From Okwe Obi, Abuja
General Joseph Okoloagu (rtd) is a member, Board of Trustees of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In this interview, he lambasted those fighting for the actualisation of Biafra, saying that they have misconstrued the agenda for insurrection.
He also appealed to the youth to stop destroying police stations as the act would provoke the government to action.
What is your appraisal of the security situation in the Southeast following the recent attacks in Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Anambra states?
As an individual, I am worried because of the development in the Southeast. Having fought the civil war, and if I look back at my experiences in Biafra, I do not think I want to wish my worst enemy the experiences I had. In that context too, I would not want my own children, grandchildren, and even the future generation to experience what we experienced. It is not as if one is afraid of war; but I do not think that we, as a people, need to make a second mistake. Fight or war is not a tea party. It is not a question of somebody getting upset and start the fight somewhere as some group of people are trying to start a fight. Ask yourself: What is the ultimate goal? Yes, IPOB started from Biafra even MASSOB is Biafra. But what bothers me is that most of these guys flying kite for Biafra do not even know why we had Biafra in the first place. I say this because I fought the war. I lived in the war and I am alive to tell the story. It is not that when you are pushed to the wall you can’t fight. I am not saying so. But what is it that have pushed everybody to the wall? The situation that forced us to take action in 1967 do not exist now. You do not go to war for marginalisation. Call marginalisation an omnibus term if you like; everybody can claim it even those who are favoured. Look at the industrious people like Igbo whose mainstay of life and economy is hard work. The youths are now taking action that will affect the main reason of our existence as a people. We are very industrious. Anybody hurt can go to war, but that is just the truth. The Igbo man is known for his industry. An industry does not mean building here and there. You can be doing anything. You just believe that you are doing anything and generating enough funds to feed our families. It is in our blood and character to feed our families. So, when I say I am worried, I am genuinely worried since I do not know the mission. We had altercations in Onitsha where military officers were killed. Are we imitating people or do we have a reason to do what we are doing? Because the Boko Haram has now become a festering sore of Nigeria as a whole. It started like this. Why I talk with bitterness and anger is because I see this thing as an elder and I have been a youth. I would have said they should give us arms to go and fight. I have never pretended not to have fought in Biafra. I am wiser now. Then we had cause, but we did not have the logistics even though the plan was there. What is the plan now? If other people do not speak, I will speak because if I die today above 70, then I did not die a bad death. And if I look at what is happening now I do not think there is anybody within the range of 45-50 and above who is going out wanting to destroy the country. We do not do things because certain leadership has failed. We have always known ourselves as people who think and plan. That we made a mistake in the 60s does not mean it should happen in the millennium. We made a mistake in the sense that we were not prepared when we did. But are you prepared to confront anybody now? Are you attacking the police stations because you want to confront the federal might that if they come you have the resources to contain them? When the aircraft start flying do you have your arms to counter it? Come on. I do not just get it at all. What hurts is when people do things because other people are doing it. The Igbo do not do things because other people are doing it. I am a proud one. No apology to anybody. In all honesty, I feel upset that in this age and time people can be subjected to some kind of insecurity. I do not think it is proper. My appeal is for our people to look very well before they leap. I know the efforts we have put in. I went into politics because what affects my people they were not getting it. And, of course, you cannot be outside and defeat somebody who is inside. People you attack at home you must prepare well to overwhelm them. But if you are not within the home to know what is happening, how do you know how to dislodge them? This idea of doing your politics on the social media baffles me about an Igbo man. You can hate a leader. It’s human nature, but it does not detract or change the need for us to conduct our affairs as civilized human beings. I do not want to sound emotional but thank God you identified me as a member of the board of trustees of the ruling APC which is very unpopular among the Igbo. But I have no apology and no regrets. We built it from the scratch. By way of information, I was in Action Congress (AC), a strange thing. Then it was a Yoruba party and I contested my first election under it because I have never seen a people who just come and put their eggs in one basket. