South East Voice

November 11, 2020

Igbo self-help efforts on the decline: What has gone wrong?

Igbo self-help efforts on the decline: What has gone wrong?

•Governor Willie Obiano commissioning water project built by Anambra Community

•Governor Willie Obiano commissioning water project built by Anambra Community

•Corruption, politics, hindering self-help projects in Igbo land – Obasi
•Politics, selfishness killed Igbo community efforts – Igwe Okongwu
•ASETU meant to reinvent Igbo self-help projects – Diwe
•Politicization of towns union destroying self-help in Igboland – Maduawuchi

By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Dennis Agbo, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Chinenye Ozor, Chinonso Alozie & Chinedu Adonu

In the past, Ndigbo were known for their self-help development initiatives which made them embark on development projects of all types. Under these noble initiatives, most social amenities, such as pipe-borne water, electricity,  schools, roads, post offices and town halls, even churches, seen in many communities in Igbo land were built through this unequaled self-help spirit of Ndigbo.

Scholarship endowments were also instituted by communities or wealthy individuals through which platform brilliant students from poor backgrounds were trained up to university education level. Some were even sent abroad to study.

Ndigbo accomplished this through platforms such as the age-grade system, in which case, the various age grades embarked on different development projects in given communities.

“This created healthy competition among the age-grades and social clubs in Igbo communities. Wealthy individuals with large heart also embarked on meaningful development projects in their communities.

It was then common to hear some Igbo communities like Abiriba, referred then to as “Small London”, Awka Etiti, Neni, Nnewi, Adazi-Nnukwu among other towns, also stand out as communities that greatly benefitted and enjoyed this legendary Igbo community development initiatives as their wealthy sons and daughters, individually, took on and executed various projects for the use of their people.

Then, Igbo communities never depended on or cared about governments for the development of their communities.

This self-help initiatives are still operational in many places but regrettably, this good initiative is no longer working in some Igbo communities.

Hence, many Igbo communities lack virtually every amenity and even the governments they depend on don’t even help matters either.

What really has gone wrong? Why is this beautiful initiative dying and how can this exceptional self-help spirit be revived.

Communities in Anambra State are noted for this popular self-help effort execution of development projects.

This perhaps accounts for one of the reasons most communities in Anambra State can boast of certain basic infrastructure in their areas.

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Checks in most communities reveal that such infrastructure, like water, schools, electricity, health centres, town halls, among others, were executed through self-help.

This development was due to the apparent government neglect, thus forcing the people to resort to self-help.

It is on record, for instance, that what is today known as Madonna University used to be a teacher training college built by a village in Okija. When government scrapped the teacher training colleges, Rev Fr. Emmanuel Edeh acquired the school for the commencement of Nigeria’s first faith-based university.

Similarly, in their desire to ensure that their children acquired good education, many communities in the state embarked on the building of secondary schools such that of the over five hundred secondary schools in the state, close to two thirds were built by communities and individuals.

The period 1970s and 80s was the era when most communities embarked on the execution of electricity projects and the result is that all 181 communities in Anambra State are hooked to the national grid.

Realizing that regular maintenance of these amenities would be difficult for them, the communities handed them over to government after building.

That is why many health facilities built by the people were upgraded to General Hospitals, for instance, St Joseph Hospital Adazi-Nnukwu received an upgrade and Lorretta Training College became a special science school by the state government.

The story of Nnewi is a legendary exemplary. The town is the home of multi million naira industries and all of them privately owned.

The situation is the same in Onitsha and Awka where most of the industries are also privately owned. Road rehabilitation and erosion control are other areas many communities have had to intervene, although the huge amounts required to execute them had always been a drawback.

However, self-help efforts have diminished in many communities due mainly to dwindling economy. To bridge the gap, the state government initiated what it described as community-choose-your project.

Under the programme, communities select projects they need and the state government provides them with N20 million.

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The programme has gone into the third phase, although few communities had successfully benefitted from the second phase of the programmes.

A community leader, Chief Simon Okereke, said the resourcefulness of the Igbo was responsible for the success of self help in many communities.

