On Sunday, July 13th, 2008, new officers were elected to pilot the affairs of the Igbo professional think tank, Aka Ikenga. That event marked the end of the eventful two-terms mandate of the leadership of Chief Chris Asoluka. By that, Chief Asoluka concluded a two-term mandate of two years each, which had revved up the image and profile of Aka Ikenga and opened it for newer challenges that would be made or marred depending on how the new leadership plods its duties. For Asoluka, while it is nostalgic that he is going, it is a sort of relief to him because he has long asked to go, pleading that he is a one-mandate man, who is not really moved by the quest for an additional term. I know his second term was practically forced on him by members of the group who were scared that his leaving may negatively affect the organization, then warming up to his leadership and the attendant dept it gave the group.
As he leaves, it is germane to ask whether Aka Ikenga has achieved the high marks and the grandiloquent expectation his leadership set out to achieve. It is proper to know whether Aka Ikenga has got the needed positioning to play that missing role of providing fillip to the Igbo quest for satiation in the carnivorous Nigerian polity. It is right to investigate whether Aka Ikenga has filled the missing link that necessitated its formation, the type that made it the brain box of the Igbo nation. I believe it is in this trust of playing a very sensitive role in the Igbo national agenda that the tenure of Asoluka would be judged and this presents quite a knotty task for whoever wants to assess the Asoluka tenure in Aka Ikenga. It is knotty here because the parameters to measure his achievements are often unseen and may not be felt in the practical realm where one can touch them.
The tenure of Asoluka has been very beneficial to Aka Ikenga and has indeed helped position the group for greater roles in Igbo affairs in the days to come. But it hasn’t been absolutely rosy as a lot still needs to be done to achieve the desired positioning necessary to command the universal respect of Ndigbo and all those that admire them. There are still uncharted grounds and undone tasks needed to give Aka Ikenga the requisite clout to soothe the balms of the last civil war and tame their inclination to fierce individualism as against a collective action plan that would benefit the race.
Asoluka’s leadership kicked off on a grand style with the convening of the well-received Asaba Retreat where Igbo of various persuasions were gathered to draw a route map on how Igbo can swerve through the Nigerian political labyrinth and make the best for themselves. The attendance and devotion to the retreat were epochal and helped sell Aka Ikenga and its mission among Igbo who were growing increasingly skeptical of the intents of the morphing cache of organizations that purportedly speak and work for the interest of Ndigbo. The event was marked by a colorful road show that saw members if Aka Ikenga move from their Lagos base in a bus straight to the home of the charismatic hero, Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu to condole with the family over the loss of the matriarch of the family who died few days to the retreat. That move was to solidify the bond between Igbo East and West of the Niger and was consummated with a grand reception for the group by the Asagba of Asaba, Prof. Chike Edozien. By that singular act, Aka Ikenga was poised to seize the initiative and lead the way towards articulating the viable course Ndigbo need to chart to navigate through the future. The convening of the retreat was quite in tune with Aka Ikenga’s objective as an organization that seeks and indeed imbues professional input to the affairs of Ndigbo. Its methodologies involve a silent and effective search for solutions to the multifarious problems of Ndigbo in the larger Nigerian polity. The Asaba Retreat itself was preceded by a smaller but highly technical Roundtable at the Pan African University in Lagos, attended by the cream of Igbo egg heads in government, commerce, industry and service sector.
Since after both retreats, some reasonable level of clarity has been imbued on the Igbo agenda or its seeming contents. There have been additional impetuses on what the problem is and the means to pursue its solution. Aka Ikenga has improved on its mission statement and its commitment to the cause of Ndi Igbo. Its visibility has revved up and it has earned added recognition among Igbo and their friends. Some of the high profile interventions Aka Ikenga, under Asoluka, made include its intervention in the Apo Six murder case where it mobilized opinions against the act and mobilized financial support for the victims of that callous act of state brutality against Ndigbo. Its campaign against the whimsical and hate-driven exclusion of the two Igbo oil-producing states of Imo and Abia from the Coastal States Development Commission by the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo stands out. Asoluka’s Aka Ikenga flagged off and led the media campaign when many were not aware of the implications of that act. It could be said that its foresight on the matter paid off when many other people signed up to the campaign and forced the present Yar A’dua government to reverse the exclusion.
The role of Aka Ikenga during the last national headcount was strategic and would have done a lot to improve the position of Igbo on the Nigerian polity if such contribution was harnessed by the then South East governors. Being a professional body, Aka Ikenga under Asoluka knew the role the manipulation of national censuses play in the worsening plight of Ndigbo in Nigeria. They therefore came out with the idea that Igbo State governors should back up the exercise with strident campaigns, awareness and of course the kind of self-enumeration Bola Tinubu’s Lagos employed to nip the persistent juggling of population figures by successive governments to forge census figures to arrive at pre-determined expectations. This agenda was unfortunately rebuffed by the governors, still bogged down with blind allegiance to the powers at the center except in Anambra where it was bought to some extent, such that Anambra has the highest figures recorded for it in the last sham census exercise. There were so many other silent grounds Asoluka’s Aka Ikenga broke like its mediation in the leadership crisis that engulfed Ohaneze for some years now, its contribution in firming the Igbo agenda at the aborted constitutional conference, its leading role in partnering the World Igbo Conference and many other organizations to work for a common objectives that would bind Igbo perception of what their problems are and how to go about solving them.
