Dr Dozie Ikedife is a former President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Presidential Liaison Officer, PLO, during the President Shehu Shagari era in the old Anambra State. Currently, the medical practitioner is the deputy Chairman of the Elders' Supreme Council of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, he spoke on agitation for Biafra by IPOB and other groups, restructuring, the trial of the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, and concluded that he would give Igbo governors 12 strokes of the cane for not coming together develop the South East among other issues.
How has it been with you since you left office as President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo?
I installed my successor Ambassador Ralph Uwaechue who also installed his own successor, Enwo Igeriwey and Igariwey handed over to his own successor, Chief Nnia Nwodo who is on seat now. Since then I have not been sleeping. I have been a member of Anambra State Elders' Council and later, chairman of same Anambra State Elder's Council. I was a member of National Conference in 2014. Since my relinquishing office as President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo I have received a national honour of OON. I have received some other honours from the state; The Achievers' Award and things like that. I have also received an honorary Doctor of Science Degree from UK. And currently I am the Convener of Incorporated South-East Elders' Forum.
That body met recently in Enugu and we deliberated on the state of the nation including the agitation for State of Biafra in South-South and South-East. We also discussed the question of detention and trial of Nnamdi Kalu the director of Radio Biafra, London and leader of Indigenous People of Biafra IPOB. We also discussed the general situation in the country and also the prolonged detention and trial of Nnamdi Kanu among others.
It is high time his case was brought to conclusion. After long prison incarceration, if he is finally acquitted of the charges, his incarceration will amount to unjust punishment. It is still a -well established legal axiom in Nigeria that justice delayed is justice denied and that an accused person is presumed to be innocent until proved guilty. It worries us that sometimes cases are not treated with dispatch and my own personal suggestion is that the Federal Government should create more courts to handle political and constitutional cases to help shorten the duration of cases pending in the courts. It is regrettable that sometimes civil litigation often last beyond the lives of the litigants. The cases therefore go from one generation to another. Constitutional courts should be established and cases emanating from elections should not go and cloud our courts to the detriment of regular civil litigation.
The constitutional courts should be dealing with constitutional and election matters, while ordinary courts deal with civil matters- things like land disputes, husband and wife or matrimonial issues, individuals, groups and corporate bodies, so that justice will be dispensed with greater speed.
On several occasions, the courts had granted Kanu bail but the Federal Government refused to obey such court orders. Is it proper and does it show good leadership on the part of the government?
Now, I think there is a little bit of misunderstanding of the situation. One person was taken to court with charges A. B. C and the court gave him bail. Then the prosecutor from A.B.C office slammed other charges C. D. and E and against the charges C. D and E, or D E and F the accused has not been granted bail but people seem to think that it is only A. B. C charges for which bail was granted and that government is disobeying court orders, without the public knowing that there are other fresh charges. Recently, if you have been following the case, eleven or twelve charges have been thrown up. The court dismissed six retaining the remaining charges.
I am not speaking for the government, but I insist that when we say these things we must get our facts correct. If we do not get our facts correct we will be misleading the public even into frenzy or reacting erroneously only to find out down the line that they have been misinformed.
What is the relationship between the Supreme Council of Elders of IPOB and the Kanu-led IPOB?
The bodies started out together for the agitation to restore Biafra. In fact, there were no two bodies at the first time but down the line, Nnamdi Kanu who at that time or early stage, was the Director of Radio Biafra, London, went with some people and registered IPOB in London as a Limited liability company. And there had been a little bit of confusion in the whole scenario because they both answer IPOB. The Supreme Council of Elders of IPOB took the Federal Government to the Federal High Court sitting in Owerri, Imo state to contest some issues regarding Biafran restoration. The Supreme Council of Elders has its President or Chairman as His Royal Majesty, HRM, Justice Eze Ozobu (retd), a former Chief Judge of Enugu State, while my humble self, Dr Dozie Ikedife, is his deputy, just as General Joe Achuzia is the secretary. This body has traditional rulers, religious leaders, some professors in the universities and some legal luminaries as members.
So, are you saying that both the Council of Elders of IPOB and other groups of Biafran agitators co-exist?
Of course. They co-exist. I told you the genesis and when this one led by Nnamdi Kanu branched out.
But at a stage, did they disagree somewhere in the pursuit of their Biafra agenda?
Both of them are pursuing the self-determination agenda but it is a question of method. The one led by the Supreme Council of Elders believe in legal process, diplomatic process, consultation and dialogue without ever using hot words, not to talk of insults and abuse of anybody. They believe in proper civil, civilized, diplomatic and legal process and there is a window that they are about to succeed by the enactments of the United Nations, adopted and accepted by African Union and by extension the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is the position. Both of them of course now talk of peaceful process and the one led by the Supreme Council of Elders has never talked of anything other than peaceful process. It is not worth it to lose the life of one more Biafran in the process or pursuit of self-determination. Enough lives have been lost. No more question of fighting a war with Ogbunigwe or rocket launcher or bombing or air strike. No. It is now a question of going to the courts and pursuing diplomatic channels. That is what the Supreme Council of Elders of IPOB believes in and that is what they are pursuing.
