Reclaiming Our Identity: Politics and Development in Igboland by Frank Nweke Jr

Igbo, politics
Frank Nweke Jr.
ublic Lecture Delivered by Frank Nweke Jr under the Distinguished Lecture Series of the Faculty of Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Thursday, January 19, 2023.

Mr Vice-Chancellor,

Deputy Vice-Chancellors,

Deans of Faculties,

Distinguished Professors and Scholars,

Heads of Departments,

Members of non-academic Staff,

Students,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,



1

I am deeply honoured to have this opportunity to share my thoughts on the theme of this lecture – ‘Reclaiming Our Identity: Politics and Development in Igboland’ with such a distinguished body of scholars and audience at the prestigious University of Nigeria.



2
I would like to thank particularly Professor Obi Ani, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, for inviting me to deliver this lecture and Professor Stella Okoye-Ugwu, Head of Department, English and Literary Studies and Chairman of the Local Organizing Committee, for guiding us through the rules and regulations attendant to such lectures.



3

I thank Professor Charles Arinzechukwu Igwe for the warm welcome into this great institution that is not just a cornucopia of knowledge but also a symbol of our rich history and a testament to who we are as a people - visionary, pragmatic, and dedicated to designing the future we desire.



4

This institution has midwifed the dreams of many accomplished scientists, innovators, economists, public administrators, creatives, artists, artistes, writers, and many more. I consider the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to be pivotal to the success of our efforts to ‘Reclaim Our Identity.’



5

You have already begun by opening the halls of this institution to conversations geared towards critical thinking and spurring actions towards the development of our region. I am grateful to be here today to contribute to the conversations.



6

History has a way of presenting the same opportunities to us over time. As I prepared for this lecture, I was reminded that it was from this same auditorium that General Chukwemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (the late Ikemba Nnewi) addressed the Eastern Region in May 1967 during a consultative visit on the fate of Ndiigbo in the Nigerian federation at the time, where the Independent Republic of Biafra was declared. Once again, we are at a junction in the road, and it behoves us to make our decisions deliberately.


7

I have spoken extensively on ‘Reclaiming Our Identity’ as Ndigbo in the past few years and, more specifically, in the past few months. It is a subject that is very close and dear to my heart as a student of history and as one who knows that we are well-endowed to create wealth and catalyse innovation, nationally and globally. We can only chart a path forward in the politics and development of Alaigbo against the backdrop of our history and a clear understanding of our current reality.



8

Some parts of this lecture may trigger deep feelings of angst, disagreement, and displeasure. Still, I find it necessary to be as frank as possible. In this lecture, we will examine the current state of affairs in the Southeast, the subject of Igbo marginalisation in Nigeria, and the call for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction, reaching a climax with my perspectives on how we can reclaim our identity and pride.



9

The Southeast in Nigeria Today

No region in Nigeria has been spared the insecurity, economic hardship, and pervasive sense of foreboding, and hopelessness amongst our populace. The business sector has not been spared, as no meaningful business and economic growth can take place in an atmosphere of uncertainty, such as what exists in Nigeria today.



10

Without prejudice to the foregoing, however, I would like to provide the following brief context based on my personal knowledge and understanding of the Igbo identity, politics, and development.



11

From a contraption of convenience for the colonial masters, we have managed to keep the country from completely disintegrating through decades of disagreements and a bloody civil war that we are yet to heal from. Steeped in our patched unity and federalism is a fragility proliferated by hate, subtle prejudice and, sometimes, unabashed bigotry; with the Igbo being the worst recipients. In the 1983 classic, The Trouble With Nigeria by Chinua Achebe, he captured this situation thus:



“Nigerians will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo. The origin of the national resentment of the Igbo is as old as Nigeria and quite as complicated. But it can be summarised thus: The Igbo Culture, being receptive to change, individualistic, and highly competitive, gave the Igbo man an unquestioned advantage over his compatriots in securing credentials for advancement in Nigerian Colonial Society.”



12

He continued this thought in the 2012 classic, There was a country: A personal history of Biafra; referencing two key publications from Northern and Western Nigeria which cast the Igbo “as an assertive group that unfairly dominated every sector of Nigerian Society.”



13

Yet, at no time in our history have we been as divided as we are and, sadly, driven by a leadership that should have the responsibility to maintain the unity that we claim is non-negotiable.



14

I was born in Kano and grew up in Maiduguri, Lagos, and Enugu. I speak all three major languages fluently and have a strong network of friends across geographical, religious, and political party lines. I worked with a President Olusegun Obasanjo, one of the most detribalised Nigerians that I know. I worked with great colleagues, men and women, from different parts of the country who had one goal: the wellbeing of every citizen regardless of region, religion, or root.



15

I can say categorically that I have never felt my Igboness as much as I do under the current administration in Nigeria. We have a president who has been unabashed in his disgust against entire ethnic groups and regions, starting with the infamous statement at The US Institute of Peace in July 2015 that “the constituents, for example, gave me 97% [of the vote] cannot, in all honesty, be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%.”



16

The constitutional provisions of Section 4(3) provide that the Federal Government shall conduct its affairs in such a way that ensures that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies. This provision enshrined in the constitution in recognition of the heterogeneous nature of the country and as a potent tool to manage our diversity has been observed in the breach under President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress, who found no Southeasterner worthy to lead any of the ten core security agencies in Nigeria. Currently, we have eight of these from the North, one from the South-South and one from the Southwest.

The same breach applies to the appointment of federal ministers with three of the six ministers from the Southeast occupying subordinate roles as ministers of state. The story is the same with the appointments of principals of key parastatals in the country.



17

The distribution of infrastructural projects has been lopsided and questionable at best. In 2020, in justification of the contentious $22.7 billion loan, the Federal Government outlined thirty-four projects to be financed by the facility with none of these earmarked for the Southeast region. The National Assembly approved this loan without an interrogation of the individual projects, and while the Southeast will not partake as a beneficiary, we would partake in its repayment.



18

Recently, it was announced that the Eastern Railway Project would not be completed as promised due to the unavailability of the foreign loans required to fund it. At first, vandalisation and insecurity were cited as reasons for the stall in the project. We were not told what was being done to address that concern or if anything was being done. Yet, the $1.2 billion Kaduna-Kano and $1.9 billion Kano-Maradi rail projects are still ongoing in the North, despite being plagued by years of the Boko Haram insurgency.



19

Most significant has been the difference in the methods deployed to address the insecurity in the North and the East. The energy expended on the extradition and arrest of Nnamdi Kanu bears a heavy contrast to the leniency with which the Boko Haram insurgency and the herdsmen crisis have been addressed.



