Saturday, February 28, 2009

Interview: What I have passed through at 80

BY Uduma Kalu

As the drums roll out for the 80th birthday celebration of Chief Stephen Njedeh Ebinum today at the Multi Purpose Pavilion at FESTAC, it is not only the eight decades of life is being celebrated but also the monumental achievments of a man who lost his father at a tender age. In an interview with Saturday Vanguard the octogenerian spoke on the rough roads to his success. Excerpt.

How did you rise from your limited background to your present position?

I started very small like any other person. I was a clerk in Panalpina World Transport where I grew to become a manager. I was only manager left in Port Harcourt during the civil war because I am an Igbo speaking man. So I was in the East...

And I was a manager. Then I came back. Immediately after the war, towards the end of the war, I came back and started working at Panalpina as a manager. From there, I started on my own and so on.

As a fresh man, from the suburb to a major city, how did you cope?
I started working in Lagos in 1955 in Panalpina. I was transferred to Port Harcourt.

As a father, how did you train your nine children?

I was lucky. Before I got married, I had already started working in and I knew I could feed my wife. And I started getting kids and I was going up in my company. I was getting promotions. At a certain point, I wanted to stop but unfortunately, I had only girls at that time.

I wouldn’t like to think of having only women without men. So that was the problem. Incidentally, I had my boy after the four girls. So that was the situation. That is why they are nine. And luckily enough, as I was getting them, I was getting more to feed, to school them. That is how I managed.

You had a large family?

He had a large family. My uncle I was staying with. So were so many he was training. Not even his children. We were about 10 or so in his house.

In Asaba?

in Asaba. We fed from one pot. So you can imagine what it was.

How Triana, his shipping company, began?

But the fact is that we had a Swiss boy who was much younger than myself. He was in his 30s. And I was in my 40s. We had the oldest, Pius Olugbesan. ex customs secretary to the director of customs in those days. Apart from that I am second to him in age. But apart from the working class, I was the oldest. I was in my early 40s.

We weren’t so young, and the Swiss man was very knowledgeable about the job we were doing. We were all very knowledgeable about the job but everybody has his own section in the company we opened. It grew very fast.

How did you get funding?

All those industries, if you know your job, people will like to give you job if they can trust you. The trust is number one thing you should have that people will have confidence to give you the money, bring out the cargo.

And so on. We didn’t borrow. We didn’t borrow until even the time the Swiss man left. Up till now, my company, we are not owing anybody.

Business in Nigeria now
Oh, there is a lot difference. Before, it was so easy. If you get into that place to start now, it is a little bit difficult for you to start, except you are a professional. But if you are a professional now, to get people to trust you to get a real good job is difficult.

Lack of trusted now
Well, if you are in the industry, you build up trust. For instance, because, you have a degree in the industry. You want to start but they don’t trust you, and to deal with a Nigerian, you have to deal with him for sometime.

We are happy because they know us from where we started, that’s Panalpina. The confidence was the real reason of the path to our growth. People trust in us.

Are you happy with things in your community?

I am not. I am trying to see whether we can develop it. But it’s difficult when you are not a politician.

What are the problems there?

The problems no water, no road, except now that PDP government was able to give us, through NDDC a road. Even when I was doing poultry, there was nobody to buy. I couldn’t increase. That was what the poultry stopped that time. Because of bad road. Now we have road but because of the small light they bring, they didn’t even give me any transformer. They just passed my place. May be because I am not a politician.

Is there any school?

The problem in my place, even in Ndokwa where I come from, except the private university we have now, no government impact in the whole of Ndokwa nation. We have three local governments. We are supposed to have seven or more because we don’t have people in front to fight for us in those days. We have only three LGAs-Ukwani LGA, Ndokwa West and Ndokwa East. We need at least seven because it was an old Aboh and Asaba division in those days. Asaba has more than seven now, three in Oshimili, three in Aniocha, and three in Agbor now. We have only three. You can imagine that.
I hope the world will hear. We want more LGAs in my area. We are very seriously looking for it. I hope the politicians are hearing me.

Any message for anyone who wants to stay up tp 80?

My message is, if you live a life, eat averagely, don’t eat so much, don’t starve yourself. Don’t drink more than you can. Drink doesn’t kill but you have to moderate it. Everything you do, if you do it averagely you live a good life.

Interview: Civil war or not, Igbo have no apologies for Nigeria, says Uwechue

By Uduma Kalu
President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Amb. Raph Uwechue, in an interactive session with Aka Ikenga, an umbrella body of Igbo professionals, last Sunday in the Lekki, Lagos palatial home of the professionals, Mr. Ausbeth Ajagu, told the Igbo to take back their self pride as they have no apologies to make in Nigeria, having contributed more to the unity of Nigeria. He also warned against neglecting the ethnic units that make up the country as well as his plans for Ohanaeze and how to deal with the Igbo identity crisis. EXCERPTS:

Igbo, ethnicity and Nigerian unity

Ndigbo worldwide have asked me to lead them for awhile, the apex Igbo organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo. I feel very humbled to be asked to take on the assignment.

When I took up the job, somebody said he thought I was a pan Africanist but has now shrunk to an

ethnic unit. I told him he was right except that he said I had shrunk. The ethnic unit is the national unit, large or small. You are born into it. When a nation like Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia split, it did so along ethnic lines. That is the unit.

It is national. Yoruba have Afenifere. The North have Arewa Consultative Forum.

The country we call Nigeria was put together by the British. That is the share they got from the Scramble for Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1885. When they were leaving, they called our people and asked them what they wanted to do.

‘Do you stay together or what?’ The founding fathers of Nigeria said, ‘Yes. We’ll stay together.’ They gave specific terms that because of the multiplicity of ethnic units of Nigeria, what they recommended and eventually adopted was a federation of those units.

