Sunday, April 25, 2010

A singer gives voice to Nigeria’s anger


Nneka was about to launch into the final chorus of “Vagabond in Power (VIP)” when the secret service arrived.

She had already stirred up the crowd in Port Harcourt, Nigeria’s oil city, with a few barbs aimed at the political class and Royal Dutch Shell – both frequent targets for animosity in the Niger Delta, where most people have little but violence and despoiled creeks to show for decades of crude extraction.

“There were 15,000 people singing,” the half-Nigerian, half-German singer recalls, sipping water in a corner of Bogobiri, a Lagos bar that serves as a hub for many of the vast capital’s artists and musicians. “It was heavy, heavy energy.”

December’s “peace concert”, organised by a local newspaper, was a world away from the flash Glasgow venue where she had collected the 2009 Mobo award for best African act three months earlier, a recognition of the eclectic blend of soul, reggae, hip-hop and African styles that has won her acclaim across Europe and, lately, the US.

Nigerians have a long history of wittily disparaging leaders who have too often failed them but the authorities are not accustomed to such large-scale denunciations. As agents started to hassle her crew at the back of the stage, she finished the song and made a hasty exit.

Nneka Egbuna regards giving voice to her people’s anger – mainly in pidgin English, their lingua franca – as her calling. “Dem come fish our water empty / Dem come chop our oil plenty,” go the opening lyrics of “Niger Delta”, from her second album No Longer at Ease (her recent first release in the US, Concrete Jungle, combines tracks from her two albums released in Europe).

A 28-year-old who has spent much of her adult life abroad, Nneka’s readiness to sing the truth to power places her among a generation of Nigerians whose frustration at the mismanagement of their country is starting to bubble over into mobilisations ahead of next year’s elections.

But unlike many of the so-called “re-pats” who have returned from lucrative jobs and expensive educations in New York and London, Nneka’s path has been gruelling. Cleaning toilets in Hamburg while she worked on her music was a time of excitement compared with what had gone before.

The low point was when she fled her Nigerian father’s house in Warri, the delta’s second city, at the age of 19. She “had to get out of the madness at home”, she explains, without elaborating. Without a passport, she made it to Hamburg, home to her white German mother. It took a month in a grim detention centre to convince immigration officials of her German lineage (a previous effort three years earlier had ended in deportation).

“It was hell,” she says, but adds: “We always have this mentality as Nigerians: if you grow up tough here, you can make it happen anywhere.”

She spent the next three years in a house for women with nowhere else to go run by the Catholic church. She picked up German and made male friends who introduced her to hip-hop. She jammed.

“I was a bit shy ... scared to sing my thoughts.” Gradually, though, a powerful voice emerged from her elfin frame. One day she got word that a local producer was looking for a female vocalist to record in a makeshift studio. It was DJ Farhot. He introduced her to the work of politically charged American rappers Mos Def and Talib Kweli and would go on to be her closest musical collaborator. By 2005, Victim of Truth, her debut album, was ready.

“I tried to find an identity in music,” she says – and it shows. The lyrics are laden with race (to be explored), sex (to be enjoyed) and God (to be adored). She leaps between genres. The British trip-hop of Massive Attack sounds a strong influence. “Halfcast” from No Longer at Ease has echoes of Roni Size’s sophisticated drum ‘n’ bass. Other, softer songs have a flavour of Tracy Chapman’s plaintiveness. The voice by turn recalls Lauryn Hill or Nina Simone or Skin from 1990s UK rock group Skunk Anansie.

A recent show in Lagos (in Nigeria she plays with local musicians rather than her regular band for western tours) had a distinctly bluesy, improvised feel. “Heartbeat”, which reached number 20 in the UK charts in 2008, lays strings and rolling drums over a spare piano riff to create an infectious bounce.

If the styles are jumbled, they reflect Nneka’s roots. Even what she calls “the black side of me” is not straightforward. Her father was an Igbo, the main tribe of eastern Nigeria which has produced the novelists Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi-Adiche and whose attempted secession in 1967 sparked a horrific three-year civil war. But she was raised in Warri among the Urhobos, one of the Niger Delta’s patchwork of ethnic groups. She grew up only a few rungs above the poverty that is endemic in the delta despite its oil riches.

It was only after she ran from what she hints was a traumatic adolescence that her Nigerian identity came into focus. “Living in Germany Africanised me,” she says, reliving her anger at being called “nigger” for the first time on the streets of Hamburg. “I became more revolutionary.” She used her studies for an archaeology degree to probe Nigeria’s ancient history.

The western influence may be strong in her music but the Nigerian spirit is pervasive. “The music is like pidgin English – colonial and traditional together,” she says. “It’s half-caste music.”

“Vagabond in Power” borrows its title from Fela Kuti, father of Afrobeat and scourge of military dictators past. Many of Nneka’s lyrics share his subversive mischief. Fela’s abiding popularity is testimony as much to his genius as Nigeria’s failure to overcome the widespread corruption he attacked. Yet Nneka is not a keeper of the Afrobeat flame in the same mould as Fela’s sons, Femi and Seun Kuti. Neither, though, could she be classed with the emerging Nigerian rappers who rhyme about the cash and cars beloved of their superstar American counterparts. Perhaps the contemporary she most resembles is Paris-born Asa, Lagos’s folky singer-songwriter.

Critical adulation abroad was not instantly replicated at home. “For the first couple of years when I tried to push my music here, it was like: ‘Who is this oyinbo [white] person? It’s not Nigerian.’” Her popularity has grown since, although many still regard her as “niche”.

An urge to be acknowledged in Nigeria drove Nneka to move to Lagos two years ago after six years in Germany. Her next album, she suggests, will owe more to traditional music than to the sounds of the colonisers.

There is another reason to be around. From the stage in Port Harcourt, she says she sensed the fear of people who have known repression under the old generals and, more recently, during violent, rigged elections. That fear, coupled with a readiness of a highly religious country to entrust the future to God alone, has stifled public outrage, she believes.

That might be changing, as pro-democracy protests build anew. “People are becoming more conscious,” Nneka says. “It’s a silent revolution and it’s coming in camouflage – under music.”

