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ESN is the only security outfit that can help the Igbo man now – Eluemunoh

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As a child he had his eyes on the Owelle of Onitsha and Nigeria’s first Republic President, the Late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe whom he saw as his role model and imitated him as much as possible. Like Azikiwe, he is a veteran journalist, a traditional Ozo title holder and an Igwe aspirant.

Besides, as you look at him today, attired in his traditional regalia of white on white mini Agbada, native beads flowing down from his neck   to his chest and a pair of white glasses on his eyes, you cannot but conclude that you are staring at a reincarnate of Zik of Africa, for the resemblance is unmistakable! Chris Eluemunoh was once the Chief Press Secretary to Chief Jim Nwobodo, former Governor of old Anambra State.

He is a former President of  Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Anambra State; former National Deputy Financial Secretary of Ohanaeze and a former President of ASATU (Anambra State Association of Town Unions). The Orient Daily team of SIMON NJOKU, DR. AZUBUIKE NKALA, FRANK NDULUE and LAWRENCE NWIMO encountered this eminent personality in his country home of Nkwelle Ezunaka in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State, recently, culminating in this exclusive interview where he shared his experience on diverse issues and offered advice on others. Excerpts:

Sir, could you speak briefly on your journalism career?

I was among the first members of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) when
the then Federal Government started registering journalists under the
NUJ. We were registered and had our registration numbers then. The
then government ruled that every journalist must be registered, like
in other professions. I was a regional editor with Rivers State
Newspaper Corporation. I was based in Enugu then, and was covering the
entire Eastern region, including Benue state at the time. That was the
position I held when I was appointed the Chief Press Secretary to Jim
Nwobodo, the then Governor of old Anambra State. That was my
professional life in journalism before I ventured into other aspects of life.

I was, for example, a delegate to the National Conference in 2014 where I
represented the Southeastern region. I was the President General of
Nkwelle Ezunaka for six years, before I became the state president of
Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Anambra state chapter. Later, I was moved to the
National level as the National Deputy Financial Secretary. After my
first tenure, I left the position because I was interested in the
Igweship of my people and I felt the need to return home because I’m seeking
for that position. I’m presently part of the Anambra State Elders’
Council and also a member of the Board of Trustees, ASATU, in Anambra
State. I’m a patron of NUJ Awka and Enugu State as well as a patron of
Political Science Students Association of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.


Could you tell us the history of Nkwelle Ezunaka vis a vis the
Igbo migration pattern in the Southeastern region?


I will tell you the much that I know because it is a very large and
wide history. Some people like Governor Nyesom Wike are still
disputing the fact that people of Ikwerre are Igbo. But I take him as a
small boy who does not know the history of his people especially Port
Harcourt where I was born and bred.  Ikwerre are immigrants from Ngwa, Abia State
and Nkwerre in Orlu, Imo State. For Amadi Diobu, Amadi was an Igbo man. He
was the leader of the Ikwerre community at that time; a very fearful
man. One cannot be as powerful as Amadi Diobu at that time.

The Nkwerre of Orlu are migrants of Nkwelle Ezunaka in Anambra State.
They went on expedition with one of our leaders then to the people of
Aro in Arochukwu which was then worshipped as a god. All the slave
traders and the likes were anchored in Arochukwu at the time. The
Arochukwu had a cave-like tunnel that takes one to a river called Itu.
It was through the Itu River that slaves were shipped out, and they
would say Aro had taken the person.That was how some of these slaves
were moved out of the Igbo land. So, Nkwelle Ezunaka people went on
that expedition to know what was happening because the Aros never came
to Nkwelle Ezunaka. With all their escapades, they did not cross the
Enugu Onitsha Expressway because our people were strong. If you watch,
we don’t have any Aro community around Nkwelle. The people that scared
them away from entering our side were the Nri people. Nri were pigmies
and very fearful. They were feared by the Igbo army that time. History
says that Nri people migrated from Aguleri. They were the first
emigrants of the Eri family to where they are today. Most families in
Igbo land migrated from Aguleri and Eri was part of the family of the
Jacob of the Bible.

Some people ask questions about the origin of the Igbo because they
lack proper knowledge of the Igbo history. The Igbo are the typical
Jewish family who doubts so much. That was why the Jews never believed
in Jesus Christ. Even till tomorrow, Christian families in Israel are
about two or three percent while Jewish families in Israel are over
seventy percent. On the reverse, the population of Muslim families in
Israel is greater than Christian families. You can imagine
where Jesus came from, the whole world is worshiping him, yet his
people up till today do not believe in him. That is the same spirit
that the Igbo have; unbelieving spirit. We share the same culture with
the Jews like the circumcision and the rest.

