Olisa: Nigeria is by Default a Divided Nation

The President of Igbo National Movement, Anthony Okolo Olisa is also the Managing Director of Royal Niger Emerging Technologies Limited, a legal practitioner and entrepreneur with strong political views. He spoke with Emmanuel Ugwu-Nwogo on what he feels is the way out of Nigeria’s political conundrum

The current parlous political situation in Nigeria has thrown up many organisations agitating for one thing or the other. What agenda is INM pursuing?

Simply put, the Igbo National Movement (INM) is a movement created to re-establish our Igbo nation. It is established for the progress of the Igbo nation or as we call ourselves, “Ndigbo” wherever we may be found on the earth, and also for the development of Igbo homelands or “Ala-Igbo”, through the enhancement of our Igbo republican institutions. The movement envisions the development of a nation of Ndigbo, arising into the world polity with a society that encourages justice, merit, equality and treats people with respect. Reinforcing this vision are three core values: justice, equality, and merit.

Ndigbo meet all the criteria for nationhood. We have a common tongue, a common territory which is known to us and our neighbours, a common culture and now, a common purpose to regain that which the British took from us forcibly. We have been indigenous to the lands that are home to Ndigbo for over 3,000 years and lived in peace with our neighbours all that time. Why then should we look to the very recent past of the last 100 or so years, as if that is the foundation of our identity? No, Ndigbo are a far more ancient peoples than that, and as such, we are ripe for a re-awakening of who we are, and to seek to control our destiny in non-violent and constitutional agitation.

In this, I believe we are closely related to our brothers and sisters of other indigenous nations in Nigeria, who are also in the process of their cultural awakening. We commend the Ijaw, the Yoruba, the peoples of the Middle Belt and the plurality of Nigerian Indigenous peoples to take control of their individual destinies, and to call for a real debate on the path for a new future, for the administrative entity that is the Nigerian federation.

This, we believe will be achieved through a sovereign national conference of the Indigenous peoples of Nigeria. It is one of our objectives to make this call and to support all Nigerian indigenous peoples to join this call. It may be the only way to save this federation, by re-creating it into a system that the people can recognise and respect.

How do you hope to acieve that?

We wish to reassert our rights as an indigenous nation and for the federation to recognise these rights as well as the rights of all indigenous nationals who are desirous, to chart their own course, whether within a re-negotiated Nigerian confederation, or in a clearly defined commonwealth of independent Nigerian states.

No Nigerian, who is Nigerian by birth, can be a Nigerian, if they were not first born to the nations indigenous to the land, upon the amalgamation by the British in 1914. To be Nigerian, is to be first; Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Kanuri, Ijaw, Jukun, Tiv or any of the various nationalities that make up the Nigerian federation. The promise of Nigeria lies not in replacing these identities, but in harnessing our diversity, allowing each to become the best version of ourselves.

The government and Nigerians know that at present, Nigeria does not have the soul of a federation made up of the administrative units we have come to know as states, but is at heart a federation of proud nations. That is why most of the states created by the military have continued to fail to bring the people the development that they require. They have failed to energize the loyalty of the people and the people question the legitimacy of these units consistently.

That is why we continue to have National Orientation Agencies and agitations for state creation as the people strive to connect emotionally with their local government. That is why we continue to unsuccessfully mimic the British colonial administrative system of “divide and rule” and to export our national wealth to other nations, to the detriment of our own people. How else can you justify the fact that we would rather sell our crude oil and other raw materials to foreign countries, than satisfy our own local demand for energy or means of production? It is just a hopeless situation which is based on faulty thinking.

The British knew this and fought hard to destroy our individual national identities because that was a way to keep us weak and easy to administer. Now we are governed by our own, we should not have the same fears the British did. We know ourselves and have traded and lived with each other peacefully for centuries as individual nations, so why do we think we cannot do that again?

