From Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum and governor of Ebonyi State, Mr David Umahi, in this interview, spoke on the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Operation Python Dance among other issues.
Given what transpired in the North East, especially on how Boko Haram got radicalized and started engaging in warfare, isn’t it proper to reach out to Nnamdi Kanu and get him to return to the table for dialogue so that he wouldn’t go and radicalize IPOB members too?
Our situation is different from Boko Haram situation. But if anybody believes that we will abandon those boys, it is not true. We will still be appealing to them to come back to their leaders, let us sit down and discuss. Kanu somehow raised awareness on this restructuring issue. We must give it to him. We are not going to throw him away; we will still find a way; we will be appealing to the federal government for forgiveness. The word, IPOB, is not in agreement with me because when you say the Indigenous People of Biafra, it has its own connotation. When you say indigenous, if you go to America you talk about the indigenous people of America and that is the Red Indies that founded America. There is no indigenous in this sense. It could be Igbo Youth Movement or association and so on and so forth. So having proscribed that and their activities; of course, the federal government says it’s a terror group; we cannot dialogue with them under that name again. They’re our brothers and sisters and it’s a question of getting them to a better level of understanding and partnership.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo according to newspaper reports said that it was better for President Muhammadu Buhari to invite Kanu for a meeting. Do you agree with him?
I can’t comment on what one of our much-respected leaders said. I don’t have opinions to share on this matter but I say that on our own, Kanu remains our brother. We will wish them to rebrand; we will wish them to come to understanding with the leaders of the South- East. Let’s live our today in peace and then it will be their turn to so that we must create a future for them. So that is what I can say about that.
With Operation Python dance about commencing in Ebonyi, and since IPOB has been proscribed, what will happen to anyone that will wear Biafra’s insignia or carry its flag?
Well, there are two issues here. One is that we have appealed to Mr President to withdraw the soldiers in the South- East region at least for now for temper to cool. I am not the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces; it’s Mr President who is. It is an appeal that we have made to him. It is his constitutional powers and rights. So, I cannot say for certain that Operation Python Dance will not commence in Ebonyi State. I don’t have such powers. But if Mr President views it that in his own opinion that he wants to heed to our appeal, that is good. But specifically in Ebonyi State, we are appealing that everybody should be law-abiding. There’s no nation inside a nation. Even if you want Biafra, you have to get it first; become a nation before you start putting up your flag, owning your own secret service and so on and so forth.
So far the members of Indigenous People of Biafra can still go to the Nigeria courts on their own, it means the sovereignty of Nigeria still stands and it’s binding on everybody; and as such everybody must submit to the law of that country, Nigeria. That’s what I want to say. My appeal is that our youths should not do anything that will be against the law. That is my appeal.
And for the army, if the Python Dance is to go on in Ebonyi State the Acting Commander is here and I have instructed, as the Chief Security Officer of the state that it must be done within the rules of engagement; that Ebonyi people must not be harassed; they must not be undue stress on them. If they want to carry out operation anywhere, none of us here wants to be kidnapped; none of us wants to be attacked by the armed robbers. They must be given cooperation to do that. So, this is our measures to know that there is peace.
Recently you were out of the country on investment drive and we believe other governors are doing the same. Don’t you think that the declaration of IPOB as a terror group by the Defence Headquarters will affect the efforts being made by the governors to attract foreign investment to the South East region?
There are things that you don’t have control over and so, you worry about the things you have control over and leave the rest that you don’t have control over. The activities of the members of IPOB in the South East have denied us a lot of investment already; and so it is very, very important that our people should know and understand that. No investor wants to come to a place that is under tension. It is an appeal. I don’t know the effect of that matter but people are gifted differently and we have our duties to perform. I wasn’t consulted before that and I shouldn’t be consulted. So, every coin has two sides. It has its merits and demerits. Let’s put the two before God to help us. He is the only one who makes all things beautiful.
You see, the point is South East. What happened in the South East can have very serious consequences in the North East, South West and so on and so forth. What comes first in my mind and the mind of the South East governors is the life of every Nigerian. Anything beyond the life of every Nigerian is nonsense. Restructuring is secondary. Given the circumstance now, we are taking measures that will ensure that the lives of Nigerians are secured.
The other day, the leadership of Igbo people in the Northern states were in a meeting with us. And they were saying that they don’t want Biafra. They want us to peacefully coexist. We all know that there are differences here and there but we should sit down and discuss it. We should not endanger their lives in the north. They came to report back to us. You can’t shave a man in his absence. You want us to have Biafra. I am an elected leader. You should discuss with me.
You can have the mandate of the people. There are National Assembly members, the state Houses of Assembly, the Local Government Chairmen, the councillors and so on. We should say Ok. We are representing the people. So, there is no such mandate. Let us not agree on certain things because any of you can jump up tomorrow and say that your local government is marginalized and start your own kind of agitation. Such attitude must not be encouraged. So, whatever thing that must be done to secure the confidence of everybody living in the South East and outside of it is welcome. No life that is lost can be regained. And it is only the living that can be president, governor, ministers and so on. Let us secure our lives first and we sit down and discuss.
Fulani herdsmen are causing havoc in many parts of this country. We have not heard about any python dance for them. They always have their way. But in a peaceful environment like the South East, there is Operation Python Dance. What about that?
We asked the General Officer Commanding [GOC] this question. I don’t have the details but the one I can remember is the Crocodile Smile in the Niger Delta. People were not killed. They gave me another kind of dance that was done in Ondo State. He mentioned not less than ten that had happened. They just call it anything. It’s a way of just having a name to go and do the operation. If the herdsmen are targeting the South East, we wouldn’t have the problem in Zamfara, Benue and others. It is the way God wants it. When you find yourself in a certain position, you’ll have to find a way of solving the problem.
Is the agitation for Biafra because of the herdsmen? The answer is no. The question I will leave to our people is: what is it that we really want? We have to define means of knowing what we want. Our people should go back to hard work and determination which we are known for. It is God that blesses people. God can decide to deposit a lot of gold in the South East. So let’s go back to hard work.
When people say that they want to have Biafra, I laugh. This is because if IPOB had ensured that there was no single kidnap in the South East; ensured that there was no single killing of people, armed robbery and all that, people can begin to say that these people can rule themselves. Look at the level of cultism, armed robbery in the South East. There a lot of atrocities that is happening. It shows that we cannot even rule ourselves if we are to become Biafra. Let us go back to hard work which Igbo people are known for. Our forefathers bequeathed hard work, honesty, commitment to duties and all good virtues. Let us go back to them. God has given us wisdom. Let us explore it. Let us not be pushed into war by people who we think are sympathetic to our course only to be left in the blues. It has happened before. Let it not happen again. We are wiser and better now. (The Sun)