By Anya O. Anya
Umunnem, Umunnam, Umuibe ekelem’ unu
This is a special gathering of the elders of our people. We have come “nihi agwo di n’akirika”. “Asi na aneme miri tuo, achopuo ndi aka” (it is when the floods threaten to overtake us that we look for the tall men amongst us). This is such a time. This is the time for the sons of Issachar. Your assignment is clear – to help our people chart a new course in these dangerous times. According to Chua, Ndigbo is one of the three global tribes. The other two being the Jews and the Chinese. They are all unique people but they are not a lovable people. Our task is to be the pathfinders who will raise the eagle generation that will lead our people in this 21st century. After all it was Frantz Fanon from who said that each generation will out of relative obscurity discover their mission.
It is perhaps a view point that most Ndigbo would accept that at no time in modern times have Ndigbo been faced with such a barrage of new challenges and problems as confront us in this second decade of the 21st century. We are assailed by uncertainty, doubt and even fear as to the nature of our problems or even their genesis. It is not surprising then that in this incipient climate of doubt and uncertainty we could lose our focus, we could lose our confidence in ourselves and can therefore pursue new and emerging chimaeras re-awakening from our past. Hence we need to have a quick peep into our history – ancient and modern in order to understand and re-position ourselves to confront these shibboleths.
It is clear that we are among the earliest inhabitants to this part of Africa – the Niger Area. Archaeological finds from the Nsukka area, the Okigwe area and from the Afikpo area all indicate that we have been in this area perhaps over the last five thousand years. Verifiable anthropological and archaeological evidence suggest the Yorubas arrived to meet us in this area two thousand years later. The evidence from Igbo-Ukwu suggests that by 968AD a sophisticated technological culture versed in metallurgy had already flowered and flourished in this area. It is noteworthy then that the quality of the bronze artifacts from Igbo Ukwu are not only older but superior in quality to the Ife and Benin bronzes that would come nearly 500 years later. However, there is an inexplicable hiatus in our history of another 500 years that no plausible narrative has been given.
Then came the slave trade, colonialism and the challenge of post-colonial nation building. At this point we should indicate that ethnographical data especially place names on the routes of migration from West to East show close links with the Bini, Igala, Idomas and even the Yoruba (see B.O.N. Eluwa’s Ado n’Idu). It is also pertinent that the Fulanis came into the Niger-Area territory mere 300 years ago. Thus they are late comers to Nigeria. It should however be noted that of all the territories that came to be included in the Niger-Area, the most difficult to pacify was the Igbo territory of Eastern Nigeria. The village squares were always the cleanest environments as the new conquerors that had to fight for each town and village came to discover. So who were these tough fighters scattered in well-organized villages and clans and who carried themselves with such dignity and who were ruled by an elite the Nze N’Ozo. Sometimes there was a king whose authority was grounded in the willing loyalty of the citizens because he was also the priest. The early colonial ethnographers saw them as republicans but the ruling political ethos went beyond that as we will see later. What is clear is that the socio-political organization was unfamiliar to the new rulers unlike the situation in the North and the West. It is usual for human beings to under-rate what we do not understand. So there was an inbuilt prejudice about the Igbos. So who are we and where are we coming from?
IN THE BEGINNING
When the British encountered Ndigbo in colonial Eastern Nigeria they had encountered before individual Igbos in the slave camps of North America and the Caribbean. These slaves were industrious strong willed, intelligent and hard working. They were often born leaders. The story of Olaudah Equiano has often been told as well as the oft repeated story of the slave revolt in Haiti led by Toussaint. When the hordes of Ndigbo poured out of the rainforest of Eastern Nigeria into the North and the West of the Niger Area the British were confronted with an enigma – these simple folks (Ndigbo) with their simplicity and inherent dignity were the ones who adapted most easily to a modern economy. How can these simple ones from a background that had no complicated socio-political structures show such effective leadership – on the rail roads, in the ports and in the Post and Telegraph (P & T) and the new administrative offices of the colonial regime? They had taken to modern (and Western) education as ducks to water.
