Uzodimma, Mbah, Kalu, others harp on Igbo, Yoruba unity

Imo State Governor and Chairman, South East Governors’ Forum, Sen. Hope Uzodimma, has assured the people of South East, particularly those that are resident in Lagos that the zone would soon be made comfortable for them to bring back their investments to their home land. He told them that plans were underway to host the South East security and economic summit, where issues of insecurity in the zone and investment bottlenecks would be tackled so that the much awaited rapid development of the entire region would take off.

He made the revelation on Thursday during a private chat with some Igbo businessmen in Lagos, as they assessed the situation of the Igbo people in Lagos, following the aftermath of the 2023 general elections. The Igbo in Lagos have suffered varying degrees of attacks and destruction of their means of livelihood since after the February 25 and March 18 presidential and governorship elections in the state. Among the long list of attacks and destruction of the property of the Igbo in Lagos was the recent demolition of about 17 shops belonging to them at Alaba International Market.

Igbo dignitaries that graced the event included the Enugu State Governor, Peter Mbah, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, Senator Patrick Ndubueze, Chief Tony Chukwu, Major-General Obi Umahi (retd), Chief Ben Okoye, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, and Chief Jerry Chukwueke, among others.

Chairman of the Chicason Group, had organized the private chat with Gov Uzodimma, where the Igbo businessmen in Lagos expressed themselves freely, and urged the governor to deploy his close contact with the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to bring to an immediate end to the ill-treatment and ill-feelings against the Igbo in Lagos State. 

Uzodimma, who charged the Igbo to be their brothers’ keeper at all times, promised that since they had started the race to resolve whatever face-off they have with their host, the Yoruba, and have handed over the baton to him, he would surely complete the race by ensuring that everything was resolved, and complete peace and harmony among the two tribes, restored.

He charged the Igbo to stop seeing themselves as tenants in Lagos. He said: “The Igbo are known for their courage and intelligence. I want you to nominate a few people to sit with us and come up with how to resolve the whole matter. We have different gifts and our job is to use it to our collective benefit because when we urinate together, it creates enough bubbles. Stop calling yourselves tenants in Lagos, it pains me. I left Lagos for Abuja. I know what is happening in both the private and public sectors; you don’t need to tell me. I know your problem.

“If you have been applying one style to solving a problem and it has not worked, you need to change the style. It is time for the Igbo to change their style; what we want is result. The story we told 50 years ago is what we are still repeating today; this has made others see us as historians. It was not history that the Great Zik of Africa or Chief M.I Okpara told to get to the position they reached in life. The Igbo need to be innovative. The self-acclaimed hero syndrome among the Igbo must stop because you are not a hero until society says so. Don’t baptize yourself as the wisest man on earth; the best engineer, best this and best that; they are all nothing, because you will be judged by your result.

“I have been in politics for over 40 years and I know that what one man can do in 200 years, a responsible government can do that in one minute. So, we should stop over-labouring ourselves. Granted that after the civil war, the Igbo were challenged because they were displaced from the government; they had no position in government. We have been developing ourselves and communities, contributing money and building town halls, drilling water boreholes, providing light and building markets. But, when you go to the North, the government will be putting transformers and sinking boreholes even where human beings don’t live.”

Earlier, personalities like Chief Okafor, in whose Ikoyi residence the event held, Chief Okoye, Gen Umahi, Ohuabunwa, Ohanaeze Nidigbo President in Lagos, High Chief Sunday Ossai, and Mbonu, among others, had spoken about the plight of the Igbo, not only in Lagos, but also in Nigeria. They were of the view that what is happening in Lagos requires a political solution, even as they all charged Gov Uzodimma to address the issue by meeting his colleague, Sanwo-Olu, and straightening things out with him.

Condemning what is happening to the Igbo in Lagos, Chief Okoye noted that elections were over and it was time for governance, insisting that irrespective of the party one voted for, everybody must support the party that eventually won. He warned that no group of persons should be targeted for attacks on account of how they voted during the elections.

