By NBF News

Ambassador Raph Uwechue is President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo. In this exclusive interview with BUCHY ENYINNAYA at his Africa House country home in Delta State, he bares his mind on some topical national issues. Concerning the call in some quarters for President Jonathan to contest the presidency, come 2011, he contends that Ohaneze is a socio-cultural organisation and not a political organisation stressing, .'It is certainly not political. So, it is not for Ohaneze to dictate to Jonathan or any body for that matter whether to contest election or not.

He further tells Nigerians, 'We have a country that if well managed, can be sincerely, the pride of Africa. So, I would say that whatever our differences, we should think together, work together, based on what is fair for every unit and every group in this country. So that we can harmoniously, promote the overall interest of Nigeria and lead Africa, as I believe, we are destined to do. Excerpt.

Recently, the Ohaneze Ndigbo and the Ijaw National Congress had a socio-cultural cum political marriage, which for some in the past, there has not been such development.

What motivated this marriage and what does it portend for the Igbo nation and Nigeria in general?

Thank you very much you know Nigeria is a creation of the British and within its boundaries, it contains ethnic units. Today we have some 300 ethnic and sub ethnic units in this country. Some are large like the Igbo, the Hausa-Fulani and the Yoruba, some smaller than that. The idea is that for stability to exist in our country, these units, which are the building blocks of our nation, should take primary responsibility in ensuring that people who belong to those units shape up and become good citizens of our country. You know that traditionally, we talk of respect for elders, in a any community, we talk of selfless service to the community, and it is accepted that these core values which our customary communities cherish are fading out of our national life.

So, the idea now is to go back to base. Let the families, which we now call ethnic units look after their children make sure they are properly brought up and given the right values. If this happens, all over the country, then Nigeria as a unit, which combines all these blocs, becomes stable. And with the right values inculcated into in the citizenry. So Ohaneze Ndigbo is one of these important socio-cultural units and we find that there is the need to ensure that we work with other units in the country. Now, the Ijaw National Congress initiated a fraternal approach to Ohaneze Ndigbo. They asked to be received by Ohaneze Ndigbo. We were very pleased to get that invitation and on the 12th of June, this year, they came here to Africa House, Ogwashiuku, 22 of them and met the executive of Ohaneze Ndigbo.

We discussed matters of common interest, how to reinforce friendship and brotherliness between the Ijaw nation and Igbo nation, as a base for expanding such cooperation and fraternity beyond these two units, and more and more into the country. The visit that Ohaneze Ndigbo undertook recently, to Yenegoa, Bayelsa State on the 6th of July, was a return courtesy call to appreciate the fraternal initiative the Ijaws already showed. And we were very well received in Yenegoa; we continued to discuss matters of common interest to Ndigbo, as a nation in Nigeria and the Ijaw people also as a nation in Nigeria. At the end of it, we paid a courtesy call on the governor, of Bayelsa State, Chief Timipriye Sylva.

And then went back to our bases. So, the significance is that the Ijaws and the Igbos who are neighbors are more and more trying to ensure friendly and harmonious existence between two peoples that God put together. And we believe it's a welcome development. And we intend as Ohaneze Ndigbo to extend the same kind of cooperation and understanding to other ethnic units in Nigeria .The Ijaws are doing the same. We intend to continue to do the same. But what you are seeing is a base where two neighbors have come together to encourage harmonious relationship between two important ethnic units in this part of our country.

Don't you think this fraternal initiative by the Ijaws this time around, is a way of garnering support and softening the ground for their son and our president, Dr.

Goodluck Jonathan to enable him contest and win the election in 2011?

The truth of the matter is that when discussions took place, the good deal of subjects we examined, the important thing is that they requested and we accepted to co operate with them in promoting the interest of our country. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan's election is a matter that concerns all Nigerians, not only Ndigbo or the Ijaw people. And when the time comes, especially as he is now already president, and trying to perform, the Ijaws naturally, would want somebody from among them to be president of Nigeria, And Ndigbo if they see in Jonathan somebody who can advance thecourse of Nigeria, as a country, will definitely, be interested in supporting anyone who ensures stability, and progress for our nation.

The President and Nigerians in general, are insisting on having a credible election, come 2011. Do you think that this could b actualised?

Well, all Nigerians that we know that have spoken desire a free, fair election that is credible. The thing is , how do we get it on the ground ? And the essential point is the voters' register. The recent election in Anambra State for the governorship, position, showed that 1.8 million people who normally should be able to cast their votes, of this number, only about 400,000 were able to vote. That is less than a quarter of those who are qualified to pronounce on the results of an election. The electorate is the jury that decides who will do what.

