Umunnem, Igboland can be Great Again
An Address Presented by the Governor of Anambra State, His Excellency Chief Willie Obiano at the 22nd edition of the World Igbo Congress, holding in New York from September 1- 4, 2016.
Ndi Igbo umunne m, kwenu! Kwenu! Kwezuenu o!
It is with the greatest humility that I stand before you today to speak on a topic that is very dear to me.
Now, before I go on, I wish to quickly observe that I stand in the shadow of all the great sons and daughters of Igboland who have stood here before me to address this greatest gathering of Ndigbo under one roof in the Diaspora. Ladies and gentlemen, I stand in the shadows of the great Ikemba Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the venerable Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, Dr.Chuba Okadigbo, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and so many other icons of the Igbo nation that have shaped conversations in this gathering in the past. My predecessors, Dr Chinwoke Mbadinuju, Dr Chris Ngige and Chief Peter Obi, attended the WIC meetings, showing how seriously the government and people of Anambra State have always taken issues concerning Ndigbo.
Umunne m, I bring you greetings from Anambra State. I bring you the goodwill and felicitations of Ndi Anambra at home. They asked me to tell you that the organizers of this historic event have done well over the years. They asked me to inform you that they have great hopes of everyone that is sitting here in this audience today. Perhaps, more importantly, they asked me to remind us all that the Igbo spirit is indestructible and can never die!
Brothers and sisters, I must also thank the conveners of this Congress for showing a great deal of foresight in the choice of the theme of this year’s event. Kanyi mezie Alaigbo strongly resonates with our efforts in the past two years to rebuild Anambra State. I am happy to realize that the concerns of the 2016 Annual Congress are exactly our concerns in Anambra State. Things like “protecting our homestead, stopping the conversion of our home into a ‘conquered territory’ and preserving our heritage.” In Anambra State, we go a step further to show concerns about preserving our collective memory. That was the reason why in January 2015, my team and I organized Ozoemezina – a symbolic burial for our people who were claimed by the war. My heart brimmed with joy on that day, when I saw veterans like Colonel Joe Achuzia and others who turned up at that historic event, rise up with everyone in the crowd as we all collectively proclaimed Ozoemezina (Never Again!) three times to a thunderous applause. To my mind, that was one of the greatest shows of unity and brotherhood amongst our people in recent times.
Umunne m, that is why it gladdens my heart to realize that since the inauguration of the World Igbo Congress in Houston 22 years ago, Ndigbo are gradually waking up to the imperatives of unity and brotherhood in a raging sea of bigotry and threatening territorial expansionism. So, I must thank the conveners of this Congress for this awakening, but I must even thank them more for the recent admission of the World Igbo Congress into the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
It is indeed a great achievement and a thing of pride to every Igbo man and woman. I dare say that in the years ahead, our struggle for a place on God’s green earth will be even more demanding. So, we need more strategic approaches like this one for the survival of Ndigbo into the next millennium.
Umunne m, whenever I contemplate the place of the Igbo in our fast changing world, my pride in the Igbo nation is rekindled; whenever I remember the scientific and technological exploits that shook the world from 1967 to 1970, my heart glows with pride. And whenever I realize the enormity of Igbo contributions to modern thought and knowledge, I feel more confident in the future of our people.
Brothers and sisters, the Igbo story is a narrative in courage. A great epic that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit. The story of a people who rose vigorously from the rubble of genocide and extinction to assert their membership of the human race in the 21st century with so much brilliance, so much promise! It is a story that I am immensely proud of.
Umunne m, our story is awesome indeed. It stretches from what we know of the wise and rare kings of ancient Nri in Anambra to the Aro and the Long Juju in today’s Abia State. A common thread connects it to fabled personages like King Jaja of Opobo through Olaudah Equiano down to the Igbo Landing at Dunbar Creek in Georgia on the continental shelf of the United States of America.
Brothers and sisters, we are the people who rose from the ruins of a brutal civil war to give the Secretary of State Distinguished Public Service Lecture on Geometric Reasoning and Military and Civilian Applications here in the US. We are the people who woke up from the cruel threats of extinction and genocide to produce a medical doctor who has become the first person in the world to discover and publish findings in traumatic encephalopathy in American football players. We are the people whose creative genius flowered abroad after being rejected at home leading to the invention of HopStop which Apple acquired for a heavy sum of money. We are those men and women whose pursuit of excellence has caught the attention of America and the rest of the world, with one of us becoming the President of the World Conference of Mechanotronics. We are smart, gifted and tough as nail. This is why the only Black person with oil blocks in the United States and United Kingdom is Igbo. Anyibu Igbo. Umunne m, Igbo di egwu!
