Senator Ebenezer Ikeyina is a national leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and a former Senator who represented Anambra Central at the Senate. Ikeyina believes that the issue of insecurity should be given more attention and called on President Muhammadu Buhari to halt the spate of killings and kidnappings in the country. He speaks with OLADIPUPO AWOJOBI in an interview. Excerpts…
What is your thought about Igbo Presidency?
It is the turn of the region to present the next president of the country in 2023. It is the right of Igbo people for the sake of peace, justice and fairness. Other regions have got the support of Ndigbo in the past, so it is the right of the South-East people to receive the support of other regions in 2023.
There is this view that the quest for Igbo Presidency will not see the light of the day because the South East people are not united. What is your view about that? The South East people do not have to be one 100 percent united before they can work together to produce a president. When former president Olusegun Obasanjo emerged in 1999, how many Yoruba people supported him? By the way who says that Ndigbo are not united?
This is a dummy they have continued to sell to deny us of our right as citizens of this great country. I hear people say that there were discordant tunes over Ebube Agu, a regional security outfit put together by the South East governors.
If there was a misunderstanding in the way and manner the communication was related to the people or even if some people disagreed with the project, does that in any way amount to disunity among the people? I must also let you know that on this issue of president of Igbo extraction, Ndigbo are united because it is a project that is long overdue. What we are concerned about at the moment is the support of Nigerians and not the issue of unity because we have crossed the bridge already. I will also announce to you that Nigerians of thought, those who still believe in the unity of this country, have already expressed support for the region ahead of 2023.
You said that some Nigerians outside the South East region have expressed their support for Igbo Presidency, can you expatiate on that?
Yes, I did, and I will mention a few names. A Second Republic Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Abulkadir Balarabe Musa of blessed memory sometime last year said that for the sake of peace, justice and national unity, the presidency should go to the South East region of the country in 2023. He said that the clamour for the presidency to shift to the South East was justified. In fact he said that he had previously spoken at length about that.
You know who Balarabe Musa was, a man of integrity and the one who encouraged the unity of this great county. You cannot talk of peace and unity while an important ethnic group like Igbo is neglected and treated like slaves. Another important personality is Chief Edwin Clark, former Federal Commissioner for Information and South-South Leader, has said that President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor should come from the South East geo-political zone of the country. Clark had described as abominable and condemnable if any Igbo speaking person from Delta and Rivers States aspires for the exalted position because such a person speaks Igbo.
The South-South leaders went as far as saying that Ndigbo in the South-South region shouldn’t come out for presidency, but they should rather join the South East to achieve their aspiration in 2023. I was really impressed with the level of support from the Ijaw leader. He promised that they would with work with our region to make the dream a reality. These are not all, there are other well-meaning Nigerians across ethnic and religious divides that have supported this project. Ndigbo have been engaged in wide consultations and I am sure that very soon you will begin to understand what I mean.
Don’t you think that what should be of greater concern to you should be the issue of insecurity more than the much talked about presidency in 2023?
I will also tell you that they are all interwoven, insecurity and marginalization of a major tribe in the country. The people are treated as slaves; since independence, no Igbo man has been President of the country and this is a major tribe. When you look at the region in terms of everything, you will see the huge marginalization glaring at you. It is in every sector.
A group of people are not being treated as part of the whole. It will surprise you that despite this treatment, the South-East believes in one indivisible country. The region is populated by highly enterprising people and I must say that you cannot take it away from them. All over the country, you will see their businesses, you will see their investments and you will understand that wherever they settle is like a home to them.
When you get to the region, you will not see people from other regions putting up investments and taking the place as their home. But the Igbo people build factories in other parts of the country. So, how do you think the Igbo would want to go away from Nigeria? We believe in this country. But we don’t believe we should be living as slaves in the country. So, the young men who are agitating for freedom have the right to do so. The agitations you see in the region are justified because you cannot beat a child and tell that child not to cry.
I am of the view that if the government should address some of the inequalities these agitations will fizzle out. I want to also express my concern on the presence of military in the region. It is worrisome and I don’t think we deserve to have all of that.
What can you say about the insecurity in the country?
I have always said it that President Muhammadu Buhari must rise up to the occasion and ensure that peace returns to the country. We have used our economic, cultural and demographic might to contribute to peace in West Africa and in the African region. Nigeria contributed to the de-escalation of conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and most recently in the Gambia, and the country as the giant of Africa must not relent on this effort. Some of us are really worried about the level of insecurity in the country. I am particularly worried about the constant kidnapping of school children.
The huge ransom that the criminals demand to release the children is frightening. It is no longer limited to the North East and the North West regions. I will continue to appeal to Mr President because he is the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic and it shouldn’t be turned into politics.
President Buhari must use his military experience as a retired general and address the issue now. The terrorists have spread to other regions of the country, and we want to see coordinated efforts of the military in addressing the issue. It took the joint efforts of the military and other security outfits to attack and kill the leader of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), and it is worrisome that the government didn’t use the same military to check the activities of Boko Haram and bandits in the Northern region.
The legislators should also play a vital role in ensuring that we have a safe country. A country where children cannot go to school would be heading to anarchy. Parents are now at the risk of being asked to pay huge ransom to free their children. The issue at hand has gone beyond ethnic and religious sentiments, so Nigerians at all levels must be concerned.
How can you describe the insecurity in the South-East and South-South in particular?
What we see in the South-East, South- West and South-South is disturbing. When Fulani herdsmen were terrorizing the country, kidnapping for ransom, killing and destroying farmlands, the South West region of the country responded by setting up a regional security outfit which the region named; Amotekun.
The Federal Government objected to the security outfit, but all the governors of the six states in the region, with the total backing of all the stakeholders including the traditional rulers, the elders and the youth insisted until it became a reality with the States Houses of Assembly passing the bill to give it a legal backing. We learnt that in the South Eastern region, some youths, backed by Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), attempted to replicate Amotekun when they formed the Eastern Security Network, (ESN). I think the governors of the region were not comfortable with ESN and so they announced the establishment of Ebube Agu, a regional security outfit. I don’t know if it is a case of communication or not, but Ebube Agu didn’t get the support of some youths in the region.
The kind of insecurity in the two regions is really very strange because some of the killings are targeted at the security agents and destruction of police stations. The government must unravel those responsible for this. It is wrong to point accusing fingers. Efforts must be made to know the people involved because of the level of sophistication attached to the crime. I am concerned about the heavy presence of military personnel in the area. We need peace in the South-East because it used to be one of the most peaceful regions in the country.