Solomon Ogbonna Aguene, president Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Lagos chapter, and founder of Aguene Arts Foundation, in this interview with NGOZI OKPALAKUNNE, talks about the state of the Igbos in Lagos, the crisis facing the socio-cultural group, what it takes to be a successful leader, among other national issues. Excerpts:
Recently, you celebrated two years in office as the president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Lagos; how have you been able to manage the affairs of the Igbos in the state?
It has not been easy because leadership is not something you sit down and take any decision that pleases you without consulting the executive members. What I did initially was to study those who are working with me because we all came from different backgrounds. I did that so as to know those who are by my side and those who are in opposition with me.
Before now, we have been holding meetings in clubs and hotels, but recently, my administration acquired a secretariat where we can call our own. We no longer hold meetings in public places where sometimes, it is difficult for us to book down for any gathering. On the other hand, l have brought the leadership of Ohanaeze closer to the government of Lagos state. Because of such closeness, sometimes last year, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu empowered about 100 Igbo women with an unrefundable cash of one-hundred thousand naira each.
During the lockdown order due to Covid-19, the state government gave us palliatives which we distributed among our members and other tribes including Yorubas and the Hausas.
The ruling party in the state has been kind to the Igbos, we no longer face harassment in the markets or streets except one finds such trouble by him or herself. l told my people here in Lagos to be mindful of their utterances. They should not utter words that will seem as if they are dragging the land with their host community. To say that Lagos is no man’s land is not true, Lagos is man’s land, it is a Yoruba land except you buy land.
My administration has tried, obviously, managing human affairs is quiet challenging and the Igbos are one of the most difficult tribes in the black race. In all, what has kept me till date is transparency.
You were accused of presenting fake certificate to assume office as the Ohanaeze Ndigbo of Lagos; what is your reaction on that?
It is a false accusation. They came up with such issue because l refused to compromise with some people’s demand; they requested l should be giving them sixty percent of what l get from Ohanaeze and l refused because if such happens, the group will not progress. They even made it clear that such system has been their mode of operation in the past.
Besides, certificate is not a precondition for being elected as the president of Ohanaeze, all you need is the ability to speak lgbo Language fluently, wisdom, intelligence, human relation and altruism, even if you are a professor you cannot rule Japanese or Columbia if you cannot speak their languages glibly, same applies to Ohanaeze Ndigbo, you cannot be the president without speaking Igbo Language very well.
Many are of the view that Igbos prefer to establish in their host communities than their home land; what do you think is responsible?
It is like a controversy if l said that Igbos in foreign lands are tenants, that means that whatever establishment they have in foreign lands does not really matter, what count is the one they have in their home land. There is a proverb in Igbo land which says, ‘no matter how white people build a cemetery, it is not for a responsible Igbo man,’ this is because an lgbo man must go home either alive or dead. l always tell my people here that there is no place like home. They should endeavour to build and establish businesses at home.
I am advising Ndigbo living abroad to think home, they should extend their wealth to their home land. I also want them to remember what happened to our fathers who built houses and owned landed properties in Port Harcourt, Rivers State before the civil war. After the war which ended in 1970, they were unable to claim those properties till date; it is a very big lesson to us.
Why did you abandon your art work for leadership position of Igbos in Lagos?
I have been a member of the group for decades and my desire has been to be in the helm of affairs so as to contribute my quota to the development of the group here in Lagos. I am glad to be in that position today. By His grace, l have been able to make some positive changes in the group since l came into office two years ago. Since the formation of the group in the 70s, l am the first Ebonyi State man to be elected as the president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, it has always been an Anambra, Imo or Abia man. I did not abandon my art work, l have been into it for over three decades. l have the biggest private museum in West Africa, it is tugged somewhere in Lekki, Lagos; l have done so many exhibitions in Europe and America. Government should invest in art, take a look at the National Art Theater, that place can be renovated; it can generate more revenue to the government when put into proper shape.
Besides, a visit to some of the national museums across the country will reveal that a lot of items that should have been preserved for future generation have been removed and sold, it ought not to be so. If you visit museums in other countries of the world, you will see items of over two to three hundred years. All l know is that the government is not taking the issue of art and exhibition seriously in this country.
What is your advice to Igbos come 2023 general election?
The Igbos should be mindful of their utterances; they should abstain from boasting and mentioning war when there is no war. For those who are saying that 2023 is not negotiable, they should desist from making such statement in order not to put the Igbos in danger before the elections. They should remember that we are in a democratic government; those that are elected by the people will occupy the positions of authority.