The enthusiasm that permeated New Concorde Hotel, Owerri, last Friday, was apparent: truncated dream suddenly rose from the depth of abeyance to embrace a new vista. Amid an art exhibition, the 2018 Ahiajoku Festival, the Igbo cultural and intellectual harvest, made a comeback since 2010. Love and respect for the Igbo man were rekindled.
The roadmap for the colloquium on Day 1 was given by Dr. Amanze Obi, the Director, Ahiajoku Institute, who informed the three presenters that their presentations would focus on the overall theme of the festival – “The Challenge of Leadership in Contemporary Igbo Society”.
Senator Ben Obi, who introduced the Chairman of the day, Professor ABC Nwosu, former Nigeria’s Minister of Health, thanked the Imo State Governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha. for drawing a rich audience from the Igbo speaking states of Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Ebonyi, Rivers and Delta, and beyond, to partake in the festival. “That’s a sign of many things to come,” he declared.
Nwosu was humbled to chair the colloquium, for he never lobbied for it. “But I would have lobbied for this one, because Igbo land has lost direction,” he said. He was satisfied, however, with the mantra the state governor had chosen for himself, praying God to guide him.
He added, “You have begun from the right place. You can only rebuild humans that will build society from the mind.” Ahiajoku, he echoed, “represents the potentials of the Igbo man. I salute you for what you have done by resuscitating Ahiajoku.”
He celebrated the ingenuity and industry of the Igbo in surviving against all odds, including pogrom, genocide and unfriendly, post-civil war economic policy by the Federal Government of seizing their money in the bank and handing each depositor a paltry 20 pounds, no matter the savings.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa was the first of the three presenters to speak. He spoke on “Aku ruo Ulo: Inventing Political and Communal Leadership in Alaigbo”. For long, he said, Igbo people had bemoaned the rising spate of foreign adventures, developing areas outside Igbo land, yet earning undeserved threats to their lives, and, in many cases, deaths and loss of properties.
He lamented that the entire Southeast, at the moment, had the lowest GDP growth of all the regions in Nigeria due to low investment in the region, submitting that the threat by the Oba of Lagos in 2015 to throw Igbo indigenes into the Atlantic Ocean during the 2015 elections and subsequent and subsisting notices by the Arewa Youths for Igbo settlers to leave the region had been major wakeup calls for Ndigbo to look homewards.
Furthermore, he said the obvious discrimination by this present Federal Government “has added impetus for the need for us to think home and invest home.” Even beyond the borders of Nigeria, “the same message,” he said, “is being sent”, for recent xenophobia attacks in South Africa seem to have affected Ndigbo more than any other Nigerian group.”
The Igbo economy before the civil war, he informed, was the fastest growing, built on agriculture and manufacturing. “We built an industry around coal in Enugu and developed big commercial centres in Aba and Onitsha that distributed the agricultural and manufactured goods from our industries,” he said.
Mazi Ohuabanwa’s speech wasn’t all about painting sad pictures and creating a hangdog air. The pharmacist also proffered solutions. He advised every Igbo businessman outside Igboland, to, within one year, set up an office, a branch, a shop or depot in Igboland to increase employment possibilities in the region.
He, besides, urged Igbo businessmen to give priority to investing in Igboland before putting any investment elsewhere in Nigeria. Over the next three years, he advised Igbo businessmen to transfer the headquarters of their businesses to Igboland while maintaining braches outside Igboland, as ABC Transport, Innoson, Chikason, Ibeto had done.
Responding to the issues raised by the first speaker, Rev. Fr. Chris Ogbonna, said Mazi Ohuabunwa had given all food for thought. For him, the theme of “Aku ruo Ulo” was thought-provoking, nay, “the greatest Aku (wealth) we have in us is human capital.” He moved for leaders who could harness the abundant human capital.