To fear our diversity is to fear ourselves for who we are, and that is why the Nigerian project as designed by the British, and continued by the corrupt military establishment is failing. It is structurally defective and so is the constitution it has birthed. Our ideology seeks to end this system.

What level of support does your movement enjoy among the people you’re supposedly fighting their cause?

Ndigbo know the voice of the Igbo National Movement. It is their movement. They created it and they gave it a voice. When we speak, we speak for the millions who lost their lives in a war for survival, and for their generations who have suffered to rebuild all that we lost to war. When we speak, we speak for all the millions of Igbos who have to work silently in the ninistries or in the armed forces, who despite their brilliance are overlooked for promotions because they are Igbo. When we speak, we speak for the thousands who cannot go to the schools and universities of their choice, because they have the misfortune of having the intellect to score higher in an exam than a child born in the North, who would rather be with his cattle than in a classroom.

When we speak, we speak for the thousands who have had to run to other countries, in search of education and opportunity for their children, in the knowledge that the glass-ceiling that stops Ndigbo from ever being accepted as equals in the Nigerian enterprise, is firmly in place and unlikely to be removed. When we speak, we speak for Igbo traders, who are murdered for providing a service to others and maligned for having the audacity to thrive in an economy that rewards indolence. When we speak, we speak for every forgotten man, woman and child who sees Nigeria as a place that has no future for them to hope in.

We speak for them and we serve at their pleasure. We do not wonder where our support comes from because we speak for those who have the power. Rather, it is those who believe in the power of Abuja and Lagos who will have to worry about where their support will come from. Their Naira will never be enough to feed those who hunger for freedom.

Are you saying that the present political leaders in Igbo land don’t measure up to expectations of the people?

With very few exceptions, the present political leadership in Ala-Igbo has failed to unite our people behind a common “post-war” ideology that meets the dynamism of Ndigbo. We are builders, democratic in nature and believe in merit. Ndigbo would rather perish in the field of work than go cap in hand to beg for our supper. This monthly pilgrimage to Abuja to beg and scrape for our livelihood is un-Igbo. It has to stop.

We have never really needed the support or interference of outsiders to develop our land. After the war, we pulled ourselves out of the mire, with very little help from the victorious Federal Government who impoverished us. We rebuilt all we see in Ala-Igbo today from a pauper’s dowry of £20 per person. The Imo Airport, the state universities, Anambra Broadcasting Service, vegetable oil production companies, palm-oil production camps, Innoson, Air Peace, Peace Mass Transit, Ibeto Industries, and many more than I can name, were all built in-spite of policies designed to subjugate and de-franchise Ndigbo, and without a penny of government support and certainly without government patronage. Even today, all attempts by policy or interference to kill these industries have failed to dampen the entrepreneurial spirit of Ndigbo. Pease tell me, how can these so-called leaders not realise that all we need from them is to support our internal economy and support cooperation among our people?

By failing to establish and implement a joint strategic plan for inter-state cooperation, that will build inter-state roads, railways, healthcare and financial systems, these leaders have lost legitimacy in the eyes of the people. By allowing themselves to become pawns in a greater play of mis-direction of effort from outside Ala-Igbo, they have sacrificed the future of millions of Igbo youth, who now have to sojourn far and wide to make an honest living. Abandoning our homelands which no longer can sustain their dreams and desires.

The people are awake and it is impossible to lull us back to sleep. Ndigbo will take back Ala-Igbo from these faithless overlords and will use the ballot box to put in people who have the interest of Ndigbo at heart, and who will serve our people the way we deserve to be served; – with courage, humility and a steadfast zeal to the progress of all peoples who live in our lands.

If presented with two options of restructuring and a sovereign Igbo nation, which one would INM go for?

Restructuring without recognizing the independence of the indigenous nations which make up the Nigerian federation, and basing the restructuring process on that recognition, would be akin to putting make-up on a pig and taking it to wife in the name of a beautiful woman. It will not change anything other than words and soon the realization will hit home that one has made an awful mistake.

