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Ndigbo: The Elusive Leadership and Consensus.

Oluwole Osagie-Jacobs.
 Published December, 4th, 2009

This article is a dispassionate examination of the plight of Ndigbo in contemporary Nigeria. A considerable number of the past writings on this subject had to a large extent danced around the truth. Most of them were authored by Igbos who viewed the Igbo tribe from the mindset of a people whose aspirations are being repressed by the Nigerian state. These writings bereft of independent assessment, glossed over the shortcomings of the Igbo tribe and saw a victorious people who have successfully risen up to the challenges of a debilitating environment. This sentiment is often expressed through lectures such as that of the Ohaneze Ndigbo (a pan Igbo organisation), Ahiajoku and that of Igbo intellectuals in diaspora with a root in the United States of America. This viewpoint and others in the same kindred forecloses the review of Ndigbo’s achievements vis-à-vis its enormous potentials.

True to expectation, this year’s Ahiajoku lecture ended with the usual self adulation. “We are the greatest.” “Nobody can kill the Igbo spirit.” “Many Nigerian tribes including the Efik, Yoruba and Edo originated from Igbo land.” I should have thought the first thing to do is to win the trust and weld together subgroups like the Onitshas, Ikwerres and Delta Ibos who say they do not belong to Ndigbo before telling others where they came from. There was, however, the honest acceptance that the Igbo language is a dying language. Yes, since Bishop Ajayi Crowther wrote the first Igbo language primer in 1857 no significant effort had been made to preserve the language.

Many non Igbo writers like me who had in the past attempted to comment on Ndigbo only caressed the heart of the matter and ran away for the fear of being accused of exalting our tribe over the Igbo tribe. Two writers from the Igbo stock, Messrs Pini Jason and Joe Igbokwe who were bold to tell Ndigbo self evident truth, have received snide remarks bordering on lack of patriotism and betrayal.

Shakespeare was apt when he posited that no one could see himself except by reflection. I have opted to be Ndigbo mirror while taking responsibility for all my comments and at the same time open myself up for all manner of criticism and abuse. It is pertinent to mention that I chose first to write on Ndigbo because of all the ethnic groups that constitute the Nigerian nation it is the only one whose plight is subject to immediate redemption.

If one should examine the enormous potentials with which God endowed the Igbos vis-à-vis their placement in contemporary socio-political dispensation, it would not be out of place to describe them as a people adrift. This diminishing status is caused by nothing other than the absence of leadership and consensus. This deficiency has been difficult to remedy over the years because the Igbos are now deeply enmeshed in the money chase. The result is that honour, integrity and undiluted Christianity for which the Igbos were known have been compromised.

The Igbo tribe is as unique as its history. Of all the tribes in Nigeria, it is this tribe that is most difficult to place in terms of origin. Some of my Igbo friends for want of an authentic historical record believe they are Jews in diaspora. I often call their attention to their black skin and the fact that they would be the only Jews who left Israel without Judaism. Prof. A. E. Afigbo, writing on Igbo language and culture said, “….like any group of people, they are anxious to discover their origin and reconstruct how they came to be how they are….” Whereas in the absence of written history or credible oral records people find recourse in hanging their early history on myths or legends, in respect to the Igbos this is an exemption. It is, therefore, difficult to construct the contemporary Igbo man from his past. Thanks to the archaeological excavations of Prof. Thurstan Shaw at Igbo-Ukwu in 1959 and the scholarly works of Prof. A. E Afigbo, at least we now know that a civilisation had existed in this part of Nigeria for over a thousand years.

There is no doubt in my mind that of all the people inhabiting the Nigerian space, Igbos are the most versatile. In terms of hard work, endurance, zeal and tenacity of purpose they stand alone. It may appear untrue but it is a fact that the Yorubas had a secondary school 60 years before the Igbos and a University graduate 40 years ahead of them. This did not, however, hinder the Igbos from squaring up shoulder to shoulder with the Yorubas in the intellectual war against colonialism in the early part of the last century. Igbo elites like, Alvan Ikoku, Nnamdi Azikiwe , Akanu Ibiam, Ozumba Mbadiwe, Mbonu Ojike, Nwafor Orizu, Michael Okpara, Jaja Nwachuku to mention a few were heroes of this struggle. In the early admissions to the University of Ibadan (1948-1960), Igbos had a respectable representation. They produced the first indigenous Vice-Chancellor of this University and in the year 1963 amongst its staff were five Igbo Professors, (Dike, Onwumechili, Modebe, Anene and Edozien) while the Yorubas had four, (Lambo, Ajayi, Oluwasanmi and Idowu).