Not just Nigeria but the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It means that the units below hold the country together. And this became the federating units ... to the extent that the Sarduana of Sokoto remained the leader of Northern Nigeria and sent his deputy to manage the affairs of the federation.

And at that time, we had three regions. The North was controlled by the Hausa-Fulani ethnic unit with other units around. The West was controlled the Yoruba ethnic unit with other units around. The East by the Igbo ethnic unit with other units around.

So the ethnic block is the foundation for Nigeria, and if we don’t pay attention to it, we are not paying attention to the basis of this country. Therefore, what Aka Ikenga represents, what Ohaneze Ndigbo represents, is the purity of the unit that make our country. You cannot be a good African if you are a bad Nigeria, and a cheat or a bad Ghanaian and be a good Ghanaiant. You cannot be a good Nigeria, a good senegalese etc if you are a bad Igbo or bad Wolof.

I am emphasising this point because some people do not want to be associated with their ethnic units. They are wrong. We should feel happy and proud to take interest in the foundation block that make up what we now call Nigeria.

What Nigeria used to behaving said that on general terms, let’s get back to Ndigbo, which is our own ethnic block. I have looked round... except that some people are sitting too far that I cannot see their faces clearly, and perhaps, I am perhaps the oldest here.

I knew what Nigeria used to be when we were young. I was brought up in Northern Nigeria. I studied in Sokoto, primary school. I when to secondary school in Kaduna, now Rimi College but then St John’s College. The gentleman from Okpanam, that is Chukwuma, Nzeogwu was two years my junior in St John’s College, Kaduna.
That’s was how we saw Nigeria.

And when people talk about Igbo enwe eze, that Igbos cannot come together, nothing can be further from the truth.

In those days in Kano, Okonkwo Canon Jideofor, all those people, came together and built Igbo schools all over the place. Zaccheaus Obi, that’s the father of Dr. Ben Onyeabor Obi, who was president of the Igbo Union for a long time, was active and and got the support of all our people.

It was the civil war imposed on our people that disorganised Ndigbo. And what we are now doing is to recover from the after effect of that diorganisation.

Igbo built Nigeria

No group contributed more to the building of Nigeria that Ndigbo. Whether it was the ability of people like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in the West, in Lagos, in those days, or the fact that Igbos are all over Nigeria building.

For example, this countrry called Nigeria started as two units-Northern and Southern Protectorates. It was Lord Lugard who said, after the Colonial Office was advised, that the two should be coupled so that the North, which was at that time not economically strong, be carried economically by the South, instead of Colonial Office sending subvention all the way from London. That is how we got the amalgation of 1914.

When Chief Tony Enahoro moved a motion here in Lagos for independnce, the British got frightened, at the legislature. Ndi ebe anyi si na inwi de ofia, e bele ya odu. (Instead of losing the whole rabbit to the bush, it is better to cut its tail).

The British then said, ‘a rather than leave the rest of Nigeria, let one part go and let’s keep one part. So in April 1957, the British offered independence to Nigeria but on regional basis.

Not as one unit but they agreed with a section of the country what to do. The north said they were not ready. The west said they were ready. It was Zik and Ndigbo who said no. That was the first time in my life I first heard the word balkanisation. Zik said rather than balkanise Nigeria, let’s wait for the North. That was how independence was delayed from ‘57 to 1960.

If the East at the time had opted for independence, what we would have got is the present states of the former Eastern Region from Bayelsa all the way to Cross River. Not only that, what was then Southern Cameroun, up to Bakassi would have become part of that Eastern Nigeria, with oil rich Bakassi right in the middle of a sovereign Eastern Nigeria controlled by the Igbo. Who could have made a greater sacrifice to keep Nigeria together?

There is nothing that can happen in this country where Ndigbo have not played a little role in promoting what is good for Nigeria. In East Africa, people talk about the Indians. They make money but they take the money, either to India or....

Ndigbo have put their money where their factory is. They are the ones developing Nigeria. El Rufai, former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, said that 73-or 74 percent of the present investment in property development in the FCT is Ndigbo. If they didn’t believe in one Nigeria why would they put their money? They can make their money and bring it to Awka, or bring it to Owerri, or Enugu, or Umuahia. It shows that Ndigbo have done more than any other group.

When in the former Eastern Region, Enugu, mayoralty was created, the Igbo NCNC and the Igbo controlled government organised an election in which the Northern Umaru Adimu was elected the first mayor of Enugu metropolis.

So we have nothing to apologise to anybody in Nigeria about anything. Nothing! So, my feeling is that what we are doing, you know it’s important. You may not know how important it is. Many of us can recall this event.

What about our children who did not participate in what happened and only believe what they are told? It is therefore important that we should invest our time and effort in sustaining the Igbo culture, the Igbo organisation, and the Igbo political and economic interest in this country.

His plans for Ndigbo

We will take off. It’s not not a question of speech making.

The first thing to do is to get Igbo to know that they have nothing to apologise to anybody for in Nigeria. If their self pride comes back, every other thing comes through.

So, it’s not a question of giving you a catalogue of what we will do. No. It’s a question of getting Igbo recognise who they are and start thinking together. Then committees will be set up. Other things will be happening. And ideas will come up. And we should not bother what other people say. We should bother about Igbo think. Don’t cover your shoulder.

So, everything that you’ve been talking about is reaching into what I am telling you now. The answer will come when we take off.

For the Igbo language, it pains everybody. Language is the identifying mark of an ethnic group. I can tell you as a person my little contribution. We started the foreign service in 1950, we recruited just before independence.

