By Charles Kumolu
Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, President-General of Ohaneze, in this interview, denies claims that the endorsement of President Goodluck Jonatnan was at the instance of the presidency. Uwechue also says Ohaneze’ s decision on zoning was borne out of the need for equity and other issues.
There is controversy in Ohaneze over the 2011 presidential election and the position of Ohaneze that was made public recently. Contrary to that position which you, as the President-General signed, some Igbos are saying that the Ndigbo as a people have not spoken.
Before the arrival at that position as it was publically expressed, what effort did Ohaneze make to reach to Ndigbo to get their views on the matter?
I thank you for this question. Short of a referendum, there is no way of knowing what every Igbo man and woman thinks, but there is a way of finding out what the vast majority of the Igbos think. It took us five and half months of quiet consultations with various Igbo groups including the churches, before we arrived at the position that was made public.
For example, four months ago, the Ijaw National Congress (INC) visited us as the executive of Ohaneze Ndigbo, and told us that they wanted us to support President Goodlcuk Jonathan; we told them that we have heard them, and we also told them that we were consulting the Igbos. We made a return visit to the INC in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, the matter was also raised, both by the ICN leadership and by Governor Timipre Silva of Bayelsa, he also solicited that we support Jonathan when we paid him a courtesy visit.
We repeated to them that Ndigbo was still consulting and we promised them that they hear our position after necessary consultations.
Precisely, on the 14th of August, 2010, we had an Imobi meeting of Ohaneze Ndigbo in Enugu, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, raised the point that Ndigbo should support Jonathan, and he gave certain reasons to back up his position. I told him that we have noted what he thinks Ndigbo should do, but I also told him that we shall continue to consult Ndigbo at home and abroad until we feel satisfied what the majority of Ndigbo want.
And the consultation continued. Some people said I should have called for an assembly of Ndigbo to discuss the matter, but we reasoned that calling for an assembly would make it difficult to achieve the goal, because if there are 100 people attend the assembly, 90 people would say yes and 10 would obviously say no. The next day, screaming headline of the newspapers would be that Igbos are not united. So we did not buy the idea of calling for an assembly.
We consulted groups by groups and noted what they told us. Towards the end of our consultation, certain senior Igbo people, were invited to Enugu and they were hosted by K.U. Kalu, we all discussed this matter, and they also gave their position very clearly. Then the consultation was climaxed with the traditional rulers.
The executive of Ohaneze Ndigbo led by me, and some other Igbo leaders, including former Senate President, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim and Professor Anya O. Anya, and we spent two days in Abakiliki, that is on the 13th and 14th of October, consulting with the traditional rulers.
The first day we met their caucus, the next day we met with the general assembly traditional rulers in the South-East, the two meetings was chaired by HRH Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, who is the chairman of the South-East Traditional Council.
Anyim and Anya actually addressed the traditional rulers, and explained to them the outcome of out consultations with other Igbo groups, and where we are going, the traditional rulers said that they supported our position and asked us to go ahead. After the meeting with the traditional rulers on the 14th, on the 15th, I issued the statement on behalf of Ndigbo, declaring the position of Ndigbo on the support for Jonathan.
So those who are saying that Ohaneze Ndigbo did not consult anybody don’t know what they are saying. A bunch of Igbo people in Abuja, think that they alone speak for the Ndigbo because they can dash in and out of government offices.
We have done the consultation that has produced a result for our people.
Before arriving at the conclusion, certain things of Igbo interest were put into consideration of which Ndigbo stand to gain if President Jonathan succeeds. What are those things Ndigbo that Ohaneze consulted considered before opting for Jonathan?
They are simple. Jonathan comes from the South-South, and Nigeria has six zones and that if we reinforce the importance of the zones, other things would follow. And we insisted that the positions in the country should rotate among the six zones.
Also, those we consulted told us that they have been watching what Jonathan has done since he took over, that action speaks louder than words. They said that since the General Aguiyi Ironsi was slaughtered in Ibadan that an Igbo is now the head of the Nigerian army, and it was Jonathan who did it. They also said that for 50 years, Ndigbo have been asking why the Enugu airport has not been given full international status.
