….Speaks on why he floated 100% Igbo radio, proposed Igbo village vision
…Planned lexicon for teaching of science, digital tech in Igbo
By Steve Oko
Mr Isaac Okorafor is an Economist with a calling in Journalism. His journalistic instinct manifested in 1884 after graduating from the University of Nsukka where he read Economics.
His flare for writing drove him into writing articles published in major national dailies. He was later recruited by the defunct prestigious Concord Newspapers where his journalistic career was fully developed. Growing on the job he attended courses on writing, and editing, etc.
He later joined the defunct New Agenda where he went through the crucibles and rose to the editorial cadre. From there he got a job with the African Alliance which took over Business Day Newspapers.
Okorafor with his rich background in Economics plus journalistic exposures, was therefore, recruited to edit Business Day Newspapers. From his latest portfolio, he was later hired as a Consultant by the Department For International Development, DFID. From there he moved to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to man the media communication of the Consolidation policy of the CBN championed by the then Governor of the apex bank, Professor Chukwuma Soludo.
At the successful conclusion of the policy in 2004, the CBN insisted on retaining Okorafor having exhibited capacity and diligence in information management. He later rose to the position of Director, Media & Communications after serving under three Governors of the apex bank – Soludo, Mallam Sanusi Sanusi, and Godwin Emefiele. On October 1st 2020, he meritoriously bowed out at the age of 60.
Meanwhile, his journalistic instinct has refused to subside even upon retirement, hence, he acquired a radio license to float the Zik 93.3 FM , Umuahia, Abia State. The all-Igbo content Radio station started commercial transmission in December 2020.
On the choice of Zik as the name for the radio station, Okorafor said that when he was born on October 1, 1960, some locals started calling him Zik, adding that “Zik was the symbol of Igbo ingenuity and intellectual prowess”.
” One feature we have in our radio station is that we are 100% Igbo programmers. Our content is 100% Igbo. The vision of Zik FM is to ensure that Igbo language does not die as predicted by UNESCO”, said.
Speaking further on the vision of the special radio station, the Ihechiowa, Arochukwu Local Government Area-born Media guru and Economist said: “We are determined to halt the the decline and demise of Igbo language”.
” The vision is in three stages: The first leg is to make people begin communication in Igbo language. In doing that, we have hired Igbo broadcasters and the reception in the villages is superb.
” We also want to use the radio station to teach young people Igbo language, and that is why we stream live on our website and we are also on radio garden. We are ready to live-stream any cultural festival to Igbo diaspora community. That’s our niche.
” We want our Igbo brothers and sisters to follow us in Igbo language. We are producing an app that will enable all Igbo families abroad and home to link up with our Igbo lessons for kids every weekend. We want to give opportunity to these young ones to learn to speak Igbo because it’s actually the language that defines us.Through our language, our realities are expressed. So, people without language is a people without culture.”
Mr Okorafor further hinted on his plans to build a universal Igbo village in an expanse of 60 -70 hectares of land that would serve as a global centre for Igbo arts and culture as well as tourism.
” The second leg of our vision is to build an Igbo village – a typical Igbo village in 60-70 hectares of land here in Abia State. In that village, there will be all kinds of landscape to enable the true Igbo environment to be expressed. It will be the entire gamut of Igbo cosmology such that you are talking of evil forest to show the young ones what evil forest looks like.
” It will have Igbo kitchen called Isiekwu; it will have Igbo library; a four-star hotel built with Igbo architecture, and hostels built for students that would visit there. They will feed on Igbo food, speak only Igbo. The Igbo village will not entertain any other language. You either speak Igbo or use sign language.”
According to him, the centre will also serve as venue for World Igbo Congresses and Nzuko Ndigbo (Igbo gatherings).
” I expect that Ohanaeze Ndigbo will be holding all sorts of conferences at the Igbo village when completed”, Okorafor enthused.
Giving the cost of the gigantic project as N2 billion excluding the cost of land, Okorafor said that many Igbo in the diaspora have indicated interest in the vision, adding that government will also key into the project.
” In the first instance, this project with cost N2 billion excluding land. Nollywood and Hollywood will be coming to shoot films in it. People have started indicating interest in it, and we expect that Government will be part of it.”
On the possible location and what would influence the choice of site for the Igbo village, the vision bearer said:” We are talking with two communities but I will keep it secret for now. Some of the things that will influence our choice will be the landscape and landforms. Although some of the trees will be planted, we prefer a plan that will require minimal efforts.”
He further hinted of his plan to produce a lexicon for the teaching of science, engineering and digital technology in Igbo language, adding that he has started assembling experts including Professors of Igbo language, linguistics and relevant stakeholders to work on the legendary project.
” The third leg of the Zik FM radio is to produce a complete, almost inexhaustible lexicon for the teaching of physics, chemistry, biology and digital technology in Igbo language. There have been efforts to produce autobiographies in Igbo but we intend to expand this to have word for almost everything we can think of in science and philosophy.
” We have started talking to stakeholders including Professors of Igbo language and linguistics, broadcasters and antropologists. We will gather them together for this project. Even if it is not accomplished in our lifetime, one day it will be realized.