I served in Cameroun where I had my first child. In Pakistan where I had my second child. In Mali where i had my third child. The last one was born in Paris. If you step into my house, the only language you speak is Igbo. The only language.....

In Paris, my little daughter looked at an old man trying to fall her and said, “Okenya, I na ene kwa anya ebe ijeko. (This old man, do you look at where you are going). She spoke Ogwashi to stranger in the middle of Paris. That is confidence.... get the master key. The master key is that Igbo could begin to feel proud to be Igbo, apologise to nobody for anything. Other things will follow.

This is what I want to tell you. We need your cooperation for this. And I believe we’ll get that corporation.

Rivers Igbo and their identity crisis

The chairman said, like Anioma has got the leadership, both of Aka Ikenga and Ohanaeze. In Rivers State, there is nobody whose name is Amechi and will say it is not Igbo. But the civil war did damage to the pathology of Igbo people, particularly in Rivers State. If we get our act together, those who say they are not Igbo will become Igbo. Until we do, they will not. So, let’s not bother with those details. They are fringes. Let Igbo pride come back.

(Response from |Dr. Sylvanus Ebigwei, Aka Ikenga chairman)

Anyi bu ndi Anioma. (We are Anioma) It is not by accident that Anioma has now been given the mantle of leadership of Ndigbo. They recognise us as Ndigbo as we recognise ourselves as Ndigbo. The message to our own brothers and sisters is to stop this issue of identity crisis which is pervading in some Igbo areas. Even as I am talking now, a group in Delta state, Anioma, are now saying we must come out to inaugurate a branch of Aka Ikenga; that since there is already Ohanaeze in Delta, Aka Ikenga must also be in Delta.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Washington diplomacy and the apologies of the General

By Emma Okocha

The principle of equality within a community is difficult to define. Equality is never Great Britain, the principle would be infringed, and the community broken, if people with blue eyes were less favorably treated than people with brown.
The importance attached to the idea of equality in international politics is shewn by the number and insistence of the demand based on it.

‘Most-favored nation’ treatment, the ‘Open Door’ the old German claim to ‘a place in the sun’, the recent German claim to Gleichberechtigung or equality of status’, have all been demands for the application of the principle of equality.’’
—Hallett Carr, The 20 Years Crisis 1919-1939, An Introduction to the Study of International Relations, London: Macmillan 1939 Page 163.

"Some executives go through their careers bemoaning the lack of quality people. Others actually seek out second rate associates to enhance their stature . T

he best leaders, of course, surround themselves with the best people, and in this regard Jefferson is a role model par excellence...His associates, men like James Madison and Albert Gallatin, were gifted leaders in their own right....independent, responsible competent. Jefferson chose colleagues who were equal to him intellectually, morally and circumstantially, he abhorred Yes-men and intellectual weaklings.’’
—Prof. Garrett Ward Sheldon.

"Two issues - Oil and Terrorism have combined to compel the United States to accept Africa and African countries as strategic partners beyond ‘’HUMANITARIANISM’’.

The US needs the cooperation of African countries to effectively combat and contain terrorism world-wide, as well as ensure regular supply of crude oil and lessen her dependency on crude oil from volatile Middle East region.’’
—Ambassador George Obiozor, Nigeria And The World, New York: Triatlantic Books 2007 Page 164.

"When Alhaji Ali Akilu, the then Secretary of the Northern Nigerian Government learnt that I was an associate of his good friend Sule Kolo, he ordered that my accommodation at the Hotel be canceled, so that I would be his personal guest.

This brief visit introduced me, for the first time, to the home and heart of a Hausa /Fulani aristocrat. I, like other southerners, often saw them as stereotype, yet they are the kindest and the most generous Nigerians.

Of course, they know their interests, which they protect and advance. I could not think of his counterpart Chief Secretary in the South offering this type of hospitality to a younger officer....With us, Igbo relationship was stratified. It was not expected of an Igbo Minister to visit his subordinate Igbo officer; he was so distant and aloof.

The Hausa /Fulani knew better, interacted harmoniously and planned together .It was no surprise that they always acted in unison, whilst we were so disorganized and disparate.....

The Ambassador did not take kindly to this and, in his response, accused the civil service bureaucracy of sabotaging the political class. Sir Abubakar, sent another message, in his name recalling the Ambassador,and instructing him to hand over (the Washington DC) mission to me.’’
—Ambassador G. A. Onyegbula, The Nigerian-Biafran Bureaucrat, Ibadan: Spectrum Books 2005 Page102

"I have the privilege and honor to serve under distinguished and gallant senior officers of different backgrounds in my service to the Nigerian army. God almighty has blessed me with children whose mother is half Igbo and half Yoruba.’’
—Outgoing Nigerian Ambassador to Washington, Brigadier, Oluwole Rotimi.

The news room was in furious stampede. The news editor had lost control. The commotion and the celebration from the top floor of the This Day’s Ikeja temporary offices, had found chorus, understanding and hilarious linkage with the rabbling street urchins who had instantly taken command of the city’s major highways. Not to be caught unawares I rushed into the safety of my friend’s office.

Emmanuel Efeni, a Director of the Newspaper, was the first to explode the news in my face. Ibrahim Abacha, the son to the late Head of State ‘’is dead!” He had been killed in an air crash, near the approaches of the Kano airport.

He and his fiancee, a young lady whose beauty was the type that caused civil wars among men, went with the ball. In total shock, and in tears I tore to shreds my completed Sports column and there, paid my last tribute to a friend, and a benefactor, who had flown me and the Jacksons’ family advance party, from New York to Nigeria.

