INTERVIEW: Igbo Don't Feel Sense Of Belonging In Nigeria

Igwe Chijioke Nwankwo


Igwe Chijioke Nwankwo is the traditional ruler of Nawfia in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State. He recently spoke with some journalists on national issues, advising the people of the state to vote for a candidate in the next governorship election that would bring the state back to the path of development. Iyobosa Uwugiaren was there.
Recently, there were reports that traditional rulers of Anambra South had insisted that the governorship position be given to the zone. You are a traditional ruler in the state; do you share that view?

No! I say emphatically that the answer to that question is no. I challenged the grounds upon which Governor Willie Obiano emerged in 2014. I almost had problems with the then governor, Peter Obi, for challenging that position. That position is constitutionally illegal. The Nigerian constitution prohibits zoning. But what I am looking at is if zoning must be done, it cannot be selective. It cannot be for only the governorship position. If we must adopt zoning, it must be across the board. If we must zone, it must go round including Senate, House of Representatives, State House of Assembly and even the traditional ruler. It is not about who can afford it. My position is for the best candidate, the most credible candidate. It must be said that Anambra South Senatorial zone has produced at least two governors. As it is, every zone of the state has produced the governor. However, we must note that in places where there is mutual agreement on zoning, there must be a section that has been cheated. I believe that there has been equitable and just distribution of political power in Anambra State. I don’t see any part of Anambra State that is a minority. No part of Anambra State is marginalised. Anambra North was said to have been cheated in the past. But with Governor Obiano, they are having eight years in power and he has developed the place and given more appointments to Anambra North than any governor in the history of Anambra State. So, I totally reject zoning. It is constitutionally illegal. If they must do it, without any malicious intention to disenfranchise anybody, then, it must go round and also be done in the council of traditional rulers, in the town unions, in the State House of Assembly, Senate, House of Representatives, Councillorship and so on so as to make it equitable and just.

Was there any time in the history of Anambra State that either traditional rulers or political elites met and agreed that there should be zoning of the governorship?
Well, we met when the Ohanaeze people came and suggested the idea of zoning, and I have this in writing. They brought a lot of professors to discuss it. At that meeting, I rejected the idea. All the professors that came there told us that zoning is illegal and continues to be illegal, but if all the people have an understanding, they can do what they want. However, the way Anambra is today suggests that we must bring someone who is eminently qualified to govern us. We must stop the idea of a few cabals bringing someone and insisting that he should govern us. We must stop that. Our problem, if you recall, Peter Obi asked ‘are we the cause or are we cursed’? At the end of his tenure, he said, we are the cause. But we know that it is how you make your bed that you lay on it. We must stop all these gang-ups that impose anybody on us. Let us go for our best candidate to fix Anambra. If you are scared that without zoning that you will not win, then, you are not qualified. Anambra has grown since 1999 and the people are mature enough to know what and who they want without rigging.

With seven local governments in each of the three senatorial zones, do you think the state lacks quality persons to manage its affairs?

I believe that many of the people running for the office of governor are qualified. But I think what they are looking at is a consensus on zoning. Anambra has people who are eminently qualified, from all the zones, to work for the common good. So, the answer is that we have qualified people to do the job and there is no need for zoning. If you look at it historically, you will know that Anambra South has produced two governors. Remember also that I had challenged the argument that the North had not produced leaders of the state. Where did Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ukpabi Asika come from? They were both of Anambra North. I said what we ought to be looking at is if Anambra North had been cheated of anything that rightly belongs to it from the state budget? I had warned that we should not create more problems while attempting to cure one. That was before Willie Obiano became governor.

Do you think that all the political parties can be persuaded to select their candidates from only one zone?

I don’t think so because the PDP had made it clear that it is not going with zoning. APC has also spoken in same direction that it will not go with zoning. So, among the three strong political parties in Anambra today, it is only APGA that is insisting on zoning. However, I believe that if the party goes over that decision again, it will see that the best it can do is to throw its doors open and let the people make their choice.

Don’t you think that the argument against zoning in Anambra will make nonsense of the clamour of the South East for the presidency?

