…Prof. Obi Nwakanma.

Many years ago, the General, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu spoke about the “Biafra of the mind.” Only a few, I think, understood him. Well, they say, only the deep speak to the deep.

But let me attempt here to tease out Dim Ojukwu’s prescription: the greatest proof of Igbo survival and aspiration must be to model, wherever Onye-Igbo stands, the ethos of innovation, excellence, ingenuity, and ability that marked the Igbo endeavor in Biafra. We must also use Biafra as the stepping stone to a higher vision of the Igbo place in the world.

There is no single proof or evidence today that the Igbo of this generation are capable of transforming any nation to which they lay claim. I have looked; I have studied the Igbo situation, and I have listened to my Igbo kinsmen, and I think something is fundamentally wrong: the Igbos are trapped in a deadening hate, self-pity and nostalgia. It is the kind of nostalgia that is both defeatist and deadly because it continues to romanticize the past while the future speeds away.

Ndi Igbo cannot wait until they achieve Biafra or a separate nation in order to build and secure Igbo land. Soon after the end of the war, Igbo survivors of the war, girded their loins and embarked on the work of restoration. With singular grit, they revived the economy of the East, and by 1979, just nine years after the end of the war, were ready to take on the rest of the nation again. We their children are a disgrace to the spirit of those men and women.

The Igbo are today a beggarly nation of impotent, lachrymal people now weeping about “marginalization” and waiting for Nigeria to collapse or let them go, so that they will go and make something of themselves. This is an over-indulged generation. The last of the Igbo are old and dying; the current Igbo are “inferior Igbo.” They are just waiting for Godot.

Now, you say, the only time the Igbo will work is if power remains in the South. I think this is too simple. Take a look around you, where are those Igbo men and women? Which Igbo today have the sagacity of Zik, or the courage of Okpara, Mbakwe, or Ojukwu, the capacity of Ojike or Okigbo, the fierce pride and stabilizing force of the oldIgbo women, the organizational acumen of an RBK Okafor, the selfless pride of those Igbo of the last generation, who always rose to the occasion when the Igbo summoned them to great causes, including giving their widows mite without question, for as long as “they Igbo have said…”

Now, what I’m trying to say, people, before I lose you, is that the Igbo have left the land, and the land has left the Igbo. There is incoherence. And an Incoherent people cannot run an independent
nation, simple.

Bring proof to me that the Igbo have turned Igbo land into an oasis of prosperity different from elsewhere in Nigeria, and I shall agree that the current Igbo know exactly what they are saying. There is no Igbo state with a budget that is not bigger than the budget of the Republic of Ghana. Indeed, put together, the budget of all the states in Igbo land is bigger than the national budget of ten West African states. What have we done with it in terms of rebuilding public services? Creating livable cities? Developing new infrastructure? Developing the Igbo world?

The North or the West has never run down our schools. They did not dismantle the Government Colleges at Umuahia, Owerri, Afikpo, and the Queens School at Enugu. They did not destroy our hospitals or primary schools. They did not stop us from building our cultural infrastructure – community centers; recreational centers, or building up our libraries; or public parks, or city centers, or trunk B & C feeder roads.

They did not destroy our civil service. They did not stymie the growth of our cities. They did not forbid the Igbo from creating strategic means of employing their greatest resource – their highly trained manpower- and using them to create a powerful regional economy that would continue to startle West Africa.

The North or West did not say we should not build an efficient trans-regional transport metro system, by jointly developing the old Oriental lines, that would create a network of contacts all over the East and ease the strategic movement of people, or take advantage and rebuild, and expand the Rail system that connects Port-Harcourt, Aba, Umuahia, Okigwe, Ovim, Afikpo, Enugu, to Eha-Amufu. Even if the rail system is a federal project, there has never been a consortium of the Igbo states and consortium of investors that have mounted pressure to force the Feds to hands off the Eastern Rail system, to be run as a regional Terminus. We have never made the argument.

Mbakwe threatened in 1981 that if the FGN did not build an airport in Owerri, he would mobilize and build one. He did it. He threatened that if they did not build the Petrochemical plant in Izombe, he would build one by 1984. The land for the construction of the Imo Petrochemical Plant was already cleared when the soldiers struck on the last day of 1983.

When Mbakwe arrived Government House,Owerri in 1979, the three major cities in old Imo – Owerri, Aba, Umuahia still had houses operating “bucket latrines” and the cities still employed night soil men (ndiOburunsi) and ran waste landfills. The first statewide public safety and hygiene law passed under the Mbakwe administration gave every landlord and household in these cities 4 months and a tax rebate to change the infrastructure from the bucket system to the water system, failure of which the houses would be marked as public health hazard zones. This was fully accomplished in three months.