According to him, “our people realized early that the only way to enjoy social amenities was through self help since the government cannot do everything for the people.”

ASETU meant to reinvent Igbo self-help projects – Diwe

Hope may not have been lost completely on this wonderful Igbo initiative as the National President of Association of South East Town Unions, ASETU, Chief Emeka Diwe said that reviving the age-long Igbo community projects, was why the Igbo town unions came together after the Biafra war, to establish ASETU.

“Reinventing the Igbo community projects is the essence of ASETU; that is what ASETU is doing. We are mobilizing people to reinvent the town union spirit of the Igbo man.

“We are a coalition of members made up over 2,156 autonomous communities in Igboland. Before, during and immediately after the civil war, development efforts, especially in the rural areas were championed by the town unions.

“It was through the instrumentally of the town unions that the Igbo could not feel much impact after the civil war.

“The town unions in most communities rose to the occasion independently and solved the problem that those who returned from Northern parts of Nigeria with nothing.

“They were given a lifeline. Most of them would have committed suicide but the town unions prevented their untimely death by bringing them together. That is the spirit of Onye Aghana Nwanneya mantra (Be your brothers’ keeper).

“These things are not there again because the government that came immediately after the war focused on what it will get from the federal allocation.

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“The governments scared away the indigenous philanthropists that had the spirit of helping their brothers. Since then, people have been scared of coming together to help because if you do, they will say government is doing something.

“In those days, communities complete their projects, unlike now that we have abandoned government projects. Until you bring back that spirit of community self help, you can’t get it right again and that is essentially what ASETU has come to do”, Diwe said.

Politics, selfishness killed Igbo community efforts – Igwe Okongwu

For Igwe Umeayo Okongwu of Agba-Umanna, Ezeagu local government area of Enugu State, the NdIgbo would have to do away with selfishness and place less emphasis on politics to reinvent the community projects that used to be the pride of Ndigbo development and progress.

Igwe Okongwu said: “Those things are no longer there. What we now wait for is handouts from government and we say thank you; these are factors of the present economic situation.

‘There are political tensions here and there. The tensions are so high that people no longer go in the same direction.

“Because of the political tensions in the various communities, it has attracted court projects, besides because of the multiplicity of the towns’ unions here and there, most executive members of the town unions are politicians.

“This brings about fracas between the traditional rulers and the politicians generally. All the same, the Igwe would have to work with the government in power, in whatever political party he belongs. You know the Igbo are generally republicans; whoever is comfortable in his house can equally intervene in the state administration.

“The issue is that individualism has increased, you can see that even in the Umunna (family) meetings, they are no longer as strong as they used to be and that is how cohesion began to loosen.

“Now, you see a lot of antagonism among villagers, the same thing in the larger community. It is an extension of the society itself. Misunderstanding, individualism, selfishness are more now than before.

“Selfishness is the cause of all that. If people are having love for each other, there will be more understanding. We are supposed to be more community development-oriented than before but because of selfishness, that has been the ban of our problem.”

Corruption, politics, hindering self-help projects in Igbo land – Obasi

However, a former deputy governorship candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, Chief Jerry Obasi, has blamed corruption and partisan politics for the decline in the level of self help developmental projects in Igbo land.

Obasi, who stated this in an interview with South East Voice, explained that most town union leaders are corrupt and consider their position as an opportunity to make money for themselves and cronies.

He noted that the integrity of aspirants was a paramount factor in the election of town union leaders in the past, but lamented that this is no longer the case as men of questionable characters now occupy the position.

Obasi further insisted that politics is another factor hindering self help projects, as it has brought division between supporters and non-supporters of political parties in most communities.

“A major factor behind the decline in the rate of self help projects in Igbo land is corruption. Most town union leaders are corrupt. Funds earmarked for projects are always embezzled and such projects stalled.

“Another problem is the election of questionable characters as traditional rulers. Such traditional rulers even collude with town union leaders to steal community funds.

“Because of political interests, you may even see some people in the town union supporting those who had misappropriated funds.

