Chief Abia Onyike is the spokesman of Pan Igbo Sociocultural group, Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF). He was a former Commissioner for Information in Ebonyi State, and former Deputy National President of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ). In this interview with SAMSON NWAFOR, he speaks on the failure of South-East Governors to set up regional security outfit as agreed by Igbo leaders. Excerpts.
What would you say is the reason for the delay by the South-East Governors to launch its own regional security outfit?
First and foremost, I think the idea of regional security architecture was firmly articulated and adopted by the South-West region. Recently, the six Governors of South-West met and then, launched the Amotekun. A lot of pressure was piled on the South- East Governors to do same. Recently, the South-South Governors also met in Asaba, the Delta State capital where they adopted in principle, the affirmation to set up their own regional security paraphernalia and they have gone to start doing it.
Before the South-East Governors met to deliberate on what they want to do, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo met on the 9th of February, 2020, at Nike Lake Hotel Enugu, and that meeting was a meeting of Imeobi of Ohanaeze. It was attended by a galaxy of eminent Igbo leaders and elderstatesmen, and at the end of the day, they resolved unanimously to set up a regional security structure; just like the Yoruba people have done and a delegation from that meeting was sent to brief the South-East Governors who were also meeting at Government House Enugu that same day. After the discussions, it was reported back to us that the South-East has resolved to go regional.
But two days after, we were told that the Inspector General of Police came to Enugu and accompanied by the Chairman of South-East Governors’ Forum, Mr. David Umahi, who is the Governor of Ebonyi State and that there was a lot of persuasion by the IGP who made them understand that regional security structure would be unconstitutional and they were now persuaded to adopt what is called community police.
So many people have criticized the turnaround on the part of the South-East Governors and it is my own considered opinion that what they claimed was neither here nor there, because the South-East Governors are not the most constitutional set of people. They are not the only people who know how to obey the Constitution. They do not know law. They do not understand the Constitution. Neither do they know more law than the Governors of the South- West. It is just that they could not be firm enough to stand by the decision of their people.
Many reasons could account for that which we are not going to delve into. But whatever the case may be, let us see how it will play out because, they, themselves know that what the people want is a regional security structure. Because, right now as we speak, there are more than 139 villages occupied by Fulani herdsmen in Igbo land and that includes the South- East and the two states of Delta and Rivers, where we have Igbo people. That’s a survey that was conducted by Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF).
So, the situation is very daring and frightening. It is not something any person can joke with or any group of people can toy with. It is left for them anyway. They know how to go about it, otherwise, if the killings of our people continue, if the destruction of farms in our ancestral land continues, if the raping of our women and daughters continues, I want to tell you that it will reach a stage where people will no longer endure it and it could degenerate to free-for-all-fight.
I think the Governors have not even taken time to reconsider their position. Otherwise, if they know the magnitude of the problems at stake, I think they would have obeyed what Igbo people have told them. It is what Igbos want that is more important. You cannot imagine Yoruba people meeting and deciding on an issue and the Governors will say otherwise.
The Governors did not elect themselves and they should not be acting as an agent of the caliphate, no matter what their personal ambitions may be. Whether they want to be president or Vice president or anything, it is not by betraying Igbo land that they can be those things. So, that is the way we look at it.
In the face of this delay amidst the rising insecurity in the region, what is your advice to the Governors?
My own group, Alaigbo Development Foundation has written to the South-East Governors and members of the South-East Houses of Assembly and Houses of Assembly in Delta and Rivers. What we proposed is that they should emulate what happened in Benue, Taraba and Ekiti States. Let them pass the anti-open grazing la
Once they pass that bill into a law, then they would have acquired the legitimate legal instrument to stop the open grazing as it is right now. It is because these cows are allowed to move about openly, grazing in all kinds of places, people’s land that these problems have come to be.
The cows are supposed to be restricted in their various places where their owners will be bringing food to them to chew. So, that’s what it is. They have to be encouraged to build up their ranches. It is their ranches that they should be and then, if they are to move from one place to another, transportation would be arranged.
They just allow them to move about anyhow, destroying people’s farm. In the villages now, people are even afraid to go to farm, because they have infiltrated everywhere. We advocated for the passage of the anti-open grazing law to enable them checkmate the unguarded activities of these cattle rearers and their owners. So that by so doing, we will be able to secure our farm land and our people will engage in meaningful agriculture. Then, our women and daughters will also be protected from rape and that’s what we made, but up till now, I don’t know what is happening. Their response has been quite lackadaisical and negative.
These people (Governors) are very difficult to understand. If they were committed to their people, I think they should be bothered about the security problems challenging their States. Some of them are just acting out of inexperience, but when the problem comes to a head I don’t think that our people are going to find it palatable. I don’t want to predict what is going to happen but I know it is not going to be a bed of roses. People are going to regret it exceedingly.
Why do you prefer the establishment of regional security outfit in the South-East to the proposed Community policing by the IGP?
Community policing is what is being practiced right now. Already, Police formations are everywhere. In all the local government areas, we have Divisional Police offices. But we are saying there should be an integration of the states so that there would be effective monitoring to checkmate the excesses of these people.
It is not enough to say community policing. It doesn’t make much sense. Afterall, our people are not in charge of the police and security formations in our areas. How many Igbo people are police Commissioners in the five South-East States? How many Igbo people are in charge of military formations in military barracks and other places? So, what we are saying in effect is that something should be introduced. That will enable the people gather information and intelligence and systematically deal with problematic situations as they arrive.
But the Governors don’t want to show any serious commitment because they have become so vulnerable the way they made themselves. Some of them are afraid of being probed by EFCC and so, they must behave in such way they will be seen as very good boys in the eyes of the political leaders at the centre. So, Igbo interest is no more important to them. That’s a very serious quagmire.
But let me warn that anybody who cannot defend Igbo interest should better resign the office because sooner than later, the problem will come to a head, and there will be no room to escape. You cannot be in Igboland and be betraying the people and they will allow you. It can happen now that there is normalcy, but when the crisis comes to a head and the violence reaches its nadir, it will be very unpredictable.
Many people are going to be exposed for what they are. So, it is better for some people to reasonably and honourably leave their offices before it is too late. People were elected to defend the interest of their people and not to serve the interest of other regional powers. There is no traitor that has ever been a hero. Whatever gains you make can only be temporary. Write it down and quote me.