The entrepreneurial spirit of an Igbo person is next to none. They are known for leaving their enclaves in the South East, Nigeria, migrating to Lagos, different parts of Nigeria and all over the world in search of greener pastures and returning to their villages in ONE YEAR with automobiles and wealth. I am not exaggerating; most actually make it in such a very short interval. Sui generis to the Igbo people, it is the dream of every one of them who leaves their ancestral homes in the South East to go abroad.
James S. Coleman in his book, ‘Nigeria: Background To Nationalism’ (1963) aptly captured the nature of the Igbo person. He noted that the average Igbo person was more interested in educational development. That “characteristic personality and behavioural traits” of the Igbos as a group makes the “go-getter” admired. The man who has money is recognised and the man “who just sits quietly is not respected”. Life in Igbo societies is highly competitive and there is great emphasis on achieved status, which is captured in Trompenaars’ dimensions of culture as ‘ascription’, Coleman elucidated.
In recent times, an American journalist cum author, Robert Neuwirth noted that the Igbo apprenticeship system is the largest business incubator system in the world. He eulogised the business system in a TED talk about the age-old sharing economies of Africa. Most Igbos who migrate from their village are taken in by masters where they will intern and learn a trade and/or skill after which they will be freed and empowered with venture capital given by the master.
After the war and subsequent alienation from frontline roles in Nigerian politics, Igbos took to politics of escapism with their businesses as the succour to feel less tyrannized by the unfavourable political events of the past five decades. The last time an Igbo man got to the highest echelon of power after the war was during the Shagari administration when Chief Alex Ekwueme was vice-president. The coup, which removed that administration, reinforced the claim that there ‘remains a grand conspiracy’ to keep Igbo people who are inured to such treatment out of Nigeria’s top political jobs deepening the schism between the major ethnic nationalities.
Igbo presidency has become an inescapable question much more in the fourth republic where the South West, South-South and Northern Region have all held the top position in the spirit of North/South rotation of the presidency in political parties. More so in a time of dissent by Igbo youths who have taken to secessionist agitations. There is a general feeling that the Igbo ethnic group as one of the triads of power in Nigeria deserve the top job. Secessionist tendencies are borne out of lack of equity stemming mainly from this exclusion. Many Igbos either take solace in running their business and/or seeking restructuring or outright division of Nigeria since it seems the other ethnic groups are not ready to accommodate them in politics, especially the north.
However, Igbos need to withdraw from abstinence from national politics which is one of the major banes of the exclusion so long as the South East remains in Nigeria. Before the war, Igbos were at the forefront of national politics. For those who earnestly seek restructuring, if their representatives aren’t at the table to discuss restructuring, how will it happen? By fiat? As much as the entrepreneurial spirit of Igbos abounds, it’s necessary to begin to care about Nigerian politics because politics affects the lives and businesses of every Igbo person. Igbos have outsourced Nigeria’s leadership for many years to other ethnic groups and it has negatively impacted their lives.
Dr Joe Abah made some comments in regards to Igbos building bridges but his submission was greeted with a barrage of opprobrium because he whittled down the discussion to Igbos desisting from abuses and vituperations on other ethnic groups. As the idiom goes, “don’t shoot the messenger”; Igbos must learn to take the message regardless of the person or medium or mode of delivery. Dr Joe raised salient issues. Though his framing is argumentum non sequitur, for instance, the use of derogatory terms for other ethnic groups is a thing in Nigeria, but it is high time Igbos begin to play strategic politics. Igbo presidency in 2023 is possible but Igbos must champion it. We must begin to caution our youths in secessionist groups who are wont to abusing other ethnic groups and taking extremist positions and expect others to be of good behaviour too.
Notably, Igbos have been loyal to PDP since 1999 because of the ideals of the party aligned to the capitalist-business-oriented philosophy of the average Igbo person. Whether the PDP will appreciate this loyalty and field an Igbo person in 2023 is still indeterminate as there are talks of keeping the rotation of power in the north to wrestle power from APC. APC needs to begin to broaden its party philosophy and platform to accommodate Igbo people. It has to truly become a national party not only one that appeals to the North and South-West regions. The party gained some grounds in the last election in the South East adding senators and House of Representatives members to its ranks.
Igbos must begin to embrace Nigeria. Abdication hurts our businesses. We cannot achieve restructuring if we continue to stay away. According to Keith O’Regan escapism is “inadequate response to the magnitude of the crisis. Escapism is defined simultaneously and paradoxically by both a lack and superfluity of imagination; both are counter-posed to a rationalist, realist, appropriate response of confronting and coming to terms with the problem directly.”
It is imperative for Ndi Igbo in various socio-political and umbrella groups like Ohanaeze Ndigbo to begin to broaden our participation in national politics. People like Senator ifeanyi Ubah Ubah (YPP) and Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (APC) who have begun to seek for the inclusion of Igbos in APC need to be encouraged. This falls under a regional strategy. South-East should begin to view national parties (especially APC, PDP) beyond the presidential candidates but with a focus on 2023. Indubitably broad participation is an ingredient for national integration, inclusive governance, equity, justice, peace and unity.
ThankGod Ukachukwu (@kcnaija) – IT Consultant and Socio-political Commentator writes from Lagos.