Thursday, 1 March 2018

CHIEF NNIA NWODO SPEAKS WITH NEWSMEN AFTER HIS TRIP TO NORTH CAROLINA

Chief Nnia Nwodo
President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, recently returned from an official trip to the United States of America, where he had gone with his Deputy President-General, Hilary Opara, to inaugurate the North Carolina chapter of the apex Igbo Socio-cultural group.

The former Information Minister, who was accorded a rousing welcome by many key national and state members of the organisation at the Enugu airport, related the special takeaways from the US trip to newsmen, and as well spoke on some national issues, including what he called the continued marginalisation of Ndigbo; deteriorating state of the Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu, and the agenda of Ohanaeze for 2019, among others. Sit back and consume it.

What is your impression about the state of Akanu Ibiam international airport where you landed via Ethiopian Airlines, upon your return?
I lost my temper at the airport upon my arrival, because our people have an airport that is in deplorable condition. I spoke to President Muhammed Buhari at the stadium in Abakaliki about the state of Enugu Airport and it was widely reported by the media.
The runway is in a despicable condition. Ethiopian Airlines came to complain to me in my house, with pictorial proofs. They showed me how their tyres were split by the cracks on the runway. The new terminal building has been abandoned and the one that President Goodluck Jonathan renovated is not like anything anybody did anything to.

Part of the annex to the building was carried away by rainstorm and the one that is there, itself, is in a very bad condition. It took us two hours to get our luggage at the international arrival, which we used upon landing. The reason was because the trucks that were supposed to go and bring our luggage were in disuse and only one was working.

In short, the degree of punishment our people are subjected to at that airport is just so frustrating. Immigration personnel take bribe from our people just as customs personnel too take bribe from them, by way of extortion.

There is nowhere else in the world you arrive in your place from air travel and the Customs begins to ask you ‘What are you carrying?’ The reason is that there is an international agreement for carriage of goods. So, all dutiable goods are assessed at the point of shipment.

They go through an x-ray and they see that these are goods that you cannot carry unless you are going to pay duties. And in any case, to export them, you have to have permission to export them. But, unfortunately, people carry personal effects and on reaching Enugu airport, they tell them to open their box to see what they are carrying. Nobody does it in Lagos, nobody does it in Abuja, and nobody does it in Kaduna or Kano. But it is done in Enugu.

Were you personally subjected to such ordeal or is it that you observed it physically?
I think I have to mention names to show the world that I was personally involved. A young man called Jubril of the Nigeria Customs was the one that presided over this rape of our people at the airport, right before me, and I chastised him. The level of discriminatory treatment of Ndigbo is very infuriating; the total neglect of our international airport in Enugu is shattering.

I do not know how any government can willfully neglect a complete geopolitical zone! This is the only international airport in the South East geopolitical zone, and the facilities there are moribund. Some of the airlines that have gotten license to fly internationally, such as Air Peace, have not been given the permission to start operation, simply because they are owned by Igbo. We can no longer tolerate the marginalisation – the discriminatory treatment meted out to our people and I have said these things time so many times that I am beginning to sound like a broken record. And my question is: What have we done?

Talking about neglect of Ndigbo, the jostle for 2019 seems to have commenced and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar has just returned to PDP. Would your administration at Ohanaeze Ndigbo pitch tent with any particular political party or candidate, like your predecessors did, or do you intend to be absolutely neutral?
Ohanaeze is a non-political organisation and its membership cuts across political lines. All Igbo are members of Ohanaeze from their town unions, and they exist in all the political parties. So, I cannot be an agent of any political party; every Nigerian is free to belong to whichever political party he chooses, and so is former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, free to join any political party he likes.

That has nothing to do with Ohanaeze. What is important to Ohanaeze is that before the election, all the political parties must sell their manifestoes to us so that we can advise Ndigbo appropriately as to who has protected our interest in their manifestoes. So, the parties have not yet nominated their candidates, and it is premature for me to begin to ask them what plan they have for Ndigbo.

When the candidates emerge, I would seek audience with them to demand that first: whoever becomes the next President of Nigeria would have to give Nigerians, especially Ndigbo, an undertaking, if he is not an Igbo, that he will not run for more than a term; and that his successor would come from Igboland, thereafter. That is the irreducible minimum for Ndigbo.

Secondly, we want this neglect that we are talking about to be reflected in the manifestoes of various political parties. Only then can we begin to determine who is protecting the interest of Ndigbo or not. But, beyond that, I have no need, at this point in time, to engage in any speculative campaign.

And please, when you quote what my predecessors had done, note that I would lead only by their legacies that I find consistent with our constitution, enduring and of good value. I am prepared to depart from their tradition if I feel they had done something wrong. And I will not become a national organising secretary for any political party or any candidate. That I will not do.

The federal government recently set up a special burial committee for the late former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, with a directive to liaise with the Ekwueme family and Anambra State government, without any mention of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Are you comfortable with such development?
I do not serve the federal government and I do not expect the government to appoint me to their committee. I rather expect them to seek my views on what they think the committee can do. I am aware of the committee, and after the first meeting that Ekwueme’s wife had with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), they spoke to me and I also spoke to the governor of Anambra State to form an Anambra committee.

I am liaising with the Minster of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, who is a member of the federal committee, with Governor Obiano as well as the Anambra chapter of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which is also involved in the local programme – the Anambra committee.

As you know, the one you made reference to is a government committee and Ohanaeze is a non-partisan organisation. So, I do not need to go and serve under the SGF, but I can interface with him and let him know what we expect him to do. We will make our input as and when necessary. However, Ohanaeze would certainly have a role to play in Alex Ekwueme’s funeral because he was an icon of the organisation.

