Engineer Ozofor Ogechukwu, is the Coordinator of Ndi-Igbo in Germany which had invited former Deputy Senate leader, Ike Ekweremadu to the annual Igbo cultural festival. He opens up about events that led to members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) attacking Ekweremadu and what the current state of affairs is with the incident.
Please could you explain your side of what the event was and what transpired on Saturday with Senator Ike Ekweremadu?
Let me start by explaining that Ndi-Igbo Germany is a registered apex union of all the Igbo unions operating in the Federal Republic of Germany. We have above 600 members in all the states of Germany. We are a mouthpiece that speaks on anything about Ndi-Igbo in Germany. We are the body that connects with other Igbos in the Diaspora all over the world, including Sweden, the World Igbo Congress in America and Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo and many others at home and abroad.
We organise a cultural event, bi-annually. That means we try to showcase our culture, our tradition and at the same time, try to tell the Germans that we have a lot of beautiful quality contributions we have been making in this country.
Most of us and some of us are very high-class professionals in engineering and medical lines and many other services. We want to put a new narrative of what the Igbos are in Germany. That is why we want to be speaking with one voice.
During this bi-annual festival, this time around (was) the second annual Igbo cultural festival. We also call it a convention, in the sense that, we want to use the same one stone to kill two birds by inviting very responsible Nigerians, especially of Igbo extract to come to Germany and politicians as well as industrialists – because we want to see if we can harness and encourage the cooperation between German industries, especially in the area of transfer of technology.
Small-scale industries that our people can benefit from while we are looking, fighting for the political battle down there at home, it is obvious to everybody that political power without economic gains, is nothing.
And we are convinced that…with the training programs and the practical and the apprenticeship training programs with very high level of engineering and medical practice, that Germany is really the best ground especially for Nigerians and Igbos, to work with.
We invite these people and then we invite German business entrepreneurs to speak with our people, encourage them to invest in our place. By that we transfer technology and reduce unemployment. That is the idea. And then we also take our children, with our population increasing, some of us have been here for over 30 years and have had children who are now adults.
As a matter of fact, some traditional weddings (are) now taking place here (in Germany) among the Igbos. We want to showcase our people, culture, especially the children – our masquerade, they have to see our tradition, dances, they have to use and love our traditional dresses, our traditional food. All this packed together are what we try to do together.
At the end of the day we want to be sure that the Igbos in Germany are celebrating this major festival that is known all over the world that the Igbos do.
On Saturday again, he (Senator Ekweremadu) had another appointment with different industrialists in Germany.
It was very encouraging. The atmosphere was wonderful. I can’t express it. Ike Ekweremadu was full of motivation, was full of energy, he was really interested. He has a very vantage position because our people are used to going to America, to the United Kingdom but Germany is five hours from here and you are in Nigeria.
We find that Germany has this special character that one can actually discuss strategic issues with both universities and the industrial sector in Germany. These are the reasons why he came, actually. Not for any personal reason.
So how did it go wrong? Because these reasons you list, our culture, our heritage, then the future, industrialisation, bilateral trade are all very laudable…
I will describe it as going wrong just as a thief can break into any house. That is what I can compare it with because we did all we could to give him the maximum security as is obtainable here in Germany.
What steps did you take? Because there are people who are saying we are in Germany, there is supposed to be protection? We need to understand – can you tell us the position of things as they were, from your association?
First of all, let me tell you that I am still coming back from Nuremberg and I will be going back because of this issue to speak again in details with the police in Nuremberg. I had almost five hours of interview with them today. I am driving back to my city. Back to your questions, I was in Nigeria in May to invite and visit all these our illustrious sons and daughters, personally; including Innoson Motors, Mrs Bianca Ojukwu, Nnia Nwodo and so many other people.
When we were sure many of them are coming, we informed the police. I personally went there with the chairman of Igbo Union in Nuremberg we gave the names of the people who were coming and explained to them the discussion they would be having and requested that they should give us protection. They asked some relevant questions including whether they were coming with their securities.
Who did you ask protection for, sir?
I was requesting for Nnia Nwodo, Ike Ekeremadu, Mrs Bianca Ojukwu and all the dignitaries including Innoson Motors’ Dr. Chukwuma Innocent. When it was obvious that some of them couldn’t make it, I went back again on the Friday preceding this date which was the 16th, gave them the details again, identity card and all the registration forms and all the things to prove that I am speaking authoritatively. I gave them a video that the leader of IPOB made a week to our event. In this video it was clearly targeted to disrupt this event we were planning. I gave this video and told them therefore we need constant police protection in this video. I do not want to go into details of what they told me. They told me this is Germany and this is a civilised world. Civil protest is a human right and nobody would prevent it here. But they promised me that they would be constantly around and they were really constantly around.
