“We forge the chains we wear in life” - Charles Dickens
Since the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war in 1970, the challenges confronting of the great Igbo race have been myriad. Though expected of a people that lost a war, the aftermaths of the civil war have lingered for rather too long. In terms of political organization, Ndi Igbo have performed rather poorly and its apex body – Ohanaeze – has remained rudderless and has failed to provide the people with the needed cohesiveness and inspirational leadership, especially when compared to its counterparts in the North and Western Nigeria, namely, Afenifere and Arewa Consultative Forum.
Come to think of it, Ndi Igbo ought to be the easiest ethnic group to lead in Nigeria. The structures are there on ground for any sincere and purposive leadership to tap from and enact the desired level of leadership. Though Ndi Igbo are republican in nature, they are unionized, to the point that there is no Igbo town that does not have in place a town union for its socio-cultural, economic and political organization. These town unions ought to be the building blocks of Ohanaeze and their Presidents-General its congress or parliament. This is the only way Ohanaeze could connect with the people it claims to lead.
Again compared to the Igbo State Union of the pre-civil war era, under the altruistic, astute and inimitable leadership of Chief Z.C. Obi, Ndi Igbo were then so organized and galvanized that they provided a ready backbone and wave for the ascendency of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as a political colossus in Nigeria. Then, Ndi Igbo spoke with one voice and were ironed together by common fate, and pursued their happiness and fought their adversaries together. Thus they could dominate the nation’s scape in politics, commerce, military and the civil service.
This Igbo dominance was cut short by the military misadventure of Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and his cohorts, which saw to the killings of some northern political leaders and led to the countercoup, which toppled Major General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi and brought Yakubu Gowon to power.
Igbo marginalization was then enacted to check their dominance and ruthlessly pursued by the powers that be since the civil war as a matter of state policy. Take for instance national census; it does appear the census figures as simply allocated. A little before independence, the last census conducted by the British colonial administration put the population of Ndi Igbo at over 7 million. About the same time, the population of Ghana was put at a little over five million. Today, wait for it; the 1996 population census put the South East population at a little over 18 million while the 2013 population census of Ghana put the Ghanaian population at 25.9 million. Obviously, if Ghana is over 26 million people today, the South East cannot be less than 30 million! Discounting politics and going by the canons of population projections, a proper census will put the South East population at between 40 and 50 million people if not more.
The deficits suffered by Ndi Igbo as a result of this devious politics of exclusion have been all-encompassing. On the average, the South East is the only zone in the country with 5 States. What is more, the South East is below par with the other zones in number of local governments by at least 20 Local governments. Yet, States and Local Governments remain the basis for revenue allocation, federal appointments and admissions into federal institutions. An attempt at computing what the South East has lost through this unjust and deliberate policy of exclusion, which started since Gowon’s state creation in 1967, would reveal losses in excess of trillions of naira and thousands of slots that are rightly South East quotas but awarded to other zones through this marginalization policy.(These policy-inflicted losses and their quantum are discussed fully in the book, “The Audacity of Power…Exclusion of South East in Nigeria’s Power Politics and the Specter of Biafra” by Dr. Godwin Udibe and Law Mefor).
Inopportunely, since after the civil war, central Igbo leadership has often proved very problematic. Not even Emeka Ojukwu, the erstwhile Biafra leader, could enact a centralized Igbo leadership since the end of the Biafra war. The Igbo people have remained essentially without clear leadership, relying heavily of situational and ad-hoc arrangements to tackle the situations that demand a collective response. At some points, their story appeared to be that of a people without savvy, some even say a story of savages.
This sad commentary about the great race is not necessarily inherent, but can be viewed as a psychological consequence of losing a war. As a rule, the losing side in a war often tends to scatter and indulge in blame game and Igbos reacted typically as predicted after their harrowing Biafra war experience.
This leadership lacuna has always been a gaping wound in the body politics of Ndi Igbo and makes them appear disorganized in national politics. Their positions are hardly harmonized and a staccato of voices keeps laying claim to authority with charlatans lording it over them. Those who have been empowered by federal might have also in many instances, deployed their resources to the detriment of the Igbo collective interest, which has ensured that the people remain disarticulated and divided. This scenario also keeps giving the impression that such people are deliberately empowered to keep Ndi Igbo defeated and subjugated.
It is against this backdrop that the World Igbo Summit Group (WISG) has risen as a harmonizing and moderating voice and providing a veritable platform where the growing numbers of Igbo organizations can coalesce into a coherent force. That Igbos may speak with one voice once again and tone down the ‘Igbo enwe eze’ – Igbos have no king - syndrome, which has worked against Igbo interest over time.
What particularly makes the new move by WISG to hold a greater promise is that the brains behind the harmonization of the South East positions at National Confab are also behind the World Igbo Summit Group, most notable being General Senator Ike Nwachukwu who was the leader of the South East at the 2014 Confab, Dr. Greg Ibe, the proprietor of Gregory University, Uturu, Abia State and the Director General of the Save Democracy Group (SDG) Africa, Dr. Ifedi Okwenna.
The aims of the WISG can be summarized as the quest for Igbo renaissance, 50-year visioning and Igbo interest aggregation. Hopefully, this group will fill the void if it works hard enough and fight shy of the bitterness and selfishness that have crippled similar efforts in the past. For Igbo elites are known to suffer from superiority complex and lacking in altruism, and hardly differing to one another, preferring to be the only man standing, forgetting that, a tree, however big, can never make a forest. This ‘lone-wolf’ approach has equally defeated the Igbo concept of ‘Igwe bu ike’ – unity in number is strength – and left in its trail individualism that has made Ndi Igbo so vulnerable and pliable by all manner of assailants.
The new body aims to inaugurate an annual summit end of today, 27th of October, 2016, Gregory University Uturu, where it would begin the annual stocktaking of the Igbo race, seek ways and means of reenacting Igbo renaissance and begin to also answer the Igbo leadership questions. They hope to get there via a long-range 50-year visioning programme, detailing the short term, medium term and long term strategic plans capable of reinventing the once virile race that is now in a dire need of rediscovery.
While they share the reasons for agitations by separatist Igbo organizations, namely, IPOB and MASSOB, WISG has resolved to work for a ‘geographical Biafra’ that is an integral part of Nigeria, rather than for an independent state of Biafra. For them therefore, an independent Biafra can only come by default (where it is imposed on Ndi Igbo) and not by design as being pursued by IPOB or MASSOB.
The WISG initiative may not be the silver bullet to dissect all the Igbo problems and return the race to its lost enviable glory in a jiffy. But it is certainly a bold move, which has been long in coming. At the moment, Ndi Igbo appear to be at a crossed roads. The path they take now shall make all the difference, as time and history beckon on them to advance and make Igboland great again.