It is time to go home unless you want to go home in casket- His Royal Majesty, Eze Emma Saint George Ekeh, Ishi Ubom of Ishi Ubomiri warns Ndi Igbo
What is so special about the award you were recently given, though, it would not be your first award?
The most recent Award that I received is the Okwuru – Igbo from the Igbo Speaking Community in Lagos. This Award is un-nerving because of its simplicity. The award came from humble people. Those who organized that event are the grassroots people. These are people harassed all the time, people who will go about doing their businesses and get extorted, intimidated, people who face day to day crisis on the road, area boys , landlords and all that. These are people who appreciate what I have done advocating equality and fairness for the Igbo no matter where he lives in Nigeria. The bourgeoisie, who live in Ikoyi, Victoria Island, etc, have their facilities. They can defend themselves, they have all the connections. But these guys are those who feel the heat of society of bad governance and discrimination. These are the people whose emotions and gratitude are encapsulated in this Award – Okwuru-Igbo. Simply they were saying thank you for what you have done for us over the years.
What have you done for them over the years?
I was in NADECO. I fought to establish a democratic government. I was pioneer National Secretary General, Pan-Ndigbo Foundation; in the steering committee of Pan Ndigbo. Pan Ndigbo; Arewa consultative forum; helmsmen of the PDM and the Yoruba were the factors that were used to form the PDP. I was also in the steering committee of the PDP and there, I tried to make sure that we found out the numerical strength of the Igbo resident in Lagos. Guy Ikoku, nationalist and statesman, and I had to go into the local governments to ascertain the population of the Igbo. We came out with a figure of 48 per cent of Igbos making up Lagos; three percent Arewa, the remaining are Yorubas from different states of the South West and the Middle belt.
Why has this strength in population not helped the Igbos?
That is the issue. That is why the struggle remains valid. It is a structural problem. If the structure is wrong anything you put on it will collapse. It is the same structural defect that has put us all in recession today. It is the same structural defect that has made it possible for the best brains to be in Aso Rock yet, our economy goes down. There is insecurity arising from the restiveness of the citizenry, all kinds of challenges, militancy and all that. For 40 years I have been fighting to correct that structural defect by insisting that we have a sovereign national conference and that we have that conference report implemented fully. Once we restructure Nigeria, most of these things will disappear. You find the 48 per cent working for the Igbos, the three per cent working for the Arewas and the balance working for the Yorubas. I am talking about Lagos. It is like when you have a headache, you keep taking Paracetamol tablet repeatedly, the headache could be symptomatic. There could be an organ failure. Until you treat the organ, no matter the number of analgesic you take, it won’t make any sense.
A national conference was held in the twilight of the Jonathan presidency and it represented all opinions, all sectors of this country, all had representation. Now the caliphate was represented, the Igbos were there among others and they took decisions that could solve permanently the problems of this country whether at state, local government or national level, that report from that conference should be implemented now so that Nigeria can have peace.
Mr. President said he is not interested in reading it and has dumped it in the archives?
If Mr. President says that and truly he is not joking, I would say Mr. President has to take his time to ask himself some questions about patriotism. Is he actually patriotic? The Emirs were there, his leaders were there, the country was well represented and they took decisions and you said he has thrown it into the archives, is he respecting this country? Is he respecting the flag, his oath of office? Is he respecting the lives of millions of Nigerians? He cannot even dump a poem written by his daughter in the dustbin not to talk of a conference that cost this nation billions of Naira and time!
Anybody who does not want the restructuring of this country is an enemy of this country because that is the solution.
What is your relationship with Governor Rochas Okorocha, of Imo State?
He is my governor and we have a very cordial relationship. I am an Eze in Imo and we relate well with him.
…With all these issues happening between him and some indigenes?
There is never a hundred per cent harmony in societies particularly when you have a population of over five million people. You cannot be friendly with everybody. There are some indigenes that are lawless. There are many that are good. There are some that are having problems with their immediate constituencies. If you can have problems with your wife in your family, what more of a Governor supervising, overseeing five million people?
What is your impression about governance in Imo?
Let me make it very clear. Apart from late Sam Mbakwe, Rochas happens to be the only governor I have seen that has given Imo State some form of hope whether you are talking about creation of infrastructure or otherwise. The truth has to be said even in the face of mounting opposition. He doesn’t pay me, if I get an allowance, I get it statutorily. You may think the roads are ‘China’ roads but he has opened the roads. When a former governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande came into power, he built schools that we thought were poultry farms but today somebody has turned those schools into three storey-buildings. Someone has to lay the foundation.
