Saturday, November 15, 2008

Igbo: Boycott Abuja, Lagos, Kano Airports

By Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe

It is astonishing that despite the high calibre of Igbo intellectuals/other professionals in exile/diaspora, Igboland has still not been freed from the tottering genocide state that is Nigeria. Even if the expectation, for instance, is that this genocide state will eventually implode, the Igbo, who are at the pulverising end of its vicious existence, must actuate the historic quest for their freedom themselves. Nigeria murdered 3.1 million precious Igbo children, women and men between May 1966 and January 1970. Since then, thousands more have been murdered … Nigeria exists to murder Igbo people; nothing else. Any Igbo who still has some difficulties coming to terms with the genocidal immanence of the Nigerian state urgently needs a painstaking re-examination of Igbo history since 1945.

Contrary to sentiments expressed recently by some, a genocide state is not a candidate for “reforms” or any such outlandish gestures. A genocide state is dismantled in order to terminate its ontological being. Apart from murdering the Igbo, Nigeria also systematically degrades the socioeconomic landscape of Igboland. This stratagem is a cardinal feature of the genocide and, as we all are fully aware, it does not really matter if Nigeria is run by its military or “civilian” cadres. As a result of the ongoing genocide, a significant proportion of the constituency of the Igbo best and brightest has gone into exile … In effect, these Igbo intellectuals/other professionals particularly have their work clearly cut out; they can no longer continue to ignore their historic calling! They can’t just sequestrate themselves in the comfort zones of their academies/hospitals/clinics/other businesses overseas and expect that Igboland will be freed by default.

No such thing happens! On the contrary, history shows that intellectuals/professionals play key transformative roles during these great episodes of resistance and societal reconstructions. Igbo intellectuals/professionals must all work actively for the restoration of Igbo sovereignty and they must appropriate the vast arena of freedom and flexibility of operation that living outside hellish Nigeria affords them all. The genocide state pretty well understands the extraordinary range of this resource and opportunity that the exiled Igbo community currently commands. It is in this context that its recent vile detentions of Igbo bloggers Asiwe and Elendu is profoundly an important development, which the Igbo will ignore at their own peril. Unmistakeably, the genocidist conglomerate in Nigeria is giving notice to the world that it is monitoring the output of Igbo liberatory intellectual work overseas and will detain and torture any Igbo “suspect” who ventures through its degenerate territory. The Igbo response to this crank act of intimidation is of course non-convoluted but straightforward: now is the time to even step up and expand their work of freedom at all sites and spheres. No relenting in the least. Each and everyone of them must ask themselves the following question when they wake up at their varying time zones of domicile across the globe: “What am I going to do today during the course of my work in the classroom, in my laboratory, in my clinic, in my hospital, on my blog/website/newspaper/radio/television, in my office, in my businesses … to advance the cause of the restoration of Igbo sovereignty from the Nigerian occupation?” At the end of the working day, before retiring, some period of quiet reflection would also be useful: “What else could I have done to quicken the pace of Igbo freedom from Nigeria? I hope I didn’t do anything during the day to hinder the realisation of Igbo freedom from Nigeria …” In the meantime, they should saturate all the Human Rights offices in the town/region/state/country/continent where they live and elsewhere in the world with their note of condemnation of the illegal detentions of Asiwe and Elendu and call for their immediate and unconditional releases. Repeat this protest continuously until the two are freed. This is an immediate and urgent task. It should be noted that no regular columnists on any major Nigerian newspapers, including even those who are Igbo, have deemed it fit to write a commentary on the seizure of Asiwe and Elendu. Contrast this with the punishing bouts of editorial material that were churned out by all and sundry in the Nigerian media over Ayoteji Omatade’s maltreatment by British Airways and on that hyper-dramatised intra-regime traction surrounding the dismissal/“reassignment” of Nuhu Ribadu.


Igbo exiled/diaspora intellectuals/professionals should now embark on the boycott of Lagos, Abuja, Kano and other Nigerian airports/seaports/land border crossing points as a mark of Igbo national solidarity with the duo Asiwe and Elendu as well as for the personal safety and interests of all the individuals concerned. Instead, they should use the Igwe Ocha, Enugwu, Owere airports for their journey to Igboland. If any of these airports does not presently have an “international” landing facility, create one! The Igbo are Africa’s most travelled nation. As a result, they possess the financial muscle to dictate where their preferred airport(s) of disembarkation in west Africa should be sited – Asaba, Umuleri, Abakaleke, Akaeze... Within 90 days of a successful Igbo boycott of Nigerian airports, airline operators, who cannot cope with the expected catastrophic loss in revenue, will literally be falling over themselves to accede to the construction of as many airports in Igboland that the Igbo travelling public demands. Besides, an Igbo boycott of Nigerian airports will deny the genocidist treasury of millions of dollars in landing taxes and other expenses that annually accrue to it from Igbo travellers in transit.

The restoration of Igbo sovereignty is the most eagerly awaited event in the Africa of the new century. The Igbo can free themselves from Nigeria; yes, they can! It requires intelligence, bravery, determination and resilience. Everyone knows that the Igbo have no shortfalls of these attributes. Barack Obama’s recent US presidential historic victory, for example, scored spectacularly against all the odds of history, was strategically empowered by these fourfold resource engine. Igbo freedom therefore requires hard work; yes, they, the Igbo, work hard. Without Igbo tenacity, they would not have survived the 1966-1970 genocide. But for the genocide, the Igbo were on course to construct the China, Korea and India of Africa at a time very few political economists thought “China”, “Korea” and “India” were likely propositions within 30 years of the post-World War II epoch. Despite this tragic delay, the Igbo will ultimately construct an advanced civilisation in the aftermath of its freedom from Nigeria.

Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is the author of Biafra Revisited (African Renaissance, 2006)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Traditional Basketry In Igbo Land

By Chukwunyere Helen

THE Igbo people occupy the present day South Eastern part of Nigeria and parts of Rivers and Delta States. Their area is bounded in the south by the Ogoni, Kalabari and Western Ijaw area; in the east by the Ibibio and the Cross Rivers group; in the West by the Edo speaking people; and in the North by the Igala and Idoma.

A basket, according to the lexicon Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language is a vessel (often of wicker or other flexible material) for containing shopping, laundry and wastepaper and so on.

Basketry is the process of weaving un-spun vegetable fibres into a basket. People in the profession of weaving baskets are basket makers.

Basketry is usually considered to be the oldest of all the craft as we know them today and one of the most fascinating aspects of this craft is that with each generation it has been easily adapted to fit in with man's everyday life. The versatility of basketry is a never ceasing wonder and articles from cradles to carriages, hats to houses, boats to balloon basket, fashion accessories to furniture have been woven with a variety of materials throughout the ages.

The tools and equipment needed for basketry are very inexpensive and quite light and portable. The materials are also very cheap and many can be gathered free.

According to Catherine Erdly, the oldest known baskets are (according to radiocarbon dating) between 10,000 and 12,000 years old; earlier than any established dates for archaeological finds of pottery and were discovered in Fauyin in upper Egypt. Other baskets have been discovered in the Middle East that are up to 7,000 years old. However, baskets seldom survive, as they are made from perishable materials. The most common evidence of knowledge of basketry is an imprint of the weave on fragments of clay pots, formed backing clay on the walls of the basket and firing.