Under our auspices the family was to undertake a visit to Nigeria. Now why should I join this unnatural ululation, celebrating the sudden and violent passage of a young man. Ibrahim, in my very short memory of him had showed me friendship, kindness and had recently, taken my US delegation to his family home in Kano, where, he led me right inside his mother’s inner chambers. We were to do many big things.

I find myself in the same dilemma, as the news of the recall of the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States hit the waves. A lot of diatribe has been unleashed on the former Ambassador but the fundamental questions are yet to be addressed. How far have the events leading to his recall and the recall itself, moved to affect the US/Nigeria relations?

Indeed, what are the landmarks of the US/Nigeria relations? Finally, what are the consequences of the General’s apologies; for those retired military top brass, who after their retirement are still angling to be in government? What happens to those who are already in government?

And of course, what is going on with the general reconstitution of power within the Yar’Adua axis as these forces consolidate to face the other serious contenders in a the nation that is bracing up for the impending political tussle of 2011 and beyond?

What about the Governors’ powerful emerging lobby, and who can predict the movement of the other external PDP players?

Whether the AC and the ANPP? Will the opposition merge or continue to confront the PDP separately? How safe are the Obasanjo’s insiders, since the widely promoted stop over in Otta of former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar?

In his irregular weekend banter, with select African and Nigerian professionals in the Washington area, consummate diplomat, Dr. Obiozor was often enthused with his own description of the power relations between the United States and Nigeria.

He would go, ‘’If the Number One wants to talk to Africa, Number One will call on Africa’s Number One.

So I go there as Number One, talking with Number One! Our job according to him, was to maintain that number one position in Africa, so that the world’s number one would continue to respect our position especially in those issues that bother on our African policies.

Understandably, the appointment of a retired military top brass to the US was therefore a negative signal and to the United States a reminder of the unsavory days of the locusts, when the military ruled against democracy in Nigeria.

It will be recalled that on the General’s arrival, the first diplomatic faux par was recorded, when the President without the right advice or the correct timing, visited the White House during the twilight days of the George Bush’s presidency.

A very bitter Washington winter weather embraced that jejune Federal delegation of no purpose.

President Yar’Adua’s feet, soiled after the controversial elections, managed on the visit to swallow the bitter pills, promised to reform the process and with a straight face in the White House put his hands forward.

The Number One who was equally debilitated by his wars and moribund legacies, stretched out in welcome, but greeted his August guest with naked hands.
Nothing was demanded, nothing was his, to give. That delegation returned with a lot of sand in their pockets.

Meanwhile, the Ambassador assumed duties with the determination of selling Yar’Adua’s incoherent policies.

But unlike his predecessor, he is not a man with the gift of the garb.
Not schooled in the language of the diplomatese, we knew he was courting trouble when he refused to grant interviews to reporters. At his age, he was also not very interested in organizing events or working long nights.

Like a good old soldier, we loved the few times His Excellency, glowed before the limelight. I tell you, we loved his impeccable touches, his imperial carriage.

His ‘’half Igbo and half Yoruba’’ wife and daughter Tokumbo could match the Obamas pound for pound, inside any beauty contest arena anywhere. He is leaving the scene not because he frightened the international community with the way he dressed or by the way he spoke.

Oluwole Rotimi will be remembered by Washingtonians for his belief that cultural outfits are necessary abutments of the diplomatic wardrobe.

They would be used, and when the occasion demands, worn with elan, sophistication and with little apologies.

The Nigerian Embassy in Washington is only second in importance to the Nigerian House at the James Court, London.

Replete with its own histories of perfidy, betrayals and internal administrative feuds by officers against each other or against politically appointed ambassadors, this embassy since the pioneer Ambassadors, Matthew Mbu, J. Edochi (from the Niger Delta region) have had its share of distraction from its stated mission.

Ambassador Edochi, a former politician from Edo State, was in fact the first Nigerian Ambassador plenipotentiary to be recalled by the late Prime Minister.

I was in school, when our affable Ambassador of the late 80’s was sent packing, following his involvement with a beautiful bar tender. He was caught on tape, red handed!! But for his diplomatic immunity and the quick intervention of the Babangida government that Ambassador could have gone to jail.

We have had others, most of whom were like Rotimi were retired officers posted here by military fiat. All the same, we believe that the principal reason for the good old Brigadier Rotimi ouster, may not be unconnected to his loyalty to General Obasanjo. Look at the horizon, the hangings have commenced, and for all the Obasanjo disciples, the noose can not be tighter.

The whole of the West once the sure Baronage under the Otta General, have all been wrestled from him. In Ondo, his nemesis, Governor Mimiko has been consecrated and not surprisingly returned.

From Ekiti to Ibadan, all the former states of the Oyo empire, including Ogun his home state, where Daniel is giving him and his fence jumping daughter a blind eye, all are moving away from his control.

His alliance in the unresolved Edo conundrum, is the PDP faction, that is on the receiving side. So why should a greater tomorrow, contending President, risk keeping an old soldier loyal to the Emperor, at the second most important embassy at this critical time of the game?

For those Igbos, who reason from their anus and come in without invitation to support or to congratulate their ‘Igbo Foreign Minister’ on the recall of the Ambassador, we ask the question; Where is the one, Igbo interest promoted in this latest joker from a very smart man who has continued to serve both mammon and God to remain with the arbiter of the time?

This is not a Yoruba Igbo face off. Under his watch, as the Foreign Affairs Minister, a Northerner is now the acting Ambassador in Washington. In London, Alhaji Dalhatu Tafida is our Envoy. In South Africa, Brigadier Marwa a northerner is our Ambassador. Who is the Ambassador in Germany and Saudi Arabia?

For the first time in our diplomatic history Northerners are posted to the most powerful seats without the Foreign Minister batting an eyelid. Whereas nobody worries about Jordan, Yemen, Indonesia, Egypt, Morocco etc. (On account of the Islamic inclination of the aforementioned countries.)