What kind of relationship existed between the Nkwelle and Onitsha people before the coming of the White man and why was the settlement of the White man in Onitsha?


Nkwelle Ezunaka saw civilization first before most of the Igbo
communities because the White people came through Nkwelle and settled
at Onitsha. Where you have missionaries at Onitsha today is
originally Nkwelle land. Our past leader, Igwe Paul, at that time
settled them there but later allowed them to move into Onitsha to
settle at the GRA which is originally Nkwelle town, nobody can
disprove it. It was the Oze people that lived there. It was the
Igala people who were known as Mgbelekeke in Onitsha that brought Onitsha
people across the River Niger into where is now called Onitsha. They
chased the Oze people away from that part of Onitsha and in order to
make peace, the missionaries carved out an area for the Onitsha people
and then asked the Oze indigenes to move across the Nkisi river, while
the White men settled at the GRA side. The GRA area was formerly known
as Oze Ekwodu, a market place for Nkwelle people but they turned it
into a market for the Royal Niger Company at that time.


Now, how did you become the Chief Press Secretary to the then
Governor of old Anambra State, Jim Nwobodo, in 1979?


It all started after I was offered a scholarship by the Rivers State
Newspaper Corporation to read journalism. When I finished the
programme, I went back there to work and after some time, they posted
me to Enugu to work as the Regional Editor. I worked there for some
years and in that process, I had contact with the Nwobodos’ family.
Jim Nwobodo’s elder brother was the Chairman of Enugu Urban Council
and I was critical of him. I attacked him because he was misbehaving
at that time. I never gave him a breathing space. He was a dictator as
the chairman of the council. As a result, I had a problem with the
Nwobodos’ family. Then, Jim was a Lagos-based businessman. When he
returned, he invited me for a peace talk, asking me why I refused to
allow his family to rest. Then, the military government never had it
easy with me. I had countless problems with the military government
because I criticized them a lot in the newspaper. After the peace
talk, I told Jim to go and advise his brother because he was elected
by the people to serve and not antagonize people. Jim did what I told
him and we became friends. Along the line, there was a teacher at CIC
Enugu, a brilliant science teacher from Nnewi. At that time, he
criticized the government when he said, ‘how come every year, instead
of bringing money to improve the condition of the school, government
used money to paint schools and later go on to tell the public that it
had given money to the school.’ The teacher criticized the government
and they suspended him; afterwards, he was removed. So, I fired the
government. I attacked the government with everything I had. “Killing
Justice” was the title I gave to the story then. That case was a
landmark case in the court and for the first time, somebody that was
accused of sedition was released, discharged and acquitted. For the law
of sedition, it was ‘the more the truth, the more the libel’. It was a law
they used to nail journalists and instill fear into them at that time.
So, they took me to court and charged me with criminal libel. After
that trial, the Benue state people took the Chief Magistrate that
time, Ozo Machie, and made him Chief Judge in their State.
I was in court when Governor Jim Nwobodo announced me as the Chief
Press Secretary to the Governor. Everybody thought I was already
jailed. They were waiting to hear the jail term that will be given to
me. At the end, the magistrate discharged and acquitted me on the
ground that the clause was inimical to the society. That law was even
quoted in the Supreme Court and law schools and was eventually
abolished. That was the reason journalists have a breathing space
today to write. The meaning of the law was the more the truth, the
more the libel, because they reasoned that truth can create a problem
in the society. The more truth we reported the more problem we had as
journalists. Prominent people like Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo
went to jail under that law but I happened to be the last person that
was tried under that law in this country before it was abolished.

As the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Jim Nwobodo, what was the
difference between working as a Bureau Chief and later as a Chief Press
Secretary?


You should know what it means to be at the receiving end of problems
from the press. Before, I was part of the press and later, I was at
the receiving end of attack from the press. You can imagine the
difference. I was there sitting down and was receiving attacks from
the press. I was there defending the Governor on whatever he does. So,
every morning, I sat down with the Governor, briefed him on the
newspapers and others. If there was any attack, he tells me to reply
or to ignore. Again, my relationship with the press was very cordial
because I knew what they are capable of doing, having come from the
field. Maintaining the relationship was not easy to me, I must
confess, because I had to learn to tolerate, else I would be in
trouble. I had no choice than to tolerate the press and work with
them. That was an experience that led me through life up to this
moment because if anyone can handle the press, then such a person can
handle any community or any problem of life.


