Dr Dozie Ikedife, a Scottish trained medical doctor was the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, a Pan Igbo group. He is the Vice Chairman of Elders Council of the Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB), and known for telling blunt truth. In This Interview with DAVID-CHYDDY ELEKE, he speaks on the internal wrangling in IPOB and Nigeria’s politics.
The IPOB executed the sit at home strike last week, which crippled economic activities in the South East, What message do you think this sends to the government of Nigeria?
To me, the success and failure of the sit at home strike is a reflection of the acceptance and non acceptance of the quest for self determination by the eastern region, the people of Biafraland. From report of various centres, it was clear that the sit at home order was successful as various markets were shut, banks were shut in places and businesses were shut and people did actually sit at home.
They did not sit at home for fear of being molested by anyone, but they sat at home as a reflection of their commitment and belief in the quest for self determination. The message to Nigeria is that they should know that the people of South East and South South have been neglected, marginalized and excluded from the centre state of Nigeria, politically, economically and otherwise. We have a strong adage in Igboland, which says that a man who is rejected does not reject himself. By the action of the federal government, long before Buhari’s time, it shows that that the people of the South East and the South South are not really seriously accepted as equal citizens in the Nigerian society. The agitation for self determination and the actualization of Biafra started as a whisper, then grew as a shout that even the deaf today can hear.
There was a statement credited to the president, Gen Muhammadu Buhari, and I hope he was quoted correctly, and he said we should forget Biafra. As far as many people from the South East and South South are concerned, we can never forget Bikafra; Biafra is not to be forgotten. How can you forget Biafra if during the Nigeria Biafra conflict you lost your mother or your father, or your son, or your close friend, and your children were starved to death. How can you forget Biafra when at the end of the war it was said that the idea was no victor, no vanquished, and that there will be rehabilitation, reconciliation and reconstruction and the first reconstruction was building the third mainland bridge, when even up till now, some buildings destroyed in Biafraland have not been repaired. Economic structures, Oji power station, Coal Corporation, Emene industries, PRODA have all been left to die. How can you forget Biafra when the federal roads in the South East and South South are all impassable. How can you forget Biafra when even today we feel excluded from the mainstream of the affairs of the country because you come from a particular geo-politcal zone. Biafra is a spirit and remains unforgettable. Anyone who wants can forget, but people who are concerned and who lost people during the war can never forget.
How can you forget Biafra when with all the money we had in the bank, we were told to return our Biafran Pounds and we were only given 20 pounds each and some of us refused. Like myself, I have not collected my own 20 pounds till today. How can you forget Biafra when you have reduced everyone in the Biafran region to the economic value of 20 pounds. Then you start indigenization where Nigerians were made to buy foreign investment, and people from the South East and South South of Biafraland were totally excluded. How can you forget Biafra when even up today when you go to the north or the west to seek employment as a doctor journalist, engineer, you will be told to go to your country. Biafra can never be forgotten. Even when those who experienced it have died, the story will still be told from generation to generation.
MASSOB first introduced non violence into the struggle for Biafra, and Now, IPOB has also toed the same line. You belong to the elders council of IPOB, I want to know if your group is making any effort to review the strategy to actualizing Biafra in the shortest possible time?
Change in what direction if I may ask. Now let me tell you, Biafra was first declared in 1967 and Nigeria declared war and they started saying it’s a police action that will last some weeks, but it lasted for 30 months, nearly 3 years. Nigeria was very well advantaged before the start of that war because unknown to the people of the South East, there was an order that children should be deployed to their state of origin, and there was also an unwritten order that all military hardware should be moved to Kaduna, Kano, Ibadan, Lagos and there was none left in the South East. So when war was declared, the people of the South East had nothing at all to go to the war with, except their will, determination and desire for survival. That was all we went to war with.
Then, methodically, systematically, 12 states were created and the people were completely sieged. South East states, which were Cross River, and Akwa Ibom on the east side, North central with plateau at the backside, west Central, Rivers on the south were completely landlocked. It was locked by land, locked by air and locked by sea, and even the people who were trying to venture into the Biafran territory were successfully sent back by air fire and aerial attack. So, what am saying is that we had never at anytime opted for war, and till now, we do not want to opt for war.
