New President of Igbo socio-political organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Gary Igariwey in this interview outlines his plans and vision for the Igbo. He argued that the Nigerian nation has not been fair and just to the South- East, citing the imbalance in the number of states the zone has as one instance of injustice. He also provided a detailed explanation as to the reason the South- East backed President Goodluck Jonathan unconditionally in 2011 . He shared his thoughts on a wide range of other national issues…
How did you feel the morning after your election, was it like a dream?
I was working towards it. I knew I had a good chance having served as Deputy President -General for four years. I knew it was achievable.
Looking at Ohanaeze today and the expectations of the people, what do you make of the burden on your shoulder?
Like I said, I served as Deputy President- General in the past four years; this means that I have been within circles of such challenges. I don’t think it will be easy, but success is achievable. And don’t forget my people are smart and you know what that means.
Having been in the leadership of the organization, what would you say is the major issue confronting the Igbo in today’s Nigeria?
It is essentially lack of unity. With our number and spread, I have always known that if there is unity among the Igbo, there is nowhere with our demographic weight, we cannot achieve many positive results.
What then, in your opinion, is militating against the unity of the Igbo?
Sometimes, individual interests. But let me quickly say that unifying these interests is achievable . For instance, we have disagreement between individuals, major players in the system. I don’t think it will be a major problem for Ohanaeze to try to reconcile these varying interests. Certainly it will not be easy . Like I said Igbo are republican by nature and you must make allowances for such strong views in individuals. We have to get over individualism. The problems confronting the Igbo are enormous . It is very important that we speak with one voice. The realities are coming and I think my people are realizing the need to speak with one voice.
What are the challenges facing the Igbo in the Nigerian nation today?
My people believe they are persecuted. There is discrimination against them. It has been a long- held view. I think that as days go, we keep realizing that these are our real threat. We hope other sections of Nigeria will be amenable to those amendments that will bring equality and fairness.
Are these threats against the Igbo real or mere assumption since after the end of the unfortunate civil war?
We are not carrying the mentality of the war; my people are enterprising . We are not surrendering to sentiments and assumptions. But we are saying that there are major discriminations. For instance, if you go to other sections of the country you will see good road network. If you compare the road network there with what is on ground in the South East, you will know that we are being discriminated against. It is so clear. In political office holding, we have said that other zones have produced the president and we should be supported to do that.
Are you saying that the South East has never produced a president since Independence?
We have produced a president in Azikiwe, but we are talking about the recent dispensations.
Is it possible to achieve that when you are talking about the disunity among the Igbo? Don’t you also think that this accusation that once you bring money the Igbo man will shift ground is the Achilles hill in this quest for presidency by the South East?
Well, it is possible to realise our ambition. Let us not trivialize this thing. Everywhere in the world, people like money. I do not want to agree that we love money more than other people. People are going after money everywhere in the world. Major disagreements everywhere is over money. So I do not agree that it is a major threat to our presidential ambition.I am saying that the issue of producing presidency is achievable.
How soon can that be?
The environment is fluid, so it is not something to tell if it is going to be today or tomorrow. But as things unfold we will take the appropriate steps. We know we are interested in producing that number one seat. We think it is only fair that given our efforts in making sure this country is one we deserve to hold that office.
How united are South East Governors in achieving the goal you talk about?
If they are not united today, they will be united tomorrow. That is the work we want to do, that is the assignment we want to do. We will achieve it because when the major issues become real like they had become real, they have no options.
Yes, there are differences but then the issue I am talking about, that our main focus, is to unite all the interests. We have the material, we have the people who can cause this reconciliation to be. This Ohanaeze will move to engage these people to ensure that our people are united first and foremost.
Does it worry you that it is only in the South East that we seem to have governors having a deep- seated enmity with their predecessors? What are you doing in this regard?
It is not only in the South East that such is happening. You have such situation in the South West and in the North. However, what we are saying is that we will make unity of the Igbo, especial major players, a priority. The first thing we want to do is to reconcile these big players. Like in every system, when you are fragmented, you cannot get anything. We have the people we will bring into committees and they will handle the issue.
Would you say other ethnic nationalities in the country have been fair to the Igbo?
It depends on the perspective you are looking at it. Every zone will fight for its own advantage . For instance, we have several issues like the number of states we have in the South East. We have made this a national issue. Other zones have seen that imbalance , they have agreed that it is not fair for the Igbo, with a huge population, to have five states. We think that it is only fair that we should not be the only zone with five states. I think what is remaining now is just the political will to address that. I will continue to call the attention of other sections, other zones, to that imbalance.
How do you want the nation to immortalise Achebe?
He is a great Igbo man, he is a great Nigerian, a great African who went to the world stage and made us proud. I think it is in the interest of every Nigerian to have Achebe as a centre for reference. May be we name a national institution like the National Library after him. If it is not library, something that will remind us and the generation unborn of his contributions.
