On Sunday September 22, 2019, Mazi Okechukwu Ojinnaka granted an interview to Orient Weekend on various issues concerning Igbo people and more. The interview is hereby reproduced by the permission of Prince Okechukwu Ojinnaka who practices law in the UK.
Okechukwu Henry Ojinnaka is a lawyer with family, immigration and human rights advocacy as his forte. He also has an academic background in Corporate Communication and Public Affairs. The scion of the royal family of Ojinnaka-Okwaraojiaku in Umuaka ancient kingdom in Njaba local government area of Imo state currently lives in the United Kingdom where he partners in a boutique law firm. He is the chairman of the UK branch of Alaigbo Development Foundation, ADF. IG NWANGWU engaged Ojinnaka on his organisation, ADF, and its role in the situation of the Igbo in Nigeria.
How did Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) come about?
ADF was established after the 2014 Enugu International Colloquium on The Igbo Question in Nigeria: Before, During and After Biafra. That historic colloquium was sponsored by over 12 pan-Igbo organisations including Ime- Obi Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
It was organised as a global platform of Ndigbo in the light of the intensified socio-political crises in the Nigerian federation and the debate over her future; and in the light of enormous economic, political, cultural and religious challenges facing the Igbo nation especially in Nigerian.
It is perceived as a passive pressure group in some quarters; what do you think?
I would advise you not to listen to ignorance. ADF is actively working to change the deplorable state of Ndigbo and the Igbo nation. Remember ADF came about as a result of the historical colloquium in Enugu which, in itself, was a wake-up call. Ever since, ADF has not relented in its quest to regenerate the Igbo nation now in the throes of social and religious extinction. It was the ADF that went to court to challenging the “Operation Python Dance and has sent a draft anti-open grazing bill to all the states in the south east as a panacea to the Fulani herdsmen’s menace. The list of ADF’s activities is endless.
What is the relationship between ADF, the Igbo elected and appointed political elite in political offices in the south east and the federal government?
As a patriotic organisation of patriotic citizens from all parts of Alaigbo – the Igbo-speaking areas of Nigeria – ADF is open to all patriotic Igbo citizens. It was founded to serve as a vehicle for the actualisation of the historic goal of Igbo renaissance. As such, it is very conscious of the need to avoid political patronage as the only way of ensuring that it does not get drowned in the murky waters of partisan politics. Nevertheless, it is quite willing to cooperate with any member of the Igbo political class who is ready and willing to work for the interest of Ndigbo and we are ready to engage the governments and major stakeholders in Igbo land in that effort.
How is your relationship with other Igbo interest groups like Ohanaeze Ndigbo, MASSOB, and IPOB etc?
It is important to emphasize that the challenges Ndigbo face today demand internal solidarity among our people and among the various organisations that genuinely work for the interest of the survival and development of Alaigbo. As such, ADF and Ohanaeze are increasingly working on having convergence of views and position on the challenges facing our people. Permit me to say that ADF was not formed to upstage Ohanaeze, as is, sometimes, suggested by our political opponents and their agents.
ADF understands and has given rational support to the activities and roles of other pan-Igbo and pro-Biafra organisations in their strive for Igbo emancipation.
Igbo people, whose interest the ADF champions, are known for very far and wide business and other interests; how does the ADF organisational structure adapt to this spatial spread for effective liaison?
ADF has chapters in many cities and encourages the establishment of new chapters. It continues to run consultative caucuses and summits where other pan-Igbo organisations are encouraged to participate. A recent case is the just-concluded Igbo National Summit which was held in Owerri on August 22, 2019, in partnership with the Association of South East Town Unions (ASETU), World Igbo Congress (WIC) and the Christian Association of Nigeria South East (SE-CAN). Through such, diverse Igbo interests are represented.
The pursuit by ADF to secure lives and property of Ndigbo and put a halt to the life of meaningless existence in the Federal Republic of Nigeria is one objective that every Igbo person should see as primal.
What would you say is the key ADF strategy to help the Igbo conquer their much talked of predicament within Nigeria, a situation that has thrown such words as marginalisation, exclusion etc into social currency in Nigeria?
The solution lies in renegotiating the basis of our existence. If Alaigbo is recognized as an autonomous region, with the right to full control of our territory, our resources, our politics etc., all such negative concepts will be over. In the interim, ADF has embarked on the “Akuruoulo Project”. We should think home first in matters of investment.
