Obi Nwakanma
WHERE Azikiwe preached political inclusion and strategic integration, his political opponents preached exclusion based on historic difference. The defeat of the Zikist vision of nation was the ultimate Nigerian tragedy; in its place have triumphed the Awoist and Sarduana models of Nigeria, in which “the North is for the North, and the West is for the West, and Nigeria for all of us.”

These are the people we celebrate today for their “sagely” vision that basically argued that a single, organic national space is impossible and must be fought. This belief in the “ethnos” is the powerful drive against coherence; and against the emergence of Nigeria.

Nigeria of course deserves its heroes. For many years, the Igbo modelled the dream of a pan-Nigerian nationalist identity; the possibility of an organic Nigerian state. They dispersed in this belief to all corners of this nation, willing to be nothing else but Nigerian: they made the railways run; they made the civil service function; created institutions; men like Kenneth Dike ran universities at global standards; created the Nigerian National Museum of Antiquities; the National Archives; the National Institute of Social Research; the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture; the National Institute of International Affairs; etc.

But in 1966/67, the Igbo were forced out of Nigeria, and when it became clear as Gowon only recently confessed that “Nigeria was better with the Igbo as part,” Nigeria fought a war to bring back the Igbo. The Igbo were forced back, not as equal partners, but as a defeated part of Nigeria which must only be tolerated, but whose political and economic rights remain severely abridged since 1970.

As a result, a high number of the Igbo continue to dream of a separate nation of Biafra. The Igbo are still to return spiritually to Nigeria. Over the years, many Igbo have bought into the ideology that Nigeria is no longer worth their time; that it is a “contraption;” a “mere geographical expression,” a “mistake of 1914.” The Igbo have created a myth of Biafra and handed it to their children, and just like the Jews mythologized Jerusalem, only a return to Biafra, will mark their ultimate triumph and liberty.

It is only in this “New Jerusalem” called Biafra that they would unleash what they see as their talents, of which in some estimation, Nigeria is undeserving. This is of course a highly romantic vision, of which I too as an Igbo occasionally indulge, only because, there is a certain power to dreaming about historical purpose. It is the absence of “the dream” and clarity of a historical purpose; a fundamental myth of nation; that makes Nigeria fragile and impossible, and of very little worth to the imagination.

The reason why modern Nigerian art – its poetry, its fiction, its drama, its visual arts, and even its music – is fixed within a tragic sensibility is fundamentally because there is no redemptive myth of nation. While Azikiwe gave us that from 1937-1957, the result of which is the aesthetic and moral force that drove Nigeria’s early vision of itself as the “giant of Africa,” or as “the new black hope,” this age, with its recondite and separatist will; its religious fanaticism; its sectarian and ethnic impulsions, think of itself in the measure of teaspoons. Its mind is inferior.

President Buhari has yet to grasp the imperative of this history, because he is fixed to the past of Nigeria’s most tragic moment. For a new nation to arise, he must offer himself as sacrifice – he must be like Zik: large and above the fray. He must seek to bring together and heal. He must drive a new generation towards self-redemption; towards believing again in a historical national purpose; he must look towards the youth for the new foundation of this new nation because any Nigerian above the age of 35 is tainted.

Younger generation

As Zik preached, the youth of Africa are those on whose shoulders rests, the future. Buhari must appoint his ministers from people in that age. President Buhari must give this younger generation purpose, but above all, the task to rebuild this nation in their own interest.

All over the world, their peers are steering the ships of state, and redefining the world in the powerful image of their time. The president must seek young, fresh, creative, driven, and sophisticated Nigerians from across the world, to join their peers, in shaping this new Nigeria that President Buhari has promised this nation, and for which he has taken four months contemplating.

There are such Nigerians, and I can name at least three at my fingertip: Last year, I called up Dr. Chudozie Okongwu, Senior Vice-President at NERA Consulting in New York, to roll up his sleeves, get off his metropolitan bum, and join national service.

We had planned to meet for lunch in London and talk, but eventually, both our schedules did not permit it. Chudozie, whose father, Dr. Chu S.P. Okongwu was once Nigeria’s Minister of the Treasury, is a chip off the old block; a brilliant Economist trained at the famous MIT and with a PhD in Economics from Berkley.


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