The Igbo Network
A discussion paper on the way forward
Committee of concerned lgbo intellectuals
It is argued that the strength of Nigeria as a nation derives from the strength of its component parts. A weak Igbo nation is therefore undesirable on two accounts. Firstly, Nigeria is weakened to the extent that the Igbo nation is weak. Secondly, the Igbos themselves are the immediate recipients of any shortfall in Igbo vitality and strength. Hence, the Igbos owe it to themselves and the rest of Nigeria to make efforts not only to develop themselves to the fullest extent possible but also to learn to act coherently and with purpose and vision as a people.
The Igbo people have suffered a number of reverses in recent Nigerian history. To wit, they have lost millions of lives in the pogrom and the subsequent bid for a separate and independent state (Biafra) as well as the ensuing civil war. They have also been economically emasculated after the civil war and subsequently marginalized not only in the Nigerian political arena but also in the public services, the armed forces and the police, However, these reverses must be seen as temporary, for as the great Owelle of Onitsha (Dr Azikiwe) once remarked: "No condition is permanent.” And so it shall be with the Igbos provided they take appropriate measures to ensure this.
This paper therefore addresses the measures that are needed to change Igbo fortunes. It is suggested that, although the Igbos are a major ethnic group in Nigeria, their influence in all aspects of the Nigerian national life fails to match the degree of their relative numerical strength. This is attributed to the fact that the Igbos are neither organized to act coherently as a people nor have they defined for themselves what their group interests really are as well as how to promote and realize those interests.
The view taken in this paper is that the starting point for Igbos is to develop an organized leadership - though one not based on personality cults, considering their republican temperament and tendencies. Present realities therefore dictate that the 19oos organize themselves through a Pan-Igbo organization that could be called the Pan-Igbo Cultural Union (PICU). The leadership of Igbos within the framework of PICU will be based not on a single individual but on a small group of competent and committed people reminiscent of the council of elders of Igbo traditional societies - though not restricted to only rich or wise old men.
A number of action programmes are suggested for PICU, and suggestions have been
made as to how PICU can be lifted off the ground. In this regard, a timetable of preparatory activities is suggested
that would lead to PICU being fim1ly in place and operational on 1 June, 1999.
The period between the end of the second world war in 1945 and the outbreak in 1967 of civil war in Nigeria may be regarded as a glorious era in the history of the Igbos. This was the period when the political fortunes of the Igbos had risen to the zenith. An Igboman was then at the forefront, if not at the helm, of the struggle for Nigeria's political independence. With independence gained in 1960, although the Igbos failed to win the ultimate prize of political power in the form of Prime Minister of the Federation, nevertheless the Igbos not only produced the first indigenous governor- general and later (ceremonial) President of the Federation, while the NCNC which eventually became a political party dominated by Igbos provided one of the three main legs on which Nigeria's political stability stood. In the federal bureaucracy, the Igbos not only provided some of the more powerful advisers and permanent secretaries, but a crop of very influential middle-level civil servants. In the armed forces, and police, the Igbos had more than their fare share of the officer corps and indeed eventually produced the first indigenous general and army commander. In education, the early lead of the Yorubas in terms of producing the educated elite was quickly bridged, so much so that the first indigenous vice-chancellors of the first two of Nigeria's federal owned universities were Igbos. In the economic field there were entrepreneurial giants like the late Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, and many other successful business men in Lagos, Kano, Onitsha, Aba and Port Harcourt.
Socially and culturally, the Igbos developed a great sense of solidarity and unity. In this regard, the Igbo State Union, a non-partisan organisation was to playa leading role in promoting not only Igbo unity and ethics but also a will to progress. The Igbo man outside Igbo land not only saw himself as his brother's keeper, but actually regarded other Igbos as kinsmen and 'brothers' (nwanna!). Everything it appeared was going for the Igbo. But fortunately, or unfortunately this carefully built up unity of Igbos was never allowed to translate into political advantage in the internal struggle for political power once the colonial masters had departed our shores
Although the majority of Igbos supported the NCNC, they did not do so because it was an Igbo political party or because it was led by Igbos. And sure enough, when splinter parties appeared in Igboland (led respectively by Drs K. O. Mbadawe and Chike Obi) they had no difficulty in attracting Igbo followers - often the only followers they had. Thus an important principle of partisan politics - that of not dissipating energy and force in internal rivalry - was never recognised or advocated by Igbo leaders. This is quite understandable because the Igbos by temperament are not a subservient people. Indeed, their dynamism, outspokenness and almost total lack of political guile as well as diplomacy were subsequently to prove their undoing. The above qualities were badly in need - during the political crises of 1964 as well as 1965/67. Unfortunately, the Igbo leaders then preferred to settle for form rather than substance. With strategic thinking apparently lacking in the Igbo vocabulary, the opportunities for advancement of Igbo hegemony were not recognised and thus were lost. It is this lack of strategic thinking as well as caution and pragmatism that led to a fixation on sovereignty for Biafra at all costs. The leadership, rather unfortunately, failed to consider what fate would befall the Igbos if secession failed or was aborted. Consequently there was no realistic fall-back position during negotiations with Nigeria, and certainly no "Plan B", or a contingency plan to ensure that political losses were cut to a minimum, in the event that the war was lost, as seemed probable to any realistic observer.
