The Monday Discourse
The Igbo ethnic stock is one of the major entities in the social unit called Nigeria but often treated differently in the power equation for various misgivings. However, for them to assert and take their place in the scheme of things, their leaders have realised the need to come together as a people and speak with one voice. This much was the thrust of a recent summit in Owerri, the Imo State capital, where the Ndigbo set the stage for their limitless potential. Amby Uneze writes
The outcome of a one-day Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide unity meeting held in Owerri, the Imo state capital on Thursday, July 14, 2016 turned out rewarding. This is so because, unity of purpose had long eluded the Igbo race and the resultant effect of disunity among the people had actually brought untold hardship and unimaginable marginalisation to the Igbo nation.
Going memory lane from the First Republic, Ndigbo was noted for their handwork, dexterity, unity of purpose, resourcefulness, business-oriented, doggedness, and resilience. They were number one in trade and commerce, the academia, as well as played major role in the unity of the country through their enterprising nature as sojourners.
Having being in the fore-front of development and as champions for the unity of the country, Ndigbo were more or less seen by their neigbhours and other ethnic nationalities as domineering, which of course, was occasioned by their progressive nature of ‘striking water from stone’, an effort others don’t even dare venturing into.
After the end of the civil war of 1967 to 1970, a period that devalued the psyche of Ndigbo due to the seemingly loss of the war, and the attendant marginalisation that followed, the Igbo nation never allowed themselves to be negatively drifted to the point of haplessness. Their dexterity and doggedness proved to the entire world that Ndigbo are really the descendant of Abraham.
But things started going the wrong way for them when hatred set in as a result of leadership lacuna since Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Michael Okpara, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, Chief Sam Mbakwe and a few others, who brought the required unity to Igboland were no more. The rallying point for Ndigbo was no longer there and every Igboman in their usual egalitarian nature believed in self-effort, so the collective bargaining suffered a huge setback.
Since then, Ndigbo had been suffocated in the system Nigeria has placed them as conquered people and as such had received the worst treatment in the hands of the same people that have been chorusing ‘one Nigeria’.
No wonder, the age long search for unity among Ndigbo came to near end when Igbo leaders converged on Owerri, the Imo State capital for the maiden Igbo Unity Forum under the auspices of the apex Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohaneze Ndigbo. The gathering, in the real sense of it, provoked emotions and genuine kindred spirit that had stimulated and guided the communal lifestyle of the Igbo as political and religious sentiments were jettisoned for brothers and sisters heart-to-heart chat on the way forward for Ndigbo.
The Imo International Convention Centre, venue of the meeting was filled to capacity very early as different emotions swept through the electrified crowd, waiting for the arrival of the Igbo leaders, who had gone into a kind of conclave “Imeobi” to take decisions that would eventually be bidding on all Igbos.
While some were optimistic that peace might have been found at last, others nursed the fear that the effort might fail like previous attempts. But at last, judging from the quality of those in attendance and the goodwill messages of those, who could not make it, coupled with the sincerity of the speeches made it was obvious that a new Igbo, founded on unity and kindred spirit, was born.
The journey to this hard earned peace was not just a sudden flight as credit should be given to the man, who brought reconciliation of the warring factions of the Ohaneze Ndigbo, a development that had ridiculed all attempts at uniting Ndigbo in the past. Thus, Governor Rochas Okorocha needs to be commended for making it possible for Ndigbo to speak with one voice.
Okorocha initiated the reconciliation of Ohaneze Ndigbo by appealing to other warring factions led by Chief Ralph Obioha to sheathe his sword and join hands with the incumbent President General of Ohanaeze, Chief Gary Enwo Igariwey.
One of the cardinal decisions reached at the end of the meeting that lasted into the night, was that Ndigbo should stop bemoaning their fate but rise as co-owners of Nigeria and one of the three largest ethnic groups and take their rightful position. They equally resolved to start thinking about home by investing more in Igbo land than outside the region to develop Igbo land and create employment for their people.
Apart from speeches and words of inspiration, the people also savoured the rich Igbo culture that many may have forgotten, especially the presentation of kola nut. From a distance, the flute sounded, tearing through the silence of the night and not a few of the ageing leaders bowed their heads in deep thought as the familiar sound reminded them of the good old days, “when men were men”.
At the forum, also, Igbo leaders resolved to work as a team for the purposes of moving the Igbo nation forward, even as they observed that Nigeria as a nation has not done well to champion the unity of the country. The meeting which started at about 4pm and rose by9pm with governors of Imo and Abia attending while the deputy governor of Enugu State represented her state governor as that of Ebonyi and Anambra States sent apology.
