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Igbo Unity: The New Agenda

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Being a paper presented by Dr Paul Okoye during a World Press Conference hosted by Ndigbo Royal Heritage Worldwide, NIROH, at Enugu on 11th of November 2020.

All protocols duly observed.

On behalf of Ndigbo Royal Heritage Worldwide, NIROH, I heartily welcome you all to this historical gathering. Your presence here today is a proof of your commitment to the advancement of the Igbo nation, which NIROH has been mandated to actualise without trading on the usual blame game. We do not need anyone to tell us that Igbo land needs urgent healing culturally, economically and socio-politically. This is achievable with concerted efforts of all Igbo sons and daughters, irrespective of where you live, by tapping into the vision and mission of Ndigbo Royal Heritage, NIROH.

As part of the activities for today’s event, I will be presenting a paper aptly titled: ‘Igbo Unity: The New Agenda’. It is my hope that at the end of this presentation, every Igbo descendant will understand where the ‘rain started beating us’ and why the time for our wet clothes to dry is now.

God bless you as you listen.

Igbo Land is an Ethical Nation, located in the eastern part of the Niger and predominantly made up of the present five states (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo). These five states were carved out of the former Eastern Region as the fallout of the civil war. The Eastern Region was an administrative region in Nigeria with its capital at Calabar, dating back to the division of the colony on 1st October 1954. The capital of the Eastern Region was to be shifted to Enugu and later to Umuahia during the civil war. The Eastern Region, like her counterparts in the North, West and Mid-West, existed as an administrative region with full autonomy, controlling its economy until 1967. The Eastern Region operated a parliamentary system of government with Dr Francis Akanu Ibiam as the Governor and Michael Okpara as the Premier. The autonomy enjoyed by the four regions of Nigeria was to be watered down with the introduction of the unitary system of government into our polity by Major General Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi on assumption of office in July 1966, following Nigeria’s first coup. Hard Truth!

It is important to note that under the parliamentary system of government operated at regional levels, there was bicameral legislature, comprising the House of Chiefs and the House of Assembly. Added to that, there was the Premier and the Governor functioning effortlessly. There were checks and balances needed for the control, formal functioning and flow of administrative authority, which is lacking in the present government of today. With the advent of the new form of government, power was concentrated in the hands of one individual and all the organs of control that existed were flattened.

Fundamentally, this is the genesis of our problem; it has nothing to do with the campaign of hate and calumny, flying around. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It has nothing to with white, black, Asian coloured or what have you. I want to submit preliminarily that there is too much power wielded in the hands of one individual in our present state, and that diffusing them will not be a bad way to start.

Of course, the regions existed as a geographical expression until the 27th of May 1967, when General Yakubu Gowon preceding the civil war, broke down what was then known as Eastern Region, to three states: East Central State, Rivers State and South Eastern State. The action of Gowon was a simple war tactic to weaken the geographical entity and render it powerless. Although this is not the subject of this paper, it will be appropriate to say that with the creation of Rivers and South Eastern States, Ojukwu lost control of the oil rich states and the East Central State became a landlocked state, suffice it to say that, the war was lost before the war started. The declaration of the war can summarily be considered a suicide mission. We must learn to swallow these bitter truths to enable us move forward as a people. We lost our state capital Enugu during the first week of the war.

The emergence of East Central State, saw Ukpabi Asika as our first Civilian administrator. Asika, a senior academic, who was a political science lecturer at the University of Ibadan, was appointed administrator of East Central State by Gowon in October 1967. He could be better remembered for the notorious quote: ‘onye ube ya ruulu, ya rachaa’. Asika devoured the Igbo nation for 9 years, terminating in 1975 with the advent of the Murtala coup that ushered in Anthony Ochefu. The Igbos, fresh from the war were desperate for a rescue from the hands of one of them, another IGBO MAN, who happened to be the very man that was called to negotiate and implement the 3Rs (Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation). Alas the rescue and relief brought in by Anthony Ochefu was short-lived and Lt. Col. John Atom Kpera came in. The government of Atom Kpera as well was short-lived and the fragmentation of the Igbo nation continued. On the 3rd of February 1976, Anambra and Imo States were created out of East Central State. On the 27th of August, 1991, the Federal Military Government of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, carved out Abia from Ebonyi State; and Anambra was broken into two, giving rise to Enugu as a full-fledged state. In October 1996, General Sani Abacha created Ebonyi State, finally bringing to five, the total number of states out of the former East Central State.

It is the unity of purpose of these five states that is the primary objective of NIROH worldwide. The creation of the states brought in division, lack of cohesion in the pursuit of the interest of the Igbo people and the fragile oneness that once existed, became finally dilapidated. The Igbos have lost focus and direction in steering the ship of what used to be a prolific nation. The egalitarianism of the Igbos has turned a blame game. Today, we blame Tom, Dick and Harry for lack of potable water, meanwhile water exists under our feet. All we need to do is dig the ground deep enough to get water. A bad workman, they say, quarrels with his tools.

