These are revolutionary times, all over the globe men are revolting old systems of exploitation and oppression. The shirtless and barefooted people of the world are rising up as never before. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light… we must move past indecision to action… if we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who posses power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight. -Martin Luther King, JR
Chinua Achebe was an eagle on the Iroko, a trail-blazer, a pathfinder and an African icon. In short, he was a genius. Therefore, there can be no greater honour than to be invited to speak at this first Chinua Achebe International Conference holding at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. On my part, I must commend the courage of the organizers, the Institute of African Studies, for inviting me to speak here, knowing my penchant for speaking my mind, often bluntly. As a matter of fact I am not worried about possible bashing as a result of my frankness. I am only worried that Nigeria is running out of time. If we don’t speak out now, it may be late for the country’s leadership, and posterity may not forgive us. I therefore thank the organizers once more for considering me worthy of this rare honour and privilege.
1. SALUTE TO THE EAGLE ON THE IROKO
Africa is grateful to God for giving us Chinua Achebe. The world celebrates him because he gave us a profound story. A man with awesome credentials, a multiple award-winning literary giant and global icon. 58 years ago, Chinua Achebe wrote the classic Things Fall Apart. In this 58 years, Things Fall Apart has grown in meaning and timelessness to become the most read novel by any black writer. It has a record of being translated into 50 languages of the world.
Things Fall Apart is the story of Uwa Ndigbo, the story of Igbo worldview. Chinua Achebe made the Igbo story a global story. While the world celebrates him because he gave it a profound story, Ndi Igbo celebrate him because he told our story. For writing Things Fall Apart, Achebe gave Ndigbo identity. He gave us a legacy that can never perish no matter how hard our detractors try. If we remove sentiment for a moment and accept that leadership is nothing but the ability to harvest followers, then Achebe can be said to be one of the greatest leaders Africa gave to the world. Some of the other notable leaders of Chinua Achebe’s standing include Frederick Douglas, Jose Marti, Charles Darwin, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Pain, Karl Max, Niccolo Machiavelli, Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela.
We celebrate Achebe because he led the way for other great writers. Because Achebe was there, that is why there was Cyprian Ekwensi; because Achebe was there, that is why there was Nkem Nwankwo. Because he was there, that is why there was Flora Nwapa. Chinua Achebe led a path followed by Elechi Amadi. He trod a path followed by Chukwuemeka Ike. He opened the door for the likes of Ben Okri. In his footpath has emerged another compelling storyteller of international repute, Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie. As the editor of the African Writers Series, Achebe nurtured other great African writers too many to mention here. As founder and editor of Okike, Achebe lit a literary torch that illuminated Nsukka. He was not only a master storyteller in English Language, he was the most dazzling Igbo folklorist. He edited the Igbo literary journal Uwa Ndigbo so that our language will not die. Till today, Chinua Achebe is the most famous black writer in the world. We have to celebrate him for being a worthy ambassador of our race, and a role model to the world.
To our youths, I have a word for you. Things Fall Apart was written when Achebe was 26 years old. Martin Luther king Junior was also 26 years old when he led his first Civil Rights march. I therefore say to our youths, you are not too young to do great things. Ultimately, it is in the hands of the youths to salvage Ala Igbo and indeed our nation from the present decadence. Today, I say to our people, the time is now ripe for the true leadership of Ndigbo to boldly step out and take its place. The coast is now clear for Ohaneze Ndigbo to stand firm against any form of division or sabotage. Onye Ajuru Adighi Aju Onwe Ya. Onye Asi No Oga Anwu, Ya Nwuo Ihe Ojoo Mere Ya!
2. IGBO SELF EXAMINATION: IMA ONWE
We must first of all seek to understand ourselves (Ima onwe). For the fundamental law of life is that which admonishes: Man, Know Thy Self. Rene Descartes, the French mystic and philosopher, in trying to understand what makes him a human being, summed it up thus: cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am.) Knowing our self presupposes a critical enquiry into our attributes as Ndigbo, our responses to our environment, our relationship with our critical competitors and our appreciation of the world in which we live; that is, Ima Onwe Anyi. It is often said that man is a product of nature and nurture. In other words, our environment helps to shape what we ultimately become.