The second speaker, Professor Christian Onyeji, spoke on “Humanity, Sensed Leadership in Contemporary Igbo Politics: Tackling the Challenges.” On one hand, the theme, he said, raised a critical issue of relevance questioning the outcomes, hegemony and direction of existing Igbo leadership methods and their outcomes.” He, therefore, lent support to having Igbo leaders who have the people in mind.
Dr. John Otu, who responded to Professor Onyeji’s presentation as one of the four discussants, said “a time would come in Nigeria when they invite you to be a governor, you will say, ‘No, I am don’t want to be; I am not qualified for that office’; and the time is now.” His position was premised on the fact that oil earnings would soon dwindle and looters would found government positions unattractive, thereby paving way for those with ideas to take the challenge of leadership.”
The third speaker, Chief Osita Chidoka, former Minister of Aviation, focused on “Leadership in Igboland”. He noted that “Igbo people are successful in today’s Nigeria but Igboland is not successful.” He lamented that “our dreams and aspirations have gone low,” compared to the achievements of the Okparas and Azikiwes in the First Republic.
He lampooned Igbo traditional rulers for endorsing bad political leadership for lucre. “I want to assure you that the Igbo man is the future of Nigeria,” he said, nevertheless. Among others, “we are the most socially inclusive in Nigeria.”
The first day ended with a cultural night at Mbari Cultural Centre, Owerri, attended with traditional Igbo performances led by Omenimo and the Saro Wiwa band. But the glow of Ahiajoku thrills wasn’t about to fade yet. Dr. Amanze Obi set the ball rolling the second day at the Ahiajoku Convention, New Owerri, as the Ahiajoku Lecture itself took centre stage, chaired by the Obi of Onitsha, Agbogidi Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe.
“I have a passion for what we are doing today,” said Amanze Obi, former Imo State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, who lamented that the Ahiajoku Lecture series was abandoned by the immediate past administration of Rochas Okorocha for selfish reasons. “Our job is not just the Ahiajoku series; we have a lot of programmes we will run,” he hinted on the enlarged scope of the institute he heads.
Chief Ikedi Ohakim, who chaired the LOC, called on Igbo nation, whether in southeast or in Rivers or Benue to unite. Unlike the former Imo State Governor, Okorocha, who was described by Femi Fani Kayode as an “intellectual barbarian”, the incumbent Imo State Governor, Ihedioha, was lionised for his intellectual bent and visionary leadership by the Obi of Onitsha, in his remarks.
Governor Ihedioha lamented, in his adress, that the last eight years were the beginning of dismantling efforts by the Okorocha administration, and it was incumbent on him to begin a rebuilding process in Imo. He welcomed all to the festival, describing Ahiajoku as “the most cherished Igbo cultural and intellectual summit”, returning “after nearly a decade of abeyance”.
He added, “The 2019 Ahiajoku Lecture certainly marks another milestone in the rebuilding agenda in the present Imo State Government.” He also noted that, “Ahiajoku has remained a unifying essence among Igbo”, with its cultural and intellectual potpourri.
Emeritus Professor Michael Echeruo, who was the inaugural Ahiajoku lecturer in 1979, make history, once again, as he presented the 2019 Ahiajoku Lecture entitled “Ogu Eri Mba: We Shall Survive”, which unearthed, among others, pre-colonial Igbo practices and politics, dispelling spurious Igbo-Jewish connection and x-raying the historical and Achebean explanations of contemporary socio-political convulsions vis-à-vis Ndigbo.
Aside Governor Ihedioha, the 2019 Ahiajoku Lecture was attended by the Governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu; Akwa Ibom State Governor, Emmanuel Udom; plus representatives of governors of Enugu, Anambra, Enugu, Rivers and Cross River states.
Others were Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Achike Udenwa, Prof I.D. Nwoga. Chief Nnia Nwodo (President, Ohaneze Ndigbo) and Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (former Chief of General Staff under IBB). Also present were royal fathers, including but not limited to the Amanyanabo of Opobo and Eze Samuel Ohiri, Chairman, Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers.