He is a big-time businessman, a hard-working and energetic old man. He is the Presidet General of Igbo Community Association in Kwara State. His association has been actively participating in all activities of Kwara State as a way of being part of the community where he live. Chief Boniface Chigozie Okeke, who spoke with our correspondent about the way forward for unity in Nigeria. Excerpts;
Can we know you sir?
I am Chief Boniface Chigozie Okeke, ( Asaa – Na – Achu – Efi), President General, Igbo Community Association in Kwara State.
How long have you been at the headship of this community association in Kwara State?
Actually, I was initially the Deputy President General for twelve years, deputizing for Sir Engineer T.N. Njoku so it’s like a change of Barton from Deputy to President General. We have a solid and well established authority that oversees the activities of Igbo people in Kwara State. It was after Engineer Njoku completed his tenure that we conducted another election and I won. I have been there now for over two years. Each tenure lasts for four years and it can be renewed twice, that is the position of the constitution of Igbo community in Kwara state. This simply means that one can serve for twelve years; it cannot go beyond twelve years.
There is this usual cooperation among the Igbos, how do you secure this?
I mentioned earlier, we have constituted authority among all Igbo community, nationwide. We also have the women wing. We cater for the welfare of our people. When fight to protect the interest of our people. When any of members have issues with their landlords or even government or with police, we always step in to see how we can solve things amicably. We maintain a cordial relationship within ourselves and the indigenes of our host communities and the governor of Kwara State. The deputy Governor had visited me because during the time of campaign, I showed up for them and we have a lot of things in common. We have written to His Excellency the Governor of kwara State to congratulate him on his victory at the elections that saw him in as Governor of Kwara State and also congratulated him for his hundred days in office. Not too long ago, when Emir of Ilorin lost his mother, we wrote to commiserate with him and we were on ground during the eight days fidau prayer. We participate fully in anything that has to do with Ilorin people to show our loyalty and commitment to peaceful living in Kwara State. Now to your question; our people will naturally obey our orders as long as we tell them the truth and give them purposeful leadership. An Igbo man will obey you as long as he doesn’t feel cheated. He will obey you as long as you do not marginalize him or make a fool of him but when you tell him to go to the right and he sees you going to the left he will see that you as the leader is not sincere, he will be angry.
There is this restiveness about creating the state of Biafra, how realistic is this agitation?
I mentioned something earlier. This issue of Biafra as being pursued by IPOB and others is the general belief of all Igbo people. Every Igbo man is Biafra from A to Z. But currently, what gave rise to this uprising is the marginalization of Igbos in the scheme of things in Nigeria. We have never had it this bad during other regimes. We are made to understand that we have three major tribes in Nigeria, Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba; Igbos are part of these major tribes; go to any state in the country, you will see Igbos in all the places making things to happen. Let me use Kwara as an example the Government of Kwara gave us certificate of merit as the most outstanding community that perform excellently in payment of tax. We have a centralized collection mechanism that helps us to pay as and when due. That shows how cooperative we can be when we are not marginalized. Go to any part of Igbo land and see things for yourself, just go anywhere in Igboland, see the level of federal roads. Let me use Anambra as an example, you will see the number of federal roads that Peter Obi did. Not one naira was paid back as reimbursement from the federal government up till today. I read in the papers everyday and see where Anambra state is demanding for this payment but no one cares. An average Igbo man is tired of this component, remaining in a place called Nigeria where they are treated as second class citizens, slaves. Other states get payment for this expenses incurred why not Igboland. We know that there is economic recession, things are not easy everywhere, but if we are given our own dues in the scheme of this, my brother forget, nobody will talk of Biafra; there will be no reason for anyone to be worried. Let me flash something to you. This IPOB, Ibeju, MASSOB and other splinter groups do not have any power aside the core Igbo leadership. If not this marginalization, you would have seen core Igbo leadership negotiating solution. If you complain about something today, tomorrow they will do more. See how Orji Uzor Kalu schemed so much just to be deputy Senate President or one office, look at what he was given, forget about the politics. And the Igbos like to do things equitably. For example during President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s regime. The most senior after the President was Pius Anyim Pius, who happens to be the Secretary to the federal government , go to Ebonyi, he did not attract any federal road to Eboniyi using the advantage of his post. Not even one kilometer road, go and check, ask people, they will tell you.
