Before the Biafran War, Eastern Nigeria [made up of ndi Igbo] was one of the few regions of hope in black Africa.
The World Bank made this official in 1964 when it named Eastern Nigeria the fastest growing regional economy in Sub-Saharan Africa. Certain indices validated this position.
Nigeria was the world’s largest exporter of palm oil and palm kernel at the time and almost 90% of that came from the Eastern Region. Beside palm oil, there were also cassava and coal which formed some of Nigeria’s major export earners.
At the same time, the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation had grown into a behemoth, employing many people that helped stimulate and sustain consumption.
It was a boom period for the region and when other Nigerians whispered in circles about “Igbo domination” at the time, it was mostly in terms of economic power.
Much of that came from the Great Zik and Mbonu Ojike who did quite an excellent job of crafting the Eastern Nigerian Economic Reconstruction Plan (1954-1964) which laid the foundation for the growth of the region.
This economic roadmap took a life of its own in the hands of Dr. M.I Okpara and eventually blossomed into a buoyant economy that heightened talks of Igbo Domination, which eventually coalesced into plain fear and resentment from other ethnicities.
Indeed, the economy of the Eastern Region was so strong that when the first gun shots of the Biafran War sounded in Garkem, the East was not too bedraggled to muster a response.
But the War ate up everything – people, infrastructure and of course the economy.
The devastation was so colossal that by the time peace returned in 1970, the once buoyant economy had become crippled; completely exhausted and lifeless.
Those who survived were clutching at straws, grasping at thin air and ending up with miserly twenty pound notes.
At the time, the only thing that mattered was survival. With so much energy and dynamism seeking expression, something was bound to give.
And it did in a number of ways. First, the Igbo elite were utterly fragmented and driven into individualist survival stratagems.
This marked the foundation of divisiveness and lack of cohesion among our political elite to date.
Sadly, it was to rob us of our brightest chance at the presidency in 1999 when Jim Nwobodo spoke Hausa in Jos to drive the final nail into the coffin of Dr. Alex Ekwueme’s presidential bid.
Our political elite could never travel the same road to a meaningful destination.
There were so many other ego wars strewn across the landscape as the Igbo elite sought to make something of the scraps that Nigeria had left them.
At a point, the divisions and rivalries were so intense that one wondered if they were the same people who had worked together, lost family and friends together, fought together and stood up together to gaze eyeball to eyeball with genocide.
One wondered how a group that long before the war, had pooled funds together in various Town Unions to send promising boys from different towns on overseas scholarships could have lost their kindred spirit all of a sudden.
The second post war reaction of the Igbo was a strong aversion or dislike for home. Perhaps it is only normal that people should flee the scene of a great loss.
Perhaps other people have handled their own inheritance of loss better than the Igbo.
Whichever was the case, the Igbo abandoned the scene that reminds them of great personal tragedies and began to sink their investments in any place else but Igboland.
The Igbo homeland therefore became a territory with no “landmark.”
OHANEZE & AKA IKENGA
One of the most significant responses of the Igbo to their peculiar leadership challenges as a naturally acephalous group is the emergence of Ohaneze Ndigbo.
This gathering of wise, old men, scholars, academics, community leaders and successful businessmen and women has played a critical role in preserving the Igbo ethnic nation since the association came into existence in 1976.
Indeed Prof Ben Nwabueze may never fully understand what he did when he smartly assembled what would eventually become Ohaneze with the support of other cerebral personages like M. I Okpara, K. O Mbadiwe, Pius Okigbo, Jerome Udorji and many others.
At the time, the Igbo were still shell-shocked from the war; struggling to regain self-belief.
Through the years however, Ohaneze has remained the bastion of Igbo pride and dignity in the gathering of ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
It probably adds very little to observe that what the Igbo lack in a towering political leader whose voice is representative of the tribe has been taken care of by Ohaneze.
The success of Ohaneze has spurn the emergence of Aka Ikenga, the intellectual arm of the umbrella group, Igbo Ezue, Mkpoko Igbo, World Igbo Congress and several other groups that have mutated over the years with the ostensible objective of pursuing Igbo interests.
A good many of them have gone extinct though.