With hindsight, the collapse of Biafra, given the above facts, was not only inevitable but in a wider sense a valuable lesson for the Igbos. There were indeed a number of lessons to be learnt. First, the saying by Lord Palmiston, that in politics, there are no permanent enemies, but only permanent interests, is especially relevant to Igbo political aspirations. The Igbos often pretended that they were not interested in Igbo hegemony in Nigerian politics. It was a very unfortunate attitude, because her other opponents demonstrated again and again that hegemony was their main if not only goal. In any case, the Igbo abiding belief in a united Nigeria was not seriously shared by other major players in the political field, their concept of unity or one Nigeria was one which enabled them to lord it over others. The second lesson, is the importance of reaching real accommodation if not friendship with neighbours. After all, the eagerness with which some of our neighbours welcomed and supported the invading federal forces during the civil cannot be a better testimony to their alienation from the Igbos. Even in post-war politics (and politics after all is said to be war by other means) the Igbos need the buffer and support and undoubtedly the alliance of their neighbours. The third lesson is the fact that the issue of Igbo leadership had to be faced. Until the Civil war, the Igbos had never believed in the idea of a tribal leadership based on personality cults. Indeed they were proud of their pseudo-republicanism. Hence the saying "Igbo enwe". Nonetheless, the time has come for Igbos to look critically at the question of Igbo leadership. Indeed there has been a long standing confusion about this. The defunct Igbo Union had prominent leaders but these were not political juggernauts in the ordinary sense, On the other hand, the NCNC leaders although politically vigorous, could not deign to speak for the totality of Igbos as a people, because it was not an Igbo party. There was thus a dichotomy, which though healthy, was nevelthe1ess inappropriate for the winner takes all paradigm of Nigerian politics. The confusion was further Compounded by a new class of Igbo leaders - the new breed traditional rulers and their chiefs. The fact is, with the exception of one or two traditional rulers, most of the so-called traditional rulers were co1onially created warrant chiefs with no ounce of "royal blood" in them. Since then, any business magnate and today even 419ers can purchase a traditional rulership or chieftaincy title without must fuss. And in this pantomime, no one is really deceived about the hollow influence and importance of such "rulers"-
It was therefore inevitable that this unconfronted issue of Igbo leadership would constitute an acute problem for the Igbos in their effort to rebuild the Igbo nation from the ashes of civil war defeat. It was a war that not only castrated the Igbos economically, but even more so politically. It was a war that psychologically sapped the Igbos of their self confidence as a people. Hence to rebuild and to recover the pre- war Igbo unity and glory required some kind of organisation and leadership. Whereas the Igbos were accustomed to excel as individuals before the w~, this was no longer important or relevant after the war, especially if the powers that be were not disposed to recognise or reward excellence and talent in a playing field that was not flat. And so with such a system, the Igbo whether in politics, armed forces, economy, education etc. was always at a disadvantage.
It is therefore not surprising that for the Igbos the issue of leadership has assumed such gargantuan proportions that the response has been a multiplicity of leadership bids and claims by both individuals and groups. Unfortunately, the problem, given the Igbo temperament, is not one that can be solved through a top-down approach. Indeed, the crucial question is, and has always been, for the Igbos: Leadership for what? This naturally must lead to some dialectical analysis of the Current situation as a staffing point for finding answers. The issue is thus a big one and no single mind can possibly provide all the answers. Hence the purpose of the present paper is: only to raise issues and excite debate in the hope that the Igbos themselves can be moved to look carefully at the perennial question of their leadership by defining what their common interests and goals are or should be; the nature, form and purpose of organising a common leadership, and a workable framework for future actions in the realisation of the chosen goals.
II. THE NATURE OF LEADERSHIP
According to the Oxford dictionary of current English, the verb (to) lead, has a number of meanings including the following:
The dictionary goes on to define the noun leader not only as B person that leads, but also as a person followed by others.
From the above, one can infer that the phenomenon of leadership is an important characteristic of the human social order. It is also a mark of the collective intelligence and 8op~stication of a group. For without leadership, the diverse talents, skins, aptitudes, attributes, powers and personal resources generally could not be pooled and harnessed in the service of the common good. Leadership not only offers direction and purpose but also perseverance in the pursuit of commonly accepted or defined goals, Indeed, through leadership the goals themselves are often envisioned and articulated on behalf of the group. All in all leadership helps to promote not only social progress but social efficiency.
Although a group needs leaders in order to exist in harmony and efficiency within its confines, the need for leadership is much greater when progress and the internal stability of the group are threatened by internal or external forces. At such a time, it becomes patent and inevitable that joint and co-ordinated action be taken to meet the threat. It is therefore not surprising that the great world leaders recorded by history emerged in the course of the struggle of groups against intemaVexterna1 aggression or the forces of ignorance.
In this century one can readily think of leaders, from Roosevelt, Lenin, Stalin and Churchill to Macy and Gorbachev; men who changed the course of history, Other leaders that come to mind include the activists like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Mandela, who fought bravely for what they believed was right. There also the pioneers, who pushed forward the boundaries of human experience, such as Lindbergh, Hillary, Tensing and Freud; the innovators, including such visionaries like Henry Ford, Walt Disney and Bill Gates, whose achievements have changed the way we live the scientists, such as thinkers of the stature of Einstein, Marie Curie, Alexander Fleming ;and Stephen Hawkins; and of course the creators, including such artists as Picasso, Joyce, Chaplain and our own Enweonwu as well as E. T. Mensah, who gave us new ways to experience the world. Coming nearer home we have independence lighters like Jomo Kenyata, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah and out own Nnamdi Azikiwe.
