Igwe Alex Nwokedi, Press Secretary to the Head of State during the military regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, is the sitting Uthokoneze and paramount ruler of Achalla Kingdom, Anambra State. The 79-year-old former Chairman, Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers and erstwhile Chairman, Eastern Nigerian Traditional Rulers Forum, spoke to Bashir Adefaka of Sunday Vanguard on the calls for Biafra and threat of secession by Afenifere among other things. Excerpts:
What is your perspective on the brewing agitation for Biafra in your part of the country?
General Yakubu Gowon, in one of his published interviews, spoke well when he said he was surprised that people could be talking about Biafra over 40 years after the matter had been resolved. Owelle Rochas Okorocha, a respected governor of the people, of course, has also spoken like a patriotic Nigerian when he counselled that Igbo should stop hating other Nigerians. That comment credited to him gives a good perspective on the Igbo people of this country. Igbo people are peace loving people but we should talk about what unites us than talking about what divides us. I have read a lot about the so-called agitation for Biafra and I even read something about people who said they wanted to secede from Nigeria and become Oduduwa country. Biafra and Afenifere are no threat to the unity of Nigeria. So, as far as I am concerned, we should talk more about what unites us than what divides us. I am more concerned about the need to develop all the regions of Nigeria. I am concerned about the need for government both at federal and state levels to collaborate and bring physical development to all parts of the country. It is sad, for instance, that Enugu-Awka-Onitsha Road is not motorable. As a matter of fact, when I was coming to Lagos, I drove through the old road to link the airport and that road, so narrow with narrow bridge, is very dangerous. I have read so much about how contractors handling that road complained that they have been owed for over three years, a situation they said had led to the retrenchment of many of their workers including the expatriates and that they were now considering folding up. I appeal to the Federal Government to look into the issue and come to the aid of the people of that area by paying the money owed the construction company so that they can fix the road in good time. The road facilitates the movement of goods into and out of the South-East to other parts of Nigeria and, if properly fixed, falling and breaking down of vehicles plying the road will stop and, also, it will boost the economy of the nation from that axis.
There is this talk about Afenifere saying the Fulani should vacate Yorubaland. What does it sound like and will you, as a prominent Igbo leader, support such call under whatever guise?
I don’t believe it is possible for Afenifere to make such a call that the Fulani should vacate their land. I see it as a media thing because I will never go with anybody who talks about division. Yoruba or Igbo leaders, nobody should touch anything that brings no development but destruction to Nigeria. Was it not Chief Obafemi Awolowo who said he would secede if Ojukwu seceded? And when Ojukwu seceded, did he secede? So, let nobody talk about what divides but what unites us as Nigerians. United we stand, divided we fall. We will access peace and development faster this way than the other way round.
When President Muhammadu Buhari was elected, you said his chances of being a successful Nigerian leader would depend on the intellectual capacity of his media handlers. Mr. Femi Adesina and Mallam Garba Shehu are his media aides. So far, what is your assessment of their performance?
So far, they have done well. However, the ability of a President’s image maker to perform depends on the brief that he has. Femi Adesina for instance is a very good communication man, so also is Garba Shehu. And I am sure, eventually, they will get to the promised land.
The President is said to have played his own part by volunteering to lead a change process for the nation to move forward. What path are Nigerian traditional rulers taking in ensuring he gets the required support?
First of all, I have made it clear in my past interviews that traditional rulers should confine themselves to traditional issues while politicians pay attention to development. President Buhari is an experienced person. He can, through the traditional rulers, reach the people if he so desires. This is the area the traditional rulers can bring to him the feelings of the people, just like his media handlers should do, and his inner thought should also be communicated to the people most of the times through the same channel.
As the first Public Relations Manager of the defunct Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN), how do you assess the power sector so far in the hands of DISCOs because, it is not expected that we should still blame government for the distribution after the PHCN successor companies have been privatised?
There are many things that provide effective power supply out of which three are vital. The first is transmission and I think we have only a single transmission line. Another one is distribution and our distribution network is very weak. The third one is generation. All of these aspects have to be revived and, if they have to be revived, it shouldn’t be one-by-one. All the three must be revived together in order to have regular and steady power supply. Yes. Did those private people who bought the distribution companies cross-check what they were buying before they bought it? They had problematic power distribution facility transferred to them and they accepted it because they were very eager and some didn’t do it for national interest, of course, they did it to make money but they found out it was different from what they thought.
But is it not the idea that the facilities are better off in private hands?
What were the terms of the procurement, I mean the terms of the buying of the companies? If the terms say that if you buy it and it is later found to be a problem, you can return it, that is one thing. But if the terms say you are buying it to put it right and make it better, you should work hard to achieve that, so that Nigerians can feel the impact of improved power supply. What the DISCOs should know is that, if it the goal of government that sold the distribution companies to them was for their own business interest alone, it would be different issue but government sold it to them so that they could improve it in the over riding interest of Nigeria. If Nigeria still complains therefore of having no light and it is found out that it is not the problem of generation but distribution, then, the DISCOs should know that they are the problem. Also, there is the need for the people to cooperate with the power producers to ensure stable supply. I am confident that with the cooperation of the people, we will get it right as far as the power sector is concerned in this country.
How do you mean?
We have many new estates being developed and those builders don’t provide information about their electricity need. How are we sure that available power will cover those new estates if the people generating, transmitting and distributing don’t have information? This kind of thing increases the burden on generation, transmission and distribution of power supply. People, in this aspect too, will have to cooperate with the power distribution companies; this is the way to go. It doesn’t help when there is no information about consumption level. We should know what our requirement is and then it will help our policy on generation and the type of distribution facility to take care of that requirement. I am confident about our country. We have the people, we have the resources.