Dr. Sylvan O. Ebigwei, renowned dentist,Â is president, Aka Ikenga, the association of Igbo professionals, formed 21 years ago to think, plan, reason on issues confronting the Igbo wherever they may be.Â Aka Ikenga is an aggregation of Igbo in the core south-east, Rivers and Delta states as well as Igbo in diaspora.
It liaises with Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo body, on matters concerning the Igbo. In this encounter, Ebigwei, immediate past faculty chairman;Â member of college, senate and member governing body, National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, says kidnapping and other violent crimes in the Igbo states could stifle the economy of the area as no sane entrepreneur invests in an insecure environment.Â He proffers solution. Excerpts:
By TONY NWANKWO
IGBO have had the short stick in Nigeria for some time now. Today, insecurity is the bane in the area.Â Aside armed robbery, you now have high profile abductions, kidnapping, etc.Â How does Aka Ikenga react to these?
Yes, we are seriously bothered about these.Â Delta, Rivers and the core eastern states have been bedeviled with these episodes of kidnapping of both high and low indigenes.
This is bad, it is terrible, because it will affect the economy of these areas. Today, the core Igbo states are not making progress in terms of industries and infrastructure.
A look at the economy of these eastern states, it is not up to 10 percent of the Nigerian economy, which means those areas can shut down and it will not affect the Nigerian economy adversely.
Now the governors of the south east and environs are running up and down both in Nigeria and abroad trying to attract, not only foreigners, even the indigenes to come and invest. You donâ€™t invest in such an economy because nobody is going to come over there.
Nobody will invest in an economy that is riddled with episodes of kidnapping, where lives and property are not protected. It is only a mad man that can invest in such an economy.
Even many members of Aka Ikenga and other Ndigbo, going home is a problem to them.Â Some of them spend some millions or thereabouts onÂ their security details alone. Top people from core Igbo states living in Lagos, going home now is a big tug-of-war.Â Even for burials or any social event, they have to pay security details and some of these could run into hundreds of thousands and even millions of naira.
So, with such a scenario, how Â can a responsible entrepreneurÂ Â Â invest in such a geographical entity?Â It is not possible.Â So, this will further render the economic index of that region, probably from eight percent down to six percent.
It means the people there will be worse off, because nobody is investing. So, it is a very big problem.Â But the good thing is that it is being tackled. We, in Aka Ikenga, have set up a panel, to extend our hands through our political committee to other Igbo groups because this cannot be solved by one individual.
It will be solved right from the youth movements, the town unions, the traditional rulers of that area.Â Unfortunately, again, it has been said that some traditional rulers are involved in the kidnapping saga.
And that compounds the issues. So, we now need to reach out to the Federal Government, the state governments, the state governors and the so-called chief security officers of these states. But do they really control the security of their states?
People say kidnapping is a fall-out of the Niger Delta struggle?
Of course, kidnapping was quite unknown until it started from the Niger Delta and they discovered it is a lucrative business.
And donâ€™t forget the pirates in Ethiopia, the millions of dollars they are making in kidnapping, holding people to ransom, holding ships to ransom. And you discover that the Federal Government has equally made the issue of 419Â a no-go area for many 419ers who write letters and dupe people.
So, all these people have changed their trades and taking to kidnapping.
Many think the war in the Niger Delta is indirectly another attack against the Igbo.Â It is Igbo region that is under attack.Â Yet, the Igbo seem to have abandoned the Niger Delta people to their fate?
I canâ€™t say the war in the Niger Delta is against the Igbo people, no.Â The whole thing is for resource control. But what we are saying is that the agitation has been criminalized, because only a mad group of people can take arms against the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The federal might is greater than the might of any group of people, as could be attested to in the issue of Biafra. So, Niger Delta taking up arms, yes, they have made the point, that the area is underdeveloped, but now to slaughter innocent citizens, either by JTF or by the militants themselves, is not good enough.
And the militants, some of them are like shadow, a times, you donâ€™t see them. So, it is the common people that suffer. The militants should lay down their arms and the Federal Government should also help to demilitarize the area.
But, again, it is not agitation for resource control or development of Niger Delta only, there areÂ Â people who are engaged in oil bunkering that are potentiating this criminality.Â All these things have to be looked into, because people are saying the militancy in the Niger Delta has a lot to do with the issue of oil bunkering. If it is so, it is bad. They should lay down their arms, the point has been made, they should save the mass population from being slaughtered.
Prof. Chukwuma Soludo is believed in some quarters to have performed creditably well and deserved a second term but was denied for Lamido Sanusi.Â As President of Aka Ikenga, did the Igbo draw sufficient attention to the president on these facts for a second term?
Definitely.Â We have made newspaper publications that you donâ€™t change a winning team at the middle of the game. Nigeria is in an economic crisis, Nigeria is in a quandary economically.
And since Soludo had done a lot to stabilise our economy to a certain extent, because the economic meltdown would have been more devastating, had there not been banking consolidation as adopted by Soludo.
We should have been worse off.Â But for a man, a professional, who had that foresight and knew that the economic wave would sweep over Nigeria and put measures to stem that wave, I think he should be given kudos, and he should have been allowed to stay there until the whole economic tidal wave goes down.
But to change him now, well, to us, it didnâ€™t go down well.Â But, at the same time, it is a contract and the head of state had the prerogative either to renew or not to renew.Â And being that he knows the best, he decided not to renew. So, all we wish for this country is the best, and same for the new man who has taken over from him. But Soludo should be honoured, because he spearheaded giant strides for Nigeria.
The issue of Soludo brings to the fore the question of Ndigbo in Nigeria.Â Are we getting our due in this country?
You donâ€™t get your due when you are not united politically.Â Igbo politicians are not united. Many of them are still behaving like conquered people, they have to serve their masters outside Igboland.Â And so long they do their mastersâ€™ bidding for their own selfish ends, there is no way you can emancipate.
This is an animal kingdom, it is the survival of the fittest. And if you donâ€™t fight for your rights, other people do not come and fight for your rights. Until the Igbo man starts getting his acts right, know that there is unity. You may quarrel internally, but externally, you have a united front to confront a common group.
That is the only way you can come up.Â But as long as Igbo politicians are singing discordant notes, serving different heterogenous influences, and masters, no way.
So, what is Aka Ikenga doing to bring the state of affairs you just described about?
Yes, what Aka Ikenga is doing borders on education. Because when you have the people rightly educated to know their rights, they know the right thing to do. People do not just come and sweep them off by mere talk, by mere bags of rice and salt, and money.
So, Aka Ikenga, from our pronouncements and from what we have been doing, we have reached out to Ohanaeze, when we hosted the president of Ohanaeze and his group, telling them that it is high time the apex Igbo body called our political players together, give them the necessary advice and education and telling them that selfish aggrandizement, self interest will no longer serve the Igbo nation.
What we need now is a committee action, collective interest, not selfish interest. Ohanaeze themselves had some crisis which they just came out from.