How is your relationship currently with Chief  Nwobodo, your
former boss?


Laughs! I was at his last birthday party. We celebrated his
birthday with him. We still enjoy cordial relationship till today.


We learnt about a problem that erupted between you and the former governor  over a trip to US, what caused it?


Yes. I needed to travel abroad for health checkup and was permitted
to travel. Before then, we were talking about establishing a
television station. I was the only journalist that was countering the
NPN at that time using a mini press center that I personally set up in
the Government House. So, I assembled television equipment without
having a television house. NTA did not air our stories then due to
party politics. We covered, recorded and edited, after which I personally
took the recorded tape to some Igbo guys in NTA who were loyal to the
government and they used it without NTA coming to cover it.

So, at this time, we wanted to establish a television house for the
state government in Enugu. It was a deal they wanted to do without my
knowledge but later found out that it would be difficult to do it
without me. I was still in London on medical trip when they began to
plan a trip to UTA, US. UTA was to build the television station on Public
Private Partnership basis. The price they gave was very high and the
governor decided to go there and negotiate with them. I was in London
when they called me from Enugu to inform me about their plans to visit
UTA and BBC London for the project. I told the government to be
patient till I return so that we could package the idea together. One
commissioner at that time secretly had a deal with a guy in UTA. When I later met them in London, they were trying to procure a whole system that comprised only one type of
equipment and I opposed it with a strong memo. I wrote that building a
TV house with equipment from a single company is not at the advantage
of the government because such a company would hold the government to
ransom whenever parts of the equipment develop fault. I suggested a system
engineering from multiple companies, which I felt was the best for the
government against one unit engineering but the pressure from the
commissioners with secret deals were too much on the governor and I
didn’t know about the secret deals. At the BBC, the government was advised
to adopt the system engineering which I had suggested to them, and
they were disappointed. When they returned to Nigeria, they insisted
on that UTA business and when they made a trip to UTA for that
business, they excluded me from the trip on the pretense that I was
tired, having flown in from abroad. I told the governor that my doctor
had requested a follow-up check on me and that I needed to fly back to
London. He immediately granted the request. After the checkup, I
traveled from London to US to rest a bit. Coincidentally, I met the
governor’s entourage in the hotel where I lodged. As soon as I returned
to the country, I put in my resignation letter and left.


How would you describe your experience as a member of Ohanaeze Ndigbo?


You know, Ohanaeze Ndigbo is like a state created for the Igbo people.
The responsibility of Ohanaeze Ndigbo is greater than the
responsibility of any state governor because Ohanaeze Ndigbo is
comprised of seven Igbo states, including Rivers and Delta states.
The leadership of Ohanaeze is like one man governing all the seven
states. We go to places like Ghana and South Africa and beyond to
solve Igbo problems. It was in one of my peace trips to Cameroon that
I knew that the Igbo population in Cameroon is bigger than a state in
Nigeria. The Igbo in Equatorial Guinea are the third largest in that
country and they have no plans to return to Nigeria again but they
know they have a link here. When they have problem, they invite
Ohanaeze Ndigbo to look into their problems. The same thing is
applicable to the Igbo communities scattered within Nigeria. I was
prominent at settling Igbo cases with my legal background.


What is Ohanaeze’s attitude towards Igbo personalities that arrogate the title of  Eze Igbo to themselves outside Igbo land?

We have put a stop to that. We put up a guideline that such leaders
answer ‘Onyendu Ndigbo’ (Igbo leader) not Eze Igbo. Such persons
cannot be answering Eze Igbo abroad while they have Eze in their
community. What if they return to their community, will they answer
such name in the presence of their Eze? No Nkwelle man can go abroad and
answer such name if he is not the traditional ruler. That is the
discipline we have in Nkwelle Ezunaka community.



We learnt that there are two factions in Ohanaeze Ndigbo at present.
Which faction do you belong to and why?



No. It’s not true. There is only one faction in Ohanaeze Ndigbo. You
know that Rochas Okorocha in his stubbornness tried to make a
caricature of this organization by instigating a separate Ohanaeze
Ndigbo but unfortunately for him, his attempt did nor yield
anything as they were not recognized anywhere. They cannot present
themselves as Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The main Ohanaeze is recognized by both
the Federal and State Governments. There is only one Ohanaeze Ndigbo
all over Nigeria. Okorocha wanted to create another Ohanaeze for his
presidential ambition.