Nneka appears at the Scala in London on April 28; Tour details from

Greatest compliment I ever received was when I played the role of a Yoruba man – Kalu Ikeagwu


YOU write poems and that is one aspect of you most people don‘t know about. How did it all start?

I have been writing poems from a young age and it is one of the ways I express my thoughts most. The first time I was aware of what was mostly going on around me was through literature, which was what my dad introduced me to as regards reading. He would always lay emphasis on it, both the one in Igbo and in English. I am a naturally creative and imaginative person, being something of an introvert; I tend to go into my own world. Literature helped fire that up in me. Besides, my studying English Literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka sort of reinforced it and I began to take it more seriously. I used to be intimidated by the form of literature, that is, its rigidity, its rhymes, in alliteration but I just chose to do mine, free style. That seemed okay with me as long as I was able to capture imagery in words as best as I could and most importantly, be able to convey to the reader what I was saying. I also try to keep my poem as simple as possible. I like a lot of humour in my poem, not the complexities of the Wole Soyinka kind of poem.

Have you tried publishing any?

No I haven‘t. I just keep amassing them although I am seriously thinking of doing that as soon as possible, maybe put two of the ones that are very dear to me into short 10-minute films. Its reviews would determine if I would publish.

You also blog; how did that also evolve?

Most recently, I started to keep a blog to sort of guide my readers into my thoughts, experiences and what I think about in the past, present, sometimes on set, social issues I see that I am not very happy with. It is a mix, any and everything. It is with a view to sharing me with everyone else. I started blogging last year April. The feedback has been quite good and I have my adult followers. I am also looking seriously to being more serious as regards screen writing. And maybe also write at least a novel before I kick the bucket.

Are you thinking along the line of directing?

Yes, because screen writing and directing go hand in hand.

How long have you been acting?

About 20 years, but I started off with stage acting.

Which is your ultimate preference, stage or pictures?

I like both; they both have their attractions. I wouldn‘t be what I am today if not for stage. The only difference between the two is that on stage, you do a lot of research to get into the character you want to play. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was when I played the role of a Yoruba man from Ondo State in a stage play. On one of the nights after the play had ended, one of the members of the audience walked up to me and asked if I was truly from Ondo. I told him I was Igbo; he couldn‘t believe me because I had imbibed the Ondo accent, the spurt on humour and everything about the Ondo. He was very impressed and that was one of the best compliment I got. Even after that, I couldn‘t get rid of the accent for two weeks and refused to speak in English except in Pidgin to mask the accent. That is the beauty of stage. I remember doing quite a bit of research about the Ondo and the man in question. I rehearsed for the role for about two months. The beauty of film on the other hand is that you don‘t have to exert yourself as much as you do on stage play. The camera is such a beautiful and intrusive thing; that is, all you need do is just think a thought and the camera looks into your soul and picks it up right away. You only need to understand the character and think what the character is likely to think and the camera will follow you every step of the way. They are both different in their own ways but very exhilarating.

How did you acquire your British accent?

I was born in England, lived in Zambia till I was nine years, did my secondary school and university in Nigeria and went back to England and stayed there for about 12 years before coming back to Nigeria. But today in our family house, we don‘t speak English as a rule; it is Igbo all the way.

What were you up to when you stayed back for 12 years?

Working; I tried to go to school and was able to get a diploma in computer programming. I became a computer programmer during the day and in the evening, I kept my hand on the pulse of what I loved doing, acting. I joined the local drama group in my church, joined some professional theatres as an amateur for rehearsals. That was why the transition to acting here was quite easy.

What else do you do besides all that you have talked about?

I run a business with my cousin in Port Harcourt. We do contracts for oil companies, fittings, safety equipment and the likes.

What business do you have with the Cross Rivers State Government?

It is on tourism and helping with promoting it. It is still in the works so I can‘t really talk much about it now.

What was growing up like?

I was a horrendous truant while I was in secondary school. I went through six different secondary schools. What cane did I not receive? There was the fan belt, koboko, name it. Ironically, I was the quietest of my siblings. I always quarrelled with my dad and if I knew I couldn‘t win, I simply applied the passive aggressive method, like refusing to go to boarding school, which was what he wanted for me. Of course he would insist and I would accept. He would give me my school fees, I would leave home and just run off somewhere rather than to school, travelling all over the place. There was a time I was looked for all over the place by the police for months. I was eventually found and brought home and my dad finally succumbed to what I wanted: to be a day student. It was short lived because he still shipped me off to boarding school. I rebelled again and got kicked out of school and then he finally made me a permanent day student. That was when I started performing well. I didn‘t like to go to boarding school because at that time a lot of people were being rehabilitated from the Civil War and you could easily find much older people as your classmates. One of my classmates was a 35-year-old man with five children and had his own business. A real baby was like a 15-year-old in Class Two and I was nine. Some of these people had been through rough times and were traumatised by all the things they had been through in the Civil War and they took it out on lesser and younger ones like me in terms of punishment. I have crawled on my knees on very rough grounds for long distances and my knees got peeled. I couldn‘t take it more so, we had just come back from England and I was used to a certain life style and rights. But there, we had no rights whatsoever: that was why I rebelled, more or less.

How would you describe yourself?

I am a very passionate person; I have a lot of belief in humanity, to use my talent to reach as many people as possible. I am very determined, I do not compromise on what I want to do and I go for perfection. Maybe it is a bad thing but that is just me.

Igbo Studies In America

By Okey C. Iheduru/Business Day

Washington, D.C., the United States capital, hosted a number of events and activities about Nigeria over the past week. Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan met with President Obama in his first official outing as head of state, and later participated in the nuclear weapons summit, interacted with heavy weights at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, and had an hour-long interview on CNN.
By all accounts, our acting number one citizen acquitted himself well and put the country back on the international arena. Shortly before Jonathan's arrival, however, the eight annual conference of Igbo Studies Association (ISA), appropriately themed Nigeria at 50: The Igbo Experience, was held at Howard University from 9-10 April 2010.

