President General of apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, is in Lagos for a three-day visit during which he will meet with Igbo leaders and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to address issues affecting Igbo in the economic capital of the country.
In an interview after one of the engagements with Igbo leaders in Ikoyi, on Wednesday, he spoke on issues around his emergence as Ohanaeze leader, his agenda for Igbo, the blowing wind of insecurity in the South-East and how the Federal Government can arrest it among others.
On issues surrounding his election as
Some months ago I was elected leader of all Igbo, which is the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Frankly speaking, at over 80 years, it was a very difficult thing for me to accept, although I saw that my people were very passionate about having me serve them. All the leaders came to me expressing their support and confidence in me. All the five governors of the South-East also came to me saying they were with me.
All the seven presidents of Ohanaeze in the various states – Rivers, Delta, Imo, Abia, Enugu, Anambra and Ebonyi came too. All these made me realise that I had no choice. It is my belief that any gift possessed by an individual is from God. Therefore, if your people call you to serve them at any time and you fail, you are not fair to God the creator who has given you the gift.
Opposition from his nuclear family
My wife and children didn’t want me to accept it. However, I had to convince them. Some said I would die, but I told them that if I die at 80 it is not too early.
First official tour of South-West
Where am I today? I am on my first official tour to South-West Nigeria. I have come to meet Igbo in the South-West. I met the elders last night (Tuesday) in what we call Ime-obi, which is where we meet in Igbo culture to make far-reaching decisions. We had a meeting in the house of one of our elders, Cmdr. Ebitu Ukiwe, retd. It was a very successful meeting.
As I arrived at the airport, my people gave me a wonderful reception. All the Ezes and town union presidents lined up. I have just finished a meeting with the Ezes because we have a system that demands that we organise ourselves wherever we are. Every success that Igbo have achieved over the years is because we have the capacity to come together at a short notice. The town union is part of our structure,
The people I have met here today are very important people in the lives of Igbo. Wherever I go, I meet with these people, and they whisper the condition of things to me. I am here essentially on my first official tour to South-West and I have been very well-received. I am very happy because my people have shown a lot of trust and confidence in me. I have made up my mind and I pray to God Almighty to give me the capacity to serve them and to help me so that I do not fall below their expectations.
What are your plans for the Igbo?
I have studied the map of Igboland and I have carried out a very comprehensive study on agriculture, our mineral resources or natural endowment and intellectual capacity. Based on these things, I am quite convinced that we have a lot of prospects. I am bent on transforming Igboland; I believe that by the plan that I am making, I will transform agriculture, the industrial base and commerce because our people are trade-inclined, which is a major part of our wealth.
Without fear of contradictions, when you talk about Gross Domestic Product, GDP, in Nigeria today, I think Igbo contribute more to the GDP than any other group because we are there in every local government. There is no local government in Nigeria today where you won’t see Igbo. Wherever they are, they carry out their businesses which could be trading in one commodity or the other, even farming. Whatever they do, they pay taxes, build houses and live peacefully with the people there. I believe they are doing well for Nigeria.
We are very proud that our people are contributing positively to Nigeria. Many patriotic Nigerians appreciate it.
There is a lack of clarity on the President of Ohanaeze in Lagos State. Is Chief Sunday Ossai the president?
We have our constitution. Professor George Obiozor was the chairman before he died. Ambassador Okey Emuchay is the Secretary General. They handed over Sunday Ossai to me as the President of Lagos branch without informing me of any dispute. The report I had was that the former man, Solomon, who I don’t know and I have never met, had completed his four-year tenure. This man, because he probably believes that some powerful people are going to support him, wants to destabilise Ohanaeze. This is the impression that I get from people. I want to make it clear that the former President General of Ohanaeze handed over Sunday Ossai to me as the President of Lagos branch.
We have had a very unfortunate experience recently. Out of personal interest, some people are doing everything to undermine Ohanaeze, which is the hope of Igbo. It is our hope of development and unity. You see a small boy jump up to say he is the Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The Secretary General is Okey Emuchay, who has served Nigeria in various capacities. He is a man with impeccable academic credentials and civil service credentials. Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo cannot just pick anyone as its Secretary General. For Publicity Secretary, you have Dr Alex Ogbonnia. All these scoundrels who mislead the public should be reported to the police for fraud.
Are the Ezes in Lagos recognised?
The concept is part of Igbo culture. Igbo have always believed in leadership. We believe that if you don’t come together with a leader, the problems of life cannot be fought. The problems could arise from humans, society and the economy. What has saved Igbo wherever they live either in Nigeria or outside is that wherever they go they come together. It has helped us in many areas. As President General, the Ezes are part of the people who have supported me and they have confidence in me. Their position is unchallengeable because we need their leadership, we need their position.