Why are Northern Ambassadors posted to Ireland, and Belgium? For those of you fighting the war of handkerchief, notice that when Igbo Ambassadors are nominated, over fed politicians who have failed their constituencies, like Kema Chikwe etc, are posted to Europe. Beautiful Kema cleaned the Lagos and Abuja Airports.

As the Aviation Minister, she expanded and designed the modern Lagos airport and put Abuja on the standard line. It was after she left office that her own Imo airport started functioning.

All Imo airport needed was just one tiny Ministerial memo and Imo airport and the state could have come alive! Under the Foreign Minister, the US embassies facilitate immigration visa, operate libraries, educational programmes etc. in the West and the North, where the US embassies are situated. The Eastern and the Midwestern regions have been neglected.

To come down to Lagos or to go up to the north, takes some few days of pain and a lot of costs for those other Nigerians who travel down to Lagos Abuja, or Kaduna to be part of the American Dream.

What has been the reaction of the Foreign Minister to this anomaly?
To dominate External postings of foreign service personnel by one group in the Nigerian federation is a dangerous defect of the federal law and practice.

It becomes unacceptable, when these often incompetent officers who had their first assignment and test on the job, are hoisted into civilization after serving as a messenger or chief clerk in one of the triage nations of the Sahara.

Come to think of it, who is the Acting Ambassador, Who is the Head of Chancery in the Washington Embassy of Nigera? Who is the Accountant? Who is the Military Attachee? Who are the Nigerian Embassy Consuls? Over 70 percent of the Washington Embassy staff from the veil wearing receptionist, up to the acting Ambassador are Northerners.

Before we lose our sleep, fighting other peoples war, The Foreign Minister came from the same stable as the recalled Ambassador.

They were Obasanjo’s hitmen before any thing else. But in the Machiavellian school where power and the naked absolute rush to acquire more and exercise unlimited authority over other players, dictate the modus operanda, strident students of this school take no prisoners.

The Foreign Minister was with Abacha, made it with Obasanjo and now he has to show credence by knocking down another old mate who is not a card carrying disciple of Machiavelli.

Finally, we can never forgive Muritala Mohammed, T. Danjuma, Black Scorpion, Benjamin Adekunle for the genocide the former committed in Asaba, and for the manner the last two conducted the war against the Rag tag army.

Brigadier Oluwole, has apologized, like General Gowon did at Asaba in 1998.Hence we shall plead and ask the Rag tag army officers and men, to forgive the disgraced general.

The war and who actually won it (there was serious depopulation of the males in the Middle Belt. The area that supplied the foot soldiers for the Federal army, immediately after the war) is a matter best left for scholars and historians.

Whatever, the war is another issue. The fallout of the recall of Ambassador Oluwole Rotimi is rather exigent. Who is the President posting to Washington and for what purpose?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Toxic Diplomacy

By Obi Nwankanma

The tension of Nigeria’s ethnic architecture reared up its head decisively again in the last one week when the letter written to foreign minister, Mr. Ojo Maduekwe by the now erstwhile ambassador to the United States, Oluwole Rotimi, a brigadier and former military governor of the Western State, came to light.

In the letter, just not so as to rehash the circumstance as to highlight its implication and context, the former Brigadier Rotimi had written with elephantine angst to the foreign minister, calling him a “tribalist” and suggesting that he had dealt with people like him before.
How so? Well, Brigadier Rotimi had been, he wrote, the quartermaster-general of the Nigerian Army that dealt with Biafra’s “rag-tag army” of which Ojo Maduekwe was a captain. In swift response, the foreign minister had copied the president, pointing to the utter disdain which the presumptuous Rotimi held both his person and his office, and as events have proved, began what Brigadier Rotimi can now hardly call a “rag-tag” effort to recall the man from his sinecure position as ambassador to the United States.

The background to this situation might as well reflect the profound inadequacies and incompetence that generally characterize Nigeria’s public service, rooted as it were, in the profound cracks in the ideas of a nation which has now come to see sensitive public positions as ethnic pay-off or preferment rather than as an effort at nation-building.
The situation with Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi we have come to learn, came to its decisive heights during the inauguration of the US president, Mr. Barack H. Obama, when the Nigeria ambassador broke all known diplomatic protocols by shunting the foreign minister and chief ambassador in his introduction of the Nigerian delegation.

He had in fact treated Ojo Maduekwe with contempt and had introduced Mr. Emeka Anyaoku, former secretary-general of the Commonwealth, as head of the Nigerian delegation.
This was an act of gross insubordination, and came to its quite hilarious acme when Ambassador Rotimi, in response to the foreign minister’s query about his conduct went off the cliff of reason and launched what can now be described as the greatest diplomatic faux pas in Nigeria’s diplomatic history.

The ambassador’s dispatch to his principal was not only dripping with personal insult it was replete with toxic history. Rotimi woke the restless ghosts of Nigeria’s most terrible national disaster: the civil war in which millions of the Igbo and other Easterners had been killed, deliberately starved, and raped. That Rotimi, a key player in that event would still puff with unimaginable candour for his role in that slaughter points to something egregious and irresolvable in the national psyche of a nation and the context of national belonging.

In fact, while Rotimi’s role as quarter-master gneral in that event did not bring him directly to the fields, he now bears direct historical responsibility for supplying the armies that committed grievous evil against the civilian populations of the East and much of the Midwest.
The massacres at Asaba in which the Nigerian Army selectively annihilated an entire generation of men, from the age of fifteen and above, who had been called out at the Ogbo-Ogonogo square to be executed, remains fresh in many minds.