Up until the late 60s, Ndigbo were at the forefront in Nigeria, steering the Nigerian ship with utmost pragmatism. Although the University College Ibadan, was the first Nigerian university preceding the one at Nsukka, we had already caught up with our arch-rivals, the Yorubas, overtaking them and soaring the tide of time with consolidated equanimity. The erudite scholar and my foremost mentor, Prof Chinua Achebe had said in his last masterpiece, ‘There Was a Country’ that sixty seven per cent of the civil service and directors-general, seventy per cent of the railway workers were all Igbos. The first indigenous Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan was Prof. Kenneth Onwuka Dike while Prof. Eni Njoku covered the same role as the first Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, was the first indigenous Quarter Master General of the Nigerian Army. Umunnakwe Aguyi Ironsi was the first black Major General and the first Chief of Army Staff in the Nigerian Army. First Governor General and President was Owelle Rt. Hon. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. First Senate President was Nwafor Orizu. Okotie Eboh was the first Finance Minister while Louis Edet was the first Inspector General of Police. Jaja Nwachukwu was first Foreign Affairs minister.

Forty out of the senior military officers then, were Igbos. The list can go on and on and on. The import of these consolidated facts is that we had our fair share of the cake and our role as a catalysing agent cannot in any way be justified. Yet we chose to play that role and played it quite well. If the clinical history of any illness is not known, that illness cannot be cured. How did we miss the train and instead of trying to find back our feet, we decided to be the scapegoat. Who did this to us? Ikpe malu eziokwu, akazu diya.

On the 15th of January 1966, the five Majors struck. Who are the young majors that permanently changed the destiny of 80 million people from the present day Igbo nation? They are: Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Timothy Onwuatuegwu, Chris Anuforo, Don Okafor, Humphrey Chukwka and Adewale Ademoyega. Emmanuel Ifeajuna whose name had been exterminated from the record of the Igbo nation was from Onitsha, the native home of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, initiated the coup. One can therefore neither explain nor comprehend an Onitsha man organising a coup against an Onitsha person in the first place. If you know Onitsha very well, the real indigenes live at Enu Onitsha and are very small in number. As a fall out of that coup, the President and Commander in Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Dr Azikiwe was not killed. Zik was away but Nwafor Orizu, holding brief for him, was also spared. Was it a coincidence or grand plan that Zik was away during the execution of the coup? This leaves many unanswered questions. The Chief of Army Staff, Gen Ironsi was not killed. All the 27 casualties were northerners, apart from two Yorubas. We lost only the Quartermaster General at Lagos. Now when Nzeogwu killed Sarduana, who was a civilian, he killed the wife, shot at her stomach to kill the unborn child. He also killed two of Sarduana’s personal assistants. The Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, who also was a Christian, was killed. It is abundantly clear that the casualties were lopsided.

Consequent upon a telephone conversation, Ironsi took over power. You can attain power only through a coup d’état or election. The lexicon till date has no explanation for the process of the assumption of power by Ironsi. The coup plotters were camped at Lagos Garrison Command. None was court-marshalled or imprisoned. Everywhere on earth, coup plotters are tried and executed. Worse still, they were receiving their salaries, and the only deprivation they suffered was restricted movement, which could have been re-instated in due course. Little wonder all the coup plotters fought on the Biafran side during the war. How then can we sustain the argument that there was no connivance? The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the abrogation of regional structure through a decree. Ironsi called his kinsmen, led by Prof Nwabueze who were the intellectuals, and they prepared the constitution which he adopted and scrapped the regional government.

The restructuring we are clamouring for today was demolished by our own son. What is good for the goose must be good for the gander. Remember that the north were lukewarm because they were backward academically. The regional type of government gave autonomy at least in their region because the Igbos with a few Yorubas dominated the national sphere. All these events culminated in the outburst of anger. The northern soldiers went on rampage. They initiated the protracted senseless killing that is still going on till date.

War is an ill wind that blows no one any good. We have to swallow this bitter truth and move forward. There were many other episodes that will be addressed subsequently but these are the most crucial.

The solution therefore is not in this senseless hate campaign that has not brought us any good; rather it breeds disharmony and lack of faith in the nation. We all directly and indirectly participated in the destruction of the fundamentals of this great nation and we therefore have a role to play in the rebuilding of this nation that is the hope of the black race world over.

The future of our youths and the nation, have been sacrificed for our political interests. The north, the east, the west and the south are together in wrecking this country. It is an illusion to speculate that the east can survive without the west or north and vice versa. The solution is the healing of the land and I have come to lead the campaign. I have come to heal our land.

I enjoin all of you to collaborate with NIROH in actualising this mandate, which will only help in placing the Igbo nation in its rightful position in Nigeria, which is the TOP.

Thank you for listening.