It is difficult however, to trace the origin of basketry in Igbo land but suffice it to say that it is as old as the history of man.

Traditional Basketry in Igbo land is learnt through Ascription or by Apprenticeship. Some families are known for their flair in basketry. Children learnt the art because they grew up in the system. However, there are people who are into basketry as a means of livelihood. In this case, a boy was sent to learn the art of contemporary and more aesthetic way of basket making. He was also taught the use of the tools in basketry that may not necessarily be found in his home. These tools differentiate baskets meant for sale by a professional from those made merely for home use.

The objective of this work is to give a general overview of basketry in Igboland and also to highlight the fact that baskets are part of material culture, it serves as a social and cultural document which is used to interpret values, beliefs and attitude embodied in the material aspects for people's life.

There are varieties of baskets and each has a specific use. All baskets are generally called 'Ekete'. Dialectically they are called 'Ikata' in Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu States, and 'Ide' in Umuahia. They come in various shapes; the round type, the falt oval shaped type also known as 'ngara' the rectangular type called Avo etc.

The tools and equipments needed for traditional basketry are very inexpensive and quite light and portable. The materials are also very cheap and many can be gathered free. However for proper understanding, traditional basketry has been classified into four types with materials used solely for such classifications: they include, 'Coiled' basketry using grasses

Plaiting basketry Using materials that are wide and

ribbon-like, such as palms.

Twinning basketry Using materials from roots and tree bark. Twinning actually refers to a technique where two or more flexible weaving elements (weavers) cross each other as they weave through the stiffer radial spokes.

Willow also known as 'Igu nkwu' or emere and the cane, 'apipia' or 'ana' are got from palm fronds of the palm tree, palm kernel tree or the coconut tree. The palm frond is preferable because it is strong and flexible. Even when it is dry, it still retains its elasticity.

In basketry, the stakes and wearers are utilized stakes usually form the bottom of the basket and become the vertical framework for the basket sides. Round baskets have spokes, other shapes have stakes. The weavers fill in the sides of the basket.

The parts of basket are the base, the side walls and the rim. A basket may also have a lid, handle or embellishment depending on its usage.

Some of the instruments used in basketry include cutters, round nosed pliers, drills - 'agha', hammer -nkuni' tape -'ntu', saw and knife -'mma'.

Basketry generally has techniques which a maker adopts to give the desired production. There are two main techniques in basket making. They include weaves and Borders.

Weaves are methods of filling in the spaces between the stakes (the upright or ribs

of the basket).

These are three basic weaves. They include

Rending, pairing and wailing.

Rending:-This is the weave for economy and speed. It is very easy and needs only one weaver (length of cane). It is started by putting the cane in any space between two stakes, then weave to the right in front of one stake and behind the next, and so on, all the way round. This is used mostly for the flat or round basket. The material called ahiamara is used to make the flat basket.

One must take care with the shaping. Every time a weaver gives round the front of the stake, hold that stake with the thumb and forefinger of the left hand. The shape you want will not happen on its own - you must put it there.

Pairing:- The weaver used mainly for base weaving or for decoration on the sides. This time, there are two weavers. Bend a piece of cane round one of the stakes so that those are now two weavers coming to the front. Then the one on the left hand is taken in front of one stake, over the top of the other weave and round the back of the next stake. This art is repeated with the other cane which is now the one on the right.

Wailing:- This is the weaver used when strength is required. It is rarely always put on at the top and bottom and often in the centre as well.

The second technique in basketry is Border. It is the finishing around the edge or handle of the basket.

All baskets follow the same process except for those that have wooden bases like the rectangular type for carrying hearing things called 'Avo'. There are no laid-down rules on the number of days that a basket can be produced. Nonetheless, the avo takes longer because the wood for the base has to be prepared before use.

The wood used for the base of the avo is usually light. For example the wood from the rubber tree the 'apu' tree or the ebele anu tree, because it is light and cannot be easily attacked by insects.

To make the avo, you cut the wood into a rectangular shape based on the size of the avo you want. Then you scrape and smoothen the base (top and bottom). Then you create holes by drilling into the edges of the wood. You also make smaller holes at the sides of the wood. Then you put the canes you had already prepared to form the columns, which is held firmly with a twine (akwara). Then you put the smaller sticks in the holes you have made at the sides of the wood. The height of the cane, or ana depends on the height you want to achieve with the avo.

At this stage, your avo is half-way done. You choose the weaving technique you wish to adopt. This can take a couple of days because its durability depends on now careful one is.

Certain baskets are decorated or embellished with local dyes such as uhe, odo, akwukwo ohia etc for effect as works of art or as ornamentation.

The use and importance of basketry is as old as the history of man. Their usefulness cannot be over-emphasized. Different shapes and sizes of baskets are used both at home and in the farm. They are;

House-hold utensils

As a house-hold utensil, the basket can serve many purposes.

_ It can be used as a storage or preservation - fish, kolanut, fresh okra, tomatoes, oil bean (ugba)

_ As a sieve for garri processing, cassava processing etc.

_ For washing melon seed, bread fruit.

_ For fermenting tapioka

_ As a dryer - the ngara basket is used to dry vegetables

_ For ornamentation: it is used as a jewelry case

_ As furniture - chairs, carriages, beds, cots, wardrobe etc

_ As receptacle for tomatoes, pepper, fruits etc.

Economic importance

Baskets serve as a source of revenue. Basketry is any form is the kind of product every family makes use of. Therefore they are a source of revenue. As patronage increases, so are more hands needed to make the baskets which create employment for people.

As a valuable traditional system of cultural transmission baskets do not only serve as sources of revenue, but are reflections of the craftsmanship of our people over the ages. The purposes is not only to transfer the craftsmanship as a viable economic venture, but also to sustain the tradition that has continued to be transmitted from generation to generation.

Social Importance

They are produced as works of art and lung in the house, hotels, restaurants etc.

_ Those that are embellished with local dyes are used as hampers, sun hats, handbags, bird's cage, baby rattles etc.

_ Used as war shields

_ Used as musical instruments when combined with beads for sound effect. Can also be used as a base for musical instruments like the pot.

_ Used as a base for the palm wine pot.

_ Costume for masquerading

Religious Importance

_ As a shrine object

_ As a divination object

_ For performing sacrifices, which are kept at farms or road paths and junctions.

_ For magic performance whereby wine is poured into an empty basket during festivals and the wine does not pour out of the basket. This is done in parts of Abiriba and Arondizuogu.

Agricultural Importance

_ As a fishing trap

_ For harvesting farm produce - vegetables, yams, cassava.

_ The avo is solely used for big time harvesting for example yam, cassava etc

_ For hunting rodents or small animals.

There are no known taboos associated with the wrong use of baskets. In the past, baskets were kept solely for outside use. They were not kept indoors because of the kind of chores associated with them. Today, with the advent of modernization, such traditions have been overlooked. Baskets are now used indoors for others things as mentioned above other then for the farm.