What then are the qualities that ~ark out such men? Clearly, examples of leaders indicated above do not and cannot match any identikit picture of a leader. Take for example two contemporaneous leaders like Stalin and Churchill. They could not be any more different. Yet they served the immediate needs of their particular groups at a particular: place and time. Nor is a leader good for all time. Churchill was certainly a great war leader par excellence, and yet shortly after winning the second world war, the British electorate rejected him as their peace time Prime Minister at the polls. It therefore seems that various situations call forth different kinds of leaders. Sometimes the problem is a moral one, and the system not only throws up, but welcomes such leaders like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Sometimes the problem is to do with economics and national security and leaders like Ronald Regan emerge. But at the end of the day, each of these leaders must have demonstrated some talents and qualities out of a huge basket that includes vision, ability to rally and organise, a sense of moral justice, power and elocution, patience, magnanimity, selflessness, ingenuity and reactive thought, group consciousness, power and accommodation with others (though not with principles), perseverance. integrity and honesty, sense of service to the community, compassion and personal discipline among others. We therefore find that leaders tend to be pioneers, trail blazers, innovators, ground breakers, trend setters, pacemakers, visionaries and teachers in some areas of life in which they have talent and have demonstrated competence.
From the above, the leadership problem facing the Igbos is not really a persona or personality problem. To just choose an Igbo leadership in the abstract is not only a useless exercise, but a negative step. This brings us back to the question posed earlier: Leadership fur what? The answer actually provides the key to resolving the Igbo leadership conundrum. Indeed the real issue facing the Igbos is the question of collective Igbo interests - short and long term. The proposition here is that Igbo leaders per se are only relevant in terms of these interests. When these interests are articulated and widely accepted, then the basis for recognising the required leaders will be clear and the right leadership will emerge naturally. Moreover as the group interests change (as they must in response to circumstances) the type of leaders required would also change.
III. THE QUESTION OF IGBO LEADERSHIP IN POST CIVIL WAR NIGERIA
Whereas the issue of a collective leadership for the Igbos was superfluous and thus not a pressing problem before the civil war, the failure of the secession bid made it an urgent problem. As indicated earlier, it may be stated with hindsight that the Biafran leadership not being very good politicians and strategists, did not appear to have prepared for failure as such. To even think of failure would then have been regarded as high treason! Indeed the much talked about final resort to guerrilla warfare was merely an exercise in posturing and never took off. How could guerrilla action have started when the Biafran Commander-in-Chief was the first to jump the sinking ship of state? Thereafter, it was a question of everyone to himself and God for us all. This was the mass psychology of the Igbos in defeat. It was exactly the same psychology with which they re-entered the erstwhile enemy territory called Nigeria. There was no one to gather the pieces of the war battered and defunct Biafra. Until now there has not been any real effort to rehabilitate the Igbos from the psychological trauma of losing a war. The victorious Nigerians, even if magnanimous in victory, could not be expected to do this for them. True, General Gowon did the best any outsider could do through his 3Rs, but it was not enough. The only window of opportunity lay with the then Administrator of East Central State: himself an Igbo. Undoubtedly he tried to get the best deal he could for the 19bos behind the scenes. But he failed to provide a badly needed rallying point for the Igbos, nor did he regard himself as an Igbo leader as such. Indeed, be failed to seize the opportunity of filling the naked vacuum in Igbo leadership after the war. Perhaps this was asking too much of a man who apparently could not himself readily identify with his own people at their hour of greatest need. From the sober perspective of realism, it was a very daunting task for a junior university lecturer suddenly catapulted to national political eminence to be able to provide leadership to a galaxy of experienced Igbo leaders and elite. Since the end of the war the Igbos as individuals have tended to do rather well. In terms of post-war reconstruction, it is to their eternal credit that within a decade or so and through self- effort the physical scars of war had largely been obliterated in Igboland. But while some individual Igbos have done quite well, many soon found the existence of glass ceilings in the way of their progress. The rules of the game bad changed with the end of the war. Hence forth, fair competition, talent, hardwork industry and merit would not by themselves any longer ensure success (as in the colonial days) as the Igbo sought to make a living. Moreover the creation or twelve states out of toe four pre-war regions with the Igbos getting only one state was a clever administrative maneuver to permanently marginalise the Igbos politically. Worse still, the culture of state looting and deconstruction which governed the practice of politics at the Federal level soon permeated to the states. And where heretofore communal property was held sacrosanct in Igbo land, most of the post war politicians (military and civil) have, even in Igbo states, not thought twice before diverting public resources to private pockets, and soon by the multiplier effect produce new business millionaires who would now join the political bandwagon and ensure the calcification of this heretofore foreign, if not errant, political behaviour and culture. The situation is now further compounded by the emergence of 419 chiefs and millionaires.
The Igbos have thus found themselves in an environment in which the age-old social order has not only been subverted, but completely dismantled. Today being highly educated means absolutely nothing in the Igbo social context. Money not only rules the day but also purchases respectability not only in the eyes of the churches but in society generally. Today no one is interested in how those who parade their ill gotten wealth, acquired it. The tragedy is that wealth is now synonymous with leadership. People go into politics not to serve but to make money. Others go into business not to serve but to make money in order to enter politics, and then make more money. In this money making paradigm of politics, no one ever thinks of service, or even the welfare of the people the politicians purport to represent and serve. It is clearly a peculiar form of democracy and leadership that is totally alien to age old Igbo customs and culture generally. At the end of the day, what the Igbos have to deal with, from their so called "successful" men, is what may be called the arrogance of wealth and indeed power. Fortunately, however, the natural law of evolution dictates that only the fittest will survive. Hence, when the real job of Igbo nation building begins, those among the present crop of Igbo nation building begins, those not relevant to the effort will be left behind on the sands of time.
