Between Friday, April 25th and Saturday, April 26th, I was in Awka, Anambra State for a retreat titled, “An Igbo Strategic/Planning Retreat on Igbo Civilization: Key Challenges”. This was a collaborative effort put together by Aka Ikenga, the Chris Asoluka-led Igbo professional think-tank, Conference of Democratic Scholars (CODES) led by Uzodimma Nwala, a professor at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, Ndigbo Lagos a coalition of Igbo leaders and groups based in Lagos and led by industry mogul, Chris Eze, Whelan Research Academy (WRAC) founded by the charismatic prelate, Archbishop Anthony Obinna, Catholic Bishop of Owerri and headed by Rev. Fr. Prof. Theophilus Okere. It is this group that organizes the popular Odenigbo lecture series. Other groups that co-piloted the retreat include Igbo Studies Association, United States (ISA-USA) and the Izu Umunna, an Igbo intellectual think-tank based at the University of Jos. All these groups sent their representatives totaling about 40 and made up of some of the best and decent brains Igbo can muster in these insane times. Its intellectual flavour was underscored by the fact that there were more than 25 professors that attended, including Pat Utomi and Okey Ndibe.
Because the gathering wished that discussions during the retreat be kept from the public for the time being, I am not discussing what transpired in that retreat. I will rather discuss another memorable lecture I attended just the other day. It was the Annual Aka Ikenga Lecture Series held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos. I must say that the value derivable from the lecture is that it gave a fresh impetus to the Igbo discourse and search for meaning in the larger and carnivorous Nigerian polity. The lecture was delivered by the Governor of Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim and lived up to the billing as attendance spanned all facets of Igbo life and non-Igbo also. It was a no-hold barred session that demanded Ndigbo to look themselves up in the mirror and tell themselves the home truth. Titled, “Ndigbo: Rebranding for a Changing World” the lecture was to seek a unitive buy-in point for Ndigbo in a nation held together by fierce predatory instincts.
The central message in Ohakim’s lecture was that Ndigbo must re-brand for them to strike greater value from the nation’s polity. He truly identified the Igbo problem, which had so far, defied all palliatives as the aftermath of the disastrous civil war Igbo fought against many nations. This war devastated that headway Igbo have comfortably secured among other confederates and dealt a deathblow on the value system that held the Igbo together before the war. He further said that the war drained Igbo of its political capital it made and rendered the post-war politics of Igboland as a deadly contest between campaign managers of non-Igbo candidates for whatever posts the Igbo should contest with others. This, he said, devalued our politics and made it an ancillary pastime of what others do to get power. He believed that this made it possible for such brazen impositions that happen in Igboland where outside interests decide who governs and lords it over Igbo. He pointed out a particular pattern where Igbo are always baited with positions that are often worthless and ineffectual but which will certainly set up a deadly struggle among as many Igbo as have the megaphone to race to the market square to announce their readiness to contest for such post and a deadly combat will ensue where all the contenders will sap themselves of all energies and panting, outsiders will come and settle for the most amenable among the contestants and amity will reign.
Ohakim lamented that the activities of what he terms a local cartel of free-wheeling political merchants, with no other business than living off politics has over time, shackled Igboland in a virus-infested politics of self-fending that has preened Igbo of the resources that would have jump-started its development after the civil war. His contention was that the pastimes of these freeloaders have been to position themselves to reap bountifully from the woes of Ndigbo and extending their suzerainty in a way that endangers the interest and fate of Ndigbo.