Let me illustrate this with a corporate organisation. The law protects the minority in every corporate organisation especially at shareholder meetings. The reason I talk about equity is that if the Igbo are the minority, then, the law must protect them. However, if proper census is conducted, the Igbo will be shown to be the majority in Nigeria. If you go round Nigeria, you will discover that everywhere you go, after the indigenes, the next population is the Igbo. Therefore, the marginalisation that the Igbo talk about is real and there is no similarity with what is happening to the Igbo in Nigeria and what is happening in Anambra. No zone of Anambra State is marginalised the way the Igbo are marginalised in Nigeria. No one is marginalised here.

There has been a civil war in Nigeria against the Igbo and the Igbo have not been properly re-integrated, since after that war, to make them feel like they are part of same country; and that is what is fueling all the agitation. Nothing of such has ever happened in Anambra State.

Would you say that the ruling party in Anambra has given people of the state what they expect from governance?

The scorecard is yet to be completed. At this juncture, we are still waiting. There are two more years for us to see what will happen. But the way it is today, if you are not in APGA or you don’t agree with what they do, you become an outcast. A father must embrace all his children. He may give some more but he cannot exclude. I once told a commissioner in the state that they must change how they work because their policy is about exclusion and not inclusiveness. There must be equity even when there is no equilibrium. The difference cannot be much. You cannot run a state on the policy of divide and rule and divide the state along APGA and non-APGA especially in this Nawfia, where you have two presidents-general because the Igwe is outspoken. Elections were held and you cancel it and impose your own choice because you don’t like the Igwe. They must integrate and incorporate Anambra people into what they are doing whether they are APGA or not. There is no need to create division. You need to take advantage of the diversity and bring both those who voted for you and those that did not vote for you together for the good of the state because the resources, the money, are theirs regardless of their vote.

What you are essentially saying is that APGA has divided Anambra people the more…

As of today, there is more problem between the town unions and the traditional institution. You know that when there is a problem with the father of the house, it affects the children.

What did you mean that there is problem between town unions and traditional institution?
I call it divide and rule. There is not enough investigation when something is reported before action is taken. For instance, I once received a letter from the State Government about the vigilante group. They asked me to nominate 10 members and that Town Union leadership will nominate 10 members. I refused to do that. I said I will not do it. The law is very specific and unequivocal. The Anambra State Vigilante Law 2014, amended 2015, stated that the Igwe is the Chief Security Officer of the town. I asked them to follow the law. Theirs is to enforce the law. After so many squabbles, they eventually listened to me. But there are still issues. I have repeatedly told the governor that there must be division of labour. The Igwe has his job and the town unions have their jobs. That is the only way to move forward. You can only stay in office as governor for four years, at most eight years, but the problems you create can last for years if not centuries.

Don’t you think that your position on issues, especially on zoning, will pitch you against the political power in the state?

Thanks for that question. However, if you look at Egypt, only one person stood out in the square and there was a revolution which led to the Arab Spring. Sometimes, we have to sacrifice even at the point of death. Look at the life of Gani Fawehinmi. He stood alone till he died. I ask people to challenge me if what I am saying is false. I will keep saying the truth, God help me. I have been pitched against so many powers. I challenged Peter Obi. He was my schoolmate at CKC Onitsha. I was ahead of him by one year. Many people thought we were going to kill ourselves but he realised what I told him. You must look after your people. They are the people that put you there. Today, my primary function is the protection of the customs and tradition of Nawfia. If I don’t like the job, I resign from office. It does not have to be about me. Our people must know why they have a government. It is not for your pocket and not for your family. The people put you there. There was something you told the people that made them vote you ahead of others. You must achieve that thing.

So, how are you coping with issue of herdsmen in your domain and what is your take on the idea of resettling them whether through Ruga or other means?

I entirely don’t like the idea of Ruga. They say that Igbo people are settled all over Nigeria. Yes, look at Computer Village in Lagos, the Trade Fair complex (ASPAMDA) etc. I agree the Igbo developed them. But they spent their money to buy spaces and developed them. It is a free country. If you want to rear cattle, buy a piece of land and develop your business on it. Otherwise, you should as well give Igbo people lands where they would do business. Nobody gave Igbo traders the spaces they developed as markets. Yet, they are taxed heavily.