In fact there is a conflict within the ranks of IPOB, because there is a wing populated by young boys, who were talking about war, fighting, whipping up ethnic sentiments, and those of us who are elders said no, you do not do that, and they said we have been bought over. We are seeking Biafra through legal means, through diplomatic means, through dialogue, but certainly not through abusive words, not through fighting and I believe that the attention we are receiving from world powers, we are talking about legality. Legality derived from the United Nations, descending to African Union, extended to Nigeria, that indigenous people have a right to self determination. We have taken the Nigerian people to court to give interpretation to that clause, which is even in the Nigerian constitution by extension, and we believe it is a great window of opportunity for us to achieve self determination without abusing anyone. See what happened in Scotland recently, Scottish people wanted to opt out of the United Nations, in spite of having been together for about 200 years. There was no day you heard that any Scottish boy insulted any British police man, it did not happen. They went on a referendum and lost that year, which has been long for about 30 years, recently United Kingdom said no, and they went on a referendum, launched Brexit, and they are exiting. Did you hear that anyone one fought in that place? In fact, it is primitive to go on fighting. It is animals that fight, civilized people talk and reach agreement. We are pursuing self determination through legal process, through dialogue, through exchange of views and we know it is achievable. We don’t want to fight, after all people of Biafra were almost extinguished from the face of the earth, and we call ourselves the remnants of elders of the indigenous people of Biafra, and we don’t want those elders to lose their lives by going to war.
We insist that wherever you are, you must obey the laws of that land. Those within Nigeria, in China, in Russia in Britain, in America, you must obey the laws of the land. That is my position, except you know any other way that can help us, otherwise, we are going about it peacefully, and we shall get it peacefully. But any method that entails war, we are not in.
Talking about the youthfulness exhibited by the youth wing, I know they infuse abusive words in how they address Nigeria and her leaders, so what are the elders doing to put them away from the war path they are always seeking to toe?
If you have been following the IPOB youth wing and all that they write, you will see that they pronounced a fathua on me and my family, saying they will wipe us all out. Why did they say this? Because we were always telling them the need to shun violence.
Then, can’t be a forum where a balance would be struck, so these young people will see reason in what the elders are saying?
They are many adages that answer your question. One is; a man who runs to war does not know that war means death. These people, many of them were not born during the Biafra, Nigeria war. They did not see kwashiorkor, they did not see air raid, they did not see marasma, they did not see any of these things, at most they may have read about them. There are things I remember now about the war and I shudder. I was a doctor, practicing in the middle of the war, one day, there was an air raid, and of course, I have to concentrate on air raid victim. A young boy of 14 was brought in, in a wooden truck, they brought him out, dumped him on the floor and started to move away, then they came back again and said, ‘oh, we forgot his leg in the truck.’ They threw it at me, and I picked it up. Don’t ask me the rest, otherwise I might begin to cry. Having seen that kind of thing and even worse, how can I ever be talking of war again. These people never saw anything, and they are being misled through misinformation, mal-information, disinformation and wrong information. There is a saying that it is not the man who called in the police that wins the case. If the police man you called finds you quarreling with someone, he may find you guilty, rather than the person you were quarreling with. You do not rush into a war when you have nothing with which to fight a war. And all these people have nothing with which to fight a war, so it’s stupid to be talking about war. No serious country will support you to be talking about war.
So, isn’t there a way they can be convinced to free themselves of war mentality?
Yes, we have called meetings and said let everyone come under one umbrella of the elders. You see, what and elders sees sitting, a young boy even ontop of an iroko tree may not see. These young ones who are telling us about war and all types of methods, they know not better. They could be young boys of your age(referring to this reporter) and we have a saying that the young ones never agree on the onset. If a child is putting his hand inside fire and you call him and say please don’t, he believes that daddy is a wicked man, he is putting my hand out of the fire. But after sometime, you let the child put his hand in fire, a little burn, a little scorch and he will know what you have been doing for him. That is the position we are now. Until something happens, they won’t believe that we are as committed, or even more committed than they are to self actualization dream.
I feel more the negative impact of what is being meted out to the people of the South Eastern region. I was around when Nigeria was Nigeria, and people from the South East and the South South were proud members of it. I experienced it, so I should feel it more now that we feel that we are totally pushed out, neglected and marginalized. But I have weighed the options and seen that peaceful channel is the best, negotiation is the best, obedience to the law is the best, rather than fighting, but we will continue talking to them, we will continue preaching to them, we will keep saying, ‘please come under our group, let us talk about a peaceful way of achieving it’, rather than any other way.
