The National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Uche Achi-Okpaga, speaks with IHUOMA CHIEDOZIEon fresh plans by the military to hold another Operation Python Dance in Igboland, the reappearance of Nnamdi Kanu and the selection of Peter Obi as the vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party
The Nigerian Army has said it will conduct another Operation Python Dance in the South-East, which is coming on the heels of the reappearance of Nnamdi Kanu. What is Ndigbo’s reaction to this?
That really sounds very strange because the whole world knows that there is no insecurity in the South-East. There is no need for another Operation Python Dance. Is the python coming to dance the relatively peaceful drumbeats here, or is it coming to ignite insecurity? Is it in the South-East that Kanu reappeared? They heard him well saying that he is in Israel. Let their python go to Israel and dance. There is no gain saying that the Federal Government is playing politics with security and that is why all the security apparatus is headed by the North, and not just the North, by northerners of a particular religion. There is colossal insecurity in the whole of northern Nigeria. Look at the callous massacre of innocent Nigerians in Kaduna State. They have no answer to that. Instead, they are bringing the python to dance in the South-East and the crocodile to smile in the South-South. At any rate, we are not bewildered at the news because Nigerians have not forgotten how they deployed 30,000 policemen and a barrage of soldiers with armoured tanks and other weapons of war just to conduct, or is it to win a governorship election in Ekiti State but people are killed in tens and hundreds in the North, yet nobody talks about deployment of the army.
But the army also said the Operation Python Dance is necessary to combat any form of kidnapping and armed robbery as the end of the year draws near. Do you think the army has enough reasons to deploy soldiers again in the South-East after what happened last year?
Can you imagine the military coming to combat kidnapping and armed robbery? Is that the primary duty of the army? What then would the police do or are they insinuating that the police are not doing their work? See, the respective states in the South-East have made adequate arrangements with the police commands in synergy with the local vigilante on how to combat armed robbery and kidnapping, as well as other violent crimes. With that, the Nigerian Army doesn’t have any reason to deploy soldiers in the South-East at this particular time that everywhere is peaceful.
Are you categorically saying that the Ohanaeze is not in support of another Operation Python Dance in the South-East?
Ohanaeze does not and will never support the deployment of soldiers against harmless, unarmed civilians in the South-East and elsewhere. How could they be short of soldiers to check the activities of killer herdsmen but yet have enough to unleash on innocent civilians here? It is uncalled for, unnecessary and ridiculous. It makes no meaning at all.
What is your message to the army in this matter?
The military should not allow its foundation to be dismantled by ethno-religious sentiments. A country without a united and strong military base is finished.
What advice do you have for the youth and other people in the South-East on how to stay safe when the army comes back with the Python Dance?
The youth of the region should understand that they are the targets and l task them to be wary. It is not in doubt that our youths are usually peaceful and law abiding. However, they should know that the Operation Python Dance is just a ploy to arouse their anger, foment some violence or disorder here and there and capitalise on the situation to kill and maim them, and also hound them to prison. I am quite convinced that the python will not dance if it has nobody to showcase its dancing steps to. In such a situation, the python will just go home with hunger and shame if it finds no prey. That is my advice. They should just go about their businesses and try as much as possible to ignore what is happening around them.
What is Ohanaeze’s reaction of the South-East governors and leaders of the PDP in the zone to the selection of Peter Obi as Atiku Abubakar’s running mate?
They were comprehensively right. They all belong to one family and all of a sudden such a far-reaching decision that will affect them individually and collectively is all over the socio-media without their knowledge and input. That is not palatable. Note that they were in league in extolling the integrity and qualification of Peter Obi for the position of Vice President. They did not question his selection either. It was apt to point this out at the outset to avoid a repetition. Mind you, the issue is just mild because of the wide acceptance of Peter Obi, had it been that somebody, who was not so acceptable, was selected, the decision would have met stiff opposition, and not just from the PDP governors and leaders, because you cannot bring alien persons to make a selection from the South-East region without consulting the major stakeholders, including the governors.
Do you think they are right to say that they should have been consulted?
Very right; by virtue of their positions as governors of their respective states, they have the people’s mandate to be consulted on their behalf, alongside other stakeholders. The governors had stated that they were not interested in becoming the vice presidential candidate but courtesy and political relevance demand that they should be consulted. If a governor is the number one citizen of a state, why would he not be consulted on an issue that concerns that state? It is just a matter of courtesy, because, at the end of the day, it is the presidential candidate that has to choose his running mate. The governors should have been consulted, even if it is for the sake of letting them know before the decision is made public. Like I said earlier, we thank God that the choice that was made, Peter Obi, is one that is acceptable to Ndigbo, otherwise there would have been serious opposition.