“In the past, integrity of aspirants was considered before anyone was elected town union leader, but this is no longer the case. In fact, in the olden days, Igbo people preferred their best sons for town union positions to government political offices”.

On what to do to revive the spirit, the party chieftain urged Ndigbo to elect trustworthy leaders with identifiable means of livelihood as town union leaders.

He further urged the government to allow communities to freely choose men of vision as their leaders stressing that the imposition of leaders on the town union system have continued to cause crisis in communities.

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“We must ensure the election of credible people as town union leaders. We must elect men who will not live on the funds of the town union.

“Again, the government should stop imposing men of questionable characters as traditional rulers and town union leaders.

“This has been found to be the major source of crisis in communities because when you impose the man without integrity on the community , the people will oppose him.

“Others may choose not to contribute to communal projects because of lack of trust on the leaders who manage the funds.

“Ndigbo are noted for integrity and industry. We are also known for building schools, town halls, markets, hospitals and even police stations and other developmental projects, but you hardly witness such efforts nowadays. Efforts must be made to address the situation.”

Politicization destroying self help in Igboland – Maduawuchi

In the view of a businessman, Chief Ide Maduawuchi, the introduction of politics in deciding the leadership of town unions inhibited development in Igboland and retards progress in Igbo communities.

According to him, the town unions which could have been at the frontline of pushing for developments in communities have not been hijacked by politicians.

“In those days, you see the town union leadership calling on everybody in the community especially the wealthy people to contribute their resources for the development of the community. But now ask me why it has been very difficult to see these things happening: the reason is that these politicians forced their loyalists to take over the positions in the town union.

“And as a result of that, it is now an arm of a political party thereby making it look as if it is all about politics whereas it is not the initial arrangement for which it was set up. Other people willing to do something find it difficult to work with the town unions of their community because of political sentiment.

“But if it is left for the community to choose their leaders, then many people will have confidence in the system and will work out to achieve something,” Maduawuchi explained.

On the way forward, he said: “The political leaders must allow communities to do their thing their own way and elect those who they want to be their leaders. With this, the town unions can come up with programmes that will be obeyed by the communities.”

“The role of age grades seems to have dwindled in the community development. Before, age grades and town unions in some communities champion developments in Igbo communities.

“In other cases, town unions institute levies using the age grades to enforce compliance. The spirit of brotherhood and love never feathered as there was competition among communities.

“These self help projects through direct labour seemed to have died down for the quest for greener pastures among youths in the eastern part of the country.”

In the opinion of Igwe Edward Okonkwo of Ogulogu Olo Autonomous Community in Ezeagu local government of Enugu State, the quest for education and wealth has denied many communities in Enugu West senatorial zone and other parts of Igbo land the workforce of age grades. He also lamented that town unions have been politicized to an alarming degree.

“Age grades before now were the police of every community under different names with functions assigned to each age grade to enforce discipline and maintain cultural values.

“These days, the age grades have scattered to the cities and different parts of the world,leaving only the town unions and traditional rulers to contend with community development among others”, the monarch said.

In the absence of the old self help spirit, a community leader, was happy that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has wiped out tears of communities by opening up rural roads hitherto maintained by communal labour as well sank boreholes, healthcare delivery system, doled out N5m to each autonomous community created in the state to embark on any project of their choice for the development of the community.

A community leader in Umuopu community, Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State, Hon, Owelle Ejikeme Odumegwu has regretted the death of the Igbo self help spirit which he said was the engine that propelled rural development in Igbo land.

While commending indigenes of Anambra State for their self-help initiatives in almost all the community, he regretted that indigenes of Enugu State would expect government to do all the projects for them.

“Predominantly Igbos were not compared with other tribes in terms of the quest for development and self-help, in terms of community or rural development.

“Till today, the Anambra people do not count on the government hook, line and sinker in the development of their areas. Be it road construction, building of schools and Churches, borehole water etc.

“Individuals who wish to be recognized by their community do one thing or the other to better the lots of the people.”

“But this is less witnessed in places like Enugu state. Our people will expect the government to take up projects that do not worth it like ordinary grading of roads, or even construction of lockup shops.”

Vanguard News Nigeria.