The avo basket is known as the breadwinner's basket because it is used for carrying yams, which in Igboland is a man's crop. It is not carried on the head by a man, but put on the bicycle seat. Whereas if a woman must carry the 'abo' or 'avo'', she must carry it on her head.

The pre-colonial basketry has survived changes and the test of time. Modernizations have succeeded in giving more depth to traditional basketry. Thus, in addition to the traditional basket making which has continued because of their relevance, more styles and designs have been added and the makers have also widened their range of products and types to include iron type of baskets, rubber type of baskets, baby, rattles, roll baskets, posy baskets, serving baskets, flower baskets etc.

Chukwunyere Helen discussed this topic with the
National Museum Study Group, Port Harcourt recently

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Southeast economic commission

by Obi Nwakanma

I have been an unrepentant advocate for a joint Eastern Nigerian Economic commission, that would bring to bear the enormous but wasting capacity of the old Eastern Nigeria, and unleash the profound potentials of this region that has spent the last 38 years since the end of the civil war, looking outside, rather than within itself for a solution to its problems.
The absence of an organized and coherent process of economic and social planning, joint action initiatives, and such interlinks, that should bring together the currently atomized and disparate energies of the East would, more than anything else, inspire an internally defined, in-ward looking, creative and regenerative initiative for the benefit of the people.

And I hope that this may be replicated by other regions of Nigeria as it suits their interests, to make economic planning initiatives more regional, decentralized, more cooperative, and more driven by internal dynamics for the development of people.

Indeed in a number of my articles in the past in this column, I had advocated an Economic commission of the sort that has now been announced called the South East Economic Commission, currently championed by the African Institute for Applied Economics (AIAE) based in Enugu in concert with Ohanaeze.

I think it is an important first step towards a broader Eastern Nigerian commission. I was in fact elated by the possibilities of that initiative, particularly as I saw, on the list of the trustees of the AIAE, names like Professor Ukwu I. Ukwu, a distinguished economist, former Commissioner for Economic Development in the now defunct East Central State

And one who had spent a lifetime doing social research at the famous Center for Economic Development at the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus. Such wealth of strategic experience, a lot of which has not been put to the great use in the East in the last two decades or so, would, I have no doubt, be of immense benefit to any coherent initiative aimed at rebuilding the Eastern Economic axis from what has often been described as its unpardonable doldrums.

To be quite candid, Ohanaeze has a unique credibility burden, given its known pedigree, but this initiative is, when seen from just its potentials, an indication that some serious thinking is beginning to emerge from those quarters. But even then, I was startled by an e-mail sent to me, emanating from Nkemjika, and that is just his name. Like his brother Chinweizu, he sees no earthly reason to burden himself with “Ibekwe,” his family name.

This distinct choice to affirm singularity might tend to suggest him to be a maverick in the Nigerian sense. But there is no such devil that should stop anyone from being maverick for as long as the head sits firmly on the shoulder, and for as long as that head is a thinking one.

Well, there I was when I was startled by this e-mail from Nkemjika which basically dixed the plan for a South-East Economic Commission. Nkemjika’s urgent plea was to alert the Igbo, proposed beneficiaries of such a plan, that the SENEC was a storefront scam, allegedly masterminded by Mr. Chris Okoye of Harvard Trust Mortgage Bank, and others towards their private end and enrichment.

In a blistering attack on the SENEC idea, Nkemjika raises a number of issues, to which Dr. Dozie Ikedife responded, although quite frankly, the response is a bit flippant and sentimental.

It merely called Nkemjika names, reaffirmed the commitment of Ohaneze to South Eastern Nigeria’s economic development, and urged us all to support the move to organize SENEC. It did not address some of the quite valid concerns which Nkemjika raised, mostly regarding the structure, and the legal instruments that might create the commission.

I do not for one moment think that Chris Okoye and the AIAE, and the Harvard Trust Mortgage Bank are storefront scams, out to bilk the South East. I think that they may indeed be on to something that could significantly reconstitute and transform the East as an economic and social zone.

But it is important to pause a bit, and listen to some of the concerns raised by Nkemjika, because those concerns are fundamentally, at the core of what may make or mar this initiative.

It would also be important to get the structure right, from the very beginning, so that this initiative would become a truly organic public trust, aimed at the economic and social revitalization of the East. Part of the plans by Ohaneze and AIAE in this proposal is to establish the South East Nigeria Development Fund.

It is an important and vital move. But Nkemjika raises these equally vital concerns: “A scheme whose “critical first step” is to step a South-East Nigeria Development Fund (SENDEF), which would then deposit mobilized fund in banks and micro-finance companies for interest accruals, before any thought is given to what projects to execute, cannot be an effective platform to develop Igbo land.

In all intents and purposes, SENEC has the potential of only enriching those whose banks and micro-finance companies would hold mobilized funds for its yet to be determined projects, if any.”
It is a healthy skeptical stance. And it calls to question the fundamental issues: who would be the trustees of the Development Fund?

By what criteria would they be chosen? What would be the relationship with the governments of the East? Is the AIAE an Ohanaeze think-tank, or is it a private initiative whose interests are driven by pecuniary aims?

These are questions that should be clarified for us all, as we make our leaps of faith Ohanaeze, in its attempts, quite rightly, to establish a shadow authority over Igbo affairs.

But in order to do this, its leadership must consciously transform itself, from “a socio-cultural organization” into a fully constituted capacity to do more than write tepid press releases and make compromising solidarity visits. Indeed, if Ohanaeze fully organizes its potential, it would never need to make solidarity visits.

It would be too busy working to do that. And one of the fundamental works in its hands, right now, in this attempt to organize a joint South-Eastern Nigeria commission is to establish a platform that would meet with every Igbo organization with the aim of creating a common front.

This would reduce the credibility burden, which already threatens to undermine this initiative. Nkemjika also makes a very useful, and compelling suggestion that should be worthy of the consideration of Ohaneze, and indeed, the South-Eastern governments: the revitalization of the Eastern Nigerian Development Corporation, fully established by law to be the investment arm for the Igbo governments and people.

Towards that end, the law establishing the SENDC would require the governments of the South East to contribute an agreed “fixed percentage” of its federal grants annually to the SENDC.

And I should also add, so too should the various Igbo communities, including from the adjoining Delta and Rivers State, who must contribute a minimum of N10m spread over ten years, but who must also then receive full and regular accounting by the public trustees of the corporation, as well as receive the full benefits therefrom.

I should add here also, that as an investment and business arm of the governments of the East and the communities of the Igbo who may be interested, the various public corporations – the Golden Guinea Breweries, the Aba Glass Factory, the Niger steel, the ACB, the Owerri Shoe factory, the Amaraku and Oji River Power stations, all such publicly owned corporations both defunct and in various stages of decay should be handed over to the SENDC which must run it on behalf of the people for profit.

It should also make future investments in city and property development, shipbuilding, Defence industry; steel, Intercity rails, and so on and so forth.

The new SENDC would also possibly be the basis for establishing the South-Eastern Nigerian Trust Fund, the accruals of which should go to supporting public works, and such other public initiatives, that would be made to the wider and general edification of the people.

