Archbishop Emmanuel Chukwuma
Archbishop Chukwuma

Anglican Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province, His Grace, Archbishop Emmanuel Chukwuma, has decried the incursion of Almajiri children into the Southeast, noting that it is unacceptable and dangerous, especially at this point that the country is battling Coronavirus pandemic.

Archbishop Chukwuma who spoke in this interview with OBINNA EZUGWU, blamed the Northern security chiefs in the Southeast for the incursion and called on the Southeast governors to request for their transfer out of the region. He also spoke on other issues in the polity as it concerns Ndigbo among others.

Excerpts:

Of late, there has been this influx of almajiri children from the North into the South and particularly the Southeast. Are you comfortable with the development?

No. It’s unacceptable and dangerous because you can’t just invade other people’s territories, especially when there is a lock down to check spread of Coronavirus. And this is also an indictment on the security agencies manning the borders. I see no reason why they would be allowed to pass through all the checkpoints mounted by security agencies all the way from the North down to the South. And that is why I have been saying that I’m calling on all the governors of the Southeast to call for the withdrawal of Northern security chiefs in the zone, because they are the ones aiding them. Most of the people who are manning checkpoints in the Southeast are Northerners, that’s why they have freedom.

So, I think it’s high time the governors called on the federal government to withdraw these security chiefs from the North because they have failed us. They are not dependable and are the ones aiding their brothers to come in. We cannot trust them anymore. Southeast governors and other Southern governors should request for them to be changed. I see no reason why they should be here, if not only because they feel that they can make money here. The amount of money they are collecting in the borders now is huge, and none of the borders in the North will fetch them that kind of money. So, it is time for the people of the Southeast to rise up and resist the invasion.

Our youths should be ready to make sure that whatever agenda they are coming to execute is resisted. Because I feel that there is an agenda behind the sudden movement. We must therefore be ready to resist. Nobody should think they can bring weapons here and gradually come into our area to possibly execute an agenda. We must not therefore allow them to get themselves comfortable to fight us. Enough is enough. Nobody should think they can take over our lands for Ruga, because that’s another agenda. Nobody should give them land.

But would it not be against the constitution to do that because the present constitution allows everyone the right to move to any part of the country?

Yes, but not in this period of COVID-19 lock down. No law allows people to move like that this time because there is a federal order declaring lock down. That’s what I’m saying. Coming down to our place in droves at this time of lock down is suspicious. And it’s in defiance to the executive order of Mr. President. So, the federal government should say something about it. Why should they have the freedom to move down the South during this lock down? That is selective negligence. Are laws only made for Southerners in Nigeria and not for Northerners? The law should be enforced on these people for them to know that they have violated the law. They should be arrested and detained.

Again, the danger is that we don’t know how many of them might be infected with COVID-19. And as they come in like that, without any proper test conducted on them, they might spread the disease in the Southeast. So, that becomes dangerous. We must be very much alert and vigilant. This is not the period for anyone to move. The government said ‘stay where you are,’ but they are moving, which is not lawful and not acceptable.

Does it now make more eloquent case for Southeast regional security that leaders of the zone proposed?

Yes, we are on it. Very soon, it will come into effect. We said it when we had security summit with the Inspector General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, that we need a security outfit in the Southeast, whether you call it ‘Ogunigwe’ or you call it ‘Agu n’eche mba.’ Whatever it’s going to be called, the important thing is that it’s needed and it will come into effect. We cannot fold our hands and watch criminal elements take over our land. What happened in the Southwest with Amotekun is going to happen in the Southeast. We are going to set it up.

But Southeast governors during the security summit you mentioned said they were opting for the community police initiative of the Federal Government?

That’s to say that every state in the Southeast will get their own outfit, and they are already doing that. In Enugu here, there is Forest Guards. If you go to Anambra, there is what you call the “Nkochapu” Corps. If you go to Ebonyi, they have their own, which is a vigilante. So, these people will work together because we know one another. And anything call community policing should be directly controlled by the traditional rulers and people of that local government.

Anything other than that will be unacceptable because you cannot bring someone from the North to come and control the outfit as say, the DPO. If that is the case, it is no longer community policing. People who know about the community should be in charge of security of the community, not people who are aliens who will come only with the interest to make money, thus they would be arresting people indiscriminately. No, it’s going to be serious business.

