God, in his infinite wisdom, created me Igbo. If it is possible to reincarnate, I will return to this world an Igbo. I don’t know any section of Nigeria that could withstand the rest of the Nigerian federation for a whole 30 months as Eastern Nigeria did between 1967 and 1970. Despite the severe economic and air blockade, Biafra was a bold statement about the blackman’s scientific and technological capabilities, as the preeminent American scholar of sociology, Stanley Diamond, reported to the world in 1968. Frankly, I don’t know of any part of Nigeria that would come out of the catastrophe with practically no money, and yet within only three years there were scarcely physical traces of the war. Perhaps only the Igbo could challenge the Yoruba in educational development and within a mere 20 years (from 1945 to 1965) “wipe out their educational handicap in one fantastic burst of energy”, as Chinua Achebe puts it in The Trouble With Nigeria.
In any endeavour where merit is the sole criterion for determining recognition like sports, music and education, the Igbo would always excel. The Igbo are often referred to as the African version of the Jewish people whom Ali Mazrui, the most published African scholar, calls in his most ambitious book, Cultural Forces in World Politics, a race whose prodigious achievements in science, philosophy, finance and international politics are far in excess of their population. In her charming book, World On Fire, Amy Chua, an economist and distinguished professor at Yale Law School, calls the Igbo “an economic dominant” group in West Africa. The Bamileke people of Cameroon are called Igbo on account of their industry and entrepreneurship.
However, the Igbo, once guided by such far-sighted men as the Great Zik of Africa, Michael Okpara, Akanu Ibiam, Ukpabi Asika, Pius Okigbo and others, are now in dire need of strategic direction. Already, it would seem we are not being taken seriously. On Thursday, January 30, 2014, Governor Seriake Dickson led a large delegation of Bayelsa leaders to thank Vice President Namadi Sambo for “supporting our son, President Goodluck Jonathan”. Sambo’s contribution to Jonathan’s presidency is a matter of speculation. In the 2011 general vote, Sambo lost his ward to an opposition party. Since prominent Northern political leaders became critical of Jonathan and since the Boko Haram insurrection became full blown, you would expect Sambo to show his hand, as Vice President Atiku Abubakar did in 2000 during the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency when political sharia was launched in 12 northern states, causing problems of colossal consequence. But our vice president has been missing in action. This is a story for another day.
Why does Gov Dickson find it important to constantly thank Vice President Sambo for his support but has not uttered a word of gratitude to Ndigbo who have given Jonathan unprecedented support, far more than he has received from his own Niger Delta region? Has Edwin Clark, the leader of the Ijaw, ever publicly acknowledged Igbo support for Jonathan?
Erstwhile Anambra State governor Chukwuemeka Ezeife, who for years was in the vanguard of the campaign that “it is either an Igbo president in 2015 or Nigeria will cease to exist” now threatens war if Jonathan is not returned to office next year. He probably borrowed the war threat from the lips of Asari Dokubo of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force. How did Ezeife, a former lecturer at Makerere University in Uganda and retired federal permanent secretary who holds a Harvard doctorate in economics, find himself in the same company as Mujaheed Dokubo? Indeed, there is a Jonathan frenzy throughout Igboland. But it is not founded on any discernible rationality. A very influential Igbo professor who is one of the architects of Igbo support for Jonathan is often the first person to admit in private that Jonathan’s development presence in the Southeast is embarrassingly poor, saying it is worth about the sixth of federal government’s projects in the North Central geopolitical zone.
The Enugu-Onitsha highway is not passable. The Okigwe—Aba Road is a death trap. The Umuahia—Ikot Ekpene Road is probably the worst road in the world, after the road leading to Arochukwu. All federal roads in the Southeast, with the exception of about three or four, are in a messy state. The Enugu Electricity Distribution Company has been handed over to Emeka Offor’s Interstate Electrics which the Bureau of Public Enterprises and the National Council on Privatisation in a joint report declared financially and technically incapable of doing electricity distribution business. Ironically, the consortium promoted by the five Southeast state governments and the finest entrepreneurs from the zone and recommended by the BPE/NCP for the Enugu Disco was in a bizarre act overruled by the Jonathan administration. Electricity distribution Is a natural monopoly, so it means all parts of Nigeria can develop in the foreseeable future but not the Southeast. No place can grow without adequate electricity.
True, a number of Igbo people have under Jonathan been appointed to “juicy positions”. There are more Igbo private jet owners now than ever. But in a world where the buzz expression now is inclusive development, as opposed to a policy which excludes the majority of the people from the economic process, the new concept of Igbo empowerment is antithetical to development. Igbo leaders are not asking Jonathan to help create a system which could accelerate development of Igboland which unfortunately is increasingly becoming an economic desert. Figures from the national Bureau of Statistics show the Southeast and severely security-challenged Northeast to be the least developing geopolitical zones in both relative and absolute terms. No one is asking the president to build natural gas pipelines to the Southeast, as there are in the Southwest, so that heavy industries could be established in the area. No one is asking that a seaport be built in, say, Onitsha, for economic and strategic reasons. In his absorbing book, My Vision: Challenges in the Race for Excellence, Dubai Ruler Mohammed Maktoum explains that the establishment of the world’s largest man-made port and other seaports in this desert emirate has been at the heart of Dubai’s phenomenal development. Igbo leaders are not even asking Jonathan to do something as simple as directing ministries, departments and agencies to patronize Innoson vehicles, so that this ingenious Innoson Motors firm would not go the way of Anammco in Enugu which collapsed on account of poor patronage by even government agencies across the nation. Igbo leaders are not asking Jonathan to help revive the Nigerian Cement company at Nkalagu in Ebonyi State.
What we rather hear from these leaders is that Jonathan is a great leader because he has promised to build a second bridge on the River Niger so that traffic would flow easily from Asaba to Onitsha during Christmas and Easter when Igbo people return home en masse. Is this what is called strategic thinking in the 21st century? The Jonathan presidency is modernizing the Lagos—Kano rail which is bound to have a significant impact on the economies of these two states and their neighbours. Neither Lagos State governor Babatunde Fashola nor Kano State governor Kwankwanso has ever kowtowed to the president for this strategic and capital intensive initiative. But the moment the president promised he would start the second Niger bridge, Peter Obi, in his capacity as chairman of the Conference of Southeast Governors, mobilised large delegations of Igbo leaders in a well-choreographed show of endless public adulation and obeisance to Jonathan. Frankly, it is unrealistic to expect any major ethnic group which has chosen this inelegant role for itself to be taken seriously. Any wonder the president had no difficulty throwing out Festus Odimegwu, a particularly brilliant and gifted technocrat, out of office once Governor Kwankwaso balked at Odimegwu’s pledge that he would be the first chairman of the National Population Commission to conduct a credible national census?
To be sure, Igbo leaders are at liberty to support any person. But such an endorsement should be on certain conditions which must hinge on long term interests of Ndigbo. The current hysteria over Jonathan without negotiating any deal for the development of our homeland belittles all of us. It is does not portray a people prepared, in Achebe’s words, to join the rest of the world step into the 21st century with restored hope and dignity.
-By C. Don Adinuba, head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.