By Uduma Kalu
President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Amb. Raph Uwechue, in an interactive session with Aka Ikenga, an umbrella body of Igbo professionals, last Sunday in the Lekki, Lagos palatial home of the professionals, Mr. Ausbeth Ajagu, told the Igbo to take back their self pride as they have no apologies to make in Nigeria, having contributed more to the unity of Nigeria. He also warned against neglecting the ethnic units that make up the country as well as his plans for Ohanaeze and how to deal with the Igbo identity crisis. EXCERPTS:
Igbo, ethnicity and Nigerian unity
Ndigbo worldwide have asked me to lead them for awhile, the apex Igbo organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo. I feel very humbled to be asked to take on the assignment.
When I took up the job, somebody said he thought I was a pan Africanist but has now shrunk to an
ethnic unit. I told him he was right except that he said I had shrunk. The ethnic unit is the national unit, large or small. You are born into it. When a nation like Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia split, it did so along ethnic lines. That is the unit.
It is national. Yoruba have Afenifere. The North have Arewa Consultative Forum.
The country we call Nigeria was put together by the British. That is the share they got from the Scramble for Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1885. When they were leaving, they called our people and asked them what they wanted to do.
‘Do you stay together or what?’ The founding fathers of Nigeria said, ‘Yes. We’ll stay together.’ They gave specific terms that because of the multiplicity of ethnic units of Nigeria, what they recommended and eventually adopted was a federation of those units.
Not just Nigeria but the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It means that the units below hold the country together. And this became the federating units ... to the extent that the Sarduana of Sokoto remained the leader of Northern Nigeria and sent his deputy to manage the affairs of the federation.
And at that time, we had three regions. The North was controlled by the Hausa-Fulani ethnic unit with other units around. The West was controlled the Yoruba ethnic unit with other units around. The East by the Igbo ethnic unit with other units around.
So the ethnic block is the foundation for Nigeria, and if we don’t pay attention to it, we are not paying attention to the basis of this country. Therefore, what Aka Ikenga represents, what Ohaneze Ndigbo represents, is the purity of the unit that make our country. You cannot be a good African if you are a bad Nigeria, and a cheat or a bad Ghanaian and be a good Ghanaiant. You cannot be a good Nigeria, a good senegalese etc if you are a bad Igbo or bad Wolof.
I am emphasising this point because some people do not want to be associated with their ethnic units. They are wrong. We should feel happy and proud to take interest in the foundation block that make up what we now call Nigeria.
What Nigeria used to behaving said that on general terms, let’s get back to Ndigbo, which is our own ethnic block. I have looked round... except that some people are sitting too far that I cannot see their faces clearly, and perhaps, I am perhaps the oldest here.
I knew what Nigeria used to be when we were young. I was brought up in Northern Nigeria. I studied in Sokoto, primary school. I when to secondary school in Kaduna, now Rimi College but then St John’s College. The gentleman from Okpanam, that is Chukwuma, Nzeogwu was two years my junior in St John’s College, Kaduna.
That’s was how we saw Nigeria.
And when people talk about Igbo enwe eze, that Igbos cannot come together, nothing can be further from the truth.
In those days in Kano, Okonkwo Canon Jideofor, all those people, came together and built Igbo schools all over the place. Zaccheaus Obi, that’s the father of Dr. Ben Onyeabor Obi, who was president of the Igbo Union for a long time, was active and and got the support of all our people.
It was the civil war imposed on our people that disorganised Ndigbo. And what we are now doing is to recover from the after effect of that diorganisation.
Igbo built Nigeria
No group contributed more to the building of Nigeria that Ndigbo. Whether it was the ability of people like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in the West, in Lagos, in those days, or the fact that Igbos are all over Nigeria building.
For example, this countrry called Nigeria started as two units-Northern and Southern Protectorates. It was Lord Lugard who said, after the Colonial Office was advised, that the two should be coupled so that the North, which was at that time not economically strong, be carried economically by the South, instead of Colonial Office sending subvention all the way from London. That is how we got the amalgation of 1914.
When Chief Tony Enahoro moved a motion here in Lagos for independnce, the British got frightened, at the legislature. Ndi ebe anyi si na inwi de ofia, e bele ya odu. (Instead of losing the whole rabbit to the bush, it is better to cut its tail).
