Former President of Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, in this interview with Geoffery Anyanwu reacted to the outburst of Dr. Junaid Mohammed against Biafra and Ndigbo in the last edition of Sunday Sun. He described him as one that is confused in the choice of words and trying to play the role of God.
Dr. Junaid Mohammed in an interview with the Sunday Sun last week described the Biafra agitators as terrorists and that Ndigbo have been using violence in their agitations, do you agree with that?
Thank you very much, Professor C.E.M. Joad of London School of Economics used to say, when you ask a question, when you say something, he starts by saying “it depends on what you mean.” When a group of people are agitating peacefully, they have gone to court to establish their case legally within the law, they don’t believe in violence, not even using strong words against anybody, then you defined them as terrorists, your dictionary must be different. Because terrorism is a thing that depicts use of physical force, terrorism is a means to make whatever point you are making. To the best of my knowledge, a lot of agitators for self-determination in Biafra are peaceful, peaceful and peaceful. Take the case of MASSOB, they are totally non-violent. Occasionally, there may be some show of youthful exuberance, but they are certainly non-violent. You cannot by any stretch of imagination or meaning of the word, brand them terrorists. Look at the other group that came under the Bilie Human Rights Initiative that constituted or that are being used by the Indigenous People of Biafra to take Nigeria to court, Federal High Court, Nigerian court, to determine whether they have right to self determination or not, as enshrined by the United Nation’s pronouncement in 2007 and 2008, adopted by African Union and by extension, by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
They want the court to give interpretation to that and you call them terrorists? If you call them terrorists, I wonder what you call people who are using bombs and ammunitions to attack, to kill, to practise arson, to sack cities and towns like the Boko Haram, I wonder what you call them. So, I totally agree that my good friend, Dr. Junaid Mohammed is confused about the use and meaning of the words he was using. He is totally confused, he is a brilliant man, but I think he used that phrase “a kettle calling a pot black, or pot calling a kettle black.” It is a reversal of role, a reversal of label, a reversal of nomenclature. He is a very brilliant man, he used that deliberately because if you want to kill a dog, you give it a bad name. I will talk to him sometime to find out what he really means because I know the reading public will be confused by his saying that.
Junaid described the Nigeria Civil war as Igbo coup alleging that since its failure, the Igbos have been in the habit of being violent in their agitations for positions. What is your take on that?
Well again, I disagree with him completely and absolutely. He should go and read the book by the five Majors, “Why we struck.” A coup sometimes succeeds absolutely, sometimes succeeds partially, and sometimes fails. We’ve seen many coups in Nigeria. Some succeeded, and some failed, and when it fails in some parts and succeeds in some parts, you can give it any type of interpretation. But let him go back to history, maybe he has forgotten, may be he was outside the country when all these things started. First of all, there was a lot of killing of people, after the election of 1964 or thereabout. There was a lot of trouble in the Western Region. The West was described as “wild West”, a lot of fighting, burning, arson. A sole administrator in the person of Dr. Moses Majekodunmi was appointed to be administrator for Western Region. Then things started and the Igbos were singled out for elimination, and then they said alright let us go to our home land. They came from the North, from the West and moved into the East, the Easterners mainly, because the Igbos are more populous it would look as if it were only Igbos. The Easterners in general. And they said alright, since Nigeria doesn’t want us, let us be on our own, let us become a state of our own; Republic of Biafra declared after a lot of consultations. Soon after, the head of Nigerian government, Yakubu Gowon declared that to keep Nigeria one was a task that must be achieved, forgetting too that earlier on, almost within a matter of weeks or months, he had said that the basis for Nigerian unity did no more exist and that was widely publicized. And you know once you say such a thing, it cannot even be retracted, people still remember that.