This self-examination, therefore, becomes a very important exercise because it seems to me that part of our leadership problem derives from a total lack of understanding of where we are coming from as Ndigbo. As the genius himself, Prof Chinua Achebe always reminds us that if we do not know where the rain started to beat us, we will never know when we dry. It is natural that you can never cure a disease you do not know; you cannot solve a problem you do not understand. This particular excursion into our very being and existence is particularly important for our youths. Most of our youths are Igbo just by name. Many of them do not know much about the Igbo nation. These are faults of our educational system and some of us here, their parents. But if you do not know thy self, the probability is that you will mis-educate the young ones and complicate their woes.
There are enough literatures on the Igbo nation that I do not want to reduce this address to a pedantic academic exercise. But what is clear from accounts in Elizabeth Isichei’s Igbo World to Olaudah Equiano’s narrative, to G.T Basden’s Among The Ibos of The Niger and other accounts, is that the Igbo has always been a great race of noble rulers (the embreeche that Equiano, John Adams and Hugh Crow wrote about as far back as 1700s). While Adams reveals that the Heebos, (Igbo) has an aversion to enslavement, and therefore “use every stratagem to effect the commission of suicide,” Crow wrote that the Eboses (Igbo) are spoken of “as a superior race and the inhabitants, generally, are a fair dealing people” and generally “honest.” It is important to establish these facts because of the general stereotyping of Ndigbo which, unfortunately, our people, including so-called leaders, internalize. And I shall return to this issue of stereotyping later.
3. THE CIVIL WAR COMPLEX
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?
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?
4. WHY THEY DEMONISE US
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.
The simple reason is that it is offensive in Igbo culture to exhibit your possession or wealth lest you attract the envy of your neighbours. But today an Igbo youngster who can boast of a million Naira in his bank account, makes the noise of N50 million to the irritation of his competitors who are probably richer than he is. He is thus marked out as a target for economic strangulation.
The Igbo must return to the spirit of Onye Aghala Nwanneya. We must once more become our brother’s keeper, help those less privileged, pull up the weak among us and raise the hopes of those in despair. That was how we did it in the past. That was how we bridged the educational gap between us and the Yoruba in a space of 30 years. We can do it again. If it worked before, it will work for us again.
5. THE ESSENTIALS OF LEADERSHIP
Several people, including our own legend of the millennium, Chinua Achebe, have located our national problem on the quality or absence of quality leadership. For me, especially as a politician who has been in the arena of contest for power, leadership is critical, whether in the family, Town Union, Age Grade, the community or nation. The success of a group or a nation depends entirely on the capability of the leadership. Even economists have agreed that the progress of a nation no longer depends on the wealth or natural endowment of the nation, but on the core values espoused by that nation; values like responsibility, transparency, honesty, accountability, hard work, delayed gratification, etc, etc. It is the responsibility of a leader to drive these core values.
Leadership is that point where we can all look at and feel reassured that our hope is alive. It must be the furnace that constantly fires up all our aspirations, the engine room of our national advancement. In order words, my idea of leadership is like a canvass on which everyone can see his or her dreams, and the hope that those dreams can be realized in a secure nation that, in the first place, guarantees those dreams as the rights of citizens. Often, we have a terrible situation where Ndigbo are denied the right to dream, denied the ability to live those dreams and denied the confidence to hope for a secure future. As Max dePree, a former CEO put it, the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality, and I dare say, also to change existing reality. In his own view, Warren Bennis defined leadership as the ability to define issues without aggravating the problem. It would seem that in Nigeria, leadership has constantly aggravated our national problems. There is a crisis of definition of who is a leader.
This crisis is not helped by the bravado of the roving band of money-miss-roads of invisible means in Igbo land. Once a young man sees N500 million in his bank account, no matter how he made it, he aspires to buy his way to the governorship of his state. If that does not work, he tries the Local Government. If that fails, he guns for the traditional stool of his town. If he can’t get that, he anoints himself a party chieftain and becomes a political godfather or city father who sponsors mayhem in his state, if the resources of the state or local government are not shared to him. In an increasingly complex, competitive and dangerous world, with increasing conflicts, how we choose to respond to these realities depends on our understanding of the character and capacity of our leadership.