One unforgettable benchmark. The first Igbo graduates – Azikiwe, Mbanefo, Onwu, Ibiam, etc came on the scene in the early to middle years of the 1930s. Their classmates and contemporaries were the grand children of the first Yoruba graduates of the 1880s. Yet 30 years later, the measure of the educated Nigerian was Igbo (Kenneth Dike, Eni Njoku), the measure of the successful businessman was also Igbo (Odimegwu Ojukwu, Green Mbadiwe Ugochukwu), the top ten military officers of Nigerian origin were predominantly Igbo. The first super perm secs were Igbo (Nwokedi, Eneli). That year 1964 marks another watershed – Eastern Nigeria was the fastest growing and industrializing economy in the world. Ndigbo had, in one frenetic and maniacal burst of energy, overtaken all the obstacles to reach the mountaintop of Nigeria. At that very point (1964), the slow march into darkness for Nigeria and for the Igbos had started. The bells were tolling for our people. How come we did not see it? For everything we had worked so strenuously for since 1914 were at risk. The reason was simple – we were blind-sided and we did not have the sons of Issachar amongst us, those;
“…who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel (Igboland) ought to do, their chiefs were two hundred and all their brethren were at their command…” (1 Chronicles 12 vs 32)
Why do I say so? It is unusual for a society at the apex of its powers and influence as we were to put all it had worked for in jeopardy in an all or nothing gamble. It was a complex situation, (we must admit) which we need to interrogate fully at some point to learn all the lessons that needs to be learnt for the sake of our children. Do these times 2015/2016 contain the echoes of those days of 1965/1966? What of 2017? Does it suggest any resemblance to 1967? We need to know and understand why, ultimately Biafra failed for the sake of the future and of our children.
At the back of all the contention and controversies one question refuses to go away: why did our leaders of those days opt for a strategy that could lead to war or violent resistance at least at the very point that we were at the height of our influence and advantages in Nigeria? This question is critical because INFLUENCE is POWER. We have not recovered fifty years later from our loss of influence in Nigeria in the decade of the 1960s.
THE CURRENT SITUATION: NIGERIA
It is no longer a matter of dispute that Nigeria is at present in its direst straits of the last 30 years. The economy is in difficulties. Twenty eight states at the last count cannot pay their workers as and when due. The exchange rate has crashed as the inflation rate is rising. The GDP p.a. have for the first time in 20 years entered negative territory – in other words the economy is contracting thus threatening our position as the largest economy in Africa even as the unemployment rate is rising especially amongst the youth.
On the socio-political front, Nigeria has not been more divided. Accusations are flying all over – sectionalism and partiality in policies especially over the anti-corruption campaign despite the horrendous nature of the accusations against former men (and women) of influence. As the bible would put it these are times when the ears tingle at what it hears. Even the President has been accused of nepotism by no less a defender of Northern interests as the irredeemable irredentist Dr. Junaid Mohammed. What to believe is now a challenge for the fair minded and objective observer. In the church this weekend, the Board in emergency session was regaled with stories of many families who can no longer feed on a daily basis. It is that serious. All these are in addition to the insurrection in the North East and the militant attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta. In our own backyard are the ongoing crisis regarding IPOB and MASSOB. Tales of kidnapping, armed robbery, rape, sodomy and such like news have become routine. It was not as bad as it is now in our country in the 1980s when the Very Rev Ukaegbu had averred that if God did not judge Nigeria then he (Ukaegbu) would pray that God should apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. In the midst of all these is the cacophony of voices on the need to restructure the nation and the President’s dismissive contribution to the debate. Indeed some have compared the emerging scenario to the early days in Germany that preceded the emergence of Nazism. What is happening? Is Nigeria now under judgment?
THE CURRENT SITUATION: ALA IGBO
In Ala Igbo we are assailed by a plethora of new challenges. The poverty level is such as has not been seen except in the Biafran war years. Inter communal conflicts over land and over chieftaincy titles continue to escalate. Kidnapping, protection gangs proliferate all over the land talk less of new levels of immorality and aberrant sexual behaviour within the male as well as the female population. It is as if Ekwensu has multiplied ajo ife all over the land. The economy in the once vibrant cities of Aba and Onitsha are now shadows of their robust past when they were the commercial hubs not only of Nigeria but also of West and Central Africa. The roads and other infrastructure have collapsed. Indeed there are roads that were asphalted and road worthy in the 1960s which have now reverted to pristine forest. Some communities have not seen electric power in the last twenty years. The railway tracks have been taken over by weeds and despite the billions that are claimed to have been spent to rehabilitate them, young men and women of age 20 and below have not had any experience of a functional railway system. In many communities the restive youth have taken over the management of the society through cults and other protection gangs in rebellion and total defiance of the established and traditional system. In many communities education has been neglected to the point where the schools are abandoned and derelict. It is only in Anambra that we may see the occasional hopeful sign of industry and governance. In many areas we have developed a dependency syndrome always waiting for Abuja. In Igbo land?
