Obama’s Success in the US and Lessons for Ndigbo in Nigeria

by Churchill Okonkwo

My people say that; when we see an old woman stop her dance to point again and again in the same direction, we can be sure that somewhere there something happened long ago which touched the roots of her life. Something is happening in America that should touch the roots of Ndigbo in Nigeria if this present dance of shame must stop. In America, a young man Barack Obama has captured the hearts and minds of Democrats, Republicans and Independents with his message of ‘change’ in what is being described by pundits as a ‘political movement’. He is challenging the way things are done in Washington, getting new people interested in the process and inspiring a new generation. Obama is telling Americans that government is their bus and that they should all come in and have a seat.

Obama – a child of a Kenyan father and white mother – is a minority in America just as Ndigbo are in Nigerian context. Obama has however risen above race, Black American politics and is running for the president of US as a one that unites Americans.

What can be said of Nidigbo in the present day Nigeria? Are we just complaining of marginalization while we run a divided house full of sycophants “Ezes” and “leaders” that ultimately stand to benefit from the powers that be in the midst of commotion in Igbo nation? Have Ndigbo – the Oha given up hope and resigned to fate? Why is it that majority of Ndigbo have harsh things to say about their “leaders’? Why is it that acceptance of failure is an impossibility ant that controversy is always the companion of Ndigbo? Where are the Obamas of Ndigbo and the rest of the minorities in Nigeria?

What we need is a person with the attitude, message and charm like Obama. Someone the rest of Nigerians can have faith in so that we can together develop wings in order to fly. How much is Ndigbo and Nigerians willing to pay in order to fly? How much are we willing to sacrifice in order to chart a new course for the present generation and posterity? My answer is everything. How do we respond?

The more I think of it, the more I believe that Igbo politicians while carving a niche for themselves have to at the same time be all embracing, responsive and most importantly have to rise above being ethnic champions in Nigerian political arena. Indira Gandi said that, “I suppose that leadership at one time meant muscles, but today it means getting along with people”. As Obama is getting along with Americans – the young, the old, lacks and whites alike; what can be said of Ndigbo? Do Ndigbo in politics have the unique qualities that has made Obama what he is today in American politics? Do they have the vision? Are those with the vision too scared to venture into politics?

Vision according to Vaclav Havel is not enough but has to be combined with venture. If Obama at his age and experience is running for the office of president in US, why can’t the likes of Okonjo Iwuala, Soludo and the “latent” Obama’s of Ndigbo run for public offices in the Local Councils, States and Nigeria? “If the lizard of the homestead should neglect to do the things for which its kind is know, it will be mistaken for the lizard of the farmland.” I agree that politicking in Nigeria is not as smooth as it is in America. But an Igbo proverb says that “A disease that has never been seen before cannot be cured with every-day herbs.” Even Obama has not been having it easy. Some say he happens to be very lucky to be who he is – a black man. He has been accused of lacking experience and giving hope that cannot be actualized. But despite these odds, he has kept moving. Ndigbo, have to remember that when a person says yes, his Chi says yes also. Where are the faithful?

This present darkness that is gradually eating up the heart of Ndigbo and Nigeria must be brought to and abrupt end. Paraphrasing Senator Barack Obama; we are at a defining moment in our history (Or have we long passed that defining moment?), and at this defining moment, I believe, we could not wait. We could not wait to fix our education system so that our children will once more enjoy quality learning. We could not wait to halt mediocrity, political hooliganism and election rigging that is in ascendancy. We could not wait to stop this corruption and rottenness that is eating up the system. We could not wait to revive our economy. We could not wait provide basic socioeconomic infrastructure, empower our people and arrest the unrest in the Niger Delta region. We could not wait.

No more this present controversy on who is the leader of Ndigbo or Ohaneze that don’t even have grass root support or recognition in Igbo nation. No more “iti mkpu” (Sycophancy) for Ndigbo that cannot inspire, give hope, epitomize change and purposeful leadership for the rest of Nigerians.

“To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and be transformed is to be a pilgrim”. – Mark Nepo. The journey of restoration has to start with a sea-change in thinking. Ndigbo and in fact Nigerians have journeyed and the time for transformation is now. If anything, Obama has taught us that the common man in the street is yearning for change and seeking a new dimension only that most times, they don’t have the candidate that will lead them to the Promised Land. The Yar’Aduas, Atikus, Buharis, Ubahs and Kalus of the present day Nigeria are only a continuation of political illiteracy and backwardness of Obasanjo’s hypocrisy.

The lessons from Obama to Ndigbo are that transformation is inspired by good leadership; that leadership is not so much about techniques as it is about opening of hearts. Let one of the things the Obamas of Ndigbo should start doing be the opening up of their hearts, the hearts of Ndigbo and Nigerians as a way of inspiring this change.

There is not going to be a breathless moment of silence among God’s creation for Ndigbo to wake up. It will not take the closure of Alaba International market, Onitsha main market or Ariari market Aba to open up a new chapter in the political dynamism of Ndigbo. The ear that won’t hear, when the head is cut off, it goes as well. Our elders say that; to count your teeth with your tongue does not mean you are losing any. It means you should watch your steps and reflect on what may have happened or is happening. It’s time for Ndigbo to sit up. After all, the ground squirrel says he who walks should sometimes break into a trot, in case the need to run arises. I rest my case.

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1 comment

Nnenna January 14, 2009 - 8:50 pm

Churchill has a very good understanding of the problems that exist and has candidly written about them. This passage reminds me of Obama’s book “The audacity of hope” Where he decifered the problem and realized a solution way before he won office. I believe that reading his book now after the election and reading it before the election will br9ing about 2 completely different feelings. If I had read it before the 2008 election, I would have thought Obama was a dreamer and his analysis would never come to pass so he should lay it to rest. But now I am reading his book after the elections, the story has come together. He had the forsight a while ago and put in the work and effort that was required to achieve it. Thanks Churchill for bringing light to this topic.


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