6. A LEADER AS A CHANGE AGENT
For the interest of the youths, perhaps it will be appropriate here to examine the attributes of some leaders who changed the world. The leader must be a man of courage and conviction if he must change the status quo. James Callaghan, former British Prime Minister, captured it accurately when he said: “A leader must have the courage to act and to act against an expert advice”. A good example of what Callaghan was saying is another former British Prime Minister: Margaret Thatcher. Mrs. Thatcher could have allowed the economy of Britain to continue the downward slide of the 70s or to crumble under the weight of inefficiency of nationalization. But she had the courage to privatize the economy when the Labour leadership and the Trade Unions thought it could not be done. She was not swayed by the barrage of criticisms. In fact she was called the Iron Lady in a rather pejorative sense. Her conviction saw her through. At the end she prevailed, became one of the longest ruling British Prime Ministers and at the end, the British economy became competitive.
Nelson Mandela, who has been mentioned earlier, was doing well as a lawyer. But he had the courage and conviction to take on the apartheid system. Even when it cost him 27 years of his active life and marriage, he did not waver. His travails in prison did not deter him. Moreover, as we showed earlier, Mandela is a mediatorleader, a conciliator and a bridge-builder. He could have gone for vengeance after prison, but he did not, because the struggle was bigger than his self interest. A leader must be visionary to effect change. A visionary leader must see possibilities beyond the present. He must be able to see tomorrow and shape the future without necessarily getting there. Martin Luther King proclaimed to the black Americans in the sixties: “I have seen the promise land; but I may not get there with you!” It has been over five decades from Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream!” to Barack Obama’s “Change We Need”. As Mandela said, there are times when a leader must move out ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way.
Apart from being visionary, spontaneity is essential in leadership. In the early sixties, the Soviet Union sent man to the outer space. America was caught unawares by that feat by a rival power. President John Kennedy gathered his cabinet to articulate a response. While Kennedy’s men were thinking of sending man to outer space, Kennedy stepped aside for a few moments, came back and abruptly announced to his men and to Americans: “We are going to put man on the moon!” Kennedy saw possibilities beyond what those around him could see. When he made that prophetic declaration, Kennedy did not know how America was going to achieve the feat. That is a matter of details which was not his responsibility. The broad picture is the responsibility of the leader. Details are the responsibility of his lieutenants. But Kennedy’s vision was ultimately achieved long after his death and America became the greatest power in the world.
The leader must have the ability to break barriers or push the frontiers further even when people believe that the barriers and frontiers are impregnable. A leader must have an intuition to seize the right moment to confront the status quo. Britain held its colonies in bondage and resisted the liberation movements and nationalists until Harold Macmillan, a former British Prime Minister, changed the momentum with his “wind of change” speech of 3 February 1960, which altered the dynamics of independence to the colonies. Our nationalists, Herbert Macauley, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Mbonu Ojike, Ahmadu Bello, Aminu Kano, Tafawa Balewa and others pushed at the barriers of colonialism to usher in Independence in 1960.
Leader after leader in South Africa sustained the apartheid system. They devised means to respond more violently to the struggles of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. But when it came to the turn of President F. W. de Klerk, he chose to break the old mould. He sensed it was time for a new beginning in South Africa. He summoned the courage to embrace the inevitable: he negotiated with Mandela, a man the system had hitherto denigrated as a terrorist. Today, South Africa is a shining example of democracy in Africa.
Another leader who broke barriers is Mikhail Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union. Gorbachev knew when the moment had come, when communism could no longer sustain the crumbling economy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR. With his vision branded as Perestroika (reconstruction) and Glasnost, (openness) propounded in 1985, he unleashed a revolution that opened the Iron Curtain and unbundled the Soviet Union into 15 countries in 1989. Today, under democracy, the economy of Russia is awash with petro-dollars. Russian billionaires are buying up businesses in Western Europe, a thing that was impossible under the communists. In the first place, you could not be a billionaire under the communists. Such was considered decadent! Many of the satellite states are today flourishing democracies, with some already members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, while others are re-branding in order to join the European Union. For his effort, Gorbachev, who Times magazine described as one of the most important individuals in the twentieth century, was rewarded with a Nobel Prize.
The historic trip President Anwa Sadat of Egypt made to Israel on 19 November 1977 to meet with Prime Minister Menachem Begin, was not only unprecedented and courageous, it also changed the dynamics in the Middle East conflict and opened the door for comprehensive peace negotiations in the region. Sadat’s trip was followed in 1978 with the Camp David Accord facilitated by President Jimmy Carter. Complete peace has not been achieved but, it is no longer war, war, war. There is element of jaw, jaw, jaw.