But in a way, the whole thing boils down to the need for state police and more fundamentally, restructuring…?

Well, the thing is that every state has their own house of assembly and they have the power to legislate, and when they do, it becomes law. The constitution allows every state to legislate, and that was what was done in the West. So, as far as I’m concerned, every state in the Southeast will take whatever plan they have to the state assembly.

Back to the Coronavirus pandemic ravaging Nigeria and the globe; have you been impressed with the response of Nigeria’s government to it?

The thing has exposed our healthcare situation. If this COVID-19 had not come, we would not have known its insufficiency; how negligent and how more or less, unresponsive our healthcare system is. But this has brought us to the consciousness that our healthcare system is inadequate. Again, people have become disciplined. Again, the pandemic has shown us that our government is not serious with our healthcare. If you look at the budget for example, it neglects health. But health is very important, even more important than education. You find out that it is only when you are healthy that you can be wealthy. And it is only when you are healthy that you can learn.

We have to begin to take our healthcare more seriously. I mean, how can a whole Chief of Staff be sick in Abuja and they couldn’t treat him there, they had to take him to a private hospital in Lagos? And he died there. It’s a failure and a shame on the federal government. How is it that in the whole of Abuja, they couldn’t find anywhere to treat him? Government should now know and stop playing politics with the pandemic, because they have been playing politics with it. They are now using it to make money, which is very sad. I see no reason why they should not have testing centres in all of the regions. There should be one in Enugu here for example, which is the capital of the Eastern Region. The state ought to have a testing centre that is well built and properly equipped.

But you find that the state is neglected. You find out that most of the things you hear is just noise. I think the NCDC (Nigerian Centre for Disease Control) should wake up. Our health ministry should wake up and take health seriously because our people are not healthy enough. They should stop playing politics with it. Although they have tried, but they should be more serious in making sure that our healthcare becomes more established, efficient and more responsive to the needs of the people.

But there is a testing centre in Abakaliki, doesn’t that serve the Southeast?

Yes, but the one in Ebonyi is mostly state affair. We commend the Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi for that. But the federal government should ensure that there is a centre in every regional headquarters. We also commend the governor of Abambra State, Willie Obiano, for the effort he is making. Many of them are trying their best. In Enugu here, the governor is trying but you find out that the funds are not enough. The IGR (internally generated revenue) is getting low, federal allocation is getting low. The thing, however, is that there should be a federal presence in each of the regions. These testing centres should be available. And it’s imminent now. The monies being donated should be deployed to ensure there is a testing and treatment centre in every part of the country that will help the populace.

There has been the allegation that the federal government is neglecting the Southeast, even with the distribution of palliative. Does the inability to set up testing centre in Enugu go in line with that?

Yes, there has been negligence as I said. There has been some marginalisation. They are segregating against the Southeast; it’s too much, even in the palliative. The zone got by far the least of the said palliatives. And even the way they distributed it is unfortunate. How can you lockdown Lagos and Abuja, and start palliatives from Jigawa? Why should you have that sort of sentimentality for the Northern people? There should be equal rights, equity and justice in whatever the government is doing. When a president is elected, he is the president of a whole Nigeria, not any party or any part of the country.

But here they are using party politics to do governance. It’s dangerous, and that is not fair at all. If you say that you have fought the civil war, and that keeping Nigeria one is a task that must be done, then it must be reflected on policies and every part of the country must be given their do. Right now, we do not even know whether we are going to have the presidency. But then, in the distribution of resources, let us have our share. That should also go to the agitations. You proscribe IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) because they are agitating, meanwhile if you have equity and Southeast is given their due, then there would be no need of proscribing IPOB, which of course is unfortunate, because IPOB is not as dangerous as Fulani herdsmen that they ought to have declared terrorists.

There have been a lot of criticisms of the Buhari administration, concerning its response to the menace of herdsmen. Are you disappointed with his government’s response to the activities of herdsmen?

