Dr Joe Nwaorgu, a delegate at the national conference is the Secretary General of the apex Igbo pan socio-cultural organisation, Ohaneze Ndigbo. In this interview with EMEKA NZE, he stated that the South East Governors Forum have no unified agenda on main Igbo cause to present at the national conference.
When you were nominated as a delegate into the national conference were there meetings held to articulate the cause of Ndigbo?
Definitely, from first October after Mr President flew the kite that a national conference will hold, Ohaneze started the mobilisation drive. Meetings were held; Igbo organisations were brought together and based what has formed part of previous conferences touching national life, subheads were given and Igbo organisations sent in their positions on those subheads particularly, Igbo organisations were referred to Igbo positions in the 1994/1995 national conference, in the 2005 national conference and in the position paper of Ohaneze when the national assembly, the Senate and the House of Representatives called for amendment to the constitution led by Distinguished Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Rt. Hon Emeka Ihedioha, Ohaneze presented a paper- Igbo position- in the 2012 amendment call.
What were the frontline demands?
First and foremost was the restructuring of this country. Ndigbo stood and still stand for six zone structure. Next is devolution of powers- that power should devolve from the federal to the zones. Those were the critical issues and there from any other thing flows- power should devolve from the centre to the zones.
To what extent, individually and collectively have you pushed those demands in this national conference?
The structure of this conference is different. The conference started off with the president’s inauguration speech. All members of the conference spoke individually on the president’s excellent piece. For me, I saw it as a masterpiece; it covered it all though it fell short of allowing us the full hug to discuss issues like things that would make for a break up if any section doesn’t like what is occurring. The president stopped us from discussing that. That is the only limiting factor otherwise, everything else is on the table and we are taking the liberty to discuss everything. After the discussion on the president’s speech 20 committees were formed and we were divided into committees, each of these committees had its own subject area. For me I was in the Land Tenure and National Boundary Committee. It was committee number 15. The committees have now submitted their reports and it is these reports that are being taken one by one.
You said Ohaneze Ndigbo has a position before coming to this conference, but during the debate at the Restructuring Committee, Ebonyi and Enugu states went against regionalism. Could this imply there was a crack in the ranks of Ohaneze?
There is no crack in the ranks of Ohanaeze rather there is a crack in the South East Governors Forum. The governors do not have a single position for the southeast. One would have challenged the governors to tell us what their position on these issues is. Delegates appointed by governors came here with different portfolio stance. Ebonyi state government has always maintained that states should be the federating units and it is not just for this conference. They had the same view in the 2005 conference; they have not changed; so we all know the position of Ebonyi. What is surprising everybody is the stance of Enugu because Enugu has never said they are against zoning and most of the meetings we held, top Enugu people former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, former governor Okwy Nwodo, Prof Ochioha and many other people had taken part in the formulation of Ohaneze position and this Ohaneze position is not just Igbo position. After the Ohaneze position under the auspices of His Excellency, Dr Alex Ekwueme, Igbo organisations met in Awka to streamline all their positions, the South East Peoples Assembly (SEPA), South East Peoples Development Assembly (SEPDA), Aka-Ikenga, Izu-Umunna, Igbo Delegate Assembly (IDA), this Igbo Delegate Assembly links all Igbo Associations in Northern Nigeria plus Ohaneze as the apex Igbo organisation. All of us met and streamlined our position as Ndigbo. It is this position that we streamlined in Awka that we took to Asaba for a discussion with South West and South-South. It was a two day meeting at which committees were formed and discussion held there from, we arrived at the synthesis and a sync of what is a Southern position. It is that Southern position that each group was asked to defend and bring to the conference. That is the position Ohaneze is carrying.
Here one is tempted to ask, given the fact that you were not in the committee for Power Devolution or restructuring and therefore could not project that common cause of Ohaneze. Did you make any attempt to submit those positions to the committee involved for consideration?
