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Igbo & Leadership Question: The Achebe Example —By Ikedi Ohakim



I have often heard many Igbo speak of our circumstances and problems in Nigeria in a way that can only inflict inferiority complex on our young ones. The common cliché is that the civil war is responsible for our degenerate condition in Nigeria. They tell the young ones that because we lost the civil war, in fact others less generous say because we were defeated in the civil war; that is why we have been reduced to fourth-class citizens in Nigeria. We cannot deny the obvious. Yes, I must admit, war is not a picnic. It means dislocation of families. It means leaving the security of your home and trekking into an uncertain future as a refugee, even in your own country. For the youth, war means not going to school. It means loss of valued property.

War means loss of means of livelihood. It means being maimed. It means poverty, hunger, starvation and disease. 

War means loss of respect and dignity. It means a complete devaluation of life. War means death. Brothers and sisters, we, Ndigbo, went through all of these and more!

The civil war set the Igbo nation back. The civil war devastated our economy, destroyed our infrastructure, and created a mendicant political class, subservient to other cultural groups. It destroyed the Igbo core values, which indeed was the intention of the enemy, and I shall return to that. But the question is; is the Igbo history just the history of the war? What were we before the war? Were we simply defeated in the war? In fact, did we fight against an equal enemy force or did we fight the combined forces of Britain, Russia and Egypt, with neighboring countries providing logistical assistance, while America looked the other way?

Let me, for the interest of our youths, look at the Igbo nation before the war so that we can understand where the rain began to beat us. This is important because, often I hear our people dampen the spirit of the young generation of Igbo with defeatist stories that detract from our manhood. Too often, our people dwell on our dark side as if we never had sunshine in our lives. If we continue to feed our children with only accounts of defeat and surrender, we will be unconsciously perpetuating self–doubt and lack of confidence in future generations. If we know who we are, it will be possible to tell our youths that Igbo is a great nation, the only one in Africa that resisted the British conquest and checkmated Islamic jihads towards Igboland. The Igbo nature is one that rejected and will continue to reject imperialism or a supreme ruler over us because our nation was founded on republicanism.

The story of Amistad by Howard Jones is the story of Joseph Cinque, (Joseph Chikwe), Kenna (Ikenna) and others who led the mutiny of Igbo slaves on the slave ship, Amistad. The Interesting Narrative and other writings of Olaudah Equiano, is an incredible account of an Igbo boy taken into slavery at age 12, who struggled with unconquerable Igbo spirit to eventually buy his own freedom, and later became a navigator, abolitionist and merchant. He was commissioned by the British Monarch to resettle freed slaves in West Africa, and in the Igbo spirit of Onye Aghala Nwanneya, he said, “I decided to help my own countrymen.”

If you recall that there was no country called Nigeria in the 1700s, Equiano’s “countrymen” could only mean those slaves who spoke the same language with him, fellow Igbo. And that accounts for the heavy presence of Ndigbo in Sierra Leone today. But sadly, our leaders have not established a cultural link with these Diasporan Igbo in Sierra Leone. If we know ourselves, we would be inspired by the story Dr. Francois Duvalier, then a post-graduate medical student at the University of Michigan, told another great Igbo son, an “unrepentant nationalist” and Pan Africanist, Dr Okechukwu Ikejiani, who passed away in Canada in the early hours of Sunday 19 August 2007. Dr. Duvalier, who later became President of Haiti, and popularly known as Papa Doc, told Ikejiani that the Haitians were of Igbo origin. These Igbo slaves in the then Island of San Domingo, as Haiti was then known, led the first successful revolution of black slaves that defeated the British Forces and established the first black independent Republic of Haiti. But, that history is obliterated by British historians till this day. So, my brothers and sisters, defeat has not always been the lot of the Igbo man. We have done great things in the past. We come from a great ancestry.

Back home in Nigeria, the Igbo had made astonishing strides. At the time the first Igbo lawyer in the person of Charles Dadi Onyeama was called to the Bar of Lincoln’s Inn in 1940, the Yoruba had two generations of lawyers. At the time the Igbo had the first medical doctor in the person of Akanu Ibiam in 1935, the Yoruba had more than two generations of doctors. But ladies and gentlemen, by 1965, in a space of 30 years, the Igbo not only caught up with our closest rivals, we outstripped them! By 1965, if you talked of commerce and rich men in Nigeria you talked about Sir Louis Ojukwu and people like M.N. Ugochukwu. If you talked of academics, you talked of Prof Eni Njoku at the University of Lagos and Prof Kenneth Dike at Ibadan. We built the first indigenous and still the best university in Nigeria before other regions followed! Before the Allison Ayidas cadre of Super Permsecs, there had been the Nwokedis and the Enelis at the top of civil service of Nigeria. In the Army, not only was an Igbo, Major General Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi (Ironside) the General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army by merit, about 60 per cent of the officer corps were Igbo.

In politics, Igbo sons, led by the great Zik, not only were at the forefront of liberating Nigeria from colonialism, the Igbo regarded the liberation of Africa as their manifest destiny! Zik was the colossus who inspired the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Jomoh Kenyatta, George Padmore and others into the Pan African struggle. In Nigeria, Zik, an Igbo son, introduced modern professional journalism and published from Warri to Kano and from Onitsha to Port Harcourt, with the Lagos-based West African Pilot as the flagship of journalism. If it was sports, you talked of the Emmanuel Ifeajunas, the Violet Odogwus, the Onyealis, the Onyeanwunas, the Dick Tigers and the Killwee Nwachukwus . The Igbo nation has done great things, my brothers and sisters, and we should not walk about with drooping shoulders just because of the civil war.

Even if we must dwell on the civil war, why not also tell our youths about our prowess and exploits during the war? Why not start by disabusing their minds that we were rebels as our competitors have labeled us? Why not begin by telling them that we never set out to dismember the country, because we built Nigeria more than any other ethnic group? Why not tell them that we were fighting injustice; the same injustice other oppressed Nigerians are fighting today? 

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