B. Leadership for What?
One may start by asking an obvious question: Why do the Igbos as a people need a leader so badly today? In a recent group discussion with Dr Pius Okigbo, Chief Raph Uwechue, tried to answer this question by saying that what the Igbos need today is not so much a national leader: who happens to be an Igbo man as much as an Igbo man who is a leader of the Igbo people. As Uwechue further remarked, there is, a not too subtle difference between an Igboman who happens to be a "national' leader and an Igboman who is a leader of the Igbo people as such. The reality though is that most of the Igbos who could be counted among prominent Nigerian leaders were first and foremost "Nigerians". Indeed their being Igbos was secondary. But the same could not be said of the other non-Igbo Nigerian leaders. Thus when the rest of Nigeria fought against Biafra during the civil war, the battle cry was "one Nigeria", even though in their heart of hearts the rest of Nigeria knew they did not mean and could not have meant it. Indeed, the history of Nigeria would have been altered drastically and beyond recognition if the former Heads of State, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and General Ironsi, though Igbo themselves, had had an Igbo agenda. Instead, they put Nigeria first and Igbos last. Unfortunately, for the Igbos, the other Nigerian Heads of State did not make the same mistake. They put their tribes or ethnic groups first and Nigeria second. Indeed, it would seem as if it was only the Igbos that believed and promoted the illusion of one Nigeria. One may, therefore, go as far as stating that tribalism as such did not bedevil Nigerian politics as much as the fact that most Nigerian political leaders, with perhaps the exception of the Igbos among them never realty internalized the concept of one Nigeria. Thus Ahmadu Bello did not even attempt to masquerade himself as a Nigerian leader. He was simply a Fulani and a Northern leader, Obafemi Awolowo on the other hand, although he stomped about as a Nigerian leader, nevertheless approached Nigerian issues from the narrow perspective of Yoruba tribal interests.
The net result of the Igbo internalisation of the doctrine (as opposed to the reality) of one Nigeria, is that at all stages, the Igbos had lost out in the Nigerian poker game of politics. Initially the game plan was not obvious to the Igbos. Having been outsmarted for a regional leadership position in the then Western Region, Dr Azikiwe sought refuge in the East and thereafter entered into an unholy alliance with the North to sequester power in the centre. But it was not an alliance of equals or principles and this move seems to have presaged the now familiar standard tactics of Igbos playing second fiddle to the powers that be in Nigerian politics. In other words, the Igbos appear to have psychologically adjusted themselves to the position of politically being 5econd cl88s citizens in their own country. The consequence of this situation is that the Igbos appear to be marginalized in all important aspects of Nigerian life. So whether one thinks of political, military, bureaucratic or economic power, etc., the Igbos are no longer major players in Nigeria. In fact, it was only of recent and after a long period of agitation and political struggle that the Igbos managed to secure a reasonable proportion out of the total number of states and local government areas created by various military regimes out of the geographical expression known as Nigeria.
It is often claimed by certain Nigerian political groups that politics is a game of numbers. Although tills assertion is true enough, the snag is that Nigerians have so far not been able to conduct an accurate and believable national census. At one point, whole villages in the riverine areas were said to have been omitted in the exercise. At other times, the figures appeared to have been so blatantly doctored that the only way any intelligent person could understand them is to assume that cattle and perhaps other live stock were deliberately enumerated in some parts of Nigeria in order to make up the numbers and thus gain political advantage. But the reality is that no one now knows for sure which part of the country has the preponderance of the all too important "numbers". But if one were to project the census figures produced by the former colonial masters (which are probably the most reliable in the history of Nigerian censuses), one would expect that the Igbos would account for anything between a quarter and one third of the present Nigerian population. Put differently, one out of every three or four Nigerians is Igbo! This means that if indeed politics (or more specifically, democracy) is a game of numbers, the Igbos should automatically constitute a force to be reckoned with in Nigerian politics - provided they are organized; and act coherently. The situation today is that the Igbos are neither ipso factor, a force to be reckoned with in Nigerian politics nor are they organized and united in their political vision and struggle. Because the Nigerian economy is dictated by present politica1 realities, the Igbo are confronted by a double-barreled challenge of acquiring both political and economic power. However, in trying to devise a solution to this conundrum, one must appreciate the aberrant nature of the Nigerian political situation. In economically self-reliant and thriving nations, economic power thought not independent of politics, is always in the background and provides the key to political power. Hence, the situation in Nigeria where economic power is held hostage by political power is not only abnormal but temporary. Taking a long term view of this problem, it should be conceded that in due course group economic power rather than the power of individual wealth will come to dictate if not dominate future Nigerian politics. If this is so, then the challenge before the Igbos is that of exploiting their large numbers as well as their well known attribute of industry and hardwork towards building themselves up to achieve not only economic prosperity but also self reliance. This is all the more important because petroleum, which is the main source of the country's wealth is a wasting asset which should drop into insignificance in about a generation from now. Luckily for the Igbos, the huge national income from oil revenues is being mismanaged when it is not being looted, and those ethnic groups that control the oil revenues today, do not seem to be doing all that much to obtain a good head start in the fierce internal economic competition that will mark the end of the oil boom days.
