Prof. Nathaniel Aniekwu is the Secretary of Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), a body of Igbo intelligentsia and others with the main objective of protecting and ensuring the survival of Ndigbo, their culture and civilization as well as the development of Igbo land. In this interview with EMMANUEL IFEANYI, he speaks on rising insecurity, the economy, government policies and the fate of the Igbo nation in the Nigerian federation
What is your reaction to the Water Resource Bill as it concerns Igbo land?
The bill is consistent with the mad quest of our current leadership to consolidate power at the centre, where they feel they have the power to hold it. Meanwhile, this is in direct conflict with the will of the people that power should devolve from the centre to the regions. It is obnoxious and doomed to fail because we are no longer asleep or disinterested. If these domination attempts continue, Nigeria cannot know peace and therefore have no real progress.
Ensuring the security of lives and property of Nigerians seems a difficult for Federal Government at moment, what is your take on that?
I honestly do not think the difficulty is as a result of lack of resources as much as the lack of understanding of what leadership is about and the utter disregard and insensitivity to the plight of the citizens. With the militarization of the public psych over the years, empathy no longer has any role in our society. The cardinal mandate of any government is to use the power those that are led have given in trust to them to maintain the welfare and security of the led. When a government can no longer fulfill these functions, the state or government is said to have failed. Failure can be catastrophic or functional. Thus the fact that we still have people occupying the government houses and bearing titles does not mean that we still have a state. The entire world has declared Nigeria the poverty capital of the world and a failed state. Think about it.
As an Igbo leader, should this current wave of insecurity persist, what will be the way forward for Ndigbo?
It is the first instinct in all living things to try to survive. In fact the whole idea of sustainability including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is about survival and sustenance. The implication of this fact is that any creature threatened will instinctively respond in defence with whatever it has. This will happen even when the responsibilities for the defence have been handed over to an organ; whether they are effective or not. Hence the net effect of the continued wave of insecurity and threat to life is that those threatened will rise in natural and instinc-tive response to their humanity, to defend themselves. This may result in anarchy or a state of anomie, but only the living knows the meaning of anarchy. For Ndigbo, not only that internal cohesion is imperative but also integrating in a union of the agreed is very necessary. Leadership is overly critical in attaining these objectives and this is where the paradigm shift is called for. Leadership must be looked at from the point of view of the governed at the micro-level of the society, a leadership that is organic and evolves from the people and not a leadership foisted on the people by a band of degenerates. Leadership paradigm shift is needed to look at the Igbo man as he is; what his essence is and try to appeal to that essence. Being republican in his core essence means that you cannot lead him the same way you lead the Yoruba or Hausas. A leadership that achieves this will have a followership similar to what we had with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in the First Republic or the followership General Odumegwu Ojukwu had during the war.
What do you think is the major problem stopping Ndigbo from investing at home considering what they are doing in Lagos and Abuja?
The problem is simply the loss of values that prevailed since after the war. Ndigbo have always been a sojourning people and that is why we have such values as articulated in such Igbo sayings: Ojemba enwe iro (we need peace more than the average person and therefore cannot have enemies); nwanne di na’mba (in your place of sojourn are people who will relate like kith and kin to you, grow all); onye njem na’aka onye isi awo ama (the sojourner grows wiser as he journeys along and meets other traditions different from his own). This is an indication of the place of sojourning in our culture. But there are other values such as: aku ruo’ulo: (you are not wealthy until your wealth has come home); onye ije ga’ala (every visitor will eventually go home); isi nwaeze adighi ato na’mba (you must return to your original place especially in death). This is why we take our deceased home for burial. Be sure that you have a place to be carried to when you pass on to eternity. The implication is the imperativeness of returning home, even in death. No matter how much wealth you make outside, as long as your kinsmen have not seen it, you are miserably poor. If you need the Nigerian Police and other security agents to escort you home to your village, then you are even worse than miserable. However, the new age sojourners no longer remember the second part of those wisdom keys. Alaigbo is totally out of the Federal Government development equation, from the evidences of our realities. Any progress in Alaigbo must be home grown and organic. This is the real essence of the ADF’s “Aku ruo ulo” programme.
Do you think the current Federal Government is fair to Ndigbo in terms of infrastructural development?
Alaigbo has almost no federal presence, no infrastructure, receives the least budgetary allocations and have the least representation in all the arms of the Federal Government. This is not a random occurrence, rather a deliberate action lifted from an articulated playbook for the continued domination of Ndigbo. Nigeria is frightened of Ndigbo and that is the only way they think they can use to keep us in check. But we are consoled because sooner than later water will find its level. The initial morphed face of the agenda started in 1970 and was aimed at strangulating the region through infrastructural/ economic deprivation. The Federal Government policy of offering 20 pounds in return for any amount of wealth deposits an Igbo person had in the bank, especially in the face of the 3Rs (Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction) programme of reestablishing the region was not accidental. This was quickly followed by the Nigeria Enterprises Promotion Decree of 1972, which had as one of its main objectives to promote Nigerian indigenous enterprises with a view to increasing indigenous equity participation in the national economy. We were supposed to acquire this equity with the balance of the 20 pounds after feeding. What our transducers did not bargain for is the indomitable spirits of the average Igbo person, which cannot be rendered null and void economically, as long as they are alive. Alaigbo is faring very well given the numerous and insurmountable challenges thrown at her. All economic indices show that in spite of the war against them, marginalization and exclusion from participation in the governance of Nigeria, Ndigbo continue to be very competitive and are very far from being worse off among the Nigerian states. Ndigbo can however do better. That is why as ADF, we started the Aku ruo ulo programme, which has gained considerable prominence since 2016. We reasoned that if only 20 per cent of Ndigbo with businesses outside Alaigbo should open business outlets in Alaigbo and employ one or more people to man them, we can easily create over a million jobs. The implication is that our teaming unemployed youths who are currently being exploited by unscrupulous politicians and the likes will no longer be available. Crime rate will diminish and when this new team become paying members of their town and development unions, Alaigbo will have enough funds to undertake any socio-economic projects they decide to undertake.