I totally agree with Nkemjika on the score that the governments of the South-Eastern states must fully take their roles more seriously.

What he calls to attention is the problem of accountability, and nothing more. It is important that those who are the heads of this initiative do not just dismiss his concerns, but work to clarify and harmonize them for the greater benefit of the people.

Zumunta, Sultan, Archbishop, CISA, IWA, WIC, Ohanaeze

The Zumunta Convention this past weekend in Los Angeles has generated a lot of heat in this forum. Therefore, I intend to add my little input into this discussion based on my presence during this three day event.

In order to establish a foundation, I wish to disclose that I responded positively to a request from an old friend of mine to help Zumunta organize her convention in Los Angeles. Mr. Dan Musa, President of Zumunta California Branch needed help. Several hours of discussions followed on the logistics, location, activities and the invitation of quests to the Zumunta convention. This led to the disclosure that the Sultan of Sokoto, Abubakar III, has accepted the invitation and plans to be in Los Angeles for this convention.

About the same time, in an exchange of emails within the CISA organization, an interest was expressed in holding a meeting with the Sultan of Sokoto, who is also the head of the muslim religion in Nigeria. I therefore disclosed to the members that Zumunta was planning to hold a convention in Los Angeles and the Sultan has expressed interest in coming to this convention. Since I was already helping Zumunta to organize their event, I was therefore in a position to ask for a meeting between Sultan Abubakar and CISA during the convention period. After discussions, CISA decided to authorize me to make inquiries into the possibility of this meeting. Thus, using my contacts, a request was made to the Sultanʼs office to inquire about the chances of such a meeting. When a positive response was therefore received, I informed CISA to confirm her continued interest. CISA then consulted with IWA and received IWAʼs blessing to go ahead with this meeting. IWA also passed the information to Ohanaeze for their overview and comments. Ohanaeze approved of the meeting also. With these Igbo groups backing, a proper request for a meeting with Sultan Abubakar was then made through his office in Sokoto and a date was then set for the meeting. To the best of my knowledge, no other organization had requested a meeting during the Zumunta convention at this stage of the planning.

With the meeting date set, I went ahead and contacted Marriot Hotels (venue of the convention) and rese rved a meeting room, a set of teleconference facilities (telephone and speakers) and lunch for ten participants. As far as I know, no other Nigerian organization made any attempts to reserve a meeting room for the time period of 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm of July 27th, 2008. It was necessary to rent teleconference facilities because some IWA members in Europe and Ohanaeze members in Nigeria wanted to have a chance to participate in this meeting. With less than a week to the convention, I was told that WIC and Egbe Omo Yoruba now want to meet with Sultan Abubakar and two days later the secretary of WIC published the proposed meeting in the internet. The CISA leadership discussed the potential conflicts with WIC at the Zumunta conference and proposed that both organizations should attempt to go to this meeting together. The Chairman of WIC rejected the proposal on the basis that he does not wish to be seen with CISA and he expects to have their WIC/EOY arranged meeting with Sultan Abubakar. That was the end of any discussions for a joint meeting.

In the mean time, other Nigerian community organizations now wanted to be part of the meeting. Sultan Abubakar and the Archbishop therefore decided to invite all of them to this meeting since it will be impossible to hold another meeting later. After discussions with the managers of the convention, the aides to the Sultan and myself, we accepted to hold an open meeting with all groups participating. Some of the groups=2 0represented at this meeting were Rivers State, Akwa Ibom, NIDO, ANAC who then joined CISA members who were already seated for the meeting. WIC/EOY did not attend this meeting. Given the sudden expansion of the assembly, CISA had to shelve her planned program in an effort to accommodate others. The teleconference facilities were therefore, not used and the meeting proceeded with only the individuals who were present in the room. We setup a head table with six seats which accomodated the two visiting Emirs,
Dr. Nwachukwu Anakwenze (for IWA/CISA), Sultan Abubakar III, Catholic Archbishop of Abuja and Dr. Femi Ajayi who is the Vice President of Zumunta.

Sultan Abubakar and CISA to hold future Meetings

The discussion was free following throughout the room with individuals asking a variety of questions after an opening statement from the Sultan, the Archbishop and Dr. Anakwenze. Interestingly, Sultan Abubakar and the Archbishop work so closely together that one usually defers to the other to speak in public gatherings while the other person simply concurs. In this case, Sultan Abubakar spoke extensively and Archbishop Onaiyekan concured with all that was said. During the main convention event in the afternoon of Saturday, the Archbishop gave the major presentation and the Sultan concured. This relationship seems to be working very well for both of them as they attempt to harmonize the message from the leadership of Nigeriaʼs two main religions groups in an effort to minimize friction among Nigerians. The central theme of this convention centered around Ethnic and religious conflicts and the ongoing work to control them. This issue, therefore, dominated the discussion at the meeting. Unfortunately, CISAʼs program and prefered discussions suffered a setback due to changes and new participants. Overall, the entire meeting was successful as new developments in the area of inter religious relationships in Nigeria were brought to the attention of those of us in the Diaspora. I am still waiting to see how this new relationship translates to the lower level believers of these two groups as they struggle to keep their faith and make a living in the difficult economic environment of Nigeria. Some of the new arrangements within the leadership look promising and the governmental institutions should be encouraged to augment this work.

Going forward, I am glad CISA/IWA understand that Ndigbo can only have permanent interests and not permanent enemies. Ndigbo are so vested in Northern Nigeria that it would be a mistake to take the security of Igbo lives and properties in the North for granted. CISA, as I understand it, has also held meetings with Izu Umunna, the umbrella group representing Ndigbo in Northern Nigeria and the meeting with the Sultan is, as I understand it, only just the beginning.

My private observations
All the contributors to this topic so far in t his forum have done a good job in moving this discussion forward, especially Obi Nwakanmaʼs. Only the Governors of Rivers and Delta States honored the Sultanʼs invitation to join him at the convention in Los Angeles. These two did not attend the Saturday night banquet. Over forty members of the ACF were denied visa to the USA for the convention. Non of the Federal Ministers and no Senators showed up. The Deputy Minority Leader of the Federal House of Assembly was also present to represent the Governor of Kano State, who sent a letter of apology and sent his wife to the Zumunta convention. There was also a Federal Appeals Court Judge and the new Nigerian Ambassador to the U. S. A.

The diversity of the Zumunta membership is quite impressive, but the strenght of the membership maybe low. Organizing events of this magnitude may continue to be difficult for them unless they reach out to friends from outside the Northern region of Nigeria. Contrary to what some of us believe in this forum, Zumunta certainly has a majority Christian membership (about 70%) and the Hausa/Fulani are not that dorminant in the association. Yet, like most communities in the North, the lingua franca is Hausa.

The highlight of my presence at the Zumunta convention was my chance to have lunch on Saturday with the Catholic Archbishop (Dr.) John Olorumfemi Onaiyekan, President of CAN and Rev. Yakubu Pam, President of CAN in the North Central region. Some of20you should remember Rev. Yakubu Pam in his encounter with President Obasanjo during the Christian/Moslem conflicts in Plateau State. The conversation was very interesting.