20

We have also watched with dismay the self-aggrandising attitude of the presidential candidates of the two major political parties in the country. Each has consistently undermined the Igbo in their actions and statements. Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress completely ignored the East during the pre-primary consultations. On arrival in Enugu for the presidential rally last week, his words betrayed acrimony for Igbo.



“Nobody will give you any credit; you are working hard; you are sweating now. We want you to sweat well now for this party until you deliver victory. Until Bola Tinubu became the president of Nigeria, we will not give you but a soaked sliced bread.”

We recall Atiku Abubakar’s blatant statement to his kinsmen in the North in October 2022: “What the average Northerner needs is someone from the North. He doesn't need a Yoruba candidate or an Igbo candidate.”



21

I agree that politics is a game of numbers, but we must remember the wise words of James Freeman Clarke: “A politician thinks about the next election. A statesman, about the next generation.” This statement in its ordinary meaning imposes an expectation that leaders must always think beyond the present convenience and expediency for electoral victory and/or sectional dominance.



22

The above expectation finds additional context in the words of William Shakespeare who said that, while it is wonderful to have the strength of a giant, it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.



23

Contextually, politics is a game of numbers alright, but it smacks of puerile brinksmanship to fail to recognize and act on the deep fault lines and the geo-ethnic sensitivities that exist in our country and amongst our peoples.



24

I believe that it is in our collective enlightened national interests that leaders across groups must act to respect and preserve political arrangements and norms, written and unwritten, which have worked to reinforce national cohesion and progress through the years.



25

How did we get here?

We are all familiar with this situation which I have taken some time to elaborate on above. But how did we get here? How guilty are the managers of our political affairs who have perfected the politics of mutually assured destruction? The Igbo political elite has perfected the art of extreme republicanism, seemingly unable to reach a consensus on issues of common interest, with a national reputation for political mercantilism, at the expense of group interest.



26

I am not unaware of the often-repeated dictum: “Igbo énwe eze,” an attribute of our republican nature. To my mind, the cliché has assumed extreme and fatalistic dimensions given the heterogeneous nature of Nigeria and the contest for political power and resources. A house divided against itself will surely not stand.



27

Consequently, Ndigbo rarely coalesce around a common political agenda, thereby weakening its negotiating position. Contending political groups take advantage of the region’s political fragmentation; personal interest subsumes regional interests; and the progress of the entire region is sacrificed. We have watched this play out over the past year of the electioneering season.



28

It is my firm belief that there is a nexus between the place and experience of the Igbo in Nigeria today and the internal conflicts in our cultural, political, and economic socialization within Igboland.



29

Moreso, while I have highlighted and firmly reprove the actions of the current Federal administration, we cannot deny that we have had some opportunities in government since the return to democracy in 1999. I have taken the liberty to obtain some information about Igbo representation at the federal level from 1999 to the present time to enable us to reason together.



30

To save us some time here, I have attached the list of Southeast representation in the Armed Forces, and paramilitary agencies, including the Immigration and Intelligence Services, the Senate and the House of Representatives since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. In the attachment tagged ‘Appendix 1,’ you will see that we have had nine southeasterners as heads of the various services within the Armed Forces, five senate presidents, one deputy senate president and one chief whip of the senate. The Southeast has never occupied the position of the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, but it has occupied the Deputy Speaker position for four years while it has occupied the Deputy Leader position exclusively since 1999.



31

Based on the constitutional provision of one minister per state, every southeast state has had representation in the federal cabinet since 1999. It may be useful to know that we have had 25 southeasterners serve in several capacities as ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.



32

Taken holistically, there are three perspectives to the sets of information provided above.



33

It is clear from the distribution of appointments, especially in the military, that Presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan and the PDP demonstrated statesmanship and greater sensitivity to Nigeria’s diversity by ensuring representation of Nigeria’s various groups in the nation’s governance structure. This is starkly different from what we have today. And for the incoming administration, this is a charge that there must always be a consideration to give the nation’s component groups a sense of inclusion and belonging.



34

The other dimension is the quality of representation that we have had from representatives in these positions. I invite you to take particular note that over an eight-year period from 1999-2007, the Igbo had the position of Senate President, the third highest-ranking position in the country.



35

Umunne m, let us leave emotions aside: Apart from the psychological high that an Igbo was the number-three citizen, what special benefits accrued to the Southeast? Did the region get increased budgetary allocations, improved infrastructure, more appointments, and more employment opportunities? What legacy can be ascribed to eight years of representation at that level? How about the Deputy Senate position which an Igbo held for 12 years, the longest ever by any group? What’s the legacy from a southeast perspective?



36

Take another look at the ministerial portfolios; by all standards, some of these were as pivotal as they were prestigious. Again, I ask: how did we deploy these representative opportunities? We had the yam, and we had the knife, but we could not cut enough yams for ourselves.



37

Quoting Achebe again from his 1983 book, The Trouble with Nigeria:

“There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian climate, or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or the inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which is the hallmark of true leadership”

Being mindful of the intense competition for resources and the geo-ethnic sensitivities in Nigeria, which I alluded to earlier, does the region have the moral authority to lament neglect and marginalization if its own representatives are unable to meet its expectation?



38

In any case, how have we fared in each of the states of the southeast in which there is homogeneity in language, traditions, and norms and in which our governments have control of state resources? How well have we governed ourselves? What is the state of the economy in these states, infrastructure, roads, schools, and hospitals? How much planning goes on in these states? What have we done with our state allocations of approximately N350 billion per state in the past eight years? How have we leveraged our comparative advantages of arable lands, beautiful concentric hills, natural resources, a teeming young population, and a rich history?



39

The foregoing notwithstanding, let me state without equivocation that the policy of exclusion of regions from strategic appointments for not voting for a particular candidate is dangerous, divisive, unstatesmanlike, impolitic, undesirable, and unhealthy for national cohesion and unity.



40

Considering the above and while it is a factor, exclusion in mainstream governance is only a fraction of the cause of our current regional predicament.



41

I propose that we can either continue to lay blame or wake up to realise that no one will build a table for us to sit at the head. We must take responsibility for our choices and be pragmatic about them.



42

Questions of a President of Igbo Extraction and Agitations for Secession

The actions of the nonstate actors agitating for a sovereign state of Biafra have intensified tensions and insecurity in the region. While a commentator like Dr Chidi Amuta believes that the weaponisation of the group for political gains by a few Igbo is a tactical blunder, I like to take a more rounded view and ask: Are these agitations without a cause?

