BY CHIDI M. NWACHUKWU
Engr Isaac David Balami is the National President of the Arewa Consultative Forum Youth Congress with the former Trade Union Congress’ spokesperson condemns the call by the other youth wings of the forum for Igbos to vacate the North by October 1.
You are the president of the Arewa Consultative Forum Youth Congress. Were you at the meeting where the pronouncement that ‘the Igbos should vacate the North’ was made?
No, I was not. I wasn’t even aware that there was going to be such a meeting, until my attention was drawn to it by the press. I was shocked to know that this is what has actually happened, and I quickly reacted.
Is it the same Arewa Youth Forum that you belong to that made the pronouncement?
No. You know, just like in the East where you have different South-Eastern groups, South-Western groups and South-Southern groups, the Ndigbo Youths are not the only youths group that represent the interest of the South-Easterners, so the there are so many genuine, registered groups also in Arewa that were in that gathering. Ours is Arewa Consultative Forum Youth Congress, while the Arewa Consultative Forum has so many youth groups, so many of them, about 15 or 19 of them were in that gathering. So we are different. We work with the elders of ACF themselves. We are their youth arm. We have an understanding with them, we carry each other along in anything we are going to do, and even they themselves believe that this country should be one.
But do you get to meet with the leaders of these other groups that are agitating?
Yes we meet all the time. We had the first Youth Summit that our organization put together, and they were all there. I will say that almost 80 percent of them were there physically. So, we had over 40 youth presidents across the 19 northern states, we even had the chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum who chaired the meeting, and it was purely about peaceful co-existence, and again we had another event where about 5000 youths came together across the 19 northern states, at the Murtala Square. That was over a year ago, and the participants were even given awards, and they are a part of us.
So this time around, they went behind you to organize a meeting without deeming it fit to notify you?
Well, maybe because they know what we actually stand for, and they know we will not be part of it, because for us, we believe that this is not the best way to go. For the ACF Youth Congress, most of my colleagues in the exco have called me; in fact, I issued a press release the day before yesterday. They shared it around, and as far as I am concerned, everybody has the right to do as he pleases or say whatever he chooses to say; after all they say that there is a freedom of speech, so we were not actually a part of it, but I would not want to say that they went behind me because they are not answerable to me. They have their own rights, they are registered. I just hope that we do things within the confines of the law.
The youths who made this pronouncement are still insisting on their stand, have you spoken to any of them?
Well, I have spoken to most of them. You see, when politics is involved in things, I like being very careful. I spoke to them. While some of them think it was a wrong move, others are insisting on their stand. I don’t want to mention names, but the point is that sometimes you start some things that you will not know how it will end. For me, I personally told them that this was a very dangerous move. It is not as if we are happy with the approach of IPOB. I believe that there are better ways to approach such issues. I believe that dialogue is the best approach rather than violent demonstrations.
So in essence, you condemn the move by your fellow compatriots on this issue?
Well, I condemn what they have done, and I also condemn what IPOB is also doing. I’m not only condemning what my brothers in the north have done, but I’m also condemning what IPOB has also been doing because they actually started it, but I feel this is not the best approach.
You have condemned the activities of the IPOB by branding their activities as inappropriate, but they claim to have a tenable reason, which is that Igbos are highly marginalized in this country, don’t you see any point in their agitation?
You see, when you talk about being overtly marginalized, as far as I’m concerned, I believe that their approach is still not the best way. We are stronger together. We are better together, and the earlier we realize that we are inseperable, the better for us. I’ll give you a simple example; one of my favourite uncles, Captain Ibrahim Mshelia is married to somebody from the South East. My aunties, I can mention their names, Emilia and co. I have over seven aunties with whom I am blood related, that got married to Igbo men, and right now, they are living in the East. They have children. So how do you separate those children?
Do you support restructuring as a means to the end of all these problems?
First of all, what is your definition of ‘restructuring’?
I mean fiscal federalism, whereby each state generates its own revenue and pay tax to the federal government.
Personally, I do not have any issue with that, but what I’m saying is that for that to be achieved, we must all come to the drawing board. Restructuring? Yes! But you can’t just achieve it as an isolated individual. You must get the consent of the president, the vice president, the Senate president, the House of Reps Speaker, the governors, captains of industries, traditional rulers and all the people that matter. Let us go round and do it.
You were conferred with a chieftaincy title at Ibagwa Nike, Enugu State. Have you spoken to any of them to find out their stance on the agitation for Biafra by IPOB?
If the Igwe of Ibagwa Nike wants the South East to break out, why would he be calling a young man like me from Borno State, to give me a chieftaincy title? Why would he preach piece? One of our Alhaji Dambazzau is a chietaincy title holder, in Enugu. I know of about 10 northerners in the last 2, 3 years, while the cry for break up is loudest, who have been conferred chieftaincy titles. In fact, by November or December, I know of 5 northerners who will be made chiefs in Enugu State. Even people like the APC Youth Forum leader, Barr. Ismail Ahmed, will become a chief in Enugu this year. So, if the people of Enugu want to separate from Nigeria, they will be not be doing that. So I think that actually answers the whole question.
The Police is yet to make any arrests as ordered by Gov. El-rufai, what have you found out about that?
Well, I don’t know. I have not spoken to any police officer, and I have no reason to speak to any police officer.
Have you been able to reach the governor himself?
No, I’ve not spoken to him.
There are insinuations that the Governor El-rufai subtly connived with Arewa Youths to stage the pronouncement by giving them the Arewa House to use for the meeting, what is your take on that?
Well, I think this is a serious allegation because I know that in Abuja, the same way you have the International Conference Centre, so we also have the Arewa House. Even though the ICC was built by the government, it is purely 100 percent privatised. As a matter of fact, if the president wants to hold an event in ICC today, and a wedding is billed to hold there, the wedding will still hold because the place is now for commercial purposes.So, I wouldn’t know if the governor was aware, but if he was aware, why then would he say that they should be arrested? That is contradicting itself.
What guarantee of safety has the Igbos in the face of this traumatic situation?
You see, if truly the northerners wanted the Igbos out of the north, from the day that that apronouncement was made, they would have started burning people’s houses and attacking the Igbos; but this is over 48 hours. Have you heard that any Igbo man was attacked?
But they gave a 3 month ultimatum?
No. the statement alone was enough to cause problem and you know that, but so far nothing has happened. In fact a medical doctor was even packing his belongings when he decided to call me, and find out the situation of things. I calmed him down, and after he read my press release, he was relaxed. And by God’s grace, come October 1, we would have resolved this issue.
What will you say to the South-Easterners who are already kicking and issuing threats, should anything happen to their people in the north?
Well, it is not a game of numbers. I know that there are about 20 million South-Easterners in the north, and I don’t want to imagine that the northerners will attack 20 million people and begin to kill them or chase them out. Even if they go back to the south east today, they don’t have a place to accommodate all of them. There is no IDP camp that can even take as much as 1 million people or even 200,000 people, let alone a whopping 20 million people. We are even battling with the IDPs in Borno and other locations, and it’s not been easy managing them, then you talk about moving 20 million people back to the south east. It is not easy. The only thing there is that our people in the south east should sit down and have a rethink. While they have the right to lay all kinds of claims, the issue of break up of this country is not even one among many options.