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Main | Ndigbo: The Way Forward »

December 26, 2003

Ndigbo: The Way Forward

by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa --- Friday, December 26, 2003. When I returned home from Achia on the 22nd November 2003 after the burial of Barrister Godwin Ezeuko, (SAN., K.S.M, Kt. C.G.G.) an outstanding Igbo legal luminary, I was handed a letter from Ndigbo Lagos inviting me to be "Our Guest Speaker on Wednesday 3rd December 2003". At Our End of Year Dinner Party I was asked the topic: "Ndigbo: The Way Forward."

The end of the year party is an appropriate time for stock taking and for meaningful self re-examination and self reassessment. It is therefore not surprising that Ndigbo Lagos should choose this occasion to discuss The Way Forward for the lgbo nation in the Nigerian Federation.

I take it that we all gathered here tonight to know who Ndi Igbo are. But if there is any doubt here, I may just refer those in doubt to Professor Echeruo's 1979 Ahiajioku Lecture - A Matter of Identity - Who Are The Igbos. Since 1914 the lgbos have had their trials; their ups and downs; their travails; and sometimes triumphs in the Nigerian federation. Now in the year of our Lord 2003 the lgbos are looking for The Way Forward. What is it that has gone wrong? Which way can be defined as a route or a road taken in order to reach a place. This implies a terminus, a starting point leading to a final destination. Looking for "The Way Forward" by implication admits that one is on course. It also suggests that one has to pick one's way through difficulties to discover a way out. The Way Forward implies all these and more. It thus also implies the readiness, the willingness and the ability to change one's ways, not to be set in one's ways, but to be amenable to change where and when necessary. These rather preliminary observations are not mere semantics. Although they are necessary to enable us understand what The Way Forward may call for, and to be thoroughly prepared, as to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
Struggle for a United Nigeria

i. The Amalgamation of 1914 was not designed to produce one Nigeria; but Northerners, Southerners, and Lagosians.

After that Amalgamation Southerners were regarded as strangers in the North and were confined to Sabongari (Strangers Quarters). There was no political contact between the North and the South. It was the age old policy of Divide and Rule.

ii. The Richard Constitution of 1946 was not aimed at producing one "indivisible and indissoluble Sovereign State" called Nigeria. No. Its aim was to produce Northerners, Easterners and Westerners. Little wonder then that Chief Obafemi Awolowo in his Path To Nigerian Freedom in 1948 described Nigeria as a mere geographical expression. We are Nigerians only when we are outside the country but back "home", we are Hausas, Igbos, Yorubas, Edos, Efiks, Jukuns, Tivs, Urhobos, Ijaws, ltsekiris etc. etc. Their name is legion for they are many.

The regionalisation of the country by Sir Arthur Richard produced empires and spheres of influence by regional and ethnic "leaders". The Amalgamation of 1914 produced an unbalanced political monstrosity which was perpetuated by the Richards Constitution. This sowed seeds of the persistent power struggle in Nigeria. In this struggle ethnicity became a powerful mobilization tool and marginalisation of one's ethnic group the most tempting bait.

iii. NIGERIAN INDEPENDENCE 1960 AND OUR DREAM OF ONE NIGERIA.In 1960 we dreamt dreams and saw visions of one united country. We conceptualised those dreams in our 1960 National Anthem: Nigeria we hail thee our dear motherland/Though tribes and tongues may differ/In brotherhood we stand Nigerian all.

And proud to serve our sovereign motherland. We then prayed God of all creation to help us to build a nation where no man is oppressed so that with peace and plenty Nigeria may be blest. Those were our dreams and that was our prayer. Those dreams and that prayer did not change our quest for tribal and ethnic domination of the stronger group over the weaker ones nor did they change our longing for ethnic and tribal empires. Things then drifted from bad to worse until we woke up on 15th January 1966 to open a new chapter in Nigerian history - Army Intrusion Into Governance.
The Army Coup of 1966 was given different interpretations and connotations by different ethnic groups.

