“We are failing ourselves. I am so glad that my father has gone; all these would have made his heart bleed. It would have been too much for him to bear.”
Magnus Eze, Enugu
Princess Alu Ibiam, daughter of governor of the defunct Eastern Region, Dr Akanu Ibiam, is the regent of Unwana community in Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.
In this exclusive interview, she speaks on the lessons of the 30-month-old civil war; the failed senatorial bid of Bianca; widow of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and mind-boggling corruption in the country, among other issues.
What would you say about Biafra and the current agitation for its restoration?
I think the civil war really gave a lot of degradation and severe loss to Igbo land; we are still alive, but I think the strong people of Igbo are still here. What we need to do is to recapture what has been lost and there are many ways of doing it – educationally; culturally speaking and to make sure that history is reported correctly. As far as there are certain institutions preserving the language; we have other people making sure that our good cultures don’t die; we had also the Ahiajoku Lecture, but we need not let it stay at that level. We have to also bring it down to the young people who are the future leaders. We must make sure that they participate in this retrieval of the life and history of the Igbo. Unfortunately, I am
not able to watch the television as much as I would; but I know that the CNN connected with a lot of Jewish people and they’ve made sure that the life of the Jews are preserved because they also suffered the same way the Igbo have been suffering. The slavery of the past really hit the Igbo very badly; but there are other black people who were slaves; whatever they are doing, we must try as Igbo people to bring back that pride of the love of the culture that has so many good traditions that made the Igbo race survive. Now, that it’s being lost; we have to retrieve it. In culture, everybody has to participate; we should put aside our rivalry; party politics. We have to bring back the past; bring it forward to today and make sure that our children of the future know what happened. We should be talking about it just like in the church; we have to pray and remember things in the Bible. We have to do that too in daily life.
Before we go to heaven, we have to leave this world and make sure that it’s a place of joy, progress, God-fearing and in fact, Igbo land should show that God created it just like He created the universe and saw that it was good; that they are part of it. So, Igbo people must make sure that we are celebrated. It’s very painful that in leadership today, we can’t find somebody to lead the Igbo. We have to make sure that we love and respect ourselves; and put together a blueprint for the Igbo society to move forward. The 30-month civil war was an indication of what can happen and it was criminal because there was genocide; people should have been at The Hague to answer for crime of genocide. We have to make sure that such a thing doesn’t happen in this society again. We should not be victims of genocide and we have to call a spade a spade and not pretend that it did not happen. It’s our past; it doesn’t mean that we should be enemies forever. In the remembrance celebration in Britain recently, for the first time; after 100 years, the Germans laid a wreath because they have to recognise that they also lost people. So, we are in it together; both sides of the spectrum, we have to realise that there is time for joy, but there are times you get angry and there is war; then we fight and kill each other. When that is over, we reconcile and come together; making sure that this doesn’t happen again. We have to let our young people understand that this is life; we are not God and the main mission of living in this world is peace. We have to make sure that we live peacefully in this universe. That said; but the important observation regarding
the civil war was that as evil as that war was in terms of huge collateral damage, one good out of it was the exposure of irrepressible Igbo industry: the Ogbunigwe, Uli Airport, refinery operations and more. Given the appropriate opportunity, that spirited scientific mindset would have propelled not only Igbo land, but the entire nation forward to catch up with the rest of the West. That creative industry was thriving under pressure, but unfortunately, in peacetime, the polytechnics collectively cannot even produce one lifeless, harmless robot! It’s painful that Nigeria could not build from the gains of the civil war.
What would you say about Bianca Ojukwu’s travail in politics?
It’s beyond belief. In another world, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) senatorial ticket would have just been given to her; but we are still in Igbo land; still in Nigeria and mind you, she’s able and capable. It’s unfortunate that she had to go through this humiliating experience, vying for the primaries, yet, at the end, she didn’t still get it. Down here, we have had one or two persons in the House
of Assembly and when they died; their wives took over. I won’t say that it should have been given to her simply because of her husband, Ikemba; but she is capable. She has just come back from being Nigeria’s Ambassador in Spain and she’s a lawyer. So, what stops her from feeling that she can vie for
this office? If it’s still possible now, let her have it. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched if it’s given to her as a matter, of course, simply because in lieu of her husband who has gone up; I think that it’s well founded that she should have been given the position. I know that the various presidents in the past had given positions to people simply because they are related to past officers who have served tremendously in this country. I find it really unfortunate that of all the people who should come up now, that Ikemba’s competent wife was not even considered to be given this position. I think she deserves it and would have represented very well as she has already done in other fields of endeavour.
What was your impression about the Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu, the last time you were there?
It was a far cry from what it was at the beginning, but I think if it’s to be called an international airport, it has a long way to go. It needs the security; they have to expand the perimeter; they have to secure the fencing, make sure that the proper infrastructure is there to receive international flights. I found out that Ethiopian Airline is very brave to have considered itself to come to Akanu Ibiam Airport, but probably because the country and Nigeria have similar terrain although they have very high plateau. When you go there, you have to be very careful as you land so that you don’t collide with planes or you don’t land too soon. So, they are pretty confident and I think we have to make sure that other airlines are equally confident. Look at when they land in a place like San Francisco; you have your heart in your mouth in case you land in a place like water. At least, we don’t have any waters to contend with; we have lots of land; if it means collecting more land, they should because it’s really tiny; to have such a place as an international airport. They have to think about it seriously; plan it well and check the terrain that is sufficient; and make sure that it is well secured with proper infrastructure put in place. They should make sure that people understand that this is an airport; you don’t cross it as if you are crossing into your farmland. Wehavealottodotomakeitatpar with standard international airports. It’s good that the governors are feeling somehow responsible for the safekeeping of the commonwealth because it has to be in line with the global structures around the world; for the safety of the people who come from around the world. But now the people who are inside have to also be safe. I am happy the powerful South East Governors’ Forum is putting up a protest or at least bringing it to the attention of the president; I believe they will do something about it because it’s part of the development of everywhere in Nigeria.
Do you think that your father would have been pleased with the situation in Nigeria today?
Akanu Ibiam would be so down cast about Nigeria. He would have had so much to say; writing scripts – the education is down; the church is scattered, the health facilities are not providing what they are supposed to be doing, primary healthcare is in comatose. We were trying to bring the National Health Insurance Scheme to our people here, only to hear that the facility itself is a problem. What are we going to do? The corruption is too much considering when he was going to Uburu (the Presbyterian Joint Hospital); and the people said no, that he shouldn’t come. He was a little bit cast down, but he went anyway; overtime, they enjoyed his services there and when the time came for him to leave; they didn’t want to let him go.
And he said to them: when I was about coming, didn’t you say that I shouldn’t come? Then they said: some people, not everyone said that you shouldn’t come because they won’t be able to collect bribe anymore. The corruption is too much in our society and we need some cohesion; we need a leader who will inspire people to follow; we need our representatives to be serious, purposeful; making sure that what we have sent them to represent us that they are actually fulfilling their duties. He would have been demoralised to say the least; he would have been scandalised at the degree of degradation; the infrastructure is not there. We really need to sit up. The church is too frightening, too much competitive over material things; how big their structures are going to be, how many converts; when you could have a church without walls just like the doctors who are serving globally; we have doctors without borders. The church should be doing that. They should be at the forefront condemning corruption, making sure that the society is adhering to what is said in the good book. We are failing ourselves. I am so glad that my father has gone; all these would have made his heart bleed. It would have been too much for him to bear.