When he became the Presidential candidate of the Democratic Party in the United States, the first black man to achieve that feat, Barack Obama, removed the psychological barriers for all Americans who felt marginalized and excluded. There are many of our people who are still struggling to remove the barriers of poverty and discrimination on the basis of sex, ethnic origin or Osu caste system. To help them overcome these barriers is the responsibility of an effective leadership.
Tenacity is another attribute of a leader. He must stay the course even when the odds are against him. Three leaders in history illustrate the importance of tenacity as an attribute of leadership. They are Winston Churchill of Great Britain, Charles de Gaulle of France and Konrad Adenauer of Germany. These are rare leaders who were brought to the fore by the World War II. Before the World War II, as Nixon observed, Churchill was a lonely voice in opposition, dismissed as an eccentric; de Gaulle was a lonely voice seeking in vain for an audience; Adenauer was a fugitive in his own country. These three giants demonstrated tenacity when their countries were devastated by the war. They taught their people how to rise up after a fall. We all remember Churchill’s “blood, sweat and tear” speech that roused Britain under the bombardment of the Germans.
My own personal example of a leader with vision, courage and tenacity is Mohammed Ali. At 23 he envisioned himself as Heavyweight Champion of the world and challenged Sonny Liston, the monster. People feared that Liston would kill the brat then known as Cassius Clay. But he saw himself beyond just wining the Heavyweight boxing title. Instead he kept screaming: “I am the Greatest!” Of course, he won and went on to become the greatest boxer on earth. He also knew when to change the status quo. He dropped the slave name and adopted the name, Mohammed Ali and turned it into a global brand. Four times Mohammed Ali lost his title, four times he regained it! That’s the mark of tenacity!
Leadership is essentially a selfless and thankless enterprise often with price to pay. Oftentimes the price is heavy. In the case of Mandela, the price was 27 years imprisonment. For Sadat, Murtala Mohammed, Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jnr, and Ghandi. it was their assassination. There are other lesser prices leaders pay. In Nigeria, the most common prices of leadership are smear campaigns and character assassination by opponents. There are also the nefarious activities of those with the Pull Him Down syndrome, or what I call the Nshikor (crab) mentality. But these prices, big and small, have never deterred true leaders.
7. LEADERSHIP, THE ACHEBE EXAMPLE
Why are we not engaging with our first eleven? Should we continue to fly birds with clipped wings and still hope to be competitive? Why the resurgence of the Biafra agitation? These are indications that the perilous times are very disconcerting and obvious and the young elements of Igbo nation have seen through the antics of an Igbo leadership that defers to our traducers and are resoundingly saying, ‘enough is enough’.
When a leadership can no longer speak for the people, then there is every reason to worry. These leadership gaps did not escape the prying eyes of late Prof. Chinualumogu Achebe and he deployed the arsenal available to him to speak to power and question the status quo.
In his book, “The Trouble With Nigeria”, Chinua Achebe declared that the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigeria character, land, water, air, climate or anything else. Achebe blames the travails of the country on unwillingness or inability (incapacity) of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are hallmarks of true leadership.
According to him, Nigeria is “a nation for sale,” high jacked since independence by thieves, bigots, mass murderers, war criminals, unpatriotic opportunists, election riggers and other such venoms who have run the nation through an unnecessary civil war, corruption and total despoliation. Nigeria is consequently a failed state, plagued by social injustice, unrest, debilitating poverty, disharmony and ethno-religious turbulence.
The words of the late Professor Chinua Achebe vividly capture the gaps in the leadership of this country at the Federal, State and Local Governments. The consequence of all these is years of experimentation without solution. The hemorrhage has continued unabated because the wrong people access power aided by a system that works against the people. When would we break away from a past that has hoisted inertia and retrogression on a nation so endowed and blessed by Mother Nature. Nigerians and indeed Igbo sons and daughters are top flyers in performance across the globe. Yet, the fortunes of this country continue to nosedive simply because the door to leadership is shut against these individuals. Does it lie in our destiny to continue to wail and lament when together we can embrace a turning point by challenging a status quo that has denied us the benefit of real transformation and better life for all? Are we willing to capitulate just because the road to real change is rough and tortuous? A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits. Clare Booth Luce captured the issue of patience and perseverance when he said, “there is no hopeless situations, there are only men who have grown hopeless”.