The roll call of Igbo leaders present at the meeting included former governors of old Anambra state, Chief Jim Nwobodo, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife; former military governor of old Imo, Rear Admiral Allison Madueke, former chief of General staff, Kalu Idika Kalu, Col Achuzie (rtd), Prof. Anya O Anya, Prof. George Obiozor, Dr. Paschal Dozie, Chief Simon Okeke, and the Ohanaeze Ndigbo President, Chief Gary Enwo-Igariwey and the traditional rulers from all the states of Igbo land among others.
Okorocha stated that the time for the Igbos to cry for marginalisation had gone, because the Igbo are capable of liberating themselves to become self-reliant. He said there was no better time to unite than now, saying “We shall all rise and take our rightful position in the scheme of things in the nation. As a unique people, we must live up to expectations as a people of special stock.
“My dream as Igbo is to see that day we will be economically sound and export to other nations. Our people are not marginalised; our problem is finding a way to come together and take the bull by the horn. When that happens, then we will be happy as a people. A nation or people that are faced with extreme danger like Ndigbo should seek the wisest course of action and not of sentiments and complaints. Thank God that the Igbos are now complying and not complaining.
“We must act quickly and now too under the present ugly situation, which our terrible condition points out to us, if not, we might be destroying the psyche of generation of Ndigbo yet unborn. There is no better time for us to unite than now. Few years ago, we sang the song of grief, marginalisation, and we were looking frustrated looking for who can help us, but thank God we have realised that no amount of complaint against the marginalisation of Ndigbo will bring succor to our children rather, we shall all rise and take our rightful position and sing a new song.
Okorocha was of the opinion that before the Ndigbo joins the bandwagon of complaining, “little do we realise that Igbos are different and distinguished in both conduct and character, hence passion for success like no other tribe in the world… we are unique and the only privileged people in this part of the world that come from the same womb with Jesus Christ. We were told by our Lord Jesus Christ that even when they said there is a casting down, Igbos must say there is a lifting up.”
He added that many ethnic groups had fought their ways into recognition while many had used militancy to get attention to themselves but those are the other ethnic groups. “This is not the way of Ndigbo. What others had done that has gained them accolades, the Igbos will do it and they will be insulted because we are unique. Let us sing a new song different from the songs of war and the song of complaint because the more we complain, the more the world does not listen to us,” he said.
Professor George Obiozor argued that the country was not ready to solve the problems of the past, regretting that for 56 years as an independent nation, it still revolves with uncertainties.
“We have seen many things and survived it. As a matter of fact, what kind of country do we have? Nigeria is a country full of optimism but living in uncertainty and doubts. There must be reasons for this, whether you like it or not, any nation that disregards ideals can never do well. The secret is that ideals run nations. I want to tell you if you remember countries that had independence around 1960, Brazil was one of them, compare them to us, why are we lagging behind? It’s simple.
“Just recently some Nigerian leaders discovered that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable. Well I have an answer. The reality is after so many years, in spite of all efforts – past and present – Nigeria’s unity has not been guaranteed, at best it has been an aspiration not an achievement. Let me be frank with you, throughout the history of this country, no generation of Nigerian leaders – civilian or military – had created an atmosphere of credibility to ensure Nigeria’s claim to political future of oneness.
“What do Nigeria elites do? None of the Nigerian political groups was able to involve a unified national ideology that other people accepted. This is true. What we see is ethnic nationalism, which is not about to disappear, certainly not in Nigeria, no matter how we may want to wish it away. Ethnic nationalism is still a potent force. The period or era of government by intimidation, coercive integration is over. No one group again can own the nation. Those denied justice may have no interest in peace.
“We are lagging behind because the leaders have not found it right. The unity of Nigeria has not been guaranteed. The 2015 elections should have taught this country a lesson, which revealed that Nigeria is still divided as they voted according to ethnic divide,” he noted, adding that as far as there was injustice in the system, there would be no unity because those whom justice and fairness were denied would have no interest in peace.
In his contribution, Professor Anya O. Anya, who was the guest lecturer said Ndigbo had come because “our people say it is when the flood threatens to catch us that we look for the tall men among us. This is such a time. This is the time for the sons of Isaka. Your assignment is clear: to help our people chart a new course in this very dangerous time. According to a Chinese-American culture, Ndigbo is one of the three old tribes, the other two being the Jews and the Chinese.”
According to him, they are all unique people but they are not a lovable people. Our task is to be the pathfinder, who will raise the eagle generation that will lead our people in this 21st century. After all, Prank Pranol said each generation will out of relative obscurity discover their mission.
“We are here to help our younger ones discover their missions in this 21st century. Maybe we should start with the story before the story, what is called prologue. It is a viewpoint that most Ndigbo will accept that at no time in modern times, have the Ndigbo been faced with huge challenges and problems that confront us in this decade of 21st century.