CHALLENGES MOVING FORWARD
As we look forward into the future we can see formidable challenges. It is important to emphasize at the outset that the redemption and rebuilding of Ala Igbo will not come from outside Igboland. It will 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 being our guide. The advisory that served our delegates to the National Conference and which served them well will be a helpful guide. There were two inter-related rules:
Rule 1: Keep your eyes open, keep your ears open but keep your mouth shut. Perchance there may come a time that we need to speak, then we will collectively decide what to say and who will say it.
Rule 2: There is no ethnic nationality that does not have a problem in Nigeria and all are looking for solutions. Past experience shows that whenever Ndigbo are the first on a national issue to move forward, for some reason the rest will hold back including those who stand to benefit most and often the reward is resentment. This time around find out the common ground, support the other party to press for it. When he achieves our common purpose he is grateful for your support and the reward is goodwill. All Igbo delegates, 76 of them, kept faith except three. The rest is history.
The lesson is clear: the noisy, talkative, boisterous and unstrategic approach to national discourse has not served us well in the past, so we need a mindset change. Moreover we need to remember that we cannot be loved by all: but we can earn the respect of our compatriots and if need be their fear of us as well. We are an outgoing people and we need not change our outlook. Not only Nigeria but the whole of West Africa and even parts of Central Africa remain our foraging territory. So we need to build goodwill all around while rebuilding our home base as a desirable and livable environment. Our morally boisterous spirit may often need a dose of discipline and only the elders can dispense it in a fair and just manner. It is likely that for the foreseeable future we cannot always expect fairness and justice from the governing authorities of Nigeria but playing victimhood is not the answer. We must remember the famous biblical phrase: “and it came to pass”. Hence these times will also pass. As surely as the dawn follows the dark hours of the night so can we be certain that the present uncertain and harsh times will be followed by a season of peace and joy when the righteous David will be on the throne of Nigeria and all peoples, particularly Ndigbo will rejoice. Meanwhile there is work to do: back breaking work in Ala Igbo and in Nigeria.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
There are three tasks that must be tackled as the basic building block for a new and renascent Ala Igbo. Operating at the global level, these are:
- Building relationships
- Building infrastructure
- Rebuilding education infrastructure
Building Relationships: It is pertinent to note that in tackling relationships within and amongst the ethnic nationalities of Nigeria, there is embedded at the core of the dynamics of relationships, there is a potential clash of cultures represented at one pole by the conservative, basically feudal, backward looking and often resistant to change represented by the caliphate Northwest. At the other pole is the industrious, hardworking, culturally adaptable and entrepreneurial spirit of the South-East. Managing such a relationship requires patience and wisdom, none of which is easily available. Despite this, coexistence is not an impossible undertaking but requires higher levels of tact and diplomacy.
With this caveat, what are the relationships we need to build going forward? First and foremost will be the relationship with our next door neighbours of the former Eastern Nigeria. Facts of history and consanguinity make this the first priority. Alongside this first contact is the relationship with the Yoruba of the South West. A long history of relationship, especially during the anti-colonial struggle occasionally tense makes this an urgent priority given also the weight of our investments in the zone particularly in Lagos. The ethnic minorities of the Middle Belt come next in importance. Given a long history of pre-colonial contact and even ethnic relationship with the Igalas and the Idomas and a long history of contact with the Nupes, and even the Tivs this zone is vital for it has often proven the game changer in political terms and there has always been some fund of good will to harvest from this zone as far as Taraba. Building a relationship with the North East is strategically and economically important. Colonial Nigeria and post-independent Nigeria has spent a lot of resources to develop the Western corridor from Lagos to Kano and Sokoto. The Eastern corridor from Port Harcourt/Calabar to Bauchi and Maiduguri must now be a national priority. Additionally we need mutually respectful and cordial relationship with the North West given its primacy as the political and religious centre of the North. This initiative must be undertaken as a multi-prong and simultaneous effort strategically and tactically thought through. It is vital for our future growth and development.
Building Infrastructure: In tackling the infrastructure challenge, we must see the South East as the gateway to the North and even to the West. The first priority would be for the state governments TOGETHER to engage an international consortium on a long term basis which must have the capacity to finance and build roads, railways and even ports (Dr. Okpara had a similar relationship with the Israelis). Much of the national plans for roads, gas, power and other infrastructure have an apparent tendency to avoid the South East heartland. We must reverse this even at our own initiative. We should then build the roads and railways that will connect us to the hubs of these necessary infrastructures in other zones. The aim would be to restore the balance between the Eastern North/South corridor and the Western North/South corridor. The overall aim will be to gain access to the new deep sea ports emerging in Akwa Ibom and Cross River States. As an aside we must note in the Azumini area of Abia State, there is a potential deep see port that can exit to the Atlantic Ocean if a ridge around Opobo mainland is removed. It is shorter than the distance from the Calabar Port to the Atlantic Ocean!