This sentiment was adumbrated by Admiral Chester Mimitz, when he prayed, “God, grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it’s hopeless,”; and boxer Archie Moore echoed, “If I don’t get off the mat, I will lose the fight.” We must draw up our sleeves, jump into the trenches and wedge the war of national rediscovery until the vice grips of leadership inertia are broken. In the immutable words of Vince Lombard more, “to achieve success, whatever the job we have, we must pay a price.” It does not lie in religious, ethnic or language bigotry, the common enemy remains the negligible few that have played those primordial cards to receive undeserved endorsement, thereby holding the majority hostage as they serve us poverty on a platter.
Until the right leadership is allowed to emerge, the desire to reach the stars and the heights would continue to be elusive. The crop of leaders that are products of a failed system as presently in place cannot guarantee the country and the people a future that is ennobling and assuring.
Chinua Achebe, a man who evidently represents the essential Nigeria, focused and determined, found strength outside the shores of the land to challenge the system through his writings. He spoke to power and took actions that proved a total rejection of a leadership that tries to win in the midst of obvious perfidy perpetrated by them. The nose of the bulldog is slanted backwards so he can continue to breathe without letting go. In the same vein, we must not give up on this country as long as the intractable leadership problem looms large. Nobody makes the greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do a little. Our greatest challenge in resolving the leadership question is the penchant for the masses to submit to the preying antics of the leadership. Aware of the poverty inflicted on the people, money becomes an attractive bait in the electoral process. How many would have the discipline even in the midst of hunger and deprivation to call the bluff of these characters and settle for the people. That should be the marital song that would propel the fight to build a nascent nation of populist choice.
He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored. The dignity of man can only be preserved when we stand to our name, belief and convictions. The greatest injury that can be inflicted is that done to oneself. The Biafran agitation signal is saying Ndigbo must rise and take critical steps at reshaping our own destiny. We must begin to invest wisely. A good investor looks forward to a valuable return. The harvest of failed leadership can only be checked when all hands are on deck.
The inability of successive governments to strike the chord of true representative governance in line with best practices and with an eye on the ball, should naturally call for equal measure of populist action to insist on putting in place a leadership that thinks, cares and walks the talk. The recession and its debilitating impact on the lives of the people should serve as a call to action.
Countries of the world that sprang up like the phoenix from the ashes of a past signposted by retrogression and stagnation, allowed commitment, patriotic zeal, passion for excellence built around great leaders with big ideas, to define the trappings of governance.
Monolithic societies are often not realized by accident of natural occurrences, they are forged based on the acceptance of the finest elements of engagement devoid of parochial considerations. Justice, equity, rule of law, focus, vision, insistence on acceptable standards of co-existence, values, ideals and ideas define a nation. Building a nation can only be possible when a sense of nationalism is imbued in the people. Diversities which have unfortunately become a curse in Nigeria could only have been turned to advantage and pillar of strength if the right leaders have been cultivated.
As long as we also continue with the attitude of cherry picking, investing in leadership with ‘K’ leg, Ala Igbo like Nigeria, will never make a headway.
Ordinarily, it should be taken as given that with the abundance of human resources at the disposal of the country, Nigeria should be able to record a quantum leap. Imagine the number of great brains and human capital across the globe who are Nigerians, yet back home, the fate of the country is determined and defined by individuals that are obvious square pegs in round holes.
The movement without motion, harvest of failures, inertia and rudderlessness that hallmark the development streak of this country may forever be the cross we must carry except the majority of the suffering masses see wisdom in and work as one to dismantle the existing order. For how long would we be grimacing and brooding over the years the locust has eaten up while not making conscious effort to fight a status quo that has set us on the bad pages of history.
For the avoidance of doubt and for the interest of the current leadership, let me share my views on some burning issues in our current national debate:
i. “Nigeria Is Not Negotiable” One major problem Nigeria has is our political structure. I am of the strong view that we must peacefully re-examine now the political structure which concentrates power and responsibility at the centre. This is not the political structure that our Founding Fathers negotiated at Independence. I have said it in several fora; overconcentration of power at the centre generates friction among the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria; it unleashes extreme competition for power and the advantages it confers; it breeds more suspicion and distrust among the peoples of Nigeria; it accentuates the things that divide us rather than what unites us.
