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December 11, 2021

Hope Uzodimma sends message to Ndigbo, speaks on his book ‘Reflections on the Igbo Question’

Uzodinma

I cannot find enough words to describe my joy today. I feel truly elated that this galaxy of personages from across the length and breadth of the country left all the other important engagements they had today to honour me with their esteemed presence at this event. How can I thank you enough? All I can say is that I am profoundly grateful to you for this rare show of love and solidarity. 

I have listened to all the wonderful things you have said about my book and myself. I do not need a mind reader to know that all those kind words and salutary acknowledgements came from deep down your hearts. I thank you very much indeed 

Over the years, leaders worth their salt have through literary discourses, contributed to the shaping of the societies they had the privilege to lead. For such leaders who think beyond their generation, leadership offers an opportunity to clinically appraise, first hand, the challenges of their environment. They are consequently motivated, thereafter, to proffer suggestions, on how the immediate challenges can be surmounted.

The robust democracies we enjoy today in the more developed countries of the world were shaped, partly, by the thoughts of great leaders in those countries. In the United States, leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, John Kennedy, and Barack Obama readily come to mind.

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We also have such leaders as Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill and Tony Blair to reckon with in the United Kingdom. All of them have something in common- their thoughts helped to deepen the robust democracy which their countries enjoy today. 

In Nigeria,  Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, and Obafemi Awolowo, stand tall as leaders whose thoughts helped to shape the original federal project that gave birth to an independent Federal  Republic of Nigeria.

As  Frantz Fanon will put it, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”. In this respect, my well considered view is that the challenge of our generation of Nigerians is to reinvent a model of democracy that will offer each federating unit a holistic sense of belonging, seasoned by equality, justice and the rule of law. This task is urgent because it seems obvious that the original federal project secured by our founding fathers has fallen apart. 

For Ndigbo, the challenge of our generation is to insist on our inalienable birthright as citizens of Nigeria, who must coexist with other ethnic nationalities as equal partners. This is the rationale for my book that has just been presented to you.

It is my own modest contribution on how the Igbos can overcome the existential challenges facing them today in project Nigeria. This accounts for the sense of fulfilment and joy that I derive from the presentation of this historic book. REFLECTIONS ON THE IGBO QUESTION.  

This book essentially puts together my thoughts on the Igbo question as expressed at different fora over a period spanning over eight years. This explains the title, REFLECTIONS ON THE IGBO QUESTION. I consider its publication to be part of my responsibility to, not just Ndigbo, but Nigerians in general.

One thing stands clear here, and it is the consistency of my views on the subject matter which were expressed before I became the Governor of Imo State. These views can be aptly summarised in two themes, to wit: Igbos have not had a fair deal from project Nigeria since the end of the civil war.

They have continued to cry to high heavens over the sordid dilemma they face in their own country. I believe we have cried enough and it is time to wipe our tears. The second is that Igbos are citizens of Nigeria by birth. They should never allow themselves to be cajoled out of their father’s land and inheritance. This is our country and we must stay here and collectively enforce out rights as bona fide citizens of Nigeria.

This brings me to what I consider the crux of the existential challenge of  Ndigbo in Nigeria. It is the urgent need for our self rediscovery as a people; as the resilient, tenacious and enterprising people that God, in His wisdom, has made us to be. It appears to me that we are gradually losing the true identity of the Igbos we are.  It was that resilient Igbo spirit that helped us to survive the harsh socioeconomic environment we were faced with, right after the civil war. The cruellest of them all is the inhuman decision to pay a flat rate of only twenty pounds to every Igbo man irrespective of whatever amount of money he had in the bank. 

It was that spirit that made the Igbos record many firsts in many fields of human endeavour in the pre – and immediate post Independence era, which is captured in my book.  It was the same spirit that propelled the young Igbo men who came to Lagos in the 70’s to rise from hawkers and Obioma tailors to become captains of commerce and industry and to establish much sought-after fashion outfits.

We must rediscover that spirit, including the one that inspired us to produce “ogbunigwe” and build many modular refineries during the civil war. These are the spirits we are known for which always lead to excellence, not the spirit of timidity, self – defeat and crave for easy money, which appears to have possessed our young Igbo men of this generation.