From its modest beginning in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1999, the ISA has become a prestigious annual event that now attracts eminent academics, media moguls, businesses, and politicians from North America, Europe, and Africa. There were about 84 academic papers, four plenary sessions, and fourteen concurrent sessions on topics ranging from Igbo language, literature, religion, spirituality, civilization, culture, health, environment, women, education, conflict management, entrepreneurship, youth and sports, and the old and new Igbo diasporas.

For many Igbo intelligentsia resident in Nigeria, ISA conferences are among the few venues where reasoned debate can take place without the suffocating stench of 419 money-bag politicians, silly chieftaincy and religious titles, and charlatans of all stripes that now bestrode a land once noted for honest individual achievements and sense of community. The goodwill message from Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo president, Ralph Uwechue praised ISA as 'a strong platform to showcase Igbo civilization and the contribution of our people towards the advancement of global civilization.' Prominent Igbos, such as Onwuchekwa Jemie, editor-in-chief of Business Day newspaper; and Ebere Onwudiwe of the Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja; Ihechukwu Madubuike, former education minister and Vice Chancellor of Tansian University, Umunya; T. Uzodinma Nwala of University of Abuja; Pat Utomi of Lagos Business School; and Senator Uchechukwumereije regularly attend these meetings.

Over the years, the keynote address has become the big masquerade of ISA conferences. Last week, Senator Chukwumerije's address, 'Journey in Reverse Gear: Tragedy of Self Denigration' did not disappoint. He traced the phenomenal success of Igbo identity-building and civilization before the tragic events of 1966 and the subsequent Biafra-Nigeria civil war, and proffered strategies to reverse Igbo marginalization and self-denigration that accompanied Biafra's collapse forty years ago.

There was also a 'special plenary roundtable' on 'Emergent Issues of Peace and Security in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects for Democratization and Development' featuring Judith Asuni of the U. S. Institute of Peace; Peter Lewis of the School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University; as well as Utomi and Nwala. As usual, ISA poetry reading featured some of Nigeria's best in the craft-Obi Nwakanma, Chimalum Nwankwo, Dubem Okafor, Ikeogu Oke, and Tess Onwueme. But the trophy goes to Chris Ebighgbo, a Fine/Applied Arts lecturer at University of Benin who regaled the audience with traditional Igbo wooden flute and dignified step-dance, traditionally reserved for titled men who pranced about in tandem with the call of the flutist, demonstrating their war prowess and other noble deeds.

The second-generation Igbos in attendance was clearly attuned to issues of extra-territorial citizenship and loyalty. A group of Washington, D.C.-based Igbo high school students raised funds for summer work experience at the historic Igbo Village project in Virginia, USA. Records show that Igbo slaves-about 37 per cent of blacks in the state of Virginia prior to the American civil war (1860-1865)-built up that state. The Illinois-based Umu Igbo Alliance, comprising high school and college-age Igbos, marketed their upcoming July 29-August 1, 2010 'Igbo Ezue: Launching the Igbo Renaissance' where Igbo youth and organizations from all over the U. S. are expected to attend.

It is indeed a reflection of Nigeria's present predicament that the most credentialed gathering of Ndi-Igbo discussing Nigeria at 50 took place in far away America. Few universities in Nigeria can boast of one-fifth of the scores of Igbo scholars that assembled in Washington last week. Appropriately, the conference communiqué called on Ndi-Igbo to pay close attention to Igbo migration, specifically, the implications of brain-drain. The language of ISA meetings is English, not Igbo, an irony amplified by the conference communiqué's call for an

Igbo Language Academy 'as a matter of urgency' to help reverse alleged imminent disappearance of the Igbo language. Also, as Igbo villages decay and turn into kidnap counties for the well-to-do, Ndi-Igbo are busy re-creating Igbo village and youth culture in America. Is America the best hope of preserving the best of Igbo culture and civilization?

Over all, the 2010 conference brought out the very best in various actors. The U. S. consular staff in Abuja and Lagos received deafening applause as Nigeria-based attendees recounted the professionalism and cooperation accorded them during their visa applications and interviews. The biggest kudos, however, went to the conference chair, Apollos Nwauwa, a professor of history at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, USA whose remarkably efficient organizational skills (including liaison with the U.S. consular officials) earned him another term as conference chair.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A View From The Igbo Studies Conference In Washington, DC

By Obi Nwakanma/Vanguard/All Africa

Last week, the International Igbo Studies Association held its annual conference at the Howard University Law School in Washington DC. Igbo Studies has indeed come a long way.

The quest for a comprehensive understanding and preservation of the arts, culture, scholarship and other forms of knowledge production by and around the Igbo world has engaged scholars, particularly since the early 20th century with the Igbo encounter or contact with the west.

The remarkable ways by which that contact has shaped the Igbo continues to be the basis of reflections by scholars - and increasingly by Igbo scholars who feel the powerful "urgency of now" to call attention to the intricate as well as intriguing situation of the contemporary Igbo of modern Nigeria, in its current relationship with nation and with the emergent world.

The question of a "transnational Igbo" with a growing Diaspora was at the roots of the first convention of the International Igbo Studies Conference convened by the now late Igbo historian, Dr. Don Ohadike, former Director of African Studies at Cornell University in Ithaca in 2005.

I was at that inaugural conference of Igbo studies but I'm afraid I have been absent from its proceedings until this year. The Igbo Studies Association conference has nevertheless held consistently since that first outing at Cornell now at Howard University, Washington DC since 2006 through the commitments of Dr. Udo Mbanaso and the authorities at Howard University.

The Howard University Law School has offered the grounds for this annual meeting of the Igbo Studies Association and it is imperative to underscore the importance of this historical relationship with Howard University.

It is particularly important to note that, that distinguished Igbo and African statesman, Nigeria's first president, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had attended Howard University late in the 1920s where he came under the tutelage of some of the most distinguished African-American scholars of the 20th century:

Alain Locke in Philosophy, Ralph Bunche in Political Theory and Leon Hansberry for whom he named the Institute of African Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka when he established it. Indeed this famous scholar of the African world was the first Director of that institute at Nsukka from 1963 with Dr. Chukwuemeka Blyden, Edward Blyden's grandson as deputy Director.

