Some days ago in the most peaceful and celebrated contest for the leadership of Ohaneze Ndigbo, I was elected as President General of Ohanaeze along with 16 other members of the National Executive Committee to lead our organisation for the next four years. Our mandate was profound and humbling.
We are grateful to Ndigbo for the enormous trust and confidence which they have reposed in us. Nigerians of all ethnic nationalities have joined us to celebrate the outcome of this election. They have congratulated us for holding a peaceful election and for voting-in an improved quality of representation from all Igbo-speaking areas. Let me, therefore, congratulate the last National Executive Committee of Ohanaeze led by Chief Gary Igariwey for putting together this successful exercise. In particular, I will like to place on record our gratitude to the Electoral Committee led by Prof. Anya O. Anya and Prof ABC Nwosu for a transparent and credible election. Equally commendable is the complete unanimity of all the governors in all Igbo speaking areas in supporting the just concluded elections and ensuring effective representation of their various states at the general assembly.
I acknowledge with thanks the messages of congratulations we received from other socio-cultural organisations and prominent Nigerians including but not limited to Afenifere, Arewa Consultative Forum, PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clarke, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Governor Liyel Imoke, His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Bishop Mathew Kukah and Governor Obong Victor Attah. Of notable mention is the unanimous solidarity of the South East caucus of the National Assembly led by the Deputy Senate President, Distinguished Senator Ike Ekweremadu, we thank them most sincerely.
More importantly, I cannot fail to acknowledge the timely and cheering congratulations of His Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari. In his message of congratulations, he expressed his readiness to work with the new Ohanaeze leadership. We salute the President for his kind hand of fellowship at a time Ndigbo have great concern about their participation and treatment in the Nigerian state. This hand of fellowship offered by Mr. President, I believe, will enable us to engage him meaningfully and find an early resolution of our extant misgivings.
Ndigbo in today’s Nigeria face so many problems. Under the current Federal Government, Igbo representation is abysmal and falls extremely short of the constitutional provisions for the reflection of federal character in the appointment into important government positions.
No arm of Government, namely, the Executive, Judiciary or Legislature is headed by an Igbo. No Section of the Armed forces or paramilitary organization is headed by an Igbo. Neither the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal nor the Federal High Court is headed by an Igbo. We know in the history of this country when a lieutenant colonel was appointed to the position of Chief of General Staff over and above his superiors just to ensure ethnic balance. We know when a Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation was appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria just to ensure ethnic balance. We know when a former Military Head of State was drafted to run for President just to douse ethnic tensions. What is very perturbing is the public declaration of Mr. President that his appointments must favour the states that voted overwhelmingly for him and those he trusts even against the provisions of our constitution relating to federal character!
One is at sea why Ndigbo, who campaigned and voted for him, appear not to be trusted. No wonder he defied the zoning structure of his party and appointed a non-Igbo man as Secretary to Government. No wonder the ministries with lean capital votes are the ones assigned to Ndigbo! No wonder he nominated ambassadors for confirmation to the National Assembly, naming three ambassadors for some states and only one ambassador for each of the Igbo states! No wonder one year and eight months into his tenure as President he has not visited any Igbo state!
While we bemoan this patently discriminatory treatment of Ndigbo in appointment into political positions, addressing of capital projects is perhaps more pathetic. No railway construction is going on in Igbo land. The Enugu/Port Harcourt and Enugu/Onitsha expressways have become national embarrassment.
State governors in Igbo states now rehabilitate federal roads in Igbo land from their lean budgets so as to keep alive mobility of factors of production. Whereas 70 percent of power generated in China is from coal and 40 percent of America’s power is from coal the coal in Enugu, which is a federal resource continues to lie unexploited. Ebonyi State continues to bring up the rear in federally allocated resources in spite of its mineral endowments of salt and lead.
To make matters worse, on Tuesday, October 25, 2016, the President presented a $29.9 billion three-year External Borrowing plan to the National Assembly, which will potentially raise our total external debt to $41 billion in three years and raise our debt to GDP ratio from 13.2 percent to 20.7 percent without considering it fit to allocate a single project in this external borrowing plan to the South East.
The economic strangulation of Ndigbo has overtime been perpetuated by the confining of mainland Ndigbo to five states. Every other geo-political zone has six and seven states, respectively. Of the 774 local governments in the federation, just three Northern states have more local governments than the whole of the South East put together. Under this lopsided structure of the Nigerian state, the common wealth of the country continues to be distributed using states and local governments as parameters whilst any talk about restructuring of the federation is clearly not on the agenda.
The peaceful coexistence between previously peace-loving Fulani herdsmen, who herded their cattle with long canes and our local farmers, has been replaced by an era of AK-47 totting and rampaging herdsmen, who kill, maim, rape our people and destroy our farms. Not one of them is ever arrested for illegal possession of firearms. Even those arrested in Nimbo for mercilessly killing our people remain unprosecuted by the Northern dominated law enforcement agents. A picture of the Orwellian animal farm, where all animals are equal, but some-how, some animals are more equal than others is painted.
