The news media has been buzzing with comments on the eviction notice issued by the Arewa Youth Congress. Regardless of the reason(s), the quit notice has significantly highlighted how weak and fragile the loose strings that bind the federating entity called Nigeria are.
The purpose of this intervention is not to dwell on the obvious consequences of a forced or uncontrolled dissolution of the Nigerian union, there are many historical examples to draw from. The purpose is to focus the narrative on what I believe should actually agitate the Igbos more.
The quit notice should really serve as a clarion call to people of the region to identify the root causes of our severe and pitiable lack of development and proffer solutions to the problems. How did Aba slide from being the commercial hub of west Africa to a ghetto? What happened to the coal mines and Anamco in Enugu state? What happened to the poultry farm at Avutu? Golden Guinea Umuahia, Umuahia Ceramics industry? How come dirt has taken over Umuahia and Owerri cities? Why did businesses move from the region to other parts of the country? Why do the Igbos lack any long term strategic political vision? Why do we lack credible leaders? The list is long but we can start from here.
Whether or not the Arewa youths make good their eviction threat. For those who do not know, you will be returning to a region where there is no semblance of any serious production industry or large scale agriculture, you will be returning to a region with major infrastructural decay not significantly different from the relics of the civil war. You will be returning to a region where the unemployment rate is double the national average, a region where majority of those who do day jobs work for the government who have not paid them salaries in months. You will be coming home to a region where armed banditry and kidnapping exist as an alternative employment to youths who have graduated from schools but cannot find jobs or who have learned a trade or craft but have no means to fund a startup.
To sum the picture, you will be returning to a region where the only presence of governance is the loud blaring of siren and occasional events where handouts are given out by the leaders to the masses they have worked so hard to impoverish. We have a region where the measure of achievement for our representatives in Abuja including ministers is the number of private jets that fly into Owerri and Enugu to attend their naming ceremonies, funerals and thanksgivings. If the Igbos have lost respect, it is only because our leaders have reduced us to a level where it is so convenient for others to look down on us. We have been cursed with leaders who have dressed us up as slaves. Those who preside over our affairs brought home this ant-invested firewood and now the lizards have come to feast.
Maybe this eviction notice will serve to jolt us to the fact that we need to ask questions of our leaders in the south east and hold them accountable for the state of things in the region. We can say that we do not get the front seats in the parties organized by the federal government, yes, but that is because our leaders have dressed us up in rags to the events.
Our leaders get whatever monthly allocation due to them from FEC like other states. Throw in the IGR they collect (by the way, IGR is totally within their control to improve on, but they farm the process out to their cronies and political jobbers). Our people are known to be very industrious, they do not need handouts. What they need to prosper is just the basic enabling environment which the thieving so called leaders have denied them.
Generally, Governors from the five eastern states (past and present) have all performed poorly, but Abia state under Orji Uzor Kalu, T.A. Orji and currently Okezie Ikpeazu and Imo state under Achike Udenwa, Ikedi Ohakim and currently Rochas Okorocha have reversed progress in their respective states. They have squandered the future of their people, they have betrayed public trust and left their states worse than they met them. They should be held responsible for the state of events in those states. It is their failure to provide leadership and their collective actions or lack thereof that has escalated the frustration of the people of the south east, they are the reasons why we are in this mess today.
Late Chief Sam Mbakwe was the only good example in recent memory of a governor who worked to develop his people. The sad thing is that we have let them get away with it. If you pause the emotions and flip over the social media propaganda, a drive from Umuahia to Owerri and around Abia and Imo states will make you wonder what curse has befallen these states and why the people they govern have been so tolerant. Our leaders rob the states to buy houses and set up businesses in other cities in Nigeria and overseas leaving the region in a state of squalor. The only investment they have in the states where they have governed are usually palatial country homes with no access roads and sometimes hotels with rooms that are never occupied or housing estates that are empty because the potential tenants are owed salaries, unemployed or don’t consider the state conducive to live in. There are simply no enabling commercial activities to drive economic traffic to these venues. The case of Aba is a classic example. They have raped the psyche of the people they rule to the point where the youths are now frustrated into robbery, kidnapping and other vices. The consequent insecurity cannot attract any commercially viable investments even from indigenes. That is why our people have to relocate their businesses to other regions. Yet we wail about being marginalized!
The Jonathan-led government gave many people from the eastern region loud voices in his administration but what was the stewardship? How did it benefit the common man in the region? Did the appointments translate to better roads, industries or better living conditions for the people? The solution is not in the number of political appointments our people hold, the key to our progress is in the hands of our so called leaders. Unfortunately, they are too engrossed in their stealing competition to even realize the responsibilities that default to the position they occupy.
