By Valentine Ozigbo
The choice of the topic ‘Onodu Anyi bu Igbo taa’ (The State of Igbos in Contemporary Society) stirs mixed feelings in me and I believe that this is true of any Igbo son and daughter who is conscious of our history and journey as a nation within a country.
The storyline of the Igbo evolution is filled with the tragedy of a rich culture, values, strength, enterprise, resourcefulness, egalitarianism, enormous success and wealth that paved way for suspicion, envy, conspiracy, subjugation, annihilation, nepotism and marginalization. Onodu anyi taa kwesiri igba anyi anya mmiri. Ma nke ka mkpa bu ime ka anyi bu umu Igbo chee echiche miri emi banyere onodu anyi.
I have given this topic deep thought and I have a personal conviction that despite our obvious relegation in the scheme of things in contemporary Nigeria, the Igbo nation holds the key to her liberation as a nation and the emancipation of the black race all over the world.
My keynote address derives from this firm conviction that we must end the blame game and focus more on what we must do to change the narratives. Umunne m, our issues are diverse and multifaceted and attempts to confront the issues must be proactive, strategic, and we must acknowledge that it is a long distance race. I, therefore, title my speech, “Ndi Igbo: Who we are and the changing of our narrative”.
Who are we – onye ka anyi bu?
Who are we? If anyone asks a group of Igbo people this simple question, the answers will run deep and wide. Many will focus on the socio – cultural values of our nation. Many answers would be embedded in our history, our customs, and our traditions. Answers would be determined by the world-view, perception, life experiences, disposition, mind- set, and environmental influences of the respondent. The answers would vary as those that were given by the proverbial six blind men of Hindustan who were asked to describe the elephant they touched.
To a lot of people, the Igbo man is that strong and defiant person who stops at nothing to achieve success. To some, we are proud, arrogant, boastful, clannish, greedy, boisterous, and self-aggrandizing. Some of those who hold the latter opinion point to instances of our people’s involvement in vices such as drug trafficking, kidnapping, or other criminal enterprises. As sad as these crimes are, we must reject the notion that the actions of a few of us should define the majority. I am calling on every Igbo man and woman, especially, you the youths, who are our pride and our future to refuse the label. In a thunderous voice can I hear you say ‘That is not who we are!’
Then, who are we? In answering this question, I will take us to a few paragraphs in the lecture delivered by Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Ikemba Nnewi, on the occasion of TSM’s 2nd Diamond Lecture to mark the fourth anniversary of the magazine on February 22, 1994. I quote: “Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the Nigerian Odyssey of Ndigbo, their journey from slavery, through colonialism to Independence – their journey through crisis to crisis, into war, their journey out of war into crisis again has been a route-march through the fields of Golgotha.
“Today Ndigbo are plying their trade everywhere in Nigeria. We are bent but are most certainly not broken. We are bent because we are, to a large extent, devitalised and our presence in every aspect of Nigerian life understated. We are not broken because we have hope, we have intellect and we have energy.
“I believe that one of the biggest problems which Nigeria has to face derives from Nigeria’s inability to absorb Ndigbo. This problem is not new, the white man never could either. The war has come and gone but we remember with pride and hope the three heady years when we had the opportunity to demonstrate what Nigeria could have been even before 1970.
“In the three years of war, necessity gave birth to invention. During those three years, knowledge, in one heroic bound, we leapt across the great chasm that separates knowledge from know-how. We built bombs, we built rockets, we designed and built our own delivery systems. We guided our rockets, we guided them far, we guided them accurately.
For three years blockaded without hope of imports, we maintained engines, machines and technical equipment. We maintained all our vehicles. The state extracted and refined petrol, individuals refined petrol in their back gardens. We built and maintained our airports, maintained them under heavy bombardment. Despite the heavy bombardment, we recovered so quickly after each raid that we were able to maintain the record for the busiest Airport on the continent of Africa.
“We spoke to the world…. [and the world] spoke back to us. We built armoured cars and tanks. We modified aircraft from trainer to fighters, from passenger aircraft to bombers. In three years of freedom we had broken the technological barriers. In three years we became the most civilised, the most technologically advanced black people on earth. We spun nylon yarn, we developed seeds for food and medicines. At the end of the war this pocket of Nigerian civilisation was systematically destroyed, dismantled, scattered. What a great pity – this was a beginning of a truly Black risurgimento.” Unquote
It is difficult to beat that excellent description of the definition of the spirit of the Igbo. Ladies and gentlemen, that is what and who we are, the pride and jewel of the black race. I often reflect on these words from our Hero Ojukwu (May his soul continue to rest in peace) and so many times I have wondered and asked, “What would Nigeria have been if Igbos were given their proper right of place in the nation?”
Ozigbo, a Nigerian business leader, philanthropist and the immediate past President and Group CEO of Transcorp Plc. delivered this text as keynote speech at the 2020 Summit of the Ohaneze Ndigbo Youth Wing on Saturday, December 12, 2020 at Nike Lake Resort, Enugu.