It was a religious gathering. A conference of Christian Mothers of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion.
The event was the 2018 Mothers’ Conference of the Orlu diocese of the Anglican Church. Naturally, it would be expected that everything about the conference would have to do with religious matters: How to become a better Christian, for instance.
But not these mothers. They ventured into temporal matters with audacity. They invited Sen. Hope Uzodimma, Imo West to speak on no other topic than “The Remedy for the continuous marginalization of the South East in project Nigeria.”Expectedly, St Andrews Anglican Church Obinugwu, Orlu, venue of the Conference, was not only occupied by Christian Mothers, but by high ranking politicians as well. And Uzodimma did justice to the topic.
He gave a spell binding clinical account of the history of Igbo marginalization from the 1996 coup to the present day before proceeding to proffer three unique ways out of the marginalization scourge.
His treatise x-rayed the agonising journey of Igbo marginalization from the abandoned property era to the $20 refund for every money in an Igbo man’s bank account, after the Civil War and the criminal exclusion of Igboland from the citing of major federal projects.
According to Uzodimma, the situation was different before the war. At the end of the First Republic, J. T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi was the first army general in Nigeria. Chukwuemeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu was the first university graduate to join the Nigerian Army.
His father, Sir Louis Ojukwu, the first Nigerian millionaire, was the founder of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. Igbos had a sizeable number of permanent secretaries in the Federal Civil Service. Most important perhaps, is that before the Biafra War, Igbos dominated commerce and industry in Nigeria. In politics also, Igbos held sway; Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, an illustrious Igbo son practically defined politics in the country before and up till the day of independence.
As leader of the NCNC, he had loyalists from across the country who practically worshipped him for his masterful political acumen and mesmerizing sagacity. Expectedly, he recorded many ‘firsts’: First Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, first Governor General and later, first President of Nigeria. In fact, but for an odious political conspiracy, the great Zik of Africa would have been the first Premier of the Western Region. In 1952, his party the NCNC, won majority of the seats in the Western Region and Zik as leader of the party was set to be sworn in as Premier, but for the infamous carpet crossing that took place on the floor of the parliament before the inauguration. Senator Hope Uzodimma He noted also that in the academia and technology, Igbos had an intimidating share of ‘firsts’.
Kenneth Dike, the first black vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan, also the first Nigerian professor of history was an Igbo. Eni Njoku, the first vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos and first Nigerian professor of botany, as well as progenitor of the anti-cholera vaccine was an Igbo. Chike Obi, the man who solved Fermat’s last theorem and first Nigerian professor of mathematics was Igbo.
The current Obi of Asaba, HRH Chike Edozien, was the first Nigerian professor of anatomy and physiology. In like manner, HRH Laz Ekwueme, the present Igwe of Oko in Anambra State, was Africa’s first professor of music. Herbert Kodilinye was appointed a professor of medicine, Nigeria’s first, in 1952; James Nwoye Adichie, first Nigerian professor of statistics initiated research in non-parametric statistics that led to new areas in statistical research; GD Okafor who became a professor of philosophy at Amherst College in 1953 was the first Nigerian professor of philosophy; while Pius Okigbo the first Nigerian PhD in economics was a visiting scholar and professor of economics at the University of London.
The Senator Concluded that from these few examples, it was self-evident that Ndigbo had a firm grip of every sector in pre-civil war Nigeria. The implication therefore, is that it was the war indeed, and the defeat thereof, that brought about the marginalization of Ndigbo. Uzodimma presented a very persuasive argument that the side-lining of Ndigbo in post-civil war policies, including the non-citing of major infrastructural projects in the Igbo homeland, point to the fact that their marginalisation is ongoing.
He believes that there is impeccable evidence also from the statements credited to Emir of Kano, Alhaji Lamido Sanusi and former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, lamenting the fact that the presidency of Nigeria has eluded Igbos, since post war democracy, to support the position that the marginalization of Ndigbo has continued till date.
The climax of the matter he said is that the South East or Ndigbo is the only geopolitical zone with the least number of states: five, with the multiplier implications therein. All the others have six or seven. This is, of course, another facet of the marginalization agenda. The cost in practical terms to Ndigbo, is that the South East is denied one state governor, three senators, a minimum of ten seats in the House of Representatives.
These would have been critical political stakeholders, who, if they had been in place would be lending their voices and weight to national discourse to promote the interests of the region. In essence, the political presence of Ndigbo in the political space has been deliberately dwarfed by this singular marginalization stroke. Likewise, the national vocal presence of our people has been dimmed by this policy of exclusion.
A combination of these two factors ensure that we remain politically malnourished in our beloved country. On the economic side, the salaries and allowances due to these excluded public officers have denied Ndigbo the economic multiplier benefits that would have accrued to them. But more important however, is the loss of revenue allocation from the Federation Account, which a sixth state in the South East would have been entitled to. By simple calculation, this potential revenue loss calculated from 1999 alone, would run into trillions of naira. This would have helped, in no small way, in addressing the economic needs of our people.
So, yes, the woes from marginalization have continued to press Ndigbo down till date. This is a statement of fact. It now brings us to the main issue: How do we remedy the situation? On remedy, he offered a three pronged approach to wit: (1) A Nigerian President of Igbo extraction in 2023 (2) The restructuring of Nigeria and (3) The advancement of technology and intellect for economic dominance. Nigerian President of Igbo Extraction in 2023 This proposition is derived from the submissions of Sanusi and Musa. As we have already seen, both men are of the view that Igbos have not only been marginalized but deliberately and wickedly denied the Presidency of the country.
