Symbolism of the Uturu Communiqué: Igbo Voice Beamed from the Mountain Top
by our Staff Reporter
Whoever rely on Nigeria’s “national dailies”, which are mostly Lagos-based parochially controlled publishing and multimedia outfits, would have missed out on the landmark event whose outcome is destined to have far-reaching consequences in deciding the fate of the Igbo ethnic nationality in the near and intermediate future. The premier World Igbo Summit (WIS) was convened 27th-30th October 2016 in the premises of Gregory University, Uturu (GUU) in Abia state with the agenda “to strategize, document and design a road map for the sustainable development of Igbo nation”. The months of planning committed to preparing for the historic gathering by the World Igbo Summit Group (WISG) paid off big-time. The Igbo professional, business and political elite showed up, listened to multifaceted presentations from the horses’ mouth and then came up with some important resolutions which encapsulate the essence of this unique assembly of Ndiigbo at such a critical juncture in Nigeria’s national history.
To round up the three-day event, the summit’s organizers held a world press conference at GUU to present the communiqué highlighting consensus resolutions arrived at by this solemn assembly. What is now known as the “Uturu Communiqué” (https://goo.gl/KZ039x) is a ten-item resolution package embodying policy and action decisions carefully taken at Uturu Summit in order to arrest perceived decline in the lot of Ndiigbo in the contemporary era. Ndiigbo see the obstacles and impediments experienced daily by their kith and kin within the polity as a crippling stigma borne by totality of the Igbo ethnic nationality and thus must be tackled and overcome together. The communiqué identifies ten priority issues which, if pursued and properly addressed, shall surely bring Ndiigbo, as a collective, closer to actualization of their self-redemption that has eluded them since end of the Civil War.
Caveats of the Uturu Communiqué
The most important feature of the communiqué is the affirmation of what it takes to be Igbo as manifested in sayings such as “Aku lue uno, Eziokwu bu ndu, Onye aghana nwaneya, Igwebuike, Ezi-afa ka ego, Egbe bere ugo bere, Ako n’uche, nwanyi bu ife”. Assertion of timeless pillars of Igbo worldview and cultural values connotes the resurgent psyche of a people who, despite challenges confronting them in the interim, are not paralyzed by self-doubt or despair. The Igbo can-do attitude is being invoked by declaring the resolve to take full ownership of our collective future and “full responsibility for the rebuilding of the Igbo economy and development of Ala-Igbo”. In so doing, the general attitude moves away from the usual disposition to react to events into an emboldened mode driven by proactivity, particularly in things that matter.
Equally important is the unmistakable assertion of the Igbo unalienable right to self-determination, either within the context of Nigeria or outside of it. On Nigerian nationhood, the Uturu Communiqué was forthright in insisting that “the 1999 Constitution should be repealed and a new one enacted that will recognize the inalienable right of each constituent group to self-determination and Regional autonomy as enshrined in the 1960 Independence Constitution and 1963 Republican Constitution”. In all matters of nation building, the document acknowledges that “Ndiigbo have made the biggest sacrifice and contributions to the building of modern Nigeria and insist that, henceforth, will work for a nation where the Igbo are allowed to live and operate as equal citizens without any discrimination, bias or intimidation”.
In consonance with the renascent Igbo spirit on display at Uturu, the communiqué affirms that “since Biafran agitators are no threat to national security, the Federal Government should promptly release Nnamdi Kanu and all other prisoners of conscience in line with the rule of law”. In mindset of the renascent Igbo, Biafra phenomenon is seen as part and parcel of Igbo history and heritage. It is thus clear that killing or incarcerating anyone because of one’s empathy or identification with Biafra violates everything that Ndiigbo hold dear and sacred.
Finally, the Uturu Communiqué redefines the modus operandi for achieving the future envisioned for Alaigbo by taking an introspective review of the Igbo ethnic nationality’s political economy. In obvious departure from the usual approach to things, the document states that “henceforth, Igbo political leadership (elected and appointed) must act in the best interest of Ndiigbo and be prepared to be held accountable by the people for all their actions and inactions”. Specifically, “South East Governors should establish a Joint Commission for development of Ala-Igbo and be supportive of good Igbo initiatives”. It is, therefore, anticipated that the Southeast Nigeria Economic Commission (SENEC) and its financial sibling, SENDEF, which have stalled in their incubation stage, shall soon become airborne.
The existential menace posed by marauding activities of superbly armed Fulani herdsmen militia in Alaigbo got well-deserved attention in the Uturu Communiqué which demands that “the National Assembly and State Assemblies should legislate the prohibition of nomadic grazing by herdsmen and the establishment of grazing reserves and ranches with public funds”. To better guarantee “peace and security in Igboland, the Summit called on the Igbo Governors and the States Assemblies to immediately legislate against any form of open grazing in Igbo land”. Governments of Southeast states now have the clear mandate to proceed to put in place same statues already enacted into law in Southwestern state of Ekiti which forbid nomadic cattle herding within that jurisdiction.