Consequently the challenge facing the Igbos and their leaders is ultimately that of achieving economic self reliance (as much as is possible) such that their economic prosperity becomes a child of their own effort and endeavours rather than the result of some largesse from government. In addition to this, the Igbos need to mobilise and organise themselves politically, in order to sharpen and fine-tune their political and economic interests as a background for future political activities. This, however, does not mean that the Igbos as a group should be narrowly partisan in their approach to politics, but that their approach to partisan politics should be informed at all times by Igbo vital interests. The rest of this paper will attempt to deal with the tactics, strategies and practicalities in this quest for a resurgent Igbo nation.
IV. FRAMEWORK FOR ACTION
All being well, Nigeria would probably be returned to civilian rule in the last quarter of 1998. The details of the political landscape at that time are yet unclear and difficult to predict. However, it is already clear from the make-up of the five registered political parties and the known presidential aspirants that an Igbo man is rather unlikely to emerge after an electoral process as the President of the Third Nigerian Republic. However, if the proposed zoning of the major political offices in the country is implemented, the Igbos may well hope that if the Presidency eludes them (as it most likely would), they may settle for one of the following: Vice President, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives. Out of the 36 states in the country, the Igbos are also certain to acquire governorships in at least five states (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo) and possible also in two other states (Delta and Rivers) where they have a large presence. This means that at the beginning of the next Republic, the Igbos as a group may not emerge strong enough in the political scheme of things. However, this should not dampen their spirit. For one thing, the country would not then be described as politically stable. For another, the Nigerian economy may not have recovered sufficiently to sustain the civil political process. But the bottom line is that the problems that led to the civil war and which still haunt the nation politic is yet to be addressed. Hence for Nigeria, to be or not to be remains the overriding question.
All of the above points to the fact that the Igbos would really have no choice but to fend for themselves. This is so, because if Nigeria survives politicai1y after 1998, the Igbos would need to be strong as a people in order to maximise their political advantage. If however, Nigeria were to settle into a confederation, or worse still disintegrate, then the Igbos without question would have to fend for themselves. But either way, the best course of action for the Igbos is to adopt a more inward looking posture and to strive towards self reliance.
B. Framework for mobilisation
Long before Nigeria gained political independence from the British in 1960, the Igbos as a people had established an organisation known as the Ibo the State Union. In order to understand what this was all about, we quote here from the Presidential address delivered by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe to the Ibo State Assembly held at Aba on Saturday, 25 June, 1949:
“...The Igbo people have reached a cross-road and it is for us to decide which is the right course to follow. We are confronted with routes leading to diverse goals, but as I can see it, there is only one road that I can safely recommend for us to thread, and it is the road to self-determination for the Igbo within the framework of a federated commonwealth of Nigeria and the Cameroons, leading to a United States of Africa. Other roads in my opinions are calculated to lead us astray from the path of a national self-realisation. Is it not historically significant that throughout the glorious history of Africa, the Igbo is one of the select few to have escaped the humiliation of a conqueror's sword or to be a victim of Carthaginian treaty? Search through the records of African history and you will fail to find an occasion when in any pitched battle any African nation has either marched across Igbo territory or subjected the Igbo nation to a humiliating conquest. Instead there is record to show that the martial prowess of the Igbos at all stages of human history, has enabled them not only survive persecution, but also to adapt themselves to the role thus thrust upon them by history, of preserving all that is best and most noble in African culture and tradition…”
Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe then went on to describe the apparent marginalisation of the Igbos in the 1940s in the scheme of things in Nigeria bordering on neglect and on outright discrimination in political representation as well as provision of amenities.
“On the economic plane, I cannot sufficiently impress you because you are too familiar with the victimisation which is our fate. Look at our roads, how many of them are toned, compared, for example with the roads in other parts of the country? Those of you who have traveled to this assembly by toad are witnesses of the corrugated and utterly unworthy state of the roads which traverse Igbo land, in spite of the fact that four million Igbo people pay taxes in order, among others, to have good roads. With roads must be considered the system of communications, water and electricity supplies. How many of our towns, for example have complete postal, telegraph, telephone and wireless services compared to towns in other parts of Nigeria? How many have pipe-borne water supplies? How many have electricity undertakings? Does not the Igbo tax payer fulfill his civic duty? Why then, must he be a victim of studied official victimization? Today these disabilities have been intensified…
The only worthwhile stand we can make as a nation is to assert our right to self-determination, as a unit of a prospective Federal Commonwealth of Nigeria and the Cameroons where our rights will be respected and safeguarded. Roughly speaking, there are twenty main dialectical regions in the Igbo nation, which can conveniently be departmentalised as Provinces of an Igbo state to wit: Mbamili in the North West; Aniocha in the West, Anidinma and Ukwuani in the South East, Nsukka and Udi in the North, Awgu, Awka, and Onitsha in the Centre, Ogbaru in the South. Abakaliki and Afikpo in the North West, Okigwe, Orlu. Owerri and Mbaise in the East, Ngwa, Bende , Abiriba, Ohafia and Etche in the South West. These Provinces can have their territorial boundaries delimited, they can select their capitals, and then can conveniently develop their resources both for their common benefit and for those of other nationalities who made up this country called Nigeria and the Cameroons."
Again at the close of the Igbo State Assembly convened under the auspices of the Igbo State Union at Aba on 26th June 1949, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in the course of his farewell message, said the following:
“... If the lessons of history mean anything, it must be concluded that the Igbo people though numerous, are friendly in their disposition, charitable in their relations with others and artistic in their temperament. But they are pugnacious when aroused and they resist injustice no matter from what quartet. They are industrious and enterprising and have powers of adaptability due to their colonising instinct, which has .ed them to migrate to almost every part of West African. Granting that in any nation there must exist some undesirable characters, why should the Igbo nation be marked down for wholesale victimization, if the above sterling virtues are inherent in some of them."