Musa actually went a step further to suggest that in 2023 the presidency should be solely conceded to Igbos as it was done to the Yorubas in 1999. Taking it from there, I submit that Igbos should produce the President of Nigeria in 2023. Conceding the Presidency to Igbos should be seen for what it is: the extension of a hand of consolation from the rest of Nigeria for all the deprivations they have been visited with since the end of the civil war.
A Nigerian President of Igbo extraction will no doubt go a long way in assuaging the battered collective psyche of Ndigbo who have felt unwanted in project Nigeria since the end of the civil war. It will equally revamp their sagging self- esteem and provide the much needed sense of belonging in Nigeria. Incidentally we, Igbos, can and should facilitate the actualization of this desire in the course of the 2019 elections. How can we do this? Simple. By supporting any northern candidate who will not seek re-election in 2023.
We should also reach an agreement with such a candidate that he will support the emergence of an Igbo for the Presidency of Nigeria in 2023. Our argument for this deal should be anchored on this rotational logic. The Presidency has come to the South twice, and the South-west had it through Obasanjo while the South-south had it through Goodluck Jonathan. The North has also had the Presidency twice through Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and now Muhammadu Buhari. The North’s second take on the Presidency will end in 2023 and the Presidency will return to the South. When it does, it should naturally come to the South-east who have never had a bite at it. However, we cannot achieve this by sitting supine. We must be proactive by coming out in the arena to canvass this position and by supporting a Northern candidate who will not re-contest election in 2023. If we collectively resolve to achieve this, I am very certain that we can. Restructuring of the Federal Project (Nigeria) For just one moment, let us ask ourselves this pertinent question, why did Ndigbo do so well in Nigeria before the outbreak of the civil war? The answer ought to be obvious
– Nigeria had a true federal structure that provided a level playing field for individual and collective talents to flourish. That is all that Ndigbo need to fulfill their God given destiny, a true federal structure that ensures equity for all.
That is also what we mean by restructuring. In essence, we should champion the need for the restructuring of Nigeria, a return to the pre-independent and first republic structure upon which our federal project was rested. We should work relentlessly to actualize the return to the Nigeria that our founding fathers, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Herbert Macaulay, Obafemi Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa, Dennis Osadebe, etc, agreed to; a Nigeria where power is devolved to the Regions as the true federating units.
A restructured Nigeria will guarantee the South East the sixth State it deserves. It will ensure that Ndigbo have a level playing field in Nigeria to take their destiny in their hands. It will naturally and logically end marginalization in any form. We should push for it until it is actualized. In doing this, we must rise with a strong voice to condemn any separatist clamour. We must let our people know that what we need is a balanced federal Republic which guarantees equity to all, not Biafra.
The Advancement of Technology and Intellect for Economic Dominance. The third proposition is no less important. As we have seen, before the war, Igbos dominated the academia and technology in Nigeria. We recorded many firsts in many intellectual fields including technology. In the present world where technology defines progress with its attendant leadership status, we should reenact these pre-war feats and use them to dominate the economy of Nigeria.
The good news here is that after what happened during the period I refer to as the dark ages of Ndigbo, that is, the post- civil war era, light appears to be slowly but steadily reappearing in the horizon. The continuing stories of industrial and technological breakthroughs in Nnewi, Onitsha, Aba and Enugu, all point to a resurgence of the Igbo intellectual and technological prowess. I find it reassuring that Innoson Motors, the first indigenous fully localized motor assembly plant in Africa is the brain child of an Igbo, Zinox Computers, the first indigenous computer assembly in Nigeria is yet another product of an Igbo.
Recently, a young technician in Onitsha displayed an electric plant that can be powered by water instead of petrol or gas, to illuminate an electric bulb. That same Igbo lad invented how to recycle used plastics and polythene into fuel, that is petrol, diesel and kerosene. Yes, a renaissance of the Igbo spirit of rare technological aptitude is on. The Aba textiles and foot wear industrial revolution and the Nnewi automobile assembly wonder, all point to this direction. In the intellectual sphere, the Igbos have equally woken from sleep. As at 2014, the records at the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) show that Imo State has the highest number of professors in Nigeria. The records for the other States in the South East are no less impressive.
Also in 2023, 2014, and 2015, Anambra State topped the rest of the country in WAEC examinations. In 2016 Abia State was the best. More cheering news is that the five South East States have remained among the top seven best States in the country in the last six (6) years. I am very proud of these records and I am sure you are too. Yes, because it assures us that all hopes are not lost. The truth is that if we continue with these giant strides in the areas of science, academia and technological inventions, it will not be long for us to dominate the economic landscape of our country. Again we must take action to make this happen. My well-considered view is that the political leadership of Ndigbo should put together a Board of Trustees(BOT) for the promotion of science and technology in the Igbo homeland. This can be achieved by galvanizing all Igbos in different fields to come and launch a trust fund for this purpose.
The Board of Trustees will manage this fund and annual contributions to the fund shall be mandatory for all Igbo public officers, Corporate persons and organizations. Contributions by other individuals or businesses can be worked out to be either mandatory or voluntary.
The fund will be used to finance the mass production of technological inventions by Igbos such as the one by the Onitsha lad, which we have alluded to. The fund will also be deployed for technological research by our University professors and others. The availability of this fund will greatly encourage talented individuals to come up with inventions and stimulate more technological research work. If this is done, it will be only a matter of time for Igbos to flood the economy with new products which their willing brothers and sisters in the distributive trade will be too glad to market. The effect of this is that Ndigbo will take their economic destiny in their hands, and will over a short time, control the economy of the nation. As we know with economic power, political power can be bent. So what do all these come to? They amount to the profound reality that Ndigbo can control the economy of Nigeria and with economic power make political power amenable to their whims and desires. With political power forced to be Igbo friendly, marginalization will be a thing for the dustbin of history.