5. THE 1966 COUP AND THE PRETEXT FOR MARGINALISATION OF NDI-IGBO 1966 introduced a new and dangerous dimension into Nigerian governance - shooting one's way to power. The coup was bloody and in our frenzy we started looking for scapegoats. One was easily found. It was an lgbo coup. Therefore the Igbos will be taught a lesson they will never forget. Most Igbos regard this as the beginning of their woes, their exclusion from the source of political and economic power and ultimately from hope. This should therefore be the terminus of our search for The Way Forward.

WAS THE 1966 COUP AN IGBO COUP?

Now that tempers have cooled down it is appropriate, and necessary for national reconciliation, to consider this all important question. Let us now look dispassionately at all the available evidence - circumstantial, documentary and oral. Persons may lie but circumstances do not,

(a) In 1966 no lgbo man could have been the Premier of the Northern or Western Regions. The 1966 Coup could not therefore have been planned to achieve the impossible. In 1966 the President of the country Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was an lgbo man, the President of the Senate Dr. Nwafor Orizu was an Igbo man. The General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army, Lt. General Aguiyi lronsi was an lgbo man. The only natural and logical conclusion that can be drawn from the above circumstantial evidence was that the I966 coup was planned to remove these leading Igbo men from power. An Igbo coup to remove lgbo man from power looks like a contradiction in terms.

b. Adewale Adegboyega a Yoruba Officer of the Nigerian Army clearly stated in his book - Why We Struck -that the January 1966 coup was planned by young military officers - lgbos and non lgbos - disgusted with the state of the Nigerian nation. If we remember that in 1966 the Nigerian nation had an Igbo President Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo man as President of the Senate, then it becomes clear that "the disgust" was against the Igbos as the then leaders of Nigeria.

c. There was the direct oral evidence of Ben Gbulie during the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission (which was televised and aired throughout the country) that the January 15th 1966 coup plotters intended to replace Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe with Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the President of Nigeria. Thus the beneficiary of the 1966 coup was to be a Yoruba man and not an Igbo man.

d. Those who put down the coup were Igbo officers one may rightly ask?
The only reason for branding the 1966 coup an Igbo coup was that prominent Igbo politicians and top military officers were not killed. May be they were cowards. They learnt of the coup and fled. Others refused to flee. Also planning a coup and executing it are two different things. Things can go wrong with the execution as they did in January 1966. I think it is now necessary to put the record straight for the benefit of the younger generations of Nigerians and for the peaceful co-existence of all us as Nigerians.

6. THE POGROM AND THE CIVIL WARFollowing the erroneous belief that the 1966 January coup was an lgbo coup, may be, by way of revenge, a carefully calculated mass killing of Easterners (mainly lgbos) was undertaken in the North. This led to the exodus of Ndi-lgbo back home to their enclave - the lgbo heartland and ultimately to the Nigerian Civil War. That war was fought with a vehemence one would hardly expect in a quarrel between former brotherly Nigerians. The war was over in 1970 but the lgbo race is still living with its aftermath. And that is one reasons the Igbos ask themselves - Are we Nigerians?

7. The Igbo National Discourse of 1993This discourse recounted all the ills of the race namely that from 1966 — 1999 no one from the Igbo nation had occupied the post of President or Head of State of Nigeria
ii. Head of the Army, the Navy or the Air Force
iii. Head of the Nigerian Judiciary
iv. Inspector General of the Nigerian Police
v. Head of any Parastatal
vi. Head of Service of the Federation
In addition to the above there is no noticeable Federal Government presence in terms of road construction, provision of electricity, international airport, telecommunication facilities etc. Are all these by accident or by design? The impression in the average lgbo mind is that Ndi-lgbo are still being victimized and punished for the 15th January 1966 coup and the civil war.