It was the beginning - and as it has now proved - a mostly unrealized dream of making the University of Nigeria the gathering ground - the new Timbuktu - for scholars from Africa and its diaspora, to form what I have described as the "third zone" of African modernist thought. Because Azikiwe was critical in the formation of Igbo modernist ideas, his education and encounters with Howard which now hosts Igbo Studies rings with symbolic significance.

But beyond the symbolism are some very basic questions of what Igbo Studies seeks to accomplish and whether, as some Igbo scholars themselves have seen it, Igbo Studies is different or should be constructed autonomously from Nigerian Studies or framed within the entire dialectic of an African Studies program.

Those who argue for an Igbo studies argue for an autonomy that makes Igbo studies assume the same philosophical and historical purpose of say Jewish Studies or Irish Studies or Slavic Studies, and so on all within the aegis of European Studies.

I think that the central issue for me is to understand the link between Igbo Studies and the preservation of Igbo ideas, but also the creation of these ideas in the context of Igbo visions of itself in a new world in rapid transition. It is also to understand that Igbo Studies cannot be conducted on the mere whim of "self preservation" but on the greater problematic of what we preserve and for whom. In other words, why Igbo

Studies? What is its greater purpose beyond the annual ritual of gathering some Igbo scholars of various fields to examine Igbo life - mostly in a very agonistic way? What shall we do- meaning, how should we instrumentalize some of these ideas that emerge from the fecund and occasionally quixotic minds of those engaged with interpreting the Igbo and their current circumstance?

It does seem to me that these questions should be at the core of the future of Igbo Studies. Many years ago, the Center for Igbo Studies was endowed and inaugurated by Dim Chukuwemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu at the Abia State University, Uturu. That center has apparently gone into abeyance. Governments in Igbo land have sought no productive links or connections with this important center as a way of providing the shaping ideas that might help transform the Igbo world. Igbo Studies therefore exists in some abstract away outside of its own genetic source - in a tabula rasa. It is rather urgent to re-examine this situation.

Indeed, it is crucial to link the Hansberry Institute at Nsukka with the Center for Igbo Studies at Uturu with the proposed International Center for Igbo Studies at Howard University for which the trustees of the Igbo Studies Association are proposing an endowment.

The emergence of the International Center for Igbo Studies at Howard will be a very important development given the reality of a large and growing Igbo Diaspora in the Americas. Many discussions took place at Washington in the two days of the conference - starting with the Poetry Reading session featuring the poets Chimalum Nwankwo, Dubem Okafor and Akachi Ezeigbo who read from their new works. I was also featured to read.

There were also glaring absences like the distinguished scholar-poet MJC Echeruo who retires this year from Syracuse after 50 years of university teaching, the historian Godfrey Uzoigwe of the University of Mississippi, Ernest Emeyonu of Michigan State University, the artist and Art historian Nkiru Nzegwu of Binghampton University, New York, among many.

In sum, the Igbo Studies Association conference this year remarkably consolidates on the work of the last five years and signals something of the slow but steady discussion of the Igbo situation in the current era. That this self-reflexive and critical discussion is taking place is the crucial and most important news.

It means that a climate of opinion may soon emerge on the solutions to issues of identity, the crisis of Igbo education, the question of insecurity, and the dilemma of under-investment and slow economic growth in the East, the result of what the distinguished Sociologist, Dr. Christian Chikwendu Ukaegbu of Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois describes as incipient "fatalism" in the Igbo public imagination.

Another important question was raised: when would the International Conference on Igbo Studies hold in a university in the homeland? This is a matter of critical consideration.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Political suicide: Anioma people cannot deny being Igbo. We will be irrelevant politically if we do

Peter Agba Kalu/The Sun Publishing

There is an atmosphere of peace written all over the way to Ibusa that will tempt any writer to toy with the idea of spending few weeks in the town in order to write a book. The billboard of Fred Ajuda’s late mother welcomes you to the town as you begin to wonder where on earth is this once upon a time news making socialite shortly after that you will be Welcome to the world of Obi Modestus Emeka Nwaka, a Prince of Ibusa and President Ohaneze Ndigbo, Delta State, also executive member Anioma State Movement. He spoke to Peter Agba Kalu

Sir, recently, Chief Mike Okwechime, the President National President of Izu Anioma told a local publication and I quote; “We may speak a dialect of Igbo but we are not culturally and socially Igbos by Ohaneze’s definition’’. What do you have to say?

This is nothing but falsehood and a damaging betrayal of our Igbo brothers from South East who found our son His Excellency Amb. Raph Uwechue worthy to head the very Ohaneze which he tried to ridicule.That will tell you that what Chief (Col.) Mike Nduka Okwuechime (Rtd) said is absolute fallacy of what Ohaneze stands for. I intentionally pronounced his names in full in order to show you that he is totally and entirely an Igbo. It is a pity that Okwuechime and his likes are allowing themselves to be used to subvert the Ohaneze and what the Igbo nation stands for in all ramifications

This unfortunate behavior is unexpected of a man of his age and caliber. For us to deny our Igboness is to stab our brothers across the river on the back, knowing fully well that they had to endure a 30months of near hellish suffering as a result of the revolutionary tendency of one of our own, Col. Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. I am not trying to bring back the sad historical moment or playing on emotion to score a cheap political point. But, I think it’s wise and necessary to reflect on what transpired before, during and after the Nigerian Civil War, in order to disclose the unity of purpose of Igbo people worldwide.

Sir, don’t you think singling out Okwuechime will be lying to one self, a critical look at the issues at hand will tell you that not a few people share his opinion?

Our Igbo origin has never been in doubt before and after Civil War. Anioma people were known as Western Igbos before the Amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914. And in 1939, the Obi of Agbor, Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko and the Obi of Aboh, for themselves and the entire Western Igbo people, petitioned the Colonial Administration for carving out the Western Igbos from their Kits and Kins East of the Niger. Consequently, in 1956, Western Igbo leaders organized the AMA1 conferences where it was resolved that the answer to the political problems of the Western Igbos was to create a West Niger Igbo State with the Headquarters at ALIDINMA. The agitation for the creation of the West Niger Igbo State assumed the name ANIOMA after the civil war.

Have you always been your brothers-keeper or is this a sudden self-centered desperation in order to gain the support of the South Easterners in your pursuit of Anioma State creation?