An Igbo nation will stand on its own, or it may choose to subject its sovereignty to a different administrative entity. But that can only be decided through the expressed will of the people, and by making each indigenous nation understand what benefits such a system will bring to each national. That is the nature of the union in Great Britain, where the Irish national, the Scottish national, The Welsh national and the English national have, by negotiation made the decision to live together and administer themselves under a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They have devolved governments with far reaching powers and retain their own national identities, national anthems, national parliaments and national institutions. The same applies to Switzerland, Italy and even the United States of America, on whose system our democracy is modelled. All their states have their own police, judiciary, legislature and executive.

What are tribes if not nations? And what are nations if not tribes? Yet one connotes the negative, and another has a positive interpretation. That is an unfortunate paradigm encouraged by a colonial mentality with an ulterior motive to subdue. Very similar to how some people are called “migrants”, while some others are called “expatriates”. It is all a play on words which at the heart of it contain racist ideology.

As Africans, we cannot afford to retain that vision of ourselves. We must move forward and find a way to bring our own flavour into the democratic ideals that have always been part of our individual makeup. Each in our own way, and at our own pace.

What’s your take on the Indigenous People.of Biafra(IPOB) and the ongoing travails of its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu?

Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is first and foremost an Igbo man and he is one of our own. In any family group, there are a variety of characters. Some are prudent and diplomatic, while others may be brash and confrontational. But a wise family never abandons their child to an outsider’s discipline, lest they be viewed as uncaring and unwise.

We stand with Mazi Kanu because Ndigbo do not abandon each other in adverse circumstances. We protect our own from the outsider. We believe that discipline is best meted out within the family group, and Igbo justice is harsh indeed. We believe that his recent abduction was unlawful and we have said so plainly.

It is unfortunate that the Attorney-General of the Federation pretends he does not know the law. He seems to believe that a warrant of arrest in Nigeria can be executed at will internationally without the process of extradition – He is wrong. He thinks there is nothing unlawful in the Nigerian government kidnapping a British citizen who has renounced his Nigerian nationality, in a foreign country, which he has entered legally with a British passport. He is wrong.

We believe he knows he is wrong, but we understand he must try to justify these illegal acts, because it is what the government wishes him to do. But justifying illegality is not the job of the Chief Law Officer of a democratic country. He must stand for justice and truth, even where it is against the instructions of the government he is part of. Not even Kenya will be so naïve as to agree with him and certainly, Britain will not allow their citizen to be made a fool of as it is a poor reflection on them.

I believe that with this kidnapping, the Nigerian government has made a monumental error in judgement, which will sour our relationship with Britain and our neighbours. It will however, make no change in the calls for a restructuring of the federation or for self-determination. In fact, it will make these calls even louder.

In fending off clamours for self determination, the Federal Government usually sermonise that Nigeria is a united, indivisible nation. How sincere is this assertion?

Nigeria is already divided. We are from different indigenous nations with different cultures, tastes, traditions and religious underpinnings. There is nothing wrong with that. As human beings, we excel when we are allowed to reveal and make ourselves known to one another by the infinite varieties of intelligence, values, politics, and ability we possess. Diversity and not uniformity is what gives this federation its potential. Strangling that potential because of some half-baked loyalty to an inherited colonial structure, is the product of a lack of imagination which this generation cannot forgive.

Remember, the British only put us together because it avoided the administrative nightmare of trying to govern such diversity with a small group of a few hundred civil servants. This shoe-horning of our diversity is what is responsible for the unfulfilled potential Nigeria has today. Young Nigerians filled with the spirit of “Naija”, which amplifies and celebrates diversity, feel stifled, uncomfortable, undervalued and unable to achieve our individual potentials, as we struggle to create for ourselves a unified identity which supersedes the ones we are born with – our indigenous national identity.

