Igbo Question in the Nigeria Project: What Is Our Alternative?
by Dr. Chike Obidigbo (Osisioma)
Over the past several years, l have been deeply worried about the fate of Ndiigbo in Nigeria’s political equation. My worry centers mostly on the fate of our youths. I am worried about our growing army of unemployed young people. l wonder what the future holds for them and for the rest of our society. The unconcealed greed, mindless and criminal wealth acquisition of Igbo political class has kept all manner of economic growth and development in check. So, from where and when will the jobs come that will sustain our youths?
The text of a speech delivered by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe at the ICAM Convention in Mississippi USA on October 7, 2017 with the above title, actually became the trigger that fired all the desired inspiration, direction and focus l needed. I only came across this speech of late, hence the delayed reaction from me. Full text of Senator Abaribe’s address is published at (https://goo.gl/jJ8NiF).
Although the distinguished Senator stated from the outset that what he had to say might surprise many people, it surely did not surprise me and many others. The Senator representing Abia South senatorial district shared his thoughts on a variety of issues ranging from the prevailing socioeconomic condition of Ndiigbo in Nigeria vis-à-vis the agitation for a separate state of Biafra by the youths, to the paucity of infrastructure in the Southeast geopolitical zone. However, while Abaribe intelligently dissected the challenges facing Ndiigbo in Nigeria, he failed to shed light on the failings of political leadership in the zone.
He attributed the agitations by youths for a separate state of Biafra to frustrations, arising from the perceived marginalization of Ndiigbo in the present dispensation.
The Senator noted that President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement in the United States that he would not pay attention to the five percent that did not vote for him during the 2015 election strengthened the frustration by the youths.
This is how Senator Abaribe put it: “You will recall that when this government came into place, President Buhari went to the US where he made a most unfortunate statement that was widely condemned at that time. He reportedly said that he doesn’t need to bother about the 5 percent that didn’t vote for him, but will rather concern himself with the 97 percent that voted for him.
“I had at the time the statement was made raised concern that such declaration from an elected President sounds discriminatory and may create the impression that our elected President Buhari is sending a message to those who didn’t vote for him that he will be partial in his decision making.”
Casting his net wide, Abaribe suggested, “the people who are in and around the president didn’t advise him properly. They left him to make appointments and take decisions that gave the impression that there are some parts of the country that are not supposed to be part of Nigeria.”
To the Senator therefore, all those must have left Igbo youths with the feeling of being left out “and not having anything to give them hope in Nigeria, (thereby) believing that a separate country would be better.”
As a clever politician who has an unbroken record of visible participation in Nigeria’s fourth republic democratic experience, from 1999 till date, I am convinced that Abaribe is eminently qualified to adumbrate on issues that he dabbled into in his speech at ICAM Convention in US.
But as an industrialist & wealth creator myself, with more than thirty years of seamless experience in indigenous manufacturing, I find it unacceptable that the Senator representing Abia South district should spice his speech with a supercilious rhetoric of why Igbo in Diaspora do not invest at home.
In apparent show of political double speak, Abaribe had queried: “Should we continue to blame the Federal Government for the dilapidated infrastructures in Alaigbo? What of our home governments in Igbo States?
“Sam Mbakwe of blessed memory did not wait for the Federal Government before undertaking massive rebuilding of old Imo State. We think that we have not given our best to our people with the little we got.”
Although the main purpose of this intervention is not to throw stones, which sometimes l love doing, I am inclined to say that it is the glib-talking politicians of convenience, like Abaribe, that stoked the neglect and monumental lack of infrastructure in Ala Igbo.
Perhaps, Enyinnaya forgot that he was part of the same home government he found convenient to traduce. Or was he not the deputy governor of Abia State, the center of Igbo industrial complex?
It is such a shame that the class of politicians from Ala Igbo that found themselves in top political positions feel comfortable with their primitive accumulation, while the Igbo heartland and countryside wallowed in infrastructure dilapidation.
While their forward-looking counterparts from other parts, particularly Southwest, were thinking home and for the collective interest of their people, our own first eleven were only interested in Ghana-Must-Go transactions at the National Assembly.
The correct index of how far Alaigbo fared under the prevailing circumstances is to look at the number of state governors facing trial for graft. And the last time I checked, I did not hear that Abaribe resigned from his post for a principled stand against lack of institutional focus in the delivery of sustainable infrastructure in Abia State when he served as Deputy Governor.
Even while he migrated to the National Assembly as Senator, it is not on record that Abaribe rallied round his colleagues on a vision to redress the dearth of infrastructure in Alaigbo. Rather they have been in competition in constructing hotels and cornering contracts.
There have been subdued allegations that the face of infrastructure in Southeast bears eloquent testimony to the character of political leaders from the zone from the period 1999 to date, of which Abaribe is a proud subset.
From abandoned contracts to recommendation of substandard contractors, through the diversion of accruable federal interventions, Southeast politicians cannot exonerate themselves from the ugly state of roads and public amenities in Alaigbo.
