Sunday, March 14, 2010

Re-Awakening Igbo Can Do Spirit

By Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu/Daily Champion/All Africa

Lagos — I am very happy today to be amongst you my brethren, my people, at this historic meeting. I am always happy to be with you but today I am very excited by the presence of our traditional rulers and governors - the custodians of cultural cum traditional power and custodians of political power in Igboland. May I commend the Chairman of the South East Council of Traditional Rulers, HRH Eze (Dr.) C. l. llomuanya, who convened this important meeting for his foresight, and the governors who have attended. May I also recommend that this type of meeting and exchange of ideas to constantly re-affirm Igbo interests in Nigeria, between the traditional rulers, governors and the elite of the South East should become an established norm and feature of Igbo political life.

Before I proceed, let me again thank the conveners for inviting me to give a key note address to this important meeting. May the Almighty God, the Creator of Ndigbo and all other peoples of this earth richly reward you. I will never be tired of reminding you, my beloved brothers and sisters, that we Ndigbo are a great race, richly endowed by the Almighty God, the Creator and the giver of all gifts. I believe that the enormous qualities which the Almighty God has endowed Ndigbo with, are not just for themselves alone but for the development of Nigeria. This is why Ndigbo are found all-over the country, contributing enormously to national development.

Lest we forget, Ndigbo constitute the largest homogenous ethnic population in Nigeria. Perhaps this is why, despite Igbo protests, important demographics such as ethnic group, religion and state of origin, are always eliminated from Nigeria's population counts. Even for a nation like Nigeria where the term "Federal Character" is enshrined in the Constitution. Howbeit, it is a well known fact that in every state in Nigeria outside Igbo land, Ndigbo always constitutes the second largest population next to the indigenous population.

Lest we also forget, Igbo economic investments outside their homeland greatly outstrip the economic investments of other ethnic groups outside their ethnic enclaves. Indeed in most communities in Nigeria, Ndigbo are at the fountainhead of development. This to me is unassailable evidence of the great faith which Ndigbo have in Nigeria nation. But is Nigeria a nation? I have this question for your deliberations.

Finally, lest we have forgotten also, Ndigbo were very active and at the forefront, in the struggle for Nigeria's independence and shed more blood than any other ethnic group in the struggle - the coal-mine massacre of Enugu, the Aba Women's riot etc. And Ndigbo have continued to shed the most blood in the ethnic, religious riots and other political disturbances that have become a feature of politically independent Nigeria as she strives to become a Nation.

Having outlined these pertinent facts, let me share with you my brethren, my concerns, worries and unhappiness over the current state of our beloved Igbo nation in Nigeria. You know me. I am not a person given to lamentations. I shall therefore not spend time lamenting how Ndigbo, an enormously gifted and courageous people with populations spread all over Nigeria have become, or seem to have become the weakest link in the Nigerian political chain. Naturally, I am sad and disturbed, that Ndigbo, despite who and what they are to Nigeria, are assigned minor responsibilities in the Nigerian enterprise. What makes me sadder is that, we, Ndigbo seem to accept these minor and irrelevant responsibilities, when by virtue of our population and spread, we should act as the adhesive force holding the Nigerian fabric together. And so I ask you my brethren, what are we afraid of in our God-given country, Nigeria? Especially when other ethnic groups less in population than Ndigbo are courageously asserting themselves, sometimes with impunity, in Nigeria with great success and throwing it in our face! This indeed makes me sad. I therefore say to Ndigbo that Nigeria belongs to all of us and we must not forget this fact.

I ask myself on a daily basis whether Ndigbo fully understand the cause, essence and import of the war, where we defended ourselves to the admiration of the world against a senseless pogrom.

I have therefore decided that my full story on that war shall be told this year, by me, in a book, so that future generations and all who like us and even those who do not like us, shall appreciate that Ndigbo are nation-builders not nation-wreckers, but that the strong Igbo moral sense, handed down to us by our ancestors, will always resent and rebel against injustice, inequity and mindless blood-letting.

Having said this, my message to Ndigbo through this important meeting is that we must march forward in Nigeria, without fear, but with a commitment to assert ourselves fully in the building of a Nigerian nation that works for all and not some of its citizens. Ndigbo must reject firmly any attempt to relegate them to subsidiary, politically irrelevant and minor roles and responsibilities in the exercise of building a modern Nigeria nation. And my desire and prayer remains that Ndigbo shall regain their political relevance in Nigeria without violence in my lifetime. Please God.