As your cultural ambassador what are you (Ndigbo) planning for him, how do you want to immortalise him?
Yes, the Igbo would want to immortalise him. He is our great son and we are proud of his global accomplishments. We have our plans for him. But as I said before, Achebe has gone beyond the Igbo, he is a global figure and that is why Nigeria must immortalise him . He played much more on the international scene . You can see the translation of Things Fall Apart in about 50 languages across the globe. But I can assure you that the Igbo people must honour their own. I can assure you that our five South East Governors will be united in that pursuit and Ohanaeze on its own will try on its own part to do something that will immortalise him.
How do you intend to restore the confidence of the majority of the Igbo who seem not have much regard for Ohanaeze because they believe that successive leadership of the organisation have compromised, using the platform to feather their political nest against the will of the people?
You have not told me what you mean by ‘compromise,’ in what sense have they compromised?
Ohanaeze and indeed some other association of ethnic nationalities from other parts of the country support whoever that is in power, are you saying that nobody has made such allegation to your hearing?
It is a wrong impression. I don’t think Ohanaeze has actually compromised. Our argument for the support we gave to Jonathan was valid and solid. It was based on incontrovertible facts. It was based on fairness and justice. It was based on the fact that there is an area that is producing the wealth of this country and it deserves to have a shot at the presidency. We believed that since he was already in the place acting, he should be supported. Let me tell you how we felt in Ohanaeze then. We felt that the South -South , South- East share the sane difficulties and we imagined that by solving one, raises the other to the fore. And since he had a better advantage, since he was already there, the only reasonable thing to do was to give him all the support. So we did it without asking for anything, we did it without giving conditions. We saw it as something that was right. We also believed that to deny the South- South that opportunity would not do the nation any good, given the restiveness that was in place there at that time. What reason would you have given to the region? So it was guided by good reasoning, by the fact that he was already there and had the best chance. We thought that it was nice that by solving that issue ours will also come. That was why in our argument then we were asking for an unbroken succession, for the South- East to really complete that circle so that every zone will have a sense of belonging. We argued that it was only fair that the office should go to the South- East after the South- South.
Should that happen in 2015?
Like I told you earlier, the environment is fluid, the unfolding situation will state what will happen. This Ohanaeze is going to look and work with the good hands we have without looking at political differences. We are going to throw it open to as many good hands as we have in the system. That is why we are going to work with committees made up of capable hands who will help to make Ohanaeze strong. Like the Igbo that we are, you must give somebody opportunity to air his views. We are republican by nature, we say our minds on any issue. We also imagined that because we haven’t been too open like we were expected to be, that is why you have several of these groupings . And they do that to air their own views. It is difficult to stop an Igbo man from speaking. We are going to pay particular attention to that. We will ensure that we set up committees that will give room for engaging so many of our good hands so that they can contribute. We are going to work with all existing organisations, draw strength from them . In other words, the leadership of those groups are going to remain the decision- making organ of Ohanaeze, so that we will work towards addressing the challenges facing us the Igbo. All hands must be on deck if we want to address these challenges.
So it is a new dawn for the Igbo with your leadership?
Yes it is. Look at my age, you should know that I have come a long way. We want to do something differently, in a manner that everybody would be involved. We are going to work with a whole lot of people-old, young etc. we will work with dynamic people. Like I said, we are going to ensure that every interest is accommodated. We will not allow room for any excuse, we don’t want to fail. I would not want to fail so I will ensure that everybody is involved.
Your election was fiercely contested and generated huge ripples, with some of your opponents accusing you of so many things including that you were brought by the presidency for its own agenda. How far have you gone in reconciling with these people?
I am happy you said it was fiercely contested. I don’t know about the aspect of the presidency having a hand in my emergence. In every election there must be some people who would be aggrieved. But this election was the fairest Ohanaeze ever had. We have never had this type of election in the past. Usually we could have consensus, it will be mere formality. Now the office has become more competitive, people are more aware of the power that resides in that office, they are becoming more aware of what Ohanaeze can do. So, ordinarily, I don’t expect that people will just walk away like that . Those who came wanted to win, but somebody had to win.
There is a committee on ground to address some of these ripples, hard feelings. The committee is not a substitute to Ime Obi . We have an internal system for resolving such issues. What we were told was that they were trying to make peace. Of course, we want peace. It does not matter the vehicle we use to make that peace. Like I said, we have internal organ for resolving such issues. We have our Ime Obi , the General Assembly and the Council of Traditional Rulers. They all have their roles in our constitution. But because it was not a constitutional issue, it was a matter of disagreement, we didn’t insist on using those internal organs.
I am hoping that in the interest of peace and in the new interest of unity, people who lost out in the election will forget the past and join hands in the achieving unity among the Igbo. They should accept the hand of fellowship being extended to them.