Rebuilding Education: While industrialization is the capstone to a healthy and growing economy, education is the foundation of industrialization. In these days of the knowledge economy education is the commodity of exchange in the new knowledge societies. In the state of Massachusetts, for example the major industry is with the cluster of world class universities – Harvard, MIT, Boston University and University of Massachusetts. We do not need more universities in the South East but we need to lift the existing universities to world standards. We must revolutionize the primary and secondary school levels with robust teacher training facilities. We must treat education as a business driven by investment decisions spurred by innovation and managed as an industry.
It is generally agreed that the issue of leadership is at the centre of Nigeria’s under-performance and the debacle and conundrum that has characterized the definition of her place in the world. The situation with leadership in Ala Igbo is even more problematic because we have tended to admire and imitate the leadership usage and ethos of our other compatriots. As we have noted earlier there is at the root of the Nigerian question a cultural clash of two polar opposites. Their leadership style and ethos are necessarily different. Our failure to recognize this has made us poor copies perhaps of an inferior brand.
There are five normative values that guide the selection, validation and conferment of authority and leadership in Ala Igbo. The normative values are:
- Ikenga – that which defines the individual with reference to his ancestors, bloodline, wealth and the perceived inner strength driven by his chi and ambition.
- Ako na Uche – the inner wisdom that defines the person beyond wealth and physical endowments.
- Onye Aghala nwanneya – this embodies the communal spirit that insists that persona achievement must derive its essence from the communal context. It drives the transformational potential of the individual to act within a collegiate leadership matrix. It was the motive force that pushed Ndigbo through the transformational changes from the 1930s to the 1960s.
- Njepu – this encapsulates the truth that those who travel far and beyond the locality acquire experience and hence wisdom that burnishes and illuminates his Persona beyond the commonality of his local environment. His experience enriches the common good.
- Ntozu – maturity that comes with the highest level of achievement, self-actualization and leadership founded on truth while abhorring avarice and the fear of man.
These five normative values constituted the basis on which under normal circumstances leadership is selected and validated whether at the age grade or the community level and expectedly at the national and sub-national levels. Our unthinking departure from these norms have blighted our capacity to choose the leaders who understand and can run our leadership academy.
REDEFINING NDIGBO IN THE GLOBAL AND NIGERIAN CONTEXT
In redefining Ndigbo in the global and Nigerian context we need to have a clear view of what kind of society we hope to bequeath to our children and our grand- children and what political economy that we would consider desirable in the short, medium and long term for the society. In the traditional society wealth was recognized, respected but not venerated. Indeed, wealth was expected to be the reward for hard work and industry. Sudden and inexplicable wealth was shunned and in serious cases even ostracized. As the society recognized self-worth and human dignity poverty was frowned upon. He/she is an efulefu who did not use his/her gifts with ako n’uche. To a large extent, these values are similar to the protestant ethic that shaped Western Europe and bequeath to it the social democratic ethos practiced so brilliantly in the Scandinavian countries.
Within the Nigerian context the polar opposite of these values, the semi-feudal ethos became the dominant tendency in the political economy. Preferment in society did not come necessarily as the fruits of hard work but as reward for patronage, clientilism and loyalty. Merit had no place in this context. It is therefore not surprising that Ndigbo have made heavy weather of the dominant political economy in the Nigerian setting. This was made more difficult for the liberal democratic spirit considering the heavy overlay of militaristic autocracy engineered by the long years of military governance. The situation is reflected in the contradictions and implied fraud in the 1999 constitution (as amended) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Ndigbo will not flourish in the Nigerian pseudo-federation until federalism with its mandatory devolution of powers is restored. With this our initiative can become unchained for the benefit of our country and our compatriots. This is why we need to support the wave of democratic opinion insisting on restructuring Nigeria.
For the spiritual minded, the progressive deterioration of the Nigerian state have been prophesied over the last decade. The predictions have been particularly spot on in the last five years. The sons of Issachar amongst us who have the gift of understanding the times, to know what (Ndigbo) ought to do have assured us that we are in the darkest period of the night – the period before dawn. According to these times of change are the times of testing and judgment which will be followed by the time of transformation when the Nigerian David will sit on the throne – and the sun will once more rise in the East. Thus says the Lord: And it will come to pass. Ohanaeze ekelem unu. Ya gazie. God bless all of us and our country Nigeria.
Prof Anya O. Anya, President-General Ndigbo Lagos Foundation, delivered this address at the Igbo Assembly, Owerri, Imo State, on Thursday 14th July, 2016.
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