How shall Ndigbo regain their political relevance in Nigeria? We must first, clearly define the Igbo interest in Nigeria. The Igbo interest, to me, has always been to assert ourselves as a major, integral part of a Federal Nigerian nation, where every citizen, Ndigbo and others, can self-­actualize. The Igbo persona refuses to be relegated to the margins and we shall aspire to every position - political, economic and social, which our individual and group capabilities entitle us to, in a modern, prosperous and democratic federal Nigeria. This simply stated, is to me, my dear brothers and sisters, the Igbo interest in Nigeria and I submit this definition to this meeting to ponder, deliberate and amend as necessary. But whatever we do at this meeting, the affirmation of the Igbo Interest remains paramount.

Please permit me again, to mention briefly, two personal experiences of my life, which inform my strong position on Ndigbo and Nigeria. My Father, Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu lived in Lagos, invested in Lagos and contributed to the economic and political growth of Nigeria for which he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at Enugu in 1956. He loved Nigeria and he was an Igbo man to the core and he raised me as such. My Uncle, Chief Felix Okonkwo, popularly known as "Okonkwo Kano" lived in Kano, invested in Kano and was a member of the Northern Legislative House. He loved Kano and he also was an Igbo man to the core. He brought me up to respect the North and Northerners. Why then must we, their children, do less for ourselves and for Nigeria? This is why I continue to say to Ndigbo, that we must march forward in Nigeria, without any fears whatsoever, because it is our God-­given country, doing what is right and proper, and protecting ourselves and our rights in Nigeria because we are bona fide citizens of Nigeria. I shall say no more.

What then must we do to regain political relevance and be in a position to defend our interest and rights in a new prosperous and great Federal Republic of Nigeria, where no man is oppressed? The first and perhaps the only thing we need to do at this present time, is to nurture and strengthen internal unity and cohesion in the Igbo nation.

Our republican nature and unbridled individualism needs to bow to the collective Igbo interest. In the past, before we became incrementally irrelevant in Nigeria, the Igbo State Union provided not just a potent force for development but provided impregnable support machinery for Igbo political interest in Igbo land and Nigeria.

I urge this meeting to consider seriously the re-establishment and strengthening of "AUTHORITY STRUCTURES AND SANCTION MECHANISMS" in Igbo land via which Igbo interest can be defended and protected. Any ethnic group not just Ndigbo, is akin to a mob and any strong-willed political misfit, with a lot of money, can drag the group into a wrong direction. I therefore plead with you my brethren, to give this important issue of "authority structures and sanction mechanisms" in Igbo land and leadership in Igbo land, your very serious thoughts.

As I conclude, let me mention three trends which in recent times have further weakened the Igbo nation and reduced our group potency as a political force in Nigeria. First is the relegation of visionary and strategic thinking to the background. In the past, our best political leaders have always been men of vision who were also strategic thinkers. These leaders were often not rich, and in any case they were never among the richest in Igbo land in terms of money. But they were courageous and our very best thinkers and political strategists.

The second trend is the lack of personal and group courage, especially the courage to assert ourselves and defend our rights, lives and properties in any and every where in Nigeria. Cowardice which was never a quality of our ancestors is now celebrated in Igbo land as "Sense". But today, I, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, exhort Ndigbo to be assertive and courageous in protecting their rights, lives and properties as bona fide citizens of Nigeria whilst respecting the rights of other citizens.

Finally, I say to you, my brothers and sisters that politics is not and can never be about self-neglect or self-negation, such that Ndigbo have become unwilling investors in Igbo land, citing myriads of reasons.

Sometimes I reflect and think that it may be our massive investments outside Igbo land which has emasculated us from asserting our citizenship rights as Nigerians fully because of our investments, which we seek to preserve through our meekness and tame responses to violations of our citizens' rights as Nigerians. I Pity, for a Man's soul is not a matter of properties and investments, but a matter of right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust. Ndigbo must not lose their collective soul as a people.

As we ponder on how best to reverse these unwholesome trends among Ndigbo, let me in conclusion say to you, that we as a people have a bright future. I, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu see a bright future for Ndigbo in Nigeria because Ndigbo are a "can-do" people. And so, I maintain today that Ndigbo shall regain their appropriate political relevance in Nigeria in my Life time.

Excerpts from the key note address delivered by Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu at the meeting of South East Elders and Leaders in Owerri March 5, 2010.

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