By Ifesinachi Nwadike
Chinua Achebe in his 1984 pamphlet, The Trouble with Nigeria, had stated that “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership”.
As truthful as the assertion sounds, especially when we consider that for more than three decades since Achebe made the assertion, nothing has really changed, I am sorry to admit that I do not subscribe to Achebe’s view for logical implications.
I am of the view that leaders are a micro representation of their followers; they are raised from among followers in the society and their leadership perceptions are shaped therein. The society is the foundation, the basic attitudinal formula of leadership orientation, hence no leader is unbecoming of the realities of the larger populace and no society is undeserving of her leaders.
So, against the above background, I wish to disassociate myself from the notion that the Igbo are unfortunate with leaders. Yes, the facts are there to indicate that we have not had the best of men in the decision-making positions both at the state and federal levels, in fact, there is a school of thought that holds that Igbo leaders are ordained in Abuja and foisted upon the people to checkmate the Igbo clamour for leadership and equity.
There are a plethora of instances that engender the feeling that our failure as a people is orchestrated by the very fact that we are being led by those who do not believe in our collective aspirations as a people.
Looking back in time, one would agree that the Igbo had a strong and vibrant history of patriotic leaders who placed the interest of the Igbo nation over and above the personal. From the days of Okonkwo whose patriotism and loyalty to the laws and values of Umuofia is not lost on all lovers of Things Fall Apart to the days of Olaudah Equiano, who continued to remember home from a distance to the galvanizing spirit of Mrs Nwanyeruwa whose fierce rejection of excess taxation by the British colonial rulers, sparked off the historical Aba Women’s Riot of 1929 that later saw to the end of taxing local women. However we look at it, the Igbo of old, driven by their republican spirit, were intolerant of oppression of any form, reason why they practiced the best form of democracy known as Ohakarasi, a system of administration that truly allows everyone to have a say in the things that matter.
This same spirit of gladly not suffering oppression could be seen in the story of the slain 21 coal miners at Iva Valley, Enugu, who protested poor pay in 1949 and paid dearly with their lives. I am talking of the Igbo of Famous Igbo Landing at Dunbar Creek in the United States in 1803, a mass suicide of Igbo Slaves who chose to drown themselves than submit to slavery, I am talking of the Igbo of Odumegwu Ojukwu, who sacrificed all to stand with his people in the darkest hours; the Igbo of Dr. Francis Akanu Ibiam who, in a famous letter written to Queen Elizabeth, denounced his knighthood in August 1967, in protest, over Britain’s backing of the federal troops in their ignoble genocide against Biafran women and children during the war. I am talking about the Igbo of the late Richard Ihetu, popularly known as Dick Tiger, a world light heavyweight boxing champion who dropped his belt and returned home to help his people as the war raged.
I am talking about the Igbo of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who represents for us, the cosmology of Igbo duality hinged on the supremacy of Ada and who has shown, like her grandmothers in 1929, that the Igbo woman is capable and of strong character; the Igbo of the inimitable author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who, like her mentor, Chinua Achebe, has used her literary works to reinforce the Igbo narrative while calling the world’s attention to an unresolved injustice, a discussion that was forbidden before her ground-breaking Half of a Yellow Sun. Innumerable instances abound of men and women, old and young who gave their all and sacrificed personal gains and ambitions for the Igbo nation.
In all of these, one begins to wonder how the Igbo arrived at having men who no longer put the Oha (public) first before the Onwe (self), especially in the corridors of power, the very place where we produced selfless men like the late Dr. Michael Okpara (Premier of Eastern Nigeria from 1959 to 1966) and Chief Sam Mbakwe (First Democratic Governor of Old Imo State from 1979 to 1983) both of whom were known for pragmatic socialism and outstanding leadership. This syndrome became most manifest from 1999 when we began to have a feel of what it means to have leaders who are afraid of speaking up for its people when it mattered, the grave consequences of which we all feel today.
But there is an aspect of Igbo leadership that we cannot afford to leave to chance, even when it is seemingly of less importance when compared to political positions that formulate the policies that define us as a people.
I am talking about Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex sociocultural Igbo organization that has as one of its missions, the galvanization of the entire Igbo race into a united, peaceable and progressive whole. The organization has been festered recently with numerous challenges, backlashes and internal squabbles that have made it lose credibility in the eyes of the new Igbo who is even trying to come to terms with the idea of having one man as OkwuruOha; the mouthpiece of the people.
So the erroneous belief keeps gaining traction that Igbo Enwee Eze (the Igbo has no regard or need for kings), but this is only logical to the extent that the Igbo society can function without a paramount ruler unlike other societies, but in view of recent modern political configurations that require a region to have a go-to person or persons, the Igbo worldview of not having a king becomes logical in the sense that the people loathe the idea of entrusting their collective destiny in the hands of one man, a fallible man for that matter.