In Lagos State, after the threat of throwing our people into the lagoon during the last national elections, it has become habitual for the Lagos State government, hiding under the pretext of urban renewal and development, to wantonly demolish shops and business premises of Ndigbo all around Lagos. This happens notwithstanding the fact that a sizeable percentage of the economy of Lagos State was built on the free will investment of Ndigbo. I must at this juncture salute two eminent traditional rulers in Northern Nigeria, who have spoken up for Ndigbo.
His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, whilst calling for the release of Nnamdi Kanu last year, praised the contributions of Ndigbo in Sokoto, and described them as law abiding.
His Highness, the Emir of Kano, in a celebrated speech, spoke of the unwritten agreement between the North and the West to keep the Ndigbo down as a result of the first coup and the war and warned that this agreement must be reviewed as the Ndigbo who are now being punished are largely those, who did not participate in the war.
This brings me to the rise of MASSOB and IPOB. Both organisations no matter how divided they appear in public are basically motivated by the same sense of outrage and bitterness.
Our young men and women can no longer tolerate a second class status in their own country. They can no longer forgive the President for arguing before he came into office that Niger Delta militants were meekly treated and tolerated by President Yar’Adua, while Boko Haram was harshly treated by President Jonathan when his law enforcement agents literally open fire and maim and kill unarmed MASSOB and IPOB members. They see how returnee Boko Haram members are absolved and rehabilitated while leaders of MASSOB and IPOB are incarcerated or mercilessly murdered. In their rage they are becoming uncontrollable as they pass a vote of no confidence on us, their parents, describing us as cowards and compromised. Because the older Ndigbo have seen civil war and its devastating consequences, they naturally hesitate to support any military action against the Nigerian state that might waste their children. Because Ndigbo business class is heavily invested in Nigeria outside Igboland, they fervently believe in a united Nigeria even if marginalised politically.
Consequently a polarisation of Ndigbo between proponents of Biafra and proponents of restructuring of Nigeria exists. Both sides agonise in futility given the lukewarmness of the Nigerian leadership to either of their wishes. This is a ticking time bomb!
As President General of Ohanaeze, I intend to extend my warm hand of paternity to IPOB and MASSOB. They are my children. I shall never desert them. Their struggle is my struggle even if we do not completely agree with their methods. In warfare there are two types of approaches:- coercion and diplomacy. I completely favour diplomacy.
The hand of fellowship, which Mr. President has extended to Ohanaeze gives me immense confidence that we can tame rising tempers. No one is listening to the other. Somehow we believe that our present situation can only be explained by marginalisation and hatred.
My people, the time for lamentation is over. Our continued cry of marginalization has become stale. No one is listening to us anymore. I take up the challenge of this onerous assignment confident in the fact that I know the Ndigbo that I will be serving. I am aware that in the DNA of the average Igbo person are bold strands of ingenuity, resourcefulness, intelligence and the ability to survive and thrive in the face of various odds and challenges. This is our gift from the Almighty God, which has served us well, again and again.
Ndigbo constitute the arteries and veins upon which the Nigerian economy runs. The Head of the Political Division of the American Embassy, Abuja once said that Ndigbo constitute the largest block of highly educated black population in the United States and that they are all in significant professional occupations. He stated that if Ndigbo in America save 40 percent of their earnings, it would be more than half of the total annual oil revenue of Nigeria. As an economist, I know that at this point in our quest for development, it is paramount to change the Igbo psyche from our propensity for heavy investments primarily in real estate to setting up industries and factories with the potentials for wealth creation. Such production units will offer jobs and incomes to our youths and grow the Igbo economy. The factories I must point out should, of course, be sited in Igbo land and not elsewhere.
My people, this is not rocket science as we have done it before. We built the second cement factory in Nigeria – Nigercem, Nkalagu; the second brewery in Nigeria – the Golden Guinea Breweries in Umuahia; first Building material Industry in Nigeria – Turners Asbestos and Iron and Steel plants in Emene; the Port Harcourt Michelin Tyres and legally speaking, the first indigenous university in Nigeria, UNN. During this time, the World Bank recognised South Eastern Nigeria as the fastest growing economy in Africa. We can do it again. As you go away from this inaugural meeting of Ohanaeze National Executive Committee, I want Ndigbo to go with confidence that you have inaugurated the beginning of new era for Ohanaeze,a new era of transparency and accountability, an era for the repatriation of Igbo capital for the building of a new economic infrastructure for our people, an era of a sustained and active fight for the restructuring of our federation, an era of a strong and all – involving Ohanaeze. On my part I promise that I shall stand up for you, I will fight for you, I am ready to sacrifice for you, and if necessary die for you.
I pray for your support. I ask for your prayers. May the Almighty God help us. Thank you for kind attention.
John Nnia Nwodo (Ike Ukehe) is the current President General of Ohanaeze.