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


Why not tell them that the Igbo were defending their core values that had come under attack by people determined to stop our speed and join them in the go-slow? Why not tell them that in that war, with the intellectual support of Achebe and his contemporaries, we held the combined forces of Nigeria, Britain, Russia and Egypt for 30 months with our bare hands, almost repeating what Igbo slaves did in San Domingo (Haiti)? If we must talk about the war, why not tell our youths about our exploits in Abagana, Nkpo Junction, Owerri sector etc? Why not tell them how we ran a mobile government, setting up government in another city 24 hours after being chased out from one, a feat no nation at war has achieved? Why not tell them that we invented our own rockets and weapons of mass destruction (Ogbunigwe)? Why not tell them that even when we were at war, we never lacked petrol as is the case in Nigeria today, because we refined our own petrol in refineries constructed by Igbo engineers and scientists, as well as produced our own vehicles, machinery, equipment, printing press, drugs, whiskey, etc?


Our past was a great past not just a past replete with defeats. It was in fact that great past that came under attack during the civil war. And it is the fear of that great past that has continued to sustain that attack, and which manifests in what many of us call “marginalization.” Keeping the Igbo down has become a vehicle for the political advancement of other rival groups. And to perpetuate that, all manner of stereotyping of the Igbo is employed. External forces exploit the greed among some of our mendicant political class, induce crisis among us and turn round to demonize us as people incapable of providing leadership. The truth is that there is a mortal fear among fellow Nigerians that, rather than destroy us, the war honed a more resilient and enterprising Igbo race, and that if they allow us space, we would not only surge ahead, we would probably wipe out everybody. Thus, the Igbo have become a people to be feared, a people to be suspected, a people to be subjugated and a people not to be trusted. But to me, what is important is not how people choose to see us, but how we want them to see us.

Another truth, which proceeds from the above, is that Nigeria has developed a strategy of needing the Igbo but not wanting them. This may have succeeded in making the Igbo marginal players in the Nigerian economy, that is, if we ignore self-inflicted limitations, but it has really done more harm to Nigeria itself. The fear of the Igbo has held Nigeria down and will continue to hold it down. After all, it was Harry Truman who said that you cannot hold a man down without staying down yourself. And I will illustrate. Many times in the past, during Nigeria’s many constitutional conferences, the proposal was made that Nigerians should enjoy full rights and obligations of citizenship wherever they have lived for some minimum specified years and paid tax. The knee-jerk response by other Nigerians to this proposal was that it would benefit the Igbo and make him take over the entire country. The proposal was always thrown out with the belief of keeping the Igbo man caged in his own geo-political area. 

Now, years after, the war of “indigenes” against “settlers” emerged in the North, claiming thousands of lives. It has not subsided even as I speak. Those who killed the unity of Nigeria for the fear of the Igbo are worse for it. There is also the case of Dr. Njoku Obi of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, who produced anti-cholera vaccine soon after the war. His effort was reduced to ethnic debate, probably because it was not expected that such a feat could come from a rebel. Dr. Njoku Obi simply sold his patent abroad while Nigeria continues to spend billions of dollars to import the same anti-cholera vaccines from the foreign patent holders.

Let me return to the issue of our stereotyping for a moment. 

When other ethnic groups try to give us negative stereotyping, they are really trying to induce our obsolescence. That effort translates to what we call our marginalization. They paint us black to justify our oppression. Prof Okwudiba Nnoli in his work, ethnic Politics in Nigeria, validates this when he said, “Colonial racism provided a myth whose primary objective was the complete alienation of the colonized African, enabling a better and more complete domination and control of him.” The result, according to Frantz Fanon is a “rejection of self” and “identification with the colonizer” and “the acceptance of the latter’s image of one’s inferior status.” 

If you watch the Nigerian scene closer you will notice a progressive lack of self-belief among our people and an identification with our internal colonizers. Some Igbo regard our language as inferior, but show off their mastery of Hausa or Yoruba language. Our young millionaires are so showy, loud and noisy, thus attracting resentment and envy to themselves. Our enterprising spirit is sometimes carried to an exuberant excess, eliciting an aggressive resolve among our competitors to contain and subjugate us. Most of our leaders have become compromisers and cash and carry leaders. Unfortunately, there is no discipline in Igbo land today because those who should lead by example have abandoned their responsibilities for a mess of porridge. I can go on and on to give reasons why we must reposition the Igbo nation for the future.

For want of time, permit me to just elaborate a little on the issue of leadership, because as Achebe lamented, the problem with Nigeria is the failure of leadership. That is equally true of the Igbo condition. We must grow and develop the right leadership. In my view, the Igbo leadership for the 21st century must be informed, transparent and honest. The leadership for the future must be committed, focused, highly motivated and accountable to be people. The new Igbo leadership must be bold, bright, brave, forthright and, above all, compassionate. The new leadership must be educated beyond just the ability to read and write, but must be knowledgeable about the dynamics of the environment in which Ndigbo live. In other words, we need to put our intellectual class to work in the field of political leadership. We must never be led in the 21st century by bit-players and artisans who lack a complete view of the structures they contend with and cannot relate politics to the need for development.

We must return to our age-long value of hard work, moderation, and delayed gratification. Our youths are now too much in a hurry to make it, thus many of them are into crime. If we revere hard work, then, we must never worship sudden and unexplained wealth or countenance the ostentation that goes with it. Ladies and gentlemen, you would have noticed that in Igbo culture and architecture, the yam barn, which is the storehouse of a man’s wealth and possession, is never at the forecourt of the house but at the back. In some places, yam barns are put in the bush. 

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