Govt should go after Ekpa for masterminding tension in S’East – Ohanaeze spokesman


The National Publicity Secretary of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr Alex Ogbonnia, shares his thoughts with AYOOLA OLASUPO on the killings of military personnel in Abia State, among other issues

The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress recently embarked on a nationwide strike which was suspended. This is a result of the ongoing controversy over minimum wage for workers. What is your advice to the Federal Government on the situation?

In the first place, the salary does not go anywhere for any Nigerian worker because the cost of living is very high now. In the market, it is very outrageous. Even salt and every food item you can think of are very exorbitant now in the market. I am beginning to imagine how somebody can survive with it. Labour has tried by saying that there should be an upward review of people’s salaries. However, the idea of N497,000 is unrealistic and not implementable, or else it will collapse the economy.

But the N60,000 proposed by the Federal Government is seen as unacceptable to the Organised Labour. What is your view about this?

Each group should be able to compromise to be to reach an amicable resolution. The issue of N497,000 is already unrealistic and unimplementable.

The issue of factionalisation has become a basis of confusion for the public in recent times. How does Ohanaeze Ndigbo intend to handle Okechukwu Isiguzoro, who often parades himself as the Secretary General of Ohanaeze, and his supporters, among others?

Well, every Igbo man knows that the President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo is the same as Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. Every human knows. So, I don’t even think that there is nobody who doesn’t know the facts. I begin to imagine why people, even when they know that Okechukwu Isiguzoro is just deceiving people on the internet, still take him seriously.

Igbo people know the difference and that somebody can claim what he is not, but the truth of the matter is that we have established the minds and consciousness of the Igbo that the real Ohanaeze is that of Chief Iwuanyanwu, who often calls for a meeting and people obey him from anywhere they are. Who is his own President-General? But when people know that there is an angel and a Satan, you will see that people with discerning minds will follow the angel and those who want to be confused will always follow the path of Satan.

Why has Ohanaeze not been able to do anything about this development?

Many times, we have put up disclaimers. It’s like it’s in the public space that Isiguzoro is trying to use the name of Ohanaeze for his interest. It’s very clear; so, the disclaimers have been put up. You know that we can take the man to court because we all know the Nigerian courts for the way they delay cases.

Why is it difficult for Ohanaeze to get him (Isiguzoro) arrested for impersonating the group if you are sure he is not an executive member of Ohanaeze Ndigbo?

Yes, but the police will tell you they can’t get him. He is doing that because the system is not working. If the system were working, that man was supposed to have been arrested, but by the time the police said they were looking for him and didn’t see him, he was publishing every day. We don’t worry much because the truth is known.

The point is that people believe whatever they like, and the truth is that everybody knows, and everybody wants to believe whatever they want. Last week, Iwuanyanwu went to see Nnamdi Kanu, and everybody heard that Ohanaeze had gone to see him. So, Ohanaeze can never be worried about him. People are free to believe whatever they like.

Ohanaeze has often said that the actions of Okechukwu Isiguzoro and his supporters have always sabotaged the activities of your group. Can you shed more light on this?

They try to sabotage but they don’t succeed. If they want to sabotage Ohanaeze, then certainly you cannot sabotage her. It has no effect and when something has no effect, why do we worry about it? We had Igbo Day. We are planning another Igbo Day in September. We had the retreat. We heard this and that. The only effort to sabotage the organisation has failed. What else? So, we worry less about such small things.

Some people are saying that the faction is being used by some outsiders to tarnish the image of Ohanaeze and cause confusion in the organisation. How right or wrong is this claim?

There is no doubt that they are trying the best, but they cannot tarnish the image of Ohanaeze. To the best of my knowledge, they cannot succeed. It is always natural. Even in a political party, you will always have people who are working against the party and the government; even in the church, you will have people who are not in favour of the priest. In any human community, there must be a division of some kind.

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It is not the same in any human organisation. People are bound to reason differently. Even if the devil comes now and says, ‘Please follow me’, you will see some people that will follow the devil. All the things are very clear because the discerning minds know that Iwuanyanwu is the President-General and he calls meetings, which everybody attends. The last one, we had almost all the governors present. The truth is known to everybody, and people are free to believe what they can. So, it is not a threat.

You talked about Chief Iwuanyanwu visiting Nnamdi Kanu in detention. Can you share some of the highlights of the visit?

The visit was to urge him to be patient, to remind him that he is not alone there and that in spirit, we are all there with him, and that whatever happens in his heart will eventually be good and that evidently, justice will take its course. There was some morale with him, and he called on him not to be afraid and that eventually, all this would be good.

Has Chief Iwuanyanwu visited President Bola Tinubu concerning the need to release Kanu?

Chief Iwuanyanwu has not paid a visit to President Tinubu, although there is a plan for that.

So, when is Ohanaeze planning to do so?

It is for the office of the presidency to know when they are free to see us, not when we are going to him. There is a plan for that but it has not been materialised.

How will you react to the recent killing of five military personnel in Abia State?

