By Charles Izunna
In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe wrote: “If we should try to drive out the white men in Umuofia, we should find it easy. There are only two of them. But what of our people who are following their way and have been given power?”
This quote is as true today as it was when it was written some 60 years ago. No wonder it has been trending in the social media for some time now. Times do change indeed but seem to remain the same because men refuse to learn from history. The Igbo dilemma has never been better captured than by a man who could easily pass for a seer because of his uncanny ability to deconstruct the future even at the young age when he penned these memorials in 1958. Chinua Achebe understood the Igbo existential challenge before it was fully dramatised. But this opinion article is not about the great precursor and teacher, who has joined the ancestors. The author of The Trouble with Nigeria and There Was A Country, was an Igbo enthusiast.
The reigning consensus is that agencies all over the world like Ohanaeze Ndigbo best articulate the socio-cultural and political aspirations of their people’s political parties, because of their partisan nature do not and cannot do so. In Nigeria, parties are usually the fusion of groups with no cohesive ideology – a set of pragmatic assumptions –but rather with divergent interests, which the godfathers, I mean moneybags among them, manage to keep together. Because there is no strong ideological plank, these Nigerian brand of parties, with time, implode or totally explode, leading to the exodus of their members. These members do not usually depart because of any ideological bias or disaffection, but purely because of unfulfilled personal interests. The political axiom of “no permanent friends but permanent interests” best sums this attitude. Ohanaeze is far from this madding crowd.
Socio-cultural organisations are formed differently. They grow out of the felt need to protect and preserve the cultural personality of a people with blood link and advance their group interests, irrespective of partisan interests. Every person within and from the cultural group is assumed to be a member and has the right to express his opinion within the framework of the organisation. This dynamic reveals the interest shown by ethnic groups in the conduct of their cultural agencies, and in the advancement of the welfare of the group.
Nigeria’s socio-political organisations, because of tribal interests and prebendal tendencies, have also become agencies in the context of power and cannot be ignored in determining the power equations in the country. This makes it impossible to exclude them from current policy and political debates. If there is one country where politics alone cannot solve all the problems of the people, it is in Nigeria, where religion, ethnicity and personal interests determine policies. It is, therefore, completely asinine to think that groups like the Ohanaeze can do otherwise.
Ohanaeze is like a family. It cannot with a wave of the hand reject its members. But it has the moral right to show that it can be a bulwark against ethnic envy and frustrations and that it can lead from the front. Criticisms and protests should be properly channelled and this in a respectful manner. Most of the attacks against Ohanaeze recently are from politically-dominated interests. Such critics are subverting the moral authority, the mystical ofo-na-Ogu Ndigbo, and the consequences can be grievous.
The Nike-Lake meeting of Ohanaeze, which is the cause of some virulent attacks on Ohanaeze and its president, was attended by members from all parts of the country and included some of the best minds from Ala Igbo. Former Ohanaeze chairmen were there. Past governors and ministers, senators and legislators, university vice-chancellors, youth leaders and women, businessmen and others took part in the deliberations. There were also elder statesmen, traditional rulers and retired civil servants. It was representative and had all it takes for an organisation to take decisions that represent the collective interests of the people. Resentment can be a natural impulse but the present attack on Ohanaeze is wrong-headed.
These are political times and interests differ. It is trite to repeat the worn-out saying that politicians are usually concerned with elections and statesmen with future generations. The current state of anomie in our land, the marginalisation of the Igbo in nearly all aspects of existence, is too much a grave matter to be left in the hands of politicians. Those who prefer to attend political meetings to satisfy partisan interests are free to do so and should not blame those who chose to do the contrary in order to express a group’s right to confront its existential problems in order to inform policy and create a better society.
• Izunna writes from Abuja