PROF. JOHNSON ONAH, a professor of Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry and a leading candidate for the First Class stool of Adirahu Ny’Igede in this interview with Editorial Director, JAMES IBECHI, speaks on his aspiration and vision for a new Igede traditional council.
We know that your name may not be new to a lot of Igede people, both at home and in the Diaspora, but for the sake of those who may not know you well, can you tell us who Prof. Johnson Onah is?
Before I answer your questions, let me use this opportunity to appreciate you for this opportunity provided me to speak on some of the issues being raised concerning the race for the 1st class stool of Adirahu Ny’ Igede. Unfortunately, there has been serious mis-information floating around, many of which could have been cleared if we cared to ask or seek clarifications from the primary source.
My name is Prof. Johnson Ogoda Onah, a professor of Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Jos, Jos, Plateau State. I obtained my PhD from the University of Nigeria Nsukka in 1997 and became a Professor in 2006. I bagged my Masters (MSc) in this field in 1982 from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow UK. My first degree in Biochemistry was obtained from the Nigeria Premier University, the University of Ibadan. I attended Government Secondary School Katsina-Ala where I obtained my GCE ordinary level. I’m a member of several professional bodies in Nigeria and beyond. I was born to a humble family of Chief Isaacs Onah Ejugwu on the 16th of February 1953. I’m a member of many socio-cultural organizations in Igede devoted to the welfare and development of Igede land. Between 1986 and 1988, I was the National Chairman of Igede Development Association (IDA) as it was known then before it was changed to Omi Ny’Igede. I had severally participated in the public discussions on political, economic, educational and social directions for Igede people. I’m very conversant with the philosophy, aspirations, cultural limitations or challenges that have stifled the rapid development of Igede land. In fact, I feel at home discussing Igede culture.
You are a leading contender for the post of Adirahu Ny’ Igede first class Chief, what is the motivation behind your aspiration, and what plans do you have for Igede nation if you are eventually chosen?
The stool of Adirahu Ny’Igede is being established for the first time ever. This has been made possible by the benevolence of His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Benue State, Dr Samuel Ortom and his Deputy, Engineer Benson Abonu. Igede people will eternally remain grateful to them. Adirahu Ny’Igede stool is too important to be left to third grade candidates and people who are not conversant with Igede cultures. This stool needs to be firmly established and so the foundation would necessarily have to be supervised by the very best candidate that Igede people can produce. I represent that very best in all of its ramifications because I have been part and parcel of historical development of Igede as a committed member of Omi Ny’ Igede and as a former national president of the association. Igede traditional stool must be built to compare with similar institutions in other parts of the country. My principal motivation and aspirations are to reform and refocus the Council of Elders and reorientate the youth for productive life. In addition to the above, I desire to, in general terms restore Igede culture to its core values. These core values include:
- Honesty of purpose
- Hard work
- Being brothers’ keeper
- Maintaining equity in all our dealing.
- Sustaining the Republican and democratic approach to life that is inherent in our culture.
The modalities for achieving the above will be presented at the appropriate time and possibly at another Forum. My prayer and appeal to Igede people is for us to understand our circumstances and be prepared to take up the challenges in the interest of generations yet to be born. TOGETHER WE CAN.
A lot of impressions has been created about your candidature by your opponents to the effect that you are being imposed by some external interest, what is your reaction to that and what is the true position?
It’s most uncharitable for anyone to even suggest that I, Professor Johnson O. Onah is being imposed by any vested interest. On the contrary, I was the most accepted candidate of all the aspirants right from the onset. My late father’s name struck resonance with everybody I interacted with. Prior to my public declaration of intent, I made personal contact with the most senior members of Igede Council of Elders, seeking their advice and support; Igede Community leader’s forum, leadership of various socio-cultural organizations. Intellectuals of different categories were contacted. I made trips to Abuja to discuss my aspiration with-who-is-who of Igede extraction and reached out to a lot of Igede sons and daughters in the diaspora to seek their consent. In all these trips and consultations, not only did I discuss my aspirations but took time to elaborate my motivations for change in Igede land. Before my open declaration, I similarly sought the support of Senior Government officials, of which I secured their unequivocal support. Of all the contenders to our stool, I probably did the most consultation prior to declaration. Even my cousin, CP OGA Ero, who is now contesting against me, sat with me at the family level to fine-tune my strategy and how I could be successful in the enterprise, but later turned round to betray me by contesting against me on the excuse that some people asked him to do sos. CP OGA Ero has never denied the fact that he had no declared interest to the stool and that he was being pushed on by his sponsors.
We learned that few Igede elites have vowed to go to any length to stop you from occupying the first class Igede Chief stool due to some personal grudges the have against you. In particular, what problem do you have with Eng. Morgan Okwoche and Prof. Ode Ojowu who are said to be leading the onslaught to stop you by all means?
I wish to answer this question by stating emphatically that only God chooses whom He pleases to be king or even occupy any position of leadership. Only God’s will shall prevail on this matter. Prof. Ode Ojowu and Engr. Morgan Okwoche should please stop playing God. Mr. Okwoche is my younger brother. I can’t recall any disagreement that I’ve had with him. He’s a true patriot of Igede nation, but I certainly have a completely different motive and approach to his own on public issues. Prof. Ode Ojowu’s position is inexplicable and very bizarre for my understanding because I consulted widely with him and made use of his useful advice on this and many other issues. If he has turned around not to support me then it’s only him that can explain his position. I still respect him and will continue to do so even when he makes that difficult. It wouldn’t bother too much if it is just about opposing me but my worry is the resort to inciting our people, especially the youths by feeding them with wrong information.