The irony of the above excursion into Igbo history is that the dial of Igbo political development had not only moved full circle, but that Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe lived long enough to see it. Today, just as in the late 1940s, the Igbos are politically as marginalized as ever. In this regard, the Igbos have a saying to the effect that "if a child does not bother to understand what fate befell his dead father, then he is bound to suffer the same fate as his father." In this discourse, we have tried to review some of the outstanding mistakes of the past. The situation now calls for renewal action along the lines already alluded to.
2. Mobilising and organizing the Igbo people
The starting point for any remedial action is the urgent need to mobilise and organise Igbo people. In doing this, there is a need for the existence and unity of Nigeria as a polity to be acknowledged. In doing so it must be recognised that because of the federal and multi-ethnic nature of Nigeria; a strong Nigeria must necessarily be predicated on the strength of its component parts. A strong Igbo nation therefore can only contribute to a strong Nigeria. But the strength of the Igbo nation is clearly the responsibility of the Igbos themselves.
It is therefore proposed that the Igbos should form a formal pan-Igbo organisation for the immense job of political education and mobilisation as well as social organisation dictated by the present situation. In this regard, it is inappropriate to resurrect the banned Igbo State Union, since the word "state" now has other connotations and would thus be misunderstood. Besides, Nigeria of the 1990's is quite different from the Nigeria of the 1940's. It is therefore suggested that the title of the proposed organisation should be Pan Igbo Cultural Union (PICU). This title is considered particularly attractive, not only because no one can begrudge the Igbos the right to maintain and develop their culture, but also because the world "culture" is all-embracing covering the intellectual and artistic achievement and expression of a people. Nevertheless the PICU should be a non-partisan and non-religious organisation. Its full membership should be open to any person with anyone of the two parents being Igbo or anyone married to an Igbo. Associate membership should also be available to any person who identifies with the aspirations of the Igbos as enunciated by the PICU.
The PICU should have branches at the state, LGA and town levels as well as overseas. Leadership positions at national and other sub-ordinate levels should be chosen democratically by direct election of registered members at village/town level and at higher levels by election through an electoral college system. The PICU should be led by a national president and the PICU branches by branch presidents.
The PICU should organise such activities as would promote the progress of Igbo people in the following areas:
There should be a PICU headquarters secretariat to be sited at one of the Igbo State capitals, and possibly Enugu, as the oldest Igbo capital city. The PICU Secretariat should be manned by full-time employees with a secretary-general as the Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Executive. The overall policies and affairs of PICU should be under the charge of a PICU Central Committee under the chairmanship of a PICU national president. To emphasise the idea of a collective leadership for the Igbos, the National President of PICU should be held annually in rotation among the PICU branch presidents of Igbo states who would automatically be members of the PICU Central Committee.
The PICU Central Committee will be serviced by the permanent PICU Headquarters Secretariat. The Central Committee should also be free to appoint standing action committees and commissions to deal with any problems such as in:
However PICU should not be in competition with Federal/State/Local governments in carrying out the above activities. Its role must be to facilitate, to enrich, and to augment and extend the efforts of government. It must therefore support all such actions of government that are geared in the interest of Igbo people.
3. PICU Branches
The following hierarchy of PICU branches should be established:
(a) State branches - these should be established in all states of the Federation. Each state branch should be led by a state president together with a state executive committee. Each state branch, particularly in the Igbo states, should work towards establishing a branch PICU secretariat manned by full/part-time employees.
(b) overseas branches - these would be established in those countries (e.g. UK, USA. Germany, Canada, France, South Africa. etc.) where there is a good concentration of resident Igbos. Each country branch should be led by a country president together with an executive council. Where feasible a permanent secretariat should be established, manned by full/part-time employees as appropriate.
(c) local government area branches - each LGA in Igbo mates should have a PICU branch, led by an LGA president and an executive committee. The function of the LGA branches is to co-ordinate the activities of the PICU town branches in the LGA.
(d) town branches - :in any town, in Nigeria or overseas, where a good number (e.g. 20 or above) of Igbos reside there should be established a PICU town branch, led by a town president and an executive committee. All grass roots activities should take place at town levels. Depending on economic circumstances, the town branches should establish and maintain a PICU Secretariat manned by full/part-time employees as appropriate.
4. PICU Action Programmes
As stated earlier, the purpose of establishing PICU is to give the Igbos a centre of reference, as well as a mechanism for collective thinking and planning not only in tactical but also in strategic terms, as the Igbos make a bid to reassert and re-establish themselves in the Nigerian polity and economy of the incoming millennium. PICU will not be a political party; and therefore will not engage in partisan politics. However, as a political reference point vis-à-vis the best interests of the Igbos, it would give general direction as the Igbos make their individual political choices. PICU also will not compete with any government - federal, state or local - in ministering to the needs of the Igbos. PICU will therefore aim to fulfill those needs of the Igbos as a people that governments cannot or are ill-suited to fulfill. In particular it will augment and extend government efforts in activities and projects meant to benefit the Igbos. PICU will particularly contribute in the following areas:
(a) Language and culture:
PICU in association with the existing Society for the Promotion of Igbo language should take all necessary measures towards the promotion of Igbo language. Efforts should be geared towards the development of the already established spoken and written central Igbo language. To this end special importance should be attached to the promotion of Igbo literature, particularly in primary schools of Igbo speaking states. Overseas PICU branches should take special measures to ensure that Igbo children born and resident overseas are fluent in Igbo language.