I am writing this article to lay a foundation for what I sincerely hope will be a useful exchange of opinions on how the Igbo Diaspora can help to move the Igbo agenda forward. To me, the concept of not talking is un-Igbo. Ndiigbo historically have advanced our agenda by working with people on issues of common interest. Three of the greatest Igbo leaders in history, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Micheal Okpara and Odimegwu Ojukwu are easy references on this subject.

Ndeewo nu.

Ugo Anakwenze

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Igbo Politics: The Struggle Against Orji Kalu's Cults And Demonic Gangsters

by Ambrose Ehirim
I have written long time ago in praise of Orji Uzor Kalu and Igbos political future, in which I expressed my profound gratitude. I was driven by Kalu’s “pragmatism” when the Fourth Republic came into being, and upon the course of the fate of Nd’Igbo, notably, a Biafran memorial, Biafran veterans who hanged around the motorways by Oji River begging for dimes to make ends meet, and a final resting place for Biafra war heroes. The struggle was arduous as Igbo politicians and related governors made many arguments about what should be done to avoid complicating matters with Olusegun Obasanjo’s-led administration in an issue that had to do with Biafra.

It also had to do with a lost civil war, and that Igbos were getting back on a good political footing with Kalu’s no nonsense approach towards Igbo leadership and political future, which presumably should be handled with care, in other words, diplomacy, to secure a final resting place for Biafran war heroes by way of a memorial.

The veterans, among a case load of Igbo problems, grand and small, weren’t an issue. The case of the Biafran war heroes and a memorial seemingly was the real deal when the gulf between Obasanjo and Igbo leaders began to surface on the premise Obasanjo, then head of state, and a civil war commander who bridged the gap resulting to armistice, coupled with leading a political party that was in power, had Igbo political leaders cornered to avoid a misinterpretation of the war and Biafran heroes which may be detrimental to a “new republic” that had been on a litmus test.

Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu had had sleepless nights when the idea of a Biafran war heroes and a memorial was not coming through based on the tactical debate which came along with it, with regards to a conflict of interest between Igbo related governors and Obasanjo. Specifically, the tactical debate was about where in particular should Biafra memorial be situated and which of the governors would be bold enough to pull the bull by the horn and take some action since the initial location at Uli had been backpedaled by Chinwoke Clement Mbadinuju of Anambra State. Apparently, there were none but Kalu who stood bold enough to scorn Obasanjo and take the heat, notwithstanding the fact he belonged to the same political party with the president, which probably could lead to disloyalty and violating party principles.

Kalu had thought about it and the ripple effect it might have on his political career, that is, if he okays a final resting place for Biafra war heroes in his home state of Abia. Eventually, Kalu made up his mind and Biafra war heroes were finally recognized by way of a memorial in Umuahia. Kalu had gained my respect doing that, and I had adored him, henceforth. I would be wrong in my gesture and Kalu would be full of it, not knowing a gangster and a demonic cultist had emerged.

But the case of Biafra war heroes was of concern to every Igbo – at home and in Diaspora – for historiography and the importance of the struggle for self-reliance, as in the Balkans, for posterity. As it happened, the hackles raised on the Biafran subject reflected much on the youngish intellectuals who founded Biafranigeriaworld –BNW -- and its sister related sites, which embarked on extensive to near exhaustive commentaries and analyses on keeping the Biafran struggle alive. The founders of BNW were adequately consulted to every move in establishing a resting place for Biafra war heroes. Kalu was part of the negotiations and a new born BNW backed him up based on his front as Igbo pragmatist.

Kalu’s life and stewardship of Abia State would turn out to a full blown Orwellian and Shakespearean drama, with mean spirited characters and tragic stories transcending the opening acts. But since the gangster-like operations initially in Umuahia, and especially with the revelations at the Okija Shrine and how Kalu orchestrated every deal at the oracle, so many among the deadly culthood under Kalu’s orders took different positions becoming obvious and impossible to tell where they will come out in any new situation because of a political switch for a bargain not too favorable to Abia citizenry.

The abomination and unbecoming conducts at the Okija Shrine and other related shrines where these shameless politicians had convened has triggered a whole series of heated debates among the pundits about a questionable past election in which Kalu’s party, Progressive Peoples Alliance –PPA – won two gubernatorial seats from the seven Igbo related states; and thanks to Obasanjo who engineered every move in a rigged election never ever seen in the nation’s history.

There has been much discussion of the voodoo and what had been going on at the shrines in Okija and elsewhere. What is more disturbing about the Okija visits and invocation of agwuisi, is the nature from around which civilized people supposedly should have preferred a sound political order typical of organized societies than resorting to cheap shots; to the spirits dancing in the flesh and witchcrafts, just for the purpose of attaining a public office by which they have pledged during the course of election campaigns to do their best and make their respective zones and states better, by way of providing basic amenities as it is done in all organized societies.

The Okija incident and other cases of abominable character may be opening our eyes, suggesting such a spooky, and demonic scenes had been an ongoing affair within the power structure of a so-called neo-democratic experiment; the power seekers and the ones that had already taken a grip to power, thus, the ability in a likewise position to dictate to would be power brokers on how democracy works in a “Nigeria” set up – ala, the legitimacy to voodoo and witchcraft in sustaining a viable and intact government – and what that actually means to a new kind of democracy which may also suggest visiting the shrines and swearing to “fetish oaths” makes these states in question viable and may no longer be viable the moment it stops visiting the shrines. It is the norm and accepted when the citizenry of these related states are not complaining, and not doing anything about it, practically.

“Governor” Theodore Ahamefule Orji of Abia State whose Okija visits was all over the news with more questions popping up, and a Youtube video of the governor seen in his underwear proved the governor had agreed to a “fetish oath” as a done deal to fulfill the terms of his stewardship to the people of Abia State. Orji had been locked up for corruption charges before winning the gubernatorial seat and was released some few days to inauguration, and hurriedly sworn-in to succeed Kalu who had suddenly given up his executive throne knowing scores of charges will be leveled against him, as well, by federal agents upon leaving office. However, the constitution’s immunity clause saved Orji from further prosecution until probably he serves out his term, that is, if he survives an election tribunal that may likely nullify his election and send him back to jail.

What has transpired in the Orji and the Okija affair is an Igbo tragedy, which calls into question the validity of Orji and his master Kalu. And what that means is, Kalu and his cohorts who ultimately believed in igwo nshi, of the bewitched and sorcery in the name of power politics, and which as it happened, rendered the people who reside in Abia State and elsewhere in AlaIgbo without a say in what supposedly should have been a nascent democracy having nothing to do with elections conducted by means of a social contract or any form of contract; should be basis for an ultimatum and sanctions, especially when such demonic scenes like the Okija episode and Umuahia are not healthy to a democratic fabric, and civilization, in particular.

If elections in a democracy with regards to power belonging to the people by means of electoral process based on the rule of law, and then, all of a sudden, fetish rituals springs up, making it valid for would be politicians seeking political appointments and things like that to pledge allegiance through bloodsucking and igba afa, invocation of the gods in order to struck a deal according to the principles of ndi dibia and agwuisi, soothsayers, idols, and so on and so forth, then, upholding and respecting democracy, the said election should be declared null and void for the simple fact democracy and demonic rituals does not add up.

