Igbo Must Save Themselves

Don Adinuba

By C. Don Adinuba  |

QUITE a number of Igbo elements have, in the last few weeks, taken umbrage at my article on the relationship between Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola and the Igbo-speaking people, with some calling me on the phone to express their sentiments. So much heat, but little light.  It is a familiar path. A couple of years ago when I published an article in The Guardian on Sunday, in response to an opinion piece by Akin Osuntokun, I pointed out that much as Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s brilliance, foresight, hard work and management acumen were well established, the great politician was imbued with what Ali Mazrui would call a long memory of hate. I cited the instance of Awolowo saying at a campaign rally in 1979 that Samuel Akintola “deserved to die the way he did”, that is, at the hands of military coup plotters in January 1966.

Awolowo was to describe the erstwhile secretary general of his Action Group, Sam G. Ikoku, who had emerged the best student in both the undergraduate and post graduate programmes at the London School of Economics under the great Harold Laski and whose father, Alvan Ikoku, had obtained advanced degrees in philosophy from the University of London in the 1940s, as someone he “picked up from the gutter”, vowing that “SG will suffer for his ingratitude”. Following in  Awo’s footsteps, his political disciples were conspicuous by their absence at the funeral of Adeniran Ogunsanya, a political giant in his own right, simply because he was “omo ale” (bastard) for not joining the Awo group.  Rather than try to disprove my thesis, some self-styled Yoruba ultra nationalists chose to rain invective on me.

Shortly after, Reuben Abati, then The Guardian editorial board chair, wrote rather approvingly of the notion that the Igbo penchant for domination in the military and elsewhere led to the January 1966, coup d’etat.  I challenged the assertion, demonstrating with facts and logic that the Igbo conspicuous presence in the officer corps of the Nigerian army right from colonial days was based on merit. I observed that even in the very issue of The Guardian on Sunday where Abati wrote his column in question that out of three Nigerians honoured in London the preceding week for internationally acknowledged achievements two were Igbo, that is, 66 percent of the recipients, the very percentage of the Nigerian army officers corps of Igbo extraction as of 1966. Recalling the views of Mazrui, who is the most published African scholar, that the Igbo are the Jews of Africa, I noted that in sports and other fields where merit is the sole criterion, the Igbo would always have what may be considered “a disproportionate share”. The Igbo reacted hilariously to the piece while the Yoruba denounced it.

Now, there is a reversal of roles. Igbo activists are not amused at my article showing that Governor Fashola has gone out of his way to integrate the Igbo in his state more than any governor in Nigeria’s history. But Yoruba internet warriors are delighted, circulating the article with gusto all over the place; some have gone overboard by changing the title from “Fashola and Ndigbo” to “Fashola and Igbo hypocrisy”.  I typically should be having a good laugh at human folly, but I am rather worried at the proclivity of educated Nigerians to remain in Francis Fukuyama’s “primitive age of mankind”. Of particular concern is the growing inability of the present generation of the Igbo elite to demonstrate courage, fidelity to truth, acute knowledge and strategic thinking. Instead of leading from the front, they have chosen the convenient and cheap option of conformity and groupthink. They have allowed rabble rousers and politicians enthusiastic to manipulate primordial differences  and  capitalize on a culture of persecution complex to dictate the pace. But we must see the recent decision by the Lagos State government to relocate 14 Igbo destitute people to Anambra State as a wake-up call. We must learn from our recent history.

When the Great Zik of Africa returned from the United States in the 1940s with a string of degrees in diverse disciplines, he saw that the Igbo were lagging behind the Yoruba because Igboland is in the hinterland, far removed from the sea through which modernity came to our country. He did not induce in the Igbo a persecution or inferiority complex or demonise the Yoruba, but rather took far-sighted steps to make them leapfrog developmentally. He sent to the United States nine promising Igbo young men, including K. O. Mbadiwe, Nwafor Orizu, Mbonu Ojike and Okechukwu Ikejiani, for further studies, and the “Argonauts”, in turn, sent their family members and relatives to the U.S.. This is the genesis of the Igbo dominance of the Nigerian community in the U.S. A gifted anthropologist, Zik recognized Igbo society thrives on village and town competition. He used the instrumentality of the Igbo State Union to promote the establishment of educational institutions by communities.