Can we then say that Igbo leaders prefer politics to satisfy self than their people?
Noo, our people like to follow the path of Zik, Nnamdi Azikiwe. Whenever you want to speak about Awolowo, you will say that he tried for the Yoruba people. Our own Zik was called Zik of Africa. His thinking goes being the tribe of Igbo. Our people think beyond Igbo, they think Nigeria, they think Africa. Zik is from Onitcha but he was always talking of Federal, talking of Nigeria. Igbo leaders like to decentralize things equitably. That is the problem, most at times; they do it to the detriment of their people. What we are seeing now at the top is a matter of people scheming everything one side, everything is going to just one side. Last time, one Shetima said that all Igbos should be ready and go away, just imagine, a people that had wanted to go before and you are saying don’t go, one Nigeria is a task that must be achieved, now someone is saying that they should go. We have not gone against the arrangement and now you are treating us as slaves. See, anyone who dies goes into a six feet grave no matter your tribe; we must tell ourselves the truth. We are all equal, if we must do this one Nigeria it must be with equality, sharing must be equitable for all sessions of the country. Look at what is happening now, everyone is interested in his ethnicity, it was not like that before and there are leaders who can remove this ethnicity and create stability. If you see the way offices are distributed you will see that Igbos are not even on number twenty of even number thirty self; must it be like that. In the security hierarchy, there is no single Igbo man that would say I was there when they were discussing issues. Afterall, if an Igbo man is there his salary and allowances goes into his pocket but we want to have that sense of belonging in the scheme of things. Ihejirika was chief of Army staff, did he clear all the Igbos . What we want is if an Hausa man is there, a Yoruba man is there an Igbo man should also compliment them. All we want is equity. Any true born Igboman that you see today, what I am telling you is what they would harmer on, equity, fairness and justice. Let me tell you, if government is treating the Igbos nicely, all these IPOB, MASSOB issue would have been resolved.
How would that be?
Good. In IPOB or MASSOB, every member comes from one family setup. By the time Igbos are given their rightful dues the Igbo leadership will order them to stop and if they don’t stop, they come from one family or the other, we would disown them. No IPOB member came down from the sky, they belong to one family or the other. It doesn’t take us anything to write te government to stop them but now what they are agitating for is what every Igbo people are saying. You can see that it is gradually getting out of hand because the youths are no longer feeling comfortable with the South Eastern Governors. These Governors too are telling the people, don’t worry, we are there but we realize that they are not reaching the top to convey the feelings of their people. Where the national cake is being shared, our people are being left out.
What is the role of Ohaneze Ndigbo?
Every Igbo true born or who is called Igbo obeys the Ohaneze Ndiigbo forget whatever anybody talks out there. My brother, Ohaneze Ndiigbo is the overriding authority in Igboland both Igbo in Nigeria and in the diaspora. It is the constituted body that takes care of all Igbos. There is an arm of that Ohnaeze that we call Imobi and Aki Ikenga all belongs to that Ohaneze, so whatever anyone talks outside Ohaneze is rubbish, na lie.
Is IPOB subject to Ohaneze?
IPOB is supposed to be under Ohaeze but because of the anger as a result of marginalization, they are being made almost uncontrollable. I told you earlier, we have a way of going about putting an end to them, but that is if the Igbos get what rightly belongs to them. The authority of Ohaneze is calming people down on the need to take things easy but anger makes things difficult. The way federal government is going about things make things very difficult but that is not to say that they will ever violate Ohaneze’s authority, never. The people want a high scale expression of anger, but as it is Ohaneze Ndi Igbohas not sanctioned it. That is why IPOB still exits. Recently, the house of Ohaneze President General was bombed in Enugu state, my brother it is not a foreigner that did it, it is our people did it.