And I believe most of the nonsense that keeps hanging around Igbo states should be blamed on a failed leadership. I remember the World Igbo Congress convention which was held in Los Angeles on Labor Day weekend of 2005. And I also remember Igbo politicians and “power brokers” who came from Igbo land. It was not inspiring and one was left to ponder what happened to Igbo people. When Kalu spoke, a vulnerable Igbo Diaspora applauded, and applauded for reasons I’m still having problems trying to figure out and what had happened to a people who are now politically impotent, demolished and conquered.

Somehow, Kalu had inspired his admirers when he quoted himself of saying “I want to be the next president of Nigeria” noting it was time the Igbo man gets on the block for the nation’s top job. The entire chant turned out to be a political gimmick to persuade Igbo Diaspora that much need to be done regarding an Igbo president, a post that had eluded top-notch Igbo politicians since the post-civil war era. Kalu seemed to be talking tough when his entourage began a campaign on a different political setting realizing his pursuit of the presidency would not be entertained within the framework of the ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party – PDP – which had already been designed for the president to handpick a presidential candidate from the Sultanate North, to be precise, Umar Yar’Adua, younger brother to the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, and the president’s best crony during his military dictatorship was the predetermined choice.

Kalu regrouped and formed the Progressive Party Alliance with a platform which he wrote. His friends and kitchen cabinet members backed him up including Orji who would be the flag bearer of the party for Abia State, and a kingpin of the Okija saga where demons invade the natural being through rituals which sets the tone on how to follow the deadly rules when one is elected into public office.

On the other score, nobody can say for sure what had been involved in the visits to the shrines, even with abstract revelations, which would amount to nothing; for instance, say, if human heads and other body parts are linked to the rituals. Nobody knows the whole truth yet, and in this case, the question is, why hasn’t the government permanently closed these abominable shrines of demonic worships after discovering and excavating body parts from these places? Why would such a cult that has destroyed all aspects of civil liberties and dangerous for practicing Christians be allowed to operate without questions asked whatsoever? Why are devoted Christians engaged in affairs against the will of God?

It all boils down to agreeing to a catch phrase “oath of allegiance” based on a deal, and in reality looks very bizarre considering the fact that both Kalu and Orji had been friends since the Fourth Republic popped up. The whole story seems bizarre, indeed, and Orji, in particular, according to a series of newspaper reports did not care about the consequences if one should look at it the other way with his humble beginnings through Holy Ghost College (Arugo High School), and University of Ibadan. Orji must have been desperate or perhaps blindfolded to have gone mad exposing himself to dumb and stupid characters.

From the scheme of things, however, Kalu has denied getting involved with anything relating to shrines in his native village and the ones in Okija even though he knows nobody is buying that hogwash. In a Tell magazine report, Kalu declares:

“The only shrine I know in my life is the shrine (grotto) of the Virgin Mary, revered in the entire Catholic Church. I am a devout Christian, God-fearing, and I wish to state categorically that I do not have any business with the Okija Shrine. I challenge the accuser to make available to the police his letter of employment, identity ca5rd, pat slips and other such accoutrements of legitimate employees to substantiate his claims”

The hook up here and Kalu’s denial is dangerous. First, starting with one Gordy Duru, former Chairman of Abia State Local Government, and Kalu’s mother lover boy over the years, has been the brain behind all the messy stuff because of his sexual relationship with Kalu’s mother, and his political connections to Kalu himself. The Duru of a guy who powered the entire episode and captured the events at Okija knows it all, and surprisingly, he is not telling much which has something to do with the “oath of allegiance” coupled with his courtship with Kalu’s mother, his own mother in relative terms since Kalu is age mate to the said Duru of a guy who ran Abia South Local Government and had nothing to show for it but an abandoned Aba Township which is uninhabitable in human standard, a cult fellowship satanic in nature, and sad that Christians had contacts at night with arushi, the devils that invade the spirits after paying homage to a Catholic Priest during the day for redemption. It is sad indeed, and it got to stop if we really want to come to terms with reality. Apparently, we have become more of idol worshippers with evil intentions than the Christian doctrine we proclaim to uphold.

With an ordained Christian doctrine that we pretend to respect and uphold while we crawl at night to invoke Agwuisi and Amadioha, the gods of our fathers, which never meant any harm from its origin on a traditional standpoint necessary to keep its values related to a socio-cultural concept as history demands in keeping up with the status quo – the ability to maintain those values for a healthy society – was all they prayed for in their endeavors. It had nothing to do with putting someone under duress on the grounds of vulnerability which is the case with Kalu’s cults and demonic gangsters who altered the way we use to be in that capacity. What beats me is the pretense to use God as a cover to deceive the people when Kalu insinuates he is a “devout Christian.” Just like the devil in the flesh, they walk around to preach the Gospel but yet they are evil in character. They will pray, and pray, praising the Lord, with a tongue in cheek, in a stanza that goes something like this:

Woke up singing Hallelujah
In the morning time
Sons of God
Hear His Holy Word
Gather around
The children of the Lord
Eat His body drink His blood
And we sing the songs of praise
Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah

This is the true nature of how we destroyed all that our forefathers built with their good intensions, limited learning capability and exposure.

The idea that our forefathers worshipped idols does not make sense at all, compared to what an “educated” folk like Orji reduced Igbo land to by drinking some concoction of human blood and swearing to an oath that would sustain his power as governor, and under the same oath, to answer to his master who had made it possible for him getting to that political height in a state turned to empire and anarchy by thuggish elements. Our forefathers did not have the kind of resources we have today, yet they prevailed. They were true republicans. They functioned as a democratic fabric with transparency and accountability taking its right course. They had values and upheld, and respected our cultural heritage which is why they gave us a sound and quality education based on the status quo.

I can understand a cultural phenomenon, like Owu, Okorosha, Ekeleke, Ogbamgbada, Ogbu Opi, Egwu Onwa, Ikeji, Ifo, and things of that nature – which was established by our forefathers – as a norm to our well being culturally and socially; but when a group of thugs hijacks this very phenomenon to a level unimaginable, then, the Igbo people have a problem which did lead to another Igbo tragedy when the intellectuals stood by and watched these abominable acts unfold in an era where civilization thrives to make life better for the citizenry. These thugs who overnight gerrymandered the electorates with lists of ghosts as voters proves the democracy as we thought it to be is nothing but quasi. A democracy and an election where vulnerable voters are left with no choices but take gifts – bags of rice, meats and bottles of soda – to succumb to a state of empire and anarchy in what supposedly should have been a true democracy where elections are free and fair should have us ponder why we got trapped by the Kalus and the rest political thugs who now call the shots in our land.

The failures of Igbo intellectuals and a confused, collective, efulefu, worthless Diaspora are reasons why people like Kalu are running the affairs of state in AlaIgbo today, which is now typical of fascism. Of course, Kalu seems to have known his way around in dirty politics, having spent more of his time as a crook in high school, swindling his peers, and his stunt without credentials at University of Maiduguri where deception to the nadir took its course. But one shouldn’t be amazed on how Igbo intellectuals and its efulefu Diaspora bunch did not get things done on a tone that would have kept the Igbo on top of the game in politics and leadership, which under normal circumstances should be based on merit, and not the Kalu type who hijacked the citizenry with looted public funds.