As the President General, how do you intend to ensure that the Igbo are well-protected in Lagos?
Before 1914 when Nigeria was amalgamated, Igbo had started coming to Lagos. When Igbo started coming to Lagos, there was no Ikoyi, most of Ikoyi was riverine. There was no Victoria Island, there was no Lekki.
Igbo are part of the development in Africa and Lagos. Right from the time the first railway lines were built, Igbo were here. There is no way anybody can talk about the development of Lagos with all honesty and exclude Igbo.
When you talk about Lagos, some Igbo have lived in Lagos since their grandparents began living here, which is as far back as 1914. The truth about this thing is that we have a character in Igboland which makes us different. We know that we have a home and our home is in Eastern Nigeria. Wherever we go, we know we are visitors, and we have never gone anywhere to claim their land. Every Igbo man who owns a property in Lagos does so legitimately.
We have not come to preach a sermon that God gave us the land in Lagos. We paid for it. People from Igboland have not only developed lands, they have built houses. If you go to Lekki, Victoria Island, Lekki, everywhere, these things were built by humans. Lagos is Lagos because people, like the Igbo, came and invested. They include northerners and those from other tribes. Igbo came, invested and developed the place without forgetting the fact that they are visitors. Every Igbo man is told from home to obey the law of his host community and Igbo have done that all through history.
Recently, we started hearing all these stories, I think we can solve the problem and we are only appealing to them because asking people to leave is a new phenomenon. We are not worried about it because I have discussed with top indigenes of Lagos. Leaders in Lagos are not in support of this view. I want to let you know that Ohanaeze under my leadership is working with the five South-East governors on this issue. Hope Uzodimma told me that South-East governors would meet with their colleague (Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu). I was pleased that they had a good meeting with the governor of Lagos State where they came up with a communiqué. Lagos State governor did very well. In fact, people are happy.
During the election, Ohanaeze Ndigbo supported Peter Obi in the election because we believed that it was our turn based on the zoning arrangement. We have nothing against Tinubu as a person. We supported Peter Obi because we believed that it was our turn and we believed that he is capable. Today, Tinubu has been sworn in as the President and we have many Igbo in the All Progressives Congress, APC, who cannot be stopped.
Peter Obi is in court and the decision isn’t ours to take but the judiciary. I learned that the governor is in Abuja, I will try to see him, but even if I don’t see him, I am quite satisfied that Governor Uzodimma has seen him. What we don’t want is the demolition of properties belonging to the Igbo or to inflate taxation against them.
A lot of rumours are flying all over the place but I don’t believe these things are true because I don’t believe any right thinking government can do that. I can tell you that at the moment, we have no problem. I have told the Igbo that I have discussed with top Lagosians. I have also told the Igbo that they are safe and they have no problem in Lagos State, Igbos are happy and they are going to stay.
What programme do you have for other tribes who live or intend to move to the South-East?
I have a programme. I am going to create more towns, business centres in Igboland. We want other tribes to come and invest in Igboland. We have helped to develop Lagos and other parts of Nigeria. During my tenure as President General and the leader of Igbo, I am calling on other people to come and reciprocate. They should come and develop Igboland. If they have any problem, they should report to Ohanaeze. We will intervene and ensure that entrepreneurs interested in investing are given land and encouraged to invest.
Don’t you think insecurity and Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s issue will be a hindrance to potential investors?
We don’t have security problems in the South-East. We have said ‘release Nnamdi’ because the young people are supporters of Nnamdi Kanu, which is an excuse that they give.
When we look at it seriously, we have not seen any offence committed by Kanu. In fact, the court has said he should be released. As Igbo leaders, we do not see the reason he is being kept in detention. These people are giving it as an excuse for their sit-at-home. We believe that keeping Nnamdi Kanu in prison is an effort to collaborate with some elements who want to destroy the economy of states in the South-East. We are appealing to the Federal Government to release Kanu because if he is released, we can now know those who are proper criminals and agitators.
I believe that President Tinubu will be able to release Nnamdi because we have not been told he committed any offence. He is being detained even though he was not caught carrying AK-47. Nnamdi Kanu is sick and if he dies in prison, it will create a lot of problems for us. Every Igbo leader has talked about his release including the five South-East governors.
I think if any Nigerian leader has respect for the Igbo, he will release Kanu because once he is released the security problem will be reduced. I want to tell you that South-East or Igboland is not worse than other places.
Security is bad all over the country but release Nnamdi Kanu, let him be free and let us attack our own insecurity. There are people causing insecurity in the North and they have even gone to the prison in Abuja to release everybody, yet nobody has put anyone on trial.
They had even kidnapped people in the train and they negotiated with them. Nnamdi Kanu has never been involved in any of these things.