Anthony Okolo Olisa is the President of Igbo National Movement (INM). In this interview with STANLEY UZOARU, he harps on Sovereign National Conference as way forward for Nigeria and Ndigbo. He also condemns the recent abduction to Nigeria of leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and urged Igbo not to abandon him.
INM has been quite vocal lately on Igbo issues; what’s its ideology?
Simply put, the Igbo National Movement is a movement created to reestablish our Igbo nation. It is established for the progress of the Igbo national or as we call ourselves, “Ndigbo” wherever we may be found on the earth, and also for the development of Igbo homelands or “Ala-Igbo”, through the enhancement of our republican institutions. The movement envisions the development of a nation of Ndigbo, arising into the world polity with a society that encourages justice, merit, equality and treats people with respect. Reinforcing this vision are three core values: justice, equality, and merit. Ndigbo meets all the criteria for nationhood. We have a common tongue, a common territory that is known to us and our neighbours, a common culture and now, a common purpose to regain that which the British took from us forcibly. We have been indigenous to the lands that hosted Ndigbo for over 3,000 years and lived in peace with our neighbours in all that time.
Why then should we look to the very recent past of the last 100 or so years, as if that is the foundation of our identity? No, Igbo are a far more ancient people than that, and as such, we are ripe for a re-awakening of who we are, and to seek to control our destiny in non-violent and constitutional agitation.
In this, I believe we are closely related to our brothers and sisters of other indigenous nations in Nigeria, who are also in the process of their cultural awakening. We commend the Ijaw, the Yoruba, the peoples of the Middle Belt and the plurality of Nigerian indigenous peoples to take control of their individual destinies, and to call for a real debate on the path for a new future, for the administrative entity that is the Nigerian Federation. This we believe will be achieved through a Sovereign National Conference of the indigenous peoples of Nigeria. It is one of our objectives to make this call and to support all Nigerian indigenous peoples to join this call. It may be the only way to save this Federation, by recreating it into a system that the people can recognize and respect.
What’s your opinion about IPOB and the recent arrest of Nnamdi Kanu?
Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is first and foremost an Igbo man and he is one of our own. In any family group, there are a variety of characters. Some are prudent and diplomatic, while others may be brash and confrontational. A wise family will always align itself with the former and will at the same time, seek to curb the excesses of the latter. But a wise family never abandons their child to an outsider’s discipline, lest they be viewed as uncaring and unwise. So, while the family will always stand ‘with’ its own, it will not necessarily stand ‘for’ them where their ideology does not follow the wisdom of the family group. We stand with Mazi Kanu because Igbo do not abandon each other in adverse circumstances. We protect our own from the outsider. We believe that discipline is best meted out within the family group, and Igbo justice is harsh indeed. But we do not stand for the ideology that suggests that all non-Igbo are our enemies. However, we believe that his recent abduction was unlawful and we have said so plainly.
It is unfortunate that the Attorney-General of the Federation pretends he does not know the law. He seems to believe that a warrant of arrest in Nigeria can be executed at will internationally without the process of extradition. He is wrong. He thinks there is nothing unlawful in the Nigerian Government kidnapping a British citizen who has renounced his Nigerian nationality, in a foreign country, which he has entered legally with a British passport. He is wrong. We believe he knows he is wrong, but we understand he must try to justify these illegal acts, because it is what the government wishes him to do. But justifying illegality is not the job of the Chief Law Officer of a democratic country. He must stand for justice and truth, even where it is against the instructions of the government he is part of. Not even Kenya will be so naïve as to agree with him and certainly, Britain will not allow their citizen to be made a fool of as it is a poor reflection on them. I believe that with this kidnapping, the Nigerian government has made a monumental error in judgment, which will sour our relationship with Britain and our neighbours. It will however, make no change in the calls for a restructuring of the Federation or for self-determination. In fact, it will make these calls even louder.
How do you see the present political leadership in Igbo land?
With very few exceptions, the present political leadership in Ala-Igbo has failed to unite our people behind a common “post-war” ideology that meets the dynamism of Ndigbo. We are builders, democratic in nature and believe in merit. Ndigbo would rather perish in the field of work than go cap in hand to beg for our supper. This monthly pilgrimage to Abuja to beg and scrape for our livelihood is un-Igbo. It has to stop.
We have never really needed the support or interference of outsiders to develop our land. After the war, we pulled ourselves out of the mire, with very little help from the victorious Federal Government who impoverished us. We rebuilt all we see in Ala-Igbo today from a pauper’s dowry of £20 per person. The Imo Airport, the state universities, Anambra Broadcasting Service, vegetable oil production companies, palm oil production camps, Innoson, Air Peace, Peace Mass Transit, Ibeto Industries, and many more than I can name, were all built in spite of policies designed to subjugate and disenfranchise Ndigbo, and without a penny of government support and certainly without government patronage. Even today, all attempts by policy or interference to kill these industries have failed to dampen the entrepreneurial spirit of Ndigbo. So please tell me, how can these so-called leaders not realise that all we need from them is to support our internal economy and support cooperation among our people? By failing to establish and implement a joint strategic plan for inter-state cooperation, that will build inter-state roads, railways, healthcare and financial systems, these leaders have lost legitimacy in the eyes of the people. By allowing themselves to become pawns in a greater play of misdirection of effort from outside Ala-Igbo, they have sacrificed the future of millions of Igbo youth, who now have to sojourn far and wide to make an honest living; abandoning our homelands which no longer can sustain their dreams and desires. The people are awake and it is impossible to lull us back to sleep. Ndigbo will take back Ala-Igbo from these faithless overlords and will use the ballot box to put in people who have the interest of Ndigbo at heart, and who will serve our people the way we deserve to be served – with courage, humility and a steadfast zeal to the progress of all peoples who live in our lands.