I will borrow the words of Bishop Matthew Kukah in response to Dr Amuta:

I agree that the weaponisation of Biafra may have long-term consequences, but I am slow to accept the conclusion that it is ‘a tactical blunder that will frighten Nigeria.’ We have to place this in context and not moralise it. The average Igbo youth today in his thirties or forties will know that in the last twenty years of our Democracy, every section of the country has gotten its President by some threats of spilling blood. This is not an attempt to glamourise violence, but let us be truthful in the face of the staggering evidence: Odu’a Peoples’ Congress (OPC) in its raw form frightened the rest of the country after June 12th, and it took this into the elections of 1999. They can claim they got a Yoruba man for President, for what it is worth. The Ijaw Youth can also claim to have frightened the rest of Nigeria by blowing up pipelines before they received their son, President Jonathan, as a concession of sorts.

Similarly, elements of Boko Haram, in whatever shape or form, the killer men and women running riot in the country and murdering thousands of innocent citizens despite having been paid off, can claim credit for pursuing an agenda in which fear is an investment. Threats of blood for monkey and baboon were loud in 2011. The Biafran agitators are a symptom, not a disease. The real disease has been spread by the brutal politics of the other segments of Nigeria that inadvertently made violence the commodity of exchange for the Presidency. We can only reverse this ugly scenario if we are honest enough to accept that what we have as politics in Nigeria is blood and banditry by another name!



43

The evidence points to the efficacy of violence to deliver political gains for the regions in the country, but evidence also shows that the negative human and economic impacts are far-reaching for all Nigerians.



44

Therefore, to the Biafran agitators who have, in the quest for a better way of life for Alaigbo taken to arms, violence, and the imposition of a compulsory sit-at-home order every Monday: I cannot tell you that your agitation is unreasonable or unfounded. My submissions above have shown that there is a cause. Yet, I will implore you to consider the following:



45

1. The effects of the war that ensued from the first attempt to secede from Nigeria can only be described as a tragedy of immense proportions. It was devastating to lose almost two million lives, with many unaccounted for. We had millions of young children starved to death and tens of thousands more who were airlifted out of the country and never reconnected to their roots. It was devastating to our values and way of life. It was devastating for the progress we had begun to make in our economy and with innovative solutions. Many lost their morale for living, earthly possessions, and everything that signified an iota of pride as individuals. The aftermath of the war still lingers, just as much as the cause shared above. Thus, we must be pragmatic, sensitive, and wise in ensuring that we do not again incur a cost that many will repay for another lifetime.



46

2. Secondly, the effects of your agitation today are not felt by those who govern us, nor are they persuasive enough to make the majority see a reason to support secession. Instead, the poor are getting poorer, being battered by a government that ignores them and a nonstate actor that keeps them in fear.



The Southeast bleeds profusely every Monday that local businesses, schools, hospitals, and institutions are closed. Our people fear outsiders as much as they do in fear of their own people. This is not right. In research carried out by The International Center for Investigative Reporting, it was reported that the southeast loses an average of N75.711 billion every day that a sit-at-home is observed. Our transportation sector alone loses N10 billion every day and traders have lost over N5 trillion over the past two years. We have observed a sit-at-home order for seventy-one Mondays so far. Salaries are dropping faster as employers no longer make satisfactory sales. Out-of-state buyers have also turned to alternatives as the fear of getting caught in a violent situation keeps them away from the Southeast. If the aim is to keep people hungry enough to get them agitated, you may also consider that they will eventually see you as the enemy.



47

3. Finally, what is the quality of the leadership that will take over the reins of administration should a referendum be granted, and the new entity demanded with intense passion become a reality? Will it be one raised on violence and threats, as those are the tools you operate with now? Will it be one where your governors and representatives across the board do not care to uphold their promises to you? Is there a strain of deception and manipulation in those who want you to believe that the North and the West are fully responsible for our problems?



Ndị ‘be anyị, I implore you to reconsider the motives and the strength of your pursuit. I speak to you as one that is unhappy with the current system and want to see a change that we sit down and re-evaluate our methods, our goals, and our values. I said earlier that I have never felt more Igbo than I do today, but I still believe in the entity called Nigeria, crooked as it may be now. As Chinua Achebe noted in The Trouble With Nigeria, all we need is the right leadership, and the Southeast will be on the path to glory again. I base my firm belief on our history and the success we recorded when we had visionary and selfless leaders.



48

Therefore, our attention must be on instituting a leadership structure that can be trusted and held accountable to deliver the dividends of democracy to our region. On this note, I will return to the question of a Nigerian president from the Southeast.



49

If it becomes a reality in 2023, the quest for a Nigerian president from the Southeast will be a dream come true for many of us. It will break the deepening sense of alienation and begin to reinstate a sense of belonging. As Farooq Kperogi deftly captured it in his April 2022 article, Why Nigeria needs to elect an Igbo President in 2023:

“You first need to have a country before you can dominate it politically. And you can't have a country if a huge segment of it is forced to expend energy trying to get out of it because it doesn't feel welcome. Electing an Igbo person as president is merely a symbolic gesture, but it inspires a sense of inclusion in the minds of many people from that region; it serves as a symbolic conduit through which people vicariously connect with the government and with the country. Electing an Igbo person as president is, first of all, an end in itself before it is a means to an end.”



50

I will also add that beyond mere symbolism, Igbo leadership has produced some of the most advanced development in the country as I will highlight in the next few sections of my lecture. The tenacity, innovation, and republican nature of an Igbo president will be most beneficial to Nigeria at this time in our history.



51

The recent surge from Nigerians across ethnic and religious lines towards a presidential candidate of Igbo extraction is something to note and be hopeful about. More Nigerians, particularly young people, are beginning to see through the ruse of bigotry and tribalism engineered by few political elites. The average Nigerian is only interested in good leadership and economic progress; it does not matter that the person who delivers it does not speak the same language. We must then address whether we will continue to be puppets in the hands of these politicians who have no scruples.



52

However, we must also ask honest questions and prepare for the realities of what could happen after February 25th. If the Southeast does not produce the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, have we considered what must be done to ensure our region’s political stability, security, and economic prosperity? Also, a bigger question: if the Southeast does produce the next president, will that serve as a panacea for all the challenges we currently face as a people?



53

The answers to both questions will come down to a need to examine our politics and economy at the sub-national level.



54

Today, the Southeast states have an average poverty rate of 49% and an average unemployment rate of 44.54%. Insecurity is at an unprecedented level, both a symptom and a further cause of the economic failures so far. Our roads, both State and Federal, have become death traps and our young people are either leaving the homeland or turning to vices from frustration and the absence of a clear vision. Those that remain and exert their energy in the right places are daily frustrated by the operating environment within their states.