I think with this, your extreme question that boarders on self assessment, it is pertinent at this point to look back and critically outline the roles of the Delta Igbo’s during the most critical period in the life and history of our brothers across the Niger.

A significant officers and men of Midwestern origin-Delta-Igbos fought on the side of the Biafran Army. Col. Mike Ndukwe Okweuechime, to start with was the Chief of Linguistics, Defence headquarters, Biafran Army till the end of the civil war on January 12, 1970. Navy Commander Frank Anukwu from Ika was in charge of Biafran Navy till the end of the war. Brigadier Nwawo from Aniocha North was General Officer who commanded 4 Command (Special) Division of Biafran Army. Col. Joe Achuzie from Oshimili South was General Officer Commanding (GOC) 16 division.

Late Col. B.S.A. Nwajei from Oshimili North was at a time, the Commander 14 division. Col. Ochei from Oshimili South was Commandant of School of Infantry Biafran Army. Col. Morah and Col. Henry Igboba from Aniocha North and Oshimili North, respectively fought gallantly for the survicval of Igbo people during the war. Late Major Albert Okonkwo from Oshimili North was the Administrator of the defunct Republic of Biafra Mr. George Nwanze from Oshimili North was the secretary to Odumegwu Ojukwu, Head of State defunct Republic of Biafra, to mention but a few. It is important to mention that the above top military Officers and highly respected men of substance from the then Midwestern region, did not fight as mercenaries. I want to state that as a matter of historical fact, I too fought gallantly on the side of Biafra. In fact, I came back from my studies in oversea and was confronted with the war, as Igbo people were been slaughtered all across the North, we had to ran from Jos to Ibusa where I joined Force with the Biafran Army.

Most importantly, it should not be forgotten that late Chukwuma Nzeogwu of Okpanam in Oshimili North died at Oboleke fighting on the side of Biafran Army. It is paramount to mention that late Col. Okonweze from Asaba was killed at Abeokuta during the counter Coup of July 29, 1966. Late Col. Henry Igboba from Ibusa suffered the same fate in Benin City in 1967. Late Mr. Ogwude from Ogwashiuku, a Parmanent Secretary was killed in Benin City the same 1967. The Benin City, Sapele Warri, Isheagu, Ogwashiuku and Ogbeke-Asaba massacres, to mention but a few, were reprisals against Ndigbo on both sides of the Niger Ndigbo east and west of the Niger shared a common fate during the Civil War as a direct consequence of the January 1966 Military Coup which was purportedly described as Igbo Coup.

Don’t you think Igbo delta People not just those across the Niger, but those in River State etc have not been receiving their own share of respect and acceptance that prompted Okwuechime to voice out his frustration?
The truth is that Ohaneze Ndigbo and the World Igbo Assembly (IWA) has created solid sense of belonging everywhere Igbo people reside. To buttress this fact, the brotherly relationship between Igbo South East and Anioma people is based on mutual love and respect manifesting in the election of Late Ogbueshi Dr. J.B. Azinge of Asaba as Deputy president General of Ohaneze Ndigbo before the tenure of Col. Joe Achuzia as Secretary General. The incumbent President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo is his Excellency Ambassador Raph Uwaechue of Ogwashi-Uka in Aniocha South of Delta State.

As it stands now what is the most important or if I may ask critical support the delta Igbo people need from their brothers across the Niger?

Very good! Very good question. I wanted to make the appeal even if you did not come up with the question. We want our brothers to see reason why they should come together to support Anioma State as the Sixth State to be carved out for the Igbo nation. Justice equity and fair-play demands this, the reason being in a memorandum signed by Chief Sam O. Mbakwe, Chief C.C. Onoh, Dr. Okigbo, Chief S.G. Ikoku to mention among others, that was forwarded to the then President and Commander-in-Chief, President Ibrahim Babangida and to all members of Armed forces Ruling Council, as was published (bring out document to quote date and paper) on Daily Times of Wednesday, April 17, 1991, on page 17. These great Igbo leaders after many years of Deliberation and consultation all across Igbo land jointly requested for the creation of Enugu or Wawa state from Amambra, Abia out of the old Imo and Anioma from old Bendel State.

It is on record that Enugu and Abia has sealed through, so as you can see justice equity and fair-play demands that the next state to be carved out for ndigbo should be Anioma State.

What is your opinion on Col. Gaddafi recent call for the division of Nigeria along religious lines?

Well, some one said he was mad and I asked, the man who wakes up every day and use dagger to butcher his brother, pregnant women and the one who suggest since you can not be your brothers’ keeper why not go your separate ways; who among the two is mad?

Your opinion on Igbo leaders starting from Ekwueme?

Ekwueme is a great man, but he is not using his position for the interest of Ndigbo, he is more or less playing politics with it.


Iwuanyanwu is a politician who is neither here or there


One of the greatest Igbo Leaders ever.


Courageous young man, the type of leader the Igbos people need today; through out his tenure as governor he was bold and courageous like Okpara out of his love for his people. They want to make him look small, may be because of his age. But with time, Igbos will realize that he is a great lover of the Igbo Man.


He has sacrificed a lot for the interest of Igbo man. His contributions went a long way to help the Igbo man during the war. He is committed to the well being of the Igbo man.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Coal City Schooling

Taxi advert in Enugu urging parents to send their kids to school
By Ian Attfield/Ethiopian Review

My last post focused on the vagaries of travels in Nigeria. I’m pleased to report that since then I did manage to make it all the way to Enugu and back safely, even if a little ‘shaken’ (‘but not stirred’ as James Bond would say)!

We travelled by road south from Abuja, along half built highways that even in daylight are a death trap; ill maintained trucks swerving around pot holes regularly forced us on to the wreck littered hard shoulder. Passing the vast confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers we could see the huge steel rolling mills at Ajaokuta and a new but dormant gas power station; evidence of the federal government’s efforts to reinvigorate Nigeria’s moribund infrastructure. Whether the huge levels of investment are actually paying off is hard to judge, the local media regularly feature stories about troubled government projects such as these.