How would you assess ADF’s effort in awakening the average Igbo man or woman to their own responsibility and role in the task of getting the federal government to change its disposition towards the SE zone beyond their murmur and angst?
I think that, against the background of escalating insecurity, fear and threats to our continued existence as a people, any Igbo person who is not “awake” must be dead person, and dead people don’t count. What ADF is doing is to provide a road map for the emancipation of Ndigbo. I encourage every Igbo person to avail himself/herself of the ADF Green Book. It contains all you need to know. However, specifically, ADF is continuously reaching out to Ndigbo wherever they can be found and its message has found resonance both in the homeland and the Diaspora.
We should note that for the federal government to change its disposition, our resolve on defending our collective interests should be tenacious and formidable. Our ancestors say “onye kpo nwaji ya nwaji, o buru nwaji”. Our destiny as Ndigbo lies in our own hands.
There’s the belief, especially among the Igbo, that the three Rs (Rehabilitation, Reconciliation and Reconstruction) of the immediate post-war federal government has been mere sloganeering. What’s your assessment of the healing process since 1970 and the siting of federal government projects and facilities?
Surely, if the 3 Rs had been successful we would not be here today discussing marginalization, exclusion; and the Ndigbo would not feel like a conquered people.
Everybody knows that the 3Rs were never implemented. Whatever reconstruction there may have been was achieved by Ndigbo themselves through their town unions and by dint of individual hard work. I believe our predicament is more compounded today as compared to the late 70s and 80s and I say this having lived and schooled outside Alaigbo as a child.
The punitive economic and political measures that Ndigbo confront clearly contradict any claims to rehabilitation, reconciliation and reconstruction.
Some Igbo and non-Igbo commentators believe the Igbo nation should spare the federal government and other Nigerians for a while and audit its political elite who manage its share of national resources. Do you believe this can help answer part of the Igbo question in Nigeria?
I am quite wary of the babbling of the commentaries because of the obvious frame and the agenda that drives some of these comments. Whilst I acknowledge the need to hold Igbo politicians accountable, we must seek to always approach our challenges holistically. Why are our political elite the way they are? Could it be because they have proven to be agents of the very forces that seek to destroy Alaigbo? We must look at circumstances that have given rise to the decadent political system in Alaigbo today. What happens at the centre affects what happens in Igbo land.
It is not, therefore, a simple matter of auditing our political elite. It is that the political elite do not necessarily think that they derive their mandate directly from the people. Thus, the capacity of Ndigbo to audit their political leaders is highly circumscribed.
So, you believe that the SEZ governors and ministers are hamstrung by the government at the centre?
I believe ours is a faulty federation. Power is so concentrated at the centre that it is a unitary system. Is it not the case that governor often run to Abuja for consent to their normal duties? Of course, ministers are appointees and have to be ‘directed.’
The Igbo are often derided as being adept at developing anywhere else but their homeland. What does the ADF think of this?
What you have just said is very counter intuitive. It is very natural for people to think home first. So why are Ndigbo different? Again, we must always look at causes and effect when seeking to understand any given phenomenon. Years of neglect and punitive federal policies means development in Igbo land has been seriously handicapped hence Ndigbo are forced to migrate to other cities outside of Alaigbo.
It is in realisation of this that ADF has embarked on the Akuruoulo Campaign, encouraging indigenous and foreign investors to invest in Igbo land.
Which does ADF advocate as a solution to the slow-paced development and, very importantly, peace in Nigeria – restructuring of Nigeria or its breakup into new nations along ethnic lines?
To understand ADF’s position, I would like to refer you to the ADF Green Book and the diverse position statements that have been issued by ADF over the last five years. These will provide you a complete understanding of our position and how it was arrived at. Anything I say here can only be a summary and our position may be lost in translation, so to speak. All the same I will endeavour to capture ADF’s position as succinctly as possible.
At ADF it is our conviction that Ndigbo can only co-exist with our neighbours in Nigeria either as an Autonomous Region in a new political union with our neighbours in Nigeria or as an Autonomous Republic. We, indeed, call for a plebiscite to enable us determine our destiny.
So, when we speak of restructuring, we do not mean the hegemonic restructuring being offered; rather a democratic restructuring.