Asoluka’s Aka Ikenga has been committed and indeed devoted to minimizing the problems of Igbo businessmen in Lagos and has mediated in various internal and external crises among Igbo businessmen in Lagos, both within and without their umbrella bodies and especially with the host government. Aka Ikenga has contacted and indeed wielded a symbiotic relationship among the various town unions in Lagos, towards sounding a binding and unitive Igbo lobby that would be trusted to fight for and ensure that Igbo maximize their strength in the social, political and economic affairs of wherever they stay. There are many other laudable roles Aka Ikenga has played since the last four years to position the Igbo for greater roles in the affairs of the nation, in their zone, states, communities and in themselves.
But because it mirrors itself most from the professional ken, Aka Ikenga has in the last four years excelled and shone most when a demonstration of such professional savvy is needed. It sees itself more as a silent, effective, agenda-setting organization and believes that on its shoulders lies the task of thinking out ways and means to assist Igbo; either individually or collectively to survive in the suffocating Nigerian embrace. It played a critical and highly sophisticated role in mobilizing Igbo support for the election of the current government in Lagos State and sees its action as playing a realistic role in ensuring that Igbo, who are the second largest ethnic group in Lagos, are not goaded to take a politically-incorrect position that may endanger their status in the state where they do the bulk of their business.
Perhaps, because it heralded its coming in a blaze of glory, the Asoluka leadership of Aka Ikenga sounded off in a blaze of another glory as it hosted one of the most well-attended and well received public lectures in Lagos. Its Leadership Lecture that was intended as a stock-taking, agenda-boosting and strategic leadership-focusing exercise, held on Thursday, May 14th at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island and delivered by Imo State Governor, Ikedi Ohakim was one of the most subscribed public lectures in recent times. Like the Asaba Retreat, the event was attended and indeed thumbed up by Nigerians from all tribal persuasion and the attendant dinner where many illustrious Nigerians who have excelled in leadership and have left the stage, were honoured by Aka Ikenga was a worthy send-forth for Asoluka who has worked really hard to give Aka Ikenga its present status as one of the foremost groups that work for Igbo and Nigeria.
Presently, Aka Ikenga is working on a very strong research-based and highly professional study of the problem of Ndigbo, either political, economic, social, religious, and is working with various research groups in the South East, the present Ohaneze leadership and the state governments in the zone and Ndigbo groups in the Diaspora to pan out a workable blueprint that would drive the Igbo developmental quest. The first meeting of this coalition has successfully held in Awka and the necessary committees are actively working towards fleshing up the resolutions and convening a follow-up meeting.
But it has not been a completely flowery era for Aka Ikenga. Because the group operates under a somewhat restrictive conservative ethos, it had found it difficult doing what many people; especially Igbo feel it must do to re-position the race for greater strength and impact. It had fought shy of putting its most deadly fighting gloves to confront the Igbo problems. In its appeal to extant professionalism, it had refused to look the monster in the face and draw a line, which is a serious limitation to its capacity to do what it wants to do. It is almost publicity-shy, which is not too good for the kind of battle it had elected to do. This is an inherited failing of the group, which the Asoluka leadership never quite battled. It is not a personal failure but a group’s failure, which perhaps stems from the preservation instinct amongst some of its members. It must therefore overhaul its objective standpoint and introduce more radical perspectives that would ensure it meets the yearning need for a strong group that would lead the Igbo battle for equity.
However, the failings of Aka Ikenga have not been because Asoluka has failed to provide leadership. He has been very active as a leader, very active and has been everywhere at every time. He has sacrificed his primary commitments to get Aka Ikenga working and vibrant. He has devoted his personal resources to get things done and has placed his limitless intellectual endowment on the table to get a respectable organization that would command the confidence of Ndigbo and other Nigerians. The shortfalls in the group’s pouch of gains are as a result of failure of followership. Being an insider in the organization, I can say that most of the members hang to the group’s tailcoat for the relevance it gives them and nothing more. Being that they are presumed as being busy professionals that are still climbing fortune’s ladder, members get away with truancy and employ this cache to avoid the simplest of responsibilities. Aka Ikenga at any point in time remains what the membership makes of it and not much more. Sometimes, very few members are saddled with responsibilities that should have otherwise been shared out to make for ease of task and execution and that is not good for a group with such high-sounding objectives like Aka Ikenga. This overworks the few members that are genuinely ready to serve, whittles down the results and this is an area any leadership that emerges after Asoluka must work on to maximize the gains of the group. A good division of labour can bring out the best in the disparate callings of the members such that while some do the active works, some helm in the needed finance to oil the wheels of the group. Some will do the brainwork while some will do the financing and yet others will do the legwork. With such delineation of roles, no mountain will be too tall to climb. Asoluka was able to minimize the loss such lethargic membership attitude stood to inflict on the group through a deft combination of his charisma, intellect, clout and carriage.
Also, for the better parts of his era, Igboland was inflicted by a group of governors who neither believed in the Igbo cause nor paid any allegiance to the Igbo nation. They rather stretched themselves to please those that imposed them on Ndigbo. With this mindset, there was little or no support and backup to what Aka Ikenga and other groups were doing and this greatly limited their capacity to achieve their objectives. It is laudable that the present South East governors have stated and indeed demonstrated intent to work in cahoots with progressive groups that seek for the interests of Ndigbo. Some have already started drawing from this already.
In all, Asoluka has greatly improved the perception and image of Aka Ikenga. He has made tremendous marks to the Igbo agenda through his headship of Aka Ikenga. He has left a mark that would ensure that Igboland improves from the sordid state of the past. He goes into the pantheon of former leaders of Aka Ikenga whose resource depth presently serves as a reservoir that would be drawn by in-coming leaders to give Ndigbo the right leadership they need to sever the vicissitudes of our national group living. I know he will not hesitate to do that when called to do so.
As he leaves the stage for another leadership, one wishes him well in his future endeavour and posits quite safely that he did a good job here.