Crossing the Niger river we moved into unfamiliar territory for me; more thickly vegetated ‘middle belt’ terrain. Approaching Enugu, we entered the lush, verdant ‘Igboland’ of South East Nigeria - site of some of the worst fighting 40 years ago in the Biafran civil war.

Enugu has just celebrated its centenary as Nigeria’s ‘Coal City’, but like the region I grew up in (near Newcastle), there is little active mining these days. This hasn’t stopped the city flourishing; the Igbo’s are renowned in Nigeria for their trading, technical skills and artisan crafts.

Our main event was to formally launch the DFID ESSPIN education programme in Enugu State, with a briefing to the Governor Chime and his State officials. Luckily the event started late, as one team member had accidentally got locked in a bathroom - he was only freed by a carpenter moments before we were due to present!

The formalities went well and the State officials were very hospitable. We learnt that one of the major differences to northern Nigeria was that in Enugu there are more girls than boys in schools. If school quality and prospects are limited, some Igbo’s boys ‘vote with there feet’ and drop-out from primary school to learn a trade or start selling in the markets. Improving the quality of public schooling on offer is one of the main priorities for ESSPIN to support Enugu State.

It was pleasing to see the enthusiasm of the officials in the State Ministry of Education to resume engagement with DFID’s education programme. A previous large project operated jointly with the World Bank had been cancelled in 2006; a large signboard still stood in the Ministry grounds. Hopefully ESSPIN will be able to go ‘full term’, and bring about lasting reforms to the education system for the children of Enugu State.

Divisive Issues Threatening Nigeria

By Luke Onyekakeyah/Guardian

When recently the Libyan strongman, Mu'ammar al-Gadaffi prescribed that Nigeria should divide into pieces along ethnic lines like former Yugoslavia, as panacea to frequent ethnic bloodletting in Jos and other parts of the country, he was certainly convinced that there are fundamental issues that are threatening the unity of the country, which could provide the springboard for a possible demise of Nigeria. There is no smoke without a fire. Something is fundamentally wrong with Nigeria that it has become the target for such uncomplimentary attacks by external forces. Rather than dismissing the fingers pointing at Nigeria with a wave of the hand, they should be given a closer look by the authorities.

It is about four years now since the American intelligence community also predicted that Nigeria would possibly break up by 2015. Those bad predictions were based on the woeful state of affairs in the country. Since then, rather than things getting better, and rather than the leadership re-examining itself to face up with what actually is a grave situation in the country on all fronts, the whole issue is being wished away. At the same time, there are ethnic groups across the country agitating for justice, equity and fair play. Some are threatening secession. But the truth is that these groups wouldn't have germinated in the first place if the Nigerian system has been fair to all. That the ground is fertile for political discontent to blossom is not in doubt.

Unfortunately, the issues at the centre of ethnic discontent are systemic. The issues have become deeply ingrained into the Nigerian into the Nigerian social and political structure. That makes it an uphill task for them to be tackled with executive fiat. How, for instance, do you start to deal with a problem that has its roots in the Constitution without first amending it and then allowing the matter to die naturally once the root has been severed? Knowing the intrigues associated with Constitutional amendment under the present faulty political structure, can the leadership muster enough muscle to deal with issues that threaten the very survival of Nigeria?

But there is no other choice on this very important matter. If the continued existence of Nigeria as one united country is something that must be achieved; if the authorities are not just paying lip service to a one Nigeria; if those dismissing the dooms prediction for Nigeria are not themselves helping to bring it to pass, then what needs to be done must be done now to save Nigeria from possible disintegration as already predicted. That is what patriotism is all about. I have said it once in this column that there are two most important persons in the life of a nation. One is the person who turned a forest into a nation and the other is the person who turns a nation into a forest. History would certainly be harsh on the latter. That is why the burden to save Nigeria is squarely on today's leadership. The continued existence of Nigeria as one entity is in their hands.

Among the divisive forces threatening the continued existence of Nigeria as one corporate entity are: First, the balkanization of Nigeria into 36 antagonistic states and 744 local government councils. This is the greatest factor that has upturned the political landscape of the country in post-independence Nigeria. I have said it before that the creation of states in Nigeria wasn't necessarily a strategic framework to develop Nigeria but a wartime strategy to prosecute the civil war against Biafra. The splitting of Nigeria into 12 states in 1967 by Gen. Yakubu Gowon, the then head of state, led to further balkanization of the country after the war. Ever since then, the country has never remained the same. The splitting of the country into quasi-ethnic states has even changed the ethnic homogeneity of parts of the country.

For instance, at independence in 1960, we had major ethnic groups that spoke with one voice on national issues. We had the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Ijaw and others. Today, with the creation of states, these ethnic groups no longer speak with one voice as they have been Balkanized. Each state now fights for its survival. The division is so deep that it has created a vicious hatred among people of the same ethnic group. For instance, an Igbo person from Imo State can't get employment in any of the Igbo speaking states of Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi or Abia. Similarly, a person from Ondo State can't get employment in Ekiti, Oyo. Oshun or any of the Yoruba speaking states. The same hatred and antagonism applies to the states in other regions.

Consequently, the best a Nigerian could get from a state outside his or hers is a contract employment. The states in the north employ people from the south on contract basis. Strategic positions are never filled with non-indigenes. State creation has made Nigerians foreigners in their own country. Unfortunately, the state structure is presently a fraud without true federalism that would enable each state to use the resources within its domain to develop itself. Without a viable framework, Nigeria can never make headway and we run the risk of falling victim to the bad predictions on the country. That would be a self-inflicted injury.

The second factor, indigene/settler issue has its roots in state creation. It is, perhaps, only in Nigeria that people are classified as indigenes and the others as settlers or by extension "foreigners" in their own country. This issue has raised major controversy and it is the cause of most of the ethnic bloodletting that is ravaging parts of the country. In Nigeria, going by this discriminatory classification, there are no Nigerian citizens! Whereas the Constitution clearly provided that every Nigerian is a citizen of the country wherever he or she may resides, that provision is openly discountenanced with impunity. The norm, instead, is that what you get where you are depends on your ethnic roots.

