By Douglas Anele
In our discussion last Sunday, I made the point, which was almost distorted by editorial pusillanimity, that ideally, in order to render justice to Ndigbo Nigerian leaders who participated in genocide against them during the civil war should be prosecuted at the International Court of Justice. But I also argued that given the very low level of political maturity and moral consciousness in the country presently, that would never happen.
Now, the major motivation for the two-part series entitled “Ndigbo and the burden of history” is to draw attention to how members of the ruling elite dominated by Northerners had, especially from 1966 to 1999, contributed to the underdevelopment of Igboland.
The civil war provided haters of Ndigbo within Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s cabinet and the Nigerian army to execute their genocidal intentions against Igbo people. And even afterwards, the same misanthropes insisted on maximum punishment for the former Eastern region.
Accordingly, the Gowon administration adopted a banking policy that nullified any bank account operated during the war by the Biafrans. Each Igbo depositor of the Nigerian currency could only access a flat sum of twenty pounds, irrespective of the deposit. In addition, the military government promulgated the Enterprises Promotion Decree of 1974, or Indigenisation Decree, ostensibly to compel foreign holders of majority shares of companies operating in Nigeria to hand over a larger percentage of stocks, bonds and shares to indigenous Nigerian business interests.
But the real targets of that decree were the war-weary Biafrans already impoverished by the conflict, the wicked banking policy mentioned earlier, and ban on importation of second-hand clothes (okirika) and stockfish. Of course, the Igbo in general did not have the financial wherewithal to benefit from the Indigenisation Decree. Moreover, most of the jobs and positions in virtually all the sectors of the economy previously occupied by Easterners were taken over by those from other parts of the country. In my opinion, scars of the civil war and its aftermath are still visible in Igboland.
For instance, as I have stated severally in this column, of the six geopolitical zones in the country, theSouth East has the least number of developmental projects from the federal government. It is very likely that marginalisation of Igboland would continue under President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, because his party, the All Progressives Congress, is dominated by political shylocks who would want to exact revenge from the South East for voting massively for former President Goodluck Jonathan.
It is patently false to lay all the blame for the underdevelopment of Igboland on Igbophobic Nigerians from other ethnic groups. The desperate situation there has been worsened by the blizzard of incompetent leadership in different Igbo speaking states. Specifically, with very few exceptions, top political office holders in the states that comprise the defunct Eastern Region have been grossly incompetent, selfish and corrupt.
From the administration of Ukpabi Asika to the present governments of the five South Eastern states, financial rascality, nepotism, indiscipline, corruption, and petty jealousies and visionlessness have remained leitmotifs in Igboland. Governors, commissioners, top civil servants, highly placed judicial officers, traditional rulers and members of the clergy have sacrificed core values of truthfulness, hard work, honesty, integrity, regard for good name, humility and brotherly love embedded in Igbo culture in the pursuit of power and wealth.
How many governors in Igboland, both past and present, can give satisfactory account of how they spent the monies that accrued to their respective states during their tenure?
Why is it that governors, federal and state legislators and other top political office holders become stupendously rich after leaving office? In large parts of Igboland, the roads, health facilities, educational institutions, etc have deteriorated despite the revenue accruing to both the states and local governments.
People of Imo still remember with nostalgia late Chief Sam Mbakwe for his laudable achievements in the old Imo state, which should have been emulated and improved upon by governors that came afterwards. It is deplorable that many prominent Igbo sons and daughters who could have deployed their influence to attract developmental projects from the federal government to their respective states merely use their positions to enrich themselves.
Another cause for concern is absurd and pernicious discrimination within each South Eastern state and between the five states as well. For example, in the civil service and educational institutions up to the university level, people from different parts of the same state discriminate and fight among themselves. Sometimes, an application for employment or promotion is rejected because the person is from Imo state rather than Enugu state, and vice versa.
Former governor of Abia state, Theodore Orji, committed a very serious blunder when he sacked employees from other Igbo speaking states in a misguided attempt to ameliorate the unemployment problem there. Although he later reversed the decision, his irrational action demonstrates that sometimes Ndigbo are their own worst enemies.
The Igbo not only fight themselves in Igboland; some of them for selfish reasons exhibit excessive competitiveness in other parts of the federation. In the North and South West, there are incidents of unhealthy rivalry between Igbo individuals and groups, each trying to outdo one another using Machiavellian tactics, generating unnecessary animosity in the process.
Certainly, within reasonable limits, ambitiousness and competitiveness are psychological triggers for self-discovery, self-actualisation, and societal progress. But in the long run, it is better for Ndigbo wherever they might be to work together in solidarity for the benefit of one another. It is betrayal of the highest order that prominent sons and daughters of Igboland create socio-cultural and political associations purportedly to promote collective Igbo interests, whereas the real intent is to use such bodies for getting favours from government. Some of them even collect mobilisation fees from government without executing the contracts meant for their states.
More than anything else, there is urgent need for moral and ideological reorientation in Igboland. Well-placed Ndigbo should see themselves as role models for the young ones to emulate. Right now, the lifestyles of many Igbo VIPs tend to promote excessive preoccupation with primitive accumulation and hollow ostentation. Now, the average Nigerian generally believes that Ndigbo love money too much, more than members of other ethnic groups. There is a pernicious cliché that if a purportedly dead Igbomanfails to rise up at the clanging of coins near his ears then he is truly dead.
The fact of the matter is that different people have different levels of pecuniary attachment, irrespective of their ethnic origins. The Hausa-Fulani, the Yoruba, the Nupe, the Isokoand so on want to be as financially comfortable as much as the Igbo. Remember, Ndigbo, because of hardships of the war and the need to survive extremely daunting post-war challenges, had to struggle harder than other Nigerians just to survive.
Even before the civil, their gregarious can-do-it attitude compelled them to leave their homeland in search of livelihood nationwide. And because jealous Igbophobic Nigerians unnecessarily concerned by the relative successes of Ndigbo in their midst, misinterpreted the single-minded determination of the latter by creating the myth of excessive money mindedness referred to earlier.
I submit that Igbo political office holders who steal funds meant for the development of Igboland are a complete disgrace and should be treated as enemies of the people. For Ndigbo to occupy their rightful place as primus inter pares within the Nigerian federation, they must begin to live according to the moral principles encapsulated in the concept of ezigbo aha kariri ego(good name is superior to money). Prominent Igbo indigenes, wherever they might be, must set aside their ephemeral egoistic interests and work for the good of Igboland as a whole.