“As a perspective on the current approach to poverty reduction envisaged in the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) vis-à-vis the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), a most pressing target now is to create a viable and sustainable energy system for rural modernisation, agricultural mechanisation, post-harvest processing/preservation for increasing food sufficiency, and the consequential industrial expansion. This route, if vigorously pursued by the Southeastern states will generate employment opportunities as well as reduce the acute social and economic difficulties in Igboland in particular and Nigeria in general.”
– A. Animalu, Professor of Solid State Physics, ex Director, Abuja Mathematical Centre, Fellow, Nigeria Academy of Science.
At the turn of the last century, a BBC survey proclaimed Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkhrumah and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in that order as the three greatest African leaders of our times. Despite the distortions of our rabid revisionist Historiographers, that critical scientific survey has resolved the same question as who amongst the so-called founding fathers of the Nigerian maladroit nation was the greatest. From our own findings, there was one true name, who, from day one, prepared for his set goals to “battle for the liberation of the mind of the Black race not only in the continent but also within the world comity of nations.” As a matter of fact, he had to stop over in Ghana on his return from the US and wherever we travel to, in Africa he is the first name from Nigeria to be heard from the citizens of Botswana, Kenya, Tunisia or Liberia!
Ironically, most of his Igbo kinsmen, as a result of his Pan Africanist philosophy do not recognise his giant strides and would prefer to applaud his protégés and would readily at the slightest offer the diadem to Azikiwe’s protégés.
One of those protégés of Zik was Michael Okpara. While the debate on who was the greatest Nigerian would rage on, Okpara was arguably the greatest Igbo. Oh yes, Zik was a leading pantheon in the struggle for the global emancipation of the Black race and there was this slave pace setter Olaudah Equiano, who founded Sierra Leone and contributed greatly to the abolition of slave trade. Before Professor Kenneth Dike, Chinua Achebe, Olaudah was the first to tell the world the Igbo romantic story and civilisation. Yet the African Deity, who inspired the seminarian Kwame Nkhrumah to abandon priesthood, prepared his papers to study at his old Ivy League Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Azikiwe was the mentor to Mandela, who, before he was incarcerated at Robben Islands, was the guest of the Governor General, who clandestinely kept the freedom fighter at the home of Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, his trusted courageous organiser of the Zikist Vanguard fame.
Odumegwu Ojukwu, the General of the Peoples’ Army, was on the other hand the greatest Biafran. Every Biafran may be Igbo and more but not every Igbo is a Biafran. Others would prefer to stay in Nigeria and majority is waiting on the final snap before they make their decision. Zik was part of Emeka’s early life and he was the mentor, who advised his father to send him to Kings College, and to Oxford. Zik appointed Akanu Ibiam and Michael Okpara, Governor and Minister into his Cabinet at Enugu.
Michael Okpara’s strategic plan of embarking on agricultural revolution with the end point of building one of the world’s modern industrial systems, which, by the early 60s, drowned the Asian Tigers’ development graphs, registered the Premier’s legacies into the golden annals of the black man’s leap into modernity.
Michael Iheonukara Okpara, who read medicine at Dublin, had returned home from the Premier Lodge by 11a.m for break lunch. His wife reported that the cost of one egg had gone up to six pence! The Premier reasoned that if it was that difficult for him and family to purchase eggs for that amount, then the situation would be nightmarish for the citizens. He finished his meal and did not return home until 2a.m. the following day. So also were his Minister of Agriculture, P.N. Okeke, and the entire Cabinet. In due course, he had visited Israel. He met firsthand the Israeli Prime Minister, Goldie Maier, and the young State of Israel as policy decided to partner with the government of Eastern Nigeria to drive its Agric. Revolution. Okpara, with all speed, embarked on a crash programme of initiating agricultural seminars, leading participants and students to acquire Diploma Certificates after six months of training. Supervised by the Faculty of Agriculture, the University of Nigeria and the Umudike School of Agriculture, these Agric. Diploma graduates were ready to till the land. Agriculture, Foods and Nutrition studies were introduced to the secondary schools and tertiary institutes as part of the curriculum for exams in the West African Certificates.
Before you could say Jack Robinson, Okpara built the Nkwelle, Abakaliki, Ohaji Palms, Nekede, Uzo Uwani, Bende and countless other farm settlements, extending to the present Rivers, Cross Rivers and the Akwa Ibom states. Most of these settlements are still alive despite the ravishing of the farmlands by politicians.
All these thousands of wasting Advisers, Senior and Medium Special Assistants to the Governors, would, under Okpara’s charge, be sent to the Diploma Courses in Agriculture and in six months would be skilled enough to be posted to the farm settlements, supervising massive production of food. Before the war, the East took over the feeding of West Africa in rice, staples and boats from Port Harcourt and Calabar plied the Atlantic, supplying food to the Island of Fernanda po, Camerouns and the Congos.
According to Dr. Chidi Osuagwu, “Okpara’s Agricultural Revolution was part of a strategic plan for the industrial modernisation of the Eastern region. Agriculture was to feed the people and produce industrial raw materials for the factories.” Critically, the Premier had defined his Agric. programme and projected in deadlines, the inevitable productivity consequences. Where he needed effective technical and financial partners, he opened up and invited Jerusalem.
In deep recession and with starvation engulfing the landscape, I write from Owerri… The Oke Mba city, and as promised you last week, we shall examine the Governor Anayo Rochas Okorocha’s agricultural programme and hope that all our contributions, including yours would help to drive the programme to success and push for productivity, not only for the benefit of our people but also to stave off starvation that has overwhelmed the populace.
As a refrain, Imo, Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Cross River, Ogun, Ondo, Kwara, Benue, Plateau, Nassarawa, Adamawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Kano all have pronounced agric. programmes. However, we continue to ask the simple question, why are these states not making the quantum production? Why is it so difficult for these states (especially those on the East of the Niger) to pick up the documented template of how Premier M.I. Okpara planted food to feed his people and export the surplus to West Africa?