What can you say are the challenges of the current leadership of
Ohanaeze Ndigbo?


You know, government of the day is becoming more interested in the
affairs of Ohanaeze, unlike before. This is because they are the ones
funding the organization. The people, even when they rally around
Ohanaeze, especially when there is problem, after that, they desert the
organization. So, the funding of Ohanaeze Ndigbo is only done by the
State Governors. None of the billionaire Igbo sons financially help
Ohanaeze. There is a saying that who pays the piper, dictates the
tune. Because the governors fund the organization, they are always
interested in knowing whatever we are doing. Our people have left
Ohanaeze in the hands of state governments. Remember, Ohanaeze is not
a money-making organization and there is no other way we can raise
money than through donations and gifts which often come from the
governors.
At the same time, you need to know who Prof Obiozor,
the President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo is. He is not a man you can push around.
He is well read, a man of high pedigree. His integrity is
never in doubt.


The 2023 Presidential election is coming with the drumbeat for Igbo
presidency. What is the advice of Ohanaeze with respect to the Igbo aspiration to produce the president?



Let me tell you the truth. Our first position as Ohanaeze is that the
country should be restructured before any Igbo man can be President.
Any Igbo Presidency for this country without Nigeria being
restructured will be as good as other presidents in the country. He
will still be controlled at the top. They will dictate for him and he
will not be an Igbo President. But if Nigeria is restructured, we will
be running a Confederal system like America where every State will be
independent. In America, no one is interested in who becomes the
president of America. Surprisingly, most American citizens don’t know
the President of America. All they know is maybe their Governor
because everything they need is under the Governor of their Sate. The
constitution and resources to rule the people are there, but there are
common areas that bind them together as a country like military and so
on which the President is controlling. They have the community police,
state police, and county police. For Federal police to come into any
state in America, it must have the permission of the State Governor
except in times of crisis, and then the Governor asks for Federal
police. So, the most important position in America is the Governor of
a State and not President. Funny enough, some Americans don’t know
where Washington is. If we restructure this country, Nigeria will be
like that and the Presidency will become less attractive.
Contributions should be made from States to Federal not from Federal
to States. No Governor goes to the Central Government to ask for money
because they know their responsibilities.


Since the North has more representatives in the National Assembly than the South, should the South go on with the demand for restructuring, are the Northerners not going to use their higher numerical strength in both chambers of the legislature to override it?


We are not against Igbo presidency.
 We are agitating for Igbo Presidency and we are also going for
restructuring. We believe that if the country is restructured, an Igbo
president will enjoy his position better than if the country is not
restructured because those people from the North will attempt to control himThe attraction in the Presidency today is because the President
controls the vast resources of the country but if we devolve this power
down to governors, the presidency will lose its attractiveness. Why should the vast resources of a country be controlled by one man. They
will never allow Igbo man to control the resources as they will
dictate for him. Even when Obasanjo and Jonathan held the office, they did everything for the North, yet they did not please them.  Look at
what is happening in Nigeria today, it will not abate until Nigeria is
either restructured or an Igbo man becomes the President. Also, if an
Igbo man becomes the President of Nigeria, the Hausa/Fulani people still
control majority in the National Assembly and will not allow him to
operate as an independent President. So, we would prefer that the
country is restructured before the presidential election. We want a
situation where if the Igbo man becomes the president, he will enjoy
his office unlike coming into power with the country as it is today.


Talking of restructuring, does it include the Army, going by our
 experience with the military?


No. Army cannot be restructured because it is a Federal establishment.
In terms of appointments in the army, true Federal system will not allow recruitments into the army to be lopsided. For recruitment, every state
should have equal representation. If Nigeria is running true
federalism, then there should not be a lopsided appointment of
security staff like what is being experienced today. Even the
Northerners are becoming embarrassed with the way our president is
making his appointments. They are beginning to condemn it because the
President’s appointment is clearly one-sided.

Could you comment on the manner of relationship between the Ohanaeze and Nnamdi Kanu?

Ohanaeze never supported Nnamdi Kanu. We were against what he was
doing before.  But today, the condition of the country has forced
everybody to be on Kanu’s side. We now understand that he was
fighting for the benefit of Igbo people. If nobody is shouting
the way he is doing now, Northern people will run us out. Look at the
way they are pushing Fulani into the states. Could you have believed
that Fulani people will ever start killing Igbo in Igbo land? It has
started happening. They kidnap our people, rape our daughters and show
it on video.