It is painful to everybody who is a Nigerian. Security agents are there for the protection and interest of every Nigerian. So, there is no need to kill them. What happened in Abia State is very unfortunate, sad, and very painful. It’s a savage to want to contemplate killing a human being for nothing’s sake. But the point is that I want them to go further than that because there is this attribution that it was IPOB or ESN members.

It’s only when you conduct an investigation that you can conclude that they did it. If you conclude that it was IPOB, how do you know? Most of the terrible things that happen in the South-East now are no longer traceable to IPOB or ESN because there are now bandits operating anyhow everywhere now. They’re even abducting people and even killed some of them and so on. So, it is too early to conclude that it’s ESN or IPOB. They should investigate and come out with a report. How do they know when they concluded that it was IPOB?

The military has vowed to mount pressure and clamp down on IPOB members over the killing of soldiers. Don’t you think this will further worsen the tension in the region?

It is better they investigate that dastardly act and not begin to fire IPOB when they are not sure. I want to hear them say it is possible that these are done by bandits or herdsmen or ABCD because there are so many now in Nigeria. So, even criminals of all colours can even do it apart from IPOB. What I’m saying is that it is too early when they have not even investigated and are not even sure. It is wrong so that’s what we are saying. They (IPOB) say they are not responsible for that, and they begin to kill them.

Simon Ekpa has called for the resignation of policemen and soldiers from the South-East from the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army, threatening that they will be killed if seen in uniforms. What advice do you have for the police, the Nigerian Army, and the Federal Government regarding that?

If things are going well and with such a statement, they should go after the man. Is that supposed to take any person’s time? They should take him. I think it’s very easy. Take his matter to the international community. Let the country where he resides know that this is what he has said and know how to manage the situation. I’m sure the military and the police will not obey him.

So, if the Nigerian government feels that Simon Ekpa is doing what they don’t like, I think it’s very simple. If I were the president of Nigeria today and somebody was in Ghana threatening my country, I would be looking at him. What kind of nonsense is that? I’m sure the military will not obey him. The police will not obey him and if the government wants to interrogate Simon Ekpa on what he has said, they can do this.

Simon Ekpa, who is based in Finland, has since been inciting unlawful actions in the South-East. Why is it that nobody is talking about him, especially the elders in the region?

Which elder are you talking about? What do you want the elders to do? I’m an elder but am I the Chief Security Officer? What do you want me as an elder to do? If the government feels that someone is threatening them, they should do something. I’m an elder, do they want me to go to Finland as an elder to go and bring Simon Ekpa?

But some people are saying that the elders should be able to caution Ekpa.

That is the most impotent reasoning because what do you think that I, as an elder, should do? It’s just unfortunate that things are not working. If I were the president of Nigeria, for example, and he (Ekpa) is threatening my country. Within 24 hours, he is gone. So, I think the government has not felt strongly about the threat from him. The moment they feel strongly about it, they know what to do. The most impotent suggestion is for one to think that I, as an elder, should go and bring Simon Ekpa or the bandits or the Boko Haram.

We have shared responsibilities. I have my role to play in society. The main thing is that the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and others are paid for it. We have what they call the Interpol, embassies. The offices are there that will consult the government in what they call a state. A state should have the capacity to ensure orderliness and security in the society. That is one of the functions of a state. So, what do you want me as an elder to do? I’m in my house. Now, because I’m not in active service, as a retired man, they want me to go and bring Simon Ekpa. That is not a good suggestion.

What do you think can be done to end the killings in the South-East?

The security agencies have to work harder. You can see how the government of Abia State placed a N25m bounty for any person who gives information leading to the arrest. These are the kinds of things whistle-blowers and others can do. There are many ways of doing it. I’m not to teach them but all the same, it is the government that should ensure security, not the individual. Just like when they said bandits were in Sambisa forest and I began to wonder that if about 1,000 soldiers surround the bush and this person begins to walk from his location, they will meet at a certain point at the centre of this forest. Isn’t it?

If you draw a circle on the ground and call it a desert forest and you surround that circle with soldiers. From one point of circumference to the other, each person will begin to walk with his machine gun towards the centre of the forest, there will be a time when they will meet at the centre.

The issue of sit-at-home has also become an uncontrollable threat by IPOB members to the people in the South-East. What effort is Ohanaeze making towards finding a solution to this?

Ohanaeze is a representative organisation. It’s not an implementing organisation or a coercive organisation. It is the government that has the coercion, the authority to coerce people into action.

Why did you say so?

They are not threatened yet they are at home. Some of them are enjoying it but I know. It is about the will of the government. Remember that they took it to Ebonyi, Rivers, and Asaba in Delta State but Umahi, Wike, and Okowa stood their grounds then.

Are you not worried that the governors of the region have met on several occasions to find a solution to the security in the South-East to no avail?

All I’m saying is that the government has to fight insecurity fully to make sure that other places will not go on and do it. I know that it is not everywhere. The government should exercise will on them. On Mondays, all the banks don’t work, and schools and malls are open. So, it depends on the will of the government.

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