” Why are we embarking on this almost impossible task? Our people are spread all over the world. My estimation is that Igbos are between 80 and 100 million. We are the most populous tribe in Nigeria. Anywhere you go, after the natives, the next populous tribe is Igbo. Igbo have more people living outside Igbo land. If you travel abroad, maybe it’s only in the UK that we compete with the Yoruba but we outnumber other Nigerian tribes in every other country.
” So, there is a passion for the diaspora community to come back and reconnect with their cradle. We want to help their children link up with the Igbo culture and tradition. We will start by teaching them how to speak in their native language.”
Asked if he envisaged any possible opposition to the vision especially from the Federal Government, he thundered: “This project is not about politics; it’s about Igbo language and culture; the gamut of Igbo person, his world view, his cradle, his sensibilities, and his idiosyncrasies. That’s what we’re trying to put together!
” This thing has nothing to do with politics. The Yoruba are promoting their culture; the Hausa are promoting their culture. There’s no place in our constitution that says Igbo culture should not be promoted.
” In fact, government should even be more interested in such a project because it showcases Nigeria. It shows that this group of enterprising and highly mobile people, very intelligent and ingenious with so much creative energy, that they are Nigerians. We are also projecting the asset that God has given this country in our people. Importantly, we are reducing the crime rate”.
The project, according to him will provide the basic Igbo identify ” that we need to live our lives as free people; people full of energy”.
Okorafor said that the vision was already eliciting the support and buy-in of the dispora Igbo community, who have already indicated interest in sending their children to learn Igbo culture and tradition from the proposed Igbo village.
“I went to Houston, USA and mentioned this project in an Igbo forum. Everybody in that place insisted they wanted to be among the first subscribers. We are encouraged by such outpouring of passion and Igbo sentiments.
The former CBN Spokesman further said that he had been into table water production and social work including scholarship scheme to give succour to humanity.
” When I retired from CBN, I decided to use what remains of my energy for social work. I have so many people I’m taking care of including those on my scholarship. In order to preserve the little pension for my family, I have to invest to give people job and succour; and if there is any returns, I can use it to support my scholarship programme.
” I decided to come to Umuahia to make investment, and I started with a water factory called Aqua Cecil. Our products are in the market and we were operating at a loss due to the bad economy. But since the new Government in Abia started paying public servants, we are reducing our losses because demand is now increasing.”
He decried the attitude of the people patronizing cheap but low quality products due to high poverty rate. He cautioned that such habit could come with consequences.
” What happens is that most people want to save money because of low income, and they patronize those who have sealing machines behind their backyard and use water tanks to fill them and start sealing. So, it’s cheaper for them but the irony is that they end up in hospitals due to infections and impurities in water. But the content of our products and the packaging process are so thorough because we have value for lives. Our products are double processed to ensure high quality because we have a name to protect.
Baring his mind on the general economic situation in the country and how it is affecting businesses, the Economist said ” Nigeria is in dire stress” . He also lamented the adverse effect of the increasing cost of power on his young business.
“Economic realities especially cost of diesel is seriously affecting production. The level of stress in Nigeria is embarrassing.”
On the way forward he said:”The best thing is to stop the drift first. My view is that Government should cut its size so it can have more money to run some of its programmes. We really need to downsize. I know Labour will frown at it but there is nothing we can do about it. You can downsize without really pushing people away. Funds could be made available for those who want to go into agriculture or manufacturing.
The former CBN Spokesman, after assessing the performances of the Gov. Alex Otti-led administration in its first 100 days in office, gave a pass mark to the new administration , describing it as investor- friendly.
“Gov. Otti has started well. His first 100 days in office is impressive. Somebody called me recently and said he received salary twice in one month. You can imagine what that will do to Abia economy. The money that was meant for Abia, those in power were taking it away. They were not even spending it hear so that people could get it. But they were spending the money outside. But now our people are beginning to smile again, our pensioners are now getting their money.”
He also commended Gov. Otti’s efforts to rebuild infrastructure in the state particularly the commercial city of Aba.
” Alex Otti made it clear during the campaigns that nobody should stand between him and Aba. He said he was going to restore Aba to its glory days. He is doing well. Road projects are going on both in Aba and Umuahia. Even in the air, we can feel the sense of a New Abia”.
He urged the Governor not to relent efforts in his development strides, and support for investments due to their multiplier effect on the economy.
” Our hope is that those of us who have come in here to invest our life savings to create job for our people should have a convivial environment and the needed security to thrive.”
Okorafor who recalled the efforts of progressive Abians including the diaspora community across party lines in enthroning the new Government in the state, said those sacrificed had paid off.
“At a time we all became ashamed of Abia State. So, a month before the election, a number of us including those abroad relocated home. We went to our villages and joined the campaign for a new Abia. We insisted that things must change.
” We all ensured that the election produced the needed result. And when they tried to do what they used to do, we stood our ground. And God heard our prayers and gave us a Returning Officer who refused to be compromised. Today, Abia is better for it, and we give God the glory!”