Prominent ex-Biafra warlord and elder statesman, Col. Joe Achuzia, rtd, has without mincing words declared the arrest, detention and ongoing trial of the leader of the Indigeneous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu as political. He therefore called for the immediate and unconditional release of the IPOB founder. In this interview with PAUL OSUYI in Asaba, the Delta state capital, the respected Biafra veteran also dwells on what Igbo must do to clinch Nigeria’s number political seat, the presidency.
Do you feel that the trial of Nnamdi Kanu is political?
First, one has to understand the nature of the trial but the trial is based on what they call political offence because he was charged with treasonable felony, which is a political offence. If you pick a gun or a knife or anything to try to attack the president, it is a criminal offence, it is not treasonable, but act or word spoken against a country can be interpreted as treasonable offence. Why? I don’t know, it is only the lawyer that can tell us why. From what I understood that Kanu did was that he was promoting a radio that translates the idea or the supposed grievances of his friends, his kinsmen or all those who think alike, that is what I understood that Kanu was doing. How that constitute a treasonable felony, I can’t tell you but to me treasonable felony is a political offence, particularly once what is being said is against the belief of the political party in charge of governance.
Those actions led him to this trial and do you feel those actions are justified?
I have not seen any action from him because from what I gathered, he arrived the country and was arrested. So I don’t see how and where he performed the action being attributed to him. What I understood he was doing was that he was promoting a radio station through which friends, groups of people who think like him air their views, hence I said what you asked me, not being a lawyer, I regard as a political trial.
With this, do you strongly hold the opinion that he can be released unconditionally?
For me, he should be, not that he can be released unconditionally. Why we say unconditionally is that there should be no condition attached to his release, he has the right to be freed under the Nigerian law, and a competent court of law has already asked several times that he should be released. This issue of Kanu is very intriguing. If something happens to him while in custody, the government would have created a matter and an indelible black mark. He should be released unconditionally and given the opportunity to defend himself. If something should happen, it will be a sorry day for the country.
At this point in time, is Biafra still achievable?
The word Biafra is a name, everybody has the right to a name. The people who are asking for Biafra preferred to be called Biafrans rather than being called easterners, Igbos, Efiks, Ibibios, Urhobos because they come from the same ethnic groupings within one location of Nigeria known as South-Eastern Nigeria. And they are Nigerians.
Former President Obasanjo has canvased for an Igbo man to take a shot at the presidency in 2019. How can Igbo presidency be realized?
How can a former president say it should be turn of Igbo people, is he an Igbo man? If he is an Igbo man, then one will consider his aspiration as Igbo man. But not being an Igbo man, what crystal ball has he to make him say that the next president should be an Igbo man. I don’t understand that statement.
But beyond the statement by the former president, what do the Igbo need to do so that one of their own can be the president of this country?
What they have to do is what every other Nigerian is doing – join the right kind of political party or help to promote your own political party that you know that the support will be sufficient to place you there. You don’t get it by being verbose or writing so much English in a newspaper, no! Mobilize your people, mobilize others because to get to the apex position in Nigeria, it is not one ethnic group or one tribe.
Talking about the 2019 general election, what is your take generally?
I heard that INEC has released information on when the election will take place, two years ahead. Those who play politics have been given enough warning to start preparing for it. For us who are only expected to go and vote, it is a long time, a lot of things can happen in between. So when we get to that time we will start thinking of what to do, that is how I look at it because I am not going for election.
As an elder statesman, your suggestion can go a long way in affecting the election…
The only suggestion I have is that having been given this warning when the election will take place, I think that two years is sufficient for anybody to start preparing and put their acts together.
Unlike in previous elections, the timetable for the 2019 election has come out early, do you think it is appropriate for INEC to have released it two years ahead?
Normally people complain that they were not given sufficient time, this time two years is quite a long time, so sufficient time has been given. Anybody that does not take the opportunity of the length of time will only have himself or herself to blame.
Considering the health status of President Muhammadu Buhari, do you strongly believe that he can re-contest in 2019?
I don’t agree with people who are talking about his health status, it is he himself that is in a position to know how healthy he is or if he is not healthy enough. It is not proper for people to be caricaturing people over their health, it is only God who is the keeper of health, He gives good health, He knows those who have bad health. It is only Buhari who has to decide whether he is healthy enough or not. But as far as I am concerned, he has the right to aspire towards contesting the next election, it is his right as a Nigerian citizen.
If you were to advise him, would you advise him to go for it?
I am not close enough to him to proffer such advice. Any advice I am trying to give is based on speculation and that would not be right. If I were him I will not take or consider such advice.
But two years into this administration, are you satisfied with his policies and programmes?
All the programmes he has initiated, unfortunately he has not been able to sit down and execute them. Those executing them, from my point of view, have been mismanaging and mis-executing those programmes. But again, almost two years since he took over is not sufficient a time to judge how well his performance has been.
Coming back home to Niger Delta, what do you think should be a permanent solution to the crisis in the region?
There is no crisis, as far I am concerned, in the Niger Delta. Crisis in Niger Delta is political on the basis that what they are entitled to politically has been denied them, what is supposed to be placed on the ground for them, as the geese that lay the golden egg, is being denied them. Consequently, they have to cry out, I don’t call that crisis. What other people might call crisis might be different from what I may call crisis. Crisis pre-supposes a situation when the militants rose against the oil companies in the region but I am happy that, within the past few weeks, the vice president gave instruction to all the oil companies to relocate to the base where the oil is being produced. These were issues that triggered the so-called militancy that existed then. If they had relocated before then, they would have seen the problems and they would have acted before it became an issue of contest between the militants and themselves.
So you do not agree that there is crisis in the region?
I don’t call that crisis. It is misplacement of priorities, now it is being corrected if the oil companies will relocate to Niger Delta region where they are prospecting oil.
Will the relocation be enough to address the misplacement you talked about?
It is more than enough because first, it will bring about employment. The oil companies will not be comfortable living in a polluted environment, so they will do something about it. As such not only employment that will come, clean environment will also come because they will do something about spill of oil into the environment.
What can you say about the late S.O. Ogbemudia?
He was a friend and a good soldier at that. But being human, no human being has passed through this earth without making one mistake or the other. All I will say is that those his good works surpass the mistakes and I wish him safe landing on the other side.
How would you want the present crop of political leaders learn from his achievements?
It is more or less a norm now in Nigeria that when there is a change of baton, no new comer accepts to follow the footsteps of the person he is relieving. If they will start now learning, it will be a good idea but it is difficult to find a successor following the footsteps of the person he is succeeding.