By Ikedi Ohakim/Daily Champion/All Africa
Lagos — It is 40 years since the end of the civil war. By October this year, Nigeria will be 50 years as an independent nation. Our people say agbacha oso, aguo mile. I believe, therefore, that this is the moment in our lives as a major nationality in this country when we must sit back, take stock and chart a new course for ourselves and a clear vision of where we must be in the next 50 years and in the next 100 years.
In doing this, I agree with earlier speakers that we must not dissipate energy in the singsong of the woes of yesterday. I say so because the people we lead expect to draw inspiration from us not the lamentations of marginalization. They expect us to show them how to deal with the present challenges and how to survive the next 50 years.
It is no longer news that the civil war set us back. Yes, it did. It reduced Igbo land to what Chinua Achebe called "a vast smouldering rubble". It is no longer news that many post-war administrative hurdles erected by Nigeria denied us fair share in a nation we built with our sweat, tears and blood. It is no longer news that the inequality foisted on us by our own country, created some loss of confidence, a defeatist mentality and a culture of mendicancy that allowed outsiders to impose leadership on our people.
Terrible things happened to us as a result of the civil war. We know all that. We can never forget that, even if we have forgiven those who wronged us. But the world must not remember us as a people who lost a war. Let the world remember us as a people who rebounded from a terrible war to become world beaters again. Let the world remember us as a people who surmounted prolonged oppression to take our place in the sun once more. My views about this are well known, from the World Igbo Congress in Michigan in 2007 to the Aka Ikenga lecture in Lagos in 2008.
The critical issue now is to examine our strength and weakness, our opportunities and the task ahead of us.
Everybody agrees that we must take our destiny in our own hands. The question is not whether we should, but how. In my view, what we need to do falls into two categories; those things we must do for ourselves. Are we doing them? Those things that must be done by our critical competitors. Do we have appropriate strategies to get them to do those things? Pursuing these twin objectives must invariably lead us to the determination of a long term goal for ourselves.
We stand on the threshold of a new era. Do we have the key to open the door for our people? As John Kennedy told Americans in Los Angeles, California on 15 July 1960, "The world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do". For us, Ndigbo, I make bold to say that we have dwelt for too long on the past glory of our forefathers. We have romanticized for too long our Republican and individualistic nature. We have for too long smacked our lips that the East was the fastest growing economy in the world.
But I urge you, brothers and sisters, to look hard at the reality of the present time. All the institutions our forefathers built, schools, hospitals, industries are mostly in ruins today. Our Republicanism and individualism have become mere excuses for selfishness, indiscipline, lack of cohesion, mendacity and crab (nshiko) mentality where everyone pulls everyone down. The East may have been the fastest growing economy in the ebullient days of the Okparas, but today, the South East is far behind in attracting investments even from our sons and daughters!
When everybody is speaking at the same time, what message are we sending to Nigeria? Can we send a message that is not confusing to Nigeria? Who speaks for us and when? Can we accurately define and identify credible leadership for our people? Can we clearly define the issues on which it is necessary for us to have consensus?
Ndi Nwem, is it not obvious even to a blind man that Nigeria is on the boil, with the omen of Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia prophesied for it? Is it not only a blind man who will not see the calamity hanging in the air? Is it not true that political insensitivity is threatening the peace secured in the Nigeria Delta with the Amnesty? There are political maneuverings going on around us that we must sit down, analyse and understand. We must therefore put our house in order in case of eventuality.
My dear brothers and sisters, many here will insist that we must continue to point fingers at Nigeria as a responsible for our woes. Yes, we need not look far to locate the source of our problem. But it cannot be true that all of our woes are externally induced. Let me ask a question, what will we do if external forces remain hell-bent on standing in our way? Can we not define a path of progress for ourselves? Onye ajuru oga'ju onwe ya?
My submission today is that we must start a process of defining a short term Igbo Renaissance Agenda for the next 50 years and a long term Agenda of where we must be in the next 100 years. We must stop dwelling on expediencies that serve a few selfish interests. I say "must" because there is no alternative for us. Let me correct that. The alternative is our extinction.
To get where we must be in the next 50 years and the next 100 years, there are steps we must begin to take today. First, we must return to our culture and the core values of Ndigbo to be one of our strategic facilitators in our march into the 21st century? Many will say we have done well for a people who lost a war. But as Jesse Jackson said, "we have proved that we can survive without each other. But we have not proved that we can win and make progress without each other. We must come together. We must forgive each other, redeem each other, regroup and move on". Whatever else we become must not override the fact that first and foremost we are Ndigbo.
The 21st century is going to be Information Technology and knowledge driven. In order to be competitive in this country and in the world, in the next 50 years, should we not begin today to produce world class human capital? Should we not begin now to assemble our engineers and scientists? We, all of us, must redeem our educational system. We must begin now to produce people worthy in character and learning, well grounded in our culture and values. It is in pursuit of this objective that we in Imo took the bold step, on 4 January this year, to return 44 secondary schools to the missionaries. We want the Churches to partner with government in redeeming the character of the next generation. That cannot be left to the lean resources of the state governments. The private sector, voluntary agencies and individuals must actively participate.
The next step is that we must make our society a safe and clean place to live and work. Security, especially under the present circumstances we find ourselves, must be everybody's concern. Many people say that to reduce crime, you must create jobs. That is true. But it is equally true that without security, investors who create jobs will not come. Even our own sons and daughters will be afraid to come home on short holidays. We must do everything possible, including taking extreme measures to improve security in Igboland, because experience has taught us that ultimately Igbo assets are safest in Igboland. We must mobilize our youths to protect their parents.
Another very important step we must take is to sanitize Igbo land of saboteurs. I completely agree with Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu when he spoke of "Authority structure and Sanction Mechanism". We must stop those adept at engineering loss of confidence in Igbo leadership and all those who are making it difficult for people to have confidence in their government. We must not blame our leaders alone. We must also blame those who plant injurious stories, smear the image and assassinate the characters of our people in public office. It is disgraceful that some of these smear campaigns are sponsored by those who themselves were in public office. We must uproot those poisonous fungi (ero agbara) among us and the renegades who talk before they think!
Our political behaviour must change. Every Igbo man or woman cannot be a leader at the same time. A society without hierarchy is doomed. We must put our Republicanism to work for us and not destroy us. We must put our best foot forward in everything we do. We must rid our politics of unserious characters so that when we speak the world cannot mistake the true voice of Ndigbo.
I have left many things unsaid here. The reason is that our people say adigh eme nka n'oma ahia. There are things I would prefer a core of dedicated Igbo elders, leaders and those who understand what is going on to sit in private to consider, strategise and give an action plan. Our people are getting tire of too much talk and little action.
Finally, Ndi Nwem, we must not leave Nigeria in doubt that this is our country. With our population, human and material resources, industry, and entrepreneurship, we have all it takes to be a major player in this country. Any action or individual we back receives a critical support in Nigeria. It will be a mistake for anybody to think that Nigeria can move forward without Ndigbo being a major fulcrum of that advancement. We do not need oil money, what we need is a level playing ground. We need a deregulated economy, we ask for True Federalism. Since we couldn't get common second Niger Bridge, since couldn't get an additional State and since we have all agreed on the equality of the six (6) Geopolitical Zones, why don't we for the sake of equity, share all Federal revenue using geopolitical formula?
Chief Ohakim Governor of Imo State, Nigeria presented this speech at Igbo Leaders Forum in Owerri recently.