Ndigbo, Let’s Be Frank to Ourselves
What can I say to you my elders when I have His Excellency, Dr. Alex Ekwueme here, the Ide Aguata – Lawyer, Economist, Sociologist, Historian, Architect, former Vice President and nation builder? What can I say to you about constitution-making when I have Prof. Ben Nwabueze – Nigeria’s foremost constitutional lawyer, here? What can I tell you about the economy of Nigeria when I have a business giant, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, here, the Aha Ejiagamba Ndigbo? What can I say to you about State rights and autonomy, when I have here one of the greatest champions of State rights, Chief Jim Nwobodo – the great Anyanwu n’anwara oha?
Now, talking about these giants and bearing in mind that the Igbo nation is fortified in mind and material, in leadership and direction, in strength and faith, and in values of cohabitation, I now say, my people, let me just talk to you as the Chairman of the Conference of 17 Southern Governors (CSG).
Nigeria, the country of great but bungled promises, reluctant in her strides, unwilling in the desired leaps, put together by our colonial masters, has a great need for a true dialogue of equals.
Colonial masters arrived on our shores and conquered the Western/Coastal opposition, through economic pacification. They also conquered the opposition in the East through religion, trade and commerce, pacified the North through what I describe as diplomatic romanticism and ended up with an amalgamation of the North and South, an exercise borne of an interest to protect a very narrow but ruling interest home and abroad which had acquiesced to retain an internal imperialistic form which greatly favoured the white masters.
My people, we have a nation which has embarked on the journey of nation-building with the structure built on the greed of a few gold diggers who just managed to, so skillfully, play to appease the institution of a section to gain a strong foothold, never for the interest of the common natives but a consummation of the deception of the wobbly old aristocracy. Of course, these colonial masters have exploited the resemblance of the old oligarchic order with the imperial institutions of Great Britain.
Since then, rather than pursue our goal in nation-building, we have operated a flimsy State whose structural defect is so profound that it is certain we will go nowhere without a more creative look at the whole business called Nigeria.
Now, we have a nation where the wealth of a section – the South in this case – was purposely made to service the amorphous colonial machinery, the metropolitan businesses in Britain and America, and at an arranged transition of power, the national power cabal which is somehow viewed as having roots in the traditional power bases.
For a long time now, we have talked about marginalization. Marginalization of the Igbo, as it were, did not start today. Marginalization started after our brothers reluctantly accepted independence but wisely insisted on having the greater chunk of power.
While Julius Nyerere ended up as the Chief Executive of Tanzania; Jomo Kenyatta as the Chief Executive of Kenya, Kwame Nkurumah, Ahmed Ben Bella and others grabbed the independence of their countries as Chief Executives, our own Zik of Africa was sidelined and hung with the title of ceremonial President. That was political foresight, political cleverness exhibited by those who knew the leverage of power. The gain has remained theirs.
But that was where marginalization started. We then fought a war of self-determination, a war for independence and here we are today talking about the structure of Nigeria.
Of course, previously, we had a structure, which had allowed the sections of this country to grow according to their respective paces. That was our old four – regional structure. These were the most valid tiers of government because they came of proper democratic discussion.
The 12-state structure came as the wish of the soldiers to attain quick victory over the Easterners who had seceded. Subsequently, the states were broken into 19 before they we further extended to the number 21. Later they climbed from 21 to 30 and at the moment, they are 36. These creations were never democratically negotiated. That is, for you, a structure borne of the whims and fancies of a few.
My elders, my brothers, I say to you, the answer is not marginalization. The answer is dealing with the situation which makes it possible. We cannot forget that this is coming of a system. Marginalization is a child of an arrangement.
Mind you, my great people, that marginalization cannot come of a well-structured society. A situation which provides the level playing ground and which challenges every partaker equally does not hold a space for marginalization. A man or a group of people who have the freedom, within the community, to stride for their best without sectionally applied hindrances, cannot be marginalized.
Along this line, we have arrived at what we strongly believe is the solution – and that solution is restructuring the polity through the democratic process. If the structure is good, every player has no choice but be fair and expect fairness.