How would you describe the outing in the United States of America, where you had gone to inaugurate the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Chapter?
I have to first, note that the organisation of Ohanaeze Ndigbo is worldwide. Ohanaeze comprises Ndigbo who are Nigerian citizens and are found in seven states of the federation, including the five South East States, as well as Anioma and IkaIgbo in Delta State; and Ikwere Igbo in Rivers State. These Igbo live in every State of Nigeria and most parts of the world. In every part of Nigeria, they have an Ohanaeze structure, with state executives, local government executives and town union as the primary unit.

In every other country of the world where Ndigbo live, Ohanaeze exists. In the US, Ohanaeze had never taken roots as an organ. We have a number of Igbo organisations in the US, such as WIC (World Igbo Congress), Igbo in the Diaspora, Council of Igbo States of America, ICAN and many more.

But the national executive of Ohanaeze, in its wisdom, decided that US must conform with the organisation of Ohanaezeas it exists in other countries of the world. We threw it open to them and the first state to grab it was North Carolina. So, we had gone to inaugurate the North Carolina branch of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and the outing was an extremely colourful ceremony.

What were the takeaways from the event and why is the US so important to Ohanaeze?
North Carolina is the developing electronic hub of the East Coast of the United States. It is also renowned. It’s a very reputable medical industry and a lot of our people who are medical doctors of repute, who are in the digital world, and who are professionals in all fields of life, are in North Carolina. But, principally, they are in the medical and medical-associated fields.

And we had the opportunity of meeting them, their wives and family. So many women came there with their children and it was cheering to observe their children speak unadulterated Igbo. They showcased cultural displays of all kinds and dance steps of all sorts.

The Arochukwu Cultural Dance, Akuneche Enyi Cultural Dance as well as cultural troupes from Igbo-Rivers, Ikwere and several others, all showcased wonderful cultural performances at the event. We brought a tape of the event, which we shall distribute to all the state Chairmen to keep in their offices. We also had meetings with all kinds of state branches, like the Anambra people, who are living in North Carolina, among others. We as well, met with the leadership of the WIC, in Atlanta, and the leadership of ICAN, in Dallas.

On the importance of US to Ohanaeze, you know that no single country in the world has as many Igbo living in it as the US. Therefore, the US is very important to us. We as well used the opportunity of the visit to discuss with them about the South East Economic Summit (SEES), which was held in Enugu recently, and also about programmes of the Soludo committee in the Planning and Strategy Committee.

Interestingly, a lot of them are already planning to come home, with very meaningful proposals to sell to the South East Governors Forum. One of our boys there, who is into digital technology has a technology by which he can ensure that select towns in Igboland are, through solar power, connected to the internet 24/7.

He is putting his package together to come home and present it to the South East governors, so that we can choose those hubs that need them such as Aba, Onitsha, Enugu, among others, which have tremendous industries growing in them and which also generate employment for our people. That will ensure that whether we have power or not, a trader who wants to connect his branches in Nigeria can do so; and educational institutions can as well use it to promote learning and expansion of knowledge.

They also showed us in North Carolina, the technology for Moturu Cow breeding (local cow). They breed Moturu –our own kind of cow, in Igboland– over there, and they are anxious to come and open agric extension institution in the South East, so that our people can learn how to breed cow and crossbreed them so that we can get cows with better meat, milk and better source of income as well.

There are so many other things that we discussed, but these are essentially the angles that we went through. They are already forming a committee with a view to articulating all the things they want to present to our governors. We shall book appointment for them to come down with their overseas partners, at a time the governors would have their meeting, to address the governors, so that through Ohanaeze, we shall help the governors to continue economic development of South East.

I am also happy to report that our people that we met in America are living happily and peacefully. They gave us a special Holy Mass on Sunday, in North Carolina. It was a Mass they hold every Sunday, in Igbo. They have an Igbo Catholic Church there, essentially peopled by Ndigbo who filled the church. The priest is also an Igbo man – Rev Fr. Joseph Orji-Kalu. The priest said the Mass in Igbo, the readings were done in Igbo, the choir sang in Igbo and I was asked to address the congregation in Igbo. It was a very exciting experience.

Which country do you intend to visit next to inaugurate another new branch?
Our current move of opening up state branches in the Diaspora is a new policy of Ohanaeze and we are already working towards forming a committee that will henceforth, certify the state branches compliant with our constitution before we go to inaugurate them any further. As we speak, we have outstanding invitations from China, Ivory Coast and others.

We had to reschedule our appointment for Ivory Coast because the market where our people do business was burnt down. But, the minister of foreign affairs has sent a fact-finding team there; the President has visited them, and we have got reports both from our people there and from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As soon as we find a resolution, we would make our findings public.

Our aim is to ensure that the Ohanaeze flag is everywhere in the world and that our people are in tandem with our policies and our aspirations and those of our government.

How would you describe the working relationship that exists between you and your deputy?
We are enjoying a very wonderful working relationship and I am very privileged to have him as my deputy. Although Mr. Hilary Opara is a retired Deputy Inspector-General of Police, his humility and commitment to duty have been awesome. Just like in marriage, it is very difficult to have a colleague at work that you can call your friend.

It is like you have a husband or a wife, and you can proudly say that your spouse is your friend. We have harmony and very, very good working relationship, and like I said, I am very privileged to have a deputy whom I can call my friend. (Oracle)

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