Now, that brings me to what I call the Igbo dilemma. Yes. The Igbo dilemma! To my mind, the greatest dilemma of the Igbo is the dilemma of a multi-talented child. A child who is blessed with so many abilities that he ends up with the tough task of choosing what to do and who to become. Ndigbo are in such a dilemma at this moment in history. What should be the BIG PRIORITY of Ndigbo? What do we need most as a geo-ethnic nation submerged in a lake full of competing whales? The second Igbo dilemma is the dilemma of a success with roots in the sky. Yes, I have always found it saddening to realise that the famed Igbo success is mostly outside Igboland. It has little roots at home. I am often distraught to think that our people have learned nothing from our bitter experience of the Civil War. We take pride in building up every human settlement everywhere else but in Igboland. South Eastern Nigeria smoulders in the scorching sun of neglect while we make a show of our success abroad. Umunne m, that is why I agree with the theme of this Congress. What can we do as a highly gifted ethnic nation to change our story at home? Are there global benchmarks we can learn from? What did people who were once pressed to a point of extermination in other cultures and hemispheres do to regain a respectable standing in the global community?
Ndigbo, four and a half decades after the Civil War, we Igbos should ask ourselves some disconcerting questions. What is the attitude of the Jewish Diaspora to the state of Israel? Does the Igbo Diaspora have a unified response to Igbo issues in the homeland? Can we distil the conversations here in a manner that will ensure a direct impact on the socio-economic situation at home? How many Igbo scholars have actually devoted time and resources to research important things like the Igbo origin and our probable Jewish ancestry since the 19th Century? Some of the authorities we cite on Igbo scholarship are foreigners who chanced on precolonial Igboland over a century ago.
Brothers and sisters, I am not making any prescriptions for Ndigbo. Igbos are wise enough to figure things out for themselves. I am merely drawing our attention to what we may not have considered. And that is the heart and soul of what has inspired my team and myself in Anambra State in the past two years.
We came into governance with a melange of anxieties. We worried about security that had eluded my beloved state for four decades or more. We worried about the seeming disinterest of our people in agriculture even when our soil is 100 percent arable. We worried about the relocation of the famous Anambra enterprise outside our state and we worried about building bridges of understanding and consensus between the government and Anambra’s numerous accomplished people in order to foster progress.
Umunne m, at the risk of sounding immodest, I am proud to say that Anambra has eventually taken off under my watch. Not only have we wiped away the long years of uncertainties and fear that chased our entrepreneurs away from home, we have gone ahead to attract massive investments into Anambra State that came largely from our people. O buro onye kwuo eziokwu, motor ya efuo!
We have also placed Anambra on Nigeria’s agricultural map but perhaps more importantly, we have recorded quite some progress in bringing Anambra’s big sons and daughters together on the table of brotherhood. We achieved this through the highly successful Interactive Evenings we have had with Anambra communities in Lagos and Abuja and of course, in Awka. We are planning to reach out more. We may hold a US edition very soon. We are doing this because we understand the value of collaborative partnership or what Oby Ezekwesili calls “crowd sourcing” in building a prosperous society. We achieve development goals faster when we work together as one.
It was this same thinking that made my team and I convene a Regional Security Conference in August last year that attracted my brothers, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State and of course Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State. We did this because we have since realised that Anambra cannot experience sustainable growth without the complementary efforts of our sister states in the South East and Delta. We believe that Igboland will be a better homeland for all of us if Anambra’s promising story becomes the story of the entire region.
Brothers and sisters, we sincerely believe that our narrative of excellence in Anambra State will be incomplete if the South East region fails to rise to the call of history on your generation. So, we must all stand tall to regain the foothold we have lost in human development indices in Igboland. The time to do that is NOW!
Igboland needs urgent help at the moment. By the way, my heart sank when I was reliably informed that many manufacturing companies in the South East are folding up due to the foreign exchange difficulties in Nigeria at the moment. This trend portends grave danger to Ndigbo who are not only industrialists but are also the main drivers of the import business across West Africa. Disposable incomes may eventually dry up and many of our people may face hunger and starvation. Many families are already feeling the pressure arising from the inability of some states to pay salaries. Ndigbo umu nnem, should we allow this to continue? Mbanu! Chineke ekwena ife ojo! So, what shall we do to avert this coming storm?