As I alluded to earlier, a leader must stand firmly for something, be it ideology or belief, which must define the essence of the trajectory of his private and public life. This is more so when the generation of such leadership is faced with challenges that need to be addressed to avert disaster. 

I think this is the reality of the Nigerian situation today, particularly as it affects Igbos. It appears to me that my people, for no fault of theirs, are currently at crossroads. This is, therefore, not the time for me as a leader to stand with my hands akimbo, and watch a helpless generational drift that could land us into an abyss of endless sorrow.

Rationalization and justification are strong weapons of defence, but only in so far as the action taken is for the good of the majority. This book, REFLECTIONS ON THE IGBO QUESTION, is not only for the good of the majority of Ndigbo and Nigeria, but my modest effort to galvanize the Igbos to rethink and reflect not just on the current existential challenges but on the right compass to navigate out of it.

For those in the delicate art of medicine, you know that the accurate diagnosis of any ailment is a necessary step towards a cure. In our situation, we have been bemoaning the marginalization of Ndigbo in the Nigerian project. That to me, is trite. What is cogent is to address a rational and realistic way out of it. That is the essence of this book and our gathering here today.

I have been unambiguous in my diagnosis of the Igbo question. In spite of the state of affairs since the 1966 counter-coup, we are still better off staying in Nigeria. Some may not agree with me. But anyone who takes his time to go through the book will be persuaded to think along that

 I have painstakingly explained the way forward in this book. We need to reclaim our rightful place in Nigeria by building on the comparative advantage we have over other Nigerians. We have to leverage on the special talents bestowed on us by God to ensure that we are accorded our dues in Nigeria. One of the talents is technology. The other is commerce and trade. Currently, the evidence is there that it was helpful to us in the past and is still at our disposal today.

Truth be told, we are dominating in commerce and trade in Nigeria. But we can do far better than that as a people, if we put our thinking caps on. In the real estate business in all the major cities of Nigeria, the Igbos are leading. Most standard provision stores in any remote part of Nigeria is likely to be owned and operated by an Igbo man or woman.

The second most populous ethnic group in any city in Nigeria outside the indigenes of the city are Igbos. How then do we harness these huge potentials to our advantage? The answer is simple: Read the book, REFLECTIONS ON THE IGBO QUESTION.

From available statistics, Igbo students across the globe and even in Nigeria are making waves with their technological innovations. The individual accomplishments can only make meaningful impact if they are collectively harnessed and channelled to a massive production hub to set the stage for the technological leap Nigeria has been yearning for all these years.  Igbos can lead the way and dictate the pace.

We also have a huge landmass to conquer, dominate and exploit. We have boundless markets to tap into. We have unassailable ingenuity and opportunities presented to us to explore to emerge leaders again in this land of Nigeria that we are equal owners.

What I have simply set out in this book is for our youths to appreciate the opportunities before them and embrace such instead of bemoaning the marginalization of Ndigbo and resorting to violence, which is self-defeat. They should come up with pragmatic ways of conquering their fear. I don’t want our youths to think that somebody is holding down their destiny.

I also don’t want them to continue to be frustrated by the deliberate policies of exclusion. Instead, I want them to be focused on the larger picture of liberation through technology, trade and commerce through which we can dominate Nigeria and dictate the pace of development. 

Indeed, when the Jews found themselves in a similar situation such as Igbos of Nigeria, they simply used their talents to force the world to accede to their legitimate demand. Through technology and the media, the Jews now call the shots in major countries of the world including, the United States of America. 

That is the challenge before my people, the Igbos. We already have a country. We don’t need another one. We should rise and take our rightful place by unleashing our God-given talents, by working in concert and by being focused on the future which I believe holds a lot of promise. That, in a nutshell, is the essence of the book REFLECTIONS ON THE IGBO QUESTION. I am positive that you will all find the book informative, inspiring and reassuring. 

(Being the address by Governor Hope Uzodimma at the presentation of his book, “Reflection on the Igbo Question”, on Saturday, December 11, 2021)

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