The annual Ahajioku festival currently undertaken by the Imo State Government should be broadened into a PICU affair, but with substantial material support of State Governments in Igbo speaking states. The festival should be all embracing. It should also include the display of Igbo culture as well as industrial, scientific and technological prowess. Other events should include exhibitions and sale of Igbo cultural foods and drinks, dance and music displays including masquerades and Igbo traditional sports. The Ahajioku festival should continue to hold annually and should be hosted in rotation by state governments of Igbo states.
(b) Political education:
PICU should organise talks, seminars and discussion groups on the political future of the Igbos. Such activities should seek to educate Igbo masses on current affairs in Nigeria especially as they affect Igbo interests. More importantly, these fora should provide the opportunity for a sense of Igbo identity to be inculcated and for the appreciation of political challenges and opportunities in the country through the spectacles of Igbo interests. In this regard, full use will be made of PICU news letters and magazines as well as newspapers to push this effort.
(c) General education:
It is now a matter of deep regret that a large proportion of Igbo youths (particularly males) have become disillusioned about the value of education, and many Igbo males are now school drop-outs. Although this trend is understandable in a national setting in which education is not a guaranteed passport to the good life, yet it is a misguided response to the fact that excellence and merit count for little in the Nigerian scheme of things. Unfortunately, the present apathy if allowed to continue unchecked is bound to prove very costly to the Igbo nation within a generation. Consequently PICU should take all necessary measures towards educating Igbo parents as well as youths on the importance of formal education. In particular, Igbo youths should be encouraged to study the sciences with a view to going into science and technology based professions, especially information technology and biotechnology.
(d) Industry, science and technology:
It has been said that the three major tribes in Nigeria have some easily recognisable attributes. Thus the Hausas/Fulanis are said to have a penchant for political power; the Yorubas were said to control the national economy (though this is hardly true today), while the Igbos were renowned for their prowess in science and technology. Indeed, the Igbos did prove their scientific and technological ingenuity and creativeness during the civil war. All that is left of this spirit of creativity is the Project Development Agency (PRODA) at Enugu, now being managed by the Federal Government.
It may be noted in this regard that the Awka blacksmiths were a forerunner and reminder of this Igbo proclivity. That this type of creative instinct is not dead is demonstrated by the fact that motor vehicle spare parts entrepreneurs at Nnewi are known to be able to copy or fashion any motor vehicle spare part. In fact such is their level of expertise, that today any motor vehicle spare part which cannot be found at Nnewi cannot be found in any other part of Nigeria.
PICU in association with appropriate government agencies should encourage and promote the creative potential of our youths in science and technology - by giving recognition to successful Igbo scientists/engineers as well as Igbo inventions, and where possible material support.
PICU should give particular attention to the industrialisation of Igbo land. In this regard, Igbo entrepreneurs (in co-operation with foreign partners and investors where appropriate) should establish manufacturing industries in Igbo land. In doing so, due attention should be paid to downstream petrochemical industries (as a complement to the now developing upstream petrochemical industries).
(e) Human resources survey and utilisation:
One of the biggest assets of the Igbos is their human resources. As of date, Igbos have excelled in all aspects of human endeavour, viz: academics, the sciences, engineering, law, medicine, architecture, art, humanities, politics and social sciences, sports, telecommunications, navigation, aeronautics, computer science and technology, banking economics and business, accountancy, journalism, entertainment, hotel management and catering, petroleum sciences and technology, aviation, the armed forces and police, etc., etc. However, there is no comprehensive directory or inventory either at the national or state level of available Igbo manpower resources.
This information is particularly lacking for the Igbo in diaspora, especially in the USA and Europe.
It is important for a resurgent Igbo nation that a comprehensive directory of Igbo human resources both in Nigeria and abroad be compiled. PICU in co-operation with overseas PICU branches shall set up task forces in Nigeria and overseas to undertake this all important compilation.
PICU armed with this directory of Igbo skilled manpower resources, will be in a position to ensure that Igbo people will be given high profiles and support in the placement of personnel in positions of authority at both national and international levels.
(f) Finance and Economic development:
In order that PICU should run smoothly and meet its obligations, it is necessary that it be funded adequately. Such funds would, for instance, be required for the construction and rental of office complexes and meeting halls; meeting the emoluments of part-time and full-time staff, paying for printing and stationery as well as the actual cost of financing specific PICU activities among others
It will be the task of the PICU finance committee to work out details of how the required funds could be raised. This might involve the now established method of "launching", donations and graded monthly contributions by PICU members. PICU could also engage in such revenue yielding projects as banking, investments, real estate developments, etc.
PICU should also establish a permanent Economic Commission (of Igbo experts) to study and advise on a long-term pan-Igbo economic plan. The result of such a study which should articulate medium and long term goals, should indicate mechanisms for implementation and this information should be made available to state governments of Igbo states. PICU should work with the private sector and entrepreneurs to ensure that aspects of the plan that belong to the private sector can be implemented.
(g) Information and Propaganda:
Communication is very important in the leadership - followership equation. Indeed, many political leaders have been known to founder when the lines of communication between them and those they lead become twisted or are disconnected altogether. The followership needs to be well informed on what the leadership is doing, while the leadership needs to keep in touch with the thinking, feelings, and needs of those they lead.
Indeed information is a major resource in any political education programme. But for information to flow, some machinery is required. Thus PICU should establish soon after inception a monthly newsletter (which may be sent out free, or bear a nominal charge), while individual or groups of Igbo financiers and entrepreneurs should be encouraged to set up 'national' newspapers and magazines with an overt or preferably hidden Igbo agenda.