You are the owner of that biro, and if I want to take it from you and I begin to heap abuses on you, will you be disposed to give it to me? The answer is no, and it’s as simple as that, but they don’t seem to know it. If I know that you can beat me, and I start challenging you to a fisticuff, am I not digging my own grave? You can beat me to pulp, and that is clear; you look bigger, you look stronger and you are younger, and if I engage you in a fisticuff, you will knock me down in one punch, yet I insist on fighting you, that’s foolhardiness, that is stupidity, that is foolishness. Youthful exuberance? Yes. But it must have limit. So far and no further, that is it. You should appeal to them because they are of your age grade. Rather than listen to us, they will start saying that the elders have been bought over. Bought over with what, bought over by who, bought over for what, isn’t that illogical thinking? It’s improper rationalization.
Yes, I was coming to that, because I see their press releases and they constantly insist that the elders have been bought over by the Buhari administration. Use this opportunity to speak more on that.
Yes, I have already told you even before you asked. What annoys me is incessant fabrication of lies, of things that never happened and presenting it as truth. In fact, if there is an oath to be taken by anybody and be published in the newspaper, that if it is true, let this deity or that deity kill me. They are people whose imaginations run riot with them, and they publish anything that they imagine. No evidence, no proof, no likelihood, farthest from the mind of the person being accused. What will anyone bribe me with now, at this age, am approaching 90. Is it money, food, beautiful women, position, what that I haven’t had, Than my concern for the future of my grand children? I can never mortgage them for anything, and I am saying that on behalf of myself and for the elders, in this movement.
Again sir, a lot of people are asking, why are the Niger Delta people closing ranks with the Biafrans now. I mean they never really saw themselves as part of Biafra before now, so, some people now believe that the Igbos are once again being used as a political guinea pig, with the hope of fronting them to fight the federal government, and at the end the geo political zones will now hook up with the federal government at our detriment?
Am sorry, I don’t quite agree with your observations. Who are the avengers? Who are the people bombing oil pipelines? They are not people from the South East, they are not people from the rest of Biafra land. This question of if I am fighting with you, I throw my punch where I think it will hurt, and I think the Niger Delta People are throwing the punch where they think it will hurt federal government. And government will hurry to dialogue with them, but we don’t believe in that, but it’s the method they are using. If they achieve something, goodluck to them. But I will want to let you know that this feeling of being marginalized, this feeling of being relegated to quarter class citizens, not even second class is felt way across board in all the Eastern region. Unfortunately for the president, the economy has taken a turn for the worse, and he is being blamed for the ones he did and the ones he did not do, and the feeling of anger and frustration is increasing by the day. He needs a lot of dexterity to assuage, contain, manage the frustrated feeling that is rising by the day in the entire country, not just Eastern region, but in the entire country. He needs God’s guidance, he needs extra luck, or maybe he should borrow goodluck from Goodluck to be able to maneuver through this because it is colossal, it is intimidating, it is real, it is very real. But if this thing is not managed with dexterity and maturity, it will explode in the face of everybody, and I hope and pray it doesn’t.
Now to mainstream politics, the proposed sales of assets to mitigate the impact of the recession by the federal government, what do you have to say about it?
If you sell off your assets to fight recession, will that really fight recession? I think it is unfortunate, because I don’t know the school of economics this people went to. For me, I went to the school of economics of the common man on the streets. You don’t sell off your assets because things are hard, forgetting that there may be another rainy day. You don’t sell your assets and accumulate indebtedness for generations to come. That is our problem, you should tighten our belts, change our extravagant habits, going on holidays with children grand and great grand children and flying first class to Dubai for weddings. These are stupid habits we should curtail. We should cut our coats according to our cloth. You don’t eat when you don’t have. It’s a type of modern economy, to consume your commodities ahead of production. The type I belong to is you have your commodities, you eat some and keep some for tomorrow. I do not support the sales, I do not think it is right. I think it will boomerang in the short run.
What if people of yesterday had sold these assets? And by the way, when you sell, who will buy? Who are you selling to. You Nigerianize foreign investment, you now want to invite foreigners. The rich will become richer and the poor poorer. This ultra modern economy can sometimes fail, and they often do. This is because the environment where they are found and practiced are often different from Nigerian environment, and we must recognize our own Nigerian ecological environment, economic environment, political environment, even civic environment, sense of responsibility and patriotism. How many of the people around, even among our leaders, how many of them can sacrifice their left hand or right hand for the country, rather they use their right hand and their left hand to scoop what we have from the common pool. They may say some of us are be old and antiquated, but I say no, it is wrong economics.
