Honourable Goodluck Opiah, member representing Ohaji/Egbema/Oguta/Oru West federal constituency in an exclusive interview with LeadingReporters in Abuja, said, the now proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) at a point became a huge problem to the people of the Southeast.
He added that the proscription was in order, but regretted that the Federal government mishandled the situation greatly. Excerpts:
Between the proscription of Indigenous Peoples Of Biafra (IPOB) and its labeling as a terrorist organization, including the decision of Southeast political leaders especially Governors who banned IPOB activities. What is your opinion on this development as a federal lawmaker?
Let me first and foremost say that the issue of IPOB was badly mismanaged by the Federal government. If that situation was properly managed, this problem would have been solved long time ago.
Before the emergence of IPOB, there was a similar group called MASSOB. MASSOB was about the same mission with IPOB, but the handling was different. The leader of MASSOB, was in constant touch with government and Government security agencies. It was a lot easier to put them under control until they have their misunderstanding. I had thought the Federal government would have handled the matter differently from the way they have done. We should be able to ask questions why the agitation from youths of the Southeast and the answer will lay a solid foundation towards addressing incessant agitations by the youths of Southeast.
The issues the group ride on to become a huge problem to everybody today are issues that are of great concern to virtually everybody from the South Eastern Nigeria.
There are issues of marginalization. Talk about the neglect of Southeast, non recognition of Igbos from everything that are important in Nigeria. It gives reason for everyone to be worried.
When this administration came on board, the initial critical 47 appointments made, did not include a single person from the Southeast. If you go to South East, virtually every Federal government infrastructure is in decay. The airport, the sea port and even the railway lines that are in constant review now by the Federal government did not capture South East.
You cannot find an oil base industry in the South East or even Refinery cited in Imo or Abia which are also among the oil producing States.
In a situation where you find such industries in the North where there are no raw materials is worrisome. That situation looks like the people of the Southeast did not really belong. It looks like Igbos are second class citizens of the country.
I may say that agitation for secession is not the solution for the country. It is a problem that requires dialogue, and understanding. It is the same thing with issues here in the National Assembly that when things go wrong, we say no to it.
On the other hand, when Nnamdi Kanu became an issue, when he was arrested and detained, Federal government did not do well by disobeying court orders when he went to appeal. He took the matter even to ECOWAS court.
By that action, the boy started having sympathy from democratic circles and international human right groups and before you know it, he became emboldened. Even in Nigeria, people like the governor of Ekiti state, former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani Kayode and other strong voices were identifying with him.
This was as a result of poor handling of the matter by the Federal Government and that is why I said that in the beginning.
Having said that, I must commend the leadership of Southeast Nigeria, the Governors of the Southeast, leadership of Ohaneze, leadership of the Southeast National Assembly lawmakers for their prompt reaction and condemnation of activities of IPOB.
The proscription of IPOB was in order and right now, if they continue their activities, it is a clear affront and a challenge to the government of the five eastern States of Nigeria.
The proscription is completely in order and I support that development full fledged. At some point, their activities in the South East became a source of worry to every citizens of this country, particularly, the Igbo people wherever they live across the world.
As a lawmaker, do subscribe to labeling IPOB as a terrorist organization also?
I think labeling IPOB as a terrorist group or categorising them as such was wrong. The group that was seemingly non violent, not armed, and we cannot confirm any case of armed violence by members of IPOB. There is nothing to qualify them as a terrorist group and am worried.
I am an Igbo man and IPOB is about Indigenous people of Biafra which is predominantly the place where Igbo people comes from. If you categorise them by that nomenclature, it is every Igbo man from the Southeast that you are talking about. It becomes dangerous and not in the interest of any Igbo person.
The world has become a global village and everything that happens here today makes news everywhere in the world.
What are the implications of declaring IPOB as a terrorist group negatively or otherwise?
The possibility of seeing every Igbo man as a terrorist anywhere in the world is there. What the IPOB is doing here in Nigeria that has resulted to labeling them as terrorists is being done across the globe and those host nations never said they were terrorists. They have been protesting in the United Kingdom, in America up to the just concluded United Nations general Assembly and were never seen as terrorists.
It was so conspicuously seen that agitations and demonstrations by Igbo people in Diaspora all over the street of New York, London and other places abroad were never seen by such advanced democracies of the world. Nigerian government sees IPOB differently from how the world sees it. That categorisation is wrong and it should be changed.
That proscription should be reversed and agitations for secession should not be supported, but should be done within the provision of the laws of the land.
I believe in peaceful coexistence and the more united we are, the better. I know that the United States of America is powerful and influential because of their size and I terms of economic capacity, and technological advancement.
This country will be better being big with all sense of fairness and equity. It is good belonging to a country which each individual contributes to the overall development.
I am a lawmaker and we all swore to defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. What we swore to is to sustain the unity and peaceful coexistence of the country.
Considering the decision of Southeast governor’s proscribing activities of IPOB, don’t you think it will affect their future political career in view of the fact that the group commands huge followership. IPOB sees the proscription as a direct attack on them by their own leaders.
I do not completely agree with you. All these while, there was no opportunity for a direct counter attack on IPOB by any of those governor’s. If such arose, you would have seen a situation where a lot of people also opposed IPOB. The group generated and acquired popularity on the altar of gold. The issues they rode on to the crest of popularity were issues that were of concern to every Igbo people.
The approach was different. If the approach was like, don’t have a rally here today or if there was coincidence of democratic rally with that of IPOB, you will discover that, they were not commanding popularity as some people thought it to be.
If you think some politicians were in trouble as a result of this, I can tell you, it is not. One of the issues that irked politicians and leaders of the Southeast was when IPOB began threatening Anambra election. Of course, their trouble with Southeast leaders started from that point in time. Prominent Igbo leaders prevailed on them not to go that way, but their leader, Nnamdi Kanu did not heed to the advice and that point, people began to insinuate that there be probably another agenda other that of the Southeast people.
I come from a federal constituency and I can assure you no IPOB member could beat me there because we all have our followership. I don’t see somebody like Nnamdi Kanu from Abia coming to my Federal constituency in Imo state to direct the political Affairs. I don’t think the situation is that bad.
There is need as politicians to sit down with the Federal government to agree on those vexed issues that brought us to where we are.. The cry of marginalization of the Southeast is not an empty cry or the one borne out of mischief. The cry is supposed to be looked into and the positive direction now is to sit down and dialogue.
Going forward, don’t you think, Igbo people need unity among themselves and come under an umbrella in reaching out to other zones in negotiating for political power?
That is where Ohaneze plays prominent role. I think between the Ohaneze leadership and political leadership, problems of the Southeast will be properly articulated. As a matter of urgency, it should be looked into that there are six geopolitical zones with Southeast having five States against others with six and seven. It is unjustifiable.
Nigeria is the only country in the world where economic resources is pulled from a particular zone and is put in a basket at the Federal level and distributed based on number of states and local governments. That arrangement is awkwardly bad and it continue to be so, until something positive is done.