Consequently, it doesn't matter how long you have resided in any part of Nigeria; it doesn't matter if you can't trace you roots after being born and bred in a place and established in that place. Once you're known to have your roots from a different ethnic group, you're a foreigner in that place. You have no rights and privileges. But this is unlike what obtains in the United States of America where anybody born in America is a bona fide citizen of the United States irrespective of where the parents came from. It is that progressive system that produced the Barack Obamas of this world. If it were in Nigeria, Barack Obama would have been classified as settler because his father came from Kenya and he wouldn't have had the privilege of aspiring to be American president.

Third in the list of divisive factors in Nigeria is federal character, which unfortunately is enshrined in the Constitution. The federal character principle demands that positions to be filled at the federal level must reflect the federal character of the country. That simply put is saying that there must be representatives from all the zones of the country, all the states of the country, and all the local governments of the country as the case may be. This retrogressive Constitutional provision is responsible for the over bloated federal cabinet with all the paraphernalia that go with the catalogue of offices and the huge cost of maintaining the offices.

Related to federal character is the quota system that throws expertise to the winds and instead promotes mediocrity in the main. The quota system determines who gets what employment in the federal civil service. It determines who gets admission into any federal school from secondary to tertiary level. For example, under the quota system, if a position has been reserved for a particular zone or state of the country, rather than take a capable hand from another state or zone to fill the position, it serves that country better to leave it vacant or fill the post with a mediocre from that very zone or state. The quota system and federal character have contributed to the high unemployment rate in the country. It is a known fact that unemployment is worst in the southern states than in the northern states.

Besides, the two monsters of federal character and quota system keep reminding Nigerians that they're not one people. They are responsible for much of the looting at the federal level as each state or zone of the country is out to corner more juicy positions to themselves. Furthermore, the PDP has used the quota system to determine which zone produces the president at any time. What that means is that somebody must have to be imposed on the country from the designated zone whether or not he is qualified.

How could the country get liberated from the shackles of poverty, ignorance, disease and underdevelopment when the system has put wedge against itself? The only way out is for the system to dismantle these strictures that are drawing the country backward. Failure to do that would not only stall development but could help the forces that are out to tear the country apart. That is not what right thinking and patriotic Nigerians want. The country must rejuvenate itself to remain afloat.

From the Pulpit to the Podium

By Clement Muozoba/Daily Champion/All Africa

Lagos — That the Nigerian politics has since gone the religious lines is what nobody needs to be told. No matter how the events are veiled in a verisimilitude, the effects are there and the innumerable lives lost especially during the religious cum political crises, coupled with some incendiary statements from some quarters bear eloquent testimony. In the same way, it is no more hidden that Anambra State politics now trails some religious denominational lines. Many events have since been pointing to this direction and ignoring them means folly while facing the facts may need more than ordinary courage. The major gladiators seem to be the Anglicans and the Catholics and the other denominations join the Anglicans most of the time. The allegation of having a favoured candidate in the just concluded gubernatorial election has attracted some widely published and sponsored spurious stories against the Catholic priests. One has to think deeply in order to find the source of these allegations.

In the first place, it must be recalled that the origin of the rivalry between Catholicism and Anglicanism is remotely traced to the 16th century, when King Henry VIII severed ties with the Pope and proclaimed himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. He declared that the king's religion was the religion of his subjects, thereby making Anglicanism a state religion. This was occasioned by the Pope's refusal to grant the king divorce of his wife, Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. Catherine bore the king no male child. This schism was the farthest the king wanted to go. The rest was the influence of radical reformers like Jean Calvin and John Knox.

The immediate cause of this rivalry in Nigeria could be traced to the rivalry between Ireland and England which later saw Ireland divided between the North and the South, with the North being predominantly Anglican and remaining a part of Britain and the South consisting of mainly Catholics and desired a free Irish state. The South later became the Republic of Ireland. It would be recalled that England had earlier subdued Ireland in the 17th century. The enmity between the two countries has never been hidden since then. It was the English missionaries that brought Anglicanism and the Irish missionaries brought Catholicism to Nigeria. The missionaries did not rise above the politics of their countries and our people swallowed it hook, line and sinker. That was how brothers and sisters were set against each other in the name of religion.

One major problem I think the Church of England had originally was how to make the people accept what the king had rejected. Henry VIII wanted freedom from the Papacy and declared a state religion which he headed. This mean that going out for evangelization would mean making the would-be-converts religiously English people. And this is what colonization meant as the Church of England could not function independent of the British Government. Therefore, both religion and politics were packaged together and delivered to the colonies with the expectation of no opposition. If opposition arose from the local inhabitants, the British Army was there to pacify the area. This was unlike the Catholic Church which distanced itself from the local politics of the land. Though this did not augur well with the Catholic Church because as it preached the kingdom of heaven, the Anglican Church did not overlook the kingdom of the world, it however defined the Catholic Church as purely a religious body and not some political set-up.

This hand-in-glove relationship with the secular British Government has so much weakened the Anglican Church. For example, during the Nigeria-Biafran War, as the Catholic Church, through its agencies like Caritas International, the Holy Ghost Fathers, the U. S. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) etc., spent time and energy in providing relief materials for the famished Biafran children due to the blockade by the Gowon government, the Anglican Church could not rise above its master, the British Government which not only supported, but facilitated the Biafran genocide in support of its former colony, Nigeria. That has been the position of the Anglican Church as regards politics. In village, town or state politics, they believe they must be on top or cause confusion if they lose. The denominational brouhaha reached a crescendo since the Anglicans lost the grip on Anambra's seat of Power. I do not blame the Anglicans as such because they are products of a political church and ecclesiastical politics. This is why Eric Heffer, in his book, Why I am a Christian, defined the Anglican Church as "the Tory Party at prayer".