But he has a message for Ndigbo; don’t continue dwelling in self-pity, stop lamenting about the tragedies of the civil war because the civil war is over, stop blaming others for your woes, work to attain whatever you want to attain, shorn practices that are inimical to your person and stop being too pessimistic because of the civil war consequences and charged them to free themselves from the piths of self-abnegation and self laceration because they fought a war that was imposed on them. With a graphic illustration of the present condition besetting the five South Eastern states, he told Igbo that their problem was in themselves and theirs to solve. He captured the distracting limitations to governance in the Igbo states as follows; In Anambra, where he says the governor is held hostage by primitive partisan politics fueled by bloated ego and self-aggrandizement that have mutated in such forms as kidnapping of a sitting governor, burning of public property and spurious impeachment concluded in the dead of the night in a neighbouring state and which presently morphs in form of holding the state by ransom by ambushing the budget and irascibly cutting it. In Abia and Enugu, he sees the problem in form of the distractive litigation by the opposition against the sitting governments while he says the Ebonyi problem is in a rank division, by political warlords that neigh for control of the state and that this is being hidden from public glare but which he believes is eating the state away by the minutes. In his Imo, Ohakim, he sees the biggest problem as the hangovers of the big men mafia’s belief that the state is his private hacienda; to milk and do as they please. He believes that most of the problems that are coming on in torrents in very recent times in Imo State is the fight back of these retrogrades that do not want to come to terms with the reality that the meal is over and they must shape up or ship out.
From there, he delved into the summarization of Igbo problem presently to what he calls the Nsiko Mentality. For those that may not understand the Igbo language, nsiko is the Igbo word for crab. He likened what is happening in Igboland today as the futile rat race for nsiko, clubbed into a basin to escape. He says that the various nsikos would be tugging and hanging on each other to escape but none would in that state of mutual warfare. The consequence is that they all get consumed in the pot of soup! That is what the nsiko mentality is all about and this drew the most raucous response from the over-filled auditorium. In this way, he insisted that the bulk of the Igbo people, endowed with an above-average intelligent quotient, lies in their hands.
But he never failed to point out that the external force that put them in that basin and fed them to self-destruct each other facilitated the tragic fate of the nsiko, in the first instance. So he believed that the rest of the country must shaky off its paranoia about Ndigbo and decide to work, putting its best foot forward than operating on the fear that unleashing the portals of competition will re-enact the Igbo dominance. He pointedly believed that the price Nigeria will continue to pay for regimenting the sectors to conform with the desire to elevate mediocrity. He charged Nigeria to open the doors for competition and let Igbo enter the fray with others. In a nutshell, he said the Igbo must re-brand their politics to get the best out of Nigeria and that continued sustenance of the sparse and arid political cannibalism that has endured in Igboland for some time now will lead Igbo farther from the envisaged political Jerusalem where their tears will be wiped away by a leadership that tolerates their peculiarities.
From the several interventions made by so many people including, Prof. Pat Utomi, the Lagos State House of Assembly Speaker, Michael Anyiam-Osuigwe, Stella Okoli of Emzor, A.B.C Nwosu, Nze Mark Odu, Dr. Lekan Pitan, Doyin Okupe, Leo Stan Eke, Asagba (Prof.) Chike Edozien, Chief M. T. Mbu and many others, Ohakim’s gospel is in order. Couldn’t understand why the former Senate President, Ken Nnamani refused to speak but I know he prefers to watch and see others talk. He had already done so much talking on this issue and he would rather watch others talk. But then, I am sure that Ohakim is not carried away by the raucous applause that greeted his presentation. I am sure that he wasn’t carried away by the flattering attendance that swarmed the hall to hear him. I am sure he didn’t walk away with the impression that the limitations he bemoaned in the lecture that have so far robbed Igbo of the need to get serious and act is about being solved by the affirmation of the largely complimentary card-seeking audience that received his lecture with seeming enthusiasm. I am sure he was not led to believe that newer converts to the quest for Igbo re-discovery were recruited by his well-aimed shots. If he is, he should know that much of the battle to banish the nsiko mentality among Ndigbo rests with him and his brother governors. They have started well by bonding together and looking at Igbo problems with native binoculars, not kens forced on them by the occupations forces, as we witnessed in the period between 1999 and 2007. they have done well by identifying the problems and being bold to voice them out instead of looking over the shoulders on how some godfathers will feel with their free opinions, as we have had for long. They should however understand that much depends on what they do in the next three years to give teeth to the problem most of them have correctly identified. He should seek to strike a nexus between the issues and prescriptions he reeled in his lecture and the business that took place in Awka on April 25th and 26th. Luckily, Aka Ikenga was involved in all these so it should not be hard for him to work now and see that the prescriptions from Awka are fleshed up to give real meaning to the Igbo quest for fulfillment in the Nigerian polity. That is the reason he was elected and anything less shows he was merely grandstanding in Lagos.