The aim of the Nigerian Project is to develop and sustain a nation in which all the constituent parts and citizens are able to pursue their self-fulfilment and to enjoy as high a quality of life as possible; a nation that would be a source of pride to its citizens, to Africa and to peoples of African descent all over the world. This was the hope of our founding fathers, including especially Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo.
It has also remained the declared objective of all Nigerian Governments since our independence in 1960.
*Ndigbo: Ndigbo means Nigerians of the Igbo ethnic group Every country has its own history of emergence into nationhood. Some countries emerged to nationhood by going through internal wars between their constituent parts; some through evolution of homogenous societies; and others through externally driven fiats by conquering or colonising powers.
In every case, especially in pluralistic countries, sustained development and political stability are made easier where the constituent parts recognize the advantages of their belonging together to the individual nations concerned. Nigeria belongs to this third group of nations.
In today’s global community, there are obvious inherent advantages that flow from the size of Nigeria’s geographic area and population. The advantages include giving Nigerians the psychological fillip of belonging to a “big country”, providing them with wider scope for inter-human relations and pursuit of self-fulfilment, as well as giving the country a greater chance for internally generated economic development by constituting a sizeable market and an attractive destination for foreign investment.
Hence, the dominant challenge faced by Nigeria’s Federal and State Governments is to govern the country in a way that promotes the realization of these inherent advantages. The cry of marginalisation which is often heard from several parts of the country indicates that this challenge is yet to be successfully tackled.
As a relatively large constituent part of Nigeria, Ndigbo have played and are expected to continue to play an integral role in the pursuit of the benefits of the inherent national advantages. Ndigbo were among the founding fathers and early leaders of Nigeria. And there are many Igbo names in the pantheon of our country’s pioneer educationists, professionals in medicine, law and engineering and journalism and in private business.
The challenge faced by Ndigbo in today’s Nigeria is how, without being driven by chauvinism, to make sure for themselves and their children that they remain an integral dynamic contributors to the political and socio-economic progress of Nigeria; a Nigeria where our cultural diversity should thrive and be celebrated as a source of strength rather than of fractious weakness. I shall now offer some thoughts on how this challenge can be effectively met by Ndigbo.
First there must be a return to the values which were commonly held by Ndigbo in the years before our national independence and up to the end of the civil war.Among the values was the importance attached to hardwork as the basis of success in every sphere of human endeavour. Whether it was on the farms, or in artisanship, or in the professions, or in the marketing of goods, it was commonly accepted by Ndigbo that to be successful, one must be hardworking.
Indeed laziness or any apparent avoidance of hardwork would usually earn a rebuke or public chastisement of the individuals concerned from family elders or community leaders.Ndigbo especially from the beginnings of their contacts with the European religious missionaries attached great value to the acquisition of education.
Several Igbo towns and communities were known to levy themselves for contributions in order to collectively send their sons to secondary colleges in Nigeria as well as to tertiary institutions abroad who on the completion of their studies would pay their debt back to the societies by sponsoring others for equivalent educational trainings.
Ndigbo have also been known for their readiness to travel to, and reside in every part of Nigeria for work and for pursuing their trades. Indeed, if being a Nigerian is to be judged by readiness to go and live in every part of the country, Ndigbo must be the truest Nigerians and this is notwithstanding their tragic experience of the killings that led to the declaration of Biafra which in turn precipitated the civil war.
It is true that Igbo traders and businessmen have traditionally measured their success by their financial earnings, while those who opted for the professions, the church and the civil service sought self-fulfilment by aiming at reaching the zenith of their chosen careers. Sadly, this situation has changed for worse. There is now both among Ndigbo and among most of the rest of the country, a prevalent attitude to success being mostly measured by how much money people have acquired.
I believe that such elevation of money to the highest level of ambition is at the root of the pervasive corruption and most of the other evils ranging from examination malpractices to kidnapping and armed robbery, currently afflicting the Nigerian society. Ndigbo and the country as a whole must return to the fundamental value of judging success by the level of excellence achieved by an individual in his/her chosen occupation.
All the ethnic groups that constitute Nigeria’s pluralism, -they number between 200 and 300 depending on how detailed the description is – have obligation to contribute to the building of the country as a strong united nation. As one of the largest such groups, Ndigbo have a proportionately large contribution to make.