Do you support restructuring of the country?
Is there anybody who does not support restructuring? Except some people who are enjoying the inequality and unjust system! Of course, there is need for restructuring. It is not a question of if I believe. Anybody who is fair-minded must believe in it. Anybody who does not believe in restructuring is not fair minded. Let me give you an illustration. Kano State has a population comparable with Lagos State but Kano alone has 44 local government areas recognized by the Federal Government, while Lagos has only 20 or 22 local government areas recognized by the Federal Government. Local governments are the bodies through which allocations are sent to various states...
Now, when 20 or 22 LGAs receive allocation for Lagos and 44 receive for Kano that has comparable population with Lagos, is it fair? Then even nearer home, incidentally, both Kano and Jigawa state which was recently carved out from Kano have about 70 local government areas put together, while the five states of South East have just about 90 something local government areas with each receiving federal allocation. Is it fair? The answer is no. Lagos State has a population of about 20 million, Osun state has a population of about five million. Osun has 33 local government areas and Lagos has only 20 and they receive allocations through these local governments as those recognized by the Federal Government. Is it fair?
Lagos wanted to create more local governments to 52 but the Federal Government refused and withheld its allocations. Lagos now said okay, don't call them local governments but development areas and they are still using the system to administer Lagos state, even though they still receive allocation based on the number of local governments recognized by the Federal Government, as opposed to Osun that receives 33 units, and Kano that receives 44 units.
Is that fair? Even at geo-political zones, which is another way of receiving allocations and dispensing patronages, North West has seven states, South East has five, while all the other zones have six each. Does that show fairness or equity? Can it ever represent equity? The answer is no. Finally, in restructuring, we should be talking about real fiscal federation. Recent publications circulating in the country have it that in Okrika land and Kalabari area, the Amanyanabo of Opobo does not have any oil block, whereas people from Kano and other parts of the North have about five oil blocks in the area. An individual from the North has oil blocks even more than he required. They are reputed to have enough whether it is true or not, I don't know.
Similarly, other areas and towns in the Niger Delta have oil wells on their door steps but none of them from there has any oil block allocated to them. The blocks are allocated to people from North East, North Central, Northwest and so on. Individuals from the North, as they published in some national dailies have so much money that they don't know what to do with it, to the extent that they are even embarrassed about the size of their wealth.
How can that be equity? Some people wake up at 3 a.m. in the morning and start working till 1 a.m. the next day to be able to eat at least two square meals in a day, while others are sleeping in the comfort of their homes without working because they have abundant money at their disposal, yet people mistake it for equity, justice and fair play. Certainly, there is dire need for restructuring.
Look at admissions into federal institutions. Cut off points are lowered for people from certain areas. Distribution of patronages and amenities is also disproportionately done. That is unfair. So, certainly, restructuring may even be too late for some people and that is why some people are saying, let us go our various ways; because in the amalgamation, nobody from Biafra land was consulted before it was done.
They started the process in 1913 and concluded in January 1914. Even though Nigeria tied its future to a republican constitution in 1963 but we are now running a unitary structure. Our constitution can still be amended and if you look at what is going on in the world today, the United Soviet Socialist Republic, USSR has disintegrated, leaving out 11 new countries.
Even the United Kingdom, UK, doesn't sound comfortably united now. Scotland last year did a referendum and narrowly lost it by 48 percent to 52 percent. Britain voted to opt out of the European Union, EU. Now that Britain has voted to exit from EU, Scotland are pushing for another round of referendum and nobody is shooting at anybody or killing anybody or locking anybody up. Self- determination is being done diplomatically, legally with civility and behold, why can't we copy that and allow referendum?
After all, the amalgamation is not a success story.
Today, many people are saying that they are not Nigerians. That they are Oduduwa people. That they are Zamfara people. That they are Biafrans. That they are Bini. You can't kill them for that because they are suffering as a result of the way they are being treated with ignominy.
Buhari said he would take care of those who gave him 95 percent of their votes first before looking at those with only five percent and he has been behaving as such. How do you react to it?
Well, my reaction is that once a president, governor or local government chairman is elected, he should accept the whole constituency as his own, whether one segment voted for him or not. He has actually won and he should not expect to get 100 percent votes because if he does, then it ceases to be democracy.
Political parties are enmeshed in crisis, what do you think is the cause?
I am not a member of any political party but I know that the Peoples' Democratic Party, PDP, as a party is quarreling about leadership. I don't know that All Progressives Congress, APC has greater dissidents. It is not to my knowledge but even if they are, that is the essence of democracy. That is the essence of divergence of opinion. Minority must have its say and majority will have its way and that is all about it. If there is no opposition at all in any organization, then such organization will not be healthy.