The people who have suddenly discovered that they are lovers of Ndigbo, feeding the public with false pretence, ignored the Enugu airport because making it an international airport would boast Igbo economic activities and save our people from travelling to Lagos and Abuja before flying out of the country. Jonathan has done it for us.
For the first time in the history of Nigeria, an Igboman has been appointed Minister of Internal Affairs, this is an important ministry. When Senator Ike Nwachukwu was the Foreign Minister, when he was to appoint Minister of Internal Affairs, overnight, it was changed. They didn’t trust an Igbo man enough to head that ministry; they didn’t want an Igbo man to be in charge of security. That was how Ike Nwachukwu became Foreign Minister twice.
If this man, Jonathan, is ready to give Ndigbo a level playing ground, our people should take note of that. These are what the people we consulted told and we noted it that formed our position added to Ohaneze stand on zonal equality.
Considering that Ohanze is a social cultural organization, don’t you think that the position of Ohaneze to support President Jonathan, is partisan?
I can tell you one thing; one must be presented by a political party before one can stand for an election. So, in that case, are you saying Ndigbo should support nobody? We are not looking at the parties, but we are looking at the individual. If Jonathan had come from any other party that is not the PDP, we support him, based on the fact that he is a new generation leader, who can help Nigeria. If he decides to change party today, he is free to do and the support for him will remain. We are not seeing or supporting Jonathan as a PDP member, rather, we are supporting him as presidential candidate for next year’s election because he has declare to run.
Ohaneze is not a profit making organization, and questions are raised when Ohaneze gets involved in huge expenditure of project without any public call for financial support from Igbos. Can you explain where Ohaneze got the money to finance the advertorial of its position that featured in the media because some have alleged that the position was sponsored from the presidency?
Thank you very much. This is not the first or second advertorial that Ohaneze has issued. If you check your records, the other statement of Ohaneze were also publicized and broadcast in the media, the same way this one was done. And nobody pointed a finger at us that it was sponsored.
It is those who disagree with us, who are looking for faults. For God’s sake, Ndigo are not paupers and I am not starving. I built this Africa House 30 years ago, that was in 1979. I have personally, and I have said it publicly, been sponsoring Ohaneze activities from my pocket, and it is not stolen money.
Again, let me inform you that there are some Igbo in business, who are very proud of the new line that Ohaneze is taking and they have been helping out. For example, this advertisement you are talking about, I don’t personally know the amount involved. Some people are supporting it, but not President Jonathan or any government agency that is for sure.
It is not a matter of being sponsored to say the wrong thing, not at all. Those who have been attacking that statement have not been able to pick one hole in what we said; they are only attacking my person.
Those who have decided to attack and insult my person on the pages of newspapers are not facing the reality.
They are distorting facts and I have pity for them. Some people are saying that they were not consulted, and I ask, those who signed an agreement with some northerners that Ndigbo should support them in 2011, so that in 2015 they will support Ndigbo, did they consult Ohaneze or the governors of the south-east?
Talking about zoning, there are six zones in Nigeria, one has seven states, four have six states, and only the Igbo South-East has five states. But some people say Nigerian zoned between the north, and south that is not true.
We must correct that wrong impression, we have six zones, and that was why the late Yar’Adua was president, and Senator David Mark, also from the north is the president of the senate. It means that in 2007, until Yar’Adua died, the north was completely in control of Nigeria politically, with the two important political offices in the country, president of the country and the president of the senate as was occupied by them. Again, we know that in this country, things that come from the federal coffers are shared equally on state basis.
That is already, a handicap for Ndigbo and we think and have always said that it is not fair.In terms of local government that gets grants directly from the federal government, some states in the north have more local government areas than the entire south-east zone.
I think that, in terms of equity, Ndigbo have not got the right in this country and it is important adjustments are made so that every section of Nigeria, whether it is Igboland or Yoruba land, will feel comfortable that we all belong and equal in this country.