8. Ndi Igbo in Contemporary Nigeria In 1998.
The Anambra State Development Unions Lagos hosted a symposium to discuss the plight of the Igbos in contemporary Nigeria. Several papers were presented. Some of these pointed The Way Forward for the lgbos. I shall deal with these later. In my Opening Address as Chairman I regarded the symposium as a confession of failure and a challenge. If we succeeded in building the Nigeria we dreamt about in 1960, a Nigeria where all the differing tribes and tongues became Nigerians pure and simple, there would have been no need for the Anambra State Development Unions Lagos to discuss in 1998 Ndi Igbo in contemporary Nigeria. If we are not completely and fully admitted into the larger Nigerian family we will naturally run back to our smaller lgbo family. We are lgbos -at least that we are sure of.
It will also be in our collective interest to Put our lgbo house in order to learn the lesson of self reliance, to form support for one another to become our brothers’ keepers and most importantly to learn the sanity and wisdom of the adage united we stand but divided we fall. These are the challenges facing us.

9. Ndi Igbo Rediscovering Ourselves.The Enugu Sports Club usually organises an annual lecture to probe the fortunes and fears of Ndi-lgbo. The first in the series was delivered on the 4th September 2001 by His Excellency Chimaroke Nnamani, the Executive Governor of Enugu State. The theme was Ndi Igbo And The Challenge of Nation Building. 1 delivered the second lecture in the series on the 28th November 2002. The theme then was Ndi Igbo Rediscovering Ourselves. Both lectures considered the Igbo plight in contemporary Nigeria and then proffered some solutions - call it the Way Forward

10. The Igbos and MarginalisationThe main complaints of Ndi Igbo is that they have been pushed to the edge of the Nigerian society; that they have been excluded from political power, the source of self respect and hope, that they have been marginalised. This cry of marginalisation is not new and is not exclusively an lgbo cry. Before State creation we had regions. Then no region was ethnically, culturally, materially and religiously homogeneous. Some people in these regions felt marginalised. There then arose the agitation for the creation of separate states from the existing regions - The Middle Belt State Movement in the North and the C.O.R. Calabar, Ogoja, Rivers State agitation in the South. During the Civil War Nigeria was carved out into 12 States. Now we have 36 States in Nigeria and yet the cry of marginalisation has gone on unabated. The creation of any new state also creates a new minority which will soon complain of marginalisation. We have therefore to find another and more effective solution. There will always be Majority claims and Minority fears. But it is only when the exclusion of a group from power—especially political power - is either a policy of the Ruling Class or where there is no 1evel playing ground or where there is no equality in the distribution of amenities and other dividends of democracy that the problem becomes acute. Ndi-lgbo now say that this is their present plight in Nigeria. What then is The Way Out? The Way Forward may lead to the way out.

11. SIGNPOSTS ON THE WAY FORWARD a. Revival of Ndi-Igbo's Thirst and Quest for Education
Nowadays no one can reasonably succeed in life or make an appreciable impact on his age or on his society without the benefit of good education. You all in this Hall, tonight bear eloquent testimony to this fact "At home education is friend; in solitude it is a solace; in society it is an ornament; abroad it is an introduction." Without it, man is just a reasoning savage battling with the forces he cannot understand.

Cast your minds back to the thirties and forties and recount the contributions of lgbo stalwarts like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Akanu lbiam, Chief Michael Okpara, Dr. Alvan lkoku and a host of others. Although the lgbos were late comers to Western education they soon drew level with the Yoruba West. lgbo educationists built private schools like Aggrey Memorial; lgbo town unions offered scholarship to deserving students and in no time lgbo impact was felt in all offices around Nigeria and in all our institutions of higher learning. People like Chike Obi taught himself Mathematics up to London MSc standard and Pius Okigbo did his London B.A and BSc Econs at Onitsha by self and home study. Then there was a healthy competition among lgbo youth for learning, It is no longer so now. Times have changed and things have changed unfortunately for the worse and I ask in amazement and desperation where are lgbo youths heading educationally? There are more girls in our educational institutions than boys. This is a gloomy prospect for the future of Ndi-lgbo. Something has to be done to reverse this negative trend. There has been a gradual decay of our educational system and a continuous devaluation of education. But if we cast our eyes over the monumental map of ancient grandeur, on Athens, on Rome, on Sparta, we notice that it was education which strengthened their minds with early application, informed their infancy with the principles of action, and sent them into the world too vigilant to be deceived by its calms and too vigorous to be shaken by its whirlwinds. Let us, therefore, as a first step in our journey on The Way Forward revive the former Igbo thirst, quest and- zeal for good and liberal education.
b. 2nd Signpost On The Way ForwardFree And Fair Discussion of Issues Affecting Igbo Interest