However, there has been instances when and where the Igbo agreed to queue behind one man and trust him well enough to drive home their demands and needs, only that the Igbo are not a sheepish people who follow a leader even to hell, reason why they believe that arusinyekariaansogbu, eziyaosisiejiripiaya, (when the oracle overreaches itself, it is shown the tree from which it is carved).
This philosophy accounts for why the Igbo are quick to subject their leaders to meticulous scrutiny before agreeing to submit, as well as the reason they are quick to ask for a change.
The Ohanaeze President General’s election is around the corner and it is my intention to use this medium to present the voting delegates and the general Igbo an opportunity to vote into power, the last of the strong ones whose abiding mission has been the unification of the Igbo race, for a greater Igbo nation, through his teachings of ImaOnwe (understanding oneself). I am talking of Professor Chidi Osuagwu, the Obowo born philosopher, protégée of Dee Sam Mbakwe and a scientist whose understanding of Igbo cosmology is unparalleled.
Professor Chidi Osuagwu is a USA trained professor of Biochemistry who, out of love for homeland, returned to Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri and taught there for 25 years, something he refers to as “deliberate”. His doctoral thesis on sickle cell biochemistry, titled “Blood Redox Changes in Sickle Cell Disease” has won international laurels and recognitions and he has, since then, written a number of books and essays like Truth and Chaos wherein he outlined Igbo ethos, value systems and conception of truth and falsehood and has also theorised ‘Erima’ – the basic Igbo social philosophy which has been catalogued by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
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Professor Osuagwu is well grounded in world philosophies, especially as it concerns the African and more specifically, the Igbo. He has spoken and taught at world congresses where he leaves one with an awe of a human encyclopeadia. Back in 2005, the Imo state government of Achike Udenwa nominated him to UNESCO as a Living Human Treasure because of his works on African cosmology. Also, the United States based international organisation called the Philosopedia listed him after his series of lectures in South Africa as a world class thinker.
His understanding of the ancient Igbo world, its cosmos and his unending yearning for the reorientation, remapping and re-emplacement of ancient Igbo values inform my insistence that if there is any human being presently walking the length and breadth of the earth as an Igbo man that is fit for the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, that man must be Professor Chidi Osuagwu. Hear a bit of him, in a 2007 interview conducted by the stellar scholar, Oluchi Ibe, when asked about his burning passion for the Igbo project of self-rediscovery:
When, I say the Igbo, I mean historically the forest people of Nigeria, but today, what you call the Igbo are the Isuama, a subgroup of the Igbo. The Ekiti, Ijesha, Nupe, Igala, Idoma are all ancient Igbo people. You can see this from linguistics and anthropology.
Africa is the cradle of civilization. It allowed the possibility of elaboration in a number of locations around river valleys like the Nile, Niger, and Congo etc. But the lower Niger civilization i.e. the Igbo area was the most advanced civilization in the world I know of. I know about the Chinese, Japanese and other civilizations very well and I can compare them but the Igbo had a civilization that was universalistic.
Outside scholars have also evaluated it and came to the same conclusion that it had such qualities. For instance, one of the world’s favourite music, jazz, developed amongst the blacks in New Orleans, which had a predominantly Igbo slave population. Cubism in arts, experts will tell you was more fundamentally developed amongst the Igbo.
In the economic cum social system, the Igbo Erima system was the most sophisticated and the Igbo were one of the few peoples in the world that developed a pacific civilization. According to D.B. Chambers, “Igbo civilization was a pacific civilization that allowed human beings to live in peace with themselves and their environment.” There was no single issue of real war amongst the Igbo before the coming of the slave trade and the Whiteman. This was a very rare and advanced system in the world.
The Igbo invented a lot of advanced systems like the technopolis, i.e. the idea of a center of excellence in technology that is the meaning of the name the Anambra state capital Awka (Oka) – the Igbo word for technology. We also have Oka–Igwe (Okigwe in Imo State). There is no other place in the world you had a technopolis. The world still needs these things today.
The sophistication and advancement of the Igbo system led to a lot of consequences. In fact Europe sought to destroy it. Like D.B. Chambers said because we had a pacific civilization it was easy for the Whiteman to conquer us and enslave the Igbo because the Igbo never saw the need or course for war and so never prepared to meet it. They never believed that human beings can set out to go and enslave others and commit genocide. The Igbo concept of mmandu, is that the human being is the beauty of life and so for them it was inconceivable that people will set out to destroy the beauty of life. That is why today majority of black Americans are Igbo and of course the population of Haiti is Igbo. There are well over forty million Igbo out there in the world (not including the Igbo in Nigeria).