Thus, “in one fantastic burst of energy”, as Chinua Achebe put it, “the Igbo wiped out their educational handicap”. By 1965, they had begun to compete with the Yoruba educationally. Meanwhile, Zik had recruited many village primary school teachers with a flair for writing and trained them as journalists on his West Africa Pilot. That’s how the Igbo came into journalism. Emmanuel Obiechina, the eminent professor of sociology of literature, did show in a compelling manner how this development led to the emergence of the first generation of intellectual novels and how the Igbo were in the forefront.

As Eastern Nigerian premier, Zik operated far the lowest budget in the country because palm produce, the region’s economic mainstay, was attracting much lower prices than cocoa and groundnut, which were the main revenue earners for the other two regions. Yet, he was able to establish the Eastern Nigerian Development Commission, able to set up Nigeria’s first indigenous bank, Nigeria’s first full-fledged university,  Nigeria’s first cement company, Nigeria’s first gas company, Nigeria’s first steel company, Nigeria’s first industrial estates in Enugu and Port Harcourt, etc. No wonder, Eastern Nigeria had the world’s fastest economy by 1966. But where are the Zik’s legacies today? It is a shame that instead of building on the Zik foundation so that the Southeast will no longer remain an economic wasteland, the Igbo elite, unconscionably manipulated by one or two politicians, have been satisfied to engage in excoriating criticism of Governor Fashola over the relocation of destitute Igbo persons in Lagos to Igboland. Some Igbo elements have, without any sense of embarrassment, demanded Fashola to bring back these individuals and rehabilitate them. Has Igboland become such a dreaded place that even Igbo beggars from Lagos, whom some activists insist were Lagos street hawkers, cannot stay there and be rehabilitated by the various state ministries in charge of social welfare? Must Fashola perform all basic responsibilities, including ones expected of our governors?

Why are we not worried about the present state of the industrial towns of Aba and Nnewi? Where is Onwuka Hi-Tek, for one? Ayo Teriba, the economist, reported a few days ago on inter-regional disparities in Nigeria: “Southeast and Northeast (ravaged by Boko Haram) not only had the smallest economies in 2012, they also recorded the least absolute and percentage growths”. Why are we not alarmed at this trend? Why are we not demanding accountability and solid performance from Southeast governors and legislators so that our homeland can regain its place of pride? Why have our elite been cold to the takeoff of the Southeast Economic Development Commission, for which Chris Okoye has, for years, been shouting himself hoarse? How did we come about the lazy thinking that uttering unflattering things about Fashola is the way to demonstrate Igbo nationalism? Frankly, the low road which Igbo think tanks have taken since the brouhaha over the return of indigent Igbo elements in Lagos to their homeland is most graceless. The think tanks have been driven by emotion, and not reason. Nigerian intellectuals validate, through their utterances and actions, the notion in some quarters that educated Africans often fail to think deeply. “Emotion is African, reason is Greek”, lamented Leopold Sedar Senghor, statesman, poet and negritude philosopher, who led Senegal to independence in 1960.

Finally, I would like to repeat the kernel of the argument in my previous article. The relocation of destitute persons by the Lagos State government has nothing to do with their being Igbo. Removal of beggars from Lagos streets began no sooner than Fashola assumed office six years ago. And he began with urchins better known as area boys who are mostly indigenes of Lagos Island, his ancestral home. It is a component of the Lagos Megacity project. Under this project, thousands of northerners and Yoruba people have been relocated to their home states. About 80 were sent to Oyo State on November 19, 2009. Indeed, no governor compares with Fashola in demonstrating solidarity with the Igbo people. The evidence is overpowering.

The Igbo elite have toyed with the Igbo destiny enough. This is the time to start the difficult but rewarding process of resuscitating and modernising the economy of the Igboland. All this hot air about the defence of Igbo dignity through sentimental and reckless showmanship in the media must now come to a close. This is not what Zik, Alex Ekwueme and other high-minded individuals taught us. Low road leads to perdition. The Igbo must save their homeland and themselves.

Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting 

— Aug. 26, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

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