Perhaps, time has come for the Niger Delta Development Commission, Federal Ministry of Works, Federal Emergency Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), National Independent Power Project (NIPP) and Rural Electrification Agency of Nigeria (REAN) to publish the list of failed projects, their beneficiaries, contractors and nominees. Many of our Senators must surely have cases to answer. Even in the area of insecurity where Abaribe complained abroad that “nowhere have we hurt ourselves and investment in Ala Igbo than in the insecurity pervading all parts of our homeland,” could he and his ilk be excused of blame. Never.
The preponderance of political thuggery that reigns supreme during elections, represent our own share of democracy dividend initiated by our political leaders.
As they armed and trained these young men, most of whom were emergency students of some tertiary institutions, the politicians deepened their appetite for money through sundry corrupt approaches, including the diversion of money meant for constituency projects and other poverty reduction and empowerment schemes.
And in a nation renown for poor knowledge of history and institutional memory, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe found it very convenient to stand before Umu Igbo in America to pontificate: “Of course the latest imbroglio in Abia, especially in Aba and Umuahia, has worsened matters. We run the risk of undoing all the efforts made in promoting ‘made in Aba’. l once proudly contributed to the promotion of Made in Aba as a member of National Council of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. As local industrialists from Ala Igbo we embarked on the Made in Aba project so as to provide the needed catalyst for the industrial growth of Igbo land. “Industries have relocated from Ala Igbo to other parts of Nigeria especially Lagos and Ogun States because of the very serious insecurity such as kidnapping and armed robbery faced by those who attempted to invest at home”, claimed Abaribe.
Two things stand out from the above claim by Abaribe. In the first place, some of us who have remained steadfast in investing at home against all odds, know that it was from the college of political thugs that kidnappers and other antisocial elements, graduated and discharged after every electoral cycle.
Without caring about roads, these politicians mostly those in the legislatures, donated motorcycles to young men in the name of economic empowerment. In fact, those are but facilities deployed subtly for their next election, where ballot box snatching, and other electoral offences used to be the main strategy for winning.
I am still at a loss why Senator Abaribe, a former Deputy Governor of Abia State, forgot to explain to his audience why no legislator ever bothered to establish industries to employ the youths, as part of their constituency projects.
Secondly, the rise of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which the senator struggled to blame on political marginalization from the federal authorities, was actually a product of frustration and protest. Protest against the politicians, who not only connived with outsiders to deny them of opportunities, and also frustration that their voice could not be heard through rigged elections and promotion of money politics.
Truth be told; in Alaigbo, political leaders made it impossible for the falcon to hear the falconer, because not only were they dishing out lies through false promises, they also deceived the youth with false value judgment that the end justifies the means.
Some of us that have been engaged in mentoring young people in Igbo land are aware that the unemployment level in the area is a ticking time bomb. But the politicians, with eyes fixed on the next election, don’t seem to bother. After all, with money, they can buy their way to the next public office.
We that are involved in indigenous manufacturing in Ala Igbo have been crying out against all forms of debilitating taxes, against unprovoked police and other official harassment, against the impact of bad roads, against high-energy tariff on our overhead costs, yet no single legislator from Ala Igbo has deemed it fit to take up the challenge. How then will local industries grow to create more jobs? Why then won’t, many relocate to Ogun or Lagos states where the environment is safe and enabling?
At the level of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), we have held countless seminars and workshops, none of the politicians showed interest to understand the plight of indigenous manufacturers, who are the highest employers of labour. Abaribe and his colleagues don’t just care. They are only keen over matters that would sustain them on the political front, not love of community or concern for future generation.
But for space constraints, one could go on and on to place the apathy of Igbo politicians to the blind zeal of Igbo youths to take their future in their hands, having been deceived and disappointed by the so-called leaders. That, more than lack of understanding that Igbo has more stake in the Nigeria project, propelled their quest for a separate homeland, even if it is utopia.
Nnamdi Kanu and his followers find it hard to trust Igbo leaders because they lack authenticity or workable plan for a better future. Abaribe is not a good authority on the sorry state of affairs in Alaigbo: he wants to live in two worlds at the same time. That Kanu could not heed whatever advise he had to offer is an indictment. Those exploits of Igbo entrepreneurs, which resulted in the fact alluded to by Abaribe in his speech stating that the largest group of direct domestic investors in Nigeria are from the Southeast, are traceable to individual efforts rather than a planned line of action.
The absence of a buoyant economy similar to the ones the senator cited as existing in Computer Village in Ikeja, Ladipo Spare Parts Market, Alaba Electronic Market, Balogun International Market, Balogun (Trade Fair) International Market, Aspamda Market in FESTAC and Orile Market for house fittings and appliances; is because of the failure of leadership among the Igbo political class.
It, therefore, amounts to self-exultation for Abaribe to heap the blames alone on governors without recognizing the place of laws as essential raw materials for good governance. I ask, which laws have the Senator and his colleagues put together to protect and preserve the business interests and endeavors of Igbo entrepreneurs?
The situation in Alaigbo calls for collective action and not sanctimonious preachments from self-serving politicians. If Igbo lawmakers did not find it distasteful that there is no functional seaport on the former Eastern Region to begin advocacy, what do they have to tell us about investment and economic growth in Ala Igbo? Instead of campaigning for only election boycott, Igbo youths should also mobilize to sack the present class of visionless and selfish leaders from Alaigbo for a fresh start. God bless Igbo youths.
I’ll be back.