If we start with a faulty composition of the jury, obviously, we cannot have anything that is free and fair or credible. So, it's important that remedial attention is directed to the voters' register, because it is the basis of having credibility in any election. For example, if we say that any one who wants to vote should be able to vote, and then he or she should be able to identify his or her name on the voters' register. I would say that INEC should be given whatever it requires in terms of time, and resources to get a credible voters' register because a credible election, is not possible without it. It does not matter how well intentioned you are. If you line up to vote and you don't see your name, then how can you vote? I would even say that this register should be published, and we should have a mock election, like we have mock exam before the real thing.

People should go to their centers as if they are going to vote, identify their names, so that INEC would know where mistakes have occurred and rectify them before the real day. You know for example that we have had governors who have ruled in their States for three years before the Court said that they were not the ones who should have been there. So, we should not be in a hurry to repeat that kind of mistake that we know can be avoided. And political instability, frustration, all these are built into the fact that people know that somebody who went in is not the right person there. And we start trouble and that leads to political and social instability. So, I'm emphasising the point that you cannot have a credible election without a credible voters' register. Let that be the base of our concentration now. And let INEC be given what it requires by way of resources on time, to ensure that we take off on a credible note.

Do you think that between now (July 2010) and April 2011 would be enough time for INEC to do this, as election is likely to kick off in April 2011?

This really has to do with INEC itself. They have to tell us what they need. If they need more time, I personally would say, let them have that time. We shouldn't rush into what we know in advance is going to be a failure. On the other hand, if we are not able to adjust the time, we can maximise and expand the resources. So, where 10 people can do something and the time is not enough for them, if you make the number 20 or 30, they can do it. Whatever, it is, the important thing is that INEC must get what it requires to have a credible voters' register.

When you talk about corruption, Nigeria has been projected as on of the most corrupt nations, As President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, what do you think is the solution to this cankerworm?

Corruption is the cankerworm that is destroying practically every project in this country. So, we all know it. To avoid corruption, or reduce it or eliminate it, we need people , who genuinely are interested in serving the population. Not a collection of people in politics who are busy trying to position themselves in places of power. The people come last while their interests come first. That is why they offer bribes, and do all sorts of things and inflate contracts because that is the objective that took them there. We had leaders in this country. At independence, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Sarduana of Sokoto, these men were not corrupt. They were nationalists and patriots who were serving their people. And I'm sure today, we have many Nigerians of that ilk. Even now.

Unfortunately for us, those who have managed to nationally monopolise the political space, are not of the same quality as those who founded this country like the names I just mentioned. So, my feeling is that it's not a matter of painting us and coating us differently from what we are. The true Nigerian is the one who is sincere, and who wants to serve his population. And I would say that we should encourage more of this kind of people to come up. We are running Ohaneze Ndigbo; we intend to promote more and more the core values if Igbo tradition, honesty, courage and unalloyed devotion to duty, which our people had and still, have inside them. All we need is o encourage more and more of it. That is what will help to kill corruption. It is your belief to serve your people, not to cheat your people.

If many more people who think that way are in charge, corruption will vanish,

Governors of the South East geo-political zone have been quoted as saying that none of them would contest the position of president or vice, come 2011.

What is the Ohaneze connection here, and if it is not a directive from Ohaneze, what is Ohaneze's position on this?

To start with, the decision of the South East governors not to contest the election next year, either at the level of the presidency or vice presidency, is entirely their own decision. Ohaneze and we as Ohaneze have taken good note of it, and if they want to concentrate on governing and rendering service in a continued manner to their people, then fighting for the presidency by them, would become a distraction did not prompt it. So, one can see that the decision may have been based on concentrating on continuity if they are re-elected to finish the jobs that many of them have started in their various States.

As for Ohaneze and Ndigbo, the governors are only five. Surely, there are other governors who are not Igbos who may be interested in those positions. So, my feeling is that the decision to be, is entirely, theirs. And I believe that if it as I think, based on their ability to concentrate on what they are doing, instead of politicking for the presidency, then, it's a decision entirely theirs and can be welcomed by anyone who believes they should concentrate on what they are doing and finishing the jobs they have started in their various States instead of having half of their minds on the job and half beaming to Abuja.

The Southeast and South-South geo-political zones are most of the time, shortchanged in terms of national positions and leadership.

What do you think is the cause of this and how can it be curbed?

The truth of the matter is that those who have manipulated the political machinery have managed successfully, to sideline both the South-South and the Southeast, as far as the presidency of this country is concerned. Obviously, there could be many causes, one of it is that the peoples in these two zones, may not have done their homework, enough and consolidated enough to fight for what I believe is their right. We believe strongly in national offices rotating among the six geo-political zones. And the easiest way to achieve it is for those who are shortchanged, as you have said, and you said it correctly, to come together and demand their rights. Many Nigerians will support them when they know that the idea of rotation is to have even development, an even share of power and even share of responsibility.