I am disappointed. He has a sort of sympathy for them, which is unfortunate. And most of the people in government from the North are Fulani, so they have that group sympathy for them. But he should know that the life of Nigerians is more important than a cow. And the security of life is very important; it’s the essence of government. People should set up ranches in their areas. And this is of course, the time for the Igbo to wake up. Let us have our own ranches for ‘Efi Igbo’ to be able to depend on ourselves for supplies rather than depend on others. They should stay in their area.

The federal government should know that the harm these people have done is far more than what IPOB could ever do. So, if you proscribe IPOB, the Fulani herdsmen should either be proscribed or declared terrorists, because they are killing more people than even Boko Haram. The way the government is dealing with the herdsmen is very much unacceptable. I’m very much disappointed about it. Mr. President should declare them terrorists and not allow them move to places that are not their area. Again, a time has come for FADAMA to be effective in the Southeast, and we should also be able to produce our own food.

Is there a sense in which you feel that the leaders of the Southeast have not been proactive enough about pursuing some of these things you speak about, like having ranches?

No, don’t say that. In Enugu here and other places, it’s already happening. People are going into farming and also trying to rear native cows. If you go to Nsukka area, you will see that happening. The same thing is happening in Abia and Ebonyi states. They are proactive, but we must be more serious about it. And our youths should go back to the farms. Many of them are unemployed. Let them go back to the farm. And there should be soft loans from bank of industries, bank of agriculture and so on. The youths should go back to the farm because even now, oil has lost value.

We have to go back to being a producing nation than a consuming nation, that way, our economy can become buoyant. There should be active participation in agriculture. And if these people know that we are producing our own cows, food and so on, they will know that they have bad market in this area. Then when you are doing burial, you go and buy ‘Efi Igbo.’

You mentioned the fact that you are no longer certain about Igbo presidency in 2023. There has been this argument about whether presidency or restructuring is what the Igbo need. Is Igbo presidency likely to address the perceived injustices against the Igbo?

Yes. Look at it now, most of the people appointed into offices now are Northerners. Most of the federal structures are in the North. There is no federal presence in the Southeast. It is when you have somebody who is from the Southeast that he would address that. Right now we are handicapped because most of the things are being taken to the North. Apart from that, equity demands that we should also have a turn, because since Nigerian independence, we haven’t had an Igbo president. Apart from (Aguiyi) Ironsi and Nnamdi Azikiwe that came up at that time, no Igbo man has led this country, and that’s very sad.

This is what (Emeka) Ojukwu fought against. We must have our turn, and it’s time for that. Right now, Olusegun Obasanjo has had that of the West; Muhammadu Buhari is having that of the North mow. Goodluck Jonathan had that of the South south. So, why should the Southeast be neglected? And this is where we will not take it lightly. If we are one Nigeria, Southeast should have presidency this time around. But the thing is that our people in the Southeast must be united and make sure we are going to produce a competent and reliable person with integrity.

However, when everyone is contesting that they want to be the one to lead, there will be a problem. There should be a way of reaching a consensus because otherwise we will lose out. Ndigbo must come together to be able to cleanse our house and bring out reputable person. We are not saying it is winner takes all, let it be someone who has the capacity to govern well for the good of everybody.

What do you say about the argument that restructuring will serve the Igbo better?

Yes, restructuring is very good, but you find out that the conferences that were held in the past are still there, nobody is looking at them. I think the first step is for them to go and look at those papers, put them together and bring out something that will make the country better. All these have been discussed. So, whether it is restructuring or presidency, they are all in that conference papers. But some people don’t want it to be discussed. So, I’m calling on the federal government and the National Assembly to demand for the documents of these conferences that were held before now and see what they can do to bring out something that will help Nigeria to be a better place.

But it doesn’t appear that the present Buhari government is interested in that?

No, Buhari is not interested. He is not a good democrat. He is a military democrat. Again, is he really in charge? We are in trouble, but God will deliver us.

There has been allegation of Buhari being too pro North in his appointments

Yes, there is a lot of sectionalism, nepotism and tribalism. When he came in, he said I’m for nobody and I’m for everybody. But he has not shown that at all because there have been a lot of lopsided appointments that denied other areas representation. And it’s very sad, it shouldn’t be so. Presently, Southeast is nowhere.