Chief Ochi Emmanuel Ode is the Chairman of the Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC). In this interview with EJIKEME OMENAZU, he looks at the several agitations by the Nigerian youths, even as he renews call for the restructuring of the federation. Excerpt:
How do you see the October 1 quit notice given to the Igbos by the Northern youths to leave the region?
The issue of the North giving South East ultimatum is uncalled for. Nigerian has come a long way as an indivisible nation. If they agree that there is strength in diversity, they should allow Nigerian state to stay united. The youths should be told that Nigeria is better off united. I am of the opinion that instead of those callig for division of nIgeria, they should rather dissipate energy on a call for restructuring of the Nigerian state into six regions and allow the regions to grow at their own pace and development.
What does the quit notice portend as far as the existence of the country is concerned?
The call portends danger because most people now live in fear in their own country. Nigerians should be allowed to live freely in any part of the country as true Nigerians.
Do you think that the Biafra agitation, especially the recent sit-at-home ordered thy the IPOB and MASSOB should have warranted such a dangerous action by the Northern youths?
The sit-at-home order was a provocative action which should not be allowed to continue. If they should believe in Nigeria, they should love Nigeria and protect the tenets of that love for Nigeria and shelve the idea of Biafra as a separate nation. To me, Biafra issue has been settled with the cessation of civil war hostility long ago. It was agreed to that further cement the unity of this great country, there should be no victor, no vanquished. Therefore, reminding the Nigerian people of that sad event, to me, is bad and should be discontinued forthwith, if the Igbo nation still belongs to one Nigeria.
A cross section of the populace believes that there may be some ulterior motive behind the action of the northern youths. Do you believe so too?
You do not start such a fight because you do not know when and how it will end. Even if what you said is the truth, that there is an ulterior motive behind the northern youths action, the Igbos created the platform for the northern youths. In the absence of the agitation, the north had no reason to come out to do what they did. But, the provocation came from the South East. It will be a misplaced blame if the north is being blamed. Like I said, if the Nigerian state is restructured into six regions, the issue of north having more states than south or west having more states that east or east having more states that south south would have being a thing of the past.
How do you see the reaction of the South West and the Niger Delta youths who demanded their own republics too following the action of the northern youths?
That is why I said it is not good to start a fight because you do not know when and how it can end. No single part of the nation has the monopoly of agitation for separation. If the Igbo can have the power to agitate, you can expect other regions to do so. But, this is not healthy to the development of this country, Nigeria. I think the elders in all the regions have failed woefully in admonishing their youths. From the age bracket of those youths championing these agitations, most of these youths were born after the civil war. So, they may not really appreciate the havoc experienced during the civil war in Nigeria. If they do, or were properly told, they should have a rethink that what they are doing portends great danger ahead.
How do you see the reaction of the Middle Belt youths that the region is not part of the North and as such are not part of the action of the northern youths?
Middle Belt has always been there for the unity of this country, Nigeria. That was why they sacrificed so many of their able bodied men and women during the Nigeria civil war. But, as you can see, the sacrifices they made have not translated to any meaningful development in the region. Middle Belt is not part of the core North. By the name, it occupies the central part of the North and the South. So, it follows that we are not part of the North. Whether North or Middle Belt or South, we are one indivisible country, which is Nigeria. So, I agree with Middle Belt youths that Middle Belt cannot be part of the agitations having sacrificed the men and women to keep the country united.
There is always a misconception in the political circle that the North is synonymous with any region across and above the Niger. That is very wrong. I think it is mischievous to think that what constitutes is North and South. If you want to talk of true reflection of Nigeria, you will talk about the North, Middle Belt, South East, South West and South South.
What is your view on the way the Acting President has been handling these new agitations?
Our political class will always want to put the art before the horse. What I expect the Acting President to do is to identify the youths that are in these agitations. Bring them together and talk to them, advise them as the president and father by telling them the pros and cons of their actions. This will make them appreciate the gravity of their actions. Therefore, calling the political class and the governors that have all along been misusing these youths, who use and dump them, to talk about the unity of Nigeria, is a misplaced priority. I say this because, since he called the governors and the political class to hold meetings, on the unity of the country, have they called these youths to address them on the need to achieve this unity till today? Have they urged the youths to sheath their swords and embrace unity? No. so, what will the Acting President say he has achieved? May be, he has to tell Nigerians. So, I am afraid that these youths that had been ignored may carry out their threats, except the Acting President heeds the advice to do the needful by calling the youths to a round table to talk to them as their father. You can see that the agitation is spreading. The South West has followed suit and other regions are following. That will tell the government that the approach has failed. I wonder what the advisers are doing.
Don’t you think that the government and other stakeholders should consider the implementation of the 2014 National Conference Report with a view to restructure the federation in line of True Federalism?
That is why I am deeply concerned about the political class in Nigeria. A Nigerian politician, while trying to win sympathies of the people, he will say that the best thing to happen to Nigeria is to restructure. Once he is given the political mandate or sworn into office, he will begin to accuse any other person talking of restructuring as being unpopular. So, where lies the rationale behind politicking in Nigeria? I think this is the right time to present boldly that report to work on speedily, to actualize the restructuring of the Nigerian state. It may unlikely be achieved during the current APC government. It may be difficult to conclude all the necessary arrangements for restructuring during the tenure of this administration. I see that time is no longer on their side.
In carrying out the restructuring, the government in place should look beyond party politics. If they do, I see them creating more problems. Today, they are in government. Tomorrow, they may be at the receiving end. It should be Nigeria first in every move that has to be taken in the act of restricting. Nigeria is bigger than any party.
How do you see the borrowing of several loans and floating of bonds by the federal and state governments?
Our future has been mortgaged for several years to come. It is rather unfortunate ift this money being borrowed is not used for infrastructural development, nor for an investment to generate revenue for the liquidation of the loans. To me, the future is frightening for our coming generation.