What emotion is coursing through you as the body of Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu is brought to his people?
It is not a day for rejoicing, but a day for sober reflection and introspection. I feel a sense of loss.
As a man who fought for self-determination over 40 years ago, what do you make of the renewed calls for a Sovereign National Conference?
I will say that Ojukwu was the first to envision that if Nigeria was to remain a true federation, each region should be allowed to fashion out the best way to relate with the others. This was misunderstood and now they are trying to replicate it by calling for a national conference or Sovereign National Conference. Ojukwu found out many years ago, before the arrival of the Europeans, that there is a coastline area called the Bight of Biafra. He argued that the choice of the name Biafra was not for the Ndigbo alone, but for the old South-Eastern region. This is a legacy we fought for and we pray that it should be actualised. Every person who carried arms to fight war in defence of those being chased away from the country was Biafran. That legacy must be maintained or else the reason for the war would have been defeated and the reason was for self-actualisation.
Do you still hold on to the dream that Biafra can be actualised?
Very much. Before the modern map of Africa was drawn, you could see the area that is called the Southern Cameroun and Eastern region, as we know today, was one of the states in those days. It was the coming of the British that made us have a plebiscite that made the Cameroonian part to join the Cameroons. The rest of it was known as Biafra and it didn’t come as a result of the war.
At what point did you people adopt the name Biafra?
You don’t fight a war without a nomenclature. We chose the name Biafra, which our forefathers gave us before the advent of the colonial masters.
Over 40 years after the civil war, have the Ndigbo been fully re-absorbed into Nigeria?
The tragedy of everything is that the South-Easterner is the only person who gives his best to the ambition of a Yoruba or Northerner seeking the topmost political position in Nigeria. But when he seeks power at the centre, the Yoruba and Northerners turn him down. I don’t know why that happens. But Ojukwu was always telling us to come together to achieve political power. We don’t want economic power. What we want is political power at the centre. This is because once you have the political power, you have everything. This is why those who have been holding political power before the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan think that they must rule and die without letting power slip out of their hands. We must stop this. Come 2015, it is the turn of an Igbo man to become the president of this country. An Igbo man must hold power at the centre. If not, we are ready to assist Jonathan to continue.
Some people believe that the Igbo are being gradually re-absorbed, given that an Igbo man had occupied the position of the Inspector General of Police, another was appointed Chief of Army Staff and Ojukwu is being given a national burial…
Why should it be gradual? I don’t even like the kind of statement you just made. Without the Igboman or somebody from the South-East, the Nigerian Government would have collapsed. Why must we continue to play second fiddle? As far as I am concerned, it is wrong for us to be saying ‘we want recognition’. Ojukwu didn’t ask for this particular national burial. What he wanted was self-determination. The right of every region is to feel that they belong if Nigeria must be a reality. Why should they be recognising us now? Recognising what? When it comes to ambassadors, ministers, federal permanent secretaries and vice-president, you will find us. But the only area you will not find an Igbo man is the presidency. Why must it be so? Why must they continue downgrading us? Your question should be: Why must it be now that they are realising that Ojukwu was right and deserved national honour?
Boko Haram in the North is calling for an Islamic state. Is that not self-determination?
I laugh when people quake and shiver at the mention of Boko-Haram. When MEND was operating in the Niger Delta, were you shivering? All we were saying was let us appeal to them not to disrupt the economy of the country. MASSOB is there. What were we telling them? Nigeria belongs to all of us. About 1.5 million people died during the civil war. More than half of them are Igbos, Ijaws, Iteskiris, Urhobos and only a handful of people from the North and the West, yet they claim the Nigerian federation.
You have not answered the question.
Boko Haram is not a synonym for arms struggle. MEND has done it. MASSOB does it. Why should the issue of Boko Haram be different? If they want the same treatment meted out to MASSOB and MEND, it should be meted out to them.
What do you mean by what was meted out to MEND should be meted to Boko Haram?
When MEND started operating in the Niger Delta, it did not take former President Olusegun Obasanjo a long time to move to Odi, which he considered an enclave of MEND and levelled it. It did not take the same Obasanjo time to promulgate a law called treasonable felony against MASSOB when the group became violent. The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua granted amnesty to MEND and shipped all the main fighters of MEND abroad. Immediately the real members of MEND left the shores of this country, Boko Haram came up. We are no fools. We watch the trends of events in Nigeria. We are prepred to remain in Nigeria the way we want to be. Not the way other people want us to.
Who wears Ojukwu’s big shoes?
Our tradition is that when somebody dies, until he is laid to rest, you don’t start talking about who wears his shoes. I have been hearing and reading in the papers stories on who wears Ikemba’s shoes. Nobody in Igboland imposes himself on the people. The people will make their choice when the time comes. Ikemba himself did not do that. The people themselves acclaimed him and accepted him.
– Via thenewsafrica.com