What is your opinion on the Eastern Security Network and Ebubeagu Agu outfits?


You see, when these groups were formed, they were neither carrying guns
nor knives, and they were only talking and fighting for their rights
through vocal outburst. But now, the Federal Government forced them to
set up a militant group out of IPOB. ESN came only for the Igbo
interest. The Yoruba are doing it through their Amotekun which they
have officially launched. Our governors are daft, thinking that by keeping
quiet, they will curry favour from the North. Can they be Holier than
the Yoruba APC states themselves? The Yoruba are closer to the Hausa
than the Igbo but they were the first to break away and set up their
own security outfit backed by their governors, despite all the
pressures from the Federal Government. But Southeast governors led by
Dave Umahi refused to set up our own. He was still relying on Federal
Police. Look at what is happening in Ebonyi State; he has run out of
control. He can no longer control what is happening in his state today
because of stubbornness and fear.


We understand that the Southeast governors gave Ohanaeze the responsibility of setting up two bodies that will coordinate the activities of Ebube Agu. Can we have an update on this?


Yes, but after doing that we jettisoned it. We set up a committee,
made recommendations on how to set up our own security outfit, but
Umahi went to the Executive Council meeting of the Governors Forum and
rejected it, deciding that they will work with the Federal Government
under the Police Command. He wanted the community police to be managed
by the Federal Police.  Ebubeagu is now history and that is why the
Igbo people are embracing ESN. ESN is the only security outfit that
can help the Igbo man now.



So, how do you think the ESN and the IPOB can be encouraged to
continue the fight?



They are encouraged by the people’s support. You can see that the
Ebubeagu thing is not working, where a governor said he is going to
give 2,000 slots to Hausa in Ebubeagu Security, what do we call that?
Our governors are big shame to us.



What are you giving back to Nkwelle Ezunaka, as a son who has gone
out and come back home?


When I came back, the first thing I did was to become the Chairman of
my family. I didn’t read law because I want to practise law. I read
law because I want to give something to my people, having learnt that
the problem my people were having was ignorance. I believed that I
could return home to help them legally as well as help lawyers who are
handling cases for my people by putting them on the right part of
justice. Before I came back, I went and got documents from archives
relating to boundaries between my people and the six communities
surrounding us. Nkwelle was a very small community with a large
expanse of land courtesy of our forefathers. We couldn’t manage our
land and before we knew it, we started losing some of them to our
neighboring communities. When I became the President General of
Nkwelle Ezunaka, what I did was to recover most of our lands held by
the neighboring communities irrespective of the village that owned it.
I chased Ogbunike away from Nkwelle to across the Nkisi River.

In what way has your community shown appreciation for that? 


I think those who really appreciate it are trying to make me move
further than the President General that I used to be and the process
is on now. The first appreciation was when I was the chairman of my
family, they saw what I did and said I should come and replicate it at
the community level as the President General.



What do you think is the solution to the current agitation for Biafra?


I was in the Biafran Army. I fought the war on the side of Biafra. I
would not like us to have that experience again. We will follow it
constitutionally. But this time around, it will be different from the
experience we had in Biafra war because even the South West that was
against us is even the one leading the way now.  It is not going to be
a war between the Igbo and the rest of Nigeria again. It will be a war
between the South and the North. Even the North is not complete
anymore because the Middle Belt will not be part of them. It is going
to be a different ball game. So, we must take it easy from our side.
The West is pushing ahead now which is good so that we now can be
behind. Our Biafran war opponents will never have that kind of support
they had in the past again.


If there is a national conference today, what makes you think the Igbo will enter into the negotiations from a position of strength?


We don’t have that strength anymore. When Ojukwu was there, he tried
to organize the Igbo from the military point of view and the Igbo
people rallied round him. We were able to fight Nigeria and some world
powers for three years with bare hands. It is not going to be like
that again. If another war breaks out in the country again, there will
be no end to it. What happened in Soviet Union will happen in this
country.


Finally, what is your advice to Ndi Anambra as they prepare for the
governorship election?


We must take things easy. God is on the side of the Igbo man and God
will continue to be on our side because we are his children. We must
take it easy and think before we cast our votes.


(In a lighter mood), looking at you sir, one can observe some elements of Zik, what is the secret?


Zik inspired me growing up. I read journalism because of Zik. During
the war, they were looking for reporters who will join the Eastern
Nigerian Pilot and I was recruited. After the war, I vowed to myself
that I must read journalism to be like Nnamdi Azikiwe.

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