Was this anger that caused the mobbing of Senator Ekweremadu?
Yes, that mob action that happened in Germany was one of the misplaced anger we are talking about. Whoever tells you anything outside of tis is lying, Ekweremadu has never betrayed the course of Igbo people or sabotaged our efforts. I am from Anambra while Ekweremadu is from Enugu state and Ekweremadu doesn’t know me personally. If he comes to Kwara state today, Enugu state indigenes will see me to mobilize Igbo community to welcome him. The attack on him is a misplacement of anger. Ekweremadu has never supported any act of cheating on Igbos but like all our leaders, he is taking things easy as expected of a leader. May be those people in Germany were ill informed about him. However, I will call it an in house issue within us, we shall sort it out. We have told Ohaneze Ndiigbo to find out from the leader in Germany and warn them. Otherwise, if this trend continues, any Igbo man that is seen on the street saying anything, these boys can kill him there and we would not want that.
There was this insinuation that Igbos originate from Jews, did you come across any such hypothesis?
Yes, even without being told, you will know that Igbos are Jews.
How would you prove this?
There was a time some Israelites came to Nigeria. They made it clear that they have been to several countries where they see a flash of semblance of their culture. They said there was one of their brothers called Eri. Eri in history was maltreated and he left in anger and migrated to Africa but his brother back home didn’t know which side of Africa he went to. And there is a town called Nri in Igboland. All Igbos believe that Nri is the home of all of us where we dispersed from. When the Israelites came to Igboland, they were led to Nri and observed the culture and tradition and confirmed that our culture resembles theirs. They then asked the then Eze or king of Nri, the immediate past one that died. These Israelis requested that the Eze of Nri provide one hundred people for them to take back home, to observe their own culture and see if there are similarities with ours in Nri so as to have a lee way to know where their brother Eri settled in Africa.
In Igboland we hear of Obi, Eze, etc, what differentiates these titles and their meaning?
In recent times, we hear of Alhaji in Igboland, is it not strange?
Quote my words; those ones you see among us are fake practicing Muslims. I am using just one sentence, ‘they are practicing fake Muslims’. Did into their roots, its either one Alhaji that is strikingly rich promised them some money if they can change to Muslim, then you see an Igbo man suddenly begins to put on Jalamia and carrying the ‘Tesuba’, their roseries. Quote me, none of them come home to exhibit this new found religion. There was this time they were going to Mecca, about sixty five of them from Enugu state. We expected that these sixty five people when they came back from Mecca would have build a mosque, no matter how small, some of them are very rich and can afford to do so but till now none did so in Igboland. When they come home, they may tell someone “I am Alhaji Boniface” and some people will hail him as Alhaji so that they can get something from him but generally, they are fake. Totally fake. There are many things associated with being Alhaji; It is allowed that Alhaji marry up to four wives all those people are still having just one wife each. Let them marry two or three to show that they are Alhajis. I is only Igwe, Kings that marry two to three wives and that has reason for it.
Is it a culture that Igbos must marry one wife?
It’s not a culture but we are copying culture of the west, this white people, No Igbo culture says you must marry only one wife and not even the Bible say so, I am yet I am yet see where it is written in the Bible that I cannot marry two wives. I always say that I didn’t sign any agreement that I will not marry two wives but I still have just one wife. The truth is today, Igbos are marrying two wives but they do so for a purpose. For example if the woman at home gives a hell of headache and he decides to marry another one who will look after him in his old age, because through the way your wife behaves, you will know if she will take care of you in old age. What I tell people is that if you must marry more than one wife, marry three. No matter how bad one of the wives will be on your side, while if the rest two decides to stand against you, you will have a leeway.
How many wives do you have now?