But some Nigerians believe that the governors and the South-East PDP leaders were only after their selfish interests. What do you think?
I do not intend to vouch for the governors and other leaders of the PDP in the South-East but thank God you said that most Nigerians believe. Beliefs do not automatically translate to the truth. You cannot stay in the comfort of your house and ascribe your belief or what you think to other persons. The governors could have elected to be aloof because they are comfortable with their positions and would prefer to have and protect their respective positions to minding the selection process of the vice presidential candidate. Apart from consultation, the governor of Ebonyi State, who doubles as the Chairman of the South-East Governors Forum (Dave Umahi) also decried the seeming marginalisation of some states, precisely Ebonyi and Imo, in the process of selection. If it was not voiced out, such marginalisation may continue wittingly or unwittingly, and if that was to be the case, the same persons would also turn round to say that the governors are allowing their people to be marginalised and did nothing about it because they are only concerned about their selfish interests. At any rate, they are in good stead to represent and speak for and on behalf of the people they govern.
As a member of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo executive committee, how do you feel about the issue, especially as it is believed that Igbo are not united?
That notion that the Igbo are not united is a fallacy. There is no tribe that is as united as the Igbo in Nigeria. Our struggle for survival after the civil war made it look as if we are not united. If any other tribe had gone through the socio-economic and political crucibles that the Igbo have continued to pass through in Nigeria, that tribe would have gone into extinction, not even to talk of unity. That we struggle to survive on our own without any assistance from any quarters does not mean that we are not united. If we are not united, why do they send soldiers intermittently to come and kill our youths – be it MASSOB or IPOB – in the name of Python Dance or what have you? That is the more reason it was apt to decry the non-consultation of the governors and leaders. If it was done thinking that the Igbo would not mind, at least, their reaction has refuted that insinuation. You now know that the Igbo cannot and should not be taken for granted in subsequent issues as they emerge.
What advice do you have for the South-East PDP leaders and indeed all Igbo concerning this matter?
Mind you that, in all, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has no stake in the issue of who becomes a vice presidential candidate. Ohanaeze is not a political party; as a body, we have not endorsed any candidate either. That is left for the political parties. We only noted that Peter Obi is a credible Igbo person, a shrewd administrator and businessman who is worth his salt politically and otherwise. I doubt that there is still any advice left for the party leaders and Igbo in general. The governors accepted Peter Obi but condemned the process. The hatchet has already been buried. They are forging ahead already. It was the height of maturity unlike a party that has a legion of court cases here and there emanating from the party’s primaries. I think the only advice worth giving here is to watch, work and pray, and ensure that due process is always followed and the interest of the people is well protected in every case.
Our concern remains the restructuring of the country. Ohanaeze does not place any premium on an Igboman becoming the President or the Vice President without the country being restructured. It is only restructuring that will benefit the people of the region collectively. On the other hand, we also noted that Peter Obi is a selfless, non-self-centred person who is committed to the cause of the people. As a result of his people-oriented background, we are confident that he will not be deterred by any prejudiced inclination in championing the clamour to restructure Nigeria for the benefit the people.
Ohanaeze has been insisting that it would only support a presidential candidate that is ready to restructure Nigeria. Now that PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar has selected an Igboman as his running mate, will Ohanaeze’s position change?
Our position will not change a bit. What will sway Ohanaeze Ndigbo as a people is not the choice of candidates but the programmes and policy decisions that the candidates will place on the table. Atiku Abubakar of the PDP may not be the only presidential candidate that has chosen an Igbo man as the running mate. There could as well be some other political parties fielding Igbo presidential candidates. Even some Igbo could be contesting the election. So the choice of candidates is insignificant, what matters to us is what a candidate has to offer. If you give us your word that you will restructure Nigeria, you will steal our hearts and have our mandate.
The Igbo youths have been agitating for Biafra. Do you think the agitation will go away if the Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi ticket wins the presidential election in 2019?
What will douse the agitation for Biafra is not who wins the election but the restructuring of the country. Atiku Abubakar has been emphatic in his support for restructuring; so, if he wins, many supporters of restructuring will rejoice. However, after that, expectations will follow. Once steps are taken to restructure the system, all agitations will subside appreciably.
But IPOB has been saying that Igbo are not interested in the Presidency. What do you have to say about that?
I have always maintained that we are fighting the same cause with the IPOB but with a different approach. Just like we are not interested in the presidency, the IPOB is not. If you restructure the country and the people begin to see the dividends, the tide will begin to change.