Never mind Igbo intellectuals and a confused Diaspora bunch. Kalu had succeeded in his cruel behavior and criminal activities because of an inept and corrupt judiciary in the state which lacks judicial independence due to external pressures coupled with “Ghana must go” bags which did compromise the integrity of their rulings. In any democracy the judiciary must be independent and accountable; accountable which requires that the laws that they interpret based on its judicial decisions responds to the constitutional values of the state. A state that lacks this very measure in its democratic fabric ends up in anarchy, and that is why the Kalus have gotten their way and calling the shots.

The saga continues!

Not Aba, Not Onitsha

Written by Obi Nwakanma

Sunday, 30 March 2008

IF you asked most people today to go to Aba or Onitsha to settle and live, the first impulse would be to think that you are placing a curse on them. And I am totally serious. Young men and women, the most productive and active catalysts of city life, do not find any incentives to go to these once thriving cities of the East to settle, and live a full life.
I once asked a friend of mine who grew up in Onitsha, and who now teaches at the University of Denver, Colorado, if he could ever think about living in Onitsha or raising his children in Onitsha, and his response to me was quite frank: “there is nothing for me in Onitsha!” he said.

It was no longer even the city in which he grew up. The decay of a city like Onitsha is so terrifying that an encounter with both the image and reality of the city is nightmarish - a true ghostly miasma that is.

Until you have felt and seen it, it is quite unimaginable. The sludge of human and industrial waste that runs on the public and private spaces; the sense of the brokenness of everything; the disorder in city planning; in code enforcement; in street planning; in the general ordering and layout of the city makes Onitsha today, one of the most polluted and certainly one of the most ungainly sites of human habitation anywhere on God’s earth.

Yet encrusted in that pod of waste is a possible gem; a once well planned city which becomes only clear from the air, which has only been distorted by the barbarous rage of a most philistine generation for whom beauty and civility are alien values.

Onitsha still has some of the finest colonial architecture which are indeed great set pieces and which could just be rehabbed with a little imagination, care, and some respect for heritage. Yet also, Onitsha is dotted with some of the most monstrous forms of architecture, a pretence at the high-rise apartments, which give little room for aesthetics. The buildings are often largely utilitarian.

They are most times constructed with little rhyme or reason, possibly inspired by the competitiveness of the Onitsha landlord who draws the design on the sand, and builds just to prove to everyone else that his “four decking is higher than yours.”

The result in Onitsha, as one drives in, is a sense or an impression of a vast project – those low income, box-like constructions of high-rise apartments that dot the landscape of American urban ghettoes that are infested with drugs, prostitution and poverty. I have nothing, of course, against urban housing, but let it be built with respect for the people, with a sense of spatiality, with some aesthetic purpose.

Onitsha’s image suffers from its certain lack of awareness of its own history or importance. My early vision of Onitsha was shaped by an early encounter with Chinua Achebe’s novella, Chike and the River, a book I read in primary five.

I also associated Onitsha with what one imagined to be the magnificent bridge across the Niger at Onitsha, which even now, remains as powerful as New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, as an authentic symbol of Nigeria’s entry into high technological modernity.

The Brooklyn Bridge has been celebrated in the epic poetry of great American Romantic and modernist poets like Walt Whitman and Hart Crane, but not the bridge across the lordly Niger in Onitsha. Onitsha was for many years the cultural and commercial center of the East – something of the Boston of Southern Nigeria – with its place as the epicentre of Christian missionary movement into the Igbo heartland.

For many years, it was the headquarters of the Church of the Niger. It was the city of Basden and the Archbishop Denis, as well as the Joseph Shanahans. Those icons of the Roman and the Anglican churches, who ironically were also figures of early Igbo modernity of the late 19th century.

Onitsha was the intellectual capital of Southern Nigeria, with its famous parochial schools, like the Christ the Kings College, the Catholic boarding school for boys, or the Denis Memorial Grammar School, the Anglican equivalent, or the Queen of the Rosary School, the Catholic boarding school for girls, or the famous St. Charles Teachers College, and so many pioneer schools that made Onitsha the gathering of the early Igbo towards cultural modernity.

It was the city that drew the great generation of Igbo, and indeed Southern Nigerian modernists. The city of the great Zik, whose statue still adorns an important historical site of the city; the city of Denis Osadebe, Mbonu Ojike, Nwafor Orizu, Ikejiani, Raymond Amanze Njoku, Pius Okigbo, Chike Obi, Sylvanus Cookey, Birabi, Ben Enwonwu, Cyprian
Ekwensi, and too many others too numerous to mention.

It was the city, whose centrality in the evolution of modern Nigerian culture has been recorded permanently in Emmanuel Obiechina’s canonical study of the literature now called, “Onitsha Market Literature,” produced in the great forges of its little presses, much like the grub street, which basically disseminated the most significant tradition of city penny literature in that march towards the modern. Onitsha once had a great newspaper too: the Nigerian Spokesman, which gave this city its
certain flavor.

I could go on and on, but I hope the picture is clear, that from the time of the Saro and Caribbean middle class of lawyers, doctors, teachers, and so on, who first constituted the society and culture of Onitsha, of the Onitsha Literary Society, funded by a remarkable whiteman whose grave is still marked in one silent corner of the of the Onitsha city cemetery, to today, a city like Onitsha has undergone radical transformation. A cultured middle class seems absent.

The city exhibits the marks of dystopia. Yet it is a city of possibilities, if only the Anambra state government, can think slightly out of the box and commence an ambitious City redevelopment plan, by bringing a number of things to bear: the reconstitution of Onitsha as a Metropolitan district with its own city government, and execution of a plan that would integrate Ogidi, Obosi, Nnewi, Oba, and the surrounding districts, as part of the conurbation of a new Onitsha Metropolitan District.

This metropolitan authority should then think about raising property and other municipal taxes and begin the very clear process of redesigning and rebuilding Onitsha as a modern, 21st century city that should integrate the grandeur of its own history as the first epicenter of Igbo modernity, and promote that history as part of its culture and image, and
its new offering.

This is what great cities do. It should also work inexorably towards the development of its valuable water front into a great residential, business and culture district, with splendid private and public residential facilities, fine offices, great restaurants, galleries, theatres, well designed public parks, and such a place that would draw people to its profitable use, and that would enrich the city significantly; and in some ways, connect it to its twin city across the river, Asaba, for the
benefit of all.

This is the only way to stimulate growth and economic development on a scale that is purposive and significant. I have used Onitsha clearly as a foil even in my description of the other city, Aba. I have always said that one of the most important reflections of the kind of mindset that have destroyed once well-made cities like Aba, designed by Pius Okigbo as Development Officer in 1947, is in the destruction of the Aba golf course and its parceling off to speculators who quickly turned this once beautiful place into a monstrous space.