Then to say that when Igbos don’t get something, they start fighting, is a wrong interpretation, a wrong conclusion. When they don’t get something, they may complain but Igbos have not started any wars anywhere in this country. I repeat, people of Biafra or the Easterners have not started any war anywhere in this country. The militants in the creeks yes, they were abducting people to extract money because their environment was devastated by pollution and the government seemed not to be sympathetic. The Ken Saro Wiwa saga, all of us know how it started and how it ended, summary trial, summary execution even without allowing time for appeal. Apart from that, MASSOB is non-violent, IPOB is non-violent, LNC is non-violent, and how then can you be saying that if they don’t get anything they start agitating. Let me make it clear because there is a mistake in people’s mind that the agitation by Biafrans started when Jonathan lost the election. I will tell you authoritatively that the Supreme Council of the Indigenous People of Biafra using Bilie Human Rights Initiative had taken Nigeria to the Federal High Court as far back as 2012. At that time, Jonathan was the President of this country. The case went on then, and suffered a technical problem, and was re-listed in 2013. At that time, Jonathan was still President of this country. The case has been going on, then it came up again on the 15th of December, 2015 and now adjourned to 30th of March 2016. All these are going on without any violence, without even any street demonstration. These street demonstrations started only recently. It is unfortunate that it started, and maybe the thing was infiltrated because they started out totally non-violent, whether as an activity of MASSOB or activity of any of the groups they were talking of non-violence. So how can you be using derogatory terms? They are showing maturity, polish and finesse. instead of appreciating them, you turn round and call them terrorists. Those calling them terrorists have not seen terrorists. He should go to the north-eastern part of Nigeria. He might see something that resembles terrorists.
Now, the coup as I said, failed in some parts of the country and succeeded in some parts. It wasn’t an Igbo coup, it wasn’t carried out by Igbo people alone. Don’t forget too that some Igbos were killed, some high ranking Igbo officers were killed. Lt. Col. Authur Unegbe who refused to surrender the key to the armory as an Igbo man from Anambra state, he was killed. So how can you be saying it was Igbo coup. There are Yorubas in it who took active part in the planning and execution, there were Igbos and there were Igbos who were so detribalized that they pulled out, they were Nigerians per excelas an Igbo man from Anambra lence, Kaduna Nzeogwu, Igbo by birth but northerner by place of birth and education and orientation, he was a northerner. Please don’t say it was an Igbo coup, it has been canvassed and it was well discovered that it was not an Igbo coup. The name Igbo coup was coined in order to justify the retaliation, the harassment and hounding of the Igbos, and the pogrom committed against them. This tendency to kill the Igbos had been going on for a long time going back to 1948. The riot in Jos, in 1953 and so on and so forth, is not new. The Igbos are not the most loved ethnic group in Nigeria and the love or hatred is a result of the entrepreneurship of the Igbo. He is a hard worker, dependable, tenacious, has entrepreneurship spirit, has tenacity and capacity to turn a stumbling block to a stepping stone, and others don’t like it.
It was even the ingenuity of the Igbos that made the British government, Russia, Egypt to help Nigeria to suppress the Biafrans, hence the statement, “in Biafra, Africa died.” It was a well known and planned thing because the Igbo ingenuity was going to industrialize Nigeria, and Britain will lose a chunk of its market. That was why the plan was, to use the Shell company, draw a plan of how to progressively encircle the Igbos so that they will become exterminated. We have the information, progressively to carve out and squeeze the Igbos from all corners so that they won’t have a breathing space. But the Igbos unfortunately, thank God, are still surviving and will continue to survive, whether you like it or not. It is not in the making of human beings, it is the making of the Supreme deity. The Igbos must survive and Biafra will also survive.
In the same publication, Dr. Junaid talked about two Igbo Army Chiefs of staff, Ironsi and Ihejirika. He said that they did not qualify for the position but were considered for the sake of balancing, claiming that incompetence and lack of education contributed to Ironsi’s tragedy which threw the nation into civil war. On Ihejirika, he alleged that he was the most corrupt General, only cared for his Igbo people in the army. Your take on this Sir?