I have only one wife but my father has four, my mother is number three. So if I have reasons to marry more than one, I will do so, I have nothing holding me back. I know that there can’t be any more church wedding, I will go for traditional wedding. In Igboland it costs money to marry.
There is this Xenophobic attack I South Africa, what do you say to accusations that Igbos are at the centre for selling drugs?
Several people have wrong impressions about Igbo people. If I am coming back to this world, I will come as an Igbo man. Those who lived in Igboland will bear me witness on this; Igbo people are very accommodating and they are, more than any other tribe in Nigeria. If you see people who lived in Igboland whether Yoruba or Hausa they will give you a different impression about Igbo people. My view about the marginalization against Igbos in South Africa is exposing one fact about us again. This my brother, Managing Director of Air Peace, see what he is doing. Check the statistics, this man sent aircraft to South Africa to evacuate Nigerians, he did not just say Igbos in South Africa. The man is from Anambra, that impressions that Igbos are the ones committing crime there is false. Majority of the people being evacuated are from Ogun state, check the records, not Igbos, so we now wonder where they are getting this information that the drug dealers in South Africa are Igbo people. What I know is that many Igbo people travel outside the country through South Africa. We are getting feelers from Igbos in South Africa about the reality of what happened. I can say that majority of those who were killed were not even Igbos. And when the South Africans are saying drugs, drugs, whom are they deceiving? So no South African is involved in drugs? Or there are no South Africans in other country? They just want to give a Monkey a bad name so as to get it hanged that is what South Africans are doing to Nigerians. If I buy drugs and want to sell to you, if you reject it will I force you? They are just whipping sentiments that they are destroying their growing up children that is rubbish. Why did they have government? Government should clamp down on law breakers and prosecute them. If we hear that South Africa had arrested one million Nigerians and we ask what their offense is and they say they are dealing in drugs we would simply say that they should be there. Who will fight on the side of a criminal? Jungle justice against our people is not the best; their government must do something about it. If we go by what it cost Nigerians to bring them out of apartheid, is this how they would pay us back? I am sure that Sonny Okosun from Edo state will not be happy in his grave over this, his grave will be shaking; He sang Fire in Soweto , was it not because of Apartheid? Have they forgotten so soon that Nigeria is one of the first countries that nelson Mandela came to pay thank you visit to when he became President of South Africa? I remember watching on television saying “Nigerians I doff my cap for you. You will remain indelible in our hearts.” Is this how it will be indelible? Sad enough, if you watch the perpetrators of this act, they are blacks, not the whites. As of now, I heard Malawi had recalled all their citizens from South Africa and also asked South Africans to leave their country. If Nigeria takes such steps will it not be heavy on them? Which country can withstand MTN, SHOPRITE etc in Nigeria? There are several super markets of different shops and sizes here owned by South Africans, so who is patronizing their businesses? Who are they deceiving? South Africa just woke up one day and became crazy; as far as this Xenophobia is concerned they are on their own. I am happy with this woman in charge of Diaspora in that country. I am surprised that they said Nigerians entered their country illegally and they want to go voluntarily but you are saying that they should not go because their papers are expired, are tey not expected to deport the illegal immigrants from Nigeria? My conclusion on this issue of South Africa is that we blacks are terrible. This includes me and every other black person.
Why are the Igbo people mainly in business?