The lgbos as a people are democratic almost to a fault. They do not like decisions on vital Igbo issues taken over their heads without full discussion and or consultation:The great impediment to action, is in our opinion, not discussion, but the want of that knowledge which is gained by discussion preparatory to action. For we have a peculiar power of thinking before we act and of acting too, whereas other men are courageous from ignorance but hesitate upon reflection (Pericles Funeral Oration).

Discussion is the best means to frame public measures and to carry them -into effect. Any wise and good measures can bear the examination of many minds. During the discussion stage we have to think clearly and argue convincingly. But when a decision is arrived at we ought to act decisively. And this is where education again comes in. An educated man is humble because he knows no one knows it all. He therefore listens to views contrary to his own and weighs all on the balance of what is best for the Igbo race and people. Insisting that ones view will always prevail is undemocratic and smacks of pride and intellectual poverty.
c. Third Signpost On The Way Forward:

Re-evaluation Of Our Values And Putting Wealth Into Its Proper Place
i. The lgbos are "go getters", they are highly industrious, they are resourceful and they believe in making money. Money therefore to the lgbos is a useful thing to have. There are many things we can do with money. Pericles of Athens in his Funeral Oration for fallen Athenian Soldiers at the Battle of Thermopolae observed - "wealth we employ not for base and idle show but where there is real use for it". Building our roads, supplying our towns and villages with light and pipe borne water, building our schools and universities, providing ourselves with the necessities of life - for all these we need money. Money is therefore a very useful servant. But what is dangerous is to place money first in our scale of values. Dr Chinweizu in his Aku Agwu Na Aku Mma described how desperate we Igbos have become in our quest for money and this "has disorganized the system of values which used to motivate and regulate Igbo life". Money is now the fons et origio of nearly all our headaches in Igboland today. Many blood chilling and unspeakable crimes are daily being committed for money. It is now very true that money is the root of all our evils.
People hate us because they say we are too money minded.

Our lgbo brothers suspect us because they say that every lgbo man has a price. We know the price of everything but the value of nothing.
ii. The late George Horace Lorimer for many years Editor of the The Saturday Evening Post once wrote: It is a good thing to have money and it is a good thing to have the things that money will buy: It is good too, to check up once in a while and make sure you haven't lost the things that money cannot buy.

There are so many things that money cannot buy. To mention a few
- The air we breath without which we die cannot be bought with all our money. That is freely given. Money cannot buy a clear conscience - here square dealing is the price tag. Money cannot buy happiness as many poor people are much happier than some rich folks with ugly skeletons in their cupboards. The rich man you envy is looking at you envying your health and contentment. Money cannot buy inward peace as peace is the result a constructive philosophy of life and living in accordance with your spiritual belief. Money cannot buy character as character is what you are when you are alone with yourself and your God.

iii. The good name of Ndi-Igbo has been soiled and defamed by certain unwholesome acts of some of us. It is now necessary that on The Way Forward we enthrone God in our lives and therebyshowing good conscience and morality. To restore God to His proper place in our lives is to restore the fear of God (which is the beginning of wisdom). If we enthrone God we dethrone dishonesty, 419, bribery and corruption, indiscipline and crime. This will be a significant signpost on The Way Forward for Ndi-lgbo.

