Chief Abia Onyike is the spokesperson for Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), and Former Commissioner for Information in Ebonyi State. In this interview with OBINNA EZUGWU in Abakailiki, he alleged that political leaders of the north encouraged Boko Haram and other insurgents in the region by their actions. He warned that if the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and other pro-Biafra groups decide to take up arms like the insurgents in the north, Nigeria will not last six months.
Onyike, a former Deputy National President, Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ), also spoke extensively about his disagreements with the Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi.
President Muhammadu Buhari continues to take decisions that many say are inappropriate. There are issues like the disobedience of court orders, the lopsided appointments. Are you worried about the way things are going in the country?
Of course every Nigerian who is serious minded must be worried. Nigeria is now more divided than ever before. That is because of Buhari’s official policy, which is based on sectionalism. There was this misunderstanding that the government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was pro-Igbo, because under him Igbo people held certain positions like chief of army staff, chief of naval staff and all that. Now, the Yoruba people became more angry than any other group. They were the people who plotted to install Buhari in power so that Buhari will join with them to seize the political and economic paraphernalia of governance in Nigeria to the exclusion of the Igbo. So, it was just like what happened during and after the civil war when (Obafemi) Awolowo aligned with the northern caliphate to levy war on the Igbo and the rest of Biafra. But even the Yoruba should now know better, they should check how far they have faired; whether the Fulani people have any respect for them. Have the Fulani been sharing things 50/50 with them? That’s the point.
Where, in your opinion, are we headed in the country?
I belong to a group known as Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF). The group is one of the pro-Igbo sociocultural organisations. Our own position is very clear. We support the restructuring of Nigeria in such a way that we shall have autonomous regions. We should have a federation of autonomous regions. Even if the regions are the six geopolitical zones, let them be autonomous; let them develop at their own pace. Nigeria is so large a country territorially, and in terms of religion, culture, we are very different. You cannot therefore compact everybody under one central authority in Abuja. It cannot work, and has never worked. So, we support a return to a federation of autonomous regions. If you are insisting that we continue to be governed from Abuja, that is fascism and if you want to insist on that, then whatever you see you take.
Do you fear there might be implosion in the country if nothing is done about the structure?
The implosion, has it not started? Are you not seeing the level of armed confrontations in the country? The federal government is battling so many things right now, including the Boko Haram insurgency and banditry in the northwest, and all kinds of violent groups. The only group that is not armed now is the IPOB, MASSOB and other pro-Biafra groups. And they know it that if they were to be armed, Nigeria will not last six months. So, let us thank God that the pro-Biafra groups are committed to peaceful agitation, the Mahatma Gandhi type of agitation. But all the Islamic insurgents are armed to the teeth because they want to impose their religion on the rest of us. Unfortunately, the leadership of the region and the country contributed to it. When you are the leader at the centre, and you begin to sympathize with Islamic ideology, you incubate insurgency. Then when it gets out of hand, you begin to battle to retrieve it, that’s the problem we are having now.
But what could Buhari for instance could have done to fuel the insurgency?
It did not start now. What was Ahmadu Bello saying? On the 12 of October 1960, 12 days after independence, what did he say?
That this new nation shall be an estate of his great grandfather…?
Yes! Why should a leader talk like that when he knows that people are mixed up? And most of the leaders who led Nigeria since the civil war, from 1970 to now, were they not people who had the same ideology? Including Murtala Mohammed. What were they expecting? In the year 1999 when we returned to democracy, what happened? 12 contiguous northern states adopted Sharia law. What did that mean in a circular country that should be governed without religion? So, when you are doing that, you are giving signs to the masses that it is where you are going. Then, some will become more fanatical than you, and that’s exactly what gave rise to Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa. Now, the leaders are pretending to be fighting it. Are they serious? All those imaginations will come to naught. If you want peace in Nigeria, then the Nigerian state must remain a state that is neither for this or that religion, that’s the only way we can build a Nigerian state. We are mixed up, not everyone is a Muslim, not everyone is a Christian and not everyone is a feudalist. Those of us from the eastern part of Nigeria were not brought up under feudal institutions. We believe in democratic government. We believe that Nigeria is a republic, a democratic federal republic. We don’t owe any allegiance to any feudal authority, wherever it is. That is the way the Igbo man works. That was the basis for what happened immediately after the independence period. Recall what happened in the Western Region, the killings that were taking place there. And now, look at what is happening, Fulani herdsmen. Does that show you that the people want peace? The population of Igbo people is 60 million in Nigeria, we are not a small group. And the population of the Igbo nation is larger than any existing independent African state with the exception of Ethiopia. So, why do you think you can pocket the Igbo people. If you don’t want them, why not allow them to be independent?
Some have accused Buhari of pursuing ethnic Fulanisation agenda. Do you share that belief?
It’s not a belief, we look at statistics, statements. There are statements he made which have been quoted severally. He never denied them. Look at the appointments he has made so far, all the key appointments have been given to Hausa/Fulani Muslims. Majority of the service chiefs are from his own part of the country. So, what do you want us to say? Look at even appointments into the police hierarchy now. What type of thing is that? You want the country to be united, and the resources you are using to govern the country is coming from the Eastern Region, yet you do things like that. Are you not ashamed of yourself? Does it show that you are intelligent and that you want the country to stand? There is a level to which human beings should not play God.