Lastly, there have been calls for the president to rejig his cabinet and also infuse new hands to help steer the economy, and as well, the senate had at some point also rejected to that. Do you think there is need to reshuffle the cabinet?
Now, Nigeria’s economic problem is not a thing you solve by magic or by prayers. Even if you pray from now to thy kingdom come, that is not the solution. When things like this happen, people begin to look around for scapegoats, yes, scapegoats you may finds, but not throwing the baby with the bath water. What have any of these ministers done wrong? Many of them, are young, they are not old men like me, so if you say bring in new blood or young blood, it is not the solution. The president was talking about the change that begins with me the other day, but I don’t know the kind of change he is talking about. I don’t know the type of change that flows from the president to the common man on the street, but the bad economy certainly is not the making of the present government, to my own way of thinking. There are things that are happening that are beyond their control. Oil was selling for about a hundred dollars per barrels before, but it dropped to about 30 dollars per barrel, what can anybody do about it, and it is even going to fall more. People are now talking of other sources of energy, and dependence on fossil energy will make our own to diminish.
Whatelse can he do? Is it print more money and pour it into the market and everybody becomes a millionaire, and yet you can’t even have lunch with one million naira? That’s not the solution. It is to curb unnecessary importation, encourage manufacturing at home, encourage exportation of what we used to be able to export, and allow for our own ingenuity to be useful. It is painful that today, petroleum, crude oil, we get it, sell it out and refine it and bring it back and they tell you how much we will pay them. Refining crude oil is a simple chemistry, class four chemistry for that matter, which is fractional distillation, and it pains me that some times that even the people who are distilling in the villages, in Delta State, they harass them and say we have caught illegal refiners, we have sacked them. They call them illegal, why not constitute them into cooperatives, and control the quality of what they do.
During the Nigeria Biafra war, we were completely landlocked, we did not import even one drop of kerosene or fuel or diesel. We were producing it in every corner, because the chemistry and the process is simple. The biggest place where we were doing this was Amandugba. So, why can’t we produce and refine our own petrol atleast for consumption here. It is a reflection of the economies of 1940s and 50s, where the British merchant will come here and buy cotton, tell you how much they will pay for your cotton, for your cocoa, for your palm oil and your hyde and skin, they take them back to England, turn them into shoes, shirts, soaps and they will come here and tell you how much you will pay for them. That is where we are. It means that economically, industrially, we have not moved. We have maybe moved one step forward and two steps backwards. How long can we be exporting crude oil and then importing refined oil, how long? Its only in a place like Nigeria that such a thing will go on. These countries where we take them, are they more technologically advanced that we? Yet, we shamelessly send crude oil to them, and they bring it back to us at a cost. I think we should do some rethinking. I don’t think rejigging the economy is the answer, even though cabinets are reshuffled, some people dropped and new people taken from time to time.
Finally, on the question of dropping or swapping some ministers. Even if you rejig it 10 times, they may not perform any miracle if the structure on the ground is bad. That is why we are talking of Biafra, and a structure that will work, and take care of all these loopholes, and we will manage the economy, with or without oil. Because before oil was discovered at Oloibiri, we were managing, depending on agricultural produce. Emphasis should be re-placed on agricultural products and manufacturing, so that teeming population of university leavers would be employed. The university structure, curriculum should be changed. This current trend of certificate bearing graduates who cannot even make one complete sentence in Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, English or French should be changed. We should go more technical, so that by the time you are out, you are self-employed, and you can employ some other people. We emphasis more on PhD, but we should emphasize more now on practical, technical education. Are you a builder, if you are a builder, what can you build? If you are a graduate in engineering, what can you do, what can you construct? Subjects like political science should be scrapped entirely from the university because it is a useless endeavour.
I was at a hall in Onitsha during the electioneering campaign of the 2013 president election, where Buharin was to consult with Igbos. He however left from Owerri to Abuja because of pressing engagement. Chief Audu Ogbe and some other bigwigs in the APC stood in for him then. You were one of those who spoke for Ndigbo then, and you spoke very glowingly of General Buhari, what he represents and what he can do. Can you still say the same things you said of him then today, considering his performance so far?
(Laughs extensively). You are a very tough journalists. I will not answer that question. (Continues laughing).