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is never done in any human common sense reservoir and that is what my people are doing. Ojukwu, our great leader, both in life and in death, thought it wise to form APGA and if the people wanted to have a party of their own then we should have developed APGA, then we will now say if you are a true Igbo man go to APGA. Even the APGA that was given to Igbo how many Igbo men are members? I touched all those things because of insecurity. Of course, insecurity is founded on joblessness and youth restiveness. It is not only in our place. But since politics is the biggest and lucrative factory in Nigeria, our people should learn how to get into different parties like other people do. We like to compare ourselves with the Yoruba, but the Yoruba do not play politics the way we are playing it. Once they look and see that this card is not playing they move. But we just stay in one place and continue criticizing. Why I am saying so is that when I went into leadership position that gave rise to … there was that absence of effective leadership in Igbo land and so the youth coming up today with proper direction. And the failure of the Igbo to embrace the democratic norms known internationally in elections has also helped to create insecurity in the Southeast because when a young man is frustrated and he wants something and the only means he can get is through force he will use force to get it. When I talk about vacuum in leadership I ask how many governors of Igbo extraction have been elected by their people that they want? It never worked that way. Let me be very blunt; you can see what happened to the North when the intelligentsia and politicians started criticizing General Buhari. They criticize because they felt they gave him their votes and what they instructed they did not get. But in your case, whether you give vote or you do not give vote whoever the party, the ruling PDP says is going to govern will govern. You do not have free and fair primary — you do election, it is rigged. I say this out of sheer experience. I won my first election under Action Congress, sprang a surprise. The people voted for me because they wanted me. If the people are so politically active like the West and the North, they will come and say the man they voted for is not their own, but they know that PDP is governing so you do not need to rise against the ruling party. That is the problem of the Southeast. And unless and until we look inward and outward, we will never get it right given the situation at the moment. I insist that our youths are going the wrong direction.
Do you foresee where the problem might lead to especially the declaration of a state of emergency?
That is the expectations of those who are sponsoring it because there is no smoke without fire. I do not want to know those who are sponsoring it, but those youths carrying weapons did not just wake up one day and got them. Number one, they do not have the financial muscle to get the arms because you need to have logistics. Do you know how much a Hilux costs now to do an operation? There is no strong one that is less than N10 million. So, they have sponsors. I am assuming. And if my assumption is right you ask again; is declaring a state of emergency in the Southeast the best? So, if you ask if it can lead to a state of emergency assuming but not considering that it can happen, what is the ultimate aim? We are quick to blame outside. The Southeast for now, apart from APGA and APC that have one state each, it is a PDP area. And most of these states are due to hard labour that they are even taking root there. So, if the people who control the political machinery in that place want a state of emergency to be declared it would still be declared. That is why I asked what is the ultimate aim of the people behind it? Call it anything, be it youth restiveness that has resulted in insurrection, but it is indiscipline. Because with the courage to confront a state organ like the police and the army it will lead to serious insurrection. And again, I am informed of certain things like drug abuse. Can you in your right senses today go and do the biddings of another person if you are not under drug? Drug abuse work because people take advantage of their poverty and their conditions. So, I have seen all these things playing out in Nigeria. But my worry is that instead of the youth taking their destiny in their hands they are now trying to destroy the destiny of the future because I do not know of anybody who is above 50 or 60 doing all those things now. His grandchildren will call him to order. We would have known him by now. You know in the African background we start having children early. Still on the issue you raised. Anybody who is expecting a state of emergency to be declared by such indiscipline action such a person is not reading the political terrain very well. I am saying so because a state of emergency was declared in the Northeast when the rebels or the terrorists overwhelmed the government. But to go, hit, run and create panic, is not enough to declare a state of emergency. You do not declare a state of emergency because there is panic; but you declare a state of emergency when the machinery of government is completely overwhelmed. In the Southeast, is there anywhere the machinery of government has been overwhelmed? And it is very unlikely for it to be overwhelmed. This wanton and unnecessary destruction is not good for our people. At the end of the day, whatever the grievance, plan or whatever is intended to be achieved, will not be good for the future. Nigerians unite against the Igbo man because they see you as someone who is smart. So, you already have a kind of stigma. Stigma is a negative thing. I do not know, but you just have that kind of thing that makes people to stop or block you before you overwhelm them. That is the attitude of Nigerians. So, I do not think that the youths are thinking that they will go the way of people in the North or even in the West will do them any good. They are daring the power of the state and it is dangerous. I was watching the news on TVC or so where in Cross River, people were saying that the military