By Wilfred Eya
“That Igbos have remained the sacrificial lamb to sustain the fragile unity of Nigeria is indisputable. Why this has remained so is a challenge for our generation to unravel and fix.
“So, why are Igbos hated by her neighbours? Is it because of the brilliant industry of the Igbos, their undying spirit, or their sheer audacity to overcome challenges anywhere?”
The above are excerpts from a book, “Reflections on The Igbo Question” written by the Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma and presented to the public on Saturday, December 11, 2021.
So, for the umpteenth time, the place of the Igbo in Nigeria resonated but this time at the behest of Governor Uzodimma whose birthday was on Sunday, December 12.
The highpoint of the moderate celebration which was the governor’s presentation of his 206 page book which captures Uzodimma’s speeches over the years even before he became governor was done at the Imo Eze’s palace at Mbari. Expectedly, the event attracted the crème d’ la crème of Nigeria.
Former Chief of Army Staff, Gen Azubuike Ihejirika (rtd) was the Chairman of the book presentation. It was yet another opportunity to interrogate the place of the Igbo in the Nigerian project.
At the event were lots of dignitaries including the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Amb. George Obiozor, former governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, Prince Charles Amadi who was the book launcher, former deputy governor of Imo, Douglas Acholonu and former Senate President, Ken Nnamani.
Among others, chapter one of the compendium, “Ndigbo and Project Nigeria” speaks to the core issue and comes as an admonition thus: “ Rather than dissipate our energy clamouring for seperatisms, Igbos should see the opportunity offered by a vast Nigerian land space, to cut a niche for themselves as the technological bedrock of the nation, rule Nigeria from there without firing a shot, even a knockout. That is, if our political leaders are equal to the task.
“My beloved brethren, my proposition is simple: we need Nigeria; we need her vast land space to accommodate our ever mobile spirit. We need her for our commerce and industry. But above all, we need her as a base to vent our God-given talents, dominate scientific interventions.”
In his thank you address, Governor Uzodimma
who was full of joy for the galaxy of personages from across the length and breadth of the country said that over the years, leaders worth their salt had through literary discourses, contributed to the shaping of the societies they had the privilege to lead. For such leaders who think beyond their generation, he said, leadership offers an opportunity to clinically appraise, first hand, the challenges of their environment.
He said the robust democracies people enjoy today in the more developed countries were shaped, partly, by the thoughts of great leaders in those countries.
He said for Ndigbo, the challenge of the present generation is to insist on their inalienable birthright as citizens of Nigeria, who must coexist with other ethnic nationalities as equal partners. This, he said, was the rationale for the book, observing that it was his own modest contribution on how the Igbo can overcome the existential challenges facing them today in project Nigeria.
The governor said the book essentially put together his thoughts on the Igbo question as expressed at different fora spanning over eight years.
His words: “one thing stands clear here, and it is the consistency of my views on the subject matter which were expressed before I became the governor of Imo State. These views can be aptly summarised in two themes, to wit: Igbos have not had a fair deal from project Nigeria since the end of the civil war. They have continued to cry to high heavens over the sordid dilemma they face in their own country.
“I believe we have cried enough and it is time to wipe our tears. The second is that Igbos are citizens of Nigeria by birth. They should never allow themselves to be cajoled out of their father’s land and inheritance. This is our country and we must stay here and collectively enforce out rights as bona fide citizens of Nigeria.”
Uzodimma identified the crux of the existential challenge of Ndigbo in Nigeria as the urgent need for her self rediscovery as a people; as the resilient, tenacious and enterprising people that God, in his wisdom, has made them to be.
He cautioned though that it appears Ndigbo are gradually losing their true identity of a resilient spirit that helped them to survive the harsh socio-economic environment they faced right after the civil war.
He said: “The most cruel of them all is the inhuman decision to pay a flat rate of only twenty pounds to every Igbo man irrespective of whatever amount of money he had in the bank.
“It was that spirit that made the Igbos record many firsts in many fields of human endeavour in the pre – and immediate post Independence era, which is captured in my book.