And above all, unitary government, as being practiced in Nigeria today, no longer works for anybody. The evidence is that virtually everything federal has failed or collapsed. Some less informed people still hold the notion that Nigeria is nonnegotiable. The truth is that everything is negotiable and nothing is impossible.
ii. From the scriptures, it is obvious that nothing is impossible. Even Adam and Eve, were they not evicted from the Garden of Eden? Even President Obama in his farewell address at the UN General Assembly on 20th September, 2016 hammered on this fact. He said and I quote: “Democracy must be driven by citizen engagement. No political power can force any group to remain united in perpetuity.” Israel, for example must realize that it cannot occupy Palestine land forever.
I would like to advise our present political leaders to avoid the mistake the British made in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the British made an avoidable mistake. They fell into the trap of believing that because they had weapons, soldiers and experience that dwarfed those of the insurgents, it did not matter what the people thought of them. History tells us that Britain couldn’t defeat the Northern Ireland insurgents for more than twenty years. Peaceful negotiation did the magic.
I call on our leaders to listen to Malcom Little otherwise called Malcom X, the ‘X’ being a symbol for his lost African name, stolen from his ancestors by the slave masters. In April 1964 at the Methodist Church Synod in Ohio, USA, he said and I quote, “if we don’t do something real soon, I think you will have to agree that we’re going to be forced either to use the ballot or the bullet. It’s one or the other. It isn’t that time is running out; Time has run out.”
Our National Imbalance
Ndigbo are the worst hit by the parlous state of the Nigerian economy, mostly because it has the highest number of unemployed young men and women. Apart from that, Igbo land produces the highest number of graduates of tertiary institutions, yet the Igbo states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo have the lowest capacity to absorb these teeming young men and women. The reason is because the Igbo states are economically disadvantaged and I give below a few instances.
(a) Igbo states do not get as much (development) funding as other sections of the country. Let’s take the following illustration: Whereas the North-west geo-political zone, for example, has seven (7) states with 183 local government areas, the South-east has five (5) state with 95 local government areas. This means that the North-west rakes in revenue allocations from the federation account that is more than twice what accrues to the South-east. This is as a result of the deliberate policy of allowing more local government areas to exist in some parts of the country to the disadvantage of others, notable the Igbo area, a matter which successive federal administrations have failed to address. The resultant effect is that such areas like the North-west are in custody of development funds: hence, the ever flooding of Igbo youths in search of opportunities which are either non-existent or denied them. Apart from this glaring fiscal inequality, there are little or no job-creating federal government projects in the Igbo states.
(b) Whereas the North-west (again as an example) has 93 members of the House of Representatives, the South-east has 42. Again, whereas the North-west, due to its seven (7) states structure has seven (7) ministerial slots, the South-east has only five (5) because of her inferior number of states in the federation. The huge differences result in a big resource gap which further complicates the economic problems in the Igbo states, especially given their incredible statistics on (educated) youth unemployment. This inequality is a major set-back for the people of the South-east in their quest to develop their area with what they potentially have but which is being currently denied them chiefly because of the lopsidedness in the number of states and L.Gs in the country.
Take the disparity of LGAs for example. With its 183 LGAs as seen above, the North-west at an average of N100 million or US$0.07 million per month per LGA for example, would have netted in 20 years a total of US$742 trillion; while the south-east with its 95 LGAs at the same rate and period will post a total of US$383 billion. This gives a development revenue differential of US$359 billion. This difference can be invested to develop the entire axis of Osemoto, Oguta, Ohaji/Egbema, Ogbaru, Ihiala, Onitsha economy and indeed leverage the entire zone to an unimaginable level.
iv. Because South East Is Landlocked
Please let it be known from today that South -east is not landlocked. It is only our economy that is locked. One quick way of unlocking the economy of South-east is through marine business. Contrary to the impression that the South-east is landlocked, the truth is that it has one of the potentially deepest seaports in the country at Osemoto/Oseokwa in Imo and Anambra States. A seaport was designated there in 1959 but the project was abandoned and the admiralty member erased for obvious political reasons. African Development Bank (ADB) feasibility report on this is unambiguous.