Accordingly, Ndigbo should seek to contribute to the overall aim of building a Nigeria in which all the citizens and their respective ethnic groups should feel that their country offers then the chance to achieve a fair deal. And here I must stress my view that Nigeria’s ultimate goal in its national evolution should be to arrive at a situation where ethnicity and the current policy of “federal character” should become unnecessary, and be confined only on the preservation of the cultural tapestry of the country.
Our ultimate aim must be to enable the nation to have the full benefits of its human and material resources by insisting on meritocracy in the conduct of its public affairs.
However, pending the arrival of the country at the stage where it can enthrone meritocracy, Ndigbo, taking into account the occupants of the position since Nigeria’s return to democratic governance in 1999, are now wholly justified in aiming to produce the next President of the country when, in keeping with the existing national consensus, Presidential power “shifts to the South”. But it is an objective requiring a careful strategy rather than mere protestations.
In this, the first step should be to accept that when the time for nominating Presidential candidates is reached, Ohaneze which is, and must remain an umbrella for all Ndigbo irrespective of the political parties to which they belong, should play a seminal role in advising who among the Igbo Presidential nominees of all the political parties, would stand the best chance of being elected.
Fortunately, we have in the current leadership of Ohaneze, Amb. Ralph Uwechue, a President-General with tested career in diplomacy and politics. I am confident that when the time comes, provided the rank and file of the organisation give him the chance, he will steer Ohaneze to play the role I have suggested with integrity and equity to all the aspiring Igbo candidates.
I should however perhaps add that I am not recommending Ohaneze’s involvement in the politics of the States including especially the states of the South-East Zone. As the custodian of the Pan-Igbo cultural legacies and interests, Ohaneze should, in my view be a non-partisan player at the level of our federal politics where its strategy should include seeking to promote the effective and cohesive contribution of Ndigbo to the overall national interests of Nigeria.
On the question of the politics of Ndigbo at the state level, I must say that the ongoing scramble for the gubernatorial nomination of one political party in Anambra State is far from being edifying. The question must be asked how can as many as 47 individuals within one political party decide to want to be the one nominee of their party? Judging from this example, one must ask: is there no sense of modesty?
No willingness on the part of some of the 47 aspirants to recognize that others may be more qualified than them to run for the post? Is this a reflection of the proverbial inability to recognize that while each finger has its own important task to perform, the reality is that all the five human fingers are not equal?
Some of us had hoped that the political process in Igboland would be less fractious and more orderly than what was generally reported of the first gubernatorial primaries in Anambra State. I must urge Ndigbo in all the political parties in all the States to show greater restraint and less inclination to a “do or die” approach to the quest for political office. Involvement in politics should be motivated by a desire to serve the community and nation, and not by a desire for self aggrandizement.
In a few months, Ndigbo and INEC in Anambra State will have the historical responsibility of demonstrating that the next round of our national elections will be better than the 2007 elections which was roundly criticised by local and international observers. I urge all concerned to show that Nigerians are capable of changing for the better.
This platform of the World Igbo Youth Summit, provides a most suitable opportunity for affirming the importance of restoring, especially among our youth, the traditional Igbo values of hardwork, enterprise, pursuit of education and inherent respect for genuine achievement.
Our young people must be encouraged not only to imbibe, but also to practise these values as they plan or embark on their future careers. They must eschew involvement in the growing tide of armed robbery and kidnapping which is now scandalizing many parts of Igboland and the country.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have sought in my remarks to touch on the values and conduct which would enable Ndigbo to reposition themselves for contributing more effectively to the governance and development of our country. In repositioning themselves, Ndigbo would do well to always remember the importance of establishing mutual trust and mutual comfortableness among the other component parts of our pluralistic country which is still striving to become a strong and united nation.
Ndigbo have always had huge respect for their ancestors; indeed many still invoke the spirits of ancestors in the ceremony of breaking cola nuts. I must therefore finally urge Ndigbo, in their private and public life, to always endeavour to be faithful to the memories of such our illustrious ancestors as Alvan Ikokwu, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Michael Okpara, Akanu Ibiam, Mbonu Ojike, Denis Osadebey, Nwafor Orizu and many others of blessed memory.