Do you support Nigerian President of Igbo extraction, or, like IPOB, you are against the present electoral system?
It is unlikely we will see an Igbo President in our lifetime. The people who know the Igbo for what we are and despise us because of it, will never let that happen. If they do allow it, they will hope to force upon us an Igboman or woman of such flawed character, that we will all be ashamed to call ourselves their kinsmen. We have some of them who have been rigged in as governors today to provide proof of such perfidy.
What we need is for Ndigbo to use the power of the vote and social activism to regain control of Ala-Igbo. We should employ the best of us to the work towards regaining our national pride and to focus our energies on building an economy that will be a force to reckon with globally. Ndigbo are never content with anything less than excellence, so why should we continue to settle for mediocrity to please those who choose to be indolent? Unlike IPOB, we are not hung up on what we are against, rather we are very clear on what ideology we are for, and the means by which to achieve that ideology. When we are ready to do so, our people will direct an appropriate vehicle to achieve these aims. But to answer your question, I believe there should be an Igbo leader for the Igbo, a Hausa leader for the Hausa and a Yoruba leader for the Yoruba, and so for all others. If each individual nation is able to select their own to direct their fate, then the issue of who and what sits on the lame duck national seat will be irrelevant. That position will be purely ceremonial and a representative government can be fashioned out to deal with common issues that will remain between all indigenous nations that make up the Nigerian Federation, such as the repayment of our joint debt and treaties for free movement of goods and persons between us.
When you say, Igbo National Movement where does your Igbo map start and where does it end?
Being Igbo is not about drawing maps and forcing people into an identity that they do not believe in. Ndigbo know ourselves and we know where our homelands are to be found. Our neighbours know our lands and we have no disputes with them over it. As I have mentioned before, we are an ancient people and wherever we have settled, we have been there for hundreds if not thousands of years, practising our customs and farming our lands. The nomads who come to feed their flocks know our lands, and they know they cannot take them forcibly. In some families, there are those who are born to them, but for some reason or the other, they seek a different identity and then they go to the newspapers and issue a notice of change of name. Does it mean that they are still not the sons or daughters of their father? But they cannot be forced by anyone to continue to answer their former name. Their decision is theirs to make. However, if they return to the family and decide to take up that name again, no one can stop them, for it is their heritage and their right.
Ndigbo everywhere know ourselves and we know where all our brothers and sisters live. We will always consider them our brothers and sisters. Ndigbo will continue to stand ‘with’ them when they are in distress, and if they call on us and live by our values, we will stand ‘for’ them too.
How do you see Nigeria in 2023?
The year 2023 will bring Nigerian indigenous people closer and closer to their freedom. For the first time, the corrupt military establishment is running out of alter-egos to set upon the throne that they have created for themselves within the Nigerian government. For it is they we call the “cabal”. Their generation is old, dying and they grow weak. Their stronghold on the younger and vibrant generation is dissipating and their achievements will eventually evaporate in smoke. The year 2023 will bring us closer to the realisation that “We the People” mentioned in the constitution of Nigeria, must have our voices heard. The choice for Nigerians will be whether to heed these voices or to continue to allow the oligarchy to suppress them in the hope that once silenced, they will go away. Our voices will not go away. We will grow stronger and stronger until the tipping point is reached.
Restructuring, or outright struggle for an independent nationhood for the Igbo? Which one does INM support?
Restructuring without recognizing the independence of the indigenous nations, which make up the Nigerian Federation, and basing the restructuring process on that recognition, would be akin to putting makeup on a pig and taking it as wife in the name of a beautiful woman. It will not change anything other than words and soon the realization will hit home that one has made an awful mistake. An Igbo nation will stand on its own, or it may choose to subject its sovereignty to a different administrative entity. But that can only be decided through the expressed will of the people, and by making each indigenous nation understand what benefits such a system will bring to each national. That is the nature of the union in Great Britain, where the Irish national, the Scottish national, The Welsh national and the English national have, by negotiation made the decision to live together and administer themselves under a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They have devolved governments with far reaching powers and retain their own national identities, national anthems, national parliaments and national institutions. The same applies to Switzerland, Italy and even the United States of America, on whose system our democracy is modelled. All their states have their own police, judiciary, legislature and executive.
What are tribes if not nations? And what are nations if not tribes? Yet one connotes the negative, and another has a positive interpretation. That is an unfortunate paradigm encouraged by a colonial mentality with an ulterior motive to subdue.