Oseokwa (Ihiala LGA, Anambra State) and Osemoto (Oguta LGA, Imo State) are the deepest natural harbor in the country (over 20m deep) and offer real naval and marine transportation platforms if developed. Besides, it lies only 18 nautical miles to the Atlantic Ocean and a strategic hub for the oil industry and inland dry-docks to promote trade. This potential seaport has the capacity of handling over 35 per cent of marine business in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, it was the attraction to these potentials that made my administration in Imo state to site the Oguta Wonder Lake and Resort Centre in the area to encourage the federal government and foreign investors. If Ndigbo pursue and complete the seaport, it will also open up over 3,000 square kilometers of the most fertile agricultural land that has one of the highest alluvial deposits which has been in existence for well over a million years.
My pursuit of this revolutionary project attracted both national and international panic and may have cost me second tenor as governor (see “Demoracy By Military Tank” by Ethelbert Okere) This deep seaport will create over two million jobs, directly and indirectly, in marine business, oil and gas, power, education, housing, agro-food industry, entertainment, tourism, etc. With that type of setting, Igbo youths will have no need to crisscross the country in search of jobs and in the process endangering their young lives.
v. Politics of Second Niger Bridge
The federal government had created a National Intervention Project in 2006 under President Obasanjo to restore peace and promote sense of belonging in the country. This gave rise to the N400 billion East-West road project; the N600 billion KanoMaiduguri road project the N200 billion Lokoja-Abaji-Abuja road project and the N150 billion Ibadan-Ogbomosho-Oshogb road. But curiously, the South-East was left out. When we demanded an explanation, we were promised the second Niger Bridge but alas, this project is being pushed to a public-private (sector) participation (PPP) arrangement with a tolling scheme to recoup the cost of the project. Is this a fair deal for Ndigbo? We must continue to ask for our own share of the 2006 National Intervention fund.
vi. Roads Infrastructure: Otuocha-Nmiata-Kogi Road
Ndi Igbo of the South-East must demand the immediate completion of this road, with high economic value but which has been abandoned. This is OtuochaNmiata-Kogi road of less than 150 kilometers which will knock off about three hours from every journey from the South-East to Abuja. The road was awarded to Nigercat in 2009 but curiously, the federal government has not shown any interest in completing this project. Our governors and national assembly members should take note. Ndigbo must demand that this road be completed to reduce the agony of Ndigbo who frequently
visit the federal capital in their characteristic manner of making all parts of the country their home.
vii. A New Political System
Igbo Leadership must take us back to our old political system within the South – east which brings people to the top just because they have the qualities needed at the top. Ndigbo must desist from what the writer, Middleton, deprecated as identifying goodness with utility and measuring status by possession. Anyone who calls himself a leader in Igboland must buy into it. This system can quickly restore the economy of Ndigbo and foreswear corruption. Stealing from our people should be treated as an abomination. Because of what we went through during the civil war, any leader who steals from the people should be disciplined. Our leaders must understand that money can make you popular, but it cannot give you eminence.
I will say because we are strong people; we are an enterprising people; we are a creative people; we have competitive spirit; we have self-confidence; we are daringly adventurous; we can take our selves to any height we want. We therefore have no business remaining backward, even if any adversary wishes us to. As Ndigbo, we have done well individually since the end of the unfortunate civil war. Instead of perishing with the war, we came out of it stronger, borrowing from the bravery of Abagana and Nkpor Junction to survive the hostile circumstances we met. Even though we lost everything, we came out of the war more enterprising, borrowing from the ingenuity of transforming a highway into Uli International Airport. Now, however, is the time for Ndigbo to pull together, to create economic power greater than individuals. This we must do in spite of what others wish for us, because we are Ndigbo.
Our country Nigeria is today in a state of turbulence. Our youths are agitated and restless. Igbo youths and their contemporaries elsewhere are demanding for Captain’s announcement. A positive word from the Captain with a calm and confident voice saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We apologize for the turbulence and discomfort. Please be assured that this aircraft is designed to fly safely in much worse condition. We will be leaving the turbulence behind in a few moments, after which the cabin crew will resume their usual friendly service. We will however, continue at an altitude of 38,000 feet above sea level for another 30 minutes and thereafter start descending for landing at Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu where the weather is fine and the temperature at 28 degrees Celsius. Enjoy the rest of the flight”.
Being a lecture presented by Dr Ikedi Ohakim, former Governor of Imo State, at the First Chinua Achebe International Conference held at the University of Nigeria Bruins on Tuesday May 22, 2017.