Ndigbo and ethnic bonding By Sunny Ngwu

Though iconic late Dr Akanu Ibiam, the former Governor of defunct Eastern Region of Nigeria, was reputed for leading the agitation for the materialization of Ebonyi State, he was initially averse to the concept of state-creation.

He haboured the fear that the fragmentation of people of the same stock, especially the Igbos so soon after the collective trauma of Biafra, could fuel fierce rivalries to the extent they might forget their common history and origin.

At the time, Dr Ibiam was particularly upset by the bitter crusade for Wawa State led by late Chief. C.C. Onoh. The crusaders had threatened to replicate the “abandoned property” syndrome and were on course to get their demand actualized. Indeed, they were so sure of success that they had completed arrangements for an elaborate celebration with their T-shirts emblazoned “Wawa State”, flyers and flags on the ready.

The bitterness in the crusade was obvious beginning with the name, “Wawa” which was cynical and in bad taste being the contemptuous name with which other Igbos, for generations, identified the area for their comparative backwardness. Ordinarily, no other new state in Igboland could have adopted such a name just like none would choose “Isoma State” with which Owerri and Ikwerre people condescendingly refer to other Igbos.

Therefore, alarmed by the bad blood in the quest, a powerful Igbo delegation made up of late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr Akanu Ibiam and other heavy weights made a representation to the federal authorities at the nick of time to scuttle the proposed Wawa state. Years later, the area was split into today’s Enugu and Ebonyi States.

Yet there were traces of post-state-creation intolerance where a section saw the exercise as liberation from the oppression and dominance by the other section. As soon as the Old Anambra State which comprised the present Anambra and Enugu/Ebonyi states was split into states, there were regrettable incidents that betrayed the level of bitterness public servants from one state had for the other.

Immediately the announcement was made, junior workers of Enugu State origin with the tacit  approval of their seniors, locked out their former bosses from Anambra State from their offices at the Enugu secretariat without the formal official hand over. They demanded that they should immediately relocate to “your State”.

Though normalcy and orderliness was quickly restored, the incident went a long way to justify the far-sighted misgivings wise men like Dr Ibiam had for state-creation.

Another draw-back is the heightening of the state-of-origin mentality which justifies the mass and compulsory disengagement of non-indigenes from the public service of a state without compensation even after they must have faithfully served the state for years.

The most painful example was the disengagement of non-indigenes from the public service of Abia State, an action that has left incalculable bad blood between the current government of Abia State and other Igbos.

Ofcourse, it is misleading to create the impression that state-creation has no merit. But the truth is that the uncomplimentary aspects are more pronounced among Ndigbo.

The state-of-origin phenomenon is virtually non-existent in the core North where, it must be conceded, their common Muslim faith has irrevocably bonded them.

It is even more so among the Yorubas famous for their homogeneity stoutly anchored on their proud common descendancy from Oduduwa.

Reputed political scientist and practical politician, late Dr Chuba Okadigbo once defined state-creation as carving new centres for development. For Yorubas, such a definition is not an academic cliché but practical reality.

While state-creation seems to have afforded the Igbos the opportunity to look out for and exploit their differences, it has a diametrically opposite effect on the Yorubas.

The vast majority of Yorubas still see late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as their irreplaceable rallying point politically and socially. They have continued with Awolowo’s unflinching socialist political philosophy that revolves on the welfare of the race, unfazed by the tag of being in perpetual opposition.

In a confirmation that Awolowo remains the dominant political feature in Yorubaland, dead or alive, his political protogees have reclaimed his political terrain after it was temporarily ceded to an unpopular but powerful conservative political bloc in dubious circumstances.

Contrast this with the political map of Igboland where the former political children of the great Zik have faded into the so-called mega party with national outlook where sadly, they have become inconsequential.

On the other hand, the attempt by the inemitable late General Ojukwu to give the Igbos a platform  to pursue their political agenda in Nigeria seems destined to crumble just a few months after his demise through what seems an externally-instigated  disputations among his political lieutenants.

So, while each Igbo state is busy consolidating her unhelpful autonomy, the Yorubas are solidifying their unity and homogeneity through common ownership of business ventures under the mammoth Odua Group. And to cap it all, they are now propagating the principle  of “integration” among the Yoruba states for political and economic expediency.

In contrast, the Igbo states lack the will to rehabilitate ventures jointly owned by the states in the zone to the detriment of their citizens. One of them is the Nkalagu cement company. Given the high demand for cement, the contribution of a jointly-revived Nkalagu cement company to the economy of the zone cannot be over-emphasised.

It is true that private management of government-owned companies is now the vogue, but such enterprises could be handed over to private managers after the states had pooled resources together to rehabilitate them.

There are other ventures that South Eastern states could jointly float like power-generation with the abundant but unutilized coal at Enugu. Since the nuclear accident following an earthquake in Japan last year, the thinking that, owing to environmental reasons, the era of using coal to generate electricity was over, has become a farce. China, the second largest economy in the world still generates the bulk of her electricity with coal.

Indigenes of South East have been expecting that the  issues above would have attracted serious deliberation at the regular meetings of the zone’s governors under the aegis of South Eastern Governors’ Forum for the meetings to be relevant to the citizens.

Apart from the economic gains to the South East of jointly owning projects, such undertakings should also play the critical function of reinforcing the ethnic, cultural and linguistic bonds that for ever band Ndigbo together.

Given the common ordeal of the race in Nigeria’s recent history, the Igbo states, like their Yoruba counterparts, must close ranks and speak with one voice politically and economically.


About the author