When I ruminate on what happened before the election, I have every reason to believe that there was superbly mastered and arranged plans to intimidate the Catholic Church into submission. A manifestation of this was when some Catholics were denied registration for voting in some Anglican Church premises. Quite a good number of the Anglican Churches secretly contracted the INEC officials to register their members privately. Then as early as November, 2009, a national newspaper published in its headline: THE CATHOLIC CHURCH DIVIDED BETWEEN OBI, SOLUDO AND NGIGE. This was followed by some fallacious and blasphemous instances of how some Catholic priests and bishops who were Obi's supporters were harassed in the church during their homilies by the supporters of Ngige and Soludo. This then opened up a flood of criticisms against the Catholic Church and gave grounds to the sponsors of the publications to issue some statements in newspapers. Some of such statements began to compare the numerical strength of the Catholic Church and the other denominations in the state especially the Anglican Church. Some false figures were given to support the fact that the Catholics are in the minority. Another card that was played was the circulation of a secret document titled MALICIOUS/LOPSIDED APPOINTMENTS IN PETER OBI'S ADMINISTRATION AGAINST ANGLICANS. This was published by the Society for Equity, Justice and Peace of the Diocesan Council of Laity, Diocese on the Niger (Anglican Communion) and signed by Hon. Sir Edwin Ekwuno, chairman and Engr. Mike Igwilo, secretary. Unfortunately for them, this document leaked. It has to be noted that in 1950, after a secret meeting in St. Paul's University College, Awka, a similar document, "What Are We Anglicans Doing?" was issued. It also leaked. In it, their fears about the Catholic Church were highlighted and some solutions were given. Part of it is what we are seeing today.

As the unfounded allegations were peddled against the Catholic Church and the priests, it was understood that the Anglican Church, through its hierarchy, had given a directive that they must vote a particular candidate whose activities had been highly detestable in the state. It was learnt that on Sunday, January 31, 2010, the Anglican faithful in many churches were treated to a good meal of indoctrination after the service on this choice candidate. It reached a situation where the members were threatened with excommunication from the church should they do otherwise. The game plan was that since they had only one candidate, they had to vote en masse for him so that the Catholics would share their votes between Obi, Soludo, Ngige and Ekwunife. This would make this candidate coast home to victory. Many of them did not accept this and there was a loud protest which later ended up in physical combat in some of the churches, with some of their members threatening to leave the church rather than vote against their conscience. In some of the major markets in the state, it became a topic. From where then do these sponsored allegations against the Catholic Church come?

Some prominent Nigerians fell for these lies. Okey Ndibe, a firebrand critic, while commenting on the Anambra gubernatorial Election, said, "I was thoroughly ashamed to hear that some priests abused their vocation by campaigning from their pulpits for Governor Obi" (Daily Sun, February 9, 2010). I just smiled because he did not understand what the game was. He wrote from the clearest of intentions from his abode in the US. If such a thing as preaching Obi from the pulpit instead of God happened, it is highly condemnable and such overzealous priests are wrong. But condemnation should be more on church-sponsored politics hatched in synods against the people's good intention. The event of 2007 cannot be forgotten in a hurry when an archbishop, after signing a statement that there was no election in Anambra State, later swallowed his words and said that the election was free and fair. He knows from his heart that there was no election. When Insider Weekly Magazine carried the story of an archbishop (not Catholic) who was at the meeting where Obi's unconstitutional impeachment was discussed in 2006 (cf. Insider Weekly, Nov. 26, 2007, p.32), the popular belief is that the reference was to this archbishop. Till today, the Concerned Christian Group has not seen anything wrong in these moves. Who is behind the mask?

A laughable and the worst accusation against the Catholic Church is that by Okey Maduforo that, "... some of the priests from the denomination and top church leaders have been receiving monthly allowances from the incumbent governor, hence his endorsement" (Daily Independent, March 15, 2010). A major contender in the gubernatorial election is said to be behind this story. I have described it as laughable and it is laughable and shows the frustrations of the denomination which was believed to have fed fat from the state's coffers in the past. When it was alleged that within just three months of interregnum in the state, that this denomination received the whopping sum of N1b (One billion Naira) for a complex within the Awka metropolis, nobody talked. It was at that time that the state's money was said to have been grossly wasted on frivolities and a family privatized the Government House and yet, the Concerned Christians were not concerned.

I know that some priests who worked as observers under the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) of the Catholic Church were there to make sure that the people's votes counted. And for the first time, our votes counted. The noise about the massive disenfranchisement of over 80 per cent of the Anambra electorate is described by Emeka Umeagbalasi as false. He is of the view that the total number of registered voters in Anambra State is about 600,000 and that the bloated figure of over one million was used to rig the 2003 elections by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and was updated to rig the 2007 elections in favour of the PDP. For him, those who voted represented about 50 percent of the registered voters in the state (cf. The Sun newspaper, March 9, 2010). Sources close to the governor say that if one wants to befriend him for money, such a person is wasting his time. It is believed that in spite of his wealth, his kobo can never be lost for any frivolity. It runs in his family. His brother, Fr. Fabian continued to use an old 505 Peugeot car before he left for studies in spite of his brothers' wealth. How can such a person distribute the huge sum running into millions to the priests? What of those priests who are not comfortable with his style of administration, did he give them money also?

One other area of compromise that some people canvassed was that since Obi is a Catholic like Ekwunife, Soludo and Ngige, the Catholic Church should have allowed them play on a level ground. For goodness' sake, voting is not according to denominations and the church is not INEC. It is on merit and as far as I know, nobody coerced anybody into voting any candidate in the Catholic Church. We have seen those who did that and what they did and how they ended up. But even if the Church has any part to play in the election of the candidate, it would be injustice for it to produce a base candidate just for it to be represented in the seat of governance. That is the Catholic conscience. And in fairness, everybody knows that of all the major contenders to the governorship seat, it is only the incumbent governor that is not publicly tainted apart from the frivolous political insinuations to stop him. The church should be by the side of the truth always.

Be that as it may, there is one message that should be put across. It is now clear that our politicians have failed our people and they now look onto the church for redemption. It would be disastrous if the church allows itself to be drawn into Nigeria's brand of politics where corruption seems to be extolled. It is evil for any church to sponsor false publications against another. It portrays that church in worse light than the people it is meant to liberate. Having nocturnal church meetings to disrupt the peace of the state is unbecoming. Supporting any unworthy candidate by any church is also bad. The worst is the church joining hands with some forces to make people's votes not to count. The people know when their religious leaders start goofing. Finally, let the Catholic faithful and all men of goodwill not be fazed by the unwarranted attacks on the Catholic clergy. It is one of the occupational hazards. We must move beyond the pulpit to save our people.