Igbo Introspection: How Do We Alleviate “Ụbịam” (Poverty) in the Igbo Society?

One day, I was in Main Market Ọnicha (Onitsha) with my in-law and looking at the numerous goods and services exhibited in different shops for market and sales. I asked my in-law, “Nwanne, do you know the financial worth of all the goods and services in this market?” He answered, “well, I wouldn’t know – maybe in hundreds of billions.” I asked again, “do you know where the bulk of these hundreds of billions go to?”. He answered again, “in the pockets of the Igbo traders, of course”. Then, I intercepted. “No no, the bulk of these hundreds of billions do NOT end up in the pockets of the Igbo traders in Main Market, but in the pockets of the Chinese manufacturers in faraway China…” And he looked at me in bewilderment. Lol!

The fact is that many of us do not know the cause of our poverty because we are yet to understand how the economic system works.

According to the research conducted by Ike Chioke (GMD Afrinvest), Nkwo Nnewi makes an annual turnover of $1billion (about N360billion), Ogbete Market, Enugu makes $500million (about N180billion), Arịarịa International Market Aba, Abịa makes $3billion (about N1.08 trillion), Alaba International Market Lagos $3billion (about N1.08 trillion), Computer Village Lagos $2billion (about 720billion), Balogun Market Lagos $3billion (about 1.08 trillion), Main Market Ọnitsha $3billion (about 1.08 trillion). All these markets have one thing in common. They are all Igbo occupied and dominated markets. Therefore, when you put all these figures together, you can inductively calculate the annual turnover of the Igbo traders in Nigeria to be about $15.5billion (about N5.4 trillion). However, the Nigerian budget for 2018 was about N8.612 trillion.

From its modest beginning in a waterlogged part of Lagos, the Alaba International Market has grown to become the largest electronics market in Nigeria and the West African sub-region. Shops are usually filled with electronics goods imported from all parts of the industrialized world.

As an Igbo man, before your head starts swelling, please, quickly look at these figures too. According to Nigeria poverty statistics, the poverty rate in Nigeria’s Southeast (Igbo land) is 27.4 percent. What this implies is that if the population of the Igbo people are maybe 40 million, it means that about 11 million Igbo people in Nigeria are in poverty. Therefore, if an ethnic nationality of 40 million people that make an annual turnover of $15billion (about N5.4 trillion) in Nigeria have a poverty statistic of 11 million poor people in Nigeria, kedụ ndị anyị na-eme zi lụ turnover? (who are we making the turnover for?) If you are conversant with cash flow analysis, you will know that in the profit and loss statement, even though turnover is important, the most important factor in a profit and loss statement is “the Net profit”. Commonsense will tell you that even if you have a large turnover and make very little net profit, then someone else is making that profit on your head. The Igbo people will term it, “ị  na akwụo aka etilụ ọkụkọ aku” or “e mepego office n’isi gị”… (All for naught or we’ve been had….)

Kedụ ndị anyị na-agba lụ mbọ a? (Who benefits from all our effort then?) China!

China, in 2018, made the GDP of $14.172 trillion (nominal; 2019 est.) $27.449 trillion (PPP; 2019 est.), their GDP rank is 2nd (nominal; 2018) 1st (PPP; 2018) with the GDP growth of 6.6% (2018). A report by the Swiss bank, UBS and auditors PWC claimed that China produced billionaires at the rate of two a week in 2017.

Why are all these happening? The answer is simple for the critical mind but complex for the gullible because of “ajọ agwa” (wrong attitude or actions) which have a lot to do with “ajọ echiche” (wrong way of thinking) and “ajọ mmụta” (wrong process of learning or system of education). These are the foundational factors of the Igbo sociopolitical and economic backwardness, hence unemployment and poverty.

Onitsha Main Market perseveres.

At Independence of 1960, the Onitsha Main Market was the largest open-air market in West Africa. This market serves the Lower Niger territory which encompasses Nigeria’s Eastern and Midwest Regions. Local manufacture has stagnated in this territory due to denial of direct access to maritime trade by obnoxious central govt. policy.

According to Michael Potter in his book “Competitive Advantage of Nations” (Harvard Business Review), “National prosperity is created, NOT inherited. It does not grow out of a country’s natural endowments, its labor pool, its interest rate or its currency’s ‘value’ as classical economics insists. A nation’s competitiveness depends on the capacity of its industry to innovate and upgrade”.

The Igbo people had a system of education that was excellently functional for the Igbo society. A system that prepares the young for adulthood, a system that prepares the Igbo man to be critical, creative, innovative and productive in his society, hence killing off unemployment and poverty.

This is how it works. Every human society has needed to survive, develop and grow. These essentials of decent human existence fulfill the five (5) basic needs of man:

  • Food

  • Shelter

  • Clothing

  • Communication

  • Transportation

Among these five (5), three (3) – food, shelter and clothing – are the most basic. When values are created to provide for these needs, employment is created and when these needs are fulfilled to a reasonable extent in any given society, that society is termed to be prosperous. It is in providing for these needs that man activates his “echiche” (thinking faculties), engage his “akọ na uche” (mindset) and deliver with “amamịfe” (wisdom). In the background of all these activities lies the catalyst which is “mmụta” (education) which goes on to influence the way we go about these intellectual, mental and physical activities. Almost all the philosophical, scientific and technological innovation and inventions revolve around these five (5) basic needs of man. The Igbo traditional education system is centered on “ịkeụba” (value creation) and (nchekwa ana) environmental protection.

The question now is how productive are we Igbo people today? Ọ bụ sọ sọ ịzụ afia k’anyị dị zị mma ya? (are we just good only in mercantilism?) When are we going to advance our economic system from importation of goods to local manufacturing? Yes, I know we do not have enabling environment in Nigeria, but we too have not even shown enough WILL to beat the system. The fact is that no one will give the Igbo people an enabling environment, only the Igbo people can create the enabling environment by and for themselves and we can achieve this by resurrecting the ancient values that made our forefathers prosper and kill ụbịam (poverty) in their own time. Ancient values like “ọ nulu ube nwanne a gba na ọsọ (communal love)”, “ikwu amaghị ibe ezi ya” (collaboration/teamwork), “ibu anyị danda” (the Igbo co-prosperity and the cluster concept). These values are highly potent and effective in diluting any anti-Igbo policy created in Nigeria to subjugate the Igbo people.

Technical expertise of local work force

Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM) plant assembles various types of sedans, buses, vans and sports utility vehicles at Nnewi, Enugu etc

Today, out of the fortune 500 companies, 300 are owned by the Jews, why?? Because they make their money revolve at least 18 times in the Jewish community before it leaves by engaging in production, research and development.

If we must alleviate “ubịam” (poverty) in Igbo land, then, it is time to critically analyze and look at the institutions of human formation in the Igbo society, to know where the Igbo people were in the past; where they are at present and where they are heading to in the future.

Finally, nwanne, before you start boasting about how many containers ị na-akuchi, na-atụbata, biko ask yourself these critical questions:

  1. “Kedụ ndị anyị na-agba lụ mbọ a?” Who are the main beneficiaries of our toil?

  2. “What really is the essence of “Igbo national economic prosperity”?

  3. “How do we achieve it in the contemporary Igbo Society?”

Daalụ nụ. (Thanks)

© Chukwuemeka Obinwugo: March 10, 2019