Historically, Ndigbo may not have built big political empires but what Ndigbo did not lack is sense of self-worth and internal organizational abilities. Ndigbo are naturally imbued with organizational ingenuity and incredible creative ability to turn nothing into something of value. At any location he finds himself, the Igbo man tries to identify with his people by forming associations. Onye aghala nwanne ya, meaning no one should forsake his brother, an age-old Igbo dictum, is the watchword—a veritable reason that anywhere the Igbo man is he tries to fraternize with his kits and kin. Thus, Igbo associations are as old as Igbo migratory history itself. In colonial Nigeria Igbo associations sprang up in major cities of Nigeria as soon as Ndigbo began its migration into other locations in search of the proverbial Golden Fleece. In Lagos the Igbo Union was formed by notable Igbo sons led by Dennis Osadebe, the first and only Premier of the defunct Mid-West Region, as early as in the 1930s. The Igbo associations were for the welfare of Ndigbo as well as for providing a platform for them to interact and learn. It was the rallying point of all Igbo. And every Igbo man no matter his status and political affiliations were proud to identify with the Igbo State Union. But, the Igbo State associations suffered a severe setback in 1966 when Maj. J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo son, in a bid to pacify the North after the 1966 coup banned the Igbo State Union. And after the war an attempt was made to resuscitate the moribund union through the formation of Igbo National Assembly (INA) but Gowon stopped it.
This was the situation until 1976 when the ban on political activities was lifted by the then military government and Sir Akanu Ibiam and other prominent Igbo sons formed the Ohanaeze Ndigbo. The formation of Ohanaeze Ndigbo as the replacement of the proscribed Igbo State Union was essentially to cater for the welfare of Ndigbo, promote Igbo interest and culture as heretofore and articulate measures to ensure the speedy reconstruction and development of Igbo land ravaged by the 30 months fratricidal war. It was supposed to be the voice of the Igbo man and a platform to chart the cause of the Igbo nation in the evolving new world. Thusly, the formation of Ohanaeze Ndigbo brought so much hope to the war-weary Ndigbo.
But today, fifty years after the civil war and forty-four years after the formation of Ohaneaze Ndigbo, the condition of the Igbo man in Nigeria has not improved. The Igbo nation is yet to be fully integrated into Nigeria. There seems to be strong centrifugal forces pushing Ndigbo away from the centre. During and immediately after colonial era Nigeria was said to be standing on tripod but this regime has completely removed the third leg of the tripod. It is insinuated that the misfortune of Ndigbo now is traceable to those who live in perpetual fear of the Igbo man; those who dread the can-do spirit of the Igbo man, the spirit of igba mbo. It appears that the Igbo are now in a state of war in Nigeria, more dangerous than the one fought in trenches. There is the conspiracy theory and the growing apprehension among the Igbo of a grand design to exclude them from the affairs of the country. The Igbo land is like an occupied territory; there is low representation at the centre and no federal presence or projects. The gains made in the previous regimes appeared completely ruined by the apparent retributive policies of the current regime. It is a pitiable situation.
Although psychologically, it is comforting and safe to assume that there are no enemies in order to enable one focus properly on ones challenges yet, in reality it is dangerous and delusional to make such apriority when there are evidential and existential facts pointing to the contrary. Those who rule Nigeria especially in this dispensation rule like potentates. They do not understand the language of civil engagement. The only language they understand is nuisance value which the Igbo man cares not to have. It is alleged that those who govern Nigeria at the center are ostensibly not interested in the development of the nation. Their primary concern seems to be to maintain the status quo and the balance of power usurped during the war. One of their strategies being to destabilize the South East the homeland of Ndigbo through many subtle means one of which is through the imposition of renegades as leaders in Igbo land. They want to create the portraiture of Ndigbo as a people that cannot be trusted with power. But in reality, those who cannot be trusted with power are those wielding power at the center at present. Ironically, those who have acquitted themselves creditably well in office since the inceptions of the current democratic dispensation in Nigeria in 1999 are Ndigbo.
For the woes of Ndigbo in Nigeria, many concerned Igbo sons have blamed Ohanaeze Ndigbo. They have openly declared lack of confidence in Ohanaeze. In truth, Ohanaeze has not re-enacted the feat that made the defunct Igbo State Union the authentic voice of not just Ndigbo but nay the black race in the struggle against colonialism. What is supposed to be the apex Igbo organization seems to lack the clout to lead Ndigbo. When Ohanaeze speaks, it is with a voice strangled with fear. There is the belief that Ohanaeze Ndigbo problem has to do with in-fighting among the leadership. It is also assumed that the leadership is visionless, rudderless and self-seeking. Many are of the view that Ohanaeze has to do a critical review of its programmes, come out of its pacifist shell and design a realistic strategy to operationalize its programmes to advance the interest of the Igbo nation.
But, in fairness to Ohanaeze, it has its own obvious constraints. Granted Ohanaeze Ndigbo may have its internal wrangling and in-fighting as every organization has but the problems of Ohanaeze are not so much of that of leadership as it is of followership. Ohanaeze has no nuisance value because it has no army of area-boys and alimajiris with which to enforce its decisions and most significantly because it has no committed followership. Another factor militating against Ohanaeze is the Igbo man’s apathy and non-committal attitude towards politics and the affairs of the Igbo nation. When you make one statement against any of the major ethnic groups in Nigeria, you will receive one thousand ripostes but when you make one thousand statements about Ndigbo, no matter how disparaging you will receive maybe one half-hearted response. Igbo individualism is the boon and the bane of the Igbo nation. It elicits the spirit of hard work and inventiveness and also create apathy, strife and pull-him-down syndrome. Igbo individualism tends to make the average Igbo man disregards common interest for personal interest. However, we will also not overlook other external factors such as: intimidation, blackmail, inducement, sabotage, subversion working against Ohanaeze.
