#EndSARS was just a symbol to aggregate grievances’

Joe Nworgu

President Buhari must engage all sectors, says Nworgu

Former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nworgu, spoke to LAWRENCE NJOKU in Enugu on some national issues and why the Presidency should act now to save the country from collapse.

Recently, there were widespread protests across the country, leading to massive destruction of properties and loss of lives. The protests were more of reaction to several developments bordering the masses. Are you not worried and what should be the way out?
Anybody who has knowledge of history, who knows about revolutions, will readily agree that all revolutions are dangerous because when a crowd becomes a mob, reason is lost. The perfect example is after the assassination of Julius Caesar, when Mark Anthony addressed the Roman crowd; he converted them into a mob. When he noticed they had become a mob, he walked off saying, “mischief thou at afoot, take thou what thou want.” And destruction started. A celebrated Poet, Ceena, when he tried to explain himself that he was Ceena, the poet, somebody from the mob came, burned him for his bad verses; probably he had never heard of Ceena and decided to burn him for his bad verses. That is the state of anarchy.

At best, everything should be nipped in the bud; there should be dialogue immediately to tuck people away from their initial angst. But what occurred was a long lying combustible matter, pent up anger and it went in phases – first the enlightened group who were peaceful. It was allowed to drag into a second phase and hijacked by the generalised downtrodden – the poor, the small workers that can’t feed their families anymore. Those set of people came in to avenge anger on society. They had nothing to lose. They looked into the future and it was blank and anybody who owns a car should be frightened. He should be wary of the situation. I think the government has engaged after the youths put out their demands. I think it is a step in the right direction. Everybody should give peace a chance by addressing the major issues that have brought about this, including the restructuring of the body politic. And to me, that is the bedrock of all variables playing out.

When you say bottled anger and years of long suffering, what in specific terms are you referring to?
There has been bad governance and mismanagement of the national wealth overtime. It only burst under the present administration because of the nature of this administration. The administration has not been engaging. The administration sees itself as a military regime, dishing out orders and acting as if the people do not matter. But there should be a change. Our president has three more years during which he can amend things and become an all-embracing president for Nigerians. The #EndSARS was not a one flow thing. The #EndSARS was just a symbol. There were other subterranean flows under EndSARS. There are very many areas of disaffection in the country, hence people were calling for a sovereign national conference and many times that these took place, their outcome has been in the waste paper basket.

When you close all avenues for talking, the only thing left for someone who has been pushed to the wall is to fight back because there is nothing again to live for. That is why I said it should be nipped in the bud. There is pent up anger in every aspect of the society and I am sure the government has realised that and should tread carefully. Government managers should mind the type of words they use, so that they don’t heighten the tension.

Government has been very careless about the way it has run this country overtime. It is not today that national conferences have been held. It was held in 1994, 1995 under Sani Abacha. In 2002, 2005 and 2014, all the papers were there, nothing was implemented, and rather new annoying policies crept up. Government must be inclusive of all Nigerians. That has been a central complaint against this regime. We are lucky on the quantum of destruction and we give thanks to God that everybody did his best to douse the situation because they could have pushed this kind of thing into areas you cannot contemplate.

Many said the protests had the potency of bringing the country down?
Yes, anything could have happened. Everything was on the table. It was a state of chaos. The lessons from it are that leadership should piece together the different flows that are broadly called EndSARS. The economy is almost in shambles. There is much hunger. There is no money at all in the system, maybe the money is in few hands but the poor are really poor. The United Nations called our country the poorest and to me, it is unbelievable with all the resources we have. So, the entire thing is mismanagement.

The President said he is doing his best in the face of the challenges?
Who is gauging his best? It is like somebody coming out of the examination hall and being asked about the exam and he said he has done his best. Your best can be 70 per cent; somebody else’s best can be 50, another 23 per cent. So, it is not sufficient to say you are doing your best. We must get down to the crux of the matter, which is that the political system is not working.
At some point in the protests, we saw members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) on the streets, chanting “No more Nigeria.”

Could this also be part of the grievances?
It is part of their grievances. That is their own. I said that #EndSARS is just a symbol to aggregate grievances. IPOB’s stand is part of their grievances. There must be dialogue to address their anger. We must engage them. I did not exclude anything. It is not only IPOB that is dissatisfied with the situation of the country. There are such calls coming from the West; such have come from the Niger Delta and Middle Belt. You cannot dismiss any of such. The issues must be looked at openly with an open mind.