To my mind, these are the steps Ndigbo must take to insulate our people from the impending misery –
My fellow South East governors and Delta must embrace Agriculture with full intensity. With revenues drying up at the centre and foreign exchange hitting the rooftop, Agriculture offers the only real chance for our people to scrape through the present difficulties. So, me and my fellow governors must embrace it with vigour and commitment. We have already created a good template for Agriculture in Anambra. We will be happy to share it with our brothers any time.
South East governors must come together and build a railway line that will connect the entire region to the rest of the country. This will facilitate trade and commerce in the region and stimulate the regional economy. We have the technical knowhow and our brothers in the Diaspora can provide us the necessary partnerships. This is crucial to our survival.
Ndigbo in the Diaspora must come up with a strong Economic Response Package that will stimulate more investments in Agro-allied industries in the South East to feed the people, create jobs and create wealth by exporting the surplus like we are doing in Anambra State. Again, we provide a good example here as more than 60 percent of the investors who have moved into Anambra State in the past two years are Ndi Anambra. Our brothers from other South Eastern states can borrow a leaf in this regard.
There must be increased cooperation among the South Eastern states in crucial areas like security, power generation and supply and of course roads and bridges construction. This will strengthen our social and economic ties and open up new windows of growth in the region.
And finally, this Congress must set up a Special Committee that will work in collaboration with the South East Governors to draw up what should be a Marshall Plan for the economic survival of the South East and Delta. The Committee will look into the suggestions I have made here today and other great ideas that will come from my fellow governors and our Diaspora brothers and sisters in order to give Ndigbo a fighting chance in today’s Nigeria
Ladies and gentlemen, while we work on the Igbo Marshall Plan we must also not lose sight of the need to build a Political Ark that will save Ndigbo from the heavy flood of Nigerian politics. It has been repeatedly said in recent times that one of our greatest problems as a nation is the absence of unity and cohesion in charting a common political future for Igboland. It is regrettable but true that the exit of the great Ikemba, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu left a big vacuum in Igbo leadership that has yet to be filled. At this juncture, Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to acknowledge the role of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Aka-Ikenga, Igbo Ezue, ASA USA and other socio-cultural groups and their numerous interventions in Igbo affairs at home and in the Diaspora. Without the intercessions of these groups at critical times in Nigeria, our people would have cut a miserable picture among the various contending groups in the country. So, Ndi Ohaneze na Aka-Ikenga na ndi otu ozo di iche-iche, ekenem unu!
However, the political future of the Igbo cannot be determined by the existence of any socio-cultural groups but by a strategic and masterful execution of a visionary political plan by Ndigbo as a group. We must come together and draw up a political plan that we shall jointly agree to invest in and pursue with the resolve of martyrs. I am not talking about political parties here but even if I do, we may all remember that the great Ikemba left us a great platform in APGA which has provided a commendable leadership in Anambra State for almost twelve and a half years. So, APGA presents us an attractive alternative route to a more cohesive political future. By the way, is it not curious that Igbo-land has always proved to be an exception to the rule? Is not curious that unlike the South West and the entire North, our own South East Region is the only place where all the three political parties in Nigeria are fully represented. We have APC in Imo, PDP in Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi states and APGA in Anambra. Umu nnem, this fragmentation has to stop. We must come together and set up a political ladder to the future just like the Yorubas did. Before our very eyes, they started slowly with AD in Lagos and finally spread out across the country to wrestle power from an incumbent at the centre. Brothers and sisters, if our neighbours can achieve such a feat, the least we can do is to effectively organise ourselves for greater efficiency in the future. Umu nnem, Taa bu gboo! We can do it!
Now, before I take my seat, I want to repeat the call I made one week ago to Ndi Anambra when we marked our 25th anniversary. I want to say that we have come to that moment in history when we must either pull together to reclaim our greatness or pull apart and accept our failure as efulefu! The choice is ours! This is our chance!
And finally, I leave you with two quotes. I leave you with the words of Franz Fannon who observed that “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it in relative opacity.” I also want to remind you of Nelson Mandela’s saying that “Sometimes, it falls upon a generation to be great.” Umunne m, let us work hard to become that great generation that our ancestors will look down from heaven with an indulgent smile and say, These are my beloved sons and daughters in whom I am well pleased!
Ndi Igbo kwenu! Kwenu! Kwezuenu o!