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December 21, 2023

When Ndigbo celebrated their own, By Ikechukwu Amaechi

Insecurity: Igbo governors, elders to hold summit in Imo

As Nigeria’s political elites continue to fool around in Rivers State pretending to be preferring solution to self-inflicted political wound, it is refreshing to see groups celebrating excellence, merit and competence in a country where mediocrity and absolute lack of character have become the keys that unlock high public offices.

That was exactly what Aka Ikenga did on Sunday, December 17 when members held the 2023 end of the year get-together which has been the tradition since the think-tank organisation of Igbo intelligentsia and professionals who are committed to the vision of an egalitarian Nigerian society based on the rule of law, equity and fairness for all Nigerians, debuted in 1989.

But this year’s get-together had an extra bent – Aka Ikenga Awards. That was the first time the group, which prides itself as an organisation that stands for the best in leadership and good governance practices, bestowed awards to deserving Igbo sons and daughters. And, typically, it was done in style. Aka Ikenga has class.

But in a country where awards have been bastardised, with extraneous factors other than excellence being the primary motive, what difference does it make that another group has decided to hitch a ride on the omnibus awards wagon?

A lot, says Sir Ozodinobi Nnamdi Obi, a renowned pharmacist, chairman of the Aka Ikenga Awards organising committee. And the difference is that unlike many others, Aka Ikenga awards were neither bought nor sold. “The awardees were all chosen on merit,” Ozodinobi explained. “And it couldn’t have been by any other way. How can we be an organisation whose mission is to serve as a think-tank for the Igbo Nation with a view to articulating, promoting and defending the interests of our people while promoting and defending actions and policies that would enhance the unity, stability and economic programmes of the Nigerian government and still not do things differently?” he asked rhetorically.

In his welcome address, the President of Aka Ikenga, Agbalanze Chike Madueke, reiterated that the idea of the awards is to recognise excellence amongst Ndigbo and their friends from all walks of life. “We are confident,” he enthused that the “Aka Ikenga Awards will be the highest event and opportunity to recognise hard work, resilience, excellence and achievement amongst our people and the friends of our people in business, in elected or appointed positions, in government and or in all fields and wherever they may be found around the world.”

Like Ozodinobi, he emphasised that the awards being a statement of endorsement and gratitude to the recipients for the opportunities they have provided the younger generations must be merit-driven. “The Aka Ikenga Awards is given through our hands purely in recognition of outstanding leadership, achievements, courage and enterprise in keeping with the core values and ethos of our people. This award is non-pecuniary and shall remain non-pecuniary as long as it is to be given through our hands.” 

The awards were given to men and women at the commanding heights of business ranging from banking to transportation, pharmaceutical, tech, media, aviation industries and public service.

And to underscore the importance they attached to the awards and reverence for the ethos of Aka Ikenga, all the awardees ranging from Dr Mrs Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, Managing Director, Fidelity Bank Plc.; Dr Chidi Anyaegbu, Chief Executive Officer of Chisco Group; Dr Mrs Stella Okoli, founder of Emzor Pharmaceuticals; Dr Innocent Chukwuma, the automobile industry trailblazer who founded Innosons Motor; Dr Leo Stan Eke, founder and chairman of Zinox Group; Prince Nduka Obaigbena, Publisher of Thisday newspaper and Chairman of Arise Global News Channel, Senator Chris Ngige, former Anambra State Governor and Minister of Labour and Productivity, all came in person.

But they were not the only ones. Senator Mike Ajaegbo, who established the first private television station in Nigeria – Cable Vision and Minaj Broadcast Station in Obosi, his hometown; Dr Ike Chioke, Managing Director, Afrinvest W.A. Limited; Allen Onyema, chairman of Air Peace Nigeria and Prof Obiora Okonkwo, CEO of United Airlines Nigeria were all there to be honoured.

The globally-acknowledged public intellectual, Prof Pat Utomi, who was unavoidably absent, was represented by his daughter. Engineer Dave Umahi, former Governor of Ebonyi State and incumbent Minister of Works and Housing, who cancelled his trip to Lagos for the award at the last minute, sent a very powerful delegation. And so did Hon. Benjamin Kalu, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, the highest ranking government official of Igbo extraction, in this dispensation. He was represented by Emeka Wogu, former Minister of Labour and Productivity.

Aka Ikenga also gave posthumous awards to two of their former presidents – Engr. Ralph Eke, founding president, and Barrister Oscar Onwudiwe. The event was grandiosens. All the awardees were honoured for their pioneering roles in the public and private sectors. They are some of the most accomplishments Nigeria in any area of human endeavour. The fact that they are all Igbos was intrinsically rewarding.

But it was also an evening of reflection on the position of Ndigbo in Nigeria. Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, former Senate Minority Leader, a man fondly called Mma Agha Ndigbo, who chaired the occassion told those who glory is holding Ndigbo down that Nigeria is the worse for their antics. “Let Nigerians not think that by supressing the Igbo that they are going forward. So long as Nigeria suppresses the Igbo, Nigeria will go nowhere because an Igbo adage says onye ji madu na la, ji onwe ya (he who holds another to the ground also holds himself).”

A point which was made much more emphatically by Chief Emmanuel iwuanyanwu, President General of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, who was the special guest of honour. 

Against the backdrop of the recent demolition of properties owned by Ndigbo in Lagos, Iwuanyanwu wondered why it is now that a people who have been living in Lagos over the years are being accused of sundry illegalities. “Igbos are people who obey laws, Igbos are not new in Lagos, why is it just now that they don’t know that they have to get approval for land, they have to register their landed properties. Igbos have had properties in Surulere, Yaba, Ikeja, Apapa, Victoria Island, name it without problems in the past. So, why all these problems now?” Why agreeing that the government has the inherent right to take over any property in overriding public interest, Iwuanyanwu said those who own such properties must be compensated.

Prince Obaigbena, who was recognised for his unparalleled contribution to the development of the media industry, sued for the greater understanding of the issues at hand, pleading that national interest must at all times trump personal interests. “I must say that it is a humbling experience to be in your midst today,” the man popularly called the Duke of Owa Kingdom in Delta State, said. “It is a privilege to be among titans of enterprise and I urge you all to continue to work for Nigeria, and together, we can make Nigeria better.”

What the Aka Ikenga Awards reaffirmed is the very strong belief of Ndigbo in excellence, industry and enterprise, qualities without which the much-touted Nigerian renaissance will remain a mirage.

By recognising trail blazers, beacons and leading lights of this generation who have done not only Ndigbo but also Nigeria proud, Aka Ikenga is celebrating excellence, without which a people perish, and by so doing pointing the way out of the self-created national morass for a beleaguered country and its long-suffering people.