What is the connection between those who vowed to stop you by all means and the decision by your cousin, C.P Ogah Ero, who is said to have earlier supported you and even provided financial support to kick-start your campaign but decided later to join the race on the prompting of those who vowed to stop you? Or what is the true story, Igede people will like to know what really transpired between you and your cousin.
It’s now obvious that my detractors are the main supporters and sponsors of CP Oga Ero. They introduced Oga Ero into the race with the aim to stop me or frustrate my efforts. So far they have failed to frustrate me. As stated above, Oga Ero supported me financially and materially at the start of my campaign. He has stated that he was not really interested in the stool but for the push. I believe Oga Ero has no idea what he’s being pushed into and they are determined to keep him in ignorance to the end. He’s only a pawn on their chess board. He’s certainly not equipped for the stool, because he has no experience and probably not mentally equipped for the position hence they prefer to use thuggery and financial inducement to prosecute the race. Both methods are certain to fail. There is absolutely no comparism between me and Mr Oga Ero. I really sympathise with his inability to see through the veil of deceit. It may interest you to know that out of the desperation to stop me by all means, these people have gone all out to mobilise funds from a lot of innocent Igede people outside the state and at end they have raised so much money which they are now using to cause trouble in Igede land but like I have said, the Igede first class stool is not for sale. They are using all manner of dirty approaches to fight me, they are using money, misinformation, deceit, thuggery and everything they can lay their hands on to cause trouble. My consolation is that Igede people are taking note of everything and at the appropriate time Igede people will prove to them that they are not fools.
Talking about consultation, what is the level of your consultation with Igede stakeholders and other interest groups?
In answer to your questions above, I had explained in detail the level of consultations that I embarked upon before the actual kick-off of my campaign. As I’m speaking with you, there is constant dialogue between me, those I had consulted and my supporters and I’m confident that they will maintain that position to the very end. I took time to convince kingmakers why they should vote for me. They will not be voting for me on account of monetary inducement or coercion but on clear understanding of issues involved. After the thuggery on the 10th of March 2017, more stakeholders have trooped to my side.CP Oga Ero had previously displayed vioelence when he and his supporters forced two of my supporters from Anchim (Chief Ogbodo Akoto and Chief Enuma Okpa)to renounce my acceptance in the presence of Igede Council of Elders meeting at Ujegbe. After that incident I personally alerted the sole administrator to take special note and steps to avoid further use of force. Quiet frankly, I’m at home with the majority of stakeholders.
We heard that all of you who declared aspiration for the seat of Igede 1st Class Chief have consulted and seek the support of the authorities, especially the support of Gov. Samuel Ortom and his deputy, Benson Abonu and it was only you that was favoured by the authorities. What is the special thing in you that made the people in authority to repose so much confidence in you? We are asking this question against the background that this is not the first time that Gov. Ortom has demonstrated his confidence in you because we understand that you were made a member of his think-tank during his campaigns for the governorship election and you were later made a member of his transition committee when he eventually won the election. Tell us, what is responsible for this level of confidence the Governor has in you?
I’m most grateful to His Excellency the Executive Governor and his Deputy, Engr Benson Abonu for the confidence they have reposed in me. My prayer for them is that God in His infinite mercies should grant them wisdom to face the challenges of Governing Benue State. Each time that they have given me assignment, some of which you have mentioned above, I did such with the best of my ability. I just didn’t know they had taken special note of my services. I was a member of Governor Ortom’s strategy Committee that prepared his blueprint for governance of Benue State (Our Collective Vision for a New Benue). When he was cheated out Of PDP primaries, I called him to assure him of my unalloyed support in his political struggles, a time when most supporters deserted him. When he moved to the APC, I naturally moved with him. I campaigned very hard for him in Oju and Obi LGA and we won the elections. As for the Deputy Governor, when he emerged as the Deputy Governor designate, he was at the receiving end of all manner of attacks and insults. I stood by him and developed counter measures until he stabilised. We campaigned together as hard as we could. We won our elections against all odds. I thank God for them that they recognized my modest services.
In the light of the fact that a lot of Igede youths have been brainwashed against you, which has left them with wrong impression about the true position of things concerning the race for the first class chief in Igede, what message do you have for Igede youths and by extension, the entire Igede nation?
You have rightly stated that the youths have been brainwashed against me. I have been a teacher all my life because my passion has been to educate and bring up the youth for productive and meaningful life. When I was at the College of Education Katsina-Ala, I facilitated the admission of countless number of Igede youths. At the University of Jos, I did same and still doing so. In the current admission exercise into the Benue State University, I was able to facilitate the admission of nearly 40 applicants into various departments. As a teacher, I encourage dialogue with the young minds and show them the need for dicipline. Where I could, I enforced dicipline. Without discipline, one cannot succeed in life. I’ve received testimonies from my successful students some of who are Professors now and others in their chosen carriers. It’s precisely for the youth that I offered myself to the service of the current and future generation of the youth. They deserve to have a better deal even now. Please ask my opponent whom they think is youth friendly to show their score cards spanning their service years. I have to categorically state here that my desire for the chieftaincy stool is to reposition the Igede culture and traditions to prevent it from extinction and by so doing ensure the survival of our youths who have tomorrow. My humble advice to Igede youths is to resist the temptation of being used by anybody for selfish reasons. Our youths have come of age, they are intelligent and smart, and they should not allow the few ones among them to mislead them for pot of porridge. They should take time to do background check on contestants in any race rather than relying on people who will mislead them.
MY LAST WORD:
I know the challenges that are ahead of me and Igede people if we’re able to fill this important stool. There will be no time for recriminations as I’ll request every hand to be on deck in the interest of Igede people. I plead passionately with my opponents to show understanding rather than be emotional about the personalities who have personal grudges to caress. YES, WE CAN MAKE IT WORK IF WE REALLY WANT.