Ichie Damian Okeke Ogene is the National Vice President of Ohaneze Ndigbo. In this interview with ECHEZONA OKAFOR, he speaks on the 2023 presidential election, drug abuse among Igbo youths, and other sundry issues
What is the position of Ohaneze Ndigbo as regards the 2023 Igbo presidency projects?
Ohaneze believes in equity, fairness and justice. The agitations across Nigeria by Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Oduduwa groups, Niger Delta militants and others are a result of injustice. If you address some injustices in this country, some of these agitations will be over.
Looking at the whole situation, the South-East is the only geopolitical zone that has not produced the president of this country. Ohaneze is working towards that. Also, we encourage individuals who are presidential materials and have the capacity to run the race to indicate their interests.
During the time of Alex Ekwueme and Chuba Okadigbo, we have many presidential candidates from the South-East that were ably qualified. I believe we still have a good number of them now. But the only problem is that some of them are shying away from the race because of the cost implication. Ohaneze cannot present a candidate but we can support a candidate that is acceptable to Nigerians.
There is one thing many people don’t understand about the Igbo people. When we have a credible and acceptable candidate from Igbo extraction, we have Igbo millionaires that are capable of funding the project. Funding may not even come from the Igbo people alone.
Don’t be surprised that when Igbo people present a good candidate that is capable of changing the face of Nigeria, Hausa, Yoruba and other Nigerians, who want the progress of the country, will back him up. In the past, Igbo people have been funding presidential projects of northerners, south westerners and other Nigerians. We would also want to see such benevolence from other Nigerians towards the Igbo.
Is there any step Ohaneze Ndigbo is taking to curry sympathy from other zones concerning the Igbo presidential projects?
Yes, we have gone very far in our consultations. We’ve consulted the Niger Delta, Afanifere, Middle-Belt, and the Arewa. We’re talking of taking over power, so it is not going to be easy. Power is in the oven, it is never in the freezer. So, when you’re looking for the power you have to fight for it.
However, the Igbo presidency project has got good support from Edwin Clark. Clerk made it clear that if Nigeria wanted equity, fairness and justice, Igbo should be given a chance. Some Yorubas and Hausas are also speaking out
How do you think the president of Igbo extraction could be different from what we used to see?
Nigerian president of Igbo extraction will go a long way in rebuilding the country. Igbo people are builders, not destroyers.
An Igbo man, unlike any other Nigerian, has a stake in any nook and cranny of this country including Sambisa Forest. So, the materialization of the Igbo presidency project in 2023 will be a step forward in guaranteeing the safety of everybody. It will be the beginning of true change, and the right step towards a better Nigeria.
Could restructuring be possible in Nigeria without it being enshrined in the constitution?
There are things Americans are doing today that are enshrined in their constitution. There are other conventional ways of doing things. In Nigeria, for instance, there are no six zonal structures until Ekwueme and others came up with the idea in a constitutional conference.
Today, everybody that rejected it is seeing the benefits of the structure. The elements of restructuring have been there at the First Republic before the war. So, reintroducing it cannot be anything new to Nigeria. It will only entrench stability.
For instance, if we had state police, which many people believe will be abused by governors it will be for the benefit of the country. How could you bring an officer from Sokoto to maintain law and order in a remote village in Anambra where he knows nothing or very little about it? So, whether restructuring is in the constitution or not I believe that whatever people adopt, which suits them is constitutional.
What is the view of Ohaneze Ndigbo on the recent move by some Igbo leaders to persuade President Buhari to release Mazi Nnamdi Kanu?
One cannot expect the President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Prof. Obiozor, to be at the forefront of everything. Igbo is too big. So, several departments are created and different people are assigned different roles to play.
So, the move by the respected Igbo elders towards securing the release of Nnamdi Kanu is s step in the right direction. Whatever they say in their discussion with Mr President represents the aspiration of the entire Igbo people.
What do you expect of Mr President concerning such demand presented before him?