Uturu Communiqué as Beacon for Renascent Igbo Movement
Though one cannot say that the Uturu Communiqué is encyclopedic in articulating and prioritizing the existential needs of the contemporary Igbo, the document has gone a long way in crystalizing the critical coordinates which, when properly connected, shall delineate the road map to lift Alaigbo out from the morass in which it has been mired since May 1966. Somehow, the document appears to have delivered what various Igbocentric groups have labored to come up with in the preceding decades. The Uturu Summit, for logistical and other reasons, cannot be said to have all the interest groups of Alaigbo represented during its deliberations. But those who were present deliberated and came up with the landmark decisions embodied in the Uturu Communiqué for and on behalf of the totality of Ndiigbo.
The next crucial step is now to ensure that all relevant stakeholders within Alaigbo are fully apprised of the Uturu Communiqué with the aim of achieving buy-in from all and sundry. It goes without saying that, with time and as needs evolve, the document shall be enhanced and tweaked in order to meet exigencies of the times. The summit committee leadership team has already moved forward along this line of action in mapping out immediate programs to reach out to all Igbo constituents worldwide in order to bring all the stakeholders to join synchronously by internalizing the core message enunciated in the Uturu Communiqué.
Lessons from Uturu
The most important lesson that came to the fore in the run-up to, during and after the Uturu Summit was the wholesome truth that Ndiigbo are not a monolith. There are subtle cultural and geopolitical differences within the larger Igbo family. This intra-ethnic diversity is not an unusual phenomenon and is obviously not unique to the Igbo; all other ethnic nationalities in the country have similar circumstances among themselves. What the Uturu Summit helped to bring out clearer, with regards to Ndiigbo, is that the group’s political economy has fault lines, albeit of the superficial kind, which demarcate the youths from their parent’s generation. Clarifying further, the youths are made up of mostly those born after the Civil War while their parents’ generation experienced the war and the geopolitical administrative paradigm that preceded it during the 1st Republic.
In practical terms, Neo-Biafranist romanticism has captured the fancy of Igbo youths while their parents’ generation appear to be more tolerant and accommodating with the status quo for a variety of reasons. The Uturu Summit was convened under the aegis of the experienced Igbo elite who, as one would expect, don’t find the status quo as repugnant and unacceptable as their children’s generation does. Except for a presentation made by a representative from the Customary Government of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (CG-IPOB), the plenary and business sessions of the Uturu Summit were dominated by the Igbo elite corps who sympathetic with the status quo.
But even within the ranks of Igbo elite that sympathize with the status quo, a cleavage has emerged in wake of the Uturu Summit. A cadre of Igbo elite, who are led by the incumbent governors of the Southeast, establishment political operatives in the ruling party and the incumbent electoral office holders in the Igbo states and Abuja, have opted to peel away from the mainstream group that spearheaded the summit at the last minute. Many reasons are given to explain this evolving phenomenon. But the one with the most popular acclaim is that some Igbo politicians may indeed be very afraid to be seen in public while engaging in substantive discourse pertaining to Ndiigbo, a geopolitical constituency that is reputed not to be in the good books of President Buhari and the incumbent ruling party, the APC. If that is the case, then keeping a safe distance from anything which has to do with collective welfare of Ndiigbo, such as the Uturu Summit, has to be the beginning of wisdom for politicians and jobbers who wish to avoid the ire of the Aso Rock Villa occupant being trained on him or her.
Senator Ike Nwachukwu (Abia North) has established the reputation, rightly or wrongly, to be the reliable protagonist of the status quo dominated by the leading protégés of the Sokoto Islamic Caliphate and their hangers-on. It is, however, noteworthy that the retired general-turned-politician senator is a leading advocate and enabler of the Uturu Summit while the latter-day politicians heading state governments of the Southeast as well as the Igbo representatives and central government officials in Abuja are now the ones selling out on key Igbo strategic interests. For the first time, a schism has emerged in ranks of the Igbo elite over the all-important subject of right to self-determination of Ndiigbo. As clearly stated in the Uturu Communiqué, those in support of the summit and its resolutions are on the favorable side of the Igbo self-determination divide while Southeast governors, Abuja-based central government representatives and officials as well preponderance of Igbo Lagosians are opposed to it.
Inevitable Consequences of Uturu Summit
Analysts are of the view that, if the Ahiara Declaration was articulated and put in place in the early stage of the Biafran secession, outcome of the Civil War would have been quite different from what happened. The logic behind this viewpoint is that the tardiness in configuring and installing the ideological engine with which to drive the Biafran revolution contributed in making the precipitous collapse of secessionist military resistance inevitable. The Uturu Communiqué could not have come at a better time, particularly for the protagonists of Igbo self-determination who have now gotten the much-needed green light from the Igbo professional, business and political elite in aftermath of the just-concluded premier Uturu Summit to envision a new path for Ndiigbo.
The Uturu Summit has helped to open the eyes of many who find personal comfort by reveling in preconceptions and notions about the Igbo and their lot within today’s Nigeria in a manner which hardly conduces to actualization of the popular desire of the overwhelming majority of Ndiigbo. The shades of political opinions within Alaigbo have come to the fore for all to see. Perhaps, the most consequential outcome of the Uturu Summit is the revelation of an attitudinal schism within the Igbo elite which were, before now, presumed to be decidedly in opposition to the youth-driven Igbo self-determination quest as epitomized by pro-Biafra activism. The Uturu Communiqué is an assurance that a large component of the Igbo professional, business and political elite corps are solidly in support of their kith and kin’s right to self-determination, either within the context of Nigeria or outside of it.