Engagements By Chidi Amuta. Email & Tel; firstname.lastname@example.org, 08056504733 (SMS only)
After the Nigerian civil war, a new Nigeria was defined by the conquering federals. Its defining elements were federal character, even development, and an almighty Federal Government that dispensed patronage and displayed bad behaviour in nearly equal measure. Enter the ‘turn-by-turn’ state, the land of affirmative action and federal character. It was the end or suspension of meritocracy and the rise of allocative mediocrity; the rise of the nonsense state. It did not matter now whether a stark illiterate or damned fool was chosen by the almighty military or civilian federal sovereign to head a public or semi private organisation so long as they were marketed as ‘representing’ some previously marginalised zone or region.
The aim ostensibly was to remove the perceived causes of the civil war: tripodal tribalism, ethnocentrism, and unequal social and infrastructural development. I am surprised that most Nigerians are surprised at how we descended to the present abysmal depths in terms of governance, public morality and general efficiency in service delivery. A nation that abandoned meritocracy for over four decades cannot expect, in all honesty, to compete with others for whom meritocracy and competence form part of national culture and character.
Now that the futility of ‘turn-by-turn’ federalism has handed us a basket of tragic outcomes, we need to face the reality of a changed world. The world has moved on to enthrone a universal free market, globalisation and appropriate democracy. Here at home, the generation aged between one and 35 overwhelming outnumber the rest of us. Most of them are poor or non-rich. Some are highly educated but have no prospects. Rich or poor, they watch or hear the news about what progress and conflict in the rest of the world and are asking: how about here? It does not matter whether they are asking this question in Igbo, Hausa, Efik, Yoruba, Uhrobo or Pidgin English. Their world is no longer defined by silly ethnocentrism. Unemployment, hunger, homelessness, disease, frustration, futility and all the other calamities that afflict or await our youth have no ethnicity.
This is the effective backdrop for understanding the plight and prospects of the Igbo in the post-Ojukwu era. The main determinants of social and economic progress and advancement in Nigeria going forward would be three variable: a free market, good governance and the observance of the best traditions of liberal democracy. It is precisely how the Nigerian state is re-engineered to compete with the rest of the world in these determinants that will determine its security and prosperity in the years that follow. This in turn will determine how Igbos or indeed any other group fares in terms of the major determinants of the new Nigeria.
In a free market, success is not defined along ethnic lines but along lines of interest and relative access to wealth as the factors that create it. People succeed or fail economically alone as individuals. Aggressive individualism is the defining ethos of the free market. Money dissolves even the strongest bonds of kinship and replaces it with the ‘Evostick’ of common financial interest. The quintessential symbol of free market individualism is the ATM machine. When you stand in front of the ATM in quest of cash, you are alone, a miserable individual. Neither Yoruba nor Igbo; neither Hausa nor Igala. You are YOU, a miserable isolated statistic in the market place. You stand alone before an indifferent deity, a brick wall begging for the fruit of your own labour. If you have money in your account, barring technical hitches, the stone wall obliges. If you have overdrawn your balance, the wall throws back your bloody plastic.
In this world of dog eat dog; there is greater kinship among members of the same board of directors of a joint stock company than among members of even the same family, let alone an ethnic group. Blood is thick. Money is stickier and binds its holders in cultic bondage.
In the growing national embrace of this ethos, the Igbos seem to have a contradictory natural tendency. A people famed for their primordial communal spirit are also ruled by an aggressive achievement motivation that glorifies individual success. The community only lies in wait to cheer or jeer depending on how the individual fares in the open market. Exhibitionist philanthropy has replaced collective effort. The man who has ‘arrived’ in financial and material terms is the new deity. If Nigeria were to progress towards a modern free market economy, the Igbos would be in a familiar place.
Good governance at federal and state levels would now require that political leaders deliver service to ‘all manner of persons’ as stated in the constitution and their respective oaths of office irrespective of where they come from. Correspondingly, citizens of Nigeria for as long as they abide by the laws of wherever they live in the federation should have no limitations placed on their rights and freedoms. The embrace of diversity is the new magic for rapid economic transformation. In Nigeria, the most diverse centres of population also happen to be the most prosperous places: Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and Abuja.
This corresponds to the new trend internationally. America issues any number of immigrant visas (visa lottery) to citizens of other nations to sustain the diversity, which is at the centre of its economic pre-eminence. London is now a city of immigrants. Canada has opened the floodgates for immigrants just as Germany has waived visa requirement for IT experts from India and other places. Even China is opening up to an influx of people from other places by making racial discrimination heavily punishable. The so-called BRIC nations are investing in diversity.
