The King Jaja Approach
Ndigbo must go back and understudy the negotiation skills of King Jaja of Opobo, 1821-1891. We might think that we are disadvantaged but it is not true. We’ve had Igbo slaves who negotiated themselves to freedom, wealth and prominence. You can be a slave and move yourself to the ladder of a king, depending on how you handle your negotiations. King Jaja was born in Amaigbo and sold into slavery; finally finding himself in Bonny. But the interesting thing is that he was hard working and determined to secure a future for himself and his people.
In order to do this, he did not completely isolate himself from the indigenous Igbani people of the Bonny Island. He had allies among them. Finally, when he decided to found a homeland for himself, he left with even Igbani people who agreed with his own ideals of freedom. Therefore, he reduced confrontation against himself.
The Igbo leader of today must learn how to negotiate in times of victory and defeat. A leader must be conscious of the complex nature of his environment. At no time must he take his people to war (the battle field) as the loss is always enormous and huge in terms of men, resources, opportunities and finance.
The Equiano Approach
Olaudah Equiano, 1745-1797, was an exemplary Igbo leader who committed class suicide to free his people. Unlike King Jaja, he was unfortunate to cross the Middle Passage into the Western Hemisphere as a young slave. For a ten-year-old Igbo child finding himself in a hostile white environment, he worked hard manually and intellectually to regain his freedom. The means to freedom, he was smart to realize, were money and literacy. So while saving every farthing to buy his freedom from his master, he also taught himself to read and write.
The point is, on purchasing his freedom in 1766 Equiano did not turn his back on his fellow enslaved and endangered Africans. He confronted slavery through superiority of argument as an abolitionist and man of substance. Rather than conforming to the preferences of the English Middle Class to which he belonged, he worked against its morality that thrived on slavery and black exploitation. His classic, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano;” as well as his activities as member of Sons of Africa, an abolitionist movement, helped in no small measure in the passage of the British Slave Trade Act of 1807 that ended the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
The 21st Century slavery could be sports betting, fraud, baby factory, etc. Who is speaking out against these ills? Igbo traders lock up their stores during business hours for evangelization while customers waited. Who is telling them that such action would speed up their displacements by the Chinese and Indians? China Cities will soon expand to Igbo business districts to cater for unappreciated customers.
Today’s Igbo leader must toe the line of Equiano by speaking out against debilitating practices capable of destroying the will to work and invest in young Igbos. He must encourage our market leaders to abolish the gambling table and evangelization tent in our markets. In collaboration with our market leaders, Ohaneze must canvass for the establishment of the Nwodibo School. Fulanis have their Nomadic Education and Muslims the Almajiri School funded by the Federal Government. Likewise, our own Nwodibo School, to cater for the formal education of the barely educated Igbo apprentice, must be funded by Aso Rock.
The Buhari Approach
The Igbo leader must be willing to accommodate those whom he presumed to be more intelligent than him. He must have the qualities of President Muhammadu Buhari who, though has no university degree, took the best minds from across the country to be his running mates. Only very few would like to work with those who are more “educated” than them.
First, he picked Chuba Okadigbo, former Senate president and university lecturer. Second, Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, lawyer and former Speaker of the House of Reps. Third, Tunde Bakari, erudite lawyer. And fourth, Yemi Osinbajo, professor of law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN. How many people would like to bring these calibers of men on board? Very few persons would like to bring a professor of law, when they are not lawyers, to work with without thinking of being cheated. We say Kudos to Buhari. He has qualities lacking in his opponents.
The Igbo leader must be patient and consistent. Again, He must learn from Buhari who was patient and consistent running for elections four consecutive times before winning. Ndigbo should not be in a hurry. That we did not get it today does not mean we cannot get it tomorrow. How many Igbos would run for the presidency four times before getting it? They would chicken out and say, “Oh, Nigeria hates the Igbo man and that is why they don’t want to give it to us.” But did Buhari say that Nigeria hated him? He was patient, firm and resolute. He didn’t say that the world hated him. The moment you say that people hated you then you’re finished.