The Igbo elders did not go there to give instruction to Mr President. They went there to present a request. Mr President heard their requests and he said he would look into it. So, let us watch and see what comes out of it. At the same time, we must learn to guard our tongues and our behaviours. When you are looking for something, you must show some humility.
As I said earlier, agitations are arising as a result of inequality and Ohaneze is of the opinion that if Nigeria is well restructured to ensure equity, Igbos are an integral part of the one indivisible Nigeria but if that is not done Igbos remain Biafrans.
In the recently concluded Anambra guber election, some shortfalls were noticed in the INEC’s bimodal machines; thereby, compromising the success of the election. What is your advice to INEC concerning future elections?
With the situation on the ground before and during the Anambra governorship election, people saw that there was no possibility for an election to be conducted. For this reason, and because of prevailing cases of insecurity, some people trained to handle such machines absconded, then, emergency people were recruited.
In some areas, the operators did not understand how to operate such machines. If Anambra had a peaceful atmosphere, and the machines functioned well, there wouldn’t be any problem in the process. The only thing I will say is that as it is applied in the east let it also be applied in the north and in the south.
I also believe that as time progresses, Nigeria will get to the height where one will stay in the comfort of his house and vote for a candidate of his choice, without necessarily moving from one place to the other to do it, provided you’re registered in that constituency.
What is your advice to the Anambra governor-elect, Prof. Charles Soludo?
The expectation is too high for the governor-elect. People believe he is Jesus Christ that can perform miracles. But if Soludo can get up to 50 per cent of what Anambra people are expecting of him, he has performed. But the stake is too high. Many people are going to sleep, believing that Soludo has come to do the needed magic. There is a lot to be done in Anambra. So, people should not over expect miracles from him. Being an economist, he should be allowed to settle down and plan. People should not expect him to get up one day and transform Anambra. It is not true.
What is your view about the indiscriminate consumption of Mkpulummili among Nigerian youths?
This is another wave of crisis that almost supersedes the negative effect of COVID-19. This is a development that if not well handled, is capable of destroying Nigerian youths.
It is unfortunate that we’re witnessing this type of thing, especially now that Igbo elders, who hope to have youths that will take after we are phasing out. I cry whenever I see any of them being tied to the stake and beaten up; especially if such a person dies in the process. In as much as corporal punishment is allowed to some extent, it is not to such an extent of giving the victim many strikes of cane or being beaten to stupor.
Imagine somebody, who is already dying as a result of the effects of hard drugs, and requires to be reformed being tied to a stake and punished with one hundred strokes of the cane.
Few strokes are enough to caution them, then, the government can come in to take up the rehabilitation. Though we appreciate what the town unions and youth are doing in that regard, yet punishment given to victims should be done in moderation.
Is Ohaneze Ndigbo doing anything in this regard?
The people that have the grip on the grassroots are the town unions and traditional rulers and they are both integral parts of Ohaneze Ndigbo. They are the people who know the kind of youths they have in their domains.
We can only give our advice and our advice has been that victims of this drug addiction should not be killed – they should be spared and rehabilitated.
How would you suggest these drug addicts be handled in communities as against being meted with corporal punishments?
The town union alone cannot solve this problem. But they can arrest the addicts, punish them minimally and send them to the rehabilitation centres where the state will take over.
Do you think all state governments have the facility for such rehabilitation?
If any state does not have an existing facility, they should set up one. They cannot afford to fold their hands washing our future leaders being wasted away.
How would you advise communities and the state in checking sources of supply of these hard drugs?
If you’re treating only the consumers and the sources of supply are still alive, you have not done anything. I can also tell you that communities cannot stop the sources of supply themselves.
They can only give information. It is the government machinery that stops the source of supply. What you need from the community is information.
Regrettably, sometimes when you give such information, and suspects are arrested before you get to your home, they’re already released by law enforcement agencies.
The same people you give information to will still go back to tell them this is the source of our information and they will be a threat to your life.
This is why people look the other side when they see things going bad in society because the informants are not protected by the authorities that are supposed to do that.