55

A president of Igbo extraction may give leaders at the sub-national level some respite, and perhaps, an easier channel of communicating state needs to the federal level. But we cannot deny that a larger percentage of the problems we face stem from the leadership crisis that we experience in the Southeast.



56

A Past Glory

Where we find ourselves today is in stark contrast to what we were once known for: the fastest-growing economy in the world, according to a study by the Michigan State University at that time. We had a glorious past that underscored the latent capacity of the Igbo as builders and innovators as much as the quality of leadership that catalysed the transformative economic growth in the then Eastern Region before the devastating effects of the coups, the pogroms, and eventually, a full-blown war.



57

We lost our pride, our collective vision, the prioritisation of our collective progress, our drive for innovation and industrialization and, most importantly, a value-based and selfless leadership.



58

I speak of the time of a man I consider the most transformational leader that the East has ever produced: Dr Michael I. Okpara. As I noted at the start of this lecture, it is critical that we have a firm grasp of the things we lost and our current reality, to enable us to chart a course towards a future that works for us.



59

Who was Michael Okpara? And I ask this for the particular benefit of the young people in this room and considering that the study of history had been off the curriculum of our schools for several years now. Thankfully, the Federal Government, as if by a stroke of magic, announced the reinstatement of history into our school curriculum. The reasons for its initial removal confound me. What do you know about this icon and servant of the people of eastern Nigeria beyond the statues in Enugu and Umuahia?



60

Dr Michael I. Okpara, GCON, 1920-1984 was Premier of the Eastern Region from 1959-1966 under the party called the NCNC. Based on recent historical accounts, Dr Michael Okpara remains one of the most outstanding Igbo leaders of the 20th century.



61

In a lecture delivered in Abuja on February 26, 2014, excerpts of which I have taken verbatim below, Prof Anya O Anya described the period of “Okpara’s stewardship of Eastern Nigeria as the golden age of Nigeria’s development.”



According to him, by 1964—five years after Okpara’s ascendancy to the premiership—Eastern Nigeria, as recorded by a research group in Michigan State University in the USA, was the fastest growing and industrializing economy in the world—ahead of Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore.



62

How did this happen? It was the culmination of Okpara’s unique vision in which agriculture and industrial development were the twin pillars on which he built the Eastern Nigerian economy. In agriculture, his plans had a two-fold thrust: the development of the farm settlements as the anchor for food crops (such as rice) and poultry development, as well as the establishment of estates of oil palm, cocoa, and cashew, which were processed for export. Alongside the agricultural projects, were numerous industrial projects scattered over the length and breadth of Eastern Nigeria.



63

In one frenetic burst of energy, a wave of maniacal and development activities was ongoing all-over Eastern Nigeria. As a book on Dr Okpara reminds us:



“By January 25, 1963, the Michelin Factory at Port Harcourt was opened. The tyre factory was a USD 3,000,000 undertaking.

On March 22, the headquarters building of the Universal Insurance Company was opened in Enugu.

On May 10 the Nigeria Gas factory was commissioned at Emene near Enugu.

On May 16, the Aluminium Factory at Port Harcourt was opened.

On August 24, the Glass factory became operative in Port Harcourt.

On October 18, the Asbestos Cement Factory was opened in Emene.

On November 9, the foundation of the Central Bank was laid in Port Harcourt.

On November 30, the Golden Guinea Breweries was commissioned at Umuahia, for the production of larger beer and allied products.

On December 13, Hotel Presidential was opened at a whopping cost of BPS 2,000,000.

The burning fire for industrialization led to the establishment of the modern ceramic industry in Umuahia, textile mills at Aba and Onitsha and a shoe factory in Owerri.”



64

There was a catalogue of numerous small industries that were also established simultaneously with the major ones during this period.



65

It was during this period that the first phase of the farm settlements scheme was established: Ulonna in Umuahia province, Ohaji in Owerri Province- Igbariam in Onitsha province, Boki in Ogoja province, Uzo Uwani in Enugu province, Abak in Annang province. Each was to accommodate over 5,000 farmers and what was remarkable was the scrupulous effort for an even spread of the settlements throughout the length and breadth of the region.



66

All these activities had been elaborated in his vision for the development of the region after the general elections of 1961. As he stated: “…the period immediately following the elections was a period for building the economic consciousness of the people … it is this consciousness and burning desire to raise the standard of living of our people, the unflinching determination to assault poverty from all fronts, that has been distilled into the 1962-68 development plan. Inviting the people as citizens of a democratic region to examine, approve, criticize, or condemn any portion of the plan (the plan is the peoples’ plan) it provides for the development of the small village, it touches on the requirements of the largest city; it caters for the need of the smallest peasant industry and prescribes the means for the mounting of the biggest industries…”



67

What was remarkable in his vision was the appreciation of the role of the private sector. As he observed, to achieve rapid economic growth and raise the standard of living of the people, it was necessary that “the private citizens, the ordinary men and women everywhere must participate by taking a fair and equitable share in our development and industrial projects…”



68

He elaborated on this vision when he stated, “In encouraging and participating in the industries established in the region, our government was doing so on behalf of the citizens of the region. It was, as it were, holding its shares on trust for the people. As and when the industries have overcome their teething problems and the risk of failures minimized, the government proposes to divest itself of most of its shares and the money realized used in pioneering into new industrial projects…”



69

Thus, the visionary did not only recognize the role of the government as the steward on behalf of the people but more importantly acknowledged the government’s fiduciary responsibility. It was an incredible display of courage amid rampaging risk factors and the energy to pursue long-term goals on behalf of the people. It was a remarkable demonstration of transparency and accountability. It was a vision that was forty years ahead of its time. These latter values were illustrated by his commitment to participatory democracy as shown in the fact that he inaugurated an annual series of leaders of thought conferences (a total of five in 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1965).



70

A remarkable aspect of his industrialization plan was the collaboration and cooperation with foreign investors to undertake large industries such as the Michelin Tyre factory in Port Harcourt and the Nkalagu Cement factory in present-day Ebonyi State.



71

Indeed, in Okpara’s long-term vision was that Port Harcourt through Aba and Umuahia going on to Enugu would have developed into a globally significant industrial megapolis and conurbation. This drove his passion for the development of the University of Nigeria, for which some people believe he has not been given adequate credit. He provided the money through his prudent management of the resources of the region. If the politics of those times had been better managed, Eastern Nigeria would have been ahead of South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore for we were indeed ahead of these success stories of the second half of the 20th century.