I had a jolt of Igbo industry in the year 1975 at the National Secondary Quiz Competition finals held in Benin –City in 1975. The final was between Edo College, Benin-City and Fishers College, Umuahia (The name by which Government College, Umuahia was then known). Edo College, which for many years had the best record in the competition, was defeated with the score of 25 to 23. Some of us, young boys, barely a year out of secondary school who had come to wish Edo College victory had to be contented with the trophy for the best individual performance.

We proceeded to discuss the speed with which the Igbos reversed the adversity arising from the civil war. The genocide against the Igbos in northern Nigeria and the so called war to keep Nigeria one is one of the most vicious inhumanity of man to man since Cain slew Abel. The Igbos came out of it with almost nothing to start a new life. Amazingly, they turned adversity to prosperity within two years. This courage and zeal to excel was replicated in other aspects of human endeavour even in sports. Had goalkeeper Amusa Adisa of WNDC football club, Ibadan not parried Godwin Achebe’s penalty in the final of the 1971 Challenge Cup, it is highly probable that Rangers International FC, Enugu would have won the cup. This was just a year after the war! The most significant and visible feat was in the area of economic recovery. It did not take the Igbos three years after the war to reclaim the leadership of commerce in Nigeria which had been their preserve since after the First World War.

A cursory look at the socio-political arrangement in Nigeria today would reveal that the Igbo tribe is at the lowest rung of the ladder. In terms of the sharing of the commonwealth, provision of infrastructure and the location of government projects, they suffer the worst discrimination. Contrary to popular belief, nobody has marginalized the Igbos; it is Igbos who marginalized themselves. While it is possible to discriminate against a dynamic people, they can never be marginalised.

Had the Igbos closed their eyes to the antics of the Nigerian state and harnessed their God given talents in the areas of commerce and technology, their story would have been different. If this is done, it would not take them up to 20 years to be dictating the commercial and technological pace of the whole Africa. All other things including political power of which they had been a poor player would be added. Alas! They lack the cohesion as well as the governance to actualise this ideal.

It is common knowledge that through the inventive genius of some volunteer Igbo scientists and engineers, Biafra was able to fabricate many war equipment including missiles, rockets, bombs and tanks. It is most interesting to note that this group with very limited resources at its disposal was able to build a mini refinery to extract petrol, kerosene and aviation gas from crude oil. Immediately after the war, there was a bold initiative to consolidate on the amazing technological feats displayed by Biafra during the hostilities. Consequently, two giant technological complexes were conceived and built in Aba and Umuahia through the assistance of the government of Czechoslovakia, a former republic in Central Europe. This was accomplished in 1977. Each complex occupies a land area of 2,500 sq.mtrs and contains foundry and machine shop equipment. They are so varied and massive that the suppliers had to provide two 30 tons German built Krup Cranes for their installation. Some of the machines and equipment stocked are Lathe Machines, Milling Machines, Shaping Machines, Pantographs and Cylindrical Grinders etc. Their present value would run into billions of Naira.

These machines if put into good use could revolutionize productivity not only in the Igbo states but Nigeria as a whole. They are still being covered with tarpaulin and allowed to rot away as at the time of writing this piece. Those who had been to the “Technological Village” in Aba where these tools of progress had been covered for thirty years were astonished at this glaring case of insanity. Why the past governments with oversight function over these technological facilities have failed to put them into use remains a mystery. Ndigbo’s undoing is its failure to consolidate on those endeavours in which it has a comparative advantage. Nigerians are given to running away from things that would task the intellect. They have nurtured a society where the longest route to wealth is hard work. Unfortunately, Igbo’s are gradually joining other Nigerians in the vain pursuit of luxury and gaiety without work.

Why Ndigbo has failed to evolve a leadership that would be responsive to its aspirations is a living puzzle. Whenever my Igbo friends flaunt their individualism, I do not fail to tell them that it is a bad trait not worth celebrating. A philosophy that does not lead to beneficial results is of no value. Of all the tribes in Nigeria the Igbo is the most uncoordinated. It is so bad that at the level of the family meeting a young boy can interject an elderly man with a “Shut up!” You don’t blame him; he may be expecting a consignment of ten containers of goods from overseas. Kingship is now determined by money rather than pedigree. Every thing including interpersonal relationship is denominated in money.

The Igbo has mutilated the sacred virtue of honour in the field of politics. There is no discernible guiding philosophy in terms of political choice. People outside their tribe now determine who should rule them. Whereas one can safely say that the Yoruba and the Hausa would vote for people who would defend their interest, it is a different story with the Igbo. The Igbo has been consistent in voting for his enemy. The Igbos voted for Chief Obasanjo more than anyone else during his last reign. They also voted for prominent Igbo men who fought against Biafra during the civil war. Some of them have found their way into the national assembly courtesy of Igbo votes. Why on earth should they vote as Senator an Igbo man who sold arms to Nigeria during the civil war? In this genre of political behaviour the past has no bearing with the present. It is like the Markov Chain in Mathematics (a process without memory) where the future development of each event is independent of all historical events.

