New Telegraph

2023’ll bring indigenous people closer to their freedom – Okolo

Barr. Anthony Olisa Okolo is the President of Igbo National Movement (INM), a body of Igbo intelligentsia and entrepreneurs. In this interview with EMMANUEL IFEANYI, he speaks on issues concerning the Igbo nation in Nigeria and agitation for self-determination, among others


The Igbo National Movement (INM) has become more vocal on Igbo issue; what is responsible for this?


Simply put, the Igbo National Movement is a movement created to re-establish our Igbo nation. It is established for the progress of the Igbo national or as we call ourselves, ‘Ndigbo’ wherever we may be found on the earth, and also for the development of Igbo homelands (ala-Igbo), through the enhancement of our Igbo republican institutions.


The movement envisions the development of a nation of Ndigbo, arising into the world polity with a society that encourages justice, merit, equality and treats people with respect. So, we’re simply doing what we are meant to do.


Are we looking at cultural awakening or reawakening of the Igbo nation?


Don’t get it twisted, Ndigbo meet all the criteria for nationhood. We have a common tongue, a common territory which is known to us and our neighbours, a common culture and now, a common purpose to regain that which the British took from us forcibly.


We have been indigenous to our land for over 3,000 years and lived in peace with our neighbours all that time.


Why then should we look to the very recent past of the last 100 or so years as if that is the foundation of our identity? No, Ndigbo are far more ancient peoples than that, and as such, we are ripe for a re-awakening of who we are, and to seek to control our destiny in non-violent and constitutional agitation.


In this, I believe we are closely related to our brothers and sisters of other indigenous nations in Nigeria, who are also in the process of their cultural awakening. We commend the Ijaw, the Yoruba, the people of the Middle Belt and the plurality of Nigerian indigenous people to take control of their destinies and to call for a real debate on the path for a new future, for the administrative entity that is the Nigerian federation.


This we believe will be achieved through a sovereign national conference of the Indigenous people of Nigeria. It is one of our objectives to make this call and to support all Nigerian indigenous people to join this call. It may be the only way to save this federation, and re-create it into a system that the people can recognize and respect.


What’s your view on the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), tge group’s agitation and the recent arrest of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu?


Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is first and foremost an Igbo man and he is one of our own. In any family group, there are a variety of characters. Some are prudent and diplomatic, while others may be brash and confrontational. A wise family will always align itself with the former and will at the same time seek to curb the excesses of the latter. But a wise family never abandons their child to an outsider’s discipline, lest they be viewed as uncaring and unwise.


So, while the family will always stand ‘with’ its own, it will not necessarily stand ‘for’ them where their ideology does not follow the wisdom of the family group. We stand with Mazi Kanu because Ndigbo do not abandon each other in adverse circumstances.


We protect our own from the outsider. We believe that discipline is best meted out within the family group, and Igbo justice is harsh indeed. But we do not stand for the ideology that suggests that all non-Igbos are our enemies. However, we believe that his recent abduction was unlawful and we have said so plainly.

But the Attorney-General of the Federation seems to stand that no law was broken in bringing Kanu back to Nigeria?


Unfortunately, the Attorney-General of the Federation pretends he does not know the law. He seems to believe that a warrant of arrest in Nigeria can be executed at will internationally without the process of extradition. He thinks there is nothing unlawful in the Nigerian government kidnapping a British citizen who has renounced his Nigerian nationality in a foreign country, which he has entered legally with a British passport. We believe he knows he is wrong, but we understand he must try to justify these illegal acts because it is what the government wishes him to do. But justifying illegality is not the job of the Chief Law Officer of a democratic country. He must stand for justice and truth, even where it is against the instructions of the government he is part of. Not even Kenya will be so naive as to agree with him and certainly, Britain will not allow their citizen to be made a fool of as it is a poor reflection on them. I believe that with this kidnapping, the Nigerian government has made a monumental error in judgement, which will sour our relationship with Britain and our neighbours. It will, however, make no change in the calls for a restructuring of the federation or self-determination. It will make these calls even louder.

Is there a hidden agenda to the interest being showed on Igbo issues by INM?