Good. By the time we arrived here the South East Governors put us together under Gen Ike Nwachukwu and that is South East Delegate group. Ohaneze cooperated under his leadership. We met and we have a South East Peoples position which is not at variance with the Ohaneze position of six zone structure. That was what Ike Nwachukwu and Igariwey and those Igbos who were in that committee came to their committees with these objectives. But at the committee levels it’s not only Igbos who were there, other interest groups were also there. So if the overwhelming majority at that level go against the Igbo position you will not blame the Igbo people who were in that committee. However the committee report will be presented at the plenary. It is at the plenary level that we get final decision and it’s at that level that everybody should work for achieving the objectives. So it is not concluded that we’ve lost out. I want all Igbos, the South west and the South-south to try to convince their colleagues from other areas on the necessity of the zonal structure for the development of Nigeria. It is only the zones that are large enough to receive devolved functions from the Federal level. The states are too small; in fact, most of the states are not viable. So the Federal level cannot devolve very many things to state level. it is only the zonal structure that can absorb things we want to take away from the over centralised activities of the federal government that seems to still be a military government because it is too unitary and power is too concentrated at the centre that we want these powers to be dispersed but not to disperse to states which I think are very weak to receive these functions. But if you have the zones as federating units you have economies of scale, so a group of states can now put their resources together to execute large scale projects. Let us take coal from Igbo land, for example, Enugu state alone cannot provide the funds to revamp the coal industry but as a combined force, the South East working in tandem; we can revamp the coal industry, that’s the kind of thing I am talking about.
You talked about the south east governors agenda being at variance with the Ohaneze agenda….?
(Cuts in) I didn’t say their agenda is at variance. I said that the South East Governors don’t have a joint agenda. They did not give us an Igbo agenda with which we came here.
To the best of your knowledge, what agenda are they pursuing?
I don’t know what they are pursuing; I know that they are all Igbo people but it would have been good if the governors have met and said that this is what we want you people to do. It has not been done until now; I have not seen what puts the South East governors together as regards Igbo core interest like the zonal structure issue.
Now your agenda are in tandem with those of the South-South and South West, have you been able to sell some of your demands to those people from the north so that when you come to plenary they would not have to shoot them down?
Every Igbo person here led by Gen Ike Nwachukwu Chairman South East Delegates Forum is canvassing Igbo interest.
During the election of Ohaneze Ndigbo it was alleged that the governors were not carried along for instance in your state Imo it was believed that Gov Rochas Okorocha never supported your candidature and so does Martin Elechi for Igariwey?
(Cuts in again) Governors were not carried along how? If they are not carried along and he never supported my election yet he had a candidate?
Then what do you mean by he was not carried along?
They alleged the election was manipulated against the governors
That’s a different thing. You were not carried along in an election and you had your candidate. If your candidate was defeated, it does not mean anything. Election is over and the governor is my friend. He needed not support my election because he had his own ideas but after the election, he saw I got 2011 votes whoever they supported got 43 the others got 2, 1and it was clear that Ndigbo said Joe Nwaorgu is their secretary general and being a magnanimous person, his Special Adviser on Igbo Affairs congratulated me and we’re working in harmony. He is an Igbo man, I am an Igbo man, he is from Imo and I am from Imo.
So you are saying that your relationship with Gov Okorocha is cordial?
We don’t have any quarrel. We have never had any quarrel whether he supported my candidature or not, it doesn’t matter. I am Secretary General of Ndigbo and he is the governor of Imo state, and I hail from Imo, so he is my governor.
Other delegates here we learnt are being overwhelmingly supported by their governors, does this extend to you?
Our governors are giving us support through the south east secretariat.
To what extent have they done that?
All the governors, all of them are giving us support through the secretariat but I will not speak for the secretariat. There is a secretariat. Whether they have sufficient money I don’t know but the governors are giving us support.
They have subsidized your stay here as others are doing to their own delegates?
I said they are supporting the secretariat.
The committee on restructuring went ahead and recommended an additional state for the South East and now many other regions are canvassing for additional states in their zones, don’t you think that it is an attempt to scuttle the recommendation of an additional state for the south east?
What it is that the concept of states creation has two components. First Igbo people South East want parity. That’s the first line, thereafter; you can now discuss the creation of other states. At the moment, one state for Igbo land is not state creation .We are looking for equalization or looking for parity and equity, first and foremost. When that has gone we shall now discuss the concept of new states. That is how I see it.
Do you think the outcome of this conference should be subjected to referendum or National Assembly?
I have said that before the conference and I will say it again that it should be subjected to referendum because the National Assembly in my view is not equitably constituted and the structure is a bone of contention, both the senate and the House of Representatives. In terms of constituency distribution both of them are contentious. Therefore we cannot subject our decisions to the national Assembly.
Do you subscribe to the concept of zoning in Imo state?
I am from Owerri zone and power should not have gone to Orlu in the first instance in the last election. Okigwe zone should have been allowed to complete their eight year term. That was my position, that rotation should be the thing and that Okigwe should be allowed to complete its 8 years since Orlu zone had held power for 8 years under Udenwa, Okigwe spent 4 years, it is not fair for another Orlu man to become the governor of Imo state. That is where I stand on this question of rotation, I support rotation but there must be equity in it