By Chinonso Alozie, Owerri
It was endless lamentations as Igbo leaders called for an end to what they described as unfair treatment in the Nigeria project. The call was made during the Igbo Day celebration held in Owerri recently.
The two-day event started with an award night by the Imo State Government, “Grand Commander of Order of Imo State” GCOI, given to 15 Igbo sons of Igbo as well as outside Igbo land.
The awardees included the Governor of Kano State, Abdulahi Ganduje; Chief Jim Nwobodo; Chief Francis Arthur Nzeribe; former President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Gary Enwo Igariwey; former Chief of Army Staff, Azubuike Ihejirika and Ndubuisi Kanu.
Others included John Nnia Nwodo; Dr Paul Unogo and Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu.
For posthumous awards, former governor of Imo State, the late Sam Onunaka Mbakwe; the late Akanu Ibiam; the late Maitama Sule; the late Dick Tiger Ihetu; and the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu were honoured.
The awards ceremony also witnessed the presence of the representatives of Afenifere, Ayo Adebanjo; PANDEF, Francis Doukpola; as well as the Middle Belt Forum led by Jonathan Asagie.
According to the President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, John Nnia Nwodo, “with restructuring, the issue of agitation will be addressed.
“Igbos are meeting in Imo to celebrate and appraise themselves and to see if there were things they needed to do that were not done and then take the needed actions to see those things done.
“Ohanaeze is interested in seeing how our people who are in government have fared. We owe it to our people to tell them who has done well and who has not.
“Restructuring Nigeria will end the marginalisation of the SouthEast and South-South parts of this country.
“This problem which started for decades has not been addressed by successive governments and it is the reason for which we are experiencing this level of agitation in the country.
“Ndigbo have had and are still having unmitigated hatred from other tribes in Nigeria as a result of their industry and perseverance.”
He added that it was a moment for the Igbo to look into how they have been treated and to know if there were things they should do that they did not do.
The representative of Afenifere, Ayo Adebanjo agreed that the Igbo have not been properly carried along in the scheme of things in the country, adding that Igbo have been marginalised.
According to Adebanjo: “Never in the history of this country has Ndigbo been so marginalised, denied their fundamental human rights and traumatised as they are today. In fact, never at any time has Nigeria been at crossroads as it is today.Ndigbo are feeling the main brunt of it.”
It was his view that, “Ndigbo have been completely emasculated and dehumanized in their fatherland.” Adebanjo felt that such treatment “has made the Igbo third class citizens, a little short of the slave trade era.”
Jonathan Asagie, the representative of the Middle Belt Forum said that, “the end to these issues and challenges is to have the country restructured for better. This is the solution to our problems and that is what Nigerians are demanding for. Marginalisation will end and Nigeria will be better for it.”
Chairman of traditional rulers of Imo State, Eze Samuel Ohiri who spoke in support of restructuring said that it would bring about even distribution of the resources in the country as well as address the issue of marginalisation. But another traditional ruler in Imo State, Eze Oliver Ohanwe of Ihim Autonomous community in Isiala Mbano said that for restructuring to work, the Federal Government should give the South-East region one additional state.
However, the host of the Igbo Day celebration, Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, said that the time has come for Igbo people to take a bold step and change their story for the better.
He said: “Ohanaeze means the people and their kings, hence they should carry the Ezes along in whatever they do towards having one voice and achieving their aim.
“Let me say this, restructuring of this country is long overdue. We have to know that restructuring Nigeria will bring about even distribution of appointments at the federal level among the six geopolitical zones. We wish to have a Nigeria where all citizens will be treated equally irrespective of tribe, religion and ethnicity.”
According to Ohanwe: “We should have a united force to ask for what we want. The issue of restructuring did not start with the present administration it has been there for long. We have not approached the matter with passion.
When South-East Voice asked Ohanwe if restructuring will end Igbo marginalisation, he said: “Restructuring will create a new face of Nigeria, restructuring means that you give every zone that which is due them.
“Now that the Senate has passed the South-East Development Commission into law, this is part of what we have been talking about. Also the constitution of Nigeria must be a democratic constitution and not carried over from the military regime to civilian regime.
“Now for you to talk about restructuring, there is need to have one more state so that there will be a balance. If you restructure when we have not gotten one more state like others, then we will still remain marginalised.
“So, getting one more state is what this present administration can do for us.
“You remember that the South-East Development Commission was thrown out by the lower House and I was among those who pleaded with the South-East Caucus at the National Assembly not to allow it fail and finally, it was passed by the Senate.”
Imo State Governor, Okorocha said: “Ohanaeze could relate with, and marry these organisations and use them to launch the campaign that would truly make other parts of Nigeria to see Igbos as fellow Nigerians in whom they should be well pleased. We are highly misunderstood and until you come to an Igboman’s house, you will not know how hospitable he is.
“We are highly misunderstood. This is why we must use organisations like these ones I mentioned to tell our story so that other tribes may understand us.
“It is a privilege for any leader to host the leadership of his people. My joy knows no bound for the fact that we still have an Ohanaeze today. Few years ago, it was a different story and that’s why I must salute the immediate past President-General of Ohanaeze, Dr. Igariwey and Chief Ralph Obioha.
“When it looked like Ohanaeze will be in pieces because of crisis, they honoured me and came to Imo State. What we thought was beyond fixing, surprisingly both parties agreed and today, we have Ohanaeze of our dream.
“Many people have wondered why I should build such a gigantic building for Ohanaeze. It was easily interpreted to be either for political reason or social reason, but believe me, I did so because I truly understand the people, that Igbos are not good beginners but good finishers.
“When others start, Igbos don’t start but once they start, they can defeat any other person. Understanding this, I thought it would be good to build that edifice for my people to help them come together. I am happy the building is nearing completion and will soon be handed over to the Igbo nation.
“There is a lot of difference between the Imo State of today and Imo State of 2011 in all spheres of human existence. You have just attested to what you have seen but I don’t think you have seen it all.
“That goes a long way to explain why cultural organisations like yours should hold your governors accountable because when funds come to those states, it is indirectly given to those cultural organisations because they are among the beneficiaries of those funds. I urge all of you to set up a special committee to go round and assess what your leaders are doing with the funds allotted to them.”