Since the private sector is now allowed to invest in broadcasting, Igbo entrepreneurs should be encouraged to establish radio and TV stations, especially in Igbo speaking states where the Igbo language broadcasts could openly be used for Igbo propaganda purposes. Indeed those Igbo entrepreneurs that have already established newspapers, radio and television stations should be encouraged to give the editorial policies the appropriate Igbo slant.
V. STRATEGIES FOR GETTING STARTED
There is an Igbo proverb that states that it is not easy for anyone to just start to cry. But that is not the case, when serious pain and injury have been inflicted. Indeed, the Igbo people have been in such disarray since the end of the civil war (a generation ago!) that mobilising and organising them cannot be a mean task. However, it is a task whose time has come. Indeed, the Igbos have suffered with equanimity painful human and material losses before and during the civil war. They have also suffered financial and economic emasculation after the civil war as well as subsequent marginalisation in Nigerian politics and in the armed forces and police. Consequently, if the Igbos as a group were bent towards weeping, it would come to them easily enough. This means that the Igbo people are now ready and ripe to do whatever it may take to reverse the present situation.
B. Establishment of PICU Steering Committee:
A number of committed Igbos will be approached to consider the above proposals with a view to consolidating and extending rue ideas and proposals presented above. Thereafter, the document will be presented to a very small group of committed and very distinguished Igbos with the request that they establish a steering committee to study these proposals in depth.
The steering committee will map out strategies for the implementation of the adopted proposals. Such strategies may include the reproduction and wide distribution among Igbos (in Nigeria and abroad) of an abridged and modified form of this document, it may also include the organisation of a Pan-Igbo Leaders of Thought Conference. The object of the conference would be to enable further discussion of the adopted proposals and their subsequent endorsement by the conference followed by the election of protem national and state presidents and honorary secretaries and treasurers. The conference would be used to launch PICU formally and to accept voluntary donations from attendees of the conference.
The conference will also consider and adopt a PICU draft constitution to be prepared beforehand by the PICU Steering Committee. After the conference, the PICU protem officers would take over the running of PICU at national and branch levels for the subsequent six months after which, normal elections to PICU central and executive committees will take place.
C. Timetable of events:
The overall objective should be that PICU and its branches should be fully established and functioning by the year 2000 AD. To ensure that this objective is achieved, the following timetable of events is proposed:
For sometime now there has been a lot of discussion among Igbo elites about the predicament and the declining fortunes of Igbo people. There has also been statements made by prominent Igbos in the Nigerian media about the marginalisation of the Igbos, so much so that Igbos are gradually developing into a nation of grumblers. But as Aldous Huxley said; "Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you". Indeed, a lot has happened to the Igbos in the last fifty years and the main message of this paper therefore is that the Igbos should not be lost in the nostalgia of the good old days, nor should they dive into psychological depression because of some of the misfortunes (some self-inflicted) that befell them in the past. Instead, they should allow the totality of their past experiences and the universally acclaimed sterling qualities they possess to motivate them to greater heights in individual and group accomplishments. As the author Polly Berends remarked, every experience whether good or bad that befalls any individual (and groups of individuals) always has the quality of both a blessing and a lesson - a quality she calls BLESSON. For it is through adverse conditions that man learns, develops and perfects himself. The Igbos have so much to learn from their past often traumatic experiences. In that sense they are a blessed people - for these experiences are merely the foundation and prelude to their future greatness.
The present situation should therefore be regarded as a challenge to Igbo dynamism and creativity. It is in fact a direct challenge to the Igbo elites. Indeed, assuming that they take appropriate action today, most may not live long enough to see the fruits of their labours. Nevertheless action must be taken now in the interest of our children and grand-children, most of whom have grown up to see Igbos as veritable second class citizens in Nigeria - a far cry from the pre-civilian Nigeria. That action and the anticipated results, especially pride in the Igbo nation, more than riches and caches of individual wealth, is the least we should bequeath to out children and their children.
We return finally to the question of Igbo leadership. As the Igbo themselves know only too well, they are mostly not a monarchical nation, even though there are a few Igbo towns (especially in Delta, Anambra and Abia States) that had been ruled by monarchs (obis and ezes) even before the arrival of the first white men in our society. Consequently the overall tendency of the Igbos has been towards republicanism. This is perhaps why it has been so difficult for Igbos to identify with a singly tribal leader. In spite of these, the Igbos have had a political system that relied on individuals within a collective leadership based on consensus.
In spite of extensive Igbo intercourse with other tribes in Nigeria (that operate a monarchical system), the Igbos, essentially and at heart, remain republicans. This is precisely why the Igbo State Union (which did not encourage personality cults) thrived. This is also the rationale for proposing PICU with the implied leadership of the Igbos by a small group reminiscent of the leadership of elders in the disparate Igbo communities of yore. The only difference between PICU and the traditional Igbo leadership, is that whereas one is based on old age, the other will not necessarily be based on age but on personal qualities, acquired skills, competence and talent. The new generation of Igbo leadership, serving through PICU, should be one identified by a number of personal values that must include the following.
The authors would like to thank Senator Onyeabo Obi for a discussion in the summer of 1996 that provoked this study. They also thank Dr Pius Okigbo for encouragement and for moral and material support. Finally the authors thank; Mr. Chike Okeiyi for providing archival material on the Igbo State Union, and Chief Raph Uwechue, Barrister J.S.P.C. Nwokolo and Dr. Eugene Okereke among others for very useful discussions.