The writer and journalist, Emma Okocha, whose family had been virtually wiped out by that act has written a most unforgettable book of that event, which he has called Blood on the Niger, a haunting account of the operations of the Army of which Oluwole Rotimi had been quarter-master general, and of which he remains quite inordinately proud. There are many more accounts waiting to be written about the very genocidal acts of that war, of the bombing of civilian targets: markets, schools, hospitals, and even relief planes flying the cross of mercy, which had been shot down deliberately to enforce the food blockade of Biafra. There are many unmarked graves from Afor-Umuohiagu to Uzuakoli of innocent people who were killed by the guns sent to the fields by the quartermaster-general.

This is all too true. But what Oluwole Rotimi could never in good conscience say was that the Biafran forces were a “rag-tag” army. It was a disciplined force which held its grounds for three years. Indeed, it was an army which the French ambassador who visited Biafra in the period said: “before I came, I thought the Biafrans fought like real men. Today I know that real men fight like the Biafrans.” But because Brigadier Rotimi wanted to exact his full quarter of history in a futile fight with his superior, he had to sneak it all in, gloating about his exploits in the defeat of “a rag tag army” of which the current foreign minister was but indeed a subaltern.

These talks would have far less significance had there not been, within the context of post-war Nigerian history, a sense that the Igbo who returned to Nigeria have felt increasing isolation and alienation from the centre of Nigerian affairs. There have also been two streams of thought in Igboland, one which seems to suggest that the Igbo should forgive and integrate fully to Nigerian affairs irrespective of the egregious and obnoxious compacts that consistently seek to reduce its stakes in Nigeria, and the other which tends to feel that the Igbo should begin to deal very decisively with any further acts of violence of any kind - physical or epistemic - against it; essentially as deterrent to anybody who might seek unwarranted heroism on Igbo dead or interest. Among the last group have been advocates for bringing those who committed war crimes against the Igbo to the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal.

This group believes that had the Igbo taken these people to answer before the court of conscience, that such fatuous gloating by people like Oluwole Rotimi who prefer not to let the Igbo continue to chew their cuds on these matters, and quietly mourn their dead, would have been long resolved, and equifinally. Perhaps someone should remind Brigadier-General Rotimi, that war crimes in international law have no time bars.

The other aspect of this is that Brigadier-General Rotimi, unfortunately, has tapped into what many now see as the historical faultlines in the ethnic relationship between the Yoruba and the Igbo. I need to say this quite upfront, that General Rotimi’s comment does not reflect the Yoruba people, or their ordinary feelings about the Igbo with whom they have, to the best of my experiences, remained in healthy and fair competition as do many competitive cultures.
But it does seem that General Rotimi belongs to the party of the Yoruba elite in that historical divide who found their voices and discovered their lifetime work in the deconstruction of the Igbo as vital forces in the building of this nation.

The unfortunate thing is that General Rotimi is an educated man: one of the earliest university trained Nigerians to be commissioned into the officers corps of Nigerian Army, having earned the degree of the University of London. But his career was made in the bloodbath: he took over from the slain Arthur Unegbe as quartermaster-general; he became the governor of Western Nigeria under the Gowon administration, and he was apparently among those who held sway in enforcing a Carthaginian treaty with the East in spite of the “no victor, no vanquished” treaty that ended that war.

General Rotimi must be in some funk of war. It is so, I suggest, because many years later, he remains quite unaware that the war has ended. The Igbo have moved on. Indeed, the Igbo moved on to other things by January 16, 1970, one day after armistice was declared on both sides of the conflict. It is only sad that because people like Oluwole Rotimi remained influential in the affairs of Nigeria, and continued for many years to harbour, it seems, not the Olympian dreams of building a great country, but the Olympian dreams of teaching Igbo a lesson for daring to be at lead, from the anticolonial agitation to the first years of independence, and thus stamped their authority firmly, and in so doing, stamped on the egoistic feet of the Oluwole Rotimis of this world, Nigeria continues to have an Igbo problem. Rotimi was part of the project of a final solution on the Igbo problem.

But even that failed. It failed because, somehow, people transcend the straps that hold them bound to oppressive time and history. To heal Nigeria is a historical task. People like Oluwole Rotimi will have to give way. It is proper, therefore, that he has been recalled from his post by the president.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Look Who Is Going To School In Nigeria: The Statistics May Surprise You.

by Ike Agbor

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence”. John Adam’s (1735 – 1826) argument as he defended soldiers in the Boston Massacre trials in December 1770.

In a every conceivable hamlet in Nigeria and most of Africa are men and women from the South-East who toil to make ends meet, and because of their sheer number, the press in Nigeria has continued to assert, albeit wrongly that the South-Easterners have abandoned education.
Why is that so?

Come along with me as we meander through the maze, bare the facts and bust the myth of who is in school and who is not.

We will begin by consulting JAMB, culling figures from UME admissions in the years 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, and then crunching the numbers and provide the statistics.

Fig.1. Total Admissions for the six year period for the six geo-political zones

It is noteworthy that the South-West lags behind among the three zones that comprise the South, and so for the purposes of this presentation, I will limit the study to the three Southern zones as the Northern zones have historically lagged behind their Southern counterparts.

Fig.2. Admissions for South-East, South-West and South-South

From the above, it can thus be established that the South-East has more of her young men and women admitted to Nigerian universities than either the South-West or the South-South; “quota” system not withstanding. The South-South has been next to the South-East in the number of university admissions in all the years except 2006 and 2007 when South-West made a nominal gain. Within the South-South, it is interesting to note that Delta State is tops, and no attempt will be made on the part of the author to divvy up the South-South for the purposes of this presentation in spite of the fact that Delta and Rivers States have more of their young men and women admitted than Kwara and Kogi put together, so no numbers will be appropriated from the South-South into South-East, in as much as in the same token no remnants of Kogi and Kwara States will be consigned into the South-West.