The protests were carried out in such manner as if President Buhari’s administration was responsible for the bad governance?
I said no. It is a long lying combustible matter. It has been there but just got burst under this administration. But the gravity and widespread nature occurred under this administration and this administration must handle it. Government is a continuum. President Buhari has three years to go and he must handle it. He has to engage all sectors – the political class, the religious class, the socio-cultural groups and what have you, because we are facing a grave situation and nobody is safe and we must see it with that seriousness.

Issues of restructuring have continued to dominate almost every discussion. Why is the government indifferent to the matter?
It is simply because a part of the country that has held on to power refused to open up power and resources. The Igbo have a proverb that if you take and take and take again, you are asking for trouble. It causes a rift and the rift will not end because the economy needs life. You cannot allocate everything to yourself and the stakeholders will fold their arms and clap hands for you. It is not in human nature.

Where does the clamour for presidency in 2023 come into play in this issue of restructuring?
Restructuring does not run against Igbo presidency in 2023. We are in Nigeria. We have a stake in Nigeria and therefore we can bid for that; that is why you see several Igbo groups like the Southeast for Presidency 2023 Movement (SEFORP2023), PANPIEC and the like, in the campaign for presidency of Igbo extraction and they are saying it based on equity and fairness. That is different from saying we are seceding. You cannot be seceding from a place where you want to produce the president.

That means you don’t subscribe to the call for secession?
Not at all. I subscribe to Igbo presidency in 2023. But we must engage those calling for secession, especially the youths. A large chunk of Igbo population are tired of the hard way they are living their lives and see other people being spoonfed, using the quota system and federal character.

How do you reconcile the fact that the same people asking for power in 2023 are yearning for secession at the same time?
Who are those propagating this theory? It is those who want to retain power forever. Why is that view the only one they are harping on? Why don’t they take over the presidency in 2023? Why are they not harping on why Igbo should be allowed to produce president in 2023? I think it is a political ploy. We fought to preserve ourselves from 1967 to 1970. God ended that war and in spite of our losses, we moved on. The amount of investment the Igbo have put in various parts of the country is enormous in the past 50 years. Why has it not touched their conscience that it is high time the Igbo produced the president of this country?

How do you want the Igbo to go about the issue of presidency in 2023?
There are two big organisations that are doing their best in this project and it is predicated on equity, fairness and justice for all. These are core Igbo values. We must go with every amount of certainty that it is right and that we require the support of others to get there, the same way they have been asking for our support.

Is Ohanaeze Ndigbo losing relevance going by the number of groups springing up in the region; an example being the Ohanaeze General Assembly that recently registered with CAC?
We must still engage. There must be dialogue. We are all Igbo. We have respected leaders who are all members of Ohanaeze. Ohanaeze means everybody. It means everybody should be involved. Ohanaeze has a long history as Igbo apex organisation. In the earlier days, some people argued that there was no need to register Ohanaeze. It took a long time. One of the organs of the main Ohanaeze is the General Assembly. What has happened is that somebody can now go and register NEC of Ohanaeze. CAC will not refuse to register anybody that comes to it but that does not belie the apex Igbo organisation. We have various Igbo organisations that are affiliates of Ohanaeze and all of them should exist. There is Izu Umunna in Jos. It is the job of Ohanaeze to put all these things together through their standing committee of all these groups. They are not splinter groups. But this Ohanaeze Ndigbo General Assembly, our President General needs to dialogue with them, because Igbo don’t like it.

Is it true that Ohanaeze elections will be held in January next year?
Ohanaeze will hold elections in January next year. It is true that we have not had modalities for the elections but the Ohanaeze constitution is very clear. There is rotation among the seven Igbo speaking states starting with Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi and in that order. Abia has produced. Likewise Anambra and Ebonyi. Now it is Enugu state’s tenure. After Enugu state’s tenure, it will be Imo state’s tenure. So, whoever succeeds with the election becomes the president and it is for four years. Enugu state’s tenure will end on January 10, 2021. There must be an election to enable Enugu state hand over to the next state by January 10.

How true is the report that you are running for the office of President General?
I don’t know whether it is rumour. On October 8, there was a meeting of Ngor Okpalla, my home area. Our political, traditional and religious leaders met and our apex organisation, OluOha Ngor Okpalla, brought all of us together and said, this thing is coming to Imo state. We have our son who has served in that organisation. We want to present him to you people to deliberate. The presented my CV and the meeting decided that I was eminently qualified to run, having been Deputy Secretary and Secretary General and my many other activities in Ohanaeze over the past 20 years, including my role at the Oputa panel and at the 2014 Confab. My people, in their conclusion, said that it would fail in the Igbo core values if I fail to present myself to continue giving service to Ndigbo the way I have been doing in the past. The Igbo core values are meritocracy and apprenticeship and that is why they said I am eminently qualified based on all these. That is where we are.