“It was the same spirit that propelled the young Igbo men who came to Lagos in the 70’s to rise from hawkers and Obioma tailors to become captains of commerce and industry and to establish much sought – after fashion outfits. We must rediscover that spirit, including the one that inspired us to produce “ogbunigwe” and build many modular refineries during the civil war”, he said.
He said a leader must stand firmly for something, be it ideology or belief, which must define the essence of the trajectory of his private and public life. This, he said, is more so when the generation of such leadership is faced with challenges that need to be addressed to avert disaster.
“It appears to me that my people, for no fault of theirs, are currently at crossroads. This is, therefore, not the time for me as a leader to stand with my hands akimbo, and watch a helpless generational drift that could land us into an abyss of endless sorrow.
“Rationalization and justification are strong weapons of defence, but only in so far as the action taken is for the good of the majority. This book, REFLECTIONS ON THE IGBO QUESTION, is not only for the good of the majority of Ndigbo and Nigeria, but my modest effort to galvanize the Igbos to rethink and reflect not just on the current existential challenges but on the right compass to navigate out of it”, he said.
He also noted that in spite of the state of affairs since the 1966 counter coup, Ndigbo are still better off staying in Nigeria, observing that some may not agree with him but that anyone who took his time to go through the book will be persuaded to think along that line.
He emphasized the need for the Igbo to reclaim her rightful place in Nigeria by building on the comparative advantage they have over other Nigerians and urged them to leverage on the special talents bestowed on them by God to ensure they are accorded their dues in Nigeria. “One of the talents is technology. The other is commerce and trade. Currently, the evidence is there that it was helpful to us in the past and is still at our disposal today. Truth be told, we are dominating in commerce and trade in Nigeria. But we can do far better than that as a people, if we put our thinking caps on. In the real estate business in all the major cities of Nigeria, the Igbos are leading. Most standard provision stores in any remote part of Nigeria is likely to be owned and operated by an Igbo man or woman.
“The second most populous ethnic group in any city in Nigeria outside the indigenes of the city are Igbos. How then do we harness these huge potentials to our advantage? The answer is simple: Read the book, Reflections on The Igbo Question”, he admonished.
In his speech, chairman of the occasion and former Chief of General Staff, General Ihejirika(rtd) said in today’s Nigeria, there is no lexicon that triggers harsh debate among political leaders across all the geopolitical zones than some of the issues underlined in the book. By this, he said, he was referring to the issues of marginalisation, restructuring, Igbo presidency and unity of Nigeria.
He said the author of the book has traversed the country’s political terrain in the past two decades with rich experience in the legislative and executive arms of government and aas one of the prominent leaders of the Southeast zone, Uzodimma has been an advocate of fairness, equity and justice as a basis for the Igbo drive in a united Nigeria.
He said even as the executive governor of Imo State, Uzodimma has consistently canvassed and sued for policies that will further unite the country and strengthen her fragile unity, while also championing the security and well-being of the Igbo race at home and in the Diaspora.
“His viewpoint on the critical issues of Igbo marginalisation and restructuring as documented in the book, flows from his wealth of experience in public service over the years and thus make this book a must-read for all Nigerians.
“In truth, I share most of the views expressed by the author based on my understanding of Nigeria’s political landscape having served close to 39 years in the military.
“My experience over the years has shown that our greatest weapon as a nation lies in our unity, further enhanced by our diverse culture, population and rich history”, the retired General said.
He observed that the feeling of marginalisation was not peculiar to the Igbo race alone, but a national cry which must therefore not be seen as a basis for separatist agitation.
Ihejirika agreed with the author that the innate desires of Ndigbo are better chanelled to positive expressions such as technological advancement, industrialisation and entrepreneurship development which are globally recognised as their key strengths.
He said: “Our continuous desire for an Igbo president, or rather president of Igbo extraction, is a just and inalienable right but can only be realised through strategic alliance with other zones and not by any hostile agitation as emphasised in this book.”
He commended Uzodimma for taking time to put together the brilliant academic piece and recommended it to all Nigerians.
Ihejirika observed that authoring a book required a painstaking process and determination of the writer in the face of many daunting challenges and tight schedules and called on leaders at various levels to toe the line of the governor by putting their public service experiences into writing to guide and educate future generations.