72

What was most remarkable was his spirit characterized by his disarming humility and rock-solid determination to confront all the odds frontally. These were exemplified by his return to medical school after the war!



73

We cannot end this without recognizing the unique strategies he adopted for the management of the government and the instruments he adopted for his far-reaching economic programs. For the latter, the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation, ENDC, was the engine room for the pursuit of his economic development plans.



74

His management of men and resources was imaginative, innovative, and revolutionary. The most remarkable attribute is that after his stint as Premier of Eastern Nigeria, he returned to live in his father’s modest bungalow even as some members of his cabinet had vast estates in their hometowns and elsewhere. Friends and associates eventually took up a collection to build him a house in his village in 1979. That speaks volumes of his integrity.



75

He had arrowheads who coordinated the activities of the government in addition to the informal agencies of democratic participation. He ceded the day-to-day running of the party to his old friend, Dr L C Mbanugo, the civil service to Sam Oti, the intelligentsia to Professor Kalu Ezera, and the economic domain to Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, Snr. These were members of his kitchen cabinet, as it were, and beyond the formal structures of the party and the bureaucracy. Thus, he could exercise an inspiring overview to the business of governance through the formal structures of governance, even as he recognized the validity of the informal networks that are the eyes and could invigorate governance.



76

In the final analysis, Dr Okpara’s success ultimately rested on his understanding of his people and the operative environment that had shaped him and his people. He certainly deserves intense study if we are ever going to appreciate where the rain started to beat us given our present circumstances. This brief account of the Okpara years is a wistful reminder of what Nigeria could have been. Nevertheless, the vision must survive and endure… Professor Anya concluded.



77

Dr Okpara’s achievements as Premier were not happenstance. The quality and flawless execution of his plans suggested that he came to the government with a purpose. His personality, overall comportment and achievement suggest a deep consciousness about his reason for being. Michael Okpara’s success exemplifies for us what good leadership should be and how it is delivered: He clearly had a vision, which matched the task at hand; he organised to get the right people and empowered them to join the effort; and he deployed his organisational skills to ensure that the actions of his Government and the people working with him were consistent with the vision and the mission, and were effective in delivering the desired results for the people of Eastern Nigeria.



78

Then the war came, bringing carnage to lives, properties and a culture of innovation and accelerated economic development. Yet, even during the destruction, the brilliance of our minds still sparkled.



79

I hadn’t read much about his time in government when I made the following submission during the 2014 national conference in Abuja:



80

“Nigeria cannot develop by accident. No nation has and can develop by accident. The old and the new civilizations that we aspire to be like were not built by accident. They were not built by mediocrity. Kleptomaniacs did not build them. Ethnic and religious irredentists did not build them. Visionaries, who were disciplined, built them. They were built through a conscious and dedicated effort anchored on a deep commitment to the welfare and well-being of their people and their place in the world. These nations have continued to make progress for the same reasons today.”



81

I would like, therefore, from this podium to challenge all the leaders and all of our people, Ndigbo niile, that what we need and what we must demand and what all of us must work for is another Michael Okpara moment. As Pius Okigbo aptly described him in his 1987 treatise, ‘Okparanomics - The Economic and Social Philosophy of Michael Okpara,’ he was a man ahead of his time.

He said:

He (Michael Okpara) was clearly ahead of his time, i.e., local time, in his dedication to political honesty, in his passion for truth and in his dedication to public probity. His effort to modernise the oil palm rural economy of the East had all the ingredients of a major revival, but it lacked the institutional infrastructure to guarantee its success. It is this that gives the present campaign by the present military government a greater chance of success.

He was ahead of his time in a second respect. Contrary to the received wisdom of his contemporaries, he passionately believed in man being the centre of development. He was, therefore, not much concerned, ostensibly not at all intimidated, by economic and financial ratios, quotients and factors. Finally, he was ahead of his time in a third and most important sense: he was simultaneously a genuinely dedicated leader of a multi-ethnic region of which his own ethnic group was a large part and a passionately true Nigerian while most of his counterparts at the time were only part-time Nigerians and full-time leaders of their tribe. It is this that makes Michael Okpara that unique and exceptional Nigerian leader. He expressed in clear and uncompromising terms the yearnings and aspirations of the average Nigerian.

He was, in Bagehot’s apt definition of a leader, “a common man of uncommon principles.”



82

We need the rebirth of vision and courage; determination and industry; ambition and success to create an Aladimma worthy of the potential that the Almighty has so generously endowed our people with.





The Journey to Reclaiming Our Identity



83

The Need for a Common Vision - A Historical Parallel

As I reflected on my presentation today, I recalled what may be considered a historical parallel to the current experience of the Igbo and I seek your indulgence to share a brief history with you.



84

In the 1999 elections, Chiefs Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae, both Yoruba, were front-runners for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the Alliance for Democracy, AD, respectively. Though PDP’s Obasanjo won the elections, the AD won the six southwest states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, and Osun. The PDP subsequently won five out of the six states in the 2003 elections except for Lagos. In 2007, ACN won Lagos and, subsequently, Ekiti and Osun in 2010 from staggered elections. PDP had Ogun and Ondo states during the same period before the Labour party took Ondo State in 2009. Osun reverted to AC in 2010 following a court ruling.



85

You will recall that between 1999-2007, the AD and the AC had a running battle with the ruling PDP federal government. And like the Southeast’s current experience, budgetary allocations to the region were limited while statutory allocations to local government councils in Lagos state became a subject of litigation and were withheld for several years. Though the region’s mainstream political elites remained in opposition during 1999-2015 when the PDP was in power at the centre, they got more than their fair share of appointments, a strategy adopted by the PDP to gain political support from the region.



86

Now, what is the lesson here? The lesson for me is the principled tenacity of the Yoruba political class, their steadfast opposition to the ruling PDP, and the equanimity with which they bore their plight but most importantly, their historic comeback in 2015 through the instrument of a strategic alliance with Northern Nigeria, positioning the region as their preferred strategic political partner to the exclusion of the Southeast from mainstream governance at the federal level since 2015.



87

It is clear from the foregoing that the ‘fringe’ position of the Yoruba from 1999-2015 was based on choice, and they took responsibility for these choices. During the same period, the Igbo also made their own choices. The consistency of these choices appears to suggest that it may be anchored on some deeply held egalitarian political values and beliefs; but, as we can see, while one group had taken full responsibility for their own choices, following Newtonian principles, the other appears to want to eat their cake and still have it.



88

Ndi ‘be anyị, kedụzị nụ? My position is that Igbo must take full responsibility for the political choices they have made. Igbo adịghị asa ụsa. It is not in our culture to sit down and salivate over the aroma of food emanating across the fence from your neighbour’s kitchen.