Well, it is very easy to give somebody a bad mark and fail the person. Ironsi was Head of State for barely six months. You could not honestly say he has defined his plan or his focus or his mission before he was betrayed and assassinated. As for General Ihejirika, the things Junaid is saying am sorry I don’t know about them but let us watch it because some of these statements may be libelous and somebody may take action against him. I don’t want to pour petrol on a fire that is already raging. It is easy to single out an ethnic group and pour insults on them, discredit them for everything they have done, give them bad marks even when they excelled, it is very easy. I won’t join issue with Dr. Junaid Mohammed. On the issue of insulting people or accusing people of incompetence or lack of education, I can tell you that I am sure that Aguiyi Ironsi did not promote himself, nor did Ihejirika promote himself. I am certain about that because they didn’t get their positions through the barrel of the gun. If they did, then it would be a different matter. Some people got there by the barrel of the gun and performed the way they could, good or bad. We are not talking about it now, going to dig into the performance of someone who was just there for six months and give him a low grade mark and even insult his intelligence, insult his education. He was the best Nigeria had then. He was the best, after all we’ve had Heads of State that did not go to secondary school, or did not go to a university. We are not denigrating them because of that. Passing primary six is not passing sense; you may have 10 PHDs and still be an idiot if you don’t have common sense. So book education is neither here nor there, show common sense, then we know you are a man. I will say that with a measure of confidence that all those people promoted during the time of Ihejirika or any other Army Chief certainly deserved the promotions. I am sure they were, not just given out as Christmas presents to shoe shiners and bootlickers, they were on merit. And you know in the Army, when you go too fast, your colleagues will ask questions. When you are stagnated nobody will ask, that is what I have observed in the army, though am not in the army. Because you will see somebody who will say so and so is his course mate and that his course mate has become a Major General, Lt. General and he is still at most Lt. Colonel or a Colonel.
If we want to talk we must know that Nigeria has a problem or has many problems, and one of which is ethnicity, and it is not always the best persons that get the highest positions. Ethnicity is rife, from the north to the coast, from our boundary with Niger to our boundary with Atlantic ocean, from our boundary with Dahomey (Benin Republic) to our boundary with Camerouns, you see ethnicity, you see forces of nepotism here and there, and it is not a mark of any ethnic group in particular. It is the mark of Nigeria of today.
Talking of nepotism, Dr. Junaid Mohammed also alleged that nepotism is the stock in trade of the Igbos, and that they cannot be trusted with leadership, that when they get positions they step on other people’s rights and responsibilities?
I am a little bit disappointed that somebody like Junaid Mohammed is trying to be God. By all these his pronouncements, he is playing the role of God, and I feel it is unfortunate saying that Igbos will never do this, or never do that, it is okay. If they will never, as we say in Hausa, if they can is in the hand of God, if they can’t, is in the hand of God . But it is not in the hand of Junaid Mohammed or people who talk and think like him.
Then how can you describe the Igbos?
Hard working, dedicated, dependable, accountable, even handed, they see the whole canvas. If an Igbo man is the President of this country today, the first thing he will do is to look at the whole map of the country. If there is need for light anywhere he makes sure that there is that light all over the country. If there is need for water to run in any part of the country, he makes it run in every part of the country. He will go and pick people that are capable from across the whole Nigerian horizon, irrespective of religion, tribal inclination, membership of any association. They are even-handed in dishing out things, in dishing out whatever they have and if that is a sign of incompetence, then they have it, but if it is sign of fair mindedness, sense of justice and equity, they have it.
He also said that Igbos are many in neigbhouring countries and were are because of Nigeria and could not have accepted if not for Nigeria, I don’t understand what he means by that, what of you?