Since the formation of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, no attempt has been made to formalize its registration for obvious reason but recently, one Igbo man with the connivance of others has gone ahead to register Ohanaeze Ndigbo General Assembly and has gone ahead to make clandestine campaign for membership. How do we explain it? Is this act designed to help or sabotage Ohanaeze? Our people say that if you blame the fox for carrying the chick, you will also chide the chick for straying in the wrong direction. Much as we blame our traducers and pervasive external interferences for the misfortune of Ndigbo, we must look inwards and correct those anomalies that make us vulnerable and susceptible to manipulations. Much as the oha needs the ezes, ndieze cannot function effectively without the cooperation of oha. The glory of the eze lies in the followership it commands.
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Therefore, in the light of the current political reality and the precarious position of Ndigbo in the contemporary Nigeria, it has become imperative to rejuvenate Ohaneze to enable it perform expectedly. It is already half a century since the war ended and Ndigbo will not continue to grope in the dark. Ohanaeze must critically review the situation of Ndigbo in Nigeria, make its plans and future projections and draws up its strategies to move Ndigbo to where they should be. We will no longer continue to play the pacifist role. We will no longer continue to bear the brunt and make sacrifices for a vengeful country. There is need for the creative articulation of actions and strategies that would enable Ndigbo survive the Nigeria hostile and hateful environment, take its rightful place in the scheme of things. Ndigbo can no longer be bystanders, display self-defeating aloofness, play political mugwump and allow the area-boys and alimajiris dictate their destiny.
2023 is around the corner. Other ethnic nationalities are jousting and positioning for power. What is Ohanaeze doing? What are Ndigbo doing? Over 90% of political office holders in Igbo land are ex-419 slickters. What is Ohanaeze doing to inspire and mentor professionals into politics instead of allowing self-seeking swindlers with porous intellectual content dominate Igbo political space? The success we recorded in colonial politics was because the bulk of our politicians were intellectuals. We do not have enough professionals in politics now. What we have now are jobless political contractors and traders who see politics as a continuation of their business rather a call to serve the people by pursuing common goals. Ohanaeze should mobilize and productively engage the Igbo brainiacs for affirmative action. If we have more of Senators Abaribe and Ekweremadu in the NASS our voice would not be swamped out as it is today.
Clearly, Ndigbo have whatever it takes to lead Nigeria—education, wealth, intelligence, population. Ndigbo are egalitarian, republican, hardworking, fair-minded, merit-driven, lovers of equity and justice. What Ndigbo lack is social intelligence and common interest. Regrettably, the Igbo Intelligentsia that used to be the bastion of African intellectualism in colonial era has lost the mystique, verve and assertiveness that made Ndigbo the leading voice in colonial and post independent Nigeria and relapsed into intellectual lethargy; subordinated its position to crude politicians and allowed the area-boys to direct their thinking.
Paradoxically, Igbo man may appear difficult to govern because of his republican nature. But Igbo man is firm, not stubborn. He is rational and logical. He submits to superior logic not force, blackmail or intimidation. When the Igbo man is convinced about something, he follows it with commitment, dedication and determination. This is the quality that Ohanaeze must key into to mobilize Ndigbo to action. The leadership of Ohanaeze must come out of its reverie, cudgel its brains and face reality if it must remain relevant.
In summary, I would suggest that: Ohanaeze must continue to advocate for the restructuring of the Nigerian State as a panacea for peaceful co-existence among the ethnic nationalities and firmly insist on the principles of meritocracy, equity, justice, level playing ground, rule of law and fairness. Ohanaeze should establish an Igbo think-tank and a foundation to promote Igbo culture and economic reconstruction of Igbo land ravaged by war and willful negligence. Ohanaeze should set up structures, mobilize and galvanize Igbo intellectuals and work out the Igbo survival praxis in the face of the suffocating Nigeria political economy.
Furthermore, it should promote cultural atavism among Ndigbo in order to promote our distinctiveness and cultural ethos. This will give our people a sense of belonging, make them take pride in our cherished values and traditions. Ohanaeze must also use every tool at its disposal to drum the think-home mantra into the minds of every Igbo man at every forum. Again and most importantly, Ohanaeze must call for reparation from Nigeria government for the atrocities committed against Ndigbo during the civil war. There are more than enough evidence to support the call for compensation for the crime committed against the Igbo nation. Ohanaeze must work to restore the respect and dignity of the Igbo man in the comity of all by working assiduously to correct the ugly stereotypes erroneously ascribed to the Igbo man. Ohanaeze should plan for the establishment of Igbo cultural centres in the major cities of the world for Ndigbo in Diaspora.
Ohanaeze should in keeping with the principle of “no permanent enemy but permanent interest” in politics build strong relationship internally and engage in collaborative and corroborative effort with other political blocs in the country with a view to foster peace and protection of Igbo interests across the nation.
Finally, Ohanaeze Ndigbo must continue to identify, fraternize and support our brothers within the Igbo cultural periphery, who have denied their Igboness for fear of political persecution in Nigeria.
By Gozie Irogboli…
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