Aba and Port-Harcourt are also inevitably bound to shake hands and rejoin themselves at the hip, as it was once conceived, sooner than later.

And so it is important for the authorities in those two cities to begin the process of joint planning and remodeling, including creating joint sewer districts, protected forest areas, river and lake recreation areas, that would link the triad development from Owerri, Aba and Port-Harcourt, starting at the Owerrinta Port, near Okpala.

But as it is, it seems like very little thinking is going on at a grand scale in government. These cities cannot recover their economic powers, if they do not attract the right kind of human energy. It is imperative therefore, to draw people back, with great schools, great city hospitals, great museums and galleries, and generally, great environments to live and nurture families in a healthy and sustainable way

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ohakim's Mall and a Voodoo Development

by Obi Nwakanma

THE newspaper reports about Governor Ikedi Ohakim’s recent business tour of South Africa quote him lamenting that Nigeria was behind countries like South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Lesotho by one hundred years.
According to the Vanguard report, Ohakim decried what he described as the “low-level” of Nigeria’s economic development. I am not sure if this South-African trip gave Ikedi Ohakim his first epiphany about the true state of affairs in Nigeria.

Many Nigerians have been heard by official Nigeria’s fiction about Nigerian being the “giant” of Africa; that is Africa’s equivalent of a super power. Nigeria is not. Ikedi Ohakim’s trip to South Africa may have given him a clearer insight. The economic systems were working in these other countries.

The mortgage and credit system, as well as the pension funds were working. Energy was constant. And so on. According to the governor’s testimony we Nigerians are non-starters.

True. Many Nigerians who have never had the opportunity to travel out of Nigeria do not really know the actual stage of our economic and social development, and the primitive state to which years of official manipulation have consigned Nigeria.

Nigeria presents a very important illustration of a nation that declined in its own social expectations. Ikedi Ohakim’s worries about Nigeria’s one hundred years of backwardness compared to even “small” countries like Botswana, that old part of what was then known as the Bechuanaland protectorate ruled from Mafikeng, and Lesotho, all countries now of the SADC is well founded.

The point is that these countries, in spite of their relative disadvantages, took themselves and their people seriously as their post-colonial political history shows. It is about respect – and I emphasize the word respect - for their people.

Any elite - intellectual, political or economic – that has very little respect for its own people creates the kind of monstrosity that Nigeria has become over the years. Government for such elite is run on the “come chop” philosophy that makes the president or governor’s security vote outstrip budgets for education and scientific research in the country.

In a society in which ideas do not provide the basis of governance, the result is often chaos and ambiguity. I’d like to point to this irony, even in the case of Ikedi Ohakim. Imo State University Owerri has a School of the Social Sciences.

But what is the state of that university in general and the state of the Department of Economics and Public Policy in particular?

Does the university employ a pool of brilliant economists and other social scientists, and does it have a Center for Economic and Social Analysis to which the Imo State government could depend to do its formal economic analysis and public policy impact analysis?

Does Ohakim have a collective of experts within the university system with whom he parleys on issues of economic, cultural, industrial or urban policy? The truth is that the very basis of development is the use to which we put our capital - human or material – and it seems to me that Ikedi Ohakim, not unlike many other of his colleagues lack in this direction. Otherwise, someone should have pointed out to him that his drive for an investment of a $2billion Mall in Owerri by the Mopoya group, which he has touted as his goal and the fruit of his South African junket makes pretty little sense. Ohakim is quoted as saying, “if we unleash a two billion dollar project in this state, everybody will be busy.”

That is true, in so far as the project is regenerative. If you unleash two billion dollar towards building a statewide Metroline, that would connect every part of the state to a fast rail hub in Owerri, and make movement quick and safe for twenty-four hours, everybody would be more than busy.

If you unleash two billion dollars as a state fund to guarantee cheap and easy access to credit for about 100, 000 young men and women who would commit to investing in co-operative farms in vegetables, small-scale ranching, grains production, farm tools leasing, food packaging, modern food storage and distribution, apparel and shoe making, chemicals, boat/ship building, in-land waterway transportation, engineering services, information technology and equipment design and fabrication especially using the old traditional Igbo iron making cultures and remodeling them to build small scale local steel making plants, and other small scale industrial and distributive ventures, many people will be more than busy, with its many spin-offs.

I am quite personally leery of all the talk about “foreign investment.” This is all voodoo talk really, because no country has ever achieved lasting economic development with foreign investments. You must mobilize your capacity to produce and sustain your consumption pattern or perish. Which brings me to this talk about malls:

Ohakim’s proposal for the mall in Owerri does not take into consideration the question of the supply end. First, the impact of the shopping mall would wipe about local small-scale businesses, a key part of local employment by over 60 per cent.

The unemployment situation would worsen. The capacity for local production will die since the mall will depend on its supply from cheap Chinese products. Besides, we have the example of Tinapa in Calabar to see that this development of Ballpark malls.

Without adequate local industrial capability for its supply, it will be a ghostly investment. It would be out of reach for the ordinary citizen, and may become the quintessential example of a true white elephant project.

I should make another point: the Onitsha main market was a shopping mall - built by the Eastern government. The difference is that it was sustained by the local policy of economic protectionism, which the late Mbonu Ojike declared as the “boycott” philosophy.

It was a philosophy borne out of a hardboiled economic theory and experience by a highly trained economist who knew that no society could develop without building its own industrial productive capacity.

The Onitsha mall also took the form of the old Igbo market in which the stalls or sections were rented out to local shopkeepers. But here Ohakim is talking about inviting a South African Mall developer to build a shopping mall that would be anchored, I suppose, primarily on the principles of the organic Mall with an organic owner, with little local participation. I think the governor should revise his goals.

The Igbo markets are malls – open air malls in any case – and it would take a little modernizing to upgrade them, in fact, to serve the same functions that the Mopoya Mall will serve in Owerri. If the governor wants a local shopping mall in any case, he could start by meeting with a group of local investors and bankers, and sell the idea to them, rather than going all the way to South Africa to invite a mall developer to come and build a shopping mall in Owerri, and threaten local markets thereby.

I also think that the call for “groups across the world” to come and build power stations in Nigeria, particularly in Imo state, is myopic. In 1981, Sam Mbakwe, without the kind of resources currently available to Ikedi Ohakim, built and commissioned the first Independent Power Projects in Nigeria at Amaraku and Izombe. He used both local engineers and engineers from Japan, supervised by the ministry of Utilities under Alex Emeziem.

If Ohakim wants to understand how that feat was undertaken, he should get together for lunch with Mr. Alex Emeziem. He should also define his energy program more concretely in a way that would incorporate a vast pool of local skills and resources.

This tendency to look outside for what is simply within is costly and unreflective; even dangerous to the economic health of the people. Imo state has the capacity – both in skill and material resources – to embark on building indigenous provincial or Divisional power stations.

Perhaps the old Eastern regional system of economic development should suffice here: let the government challenge, say, the people of the old Mbaise Division to produce 65 per cent of the capital for an Mbaise or Okigwe or Orlu Power Projects, and let the Imo state government match them with a grant.

Call city engineers together and challenge them to produce designs of power systems, and challenge local contractors to build these power systems.