89

Lessons for the Igbo

The additional lessons that the Igbo political class can learn from the Yoruba experience are cohesion, unity, clarity of vision, patience, dignity, tenacity, mobilisation, accommodation and, most importantly, contentment.



90

They were in the political trenches for 16 years or so to speak. Still, they persevered, coming together when they needed to and disagreeing when they had to for the ultimate and overall benefit of their region.



91

I cannot fail to point out the influence of the Yoruba patriarchal system on the politics of the region and how they deploy the expertise of their intelligentsia and the influence of their socio-cultural groups, made up of their elders, who enjoy the recognition and consultative patronage of the ruling political elite.



92

We can, in the same way, turn our acephalous system into an advantage, having au common goal and a body of elders who are trusted to provide guidance.



93

How the Yorubas worked their way to political reckoning is not novel, as shown in the example of Okpara’s exploits. Still, it suffices to say that it holds significant lessons for Igbo political elite, the region’s intelligentsia and important cultural organs which had played major roles in Igbo thought, leadership, and ascendancy in the past.



94

Rather than moan under the weight of despondency that is pervasive in the Southeast today, the region must see its current political dilemma as a great opportunity for introspection and mobilisation for the resurgence of Igbo thought leadership that will frame the challenges before us and canvass strategic engagement options for survival under the prevailing circumstances.



95

Igbo renaissance will require a pan-Igbo effort involving the participation of all segments of our population in a formalised structure. The political office does not necessarily confer wisdom, and I hold the strong view that co-opting the region’s intelligentsia and socio-cultural groups, including faith institutions, to generate ideas as well as act as sounding boards for public policy options will have positive outcomes.



96

What the Yoruba elites were able to demonstrate is that leadership is not always necessary to be exercised at the individual level. The key to the Yoruba success has been the triumph of collective leadership, whereby individual members of the elite were able to or motivated by their visions of enlightened collective self-interest to subsume personal ambition or temptations for instant gratification for a much bigger prize for their region, if patience and wisdom could be brought to their predicament.



97

The Southwest has even gone ahead to formalise these practices and structures by establishing the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria, the DAWN Commission, under which they have coalesced irrespective of political differences and built consensus on the strategic development needs of the Southwest.



98

In the words of an astute scholar, Dr Okechukwu Ikejiani, our Igbo formalised structure will be:



“an institution in itself. This body must be greater than individual groups or individuals. It will be capable of maintaining and repairing itself. It will have a life of its own which must be longer than the life of its individual personalities. It will be anchored in integrity, decency, responsibility, and honesty of purpose. It must reach every nook and corner of Nigeria wherever an Igbo man or woman resides, just as the Igbo Union reached every nook and corner of Nigeria. It must have far-reaching implications for the socio-political spectre of Nigeria. It must include all the Igbo within Nigeria and the diaspora. It must have a permanent arm through which it can carry out its missions. And above all, while some of its characteristics will not facilitate overt actions, the main and central machinery of the structure must remain a closely guided and guarded secret. In fact, a major weapon of its effectiveness is to mystify its existence just as the Igbo union was mystified. For such a society is the Nigerian Society”



99

Today, we have Ohaneze, the foremost pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation. I am unaware of any other sociocultural groups that constantly face the kind of challenge that this group faces daily, internally and externally. We must revisit our drawing board and craft a plan on how to reach a consensus on issues of common interest and sacrifice political mercantilism for our collective group interest.



100

We must imbibe a new appreciation for our history and current affairs

I am particularly intrigued by the pride of the average northerner, even when confronted with the stark reality of their internal differences, economic and security situation. Bishop Matthew Kukah noted, “The north unravelled a long time ago and what is left is a scarecrow that still frightens some ignorant people in the south.”



101

Yet, the man from the North is proud of where he is from and will lay claim to leadership as if it were a birthright. Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, Northern Elders Forum Director of Publicity and Advocacy, in September 2021, said:

“We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before. Whether we are President or Vice President, we will lead Nigeria. We have the majority of the votes, and democracy says “vote whom you want.” Why does anybody need to threaten us and intimidate us? We will get that power but be humble because power comes from God. We inherited leadership, and being honest is not being stupid. We may not have the most robust economy, but the North has pride; we are humble enough to know that we are going to run Nigeria with other people, but we are not going to play second fiddle to anybody."

The entitlement may be off-putting, but the sense of pride and identity is unmissable.



102

We must intentionally restore our pride by embracing our history. As I have taken the time to do, a constant reminder of the strides of our heroes' past and their commitment to a set value system is required to begin reshaping the mindsets of our people and raising a new breed of leaders.



103

I like the introductory passage to the Centre for Igbo Studies here in Nsukka, as captured by Dr Nwankwo T. Nwaezeigwe:

“There has also been the attempt by some scholars of Igbo language to equate the subject of Igbo Studies only in the context of Igbo language studies. But the fact remains that any proper study of any group of people like the Igbo must not only be holistic in structure but should be dynamic. The Igbo, as a people ethnically defined today, face diverse challenges which require instinctive, audacious, creative and, where necessary, pragmatic solutions. The Igbo have played and continue to play central roles in economic, political, religious, cultural, and social trends of the Nigerian nation State as well as on the international landscape. Instinctively global in their pattern of economic enterprise yet curiously attached to the fundamental basis of their identity and Value orientation, the Igbo present an enigma of an African personality whose presence in any socio-economic, political, or religious setting often evokes reverberating effects.



Studying the Igbo experience thus provides an invaluable window into the fascinating evolution of a people so defamed, misunderstood, unappreciated, besieged, viewed with domineering suspicion, and most tragically subjected to all kinds of uncanny descriptions and attacks by their hosts and neighbours alike, yet remain adored by some as agents of positive change and sources of inspiration.”



104

There is power in knowing and understanding our innate strength and what we achieved with it before personal survival and materialism eroded our values.



105

In the same way, we must also ensure that our people understand our current realities and deliberately groom the rising political and economic consciousness in our people.



106

This is where we must take advantage of the talents that abound in the southeast. We must leverage the arts—writing, visual arts, filmmaking, music, and theatre to drive the mass-scale reorientation of our people. Storytelling should once again become infused into our social and family life. We must do as God said to the Israelites in Psalms and Deuteronomy, to “impress our story on our children. Talk about them when we sit at home and when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up. This way, they will not forget and derail from the path we want our region to go.”



107

A Revival of Our Values.