Are you comfortable with the recently commissioned Akanu Ibiam International Airport as reports had that it was commissioned uncompleted?
I am quite happy with the progress so far. What happened was the partial completion or partial handover of the project. The only not too unusual thing is the elaborate ceremony that went with the partial reopening of the airport. But given our propensity for absurdity, it was not a surprise. This is perfectly normal in high profile projects with irregular funding. I do hope the project is still classified as ongoing. It is a major thing for the Capital of Alaigbo to be totally cut off from the rest of the world. Some of us could not travel home for Christmas last year due to lack of access. That is a big deal. For Ndigbo, it is through our regular gathering that we initiate and undertake projects for the development of our place, which our governments seem incapable of implementing.
Igbo land is blessed with human and natural resources to develop; do you think the current day leaders have done enough considering what was achieved during Michael Okpara’s era?
Indeed Igbo land is blessed with considerable human and natural resources, however, in the current milieu, all natural endowments are vested in the central government,which accounts for why the concession for the Enugu Coal Mines was given to a Northern firm, which do not seem interested in developing the resources. There are systemic impediments to developing the resources in Alaigbo even if we have all the resources and the capital. Our current leaders in Alaigbo can of course do much better in spite of the circumstances. They are not only misguided but lack corporate intelligence. But no one can give what he does not have. A situation where a governor is spending billions of naira of state funds building an airport, where his people do not have access to their homes, no water to drink, very poor security, no health facilities, poor basic living conditions and are rated as mostly living below the poverty line. Only these leaders know who is playing the music they are dancing to. Today, they have better access to information, technology and developmental models, yet they remain in mental stupor. However, it will not be fair to compare them to the Okpara era. The conditions were much different then. They did not have to be begging, cap in hand, for their meagre statutory allocation to be released to them nor do they have to be paying “protection” fee to remain in office.
Many industries established by the Okpara administration are moribund, what is your message to Igbo governors on this?
Actually, most industries in Alaigbo, both government-owned and private industries have closed down due to a combination of reasons. Deliberate Federal Government strangulation policies which frustrated the continued functioning of these industries in Alaigbo, ineptitude and lack of vision by our leaders and a total lack of commitment to the welfare of the people they lead. Otherwise the first question for our leaders will be; all those who became displaced by the closure of these entities, how are they surviving now? Where are they, how many were affected and how are their families surviving? Leadership is both a privilege and a high calling because the authority and power that goes with the office is held in trust for the public. A leader is supposed to serve the people he leads and cater to their welfare and security. You have been given this unique privilege and opportunity to serve. Sooner or later this opportunity will dissipate and what will be your lot? But there is a price to be paid. Often this price can only be paid with the blood of the leader. Will you end up and be remembered like Julius Nyerere, Michael Okpara, Kwame Nkrumah, Barack Obama and the likes or will you be remembered like, Sgt Samuel Doe of Liberia, Jean-Bedel Bokassa of Central African Republic and Saddam Hussein, among others.
Is the ADF in support of the Igbo president agenda?
There is nothing wrong with having an Igbo president. In fact, it will be an advantage, but it is not the solution to our problems. How does a president of Igbo extraction function in a system where he is totally beholden to Northern leaders? He cannot get any bill through the legislature without their support; he has the least representation in the entire governance architecture, not because he does not have the numbers but because the system is structurally skewed against him. Beyond Igbo presidency, we are asking for a renegotiation of the basis of the union called Nigeria, It must be a union of the agreed and equal partners.
What effects do you think failure to have a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction will have on the country in 2023?
I am not a prophet but I think that the agitation for self-determination which is gaining currency will not abate until Nigeria is restructured in some form. These agitations are not about the colour or mother tongue of the president. As I said earlier, if we have a president of Igbo extraction, it will be good but will not have any fundamental effect. We have had a group of people foist servitude on the majority of the country and that is not sustainable by any stretch of imagination. If I should borrow from the American creed “all men are born equal and endowed by their creator the alienable right to freedom and pursuit of happiness.” ADF articulated this same concept as a demand for her citizens to be able to live a life of dignity and self-confidence, co-exist and live at peace with their neighbours, capable of protecting their lives as well as their collective and individual interests, apply their Godgiven talents and endowments for the betterment of themselves and the entire human race, do honor to the spirit of their ancestors and serve their God without let or hindrance.