The lgbo people (Ndigbo) have suffered a number of reverses in recent Nigerian history. To wit, they have lost millions of lives in the 1967 pogrom and the subsequent bid for a separate and independent state (Biafra) as well as the ensuing civil war. They have also been economically emasculated after the civil war and subsequently marginalised not only in the Nigerian political arena but also in the public services, the armed forces and the police of their so-called country, Nigeria. However, these reverses must be seen as temporary for as the great Owelle of Onitsha (Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe) once remarked: "No condition is permanent". And so it shall be with Ndigbo, provided they take appropriate measures to ensure this.
This paper therefore addresses the measures that are needed to change lgbo fortunes. The view taken in this paper is that Ndigbo, though a major ethnic group in Nigeria, are now unable to influence the military, bureaucratic, economic and political aspects of Nigerian national life, to match the degree of their relative numerical strength. This is attributed to the fact that Ndigbo are neither organised to act coherently as a people, nor have they defined for themselves what their group interests really are, as well as how to promote or realise those interests.
It is suggested in this paper that the starting place for Ndigbo is to address the vexatious if not controversial issue of Igbo leadership. The view proffered here is that the modem leadership of Ndigbo should riot be based on a single (possibly) charismatic single leader (like Awolowo of the Yorubas). This means not basing their leadership choice on a personality cult, considering their enduring republican temperament and tendencies. Present realities dictate that they base their choice in favour of a group - albeit a small faceless or covert group. Indeed, this idea is not new and was used by our forefathers, encapsulated in the saying "Ada atu alo na ogbo (igwe)" - meaning that important discussions/decisions are not undertaken by the crowd, or by the masses.
2. The Leadership Question
Most Ndigbo will today concede that the now defunct lgbo (State) Union under the chairmanship of the late Chief Z.C. Obi of Nnewi, marked the hey days of lgbo leadership in all its glory. However, there is some long standing confusion about the nature of this leadership. The defunct lgbo Union (incidentally banned in 1966, by an lgbo - General Aguiyi Ironsi) had prominent leaders but these were not political juggernauts in the ordinary sense. On the other hand, the NCNC (which to all intents and purpose became a predominantly lgbo political party by the 1960s) had leaders who, although politically vigorous, could not deign to act or speak for the totality of Ndigbo, because it was in reality not an lgbo party or meant to be one. There was thus an apparent if not real dichotomy, which though "politically correct" was nevertheless inappropriate for the winner takes all paradigm of Nigerian politics. The confusion was further compounded by a new class of Igbo leaders - the new breed traditional rulers and their chiefs. The fact is that with the exception of one or two traditional rulers, most of the older so-called traditional rulers were colonially-created warrant chiefs with no ounce of "royal blood" in their veins. Since then any "business magnate" and today even 4l9ers (or at least people of questionable sources of new wealth) can purchase a traditional rulership or chieftaincy title without much fuss. Such titles are perceived to have earned the holders membership of what is now described as "lgbo leadership".
It is therefore inevitable that the leadership question would continue to haunt Ndigbo as they try to recapture lost grounds in Nigerian national life while rebuilding lgboland from the ashes of our civil war defeat.
2.1 A new approach to resolving the leadership issue
At the moment, there is an almost unhealthy jostling between individuals or groups for supremacy and as leader or pre-eminent group representing lgbo interests in Nigeria. This has been seen or interpreted by Ndigbo and their opponents alike, as well as by other observers, as signs of cleavage or even disunity among Ndigbo as an important ethnic group in Nigeria. The effect of this is to undermine the political clout due to Ndigbo. As a response, Ndigbo are searching for, or trying to create, what all Ndigbo will accept as a pan-lgbo Apex Organisation (e.g. Ohaneze), however with limited success. This has left the mass of Ndigbo in a state of frustration, despondency and even hopelessness.
In the meantime, the Ndigbo are trying to build a -political alliance with the Yorubas, but as we will see later, this even if made to work will probably not lead Ndigbo to the "promised land" of relevance and clout in Nigeria political affairs.
What then is the way forward?