As we go down memory lane, the revival of our values must be one of the core things we prioritise. A scholar and former senior lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Elizabeth Isichei, made this observation years ago, and it still rings true today. She said: “Since the war, the [Igbo] traditionally strong communal ties have been partially broken and replaced with a ‘greater materialism, a greater cynicism.’”



108

My view is that we cannot reclaim our lost glory without a return to the cultural values and the egalitarian principles on which Igbo society was founded: Omenala (Culture), Nsọpụrụ (Respect), Nsọ (Sanctity), Uchu (Perseverance), Ịgbambọ (hard work), Igwe bụ iké (Strength in unity), Onye aghana nwanne ya (Be your brother’s keeper), Egbe bere, ugo bere (Equity: Live and let live).



109

All these promoted order, respect, love, morality, responsibility, mentorship, cohesion, and unity as foundations for group progress. There existed robust deterrence and sanctions regimes, which encouraged adherence.



110

The words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as quoted in Culture Matters by Samuel Huntington captured the place of culture in human affairs: “the central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself”.



111

Several reasons have been adduced for the erosion of these Igbo values, including the fact that there has been a tragic disconnect between the generations in Igboland.



112

My entire life and whatever I have made of it till now have largely been shaped by the influence of my immediate and extended family and largely constitute my manual for fatherhood and parenting today. It is what I was taught that I now teach my children in the context of the 21st century.



113

Many argue that times have changed. Yes, but I contend that these values of hard work, honesty, respect, responsibility, fortitude, perseverance, and integrity are universal and eternal. They will never go out of fashion.



114

These values drove Michael Okpara and his team, leading to rapid economic advancement in the Eastern Region in the late 1950s and early 1960s. We can do the same today if we are deliberate and committed to transforming Igboland.



115

It is for the preceding reason that I appreciate the work of the Centre for Igbo Studies here in Nsukka and organisations such as the Centre for Memories for the commitment to serve as the bridge between the past, the present, and the future. I do not doubt that the Igbo nation is better for it. It is my view that the governments of the Southeast should take interest in what the Centre for Memories stands for and is doing and make a commitment to a permanent memorial for experiences of our people during the war and as a significant step towards the commencement of healing within the region.



116

Leveraging our History as Creators, Builders, and Innovators

As we embark on this journey of cultural rediscovery, we must leverage our history as builders and innovators.



117

We must return to the first principles: to interrogate and rediscover our identity. Who are we? What are we known for? What factors have converged to erode our identity and cultural values in the way they have become eroded today? How and why have we come from the positions of leadership and pre-eminence in academia, medicine, science, history, and politics that our forebears earned by merit to the position of underdogs, maligned, humiliated, despised, and begging for our lives?





118

Igbo are courageous and resilient people. We are warriors. Above all, the Igbo are a people steeped in their veneration of justice. We believe that actions have consequences and that leadership imposes on the leader the obligation to rule, guide, and influence the people justly, courageously and with visible results in the improvement of the well-being of all of society.



119

Our history is replete with acts of heroism by our forebears as they fought for their dignity at various times. The sculptured work of men breaking free from chains mounted at the Rangers Avenue roundabout, enroute Government House, Enugu, is a memorial for coal miners massacred by the colonialists at Iva Valley coal mines in 1949 while protesting poor working conditions. You may have read about the Aba women's rebellion in 1929 over the introduction of taxes for women. But you may not have heard about the scope and impact of that resistance across the length and breadth of the Eastern Region, which covered the current Southeast and South-south geopolitical zones. I urge you all to take more interest in history, especially Igbo history. I find it fascinating.



120

There are also copious historical accounts of the heroic acts undertaken by Igbo slaves to die in dignity, such as the 1773 mass suicide aboard a slave ship, New Britannia. You may already know about the exploits of Olaudah Equiano, an enslaved Igbo who became the first slave to buy his freedom. He subsequently campaigned for the abolition of slavery. Kalu Uwaoma’s social mobility from slave to slaver, warrant chief, Presbyterian elder, and British knight between 1865 and 1940 is also worthy of note.



121

We are innovators and builders, and our fathers before us, their heirs, and successors continue to record many firsts in multiple fields of endeavour.

● Prof Kenneth Dike, First Black VC of the University of Ibadan

● Prof Chike Obi, First Nigerian Professor of Mathematics

● Prof Frank Ndili, PhD in Nuclear Physics and Chemistry

● Dr Philip Emeagwali- Computer Scientist

● Dr Pius Okigbo, First Nigerian PhD in Economics

● Prof Chinua Achebe, Author Things Fall Apart

● Prof Cyprain Ekwensi, Author Jagua Nana

● Chimamanda Adichie - Globally Acclaimed Writer

● Austin Jay-Jay Okocha; Kanu Nwankwo - Football Players

● Professor James Nwoye Adichie, Nigeria’s first professor of statistics.

● Dr Ada Priscillia Nzimiro- First Igbo female medical doctor 1950

● Dr Simon Onwu- First Igbo medical doctor 1932

● Ben Eweonwu- First African to have the Queen sit for him 1959

● Prof Alexander Animalu- PhD Physics- Theory of high-temperature superconductivity

● Dr Philip C. Njemanze – Cognitive Neuroscience

● Damian Anyanwu – Radio Transmitters from Herbal Granules & Local Materials

● Prof. Francesca Okeke – Scientific Study on Climate Change

● Sebastine Chinonye Omeh– Wind Power turbines to generate electricity

● Professor Ifeanyi Charles Ume – World Expert on Mechatronics

● Dr Chimaroke Nnamani- Maternal Foetal Surgeon

● Prof Barth Nnaji- Robotics

● Chief Innocent Chukwuma - CEO of Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing

And many more whose names are inscribed in the annals of our history.



122

We must place a premium on our education and human capital development. We must drive technological advancement in our education system at all levels and through the proliferation of innovation centres such as Tinkers Shed Coal Camp across the State. Our industrialisation will be catalysed through the effective use of technology as an enabler across sectors.



123

Leveraging Our Entrepreneurial Drive

While I will base my conclusions in a few minutes on the critical need to evaluate our leadership in the Southeast, I want to draw attention to the primacy of the private sector in our development, especially in a market-driven economy like Nigeria.



124

My position is rooted in the acephalous nature of Igbo society and its amenability to only subtle political control. The Igbo take their destinies into their hands rather than wait for help from other quarters, unafraid to chart new courses and explore new territories. The Igbo are the most adventurous and widely travelled of all Nigeria’s ethnic groups, willing to go where no one else would go just to make a living.