What would you want to be remembered for as President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, at the end of your tenure?

Ohaneze is a socio-cultural organisation and we intend to use the time we have in putting efforts to get Ndigbo to have more pride in their culture, and the core values customary to Ndigbo. We hope to encourage more of that. For example, the Igbo language should be taken more seriously than is the case now. Every child that is born by Igbo parents should be able to speak the Igbo language along with other languages but not to ignore the one that is primary to its parents. No child should do that. And parents should encourage children to have pride in speaking their own language, and also encourage them to imbibe the cultures of Ndigbo.

And by so doing, they will begin to identify themselves as a gifted nation. We have many nationalities in Nigeria, and if each of these takes pride in its own existence, collectively, that pride would be reflected at the national level, recently, I was invited (and I'm happy to have accepted the invitation) by the Urhobo Progress Union, when they had their summit in Warri, I was very happy to see them proudly declaring their attachments to the Urhobo nation as well as the State of Delta and also to Nigeria. I want Ndigbo to be very proud of being Ndigbo, a gifted people, proud of being Nigerians and proud of being Africans.

How do you wish to achieve these?
By organising with our talented young men and women, through organisations, to promote projects that advance the course I have just identified.

The Niger Delta crisis has become an enigma. The region lacks certain basic infrastructure and even at that, some of the governors in the region are paying lip service to solving the problems there.

What do you think should be done?
The Niger Delta problem, which has just erupted into militancy, has been there all along. Since oil was discovered in Oloibiri, incidentally, our president, Jonathan, comes from Oloibiri the very place that oil was first discovered in this country. Since that time, the resources that have come from the soil of the people who own the land, not enough of that has been put into developing the areas. Where the oil comes from. Over time, this neglect has grown, until some young men took up arms, to protest. That's what militancy is all about. We do not encourage taking up arms to fight for a political cause. But you must understand why people take up arms even if you don't agree with the fact that they have taken up arms.

The truth of the matter is that more and more attention has to be given to the areas in developing the human resources there and other infrastructure establishments. It is encouraging to know that the government set up the Ministry of Niger Delta development and also certain activities going on now, including committees that have been set up by President Jonathan at the moment chaired by Chief Emeka Anyaoku to concentrate more and more attention on how we can get Niger Delta area faster development and also to ensure that the militancy or any form of distabilisation is reduced and eventually eliminated. But more has to be done. One must understand why we have militancy there. We do not approve of people taking up arms. But we know that it is prolonged neglect of the area that led to that kind of eruption.

Are you not bothered as the President General, that your zone, the South-East, has become the bedrock of armed robbery and kidnapping in the country.

And if you are worried, what has your leadership been doing?

Well, every Nigerian including the Ohaneze leadership is worried about what is happening. in the realm of kidnapping and armed robbery . And the concentration of it at this point in time in the Eastern part of our country, and quite a lot of it in he Igbo speaking area, is a great cause for concern. Ohaneze has been active in talking with our governance and talking with community leaders to see what can be done collectively to ensure that this disgraceful and harmful development is put down, discouraged, and eventually eliminated, so, we have been in contact discreetly, of course with, the Stakeholders in the area.

We sent out emissaries, I, myself I have discussed at the highest level, with our own governors in the Eastern part of Igbo land to encourage them to take steps and I believe they have taken the matter very seriously. And they are working very hard at so doing. But what you have to realise is that, armed robbery or kidnapping is something that you do not see on somebody's face before he does it.

That is the problem. A quiet Youngman or woman would be going; he just starts stop and shooting or searching every body. So, many a time, it happens before you know that it is going to happen. It's like assassination in crowd. A hundred people are there and 29 people love you and only one hates you. He can kill you because you wouldn't know until he fires the shot. So, we need to equip the police better and the, law enforcement agencies and, security agencies so that they would be better positioned to cope with these things as they occur. If we have kidnapping and armed robbery and the perpetrators are caught and punished immediately, that would be the biggest way of stopping it because others would not be tempted to repeat the act. They will know that they would be caught quickly and severely punished.

What is the position of Ohaneze on the call on President Jonathan to contest the 2011 presidential election?

Ohaneze is a socio-cultural organisation. It is not a political organisation. It is certainly not political. So, it is not for Ohaneze to dictate to Jonathan or any body for that matter whether to contest election or not. When the time comes, and prospective candidates declare their interests, Ohaneze will encourage Ndigbo to support any one, who in their view would promote the best interest of Nigeria. And see to it that they vote for such a person.