Don't you think that the north is opposed to separation because of the oil deposits in Southern Nigeria?
Well, I cannot speak for the North. I don't know their reasons. I am sorry I cannot answer that because I have never consulted them, even though I have friends in the North, we have not discussed it to say why are you doing this or that? So, it will be unfair to give any opinion.
The North said they won't support restructuring.
It depends on who said so, whether it was an individual or group opinion. Individuals have the right to express their opinions and a group of people also has the right to discuss issues. If that is the opinion of Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, so be it. But I know that ACF is not the only component of Nigeria. There are other groups which may have their own opinion too and their opinion may be contrary and that is why some of us are saying: "let us go to the round table and dialogue."
Do you think Ndigbo will survive if they secede?
Yes of course. If Ndigbo secede, they can manage themselves properly and survive. Take a look at the map of Africa; at least 13 newly created countries are surviving. The population of Taiwan is about seven million and they are doing very well to the extent they now have strong economic power in the world even though China is still trying to colonize them. Therefore, any situation we find ourselves, we can survive it. Other countries in existence are not as big as Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Abia or Anambra states, yet they are surviving. There is oil in the field and there is gas in Biafra land and the people are geniuses. They will certainly survive. They are technically very clever. There is no country or continent in the world where you cannot see somebody from Biafra land.
Some people are saying that Ndigbo are selfish and that they don't love themselves.
I don't like hearing that insult. If I hear anybody saying such a thing, I will tell him to go to hell. Tell me any ethnic group that gathers their money and then goes and burns it inside a bush. Saying such a thing is just like giving a dog bad name in order to hang it. Don't insult Ndigbo anymore.
Is it true to say that the current recession in Nigeria is Buhari's fault?
How can you say it is his fault? Many things caused the recession, one of which is the drop in oil prices. The fall in the oil prices is worldwide and the reduction in the production as agreed by OPEC is also a worldwide affair. How can you blame Buhari for that? Another area that is killing the economy is inadequate power generation and supply. If you have a factory, you have to use self-generated power supply which is diesel plant. You will be buying diesel at N220 per litre. This situation is forcing investors out of Nigeria to places like Ghana where there is public power supply at a cheaper rate.
Are you happy with the way Igbo play their politics?
There is nothing wrong with the way Ndigbo play their politics. In the west, they had Action Group, UPN, AC, ACN then APC. In the North, they had GNPP, PRP, NPC, CPC, ANPP and now APC. Here, there was NPN, NPP, APGA, PDP, PPA and UPP. They are not peculiar to Igbo land. There is an Igbo adage which says that: "You don't watch masquerade from one place alone. You have to follow the masquerade from place to place in order to get a clearer view of it. So, if you ask me, I will tell you that there is nothing wrong with the way Ndigbo play their own politics.
Shouldn't the whole of Southeast have belonged to one party; say like APGA instead of APGA PDP and APC as is the situation now?
No, there is no problem with that? What I find repulsive is the way the Igbo governors play their politics. First and foremost, they were Igbo before they joined their respective political parties. If I had my way, I will give each of them 12 strokes of the cane for not thinking of Igbo first before their various parties. They should work together to develop Igbo land.
Are you in support of conducting another round of the national census?
Yes, there is need to have a census to correct the lingering accusations and counter-accusations of inflated figures. An accurate national figure will surely help to distribute our nation's resources equitably without cheating any section of the country. In fact, I am of the view that the census should hold sooner or later to correct the imbalance in the system.
What is your reaction to the introduction of custom duties on old vehicles and Hameed Ali's refusal to appear before the Senate over uniform?
I think the Senate got it right in one aspect and chased shadow in another aspect. So long as Ali dresses decently, the Senate should have spoken with him. So long as he did not go there naked like a mad man, I don't see the need of making noise about uniform.
On the aspect of his introducing duty on old vehicles, I must say that I think the Ali of a man is over stepping his bounds.
As a medical doctor, how do you see the health sector in Nigeria?
The health sector is in shambles. There is inadequate equipment, gadgets and technology in our health sector. Why can't we import gadgets that will enable us to take care of our health needs here in Nigeria? Not everybody can afford the money to travel to countries like India, Britain, Germany, France or Italy for medical treatment.
When I was President of International College of Surgeons, Nigerian national sector, after seven years of my regime, and while I was leaving office in 1995, I lamented the lack of sufficient investment in medical gadgets and medical technology. That lamentation is still valid till date. There is need for more education to understand human anatomy. Sometimes, patients will come to my hospital and after due consultations and diagnosis, frustrations will becloud their faces and they will begin to talk about reincarnation. A woman I found out had cancer of the breast told me that it was their native shrine that beat her spiritually with a broom on the breast and refused to be treated because she wanted to go back to the shrine. It is unbelievable.