September 21, 2023

South-East beyond 2023: Time for a reset, By Ikechukwu Amaechi

South-East beyond 2023: Time for a reset, By Ikechukwu Amaechi

THE title of this article, I must confess, is not original to me. It is the theme of the South-East Summit on Economy and Security which is scheduled to hold in Owerri, Imo State, next week. There couldn’t have been a better time or even a better theme for the Summit. Ndigbo are at a socio-economic and political crossroads in Nigeria and crucial decisions with far-reaching consequences have become inevitable. 

The idea of the Summit, therefore, is to galvanise Ndigbo, a people hitherto proud of their heritage, but who seem to have lost their sagacity in the face of debilitating national conspiracy, to look inwards to harness their inner strengths and abundant resources in order to reshape their collective destiny. A new trajectory has become imperative. 

Given the strategic bent of this drive at self-awakening and renaissance, it is not surprising that the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, also slated the 2023 Igbo Day to hold concurrently with the Summit on September 28 and 29. Those not privy to the strategic thinking that informed the decision saw conflict in the horizon. But as Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo explained, rather than conflict, Ndigbo are unanimous in their endorsement of the decision to host both events concurrently. The idea is to ensure massive attendance by the people. 

As Senator Chris Anyanwu, chairperson of the Summit, further explained, both events have been structured to accommodate the schedules of South-East governors and eminent Igbo sons and daughters who are travelling from far and near to attend the events. Which explains why Dr. Peter Mbah, governor of Enugu in whose state capital the Igbo Day 2023 celebration will commence at 4.00 p.m. on September 28, with a public lecture to be delivered by the Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese, Most Rev. Prof. Godfrey Onah, will be in Owerri together with his colleague-governors in the morning for the opening ceremonies of the Summit.

Why are the two occasions important to Ndigbo? To answer the question is to appreciate the significance of the day, September 29, in the life of every Igbo. It was the day, 57 years ago, that Ndigbo were massacred in their thousands – children, even foetuses in their mothers’ wombs, women, men, old and young – in the horrendous 1966 pogrom, perhaps one of the darkest days in global genocidal history. So, every September 29, is an unforgettable day in Igboland. It is a day of remembrance. As Chris Okoye, chairman of the 2007 Igbo Day Planning and Organising Committee, once noted: “It is a day we, the Igbo, both in Nigeria and in the diaspora, pause and reflect on our origin, identity, present circumstances, and what the uncertain future holds in store for us.” 

Though September 29 remains, as Okoye further noted, the day Ndigbo “pay tribute to the great Igbo men and women who fought bravely against our British oppressors, and those who even sacrificed their lives in the struggle for Nigerian freedom – a day we commemorate those who were maimed, murdered and mutilated in the various massacres in Nigeria from 1952 to date, and those who paid the supreme sacrifice for our continued existence as Ndigbo during the Nigeria/Biafra war,” it is no longer a day of lamentation. 

The remembrance serves as a transcendental opportunity for introspection knowing where the rain started beating us in order to seek for a safer harbour. So, the Summit is the other side of the remembrance coin which seeks to proffer solutions to the existential crisis that confronts Ndigbo in the 21st century Nigeria, hence the theme: Beyond 2023, time for reset. The Summit has been structured to achieve maximum success. Ndigbo are not only known for their entrepreneurship and industry worldwide, there is a surfeit of high-end human capital still available in the homeland. How to leverage on this human capital glut to carve a new niche for the region is the remit of the summit. 

Therefore, attendance is strictly on invitation and the organising committee has taken the extra care to ensure that the otherwise high-level meeting does become a mere shindig by ensuring that attendance is restricted to only those who will add value, while the five South-East governors will collectively declare it open on September 28. That will, no doubt, send a strong message of unity and commonality of purpose and aspiration.

For too long, Ndigbo have allowed outsiders to define them, most times negatively. For instance, you hear detractors deride them of lacking in political sagacity and putting all their political eggs in one basket. Yet, the South-East is the only region where four political parties have governors – Labour Party, LP; All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA; Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; and All Progressives Congress, APC, have governors. 

So, if in spite of this diversity in political leanings, the governors have come together for the sake of development, it is something to be hopeful for. The Summit is expected to enunciate a 20-year development agenda with focus on investment, healthcare, employment, transportation and culture. 

The first day to be chaired by Senator Pius Anyim, former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, will be graced by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, who will deliver the keynote speech – the Summit theme: Beyond 2023, time for reset. 

Thereafter, three distinguished Igbo sons – Prof Sam Amadi, Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika (rtd) and Dr Chidi Amuta – will pick the gauntlet. While Amadi, a law professor and former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, will speak on the issue, South-East Agenda 2043: A roadmap to accelerated economic transformation, Ihejirika, former Chief of Army Staff, will look at “Overcoming South-East security challenges as a precursor to new development efforts”, and Amuta, journalist, intellectual and literary critic will do justice to the topic, “Enhancing the South East political competiveness in Nigeria.” 

But the more consequential day is September 29, when the Summit will go into three syndicate sessions – economy, security, and political inclusiveness – where participants will be disaggregated to give meaning to all the issues raised on the first day. Dr Olisa Agbakoba, former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, will hold sway on the second day as the chairman. 

These breakout sessions will afford participants the opportunity to have more detailed discussions in smaller groups. While the economy session will be chaired by Dr Abraham Nwankwo, former Director General of the Debt Management Office, DMO, the security session will be superintended by Professor Chidi Odinkalu, former chairman of the Nigeria Human Rights Commission, NHRC, and Dr Ferdinand Agu, former Director General of NIMASA, will oversee the political inclusiveness session. 

In all, the Summit is a bold attempt by Ndigbo to take their destiny in their own hands by charting a clear-cut roadmap to socio-economic and political renaissance in the midst of what seems to be national anomie. 

If Ndigbo get their priorities right, they can still navigate the treacherous landmines the Nigerian state seem to have strewn, deliberately, on their path and rediscover what made them tick in the not too distant past. 

If the Bavarians did it in Germany and the Catalans in Spain, who said Ndigbo, putting their act together, cannot make progress in their country, in spite of the asphyxiating shenanigans that Nigeria evinces? The South-East Summit on Economy and Security in trying to redefining the Igbo essence will help in giving vent to that quest.