You have a book that is coming up in which you said you traced the history of Nigeria, especially as it concerns…?
Yes, the book is about the history of Nigeria: Igbo nation and Biafra, Africa’s last colony. I’m just seeing the Igbo nation as a colony. It was colonised first by Britain and when they were leaving, they handed us over to the caliphate to recolonise. That’s what it is. And why was Nigeria colonised? Nigeria was colonised because of the rich resources in Southern Igbo land and the Niger Delta territories. That area is the richest part of Africa. That’s the reason the British colonised the area, they didn’t do so because of the North or the West. But when they went there to colonise, they discovered that the people there are the Igbo people whom they had known in history. They knew that these people would be very difficult to contend with. So, they decided to create an omnibus federation by bringing in all kinds of people who have nothing at stake in order to create a nation-state of divided people that would be permanently under tension and crisis-ridden. That way, the indigenous people who own the rich economic resources would be under permanent slavery, just as you have in Southern Africa. That’s the history of Nigeria. And until you understand it from that perspective, you cannot explain the permanent turbulence of the Nigerian federation.
How does Nigeria being in crisis benefit Britain?
It benefits them because by being in crisis, their exploitative nexus will be permanently strengthened. The politics has never been stable. For example, in 2014/15, a decision was made in Western Europe that Jonathan would have to leave office because he was trying to, in their own calculations, be pro-China or pro-eastern powers. There were some war ships he bought from China and so on, they became uncomfortable. What they now did was to stage-manage the political process which gave birth to the emergence of Buhari.
One of the greatest problems of the Nigerian politics today is the fact that (Bola Ahmed) Tinubu and some of the new Awoists led the remnants of the pro democracy movement in the South West to go into alliance with the Caliphate North.
That is how the current neo-fascist alliance came about. Then, you had the veterans of the labour movement, people like Adams Oshiomhole and many others who played lead roles in the pro democracy movement in Nigeria, especially their intellectual wing in the Nigerian press.
How can you just give up yourself completely and go to worship in the corridor of neo-fascism? You completely hand over yourself to the most conservative wing of Nigerian politics, that will tell you how dangerous Nigerian politics has become. That is why people are talking about hate speech and all that. What is hate speech? They are not talking about the hate policies that give rise to ‘hate speeches.’ Now they want to say that people should be hanged for speaking out against hate policies. They are yet to see what they are looking for.
There are already talks about who succeeds Buhari in 2023. The Tinubu led Yoruba are agitating, the Igbo are also calling for it…?
The Yoruba people have had a taste of the presidency since the return to civilian rule in 1999. They have had power for eight years, and that was Olusegun Obasanjo. And by the time the Buhari presidency would be coming to an end in 2023, they would also have had vice presidency for eight years.
The Igbo have not had presidency since Nigerian independence. So, any serious analyst of Nigerian politics who wants fairness, equity and justice and who wants peace to reign, knows that this is the time to allow the Igbo to go for the presidency. However, that doesn’t mean it will solve all the problems of Nigeria. But at least, it would lead to a certain measure of stability. Anything outside that I’m telling you I can’t guarantee that the Igbo people will take kindly to that. Those who are agitating for Biafra now will then have a major boost if you deny Igbo people presidency. Let me say that Tinubu or whoever is looking for the seat in Yoruba land is not serious with political reality. It has not come to that. Tinubu will not get it.
I know that ordinarily, the Yoruba don’t even consider the Igbo as being part of Nigeria. I know it within me that Hausa-Fulani people will consider it easier to even concede the presidency to the Igbo than the Yoruba. The Yoruba people will cry more than everyone else if the presidency is given to the Igbo. But there is nothing they can do about it now.
But some Northern politicians, particularly second republic lawmaker, Junaid Mohammed, have on several occasions, voiced preference for the South West?
Junaid Mohammed appear to be unbalanced. He suffers from Igbophobia. He feels inferior to the Igbo, but let him do whatever he likes, the Igbo people will get the presidency in 2023, and there is nothing he can do about it.
You are no longer with the PDP government of Ebonyi State. You worked very hard to bring about the Dave Umahi government in 2015. What happened?
In the first place, I think the governor himself, David Umahi had his own programmes, which were personal to him. He didn’t want to consider the contributions of other people. I was director of media and publicity in 2014/15, during his campaign. We did our best to work for him and he eventually emerged. But I didn’t know that he was plotting to destroy me politically by not getting me properly located in the scheme of things. That was deliberate on his part as I have found out. That was the situation that continued until 2018 when I showed interest in going to the Senate and he manifested the same thing. He came to stop me. Of all the people that were contesting, I was the only person he came out to campaign against openly. And you know what it means for a sitting governor to come out and campaign against a particular aspirant in the kind of democracy we run in the political parties. By so doing, he succeeded in blacklisting me within the party hierarchy. It was at that juncture that I told him bluntly that I will no longer support his political aspirations, because I don’t owe him any obligations. I told him that from then henceforth, I was no longer a supporter of his political course. From that point, I went away to support his opponent in the governorship election. Since then, we have parted ways.