In spite of all these, the Igbo have insisted on a humane world, in a universalistic world. No other great civilization believes that as a matter of honest behaviours.
He believes, like yours sincerely has argued, that the present Igbo man is almost a nominal Igbo but lacking in the authentic Igbo features that distinguish an Igbo from his neighbour thus:
That is the meaning of “Things Fall Apart.” Human beings are human beings, what makes them different is the way they view the world. The Igbo have the Uwaizu model of world view that has harmonious and holistic constructs but has been injected with outside ideas that are contradictory and has created the chaos we are experiencing.
So, you now find out that what you have now are not really Igbo people. I do not consider your own generation as Igbo. It is not a laughing matter. Those of you born after independence can hardly qualify as Igbo. Igboness is an ideology. It is not a blood thing. It is based in the belief in ebo or what other people call egbo. If you were born fifty years ago, you would have noticed that before you entered any compound or community you will pass through the ebo – a constructed goal post shaped frame that symbolize igbo mkpa and igba mbo i.e. the idea of striving ahead to find solutions to problems that have not arrived, to deal with anticipated problems so that when they arise, gie gboo ha – you solve them, which qualify you as Igbo.
And that is why Igbos will say onye na amaghi mkpa anaghi agba mbo.(He who is not aware of his needs does not strive) These are the ideologies that makes one an Igbo, it is not in the blood line. These ideologies are institutionalized not only in ebo but in the driving force of one’s life called Ikenga which allows you to collaborate with your Chi – guardian angel and challenge the world and its collisions. That is why when you leave home in the morning you are greeted with ihuom akpookwa gi (May you have pleasant collisions).
The Igbo see the world as a realm of interactions and collisions and if you are not prepared, the collisions will be unbalanced in your disfavour. So, you get prepared, that is why we say mberede nyiri dike, mberede ka eji ama dike – the ability to manage your collisions, contingencies, so that you are not crushed. That is what the Igbo articulated and created institutions encapsulated in the Erima social system of hyper networking. We are now talking of cyber networking, that’s the original form of such concepts. An example is how the Igbo use the kola nut to network and integrate people quickly. You do not have that in any other system I know of.
These things made the Igbo different and that was why when the European slave dealers came to Africa, they were preferentially looking for the Igbo people because of the quality of mind and body. Whereas other slaves were sold for about $180, Igbos went as high as $240 and were advertised as such. The records are all there.
When colonialism came, Europeans came looking for palm oil to grease the wheels of industrial revolution – an Igbo product. They founded Nigeria on the bedrock of Igbo productivity. The Northern Protectorate was generating a deficit of 2.1 million pounds annually while the South from oil and the seaports was making a profit. It was on this basis that the then British Colonial Secretary Harcourt, after whom Port Harcourt was named, suggested that the two protectorates be amalgamated. So, you see the Igbo ingenuity is at the basis of all these things. These are hard facts and not romanticisms.
Having established this viewpoint, Prof. Osuagwu does not just leave empty spaces. He gives a practical way out that would reposition the Igbo thus:
The way forward for anybody is first imaonwe – self-understanding, understand who you are and where we are coming from. For instance, if I am not the son of my ancestors and knowing where I am coming from, I won’t have been doing what I am doing. Maybe I would have been competing with my peers to build houses here and there and buy the latest jeeps.
Historically, I know where I am coming from and so better prepared for what I am doing. That is why in spite of what our people have passed through during slavery and colonialism, I am still proud to have come from them. When I meet the Whiteman, he cannot talk down on me because I know who I am. I do not feel the kind of complex many feel, and you cannot push me around.
Against this backdrop, I make bold to say that hope is not lost at all. We only need foresight to see and read in between the lines and use our tongue to count our teeth. The good thing is that we have identified places we feel we are not doing well as a race – leadership is one of them. But the most interesting thing is that God has positioned men of grit, valour, understanding and insight in our midst. It is time to wash our eyes and choose between a leader that can deliver and politically correct sentiments that have kept us from reaching the apogee of our cultural ambition.
The Igbo cannot afford the luxury of another costly mistake. We have lost a lot to sentiments already and must use the opportunity of another Ohanaeze election to begin the processes of reclamation. We need a President General of Ohanaeze that would not be a pushover, a pencil in the hand of a mischievous artist. We need a man like Prof. Chidi Osuagwu who can look the devil in the eye without growing cold feet.
Dear Umuigbo, for a greater Igbo nation, the processes begin now; tell whoever that you can, encourage all the delegates that you know to save Igbo land by making sure that Prof. Osuagwu finds his way there.