When this thing happened, I would estimate around 2:50pm, about 10 minutes to three, before that time, the police had visited this venue at least three times on a routine basis. Everything was running smoothly. We all wore our normal native dresses of red cap and Isi Agwu and people were mingling around and when our guest arrived, we all thought we were all the same because there was no differentiation of who is IPOB and who is not.
Because everybody was dressed the same? Is that what you mean?
Yes, everybody was dressed in our normal traditional dress. They blended in just like I said, like a thief breaking into your house. Then, under a five-minute gap, they rendered this havoc. They pushed, they didn’t want Ekweremadu to step out of the car. They started throwing a lot of eggs. I dashed in to protect him, plus a lot of other people. We were all pushed to the ground, our dresses were torn. The other documents for the organisation were scattered on the ground.
Then Ekweremadu came out and told them he wanted to speak on this issue that is burning in their heart and that is why he actually came, to discuss with us like brothers, like a senior brother. They said ‘no, we don’t want you here!’ ‘They are killing our people.’ They began saying a lot of unprintable words I do not want to use in my mouth. Then it became violent. The Senator wanted to get into the hall, they started shouting, ‘catch him, catch him,’ and they pulled him back and tore his dress.
We started protecting him and he had to get back into the car with a lot of eggs flying like, I don’t know. I don’t want to recall the experience. It was awful and sad.
When I spoke to the police this morning, in Nuremberg, they told me there have been no arrests. There would be no arrests or investigation. But you just told me that you spent a lot of time speaking to the police today. What exactly is going on, in terms of investigations?
I am happy you live in Germany. I don’t normally have cases with the police and I am not a legal expert. You know how it is done here – this is an ordered, civil society. As I said, and let me repeat that they knew when this event was coming. They confirmed that it was registered to them, they confirmed everything I just told you, today and they made a lot of entries and asked a lot of questions. For technical reasons, I wouldn’t know much to say anything about that. But we discussed in details the person of Ekweremadu, how it came about and this thing happened.
They are doing it as they normally would do here.
Reports reaching us state that Senator Ekweremadu has reached home. Have you been able to talk to him since the event?
I personally, I don’t know. For so many reasons, I am finding it difficult to find the courage to call him. I assure you a lot of my working teams have contacted him. I am concentrating on much, much important aspects of this thing here. But he knows how worried we are.
If Senator Ekweremadu were listening, if there was one thing you would say to him, what would it be?
An apology. I am sorry. I – express the shock and the dismay. In my person and on behalf of my union, I can’t express how downcast all the Igbos here in Germany are. I can’t gather enough words to tell him we are sorry. We apologise. Unequivocal apology and please he should not hold this against us. At the same time, I would ask him to please reenergise us. We have raised the bar for the welfare of Ndi-Igbo in Germany. We have raised the bar for the positive identity. One can decide to raise a negative identity but we have consciously raised the bar to say we have a lot to offer.
We are not riffraff. We are all not violent and we detest anything that is violent, that is disrespectful. I want to assure him that we are working to cement our base here in Germany because we know that is going to be the best for our people down at home. We are determined to show the positive image of Ndi-Igbo in particular and Nigerians in Germany. I want to assure that we are not going to look back. We are more determined than ever before because we are now aware that we have a lot of work to do. And we will not allow this very, very minor, disgruntled, misled, brainwashed group to destroy what we are. We are much more than this.
I assure him, I encourage him to…consider the circumstances and be prepared to come and show his strength and with his other colleagues to really give us the assurance that we really, really need now more than ever before.
At the end of the day we are utterly sorry. We unequivocally apologise not to him alone but to the whole Ohaneze, all Igbos in the Diaspora, to the Senate and to the Federal House of Assembly and to the Presidency. We are really sorry.
If you could talk to us Nigerians in Germany and elsewhere, what would you want to tell us?
I would want to tell Nigerians thank you for the solidarity we have had so far. I want to thank them for the outcry, the condemnation of this dastardly act and shameful disgrace. I want to tell Nigerians that we are here in Germany and that we are not bad Nigerians. I want to tell Nigerians that Ndi-gbo in Germany, distances itself from anything violence directly or indirectly. I want to tell Ndi-gbo in Nigeria and Nigerians in general, that we are here, but we have not forgotten home. We are trying to cement, identify ourselves with our host country. We are working with the constituted authority here and we will leave no stone unturned, to stop this ill wind that is going to damage our reputation.
I also want to encourage Nd-igbo in Nigeria and elsewhere all over the world to stand up and not allow misled miscreants to define what we are. We are much more than this and darkness will never defeat light. I want to encourage every person to stand up and not keep quiet in the face of tyranny. It is not acceptable that minority will define what we are, while the majority keeps quiet. That’s what I can tell Nigerians.