While Chief Obasanjo on many occasions travelled down to Ogun and Oyo states to resolve political disputes during his last reign of terror, he caused mayhem to be unleashed on Anambra State. Policemen under his cover looked the other way when properties worth about 2 billion naira were being burnt down. During the eight years of his rule, this state knew no peace. It is interesting to note that those who gave credibility to his government through diligent and faithful service, were people like Okonjo-Iweala, Ezekwesili, Akunyuli, Soludo who incidentally are Igbos. He hunted down and disgraced by way of a national broadcast an Igbo Minister who collected bribe of 20 million naira but refused to sanction his cousin, a former Director in public service, who stole 400 million naira! Also, his lawyer friend and tribesman who was paid 250 million naira for registering a company and “other services” is still above the law.

During his rule, the scrap of iron, dead rats and human skulls without grey matter in Okija shrine were elevated to a powerful deity. The registers of devotees of the shrine removed from the shrine by the State Security Service are still in the custody of Aso Rock. It is the only shrine in Nigeria whose devotees were hitherto recognised as cultists by our courts. This is one of the two grounds for which the Abia state governor had his election overturned at the tribunal. Thank God that the Court of Appeal which restored his mandate has corrected this notion. I do know that Chief Obasanjo is aware that the least shrine in his Abeokuta and my Benin-City are more powerful than the Okija shrine. In fact, in these two cities the Okija shrine is a church.

When will the Igbos decide to make it impossible for people to insult their sensibilities? The pan Igbo organisation, the Ohaneze Ndigbo, has never agreed on any single issue. Sometimes they disagree on when to meet, where to meet, who to obey and who not to obey. It is an assembly for brickbat, accusations and counter accusations. The consequence of lack of consensus was played out at the last PDP convention where twenty six Igbo candidates stood on the podium seeking to be elected Chairman of the party. Six hours before this time, the Chairman had been known by all others! Not too long ago, more than forty Igbo candidates in the PDP signified interest in the Anambra governorship race.

It is pertinent to mention that moving en masse to the party in power had done nobody any good. Since the second republic till date, Lagos State had been ruled by opposition parties. Yet, it has enjoyed better governance and dividends of democracy than any other state in Nigeria.

Diplomacy is an indispensable tool in leadership. It is required to win the support of people and carry them along. The cunning Yoruba man who we may find difficult to trust has this in good quantum. In the matter of the June 12 mandate, they fought the government to a standstill without using a gun. They achieved the presidential seat with Chief Shonekan and Chief Obasanjo in quick succession. When people say the Yorubas are cowards I tell them they are cowards that win wars. Isn’t it said that discretion is the better part of valour? General T.Y Danjuma rtd in a recent interview recounted how during the war Chief Obasanjo against the advice of field commanders deftly moved his troop behind the one he (Danjuma) was commanding and caught Biafran troops off guard. He admitted that it was this move that put an end to the war. Yet, General Danjuma Rtd still calls Chief Obasanjo a coward. In warfare, I think a soldier’s bravery should be measured by the number of people conquered rather than the number butchered. The “coward” Ota farmer was able to rub our noses on the ground for eight years and could still determine alone whether the presidency should remain in the South or go to the North. One good legacy from his reign of terror is that it raised regional consciousness now making it almost impossible for a region to monopolise the leadership of Nigeria again. Within three years, deploying the right doses of treachery and cunningness, he neutralised the firm grip of the core north on Nigeria’s leadership.

It is no surprise that Yorubas are the ones behind the mega churches of African origin. High wire diplomacy and genuflection are required to hold on to such large congregations. Name them; Living Faith Church, The Redeemed Church of God, Deeper Life Bible Church, Mountain of Fire and Miracles, Mathew Ashimolowo’s Kingsway International Christian Centre (the largest church in Western Europe), Christ Apostolic Church, Cherubim and Seraphim Church, Celestial Church of Christ etc, are headed by Yorubas. Why not the Igbos? They lack the necessary ingredients of leadership like, patience and diplomacy. It would surprise many that the first congregation that became the Living Faith Church was put together in Kaduna by an Igbo woman. This woman lost out due to lack of patience and diplomacy.

The kernel of this article is to encourage Ndigbo to have a rethink and work towards regeneration and a rebirth. The Igbos should consolidate their efforts in areas of human endeavour where they have the greatest comparative advantage. They should build their future on their enormous God given skills. In doing this, attention should be given only to things that are noble. A rabid pursuit of commerce sometimes without consideration for human lives will lead nowhere. The rare talents the Igbos possess were given by God to enable them lead the world. That should be the portion of a people among who emerged the enduring work of genius, “Things Fall Apart”.

 Mr. Oluwole Osagie-Jacobs

Celestial Church of Christ
3 Otokang Street

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