The British then said, ‘a rather than leave the rest of Nigeria, let one part go and let’s keep one part. So in April 1957, the British offered independence to Nigeria but on regional basis.
Not as one unit but they agreed with a section of the country what to do. The north said they were not ready. The west said they were ready. It was Zik and Ndigbo who said no. That was the first time in my life I first heard the word balkanisation. Zik said rather than balkanise Nigeria, let’s wait for the North. That was how independence was delayed from ‘57 to 1960.
If the East at the time had opted for independence, what we would have got is the present states of the former Eastern Region from Bayelsa all the way to Cross River. Not only that, what was then Southern Cameroun, up to Bakassi would have become part of that Eastern Nigeria, with oil rich Bakassi right in the middle of a sovereign Eastern Nigeria controlled by the Igbo. Who could have made a greater sacrifice to keep Nigeria together?
There is nothing that can happen in this country where Ndigbo have not played a little role in promoting what is good for Nigeria. In East Africa, people talk about the Indians. They make money but they take the money, either to India or....
Ndigbo have put their money where their factory is. They are the ones developing Nigeria. El Rufai, former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, said that 73-or 74 percent of the present investment in property development in the FCT is Ndigbo. If they didn’t believe in one Nigeria why would they put their money? They can make their money and bring it to Awka, or bring it to Owerri, or Enugu, or Umuahia. It shows that Ndigbo have done more than any other group.
When in the former Eastern Region, Enugu, mayoralty was created, the Igbo NCNC and the Igbo controlled government organised an election in which the Northern Umaru Adimu was elected the first mayor of Enugu metropolis.
So we have nothing to apologise to anybody in Nigeria about anything. Nothing! So, my feeling is that what we are doing, you know it’s important. You may not know how important it is. Many of us can recall this event.
What about our children who did not participate in what happened and only believe what they are told? It is therefore important that we should invest our time and effort in sustaining the Igbo culture, the Igbo organisation, and the Igbo political and economic interest in this country.
His plans for Ndigbo
We will take off. It’s not not a question of speech making.
The first thing to do is to get Igbo to know that they have nothing to apologise to anybody for in Nigeria. If their self pride comes back, every other thing comes through.
So, it’s not a question of giving you a catalogue of what we will do. No. It’s a question of getting Igbo recognise who they are and start thinking together. Then committees will be set up. Other things will be happening. And ideas will come up. And we should not bother what other people say. We should bother about Igbo think. Don’t cover your shoulder.
So, everything that you’ve been talking about is reaching into what I am telling you now. The answer will come when we take off.
For the Igbo language, it pains everybody. Language is the identifying mark of an ethnic group. I can tell you as a person my little contribution. We started the foreign service in 1950, we recruited just before independence.
I served in Cameroun where I had my first child. In Pakistan where I had my second child. In Mali where i had my third child. The last one was born in Paris. If you step into my house, the only language you speak is Igbo. The only language.....
In Paris, my little daughter looked at an old man trying to fall her and said, “Okenya, I na ene kwa anya ebe ijeko. (This old man, do you look at where you are going). She spoke Ogwashi to stranger in the middle of Paris. That is confidence.... get the master key. The master key is that Igbo could begin to feel proud to be Igbo, apologise to nobody for anything. Other things will follow.
This is what I want to tell you. We need your cooperation for this. And I believe we’ll get that corporation.
Rivers Igbo and their identity crisis
The chairman said, like Anioma has got the leadership, both of Aka Ikenga and Ohanaeze. In Rivers State, there is nobody whose name is Amechi and will say it is not Igbo. But the civil war did damage to the pathology of Igbo people, particularly in Rivers State. If we get our act together, those who say they are not Igbo will become Igbo. Until we do, they will not. So, let’s not bother with those details. They are fringes. Let Igbo pride come back.
(Response from |Dr. Sylvanus Ebigwei, Aka Ikenga chairman)
Anyi bu ndi Anioma. (We are Anioma) It is not by accident that Anioma has now been given the mantle of leadership of Ndigbo. They recognise us as Ndigbo as we recognise ourselves as Ndigbo. The message to our own brothers and sisters is to stop this issue of identity crisis which is pervading in some Igbo areas. Even as I am talking now, a group in Delta state, Anioma, are now saying we must come out to inaugurate a branch of Aka Ikenga; that since there is already Ohanaeze in Delta, Aka Ikenga must also be in Delta.