125

It is no wonder that Igbo investment across the country is reported to be higher than Nigeria’s GDP, with total Igbo investments in Lagos and Abuja estimated to be 300 trillion and 600 trillion naira, respectively, according to a 2013 report by Vanguard newspapers. I have yet to see a more recent report, but I am willing to bet that it will be much higher now.



126

A study by the International Journal of Science Technology Research highlighted the Igbo attributes as communal, capitalist, republican, individualistic, and entrepreneurial, with a strong attachment to family. The same study reported that the Igbo own 74% of investments in Lagos.



127

To my mind, the salvation of Ndigbo will not come from the government but from its people, especially its entrepreneurial class. Our governments must therefore take a keen interest in creating an enabling environment to attract Igbo business leaders back home.



128

The Advantage of Igbos in Diaspora

We have an estimated ten million Igbo in the diaspora. They are domiciled across different continents of the world, with many of them recording incredible success in different areas of endeavour. True to our nature, the Igbo in the diaspora contribute to the local economy through a continuous flow of income to relatives back home. They are also involved in their communities, implementing projects that serve the progress of citizens.

Quoting Dr Ikejiani:

“The fate of the [Igbo] both within and outside Nigeria is inextricably intertwined. Our destiny is the same. Let there be no mistakes about it. All Igbos in the diaspora preoccupy their thoughts within the unfortunate developments in Nigeria. We must therefore capitalise on the patriotism of our people in the diaspora to seek their full participation in pursuit of the common cause of the prosperity of our fatherland”



129

The Igbo in the diaspora present an opportunity, and we must begin to design structured ways to harness this incredible resource for the development of our region.



130

This brings me to what I consider the steering wheel for our journey of reclaiming our identity.



131

The Quality of the Leadership is the Key

In the early part of my presentation today, I drew attention to the representation the Igbo have had in government in the last 20 years since Nigeria’s return to democracy. Similarly, I have shared a highly abridged account of the Okpara years, 1959-1966.



132

I must confess that even as I realise that the two periods constitute two different historical epochs, I am unable to resist the temptation to compare both periods, especially in terms of the benefits that accrued to the region from government, the former being regional and the later, sub-national (the states) and national (federal).



133

The stark contrast in achievement and impact of government on the Igbo nation during the two periods underscores the importance of quality leadership at every level of public governance in a society.



134

From the account of the Okpara years, it was discernible that a deliberate and conscious effort was made to plan, consult, engage, execute, review, and account for government actions and resources.



135

The progress of Igboland would therefore be sustained through the agency of visionary and disciplined political leadership across the current five states of the southeast.



136

We face an existential threat in Nigeria if we continue to elect leaders that disregard our interests as Ndiigbo at the national level or disregard our values for honesty, hard work, collective progress, and shared prosperity at the sub-national level. You can be sure that we will remain of no consequence politically and continue to watch our states decline economically and our people live in penury if we don’t take the right steps now.



137

Michael Okpara and his team intentionally envisioned a future of influence for our people. They worked to institute a good leadership system, to establish industries, and to build infrastructures across all parts of the former Eastern Region. They understood how to deploy political power for economic advancement, the welfare and well-being of the people, and the attainment of regional, national, and global influence.



138

They worked with integrity, equity, and foresight. The world came to see and ask how they did what they did. I dream of a regional coalition and collaboration that serves the common interests of our people and the country.



139

There is a strong connection between providing good governance for our people locally and building a regional power bloc that will serve our interests nationally. For a clear and present action step, we must consider this as the 2023 elections draw closer.



140

Every individual must understand his or her place in the scheme of things. Again, I must applaud the rising political consciousness in our people. The desire to hold our leaders accountable is inspiring and must be encouraged.



141

In the same way, we must encourage our people to participate in the electoral process. While we can understand the cause for agitations amongst some groups in the Southeast, we must also consider that we have yet to utilise the advantages we have to thrive in Nigeria. We must ensure that our Permanent Voters Cards are retrieved from the INEC offices and prepare to vote for the leaders we believe has the capacity, competence, character, and record of integrity to work towards a positive change in the Southeast.



142

We cannot be aloof or disconnected from the electoral process and yet complain about misrule when the people who had the mind to participate in the electoral process have emerged.



143

I would like to paraphrase the words of Professor Chinua Achebe in his book, ‘The Trouble With Nigeria,’ by saying that Igboland is not beyond change. The region can change today if she discovers leaders who have the intellect, vision, strength of character and personal discipline.’ According to Achebe, such people are rare in time and space, and he went on to say that ‘enlightened citizens must lead the way in their discovery and create an atmosphere conducive to their emergence. If such a conscious effort is not made, good leaders, like good money, will be driven out by bad ones’



144

Conclusion

The elections and the next few months are pivotal for Nigeria and Igboland. Regardless of the results, we will have the opportunity to make decisions that will have far-reaching consequences for our future.



145

These decisions have been analysed and elaborated on by scholars and visionary Igbo leaders through the years, some of which I have cited. These dialogues are, however, not enough but are essential first steps in the march towards reclaiming our identity. The dialogues have created opportunities for us to share knowledge about our history and contemporary issues. Still, we must go a step further to put our money where our mouth is.



146

No one will give us a seat at the table that they created for themselves. We must be pragmatic to understand that we need to build a strong and influential base that will serve the interest of our people, locally and nationally.



147

I will close my allocution with this quote by Professor Michael J.C. Echeruo from his 1979 lecture titled - A Matter of Identity.

“The challenge that we all face today is that of re-establishing our identity. As is perhaps evident from my rather oblique presentation of my subject, no simple prescription is being proposed, only an understanding of our predicament and a willingness to pay the real high price dictated by our circumstances. For centuries we have been slaves to our own people, unable to shake off tyranny except by radical and costly action. No subtler, more gently modes of redress seem applicable in an environment which has apparently no room for gentleness. For centuries we have been slaves to other cultures, or have been seen as being such slaves. In the various countries to which our brothers and sisters were carried, we laboured as other people's slaves. Today, we still labour as if we were slaves to a larger community of peoples. Let us learn from the lessons of this history and resolve to be ourselves again. We have begun well with the Ahịajọkụ lecture.”



148

That was in 1979. Today is January 19, 2023. Our people say “Mgbe onye ji tete ụra bụ ụtụtụ ya” - whenever one wakes up is his own morning.



Ndigbo, kunie nu.

Thank you.


Being a Public Lecture Delivered by Frank Nweke Jr under the Distinguished Lecture Series of the Faculty of Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Thursday, January 19, 2023.

Category: Forum
Tag: Igbo politics
Written by Ejiro Hassan (ejiro)
Published 3/21/2023 6:03:53 AM

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