In this emerging new order in Nigerian economy, where can we situate Ndigbo? Can we boast of driving the current economic transformation in Nigeria, nay Africa? Sadly, it is the Yoruba race that has latched-in on this global trend and for decades to come, they would hold the ace in the scheme of things in Nigeria, economy wise. While the North grapples to wrest the political totem that empowers the regal occupant of Aso Villa, the Yoruba has the economy of Nigeria in their firm grip. From telecoms, to banking, insrance, IT and other sectors of the economy, the Yorubas hold the ace. Sadly, the minority Ika Group from Delta State( who detest to be called Ndigbo) own banks that thrives better than those floated by persons or governments of the South-East extraction. Yet, Ndigbo have produced the best economists and financial engineers for the Federal Government. So wherein lies the boast of Ndigbo?
Granted that we faced a major setback on account of the misadventures of the Biafran war which we had every conviction to fight, how did we fare in bouncing back nearly 40years after? Have we no resilience? Like the Bible says, “If you have been wearied by footmen, how would you fare with horsemen?” In another place the wise king Solomon said that if one falters in the day of adversity, then the person in question really has no strength per se. We may loathe Awolowo for economically empowering the Yorubas through his free education policies, but do we think it was between 1967 and 1970 that the Yorubas achieved the economic power they have garnered in contemporary Nigeria? Your guess may be as good as mine. Rather, through their sustained and creative interaction with the Western world economy, the Yoruba elite caught the beneficial bug that has helped them collectively. They have led and driven the major trends that have characterized our economic development.
Over 75% of Nigerian students in the UK are Yorubas and majority of them are supported by their parents and relatives. Those from economically-disadvantaged families work their lives out to see themselves through school because they understand from foresight (and guided by the hindsight of their elites) that a foreign certificate gives one an edge in the blue chip companies and corporate Nigeria. Nigerian companies would spend millions to recruit foreign-trained Nigerian graduates and this the average Yoruba elite knows, and plans accordingly. Most educated Ibos in Lagos have come to face this reality and are trying to catch up with the foresight of the Yoruba man. But can we vouch that the Iboman in the hinterland of “Alaigbo” understands this trend? Worse still, the average graduate from higher institutions in the south east looks quite timid and naïve relative to his/her peers from Unilag or UI, and not many know about professional exams like ICAN, ACCA and the like until they sojourn into Lagos. It is in Lagos, and not Enugu, Onitsha, Owerri or Aba that their eyes truly open to face the realities of the changed times.
Ndigbo may gloat as being highly educated and brilliant, and that I don’t doubt for we surely are, but has our purported intelligence advanced our corporate development up to the grassroots level? We may be proud “Republicans” but do we understand that Republicans are not at any rate inferior to the “Democrats” in the US system. It is very unfortunate that we boast of the highest number of Teachers under the umbrella of NUT since independence but we have fewer number of professionals compared to our educated brothers from Yoruba land. We thought the sartorial elegance of teachers was all that mattered, but the times have changed. And save for the establishement of more universities in the 80s and 90s in Igboland, do we think that UNN alone could have produced that critical pool of intellectuals and professionals who would outshine the products from UI,OAU Ife and Unilag in controling the economy of Nigeria. Gone were the days when the Ekene Dili Chukwus and Chidi Ebere Transport Ltd ruled the world. If we control land transportation, why haven’t we conquered the skies and lead the Aviation Industry? How many Igbo-owned company of yore has endured a generational succession like the MKO Abiolas, the Okoyas, the Adenugas, the Tinubus, the Otedolas and many others? Even when we have businesses, we are so short sighted to think of how we can be called “Ogaranya” ( Bigman)and notrealize the need to sow seeds for tomorrow.
We need to change the mentality of our brothers who think making money is same as wholesale and retail trading. Among my secondary school classmates (from my village) ,it was only a few of us that proceeded to the university. The majority followed the normal trend and thronged to Ariaria and Onitsha main market to buy and sell so as to make quick cash. Others went to Balogun,Idumota and other markets in Lagos and a significant number are selling goods in Kano,Kaduna, Sokoto and other major cities in the North. We have allowed the warped view that “ije akwukwo bu igbu oge”, ie education is a waste in Ibo economic terms. Now primary school enrolment for boys in the east has dropped to an alarming rate, let alone the drop-out rate from secondary schools. They are all into “business”. Yet my limited knowledge of economics and commerce makes me know that business is not merely the buying and selling of goods, but also SERVICES, and the latter is what rules in today’s “knowledge-economy”, where our Yoruba brethren have thrived.
Ndigbo need a paradigm shift in contemporary Nigeria. We may not yet grab the Presidency from the Northern Elites or our Yoruba Sages, but we can put our brain to work. We can invoke our innate mental powers and chart a course that would change the scheme of things in the years to come. If buying and selling has helped us, how come the fortunes of our brothers (who doing business) have nose-dived on account of restriction of the importation of goods and commodities and mere change in policy by the government? Is there no way our brothers in business can form a powerful lobby group that can influence and chart the direction of economic policies in Nigeria? During the era of bank consolidation and recapitalization through the stock market, how many Ibo businessmen did acquire significant number of shares to enable them have veto powers in the boards of those banks etc? We sure need a paradigm change or else we may become irrelevant in the Nigerian economy, decades from now. Or better still, the clamour for a Biafran State can consume our energies till thy kingdom come!