. Nigeria has had the Abiola experience. We call that one the old order. Peter won election in Anambra State with only few members in the House of Assembly.Yet he governed Anambra. In his second term, majority of the lawmakers followed him to his party to return to the House.We are talking about restructuring. If Peter wins the election or anybody rig this election, we will turn this country upside down. Will you bring the army or interim government again? The international community always go to sleep and keep one eye open when it concerns Nigeria, especially Britain but what happened between Russia and Ukraine must have taught Britain a great lesson. I know, Britain never supported democracy the way they should. They are always on the side of those who help them to steal our oil, but what Im trying to tell you is that the present regime, even in America. You can see voices springing up, the former president, Obama and other notable places too. They are voices of democracy and every eye is watching to see how Peter and the new Nigeria will end. INEC should also take a cue from what happened during Jonathan era. When he saw that illegalities had overiden the election, he decided to bow out. I don’t see President Buhari being funny enough to set this country ablaze after institutionalizing corruption. We are more corrupt, more divided than we have ever been. There’s nothing much he can do to Nigeria than what he has already done in this his administration. So thinking that anybody will want to rig this election with the electronic voting system?, it will be a disaster, not just to Nigeria but Africa at large.
Q. Security in Nigeria has become a far fetched privilege, home is not even a safe heaven anymore. What do you think is the way out of this dead zone?
A. As far as Im concerned, this present administration has no plans to secure Nigerians until the end of it. You can’t travel anywhere without fear. Even to travel down to the airport at Umueri, you are holding your heart in your hand, how much more before when I use to consider the time it will take me to get to Enugu airport and I just simply join Tracas vehicle and before 3pm its in Abuja, between 12 and 1pm, its in Lagos. But now, look at how many war fronts you will pass. You will pass two to three war fronts in Anambra, getting to Delta, you pass a lot of war fronts, same with Edo, Ore, Shagamu, until you get inside Lagos. So, you see the risk you are taking to travel. The entire nation is not secure. Insecurity breeds a lot of ills, criminals, hunger, inflation. We are as good as not existing.
Q. Anambra State, Prof Chukwuma Soludo clocked hundred days in office. How do you rate him?
A. Our problem is that we don’t have patient. Soludo has come in with a new system of government and for a new system to be installed, a lot of patience is needed. For many years, we have been following same system and he wants to change it. When I watched his hundred days in office, I said to myself that if seventy percent of his proposals can be implemented, definitely, that Dubai of Africa in Anambra will come. He is consistent with whatever he said he will do, you can only say he is not moving fast. Now, for the past three months or so, March to May, he has not gotten any allocation. He had also stopped the internal generated revenue to plan how best to collect it. He lost a lot in this four months but he is trying to ensure that the bigger chunk of the revenue gets into the government purse rather than a situation where seventy percent goes into individual pocket and the remaining thirty percent to government coffers. The good thing is that those who have been evading paying tax will pay, no matter how small. They will complain, but these are same people who want good roads, pipe borne water, non interruption of electricity, but they will not pay tax, rather they will be part of those who vandalize government properties. So far, he has handled the security situation and I believe in the shortest time, the activities for which Anambra State is known will return, traditional marriages, new yam festivals, freedom of movement, other cultural events, life will go on and night life will also return. If tax will help to bring all this basic necessities including security, why not pay it, rather than pay ten million, twenty million and above to kidnappers. You are not sure of your life immediately you get out of your house, so, if he can give back our lives in one year in terms of security, its a huge step. He has a lot at stake with his name and what he stands for. As he said, if he can construct two hundred and twenty kilometers of road within one year in office, say by March next year, its a lot. You know we are interwoven In Anambra State, so if he can construct that in one year, in four years, we will be looking at more than one thousand kilometers of road in the state, then the Dubai if Africa is fast at sight. He is consistent in saying that he is going to turn Okpoko around. If he open up Okpoko and get more sakamori drainages and channel the water, not only drainages. You know, because of the topography of Anambra State, we are prone to erosion. We have more than one thousand erosion sites in the state but I think that with good drainages, flood movement can be diverted to streams and then they can move to river Niger and we get out of the erosion bottle neck.