came and bombed their village for killing some military men. It happened in Tiv land recently. They are not yet out of it. You do not kill a soldier and expect a fellow soldier to go and celebrate no matter where that soldier comes from. If you know these things you should be very careful not to provoke something that has the force not only to overwhelm you, but to crush you. It is only a mad person who sees a moving vehicle and stands in front of it. A force is a force. A moving vehicle has a force. To confront a force that you know is stronger than your force then you must have enough force to restrain it. I do not see the sense whatever the reason is. Please, tell the youths that we are begging, whatever their grievances. If you do not like anybody the next solution is to make sure that in the next election bring your people and neglect him. No matter how bitter you feel, democracy is a game of number. It does not define any ethnic group that is why it is necessary we look before we leap. In addition, the prevailing security crisis in the Southeast calls for type of action that the governor of Benue State took. He is my hero, today. He is in a different party. But when you see a leader who is not prepared to sacrifice his people you will do exactly what the governor of Benue State did. What did he do? He held the people who ought to be in charge responsible. They killed the cattle. They killed soldiers and they know that that was a very hellish thing to do. It is the people that are going to suffer. The unarmed civilians because those soldiers have families. They have contacts. They slaughtered that number of soldiers. Even me as a retired soldier I feel bad. Because what is the stake of soldier if not to keep peace? Do you think he does not like the comfort of his home? They have wives. They should have been with their families enjoying. I think that is what Ortom did. He even handed the chief of the area over. Ditto; the Southeast leaders should start doing the same thing because whether the terrorists or whatever they are being called, they are human beings. And I can tell you from my experience in the military service for 35 years that you cannot carry out an operation in any area or foreign land without the cooperation of the locals and that is what is called intelligence. So, the sooner the locals, before it’s too late, cooperate, before the federal might comes, to those ones who thought they are protecting others are the ones who are going to pay for it. For goodness sake, councillors, local government chairmen or whatever to provide intelligence. By the time it starts telling on ourselves this thing will stop because you do not protect me because I am the son of so and so. The crux of the whole matter is that intelligence is the duty of everybody; armed and unarmed human beings, because without intelligence the army cannot operate. But if it has intelligence it can nip the problem in the bud before it happens. People may be saying that it is unorthodox. But, of course, if you accept a responsibility, you should also take the consequences of that action. They know or may not know, but that will just make them to compel their subjects and workers to speak up. Who collected the soldiers’ arms? Where are those arms? That is why the governor of Benue State did what he did for the interest of his people, not for himself, otherwise, how can the people stand the wrath of the armed forces if it come to take vengeance? And you know the black man; if you kill his brother he will not forgive you. And anybody going to take vengeance now is just being wicked. People are just criticizing Buhari; he cannot be everywhere. He will only do what he has to do at the Villa. You and I will have to do what we have to do outside here. That is my perspective on the matter. Our locals, leaders and chiefs should actively be involved by way of information. They are all old people now. If I am a village chief above 70, the much I can do is to convey information so that when I start shouting on top of my voice they will know that I told them, but they allow bandits to come and kill my people.
As a member of the board of trustees of the All Progressives Congress, what is your take on the zoning arrangement in Enugu State?
First, let me say that was very workable when the Igbo land was predominantly a one party state. Now strong parties like the APC which has come up on stage is a factor. It was an arrangement which has worked and should work still. Personally, I believe that a rotation through zoning or whatever form makes for stability in a Third World like ours. Nigeria has not yet developed to the American culture where its political culture, law and constitution were brought to Nigeria. Rotation may not produce the best in terms of quality, but it makes for stability. So, I am for zoning. But let not one party repeat or practice the zoning or impose it on the other person just because they have been practicing it. What I am saying is that 2023 is still far in Enugu State. Let the political leaders in PDP and APC get together and tell the boys and their children how it should be because there is need for briefing. Mischievous ones will pretend that they do not know. because political leaders do it without reaching the foundation. That is why I think we should continue with the rotation. Let every zone make a strong case. Generally, in Igbo land, if people take things starting from the eldest and if it goes round to the youngest person, he will be there first to pick and not the elder person. You do not know if you are bringing the Igbo culture or you want to do common sense. The Igbo man is a republican by nature that is, we do not let the person who took first to continue.