Today, we freely talk about a sovereign national conference. Today, the elders of the Igbo nation have gathered. Let today be the beginning; the great and proper awakening of the Igbo and the commencement of the Igbo National Conference. Let the Igbo nation continue with this National Conference and in it have the entire elements and dimensions of our Igbo society as we relate with other Nigerians.
Let the Yoruba nation also start and run its own National Conference. Let the sons and daughters of the Niger Delta return to the “Mbembe – Anibeze talks”, which were started with the colonial masters in 1894 but which terminated as the white overlords felt they had finally subdued the people.
In the same vein, let the Middle Belt and the North convene their own National Conferences. Let them now resume the talks, which produced the great 1909 statement of a Caliphate Spokesman. He had asked: “who will be in charge if we unite with the people of another country?” He was referring to the proposition to merge the Northern Protectorate and the South of the Niger areas.
He was referring to the proposition to merge the Northern Protectorate and the South of the Niger areas.
I believe the answer is available today. I hold strongly that such question has actually come of serious political consciousness and vigilance. It was a seasonal statement, which was made more valid with the response of the great Ahmadu Bello to the great Zik during the independence struggles. While Zik preached that we must “forget our differences,” Bello stated insightfully, “We have to recognize our differences.”
Our experience in the 40-year drive to nation-building has a ready testimony to what is more apt of these statements.
At the end of each mini-national conference, let our sons and daughters, the whole of Nigeria, meet in Abuja and fashion a Constitutional arrangement, which recognizes the plurality of the Nigerian society, the individual units with their peculiarities. The single units, which could be run in a single shape that suits the local people. They could be triangle, they could be squares, but they fall within the plural society – the comity, the umbrella nation – Nigeria. So, let each single unit pursue its autonomy, its identity under a common destiny.
Let us, as Igbo Nation, within Nigeria, pursue our strength within the diversity of Nigeria. I say to you as an Igbo that I am not worried. I say to you as an Igbo that I am enthused about the future because I know that if we have resource control and we have true federalism, the Igbo nation will survive. Igbo nation will be vibrant. A vibrancy ingrained in the individual citizen – Igbo, who unimpeachably forms a veritable part of each local society’s engine room.
Every village in Nigeria has an Igboman as the patent medicine dealer. Every village in Nigeria has an Igboman selling vehicle spare parts. Every village and town in Nigeria has an Igboman selling building materials. We believe in the unity of this country. We, more than any other race, have sacrificed to preserve the unity of this country. We will not relent. Ours is the authentic Nigeria – national agenda. We shall follow it.
Let them give the Niger Delta “resource control”. We know that as the economy of Niger Delta thrives, the economy of the Southeast will also thrive, because we shall drive the engine that will move that economy. And if we have a level of autonomy, I believe that our brothers, just as they invest outside, will also invest inside. So, together, we shall keep our flag flying. The flag of the Igbo nation, the flag flown within the comity of Nigeria, will fly without breach.
In all, we are talking of a Nigeria agenda, which shall have ample space for every citizen, every group, every nation to rise to be the best it can achieve without trampling on the other person’s right.
That is the true level playing ground, not one borne of rhetorics and political deception. Not manipulation; not indifference to the society.
Ndigbo, 30 years ago, we fought a war of liberation, a war of man and gun – brute force in its most primitive form. We had the rising sun as our symbol.
I say to you today, aka a di ekpuchi anwu. But we shall not fight the war of man and gun, again. We are so grateful to God we now have democracy. We shall discuss until we arrive at what is good for the greater number.
Here, we know ourselves. We know that in our midst, some people have stood against resource control. They have stood opposed to restructuring. We are familiar with the high sounding verbiage. They want to talk like Caesar but they are no Caesar. They want to be seen as a Cicero, who will never be.
These are the apologists whose interests are only to work and get paid. We shall move on democratically and they will have no choice but follow because we are of the true Nigerian agenda, frank and sincere to ourselves for the benefit of the greater number.
Governor Nnamani, then Chairman of the Conference of 17 Southern Governors (CSG), presented this paper at the Igbo Summit, Hotel Presidential, Enugu, January 2001.
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