iv. Fourth Signpost On The Way Forward:Good And Purposeful Leadership A Necessary Imperative To Finding And Following The Way Forward
a. Opening the symposium on Ndigbo in the contemporary Nigeria on Wednesday 18th November, 1998, the President of the Association of Anambra State Development Unions Lagos, Chief Arthur C. I. Mbanefo MFR, (the Odu of Onitsha) made the following relevant and significant comments: "At this time a few of us felt that our place in the contemporary Nigeria was looking doubtful or questionable. It is over 15 years ... after the Civil War and yet the scars of that war appeared still fresh and we were seemingly left out from all activities in Nigeria. We are not in government nor did we have a significant presence in the military and even the police. We tried very hard, very hard indeed, to find a foothold from where we could precipitate in the affairs of the nation but we had very little success... A few of us who appreciated what was happening to us and our people were determined to reverse the trend.... It needed to be established that we all belong to this country and that our people have made and continue to make vital contributions to the development of this land Nigeria in general, and this city Lagos in particular".
I wondered aloud from time to time, where we, Ndigbo are going. What has happened to our Leadership and our sense of direction? Why are we unable to play the usual team spirit even with Afenifere and the Northern Elders Forum waxing strong and promoting unified views on national issues? Quo Vadis Ndigbo? (the underlining is mine for emphasis)

a. NOTE: i. This opening address summed up the exclusion of Ndigbo from power in Nigeria.
ii. It emphasized the need for the lgbos to close ranks under an efficient and purposeful leadership and the need for such leadership to have a sense of direction. We Ndigbo need, desperately need, such leadership for us to find The Way Forward and the necessary discipline on the part of the followership to painfully, if need be, follow The Way Forward.

iii. The leadership the Igbos now want is a leadership that understands our problems; all the pressing problems, of Ndigbo in contemporary Nigeria. We want a leadership that is honest, tactful, selfless but rather totally devoted to restoring the pristine dignity of the Igbo race. We want a leadership with a sense of mission. We want a disciplined leadership, a leadership with conscience, a leadership that can motivate all the doubting lgbo men, a leadership that will inspire all our people. We want the type of leadership that Sir Winston Churchill provided for Britain during the dark days of World War 2. And where can we find such a leadership?
Water! Water! Water!

Cast down your bucket where you are. Now if we cannot find such leadership right here in, and from, this hail then we are doomed, but God forbid.

iv. I am an optimist and I believe that we have Igbo leaders with the patriotism of a Gandhi, the selflessness of a Nyerere, the simplicity, sacrifice and endurance of a Mandela and the vision of a Sedar Senghor. This day the lgbo nation needs your service. Do not let her down in her hour of need.

v. Fifth Signpost on the Way Forward Call for UnityAmona Ndi-igbo.
This really should have been the very first and last on The Way Forward. I on purpose put it last as a - unifying landmark and sign post. They say that unity is strength and that united we stand but divided we fall. The painful reality of the Igbo situation should force us, out of sheer self interest and desire to survive, to close ranks and unite. In a letter dated December, 13, 1999, UMUADA IGBO appealed to lgbo Leaders and Followers to close ranks and come together, and work together for the welfare and well-being of Ndi lgbo: That was a patriotic call coming from our mothers and our sisters. I salute them.

When considering the Challenge that this Lecture presents to the Igbos I noted that the Igbos have been forced by the turn of events in the country to look more and more inward for their Security. Survival and Prosperity. I further noted that even in the wider fight for a Better Nigeria the lgbos (and any other ethnic group for that matter) will fare better if they presented a UNITED FRONT and adopted PROPERLY THOUGHT OUT AND WELL COORDINATED POLICIES.
We had during the hey days of Nigerian Nationalism and Fight For Independence The IGBO UNION speaking for the lgbos. That Union has atrophied and nature forbids a vacuum. We need to put something in this place. During the recent Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission the OHANEZE NDIGBO presented a very well documented Petition No 1648 which with the various Responses to it, formed the basis of our discussion of the issues brought before the Commission.
The Ohaneze Ndigbo may not be perfect - no human institution is. But it can form a useful platform for lgbo Unity. I will therefore urge Ndi Igbo to join the Ohaneze Ndigbo and, may be, reform it from within (if need be). This will satisfy the earnest yearnings of Umuada lgbo. This will show that we Ndi lgbo have succeeded in Rediscovering Ourselves. Igwe bu ike..
And here I rest my case.

Posted by Administrator at December 26, 2003 11:12 AM

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