The South-East and the South-West have far more homogeneity within the population that occupies its geographic space due to language. It is also noteworthy that there is a presence of Ijaw in the South-West but still my subsequent comparison will be solely confined to only the South-West and the South-East.

Fig.3. Male / Female admissions in the South-East

It can be seen from the above that it was only in 2004 that the number of women surpassed the men by a miniscule number. Also note the spikes in 2003 and 2004; I am not sure whether to attribute that to the number of universities under the wing of JAMB or to some other factors. The spike is also apparent when South-East is compared to both South-West and South-South (See Fig.4). It is also noteworthy that the South-East women have continued to keep pace with their male counterparts. To make a blanket statement that the South-East has abandoned education is totally false; that there are a number of men who are gainfully employed either as artisans or traders only goes to show that the South-East population has always been underestimated.

Fig.4. South-East and South-West total admissions

It is discernible that in the years from 2002 until 2007, the South-East has continued to lead the South-West in university admissions. The South-East bested the South-West in terms of number of admissions in both genders also. As to the spikes in 2003 and 2004, my best bet would be that in the subsequent years, JAMB divested from the number of universities under its wing. (See also Fig.3.)

Fig.5. South-East and South-West admissions for males

We can glean from the above chart that there are more Southeast males in the universities than their counterparts in the Southwest. In 2005 ad 2006 the numbers essentially remained the same for each zone.

Fig.6. South-East and South-West female admissions

From the above, there are more South-East females in the universities than their SW female counterparts.

Fig.7. South-East Female and South-West Male admissions for six years

From the above, there are more S females in the universities than SW males.

Fig.8. South-East Male and South-West female admissions for six years

From the above there are more SE males in the universities than SW females

Fig.9. South-East and South-West male and female admissions for six years

From the above, among all genders, SE males lead the SE females barely, who in turn lead the SW males. The SW females are fewer in number of admissions than all others.

We can deduct from the above bar charts as follows:
From fig.1: among the six geo-political zones for six years admissions from 2002 through 2007, the SE leads followed by SS, then SW, NC, NW while NE bottomed out.
Fig.2: The SE leads the three zones in the south
Fig.3: Total male admissions in the SE is more than the female admissions for the six year period
Fig.4: SE leads SW in total admissions for six years in a row
Fig.5: SE males lead their SW counterparts in admissions for six years in row
Fig.6: SE females lead their SW counterparts in admissions for six years in a row
Fig.7: SE females lead SW males in admissions for six years in a row
Fig.8: SE males lead SW females in admissions for six years in a row
Fig.9: In all genders, SE males are tops, followed by SE females, then SW males, while S females bottomed out

In conclusion, if we add up the number of young men and women who are admitted into Nigeria universities together with the South-East men and women who are in the remotest conceivable hamlets of every state in Nigeria, and the rest in the West African sub-region and other parts of Africa, who are wrongly accused of having abandoned higher education while there South-East peers hold their own, it makes me to still demand to know how many we really are; the Nigerian state continues to spew out spurious population censuses.

Finally, if the South-East has more people in the universities when there is no reason other than that they have more candidates applying for same, it would be right and appropriately so to postulate that it in terms of population, there are more people in the South-East than either in the South-West or the South-South.

So the next time they tell you that South-East males have abandoned school, point the statistics in their face. And more poignantly ask them: O bu anyi anaghi eme ofuma; anyi oga egburu unu onwe anyi? (Aren’t we doing well already; do we commit suicide for you all?)

But wait, in the next segment when the 2006 population census will be analyzed, the reader will be in for more shocker; the 2006 population census has Oyo State as the most populated State in the South-West outside Lagos, with a population of 5,591,581, while the most populated state in the South-East is Anambra State with a total population of 4,182,032.
However in 2007 JAMB admissions, Anambra State recorded a total of 8,725 in admissions while Oyo State had 3,788….I am crunching the numbers.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Healing the Igbo World

by Obi Nwakanma

LAST week, renowned novelist Chinua Achebe delivered the Ahiajioku lectures. The Ahiajioku annual lectures have become the most important public podium for a distinguished Igbo thinker to address the Igbo on a fundamentally Igbo issue. The visionary government of Dr. Sam Onunaka Mbakwe established the Ahiajioku lectures in Owerri, and the first lecture was given by the eminent scholar and critic, Professor MJC Echeruo on the subject: “Ahamefula: a matter of identity.”

Echeruo’s pioneering exploration set the tone for the Ahiajioku lectures which have hosted an array of distinguished Igbo scholars including the late D.I. Nwoga; Angulu Onwuejiogwu, Pius Okigbo, Bede Okigbo, Ben Nwabueze, Adiele Afigbo, Anya O.Anya, Victor Uchendu, Nolue Emenanjo, up to the past week, with Chinua Achebe. I still hope that the Ahiajioku committee will consider getting either the eminent Ben Obumselu or Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, if the gods of the Igbo world keep them, to give next year’s lectures and the year after. The harvest is consistently rich. It is one important forum where a lively gathering of the Igbo experience momentary epiphany.

This year’s lectures by Achebe did not, it seems, address a specific area of Igbo life, but spoke more in a general way about the challenges before the Igbo in the areas of the uses, and the development of the Igbo language and history, the sustenance of the Igbo ethical life of work, industry, innovation, probity, thrift, and honesty, and the fostering of a more coherent Igbo identity to reunite its confederal patchwork and re-ignite Igbo collective agency. Basically, a renewal of the Igbo spirit - that mystical sense of what the Germans call the “volk”- as a means of self discovery. There is a sense in the Igbo world, especially among its thinking classes today, that there is an Igbo crisis of identity and value, and that this crisis of the Igbo is at the roots of its contemporary limitations particularly in the formation of nation.