Even the President struggles with this indigenous identity crisis. By his admission, he feels more affinity to his cousins in Niger Republic, than he does to “dots” in the South-east of the federation. He admits he was so concerned with this, that he took the French President to task and we have his direct quotes to that effect. When I think about it, General Buhari is pretending to play the role of father to a people he despises and feels no kinship towards. Just like the colonial British who initially trained him, and the military establishment he once represented, and still possibly represents, he sees our diversity as something that must be crushed, and replaced with a “fake” nationalism that ignores thousands of years of indigenous national history. He and his type ask Nigerians to forget our glorious past and hypes up our failed history of the last 60 years in a turbulent marriage. There is no wisdom in that.

What is the implication of this?

The government will only continue to separate itself from the people if it continues to ignore the truth. Already the Yoruba through the support of their kin in Benin Republic, are resisting the calls to hand over Sunday Igboho to the Nigerian authorities. The Ijaw in the past have issued the Kaiama Declaration and we know they are only waiting for the right time to press on with their legitimate claims, which Ndigbo respect, as we acknowledge that all nations have a right to self-determination. There is NINAS (the Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-Determination), which is looking for “freedom from Nigeria” and has support from the nations of the Middle-Belt, the Lower Niger, and the Yoruba nation, to call the division of Nigeria into four countries.

So, the calls for self-determination are increasing. They are not going away. That is the new reality that this government must grapple with, until they understand that their sacred duty is to convoke a Sovereign National Conference, peopled with the representatives of the indigenous nationalities in Nigeria. Only such a convocation can solve the Nigerian problem.

Is it not hoping against hope to think that full autonomy of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities will ever materialise as the federal authorities appear to prefer the instrument of force to dialogue in dealing with separatist agitations?

The fact that the Federal Government prefers the use of force to dialogue is proof that they fear the universality of our ideology. It tells us that they know they will lose the verbal argument and therefore they must cow us into submission through violent means. They know that they will lose the support of the international community if they allow the voices of truth to be heard outside our shores.

Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, TV and print media, and all free speech are now enemies to the government. People who are involved in peaceful activism are now worse than terrorists and murderers. When you shoot down a plane or kidnap children, the government is happy to deal with you because they can stuff Naira and Dollars down your pockets. But if you ask for freedom and dialogue, the government wants you dead or incarcerated. This government will continue to push itself into a tiny corner and become more and more detached from its people with this sort of behaviour. Eventually, its grip on the people will loosen. What they do not contend with, is that hope cannot be killed. Nevertheless, they persevere in trying to do so. As poor students of history, they continue down the line of tyrants before them, speedily down the path of ignominy.

Truth must come out and there is nothing more fearful than allowing the propagation of a lie. I have no doubt that the day will come when the indigenous peoples of Nigeria will have our conference, and with it, the ability to create a unique African democracy that will change the lives of the masses for good. We will again embrace our diversity, live as neighbours in peace and build a new system that will allow each nation revel in its unique composition, but provide solid structures and institutions through which we will tackle our common interests such as: the repayment of our shared debts; the strengthening of our shared currency; free movement of goods and personnel; and the defence of our common borders from belligerent influences. That day draws ever closer, even as the government grows ever more brutal. We live in the night that precedes the dawn.


It is unfortunate that the Attorney-General of the Federation pretends he does not know the law. He seems to believe that a warrant of arrest in Nigeria can be executed at will internationally without the process of extradition – He is wrong. He thinks there is nothing unlawful in the Nigerian government kidnapping a British citizen who has renounced his Nigerian nationality, in a foreign country, which he has entered legally with a British passport. He is wrong. We believe he knows he is wrong, but we understand he must try to justify these illegal acts, because it is what the government wishes him to do. But justifying illegality is not the job of the Chief Law Officer of a democratic country. He must stand for justice and truth, even where it is against the instructions of the government he is part of

This article “Olisa: Nigeria is by Default a Divided Nation” originally appeared

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