The movement is being funded by love. Of what use is a hidden agenda? What is the use of hiding a lamp beneath an opaque bucket? Our agenda is open to all and we are proud to share it. We wish to reassert our rights as an indigenous nation and for the federation to recognize these rights as well as the rights of all indigenous nationals who are desirous to chart their course, whether within a re-negotiated Nigerian Confederation or in a clearly defined Commonwealth of Independent Nigerian States. No Nigerian, who is Nigerian by birth, can be a Nigerian, if they were not firstborn to the nations indigenous to the land, upon the amalgamation by the British in 1914.


To be Nigerian is to be first Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Kanuri, Ijaw, Jukun, Tiv or any of the various nationalities that make up the Nigerian federation. The promise of Nigeria lies not in replacing these identities, but in harnessing our diversity, allowing each to become the best version of ourselves.


How would you describe the Nigerian federation and how it is accepted by the people?

The government and Nigerians know that at present, Nigeria does not have the soul of a federation made up of the administrative units we have come to know as states, but is at heart, a federation of proud nations.


That is why most of the states created by the military have continued to fail to bring the people the development that they require. They have failed to energize the loyalty of the people and the people question the legitimacy of these units consistently.


How do you see the present political leadership in Igbo land?


With very few exceptions, the present political leadership in Ala-Igbo has failed to unite our people behind a common ‘post-war’ ideology that meets the dynamism of Ndigbo. We are builders, democratic and believe in merit. Ndigbo would rather perish in the field of work than go cap in hand to beg for our supper.


This monthly pilgrimage to Abuja to beg and scrape for our livelihood is un-Igbo. It has to stop. We have never really needed the support or interference of outsiders to develop our land.


After the war, we pulled ourselves out of the mire, with very little help from the victorious Federal Government who impoverished us. We rebuilt all we see in Ala-Igbo today from a pauper’s dowry of £20 per person.


Are you in support of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction?


It is unlikely we will see an Igbo president in our lifetime. The people who know Igbo for what we are and despise us because of it will never let that happen. If they do allow it, they will hope to force upon us, an Igbo man or woman of such flawed character, that we will all be ashamed to call ourselves their kinsmen. We have some of them who have been rigged in as governors today to provide proof of such perfidy. What we need is for Ndigbo to use the power of the vote and social activism to regain control of Ala-Igbo. We should employ the best of us to the work towards regaining our national pride and to focus our energies on building an economy that will be a force to reckon with globally. Ndigbo are never contended with anything less than excellence, so why should we continue to settle for mediocrity to please those who choose to be indolent? We are very clear on what ideology we are for, and how to achieve that ideology. When we are ready to do so, our people will direct an appropriate vehicle to achieve these aims.


Looking at Nigeria today, what do you think 2023 will look like?


2023 will bring Nigerian indigenous people closer and closer to their freedom. For the first time, the corrupt military establishment is running out of alter-egos to set upon the throne that they have created for themselves within the Nigerian government for it is them we call the cabal. Their generation is old, grow weak and dying. Their stronghold on the younger and vibrant generation is dissipating and their achievements will eventually evaporate in smoke. 2023 will bring us closer to the realisation that “We the People” mentioned in the constitution of Nigeria, must have our voices heard. The choice for Nigerians will be whether to heed these voices or to continue to allow the oligarchy to suppress them in the hope that once silenced, they will go away. Our voices will not go away. We will grow stronger and stronger until the tipping point is reached.


Between restructuring and outright struggle for an Igbo nation; which one is INM in support of?


Restructuring without recognizing the independence of the indigenous nations which make up the Nigerian Federation, and basing the restructuring process on that recognition, would be akin to putting make-up on a pig and taking it as a wife in the name of a beautiful woman. It will not change anything other than words and soon the realization will hit home that one has made an awful mistake. The Igbo nation will stand on its own or it may choose to subject its sovereignty to a different administrative entity. But that can only be decided through the expressed will of the people, and by making each indigenous nation understand what benefits such a system will bring to each national. What are tribes if not nations? And what are nations if not tribes? Yet one connotes the negative, and another has a positive interpretation. That is an unfortunate paradigm encouraged by a colonial mentality with an ulterior motive to subdue. Very similar to how some people are called ‘migrants,’ while some others are called ‘expatriates.’ It is all a play on words which at the heart of it contains racist ideology.

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