Rochas tore the forest, created footpaths where people can push their wheelbarrows carrying their cassava out of their farms towards the market. He has done that. I am not saying that Rochas is a saint; he is a human being who has his own challenges. What I am saying is here is – a Governor who has paid salaries. He would negotiate to say ok whatever is available, let us split it. I am not going to blame him, I will blame labour as well as Imolites who have abandoned home and do not want to come home to contribute both human resources and ideas because if a leader is overwhelmed by challenges of what he inherited, he is prone to errors, that is why you need wise men around to advise him. Though one thing is to give good advice and another thing is to accept good advice and implement it. If you get to Owerri, you can see the ambience, even a blind man can see the ambience but that does not mean there are no challenges or mistakes. We are not looking at perfection, we are looking at somebody who could say, ‘at this point, you should be able to expect this,’ it might be substandard but at least half bread is better than none. I must give it to him. Instead of running away castigating him from abroad, from outside, come inside and fight with him, get to his house. If you want to block his gate, block his gate and say you are today the Governor, we need you to address this issue. This is the way we want it. I do my best when I get to the parliament when it comes to addressing Ndi Eze. I speak my mind and I have attended meetings with him. We contribute ideas and that is why they say he changes like this or that because superior logic wins. The issue here is let people who are intellectually strong in political economics and industry come around and say we are here to help you as you are carrying too much load. If we want to fight let us fight like brothers for progress of the state and I think that is the best way to go.
Are you a member of the PDP?
No, traditional rulers are not supposed to be politicians neither can they belong to parties. I don’t belong to any political party.
But you are a progressive?
Any sensible person should be progressive not retrogressive. I am progressive if what you mean by that is making sure that our community moves forward – there is education, there is medical facility for people, there is law and order, there is due punishment for offence committed, there is eradication of corruption.
What is your message to Ndigbo outside Igboland?
Ndigbo have been stupid for a long time. Yorubas have told us at the last event in a well packaged language that you guys have been foolish. Go home. And I keep telling Ndigbo that the land God created you in, knowing the industry He has put in you, should be more productive than the land you bought from somebody else. Ndigbo should look at the Yorubas. In Yoruba land any Yoruba man that is up to the age of 60, 70, 80 years begins to go to the village. They only come to Lagos when they want to collect their dividend or come to visit their grandchildren. When they go home, they attend village meetings. If you leave the decisions to be taken by clowns, charlatans, that is what they will implement. Cockroaches will inhabit the mansions you have built. I told the elites some time ago that if they don’t behave themselves, they will be in exile and those mansions will be occupied by rats and cockroaches. Unfortunately, that is what is happening today. Ndigbo need to know that they have been foolish. I owe them no apology for saying this.
How can you claim to be better placed than the owner of the land where you are doing business? If the Governor tomorrow comes up and says every house here must pay N500m a year, if you don’t pay it, we confiscate the house. They will take the N500m from both the Yorubas and Igbos and return the benefits to the Yorubas through their village meetings and all that. Where does that keep you? In the first place, why must the Igbos be the ones to keep saying, ‘we are going to the village whether it is Owerri, Orlu, Nsukka et al? Why don’t you go home to a mega city? We built Abuja and we are so proud we own more number of houses in Abuja. We say it without shame. We have built Lagos, developed Lagos and they look at you and laugh. You don’t know how much you have poured into the Lagos project. The day they don’t want you there is nothing you can do about it.
Assuming there is a whistle blown now, where are you going? And we have swallowed the propaganda that we don’t have land and that is why Igboland cannot contain us. That is stupidity. How much land does Japan, Gambia have. Gambia is not up to four million in population. Imo state is bigger than Gambia but they are a nation. What is the population of Togo, Benin Republic? They are controlling their economy. Go and look at what Nnewi people are doing now? Is Innoson not doing something at home? We are wasting our lives here. You think you are strong now; you have power and all that. Do you think your child who you are going to bequeath your assets to has the strength, stamina, and connections to grow what you have amassed for him? You think he will be able to defend that? It’s a shame. Where are the properties of Ojukwu and Zik in Lagos? It is time to go home unless they want to go home in caskets. The greatest pain you can inflict on your children is to keep them here. We can reverse the movement. Turn home into Taiwan, Dubai, Tokyo. These people who go to China will come to Owerri, Enugu, Orlu to buy products. We can do that.