In the first place, it must be stated that the kind of leadership in accord with the circumstances of Ndigbo is not a single personality, be he a co-ordinator or figurehead, or charismatic individual with executive powers elected or not. Indeed, what is being suggested here is that the type of leadership Ndigbo need now is not necessarily a single individual or even a single organisation, considering the heterogeneity of Ndigbo and the understandable "sibling" rivalry within Ndigbo "family". Indeed, it will be of great advantage if the perceived Igbo disunity is exploited and used to camouflage an lgbo agenda defined by a small faceless think tank of Igbo citizens of talent and political acumen and sold to a generality of concentric lgbo leaders of greater or lesser importance. This hard core of Igbo leadership will be invisible (or unknown to the generality of Ndigbo and indeed the rest of the Nigerian populace) but will act as the "subconscious brain or mind" of Ndigbo. The core group will be as representative of the lgbo states as much as possible and will include Ndigbo abroad or in diaspora. The group will be responsible for strategic and tactical planning for lgbo advance towards recapturing and improving on lost glory. It will not discourage the formation of lgbo groups or associations (including pan-Igbo ones) or indeed any individuals that may want to claim to speak for Ndigbo. However, the core group should devise mechanisms to ensure that the words and actions of such disparate entities are informed or guided by well-defined agendas already enunciated by the core group. The core group will form itself from the mass of like-thinking Ndigbo dedicated to the furtherance of the "lgbo cause" and will be responsible for the modalities of its succession (due to natural attrition) and renewal. To give an example, the core group may assign a member to be part of, and liaise with, Nkpoko Ndigbo, which may be tasked with all issues concerning lgbo youths. Mother group, such as Ohaneze, may be concerned with major political issues etc. etc.
To secure lgbo unity, there has to be a cause, goal or agenda that drives both the leaders and led. For example, during the 1966 to 1970 crisis and civil war, the Ndigbo ware united in a single cause self determination and independence in the face of an obvious threat. lgbo unity of purpose and action were thus clear and understood. Both the leader (Ojukwu) and the led (Ndigbo) accepted the challenge and joined forces with a view to achieve the common purpose. The end of the war also meant not only military defeat, but the loss of an agenda, a cause and a focus. Thus the immediate need for a leader seemed superfluous and as a prominent lgbo son predicted, the Ndigbo were to seek their separate individual agendas. Thus if the lgbos wish to unite again, they need to revive an old agenda or create a fresh one.
3. The Proposed lgbo Agenda: Short term and long term
To be or not to be is the biggest political issue facing Nigeria today. No one can predict how the current political situation in Nigeria will pan out. Hence the long term agenda of Ndigbo will be difficult to define depending on whether Nigerian nationalities remain under a United Nigeria with a truly Federal or quasi-Federal polity; or whether Nigeria dismembers into a loose federation, or confederation, or breaks up into independent states entirely.
A common agenda appropriate to all the possibilities above is that Ndigbo should empower themselves to decide their destiny as a people and they should be able to enjoy the freedom, to develop and maximise their collective and individual potentials through unfettered access, use and exploitation of their resources - human and material - and by creating opportunities for every lgbo son and daughter to develop their individual talents to the maximum extent possible for their own good and the general good of Ndigbo.
A realistic appraisal of lgbo assets include her large dispersed teeming populations in Nigeria and beyond and a small endowment of exploited foreign exchange earner (oil) together with a large source of latent but exploitable foreign exchange earners (e.g. lignite and natural gas in Anambra; lead, zinc and cooking salt deposits in Ebonyi; coal in Enugu etc.) However, although politics is a game of numbers; numbers are not nearly enough and in any case numbers can be manufactured, manipulated, rigged or inflated if one has the financial clout. Hence for political success, if not dominance or preeminence, financial clout is crucial. This Ndigbo do not relatively have. Speaking now in the language of political zones, the South West has the population numbers as well as some financial clout The South-South has relatively few numbers and large potential financial clout, if allowed to control their mineral resources (e.g. crude oil). The other three northern zones (which tend to act as one group) is said to have the numbers (even though this may be questionable or inflated) and considerable looted financial clout (through their businessmen and retired generals).
In the competition for national political power, it will be obvious that no single political zone is in a position to lord it over the others by itself alone. Therefore zonal alliances in future will be the only political game in town. Returning to the position of the South East zone, political alliance has been tried with the collective North before (e.g. NPC/NCNC, and NPN/NPP) but in each case, the South East, at best, won only the Vice-Presidency (Dr. Ekwueme) or second fiddle. In the case where it won the first prize (Dr. Azikiwe) it was a ceremonial victory as real power belonged to the Northern partner (Balewa/Prime Minister).
In the present dispensation, a South East/North alliance although possibly a winner will not be acceptable to the North unless the SE plays second fiddle again. An alliance between the South East and the South West, if genuine will not be acceptable to the South West unless the South East is prepared to play second fiddle once more. The last possibility is a South-East/South-South (SE/SS) alliance. This alliance could be the most powerful of all the dual zonal combinations in Nigeria. In the first place, the SE wilt bring to the alliance its large population numbers and its small financial resources to merge with the SS's small population numbers but potentially very large financial resources (i.e. if the SS is allowed to control her oil resources as she is now pressing). This will yield a SE/SS alliance that is large in population and potentially very large in financial resources. Since there is a possibility of a. SEISW alliance, the SE could thus form a bridge between the SS and SW, leading to an eventual SS/SEISW grand alliance, which will be a formidable unified South ready to call the bluff of the North.
