2011: Ohaneze Ndigbo, INC back Jonathan

An apex Igbo group, Ohaneze Ndigbo and the Ijaw National Congress have thrown their weight behind President Goodluck Jonathan, if he decides to contest for the 2011 presidential election.

The President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, and his colleague in the INC, Dr. Atuboyedia Obianime, stated this during a joint courtesy visit to Bayelsa State Governor Timipre Sylva in Yenegoa.

The groups’ positions were contained in a statement by the Chief Press Secretary to Sylva, Mr. Doifie Ola, which was made available to our correspondent in Lagos .

Obianime said that members of the Ohaneze Ndigbo were in the state to consult with the INC for the purpose of forging a common front towards the 2011 elections.

Corroborating Obianime’s comment, Uwechue said the visit of his group to the state was to reciprocate the gesture of the INC, adding that their conduct reflected the quality of the Izon people.

He stressed the turbulent moments experienced in the country was normal in the process of nation-building, adding that there was the need for both the Ijaw and the Igbo to join hands towards entrenching a solid foundation for national development.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