“If other tribes can invest in Nigeria like the Igbo, Nigeria will cease from being a third world country and graduate to a first world nation. The Igbo will continue to invest and develop Lagos, in spite of the challenges,” he stated.

He urged Gov Uzodimma to unite the Igbo into the mainstream politics of Nigeria. “We are demanding our right as true citizens of Nigeria. We are not begging to be accommodated,” he added.

On his part, Umahi agreed that the situation required a political solution, while stressing that the Igbo live in glass houses and are not prepared to throw stones. “The Igbo want peace. They don’t foment trouble,” he added.

He called on the South East governors to face the issue of insecurity, noting that once the security situation is fixed, the transition of Igbo investments back home would be seamless. “Secondly, the issue of electricity must also be tackled. There can’t be industrialization without electricity. Once electricity is there, industrialization will take off. We shall be expecting another visit by the Imo Governor very soon, where he would give us an update on all these demands,” he stated.

For Mazi Ohuabunwa, it is regrettable that the South East governors have over time refused to work together. However, he believes that with proper collaboration and coordination, they would be able to provide adequate security and rail lines across the five Southeastern states. “We are crying like orphans. The governors should remove political party affiliation or division and move the region forward,” he charged.

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President of Alaba Amalgamated Market, Mbonu, who narrated how their shops were demolished, said the state government did not follow due process of the law. He said: “What happened in Alaba International Market is heartbreaking. The information they fed the Lagos State Governor were all tissues of lies. When the Abia State Governor, Alex Otti, called me concerning the development, I told him the truth. He said Sanwo-Olu was fed with the information that there was a court judgement to demolish those buildings, but that is not true. The shops have been there for over 30 years and everybody knows that they are under the control of Ojo Local Government Area. The lands were bought from the Omonile by the Igbo traders, who built shops on them.

“We have documents relating to the lands. The truth is that there was a company that wanted to develop an ultra-modern market and car parks behind the shops, but the Ojo LGA has sold all their lands in front of us; so there was no provision for the proposed projects. So, the demolition was to actualise the projects they wanted to carry out behind our shops.

“But, the truth is that if they had approached us with the information that they would demolish our shops, there is what is called due process. If there is a court judgement that those shops should be demolished, they should have shown us or served us papers to that effect. And it would have been left for us to either challenge it at a higher court or accept the demolition. But no, that was not done. They asked us to show proof of ownership and everybody was going to their office to present their papers and all of a sudden they told us that they would demolish it on Friday. We thought it was a joke until they rolled out bulldozers with over 200 armed Mobile Policemen guarding them, while they destroyed our means of livelihood.”

On the problem of the Igbo in Lagos, the Imo governor told the gathering to nominate about 15 or 20 persons, who would go with him to see the Lagos State Governor face to face and resolve the matter before he would leave Lagos for Imo State.

He assured that whatever problem the Igbo in Lagos have with their host would be resolved before he leaves Lagos. He also told them that the five South East governors were together and that between now and the end of July, the governors, alongside members of the National Assembly from the zone, would organise a security and economic summit. “We have engaged our professors from the universities, who are already designing the concept note or framework, and once the concept note is ready, we shall circulate it and you people will come home. We have been telling stories, it is action time. We have heard what you said, don’t just say you are going back home just like that. Yes, we must go back home because the Igbo homeland must be developed, but we can’t do that out of fear. We must start from the known to the unknown. We will develop the place. I can tell you that when we provide electricity, open the South East to the Atlantic Ocean, construct two or three international airports, the Igbo homeland will be developed.” he stated.

He also pointed out the need to support the current president as he meant well for the Igbo, even as he noted that the Igbo must be brought back to the mainstream of Nigerian politics. “The president needs us and we also need him. What I want now is the unity of southern Nigeria. For a southern President to succeed, he needs the support of all southerners because, charity they say, begins at home. We know that we are good, generous and hardworking but the national cake is the most important thing in Nigeria today. Every private business in Nigeria today survives on government patronage; even the woman that fries bean cake (akara) would want to get a contract to supply akara to prisoners. So, that is the thing; we need the government. Now, we must change strategy so that those things which our forefathers couldn’t get, we will be able to get them. We need to be our brothers’ keeper; don’t mock your brother when his shop is in flames. What is bad is bad and what is good is good. May God bless us,” he said.