At the core of the Ahiajioku lectures is the project of self-interrogation; a means by which the Igbo ask questions of themselves. It was not accidental that only nine years after the end of the civil war that devastated the Igbo world and almost sapped its national will, the most self-aware government elected by the people since the end of the war, led by a visionary man, put together a committee of Igbo intellectuals to explore the possibility of what has now become the Ahiajioku lectures.
The conceptual frame of the “Ahiajioku” idea is particularly, thanks to the secular and historical imagination of the brilliant Donatus Nwoga and Gaius Anoka, to provide sacred grounds for pan-Igbo ruminations using its greatest mythos - its season of thanksgiving.

They did not limit the lectures to merely the concerns of “Imo state”- to that narrowing of the field of what it means to be Igbo. But they created the grounds of a pan-Igbo discourse community; a means of looking at, and renewing the Igbo world; in which a worthwhile Igbo was invited to explore the Igbo question. My point is that unlike today, the Mbakwe administration did not limit the possibility of the Igbo world. They saw the stark possibility of a renewed Igbo enterprise. It was called Igbo unity. This was also at the core of Chinua Achebe’s lectures last week. But Igbo unity is not a merely theoretical thing. It must be the product of generative action; a well thought-out and instrumentalized process that begins from that interrogatory stance: who are the Igbo?
What makes anyone Igbo? Igbo is of course the totality of identity, values, rituals, memory, heritage, left to us by the Igbo ancestors. But one is not Igbo merely because they bear Igbo names or have Igbo parents.

It is, as Echeruo said, “a matter of identity” – the product of consciousness. At the central philosophical core of Igbo conception of being and agency is the self (“onwe”), that fully Cartesian conception of the subjective.
In other words, long before Rene Descartes grappled with the question, one of the foundational thesis of the European enlightenment, outlined in his famous Discourse on Method, the Igbo had settled the problem quite elegantly of the self-conscious “I” of history. I will leave the more subtle theoretical issues around this to Igbo Philosophers like T. Uzodinma Nwala, but it is important to situate the idea of the Igbo self (“onwe”) in its relation to the collective other (“onwe anyi”) to understand the Igbo.

It is a cultural psychology that insists on the primacy of autonomy and shared autonomy, what some identify as the “king in everyone.” But ever so conscious of intricate dualism, the Igbo also understand that the autonomous self - the “onwe” - is subject to only one king: the “Oha”- the collective will. That is why the Igbo say, the king of the people is the Oha. Whenever the Igbo gather in freedom, there, their sovereign will is constituted.

I point this out basically to counter Asagba na Asaba, Professor Chike Edozien’s suggestion at the Ahiajioku lectures for the creation of the institution of “Eze Igbo Nile”- the Igbo King - on a rotation that would function like the papacy. his is a very bold proposition and move to create an Igbo monarchy. But the Igbo think of the monarchy as abominable (“Ezebuiro”), a fact which Achebe himself has noted in one of his essays in Home and Exile. So it will be futile to embark on such an illusion.

I, as Igbo, am my own king. But there are two kinds of Igbo today: a handful that want to institute the monarchy in Igboland, inspired by the feudal and monarchical cultures of the Igbo neighbors.
These pseudo royalists want an Igbo “ruling class” to be master over a vast, landless, new peasantry which they wish to create and dominate. Majority of the Igbo nevertheless remain skeptical and free; true democrats, who would never countenance the rise of the monarchy. They keep to the republican ideal of the Igbo world that has historically made the Igbo one of the most vital, resourceful, innovative, and freest cultures/people in the world. To lose that vitality is akin to death.

The Igbo world is in fact in crisis, and Achebe’s lecture was not fully able to capture the ramifications. But we must listen to Chinweizu’s admonitions about an urgent and necessary return and revival of Igbo culture.
The first place to start is to return to its authority system - the “Umunna” system and upturn the incipient “Igwe” or new warrant chieftaincies that now dot the Igbo world. The Igbo are faced with 21st century problems and must adopt 21st century solutions. It is a major tragedy that key, brilliant Igbo like the famous novelist V.C. Ike, the economist Green Nwankwo, the musicologist, Laz Ekwueme, and the famous bioscientist, Chike Edozien, among many have succumbed to the “Igwe” antinomy. It is largely a waste of human resources. Their peers in Europe and America are chairing large foundations, helping to raise funds for research institutions, remaining active in scientific and humanistic education; heading the trusts of major universities and independent laboratories, creating values that sustain and validate the highest pursuits of their societies, and leading their communities as volunteers and models of the highest civic acts: democratic involvelment.

They should be talking about remodeling, re-equipping, and upgrading facilities in all schools in Igboland to meet the needs of the current century; they should be concerned about creating a new generation of Igbo and even Nigerian leadership through deliberate, strategic action and education; they should be proposing the establishment of the Mbonu Ojike Medical Research Centre as the teaching hospital for the School of Health Sciences of the Federal University of Technology Owerri; they should be putting their heads together to raise money throughout Igbo land for the Anioma University; they should establish the Igbo People's Fund with seven trustees, to raise money and fund Igbo Education and Scientific Research, Igbo political Action, Igbo People's Security Initiative; the Nnamdi Azikiwe professorships; the Ibiam residency; the Eni Njoku BioTech Fund; the Jaja Wachukwu Centre for Strategic and International Studies; the Osadebe Prize; the Odumegwu-Ojukwu Centre, etc. etc.