I don’t know what he means by that, Igbos are certainly everywhere in all parts of the world. They are itinerant, they move around. But I don’t know how he can say that it is because of Nigeria that they are accepted, and I can’t understand that. It takes some explanations. The Igbos travel out, they go to many places, in countries where Nigeria has diplomatic service or diplomatic relationship, in countries where they don’t, they go there and they survive, because they are survivors. Wherever they go, they are meant to shine, and if they are given opportunity they rise to the top, it provokes a lot of jealousy it is not unexpected. It provokes a lot of name calling and labeling, is not unexpected. You see, we have an Igbo proverb that says when two men go into the bush to gather firewood, if one gathers more firewood than the other, the one who gathered less will come out and say the one who gathered more gathered in the bad bush, where nobody should enter. That’s why she gathered more firewood. The Igbos gather firewood wherever they go, and people will say they cut corners, they give them all sorts of name, and they say they succeed because of Nigeria, of course they are Nigerians. So if they are Nigerians why wouldn’t they benefit from the shadows of Nigeria. Can you deny them everything? You haven’t allowed them to go to Biafra. They are still in Nigeria and you will even deny them traveling with Nigerian passport for whatever it is worth. So it is a twisted mind that will be arguing like that, I don’t think Junaid Mohammed’s mind is twisted, he is just cunning.
Looking at the agitation and all that is going on now, as an Elder Statesman, how would you want the government to handle the issue?
First of all, don’t go violent, don’t call out the soldiers, call out the diplomats, and negotiate with them. When a child is crying the best way to assuage the child is son why are you crying? Is it because you haven’t had food or do you have boil somewhere that is paining you, or is any injury somewhere paining you? Ask that question sincerely and when you have found out, assuage it, deal with it. I am a medical doctor and the process of medical practice is listen to the history, then you make diagnosis. Diagnosis is three quarter of the battle. Then you apply the remedy. Let Nigeria know that there is a lot of anger in the country, a lot of dissatisfaction, unemployment, decayed infrastructure, inequity. Read the papers, you see the amount of money that is being bandid around, given to this man, given to that man, for what purpose? And yet some state governments are not able to pay salaries to workers who are working, they are not able to pay pensioners and yet a lot of money is being thrown around left, right and centre. Mismanagement of the economy, mismanagement of resources, uneven distribution of amenities and patronage, all these are things that spark off disaffection. Let us look at them with dispassion, with fatherly attitude. If you are elected President, Governor, Senator, House of Reps member, to local government chairman, once the election is over, you will represent the entire constituency irrespective of who voted for you or who didn’t. Irrespective of your ethnicity, irrespective of religious association, irrespective of your other considerations, you are representing the entire constituency. If you are executive governor, you are executing for the entire state. If you do an uneven distribution, people will grumble. We have a saying in Igbo that if you distribute well, people will tell you to continue, but if you play partiality people will say no, you should come down.
Some people believe Igbos will be the same people that will oppose the Biafra issue, what do you think?
There is no single topic you raise where there are 10 people and they will all agree on it. Many men, many mentalities. The Igbos are republicans by nature, they don’t do follow, follow, Oga has said. That is why sometimes some people say Igbo enwe eze which is a very wrong statement and given wrong interpretation. Yes, you cannot get unanimity of opinion on one issue. Look at something as fundamental and important as the existence of God, many people say that God exists, but there are people who say there is no God. There are others who say they don’t know. So why is that surprising to you that when you talk about an issue, you don’t get 100 per cent support. It is not easy. What we are talking about is if you get majority of people agreeing, that is the essence of democracy, even though sometimes in your exercise of principle of democracy you enthrone the tyranny of the minority.
Do not think that there is a monolithic thinking, the Igbos think freely, they are a bundle of free thinkers. It shouldn’t surprise you that some may not support the agitation, and it will be a miracle if more than 70 per cent support it. That is the way of life.
Let me say that it does not make sense or build friendship and better understanding for anybody to start denigrating any ethnic group. It is not gentlemanly, it is not criticism, it is hitting below the belt, let us face the issues rather than casting invectives on other’s egos. It is cruel, juvenile and improper. (Sunday Sun)