The famous Igbo Bongo musician called Saro Wiwa sang thus, and it is important Ndigbo listen: “Iwe iwe iwe/Iwe iwe iwe onuma oh/Iwe iwe iwe/ Iwe iwe iwe onuma oh/Oka nke mmere ya/ Okola nke omerem werem iwe?” If you are crying over what I did to you, have you also cried over what you did to me? So when Nnia Nwodo and Ndigbo say that Buhari hates them, have they also said what they did to Buhari?
This is a man who in 2015 wrote the Ohaneze leadership that he wanted to come and discuss his presidential ambition but was rebuffed. In 2019 Atiku Abubakar was adopted by Ohaneze the very day Buhari was in Onitsha to commission the Zik Mausoleum. What an insult. He was in Igboland to honour Zik but that was the day Nwodo decided to adopt Abubakar. So we must revert our minds to Saro Wiwa’s music. You fight a man because he’s Fulani but when he fights you back you begin to complain. We must be patient with Buhari.
Righteousness of Igbo Presidency
I asked Buhari when I met him in Aba and Aso Rock if the Igbo man deserved to have a bite of the cherry. It is incumbent of him to ensure that an Igbo man succeeds him. A Nigerian president of Igbo extraction will restore national confidence in addition to healing the wounds of the war. Right now the Igbo believe they are excluded. The Ijaw man can never again say he’s excluded because he has ruled Nigeria. If you rule Nigeria and you cannot help yourself then who will do it for you? Nigerians should allow the Igbo man rule. But we must be careful.
The Igbo to rule Nigeria must not be the Igbo of the South East. A Nigerian president of Igbo extraction could come from Rivers, Delta, the Igbanke of Edo, the South East or Akwa Ibom. We must allow Nigerians, while presenting this Igbo, to help us cipher him. The Yoruba said in 1999 that they wanted a Nigerian president of Yoruba extraction and Nigerians helped them produce President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. His emergence healed the wounds of June 12.
A Nigerian president of Igbo origin is what Ndigbo want. We are not saying he’s going to develop Igboland. He might come and refuse to develop Igboland. But in life perception is as strong as reality. So if you allow the Igbo man to rule, it will address his perceived exclusion and marginalized.
I draw the attention of Ndigbo to the activities of Igbo political merchants who masquerade as Igbo leaders in Abuja. They reap political appointments and multi-billion naira contracts bargaining with their people’s miseries. Armed police protecting them tolerate other Nigerians while scaring away ordinary Igbos, on instructions.
The last person your Igbo federal appointee would like to see is the ubiquitous young Igbo who begs, flatters, smiles at every joke and shuts his eyes to insult to get a recommendation letter for employment, to paraphrase WEB du Bois. But the moment Aso Rock turn these political merchants away empty handed, they rent the air with cries of Igbo marginalization.
There is a total lack of sympathy for the struggling unemployed Igbo graduate by today’s Igbo leader. This is so because the latter does not even live among his people while in power. When a leader does not live with his people, he hardly knows their problems. The Yoruba girl goes home to see her leader who is a federal appointee. But who does the Igbo girl turn to even after taking the risk coming to Asokoro to see her own leader only to be turned away ignominiously?
Our envisaged Igbo leader, therefore, must show genuine sympathy for his suffering race. In Abuja he must be courageous enough to stop in his haste and ask in Igbo, just as his Hausa and Yoruba counterparts do, “Onwere onye choro Ihum? Bia ka anyi kpaa.” He should ask in Igbo, “Who wants to see me? Come and let’s talk.”
Whoever the Igbo bring out of Imo as the next President-General of Ohaneze in 2021 must be one who is a product of the people. He must be humble enough to realize that his personal vision could be at variance with that of his people. So he must consult them to know what they want. But if indeed he has a dream, such must emanate from Ndigbo’s and not the other way round.
For instance, you don’t wake up one morning and say that what your people wanted was an airport and start building one when there is no road. No. First build roads and develop the people. There must be a middle class and upper class to use the airport else it becomes a white elephant project.
By Dimm Uche Okwukwu, Secretary-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide.
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