Could it be that he is uncomfortable with your strong opinions about the issues in the country?
I don’t think so. Some of these characters are not principled. They don’t believe in anything. I think that has more to do with how he came into the politics of the state. By the time he came in as a contractor trying to do a job in 2006 – that was the year he came into Abakailiki from Port Harcourt, he was brought by Professor Chigozie Ogbu, former deputy governor – I was already a sitting commissioner. I’m saying that immediately after the regime of Dr. Sam Egwu where I served as commissioner, the next government was that of Martin Elechi, which started in 2007. I was also close to Elechi and we worked very well. Elechi made Umahi chairman of the party in Ebonyi and he started work. Elechi called him and told him about me and the plans he had for me. All he did was to use the information to start fighting me secretly, without my knowledge. Eventually, when he disagreed with Elechi and wanted to come out for this governorship, some of us supported him because we wanted the governorship seat to come to our own senatorial district. I backed him and was in charge of the media as director of media and publicity. We did our best, took all the risks, worked for him throughout, only for him to dump me and start destroying me politically. That was the basis upon which I said OK, since you don’t want us to work together, let me go.
You said when you wanted to run for Senate he opposed…?
Yes, when I wanted to run for Senate, I told him. He said no problem. The committee he set up to look at all those who were running for the senate, we were nine. The committee was headed by Professor Ogbu. That committee, after all said and done, placed me as the number one choice of the people. We were called to the hall at the government lodge where the results were presented. Similar committees were set up for Ebonyi North senatorial district, which settled for Dr. Sam Egwu. Another one was set up for Ebonyi Central Senatorial District which settled for Senator Obinna Ogba. The third one for Ebonyi South Senatorial District settled for me, only for the governor to unilaterally remove my name and start abusing me. I saw it as hatred, so there was nothing I could do but leave.
Since you left the party to join forces with the opposition APC, has he tried to reach out to you?
I heard there was a time he wanted to reach out to me through the elder brother who is the national vice chairman of the party and his his personal assistant. Two of them were trying to reach out to me but I eventually didn’t hear from them again. Even the man they were trying to work for doesn’t have regard for anybody. He is such a unilateral character.
But even though, he has done well in the state in terms of projects. Won’t you give him credit there?
He is not doing any work in the state. All he does is playing to the gallery and engaging in white elephant projects. Ebonyi State is a backward state educationally. And education is fundamental to development. Under Dr. Sam Egwu, a policy of free education was instituted and a policy whereby students were given scholarships was instituted. Elechi sustained it when he came in as governor by ensuring that some special secondary schools were maintained, about 30 of them. Those schools were properly equipped. They were boarding schools being run in such a way that the students’ parents were paying N5,000 only person student. The government was paying N10,000 for each student, which, with the N5,000 paid by their parents, came to N15,000. The money was then used to feed the students. But immediately this man came into power, he removed all these. He destroyed the special schools. He destroyed free education and stopped the scholarships awarded for people to go and study for higher degrees overseas and within Nigerian universities. Now, there is no pipe-borne water anywhere in the state, not even in Abakailiki as we speak. And occasionally you have outbreaks of diseases like yellow fever. So, where is the development when you can’t provide basic necessities of life?
No hospital is working in the entire state, no general hospital is working in the state. The only hospital working is the federal government hospital, which is a tertiary hospital. The local government system has been so balkanised because of greed and selfishness, and highest level of corruption that is being perpetrated. They say he is building roads. He is building roads because his companies are building them. He awards contracts to himself, then executes them and pays himself. He wants to be everything everywhere. From 2014 till date, all the workers in Ebonyi State who retired after 35 years of meritorious service have not been paid their gratuities. The governor has seized the money. Now he pays civil servants half salary in the state. That is the person they say is pursuing development. He doesn’t believe in anything, he doesn’t believe in anybody. All he believes in is putting white elephant projects that will bring him praise from Abuja. Then he carries money to Abuja and begins to give to service chiefs and all kinds of people. Then he hires aeroplanes to go all over the world. He is not a leader. Ebonyi State is worse than it was before he came to power.
I remember the last time we spoke, you talked about APC being a party that seeks to subjugate the Easterners. But you now deciding to work for the party, are you not going against your beliefs?
I did not support the party as such. I supported an individual because I was opposed to Umahi, that was what happened. That individual who challenged Umahi was the person I supported to make sure that Umahi was removed from office. We did our best and we know the reasons why he survived. And we know how much he paid to survive, and the high wire politics that worked in his favour. He did not retain his seat based on merit, he had actually already ran away. The entire state wanted to chase him out. He has no constituency, nobody is behind him, even now. The workers are against him, the teachers are against him, the professionals are against him, artisans are against him, traders are against him – everybody in the state is against him. He is a selfish character. Nine months after he became governor, he built fifteen mansions in his private residence in the village, somebody that was living in a bungalow. He also acquired a helicopter landing facility and built a hotel annex and a stadium in the same compound. So, what type of human being is that?