It is the failure and drought of leadership in the eastern region that has created the frustration and void which the likes of Nnamdi Kanu have come to fill.
Life and living have become so hopeless to the average Igbo man to the point where any ideology that offers any kind of hope no matter how remote was welcome. IPOB provided what seemed like a shadow of hope, the people rallied round the IPOB agenda without even understanding the plot. The leaders of the south east should be so ashamed to see that the people of the region will respond favorably to a sit at home order by Nnamdi Kanu while they ignore all the pleas and even threat of coercion by the state governors. If the state governors and the leaders of the south east do not know it yet, they should know that the people they claim to represent have turned their backs on them. They are now kings without subjects. They have so lost the plot that they now go to consult with Nnamdi Kanu at night while they speak against him in the day time. Their calculation is that Nnamdi Kanu’s support will be crucial in the 2019 elections. They need him for self- preservation.
IPOB has become such an escape for the people to the extent that the leader of IPOB now has cult followership. He is better respected, better recognized and wields more social and political influence in the region and beyond than all the five governors combined. Yet he has no executive powers.
Unfortunately, IPOB has no other agenda beyond breaking away from Nigeria. There is nothing so far to show how Biafra as an independent entity will survive if we wake up tomorrow to a brand new country. I am sure that the location of the capital alone will be reason to start another civil war. Where are the industries that will power the new country’s starving and jobless masses? Where is the blue print for the new country? Has anyone taken a look at how Malaysia and Singapore worked out? Or are we hoping to run the new country through prophesies and conjectures? That’s simply not the way it works.
Who will be the new leaders in the proposed Biafra nation? I spent the whole day trying to make a list of possible leaders in the event of Biafra suddenly becoming a reality, people of equivalent influence compared to Obasanjo, Tinubu, Babangida, Atiku, Edwin Clark etc. I actually struggled, apart from Alex Ekwueme at over 80 no other names seem to make my list. Under the current state of leadership drought, we will be running away from bad people to embrace bad spirits. If you drill beyond the emotions, my honest opinion is that we are not ready.
The Federal government and her agencies are also part of the problems. Many times, the people have made different choices through the ballot to change the current crop of leaders but this has not been possible because the institutions that would have ensured the changes that the people desire to develop the region are mined with corruption. The electoral body, the security agencies and even the Judiciary are all culprits. The events of the last elections are still fresh in our minds. If the situation we find ourselves today degenerates into blood shed (God forbid), all the people who have played one sinister part or the other to continuously sustain these clique of corrupt leaders in power would have blood on their hands and consciences, if they have any.
To the Igbos, time has come for us to hold our leaders responsible for the state of things in our region. All the governors who have held office in the region since 1999 should be called to account. All those who rigged themselves into elected offices at the state and federal levels should give account of their stewardship. We are our own enemies. If we are able to have accountable and visionary leaders, we really can survive as a region even within the present arrangement in Nigeria. Before we even begin to think of regional autonomy, we must first groom accountable and visionary leaders with clear agenda for the new order. Leaders who would be patriotic with the capacity to harness the abundant human and natural resources of the region for the greater good of all. The current crop of leaders who are parading themselves as governors, house members etc. are selfish, greedy and clueless. They have all sold their souls. If we have an uncontrolled, transition into new Biafra, our new future will default into their hands, believe me, we will be worse off because at that time Abuja and Lagos may not be ready alternatives for us to relocate to. We may probably need visas, work permit, resident permit etc.
To those Igbos living outside the region who do not pay attention to the decay and drought of leadership in the region, now they know better. Even if they are far away in Europe, America or Asia, I am certain they still have relations back home. Even if they do not have relations, back home, one day, they may have a need to relocate back to the region either alive, sick or dead. It’s high time decent and honest people with the capacity to lead began to participate in the political future of the region. The region is in dire need of visionary leadership.
If we want to see a better Eastern region within Nigeria or even as an independent enclave, we have to earnestly demand accountability from those who hold our collective assets in trust. We must do everything possible to ensure that we enthrone those who have the capacity and vision as governors and house members in 2019. The federal government must make it a priority to ensure that the peoples’ votes count in 2019. Because if the region has credible leaders who will develop the region, provide jobs and reduce the hardship of the people, the clamor and agitation for separation will definitely subside.
Lastly, I think that IPOB and MOSSOB would make themselves more useful by morphing into formidable pressure groups with the aim of ensuring that people in the Eastern region can fairly choose credible leaders of their choice and also help to keep these leaders in check. We should earn the respect we desire and the process must be home grown. If we are able to actively position our region on the growth path, we will have better leverage in an event of any negotiation towards restructuring or even separation. It is foolish to expect other ethnic groups to love us more than we love ourselves or to hold their leaders in higher standards than we hold our leaders.
Anosike Kingsley: writes from Lagos