By 1982, there was a marked upsurge and population shift as more Igbo began to leave Lagos and other places to return to Owerri and invest and settle. Nobody told them to return, the conditions were simply made amenable. By 1984, Igbo business men, particularly in the North,were moving their money and opening accounts with the Imo State Progress Bank, and the capital was growing for both accessible credit and for capital borrowing for infrastructural development in the East.

I point this to simply suggest that there is nothing the Igbo wish to accomplish in Nigeria that anyone can stop, if the Igbo hold down their lines. But we’ve deceived ourselves for too long – we have now made Nigeria into the convenient excuse for our own failures and self-indulgence. Now, there is a man called Onwuka Kalu. He gave the first N100, 000 as donation towards the Imo state Airport Appeals Fund in Owerri in 1981/2. There is not a single plaque to honour this man’s gesture at that airport. It will not be the Federal Government that will do it; it will be the initiative of those who put value to memory in Igbo land.

But in the Imo/Abia/Ebonyi/Anambra/Enugu divisions that now pervade the Igbo mind, no one will remember. This is no recipe for a people moving towards transformation. Let me now, tell this whole truth: onweghionyeji Ndi Igbo, Ndi Igbo ji Onwe ha (no one is to blame for the Igbo predicament but Ndigbo). Those who wrestle with Ala, the Earth goddess, often forget that no one has ever lifted the earth. Ala-Igbo is the earth, Anaghi Apa ala Apa! (No one can lift the earth). Period.

The Igbo of this generation are wrestling with the earth left to them by their ancestors. And they are busy blaming everyone else for their condition. We who have done, “IheNzere” should tell the truth, or may our tongues cleave to our gums.

One comment

  1. This is a nice write up. It sounds like an argument I would make. However, I disagree with some key descriptions and his wholesale lumping of the causative factors of our marginal development as excuses.

    How do you describe a generation that reacted to disabling hurdles placed on their every pathway, by emptying themselves into every corner of the earth as “inferior?” Both at home and abroad, Igbos strive to redefine self-help to include overcoming intentional efforts by authorities to make sure that our efforts are in vain.

    Our businessmen and women started moving back to Lagos after the authorities collapsed the seaports in the East and seeded every kilometer of the road from Onitsha to Lagos with Nigerian Customs officers to pillage, harass and exploit our importers. That exodus has never been reversed due to the total collapse of infrastructure in our region.

    How does one determine a “people capable of transforming any nation” if such people have not been put in a situation to prove themselves and their capabilities? Obviously, the Prof is mistaking this generation of Igbos for the current group of political leaders from the region who are beholden to external enablers than to any form of Igbocentric patriotism. I also note, that he failed to dial his logic to the fact that affiliation to the Northern oligarchy is the “easiest way to make it” in present day Nigerian political and economic space. In both scenarios, loyalty is owed to the external benefactors. Failing to do so, you get crushed.

    Marginalisation is real and systemic. The reason it impacts so much is that we have been coded psychologically not to expect anything but hardship from Nigeria. Calling our young men inferior is like telling an impotent or castrated man that he is not trying hard enough.

    Where are Ibeto’s cement empire, Nwobodo’s bank and the engineer that invented and built Nigeria’s first if not only indigenous prototype car? If Igbos did not band up against the onslaught on Innoson, by now, it would have been history too.

    Whereas Professor Nwakanma sees the Igbo that is “trapped in a deadening hate, self-pity and nostalgia,” a Western researcher, after visiting the Alaba International Electronics market saw the ingenuity of the Igbos which he described as the “world’s biggest incubator of venture capital.” He was describing our “igba boy system.” We may not know it, but that system was responsible for the world’s fastest and most robust post-war come back ever recorded by man. We cannot let others choose a label for us and we allow it to stick.

    I agree that we don’t have to wait for Biafra to come before we start to build a nation State. For this reason, and knowing that we have a sizable budget or war chest, we must call out our governors and political leaders in the East to give us the necessary infrastructure or “conditionalities” to begin the march to Glory.

    Waiting for Nigeria to let us go is not an option because it will never happen. Why should someone be waiting for a hungry lion to invite him or her to a dinner that it has prepared for itself? That is unnatural. Freedom is not given. It is taken. Our destiny as a people is intrinsically connected to our freedom and how badly we need it. Sixty years of waiting has not done a thing. The prof needs to stand and be counted among the freedom fighters and stop using “they” in reference to the Igbo nation as if he has another nativity.

    If he looks beyond his limiting factors, he will surely see among his loathed inferior Igbo generation, men with similar and even better sagacity of Igbos of yore. If not and being a professor, he can mentor new ones. Is it not telling that he has been unable to produce leaders with the clout he professes?

    If we stop talking down on ourselves, maybe we will start sounding a bit more coherent and others may begin to take our demand for fairness, equity and justice more seriously.


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