Anthony Okolo Olisa is a legal practitioner and the President of Igbo National Movement (INM). In this interview with CHRIS NJOKU he expressed doubt over the success of the Igbo 2023 project and says that at present, Nigeria does not have the soul of a federation, but is at heart a federation of proud nations which is why most of the states created by the military have continued to fail to bring the people the development that they require. Excerpts
What is the ideology behind INM, which has been very vocal recently in defense of issues, as it concerns the Igbo people?
Simply put, the Igbo National Movement is a movement created to re-establish 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 Igbo 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 meet all the criteria for nationhood. We have a common tongue, a common territory which 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 home 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? Ndigbo 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 re-creating it into a system that the people can recognize and respect.
What’s your opinion on 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 Ndigbo 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-Igbos 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 judgement, 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.
Who is funding your group and what is the agenda behind it all?
The movement is being funded by love. Of what use is a hidden agenda? What is the use of hiding a lamp beneath an opaque bucket? No, our agenda is open to one and all, we are proud to share it. For in sharing it, we do not diminish ourselves or others. We wish to reassert our rights as an indigenous nation and for the Federation to recognize these rights as well as the rights of all indigenous nationals who are desirous, to chart their own course, whether within a re-negotiated Nigerian confederation, or in a clearly defined Commonwealth of Independent Nigerian States.
No Nigerian, who is Nigerian by birth, can be a Nigerian, if they were not first born to the nations indigenous to the land, upon the amalgamation by the British in 1914. To be Nigerian, is to be first Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Kanuri, Ijaw, Jukun, Tiv or any of the various nationalities that make up the Nigerian Federation. The promise of Nigeria lies not in replacing these identities, but in harnessing our diversity, allowing each to become the best version of ourselves. The government and Nigerians know that at present, Nigeria does not have the soul of a federation made up of the administrative units we have come to know as states, but is at heart a federation of proud nations. That is why most of the states created by the Military have continued to fail to bring the people the development that they require. They have failed to energize the loyalty of the people and the people question the legitimacy of these units consistently.
That is why we continue to have National Orientation Agencies and agitations for state creations as the people strive to connect emotionally with their local government. That is why we continue to unsuccessfully mimic the British colonial administrative system of “divide and rule” and to export our national wealth to other nations, to the detriment of our own people. How else can you justify the fact that we would rather sell our crude oil and other raw materials to foreign countries, than satisfy our own local demand for energy or means of production? It is just a hopeless situation which is based on faulty thinking.
The British knew this and fought hard to destroy our individual national identities because that was a way to keep us weak and easy to administer. Now we are governed by our own, we should not have the same fears the British did. We know ourselves and have traded and lived with each other peacefully for centuries as individual nations, so why do we think we cannot do that again? To fear our diversity is to fear ourselves for whom we are, and that is why the Nigerian project as designed by the British, and continued by the corrupt military establishment, is failing. It is structurally defective and so is the constitution it has birthed. Our ideology seeks to end this system.
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 de-franchise 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.
Are you in support of 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 Igbo man 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 Igbos, a Hausa leader for the Hausa and a Yoruba leader for the Yorubas, 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 stop?
Being Igbo is not about drawing maps and forcing people into an identity which 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.
Looking at Nigeria today, what do you think 2023 will look like?
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 them 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. 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 supress 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.
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