Here again, the Igbos as the most mobile segment of the Nigerian population need to insist on the abrogation of indigene versus non indigene restrictions in all states of the federation.
It is in the areas of convergence between Nigeria’s strategic aspirations to modernity and Igbo intrinsic national character that the Igbos need to redefine their strategic interests in post Ojukwu Nigeria. These interests would seem to be self evident from their nature and national character as a people. The Igbos are easily the most mobile, most adaptive Nigerians that I know about. Wherever they live and work is their home. Home is that place where you feel welcome enough to ply your trade, meet and mix with the people, speak their language and make yourself indispensable. It is in that place that you place your investment and bring up your children. The first tragedy of Nigerian history, remember, is that those Igbos who had lived so long in faraway places as to name their children Chukwuma Kaduna, Ike Omar Sanda, Benjamin Abdulsalami or Jeremiah Abdul Azeez were trucked home dead or maimed in bloody wagons in 1966.
Therefore, peace and security throughout Nigeria constitute for the Igbo the first conditions of a healthy Nigeria. Secondly, respect for the full rights and obligations of citizenship for all throughout Nigeria is for the Igbo an imperative of national good neighbourliness. Thirdly, the freedom of mobility of skill, goods, services and capital across the length and breadth of Nigeria ought to be for the Igbo a matter of paramount importance. If we are sincere about Nigeria, people must be free to move, take their families, money and skills to wherever they like so that they can add value to the lives of those communities where they earn their livelihood and fulfil their civic obligations. Fourthly, the diversity of population all over Nigeria as a constitutional imperative is of equal importance to the Igbo as well as for the rest of Nigeria.
Most importantly, it is in the utmost interest of the Igbo that Nigeria remains one huge nation with its population. For them, this vast army of humanity is first and foremost part of a patrimony. But it is more importantly a market for their wares, skills and readiness to undertake the most impossible tasks.
Therefore, current population formulations that reduce the Nigerian demographic equation to geo-political simplicity just to get a bigger oil revenue cheque do not take into consideration the impact of diversity and intrinsic mobility of certain groups.
There would seem to be a convergence between the nature and interests of the Igbo and the strategic requirements for the emergence of a modern Nigerian state and nation. The urgent political challenge for the Igbo national leadership is to press Nigeria to reform along lines of contemporary modernity in order that their own people can fully actualise their intrinsic potentials.
These strategic imperatives define a new set of challenges and expectations for the political leadership in the South-east. The Igbo political leadership at the level of state governors will need to answer some important questions quickly. Is the Igbo homeland a patrimony, which they hold in trust for those of their kith and kin that live outside the homeland? Or are these states their private estates, and conquered medieval manors, which they can mismanage and exploit at will while taxing those citizens left at home to extinction? I raise these questions because of the tragic failure of political leadership among the states in Igboland especially since the 1999.return to formal democracy.
Again, there is an even grander ironic question that the generality of Igbos at home and in the national and international Diaspora need to urgently resolve. How come that a people known for their ability to convert adversity into prosperity through shrewd management and hard work have come to be ruled by a succession of crooks and wealth damagers? How come that most of the Igbo homeland continues to resemble war torn Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo and even parts of Somalia over 40 years after the end of the civil war? How come our youth now shun education in preference for the hawking of inconsequential merchandise?
In spite of their increasing irrelevance, the so-called pan-Igbo cultural group, Ohaneze, must either redefine its own relevance in the light of clear strategic imperatives or cease to exist. In real terms, all these ethno geo political organisations (Afenifere, Arewa, Ohaneze etc.) have exhausted their historical relevance. Are they pressure groups, trade unions, political parties or just conclaves of expired political animals?
For the Igbo, Ohaneze should not be allowed to derogate the cultural origins of the concept of Ohana Eze (the people and their rulers), with the accent first on the people. This parade of geriatric mendicants in red cap that repeatedly files into Aso Rock Villa represents no one except themselves. These otherwise illustrious elders should quit the pranks of common fraudsters and retreat into the respectability, which Igbo culture confers on men of age and achievement.
Buthelezi, Arafat, Awolowo and Ojukwu were all good for their societies when they rose and reigned. That was when nationalities required towering unifying symbols to propel their interests in uncertain nations. Now that globalisation, the free market and democracy have altered national landscapes, the paradigms have shifted for good.