Chief Chekwas Okorie, founder of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in this interview with Vanguard, calls on President Buhari administration to be creative in addressing Biafra agitation issue.
The agitation for Biafra has continued several decades after civil war. What is the problem?
The issue for the agitation for Biafra has to do with agitation for self-determination by people who wish to be treated with fairness, equity and justice. Most of the young men on the street agitating for Biafra were born after the war and so it looks like they do not know what led to the war. They cannot understand why their own people since they were born are invariably different from their peers in other parts of the country. The South-east has suffered the most neglect from the Federal Government of Nigeria in terms of road construction. Even under former President Jonathan’s administration, it was not any better. The Buhari’s administration has just begun, so we cannot blame him that much. The matter was not picked up because Buhari became President; the Biafran agitation had been there practically since early 90s. But if Buhari manages to address the agitation, the issue will die down. After all, the Niger-Delta militancy preceded the late President Yar’Adua. But his political moves doused the tension in that region with the initiative of amnesty. It was the mismanagement of the Boko-Haram issue by the extra judicial killings of their leader that generated trouble in that region that has turned to war in Nigeria. Arresting the agitators of the emancipation of Biafran state in my view, we have not learnt from the Boko-Haram experience.
The promoter of Biafra Radio, Nnamdi Kanu, has been arrested by the DSS sparking protests in some major Igbo towns. What is the way out?
The government should release him unconditionally. If government feels her right has been infringed upon, she can go to court to press charges against him. You are aware that he has good lawyers to defend him. If care is not taken, it will become a celebrated case that would be tried under Nigeria laws. Because we have heard about Radio Kudirat, it was not a properly registered radio. One of the ministerial nominees, Kayode Fayemi, said he had headed an illegal radio station before. Even the pro-APC radio that operated during the campaign period was not properly registered. I have not listened to Radio Biafra to know its position but I was informed that it is aggressive. It is people’s choice to decide to tune to it or not to. I understand there have been attempts to use technology to jam the frequency of the radio but the attempts appear to have failed. The arrest of Boko-Haram leader Muhammed Yusuf was given as reason for the violence and spread of Boko-Haram that has developed into a full-blown war in the North-east. The fact that so many people came out to protest the arrest of Nnamdi Kanu shows he has a very large followership! And the followership may result into violent force, if mismanaged and I don’t think Nigeria can afford another violent crisis at this point in time we are battling Boko-Haram. We were able to manage Niger-Delta militancy very well, we should device a creative way to address the issue of agitation.
But does these not show that the Igbo question has not been addressed adequately?
Precisely, that is what I imply. The Igbo expectations have not been met and government policies are not adequately implemented. The entire South-east area is ravaged by erosion, unusable roads. The Second Niger Bridge has become what politicians use as campaign. We are not even talking about representation at the centre. I believe strongly that government is yet to perform up to expectations.
But don’t you think some set of Igbo are overreacting on the issue?
The Igbo are very constrained. There are so many things that happened to Igbo leaders that will never happen to northern leaders and Nigeria will remain the same. There are so many intolerable utterances Igbo are swallowing.
Was that what led to your agitating in the last National Conference for peaceful means of break-up ingrained in our Constitution?
I saw it as a lasting solution to the whole problem. Don’t forget that every region including South, East and West has always agitated for true federalism. This true federalism has been frustrated by those benefiting from the structure Nigeria is presently running. The exit clause that I advocated for was nothing out of proportion. There is an exit clause in Ethiopian constitution. We also have an exit clause in the constitution of Canada; that is why every 10 years, there is always a referendum to review their being together. The one that took place in Scotland some time ago is an example of where there was a referendum to opt-out of United Kingdom! How did Britain handle it, they made more concession to the Scottish people and most Scottish felt with the concession there was no need opting out of a bigger union and they voted in favour of the union.
How do you think President Buhari should address the Ndigbo question?
President Buhari just assumed office. He is taking his time to organise his cabinet. Although few changes are there that benefit everybody because it is not only Igbo people that are enjoying electricity or benefit from his anti-corruption efforts, but the specific need of the South-east people is citizenship right because they are the ones who are more dispersed and more settled in other parts of Nigeria than any other ethnic group. So the citizen’s right is very crucial to the igbo interest. We expect that he addresses issues as they are brought to him. And if he is unable to address them, it will become a subject of the next election in constitutional change of power.