He advised the Igbo to stop boasting with their wealth while their neighbours languish in abject poverty as that would incur the wrath of the poor some day. He said: “If you are the richest man in your village and you build the finest house while all other persons live in tattered houses, one day, they will unite against you. So, you are not rich until your environment is developed and protected.

The Enugu Governor, on his part, thanked the organizers of the event, describing it as the way to go for the Igbo. He also noted that the South East Governors were doing something that would have some impacts on the way the Igbo are being treated in Lagos, particularly in Alaba International Market. “You have escalated the problem to the right level and I can assure you that we will not disappoint you. There is no way people will respect us if we don’t put our home in order. When we do that, other people in Nigeria will know that the Igbo have an option to fall back on at home when maltreated outside.

“It is for that reason that we have taken a wide view of what we can achieve in the next four to eight years. We believe that we can have a common market because part of what we promised during our campaign is that we want our economy to be private sector driven. That means that the government will provide the enabling environment for the private sector to thrive and flourish and that is exactly what we are doing.

“We have already started rubbing minds. The five governors have started discussing a common market for the South East, because big investments thrive on a robust market, where there is purchasing power and a vibrant workforce.

“For the problem we have in Lagos, be rest assured that nobody will displace you or violate your right when we are there. I am happy that we are having this kind of gathering because that is the only way we can make a resounding noise for others to hear our voice,” he stated

However, the Deputy Speaker also noted that there was no way anybody would respect the Igbo if they continued to be disunited. “We must form a common front to be able to earn a place of respect in Nigeria. The idea of individualism must be discarded and the spirit of unity embraced among us so that we can achieve our common goal. The moment others see that we are coming together to speak with one voice, they will begin to respect and take us seriously in this country. It is when people come together to discuss their problem that they can come up with ideas that can solve the problem. It is those ideas that emerged from such meetings that they would deploy to seek solutions to their problem,” he said.

He stated that politically, things have changed for the Igbo. “In the last eight years, the Igbo did not have anybody in the national assembly leadership but today, the story has changed. The Igbo now has the Deputy Speaker and the red cap is now prominent there. Today, both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are members of the National Security Council; so today, your brother, Benjamin Kalu is a member of that Council and there is no way I will be there and allow any decision that will adversely affect the Igbo race to be taken without shouting out,” he said.

Still on the plight of the Igbo in Nigeria, he said: “We will not run away from Nigeria; it is our country and we are already here to make impacts. Whatever that is due to us must come to us. The president has come to work. He did not come to waste time and that is why some of us are supporting him. Today, he has appointed an Igbo as the Chief of Naval Staff. Before I was elected as the Deputy Speaker, so many people kicked against it, but he stood his ground. He insisted that it must be me and that was also made possible by Gov Uzodimma, who insisted that what was due to the Igbo must come to the Igbo.”

On the South East development, he equally said: “Some people have said that the South East governors ought to work together and I can tell you that the present crop of governors in the zone are different; they are going to work together for the progress and development of the zone. The Enugu State Governor is interested in developing not only Enugu, but also the entire South East. And the development of the South East as a region has been made possible through the recent legislation by the National Assembly. We have made it possible for electricity and rail transport to be moved from the exclusive to concurrent legislative list. In other words, both the state and Federal Governments now have the powers to generate, and distribute electricity, as well as develop railways. Before, only the Federal Government can handle electricity and railways. But now, state governors can also generate power either through wind, solar or hydro to ensure constant supply of electricity. And if the South East governors pull funds together, they can handle power generation and distribution, and equally handle railways to inspire regional economic integration policy for the South East. And every foreign direct investor seeing these great minds putting funds together from across the South East states, will have a greater level of confidence to partner with the region. So, it is high time the governors under the leadership of Uzodimma, galvanized ideas that will attract investors, so that those policies that have been unbundled from the constitution will begin to be put into action at once.”

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