“We are faced by uncertainty; we are faced by doubts and even fear. It is not surprising then that in this doubt and uncertainty, we could lose our focus, we could lose our confidence in ourselves and we can now pursue new and emerging ideas… re-awakening from our past, hence we need to have a quick think-thank into our history, ancient and modern in other to understand and reposition ourselves to confront this Chevrolet.”
He noted that the redemption and rebuilding of ala Igbo will not come from outside Igbo land, as it would not come from Abuja, it will not come from Lagos, it will however need a paradigm shift in our approach to the problems of Nigeria. Our past experience as a people should be our guide. Ndi Igbo will not flourish in the Nigeria pseudo federation until federalism with mandate resolution of power is restored. With this, our initiative can become unchanged for the benefit of our country and our compatriots. This is why we need to support the ways of democratic opinion insisting on restructuring Nigeria,” he stated.
Dr. Paschal Dozie noted that the Igbo should forget the past and face the future, stressing that the leadership of Igbo nation has to rekindle the effort to change the land for a better future as the young ones have to learn from the old ones.
Ezeife and Madueke maintained that Igbos should return to that collective way of doing things they were noted in order to move forward.
“We should be doing things together as we did in the construction of Imo Airport, which he initiated as the military governor of old Imo State,” noting that it was that spirit of Ndigbo “that we have that airport today which happened to be the only airport in the country that was built by its citizens”.
The President General of Ohanaeze, Igariwey said Ohanaeze had remained the mouth piece of the Igbo nation as the day was special because as a people, they had decided to close ranks and address their problems by themselves.
He noted that for a long time, “We have never had this kind of meeting. We have had meetings of governors coming together, traditional rulers coming together and Igbo groups coming together, to try to proffer solution to Igbo problems, but today, I am excited to welcome all of you here.
“First, you may have noticed that for some time now Ohanaeze and Igbo people have been speaking with one voice. This is because peace has been midwifed and that was done in this very state, Imo State. The governor of Imo state midwifed that peace. So, today, Ohanaeze speaks with one voice. Some people have been complaining rightly, but that is not why we are here today.”
According to Igariwey, “our strength is in the fact that as individuals, we are great achievers and we hope that when we direct this strength of ours, we will be able to address the problems of our people. Today will mark the beginning of a new Ohanaeze, a new Ohanaeze that has full support of our governors, of our traditional rulers so that when we make a statement or speech, the world will know we have come. We are going to bring hope to our people; our people will no longer cry because as a people we can solve our problems.
Another speaker, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, in his thin but enticing voice described the day as an interesting one as topics treated have the potential of waking Ndigbo up and gingering them up to face issues. He maintained that Okorocha’s action in terms of the transformation of Owerri city is a message to all Igbos. “We need not talk so much about our past because most Nigerians do know that if there is any group of Nigerians that can make a change in their life, that group is Igbo.
“Therefore, there is nothing to complain about our pride. We are a proud people. If we were not a proud people, we would probably have been carrying our books in our hands going round to beg but begging is not in our culture. Those who came here after the civil war, if they come back in most cases can’t recognise the place. This is because the Igbo are focused, hardworking and can change any place to a better place,” he enthused.
In his speech, Chairman of the event and former Governor of old Anambra State, Nwaobodo, described the meeting as a process of self-discovery, because according to him, “What we are doing today is operation rediscover yourself because he that is rejected cannot reject himself. We have to rediscover ourselves. We have come to make a statement that we are major stakeholders in this country.
“If you go to Lagos, Alaba for instance is being occupied by the Igbos, anywhere you go to in Nigeria you have Igbo dwelling and occupying the place. Even in America the Presidential candidate of the Republican Party, Donald Trump said the Igbo should go because we have enough in our land.
“Yes, we Igbo have enough in our land. During the era of Michael Okpara, it was palm kernel or palm oil that was our major source of income and it was sufficient. I tell you, my people, we should be proud of ourselves, we should be proud of what we have; we are equipped as a people.
“What we ask ourselves is why are we developing other places and leaving our place. The time has come for us to develop our land. This is why I am thanking Rochas Okorocha. If you go to other places and look around, when you come to Imo, you will be amazed with the infrastructure development in the place. When I came here during the Christmas period, I wondered if this was really the Owerri that I used to know. Welcome Governor Okorocha.”
Finally speaking, the Governor of Abia State, Dr. Ikpeazu and his Enugu State counterpart, Rt. Hon. Ugwuanyi, represented by the deputy governor, Mrs. Cecilia Ezeilo, further stressed on the need for the unity of Ndigbo as well as the rekindled spirit of the Igbo man that saw to the revolution of the Michael Okpara era.