In this regard, the strength of the North has always rested on (a) the disunity of the South (b) the apparent unity of the so-called populous monolithic North, (c) the financial clout of the North won through the looting of the federal treasury especially by northern army generals and their "businessmen". Hence to disempower the North, (a) their so-called unity must be destroyed by excising the North Central (or Middle Belt) from their control, (b) their financial clout must be undermined by removing the control of crude oil income from their hands and restoring this to the South, (c) by a campaign for the probe of northern army generals who looted federal funds as well as the recovery of the looted funds.
In the short-term. The South-East should support the campaign of the South-South for the control of their resources. The South-West may not have any objections to this (after all, they were the proponents of sharing by derivation before the civil war). In the nearest short-term, the Ohaneze should make an economic policy statement supporting the principle of fiscal federalism in the handling of revenue. This should make the SS feel a close affinity with the SE, with which it has had hundreds of years of political and other connections, through marriage and exchange of culture. They will also be buoyed by the support of the SE which would have appeared to have in reality justified the claim of 'Big. Brother' to the South-South. Let the South-East not repeat the unfortunate mistake made by lronsi, who failed to exploit the release of Chief Awolowo from Calabar prison, against all advice by strategic thinking Easterners. In the event, the use of Chief Awolowo to support the Northern cause long before the civil war by Lt. Col Gowon, changed the political situation vis-à-vis the subsequent Yoruba support or lack of it for the Igbo cause. Similarly, the SE should support publicly the SS campaign of reparation for, environmental damage of the Niger Delta. Subsequently, the Afenilere, should also be persuaded to issue an economic policy statement in favour of the principle of fiscal federalism in the handling of national revenue. The bottom line however is that the lgbo quest for a departure from a political unitarism to true federalism, must be associated with a departure from fiscal unitarism to fiscal federalism. Thus the agenda must be both political and economic. Hence in any new federation (loose or very loose) there must be devolution of political power as well as devolution of economic power or at least power to control, the resources generated by a federating entity. It is on this basis, that the SE must support the SS in their campaign for the control of their oil resources. For her troubles, the SE should exact an agreement from the SS, to act as the spear head/leader of the SEISS alliance. It is most likely that once there is a clear common SS/SEISW stand on the principle of fiscal federalism and the power of a political zone to control its resources, it will become a matter that cannot be ignored by the North and chances for it prevailing wilt be much enhanced.
In the long-run, the SE should work for a unified Nigerian nation, but with a federal structure which preferably should be confederal or at the least a true federation with a weak centre and six federating zones, each empowered to control and exploit its resources while contributing to the maintenance of a weak centre with few national functions - e.g. foreign affairs, currency and banking etc.
An autonomous or semi-autonomous SE zone will then be able to exploit and develop its dormant large deposits of natural gas (and crude oil) in Ugwuoba and Oyi of Anambra; zinc, lead and salt in Ebonyi; crude oil in Abia and Imo and coal in Enugu. Perhaps the modern steel complex proposed by experts during the first republic for Onitsha (based on coal and lignite deposits etc.) but diverted by the ruling Northern oligarchy to Ajaokuta could now be built. In this connection, the recent presidential order for the large deposits of bitumen/tarsands in Ondo state to be exploited to produce before end of 2003, may be seen as a move by a SW-born president, to improve the resource base of the SW, long suppressed by Northern dominated federal leadership.
In summary, the Igbo agenda in the near future should be to create a formidable SS/SE alliance in tandem with a SE/SW alliance with a view to a grand SS/SE/SW alliance. The grand alliance will base its alliance on a common interest of the economic principle of fiscal federalism in the control of national revenue by the area of origin of resources, being in full control. Secondly, the political bluff of the North must be called by turning off the oxygen of money originating from the South that funds their domination of the South.
Since events in Nigeria are moving rather quickly to an unknown outcome, it is recommended that action on the formation of a faceless lgbo leadership core, the review and update of the above lgbo agenda, and their immediate implementation, be undertaken without any waste of time in the shortest time possible.
In the final analysis, Ndigbo should with self-confidence, self-motivation and determination once again dare to take their future in their own hands - not by unnecessary confrontation, not by self devaluation and bickering among members of the great Ndigbo family but by bootstrapping, united action and cooperation with other like-minded groups in Nigeria.
Above all, let Ndigbo create a vision for a future they believe in and will fight and if need be die for. As the old adage goes, God helps those who help themselves. So let Ndigbo challenge themselves to succeed and they must succeed.
Long live Ndigbo! May lgboland continue to prosper and develop!!.