It is God that has made it that Igbos will be at the fore front I business. I will tell you what most Nigerians may not know, all these billionaire Igbo business men wherever they may be anywhere; everybody started with Twenty Pounds, which grew to where we are today. Whether you have two million pounds in your account today, you started with Twenty Pounds. Immediately after the war ended in 1970, Awolowo and his co travelers in that regime said that all Igbos, no matter what you have in your account, you can only be entitled to Twenty Pound and there was a caveat attached. If you had withdrawn up to ten pound before that withdrawal, you cannot withdraw more than ten pounds. I am saying the mind of 99.9% of Igbo, we have a very bitter hatred for Awolowo over that action. We have nothing against Yorubas but we have it all against Awolowo in person. We hold our experience, then on him because he was the federal commissioner for finance during that regime. We know that Gowon was somehow careful, he was meticulous in dealing with our issue but because Awolowo was the think tank of the government then, he made our people pass through that suffering. Left for Gowon, he wanted a gradual economic policy after the civil war but Awolowo put in place the harsh policy that reduced every Igbo millionaire to twenty pounds. But it was a blessing in disguise, God decided to open us up through another way. We started the ‘boy boy’ approach to life. Serving each other to become masters later. I can tell you that every Igbo that you see today that is strikingly rich served someone as ‘boy boy’, servants. Even me as I am, was a ‘boy boy’ under someone. You know it is even a rule in the Bible that who wishes to be a master must first be a servant. God built Igbo through that injunction in the Bible. Look around the world today, even in the land of the whites, every good leader must have served to gather experience under a master, so what Awolowo did to punish us became a blessing and has become part of our culture today. We assist each other by serving each other. The problem with us in this country today is that most of our youths want to become masters without first serving, things are not done like that, you must first serve.
If you remembered the role of Awolowo in the Civil war against Igbo people, did you remember playing any role in the war on the side of Biafra?
Though I was still a small kid as at that time, I was actively part of the war. Our role, then as kids, was what we call, ‘raking’ more like a spy. We were given some items like cigarettes, TomTom and other essential items to go and sell on the coast line between Biafra Soldiers and Nigerian Soldiers. Our people will carry us and drop us where they consider as enemy territory to sell those things. During that time, we would look at how prepared the Nigerian army were, how many of them were there and then return back home to narrate all we saw to our own soldiers but it ended in a devastating end, I was a bit lucky. The first batch that went on that assignment came back alive, successfully, our own batch was second, and we also came back alive, safely. The third batch could not live to tell the story. Biafra was still working on dealing with saboteurs because more than what led to the problem of Biafra was saboteur. By the time the third batch of rakings could go, the Nigerian army already knew what our mission was, some people had gone to tell them. My brother, the Civil war is not a good part of the history of any nation; Not a good thing at all. If the real situation of the war was captured and shown on a Television for all to see, not even a stone hearted person will ever wish for war in Nigeria. Not less than three to four million lives were wasted in that war as casualty on both sides and sad enough, 99 percent of those who died in the war did not know anything about the war other than that they obeyed orders, ‘move’ and he moved. That is why the elderly are shouting now, for President Buhari to do the right thing. Those little children shouting war, war don’t know the effect and aftermath of war. They should not be allowed to drag Nigeria into another unnecessary war. Doing the right thing does not cost him anything, rather, it will place him at a good place in Nigerian history that he did the right thing and peace entered into Nigeria. But if he does not does not heed the advice of the elderly, there is one up there who is more powerful than all of us, he should remember that. When that hand up there is ready to touch any soul, he would forget about any hatred but embrace the person. That is God up there.
Any message to Nigerian leadership over Igbo people?
President Buhari cannot say he has not been hearing pleas about Igbo people. All we are asking for is justice towards us. When there is equity, all Nigerians will see how cooperating the Igbo people can be and what the Igbo people can do for the advancement of the country. So I am joining all tose who had been advising President Buhari about Igbo people to do the right thing, do justice to Igbo people. As I am head of Igbo here, same way we have heads in a coordinated manner, all over the nineteen states of Nigeria and Abuja. Same way we have all over the world. The Igbos are one and united and Ohaneze is there. If he meets with these Igbo leaders, they will tell him how to get to the heart of Igbo people and tings will work well for Nigeria but without equity and justice, this country has no hope. If Buhari had done well for Igbos during his first term, even our goats will vote for him. Some people tink we voted Jonathan because he is our, let me tell you, his people did not fight on our side during the Civil war. They fought on the side of Nigeria, but we have no ill feeling about that