World Igbo Summit: Keynote Statement at Gregory University, Uturu, 2-4 January 2020.
Strategic Action Plan for Realizing the Restructuring Agenda.
Umunna H. Orjiako, PhD,
Protocols and Acknowledgements.
Let me state up front that there is urgent need to attract and engage every hand, every effort in the campaign to restructure Nigeria because it is of existential importance to the Igbo nation, and to Nigeria itself. In fact, short of the blood and mayhem that preceded the civil war, what confronts the Igbo nation in contemporaneous Nigeria, is in historical terms, as dire as those dark days of fear and uncertainty leading to the declaration of Biafra and commencement of war. That era and the word ‘survival’ complimented each other. Survival as both a wistful and self-congratulatory word, has crept back into Igbo expressions everywhere the Igbo are found in Nigeria today. The Igbo are hurting in Nigeria, particularly in the past four years, not only because of marginalization, or better still, exclusion, but mostly for the creeping occupation of their ancestral lands and farms, as well as the blatant humiliation of the people on a daily basis. It is this memory of our not-too-distant-past repeating itself in my lifetime, that, for me, makes this summit a most crucial conference.
The Nigerian Situation and the Problem Posed.
The Ekwueme Square Awka Declaration of May 2018, is a recognition and acceptance of some immutable facts – that Nigeria is a country of diverse peoples, different tribes, tongues, cultures, religions and world views. The founding fathers of Nigeria recognized this fact and accepted that diversity is not and need not be a cancer curable only through balkanization, secession or permanent state of coercion to hold unwilling peoples together. They therefore established a federation where diversity could be a source of strength, growth and shared prosperity. That system of federalism, not broken in the first instance, was violated and progressively replaced with a unitary system of governance in 1966, barely five years after independence. That imposed change has left Nigeria with a vast universe of problems and challenges that require urgent remedy for the country to function well and thrive. To that effect, we have to acknowledge that there are only three options available to us today;
i] sustain the dysfunctional unitary status quo at an unacceptable level of coercion and mass discontent;
ii] balkanize the country through a rash of secessions which could be messy and costly in terms of lives, limbs and treasure, as we had experienced in Biafra;
iii] reset or restructure the country to restore the original system of federal governance that have proven over centuries to be best suited for culturally and ethnically diverse countries.
The Awka Declaration of May 2018, had made this third choice – restoration of federalism – for the Igbo nation of the South East and other zones. And so, in fact, had the Ibadan Declaration of September 2017, for the Yoruba of the South West, the Yenagoa Declaration of March 2018, for the Niger Delta peoples of the South-South, and lately, statements of the Middlebelt Forum on behalf of the various autochthonous peoples of North Central Nigeria.
The Restructuring Option.
Contrary to what we hear from some opposing quarters that restructuring is an ambiguous word that means different things to different people – a covert ploy to weaken Nigeria and make it impotent and inconsequential, or to even truncate and balkanize it into sovereign tribal enclaves – the declarations from the four zones under reference have brought enough clarity to the spirit and meaning of restructuring as the prevailing desire and will of the majority of citizens. For further clarity, it bears repetition that what we ask within the context of restructuring are as simple as follows:
i] the limited political autonomy (not sovereignty or independence) of the federating units, that is, seeking a co-equal, horizontal, interdependent, and complementary relationship with the central government, not the present one of total control by, and dependency on, the center. This could be achieved through comprehensive devolution of powers, divesting the central government of many of the 68 items in the exclusive list in the 1999 constitution, return those powers to the federating units where they naturally and originally belonged, while retaining nation-binding items at the center;
ii] restore the fiscal autonomy of the component governments to enable them take full responsibility for planning and funding their preferred course of growth and development;
iii] define and resolve citizenship and indegenship rights in accordance with global best practices – emphasis on place of birth, and/or residence for a specified timeframe;
iv] make some cost saving adjustments to the constitutional structures, institutions, and processes of politics, governance and public administration.
The alternate method of achieving the form of federalism we desire, is convocation of a fresh national conference backed by law, to negotiate a new constitution approved by the peoples of Nigeria in a United Nations-backed and supervised referendum. Insistence on pre-approval and referendum derives from the fate of the 2014 National Conference.
Nothing could be clearer than this except to those temporary beneficiaries of the present dysfunctional system – individuals and communities, who have for some personal and primordial reasons closed their hearts and minds to the patriotic imperative of resetting Nigeria. It may surprise some of us in this hall today to hear that significant opposition to restructuring is not limited to other zones, that it also exists here in the South East, even if the opponents hide or couch their views in obscure, noncommittal language.
What Has Been Done on the Path to Restructuring.
Again, let me applaud the PG and his team in Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo with whom I have had the privilege on many occasions to work with the leadership of other zones, in particular, the SW, SS and MB, to sustain the demand for a restructured Nigeria. As already noted, the socio-cultural leadership of the four zones have made declaratory commitments to sustain the campaign for restructuring until it is achieved, no matter how long it takes.
We must also appreciate the efforts of several Igbo socio-cultural associations and political action groups to sustain the restructuring campaign. I can mention only a few such organizations – the Igbo bu Igbo, IBI, Aka Ikenga, Nzuko Umunna, NU, Alaigbo Development Fund, ADF, among others. Special mention must however, be made of the handshake across Nigeria project initiated by NU for joint execution with Ohaneze Ndi Igbo. The first in the programmed series – the Handshake Across the Niger – staged at Enugu on 11th January, 2018, was anchored on the noble legacy of General Aguiyi Ironsi and Col. Adekunle Fajuyi who paid the supreme price for the cause of Nigeria’s unity. The Enugu event was a success as it triggered a chain of reactions from several centers of power around the country. It brought fresh momentum to the rising clamor for restoration of federalism to Nigeria. Even the ruling APC took note as it quickly established the Nasir El-Rufai Committee to collate and articulate the position of its members on restructuring. That Committee’s report is now part of the reference proposals for resetting Nigeria on the path of true federalism.
Unfortunately, for reasons of logistical incapacity and ebbing commitment among others, the schedule to replicate the Enugu event at other centers in the SW, SS and MB, has not materialized. We shall revisit the handshake program for possible renewal and continuity as part of the strategies to make restructuring a reality.
Why Igbo Should Lead the Mission to build a national coalition for Restructuring.
Let us remind ourselves that the civil war [1967-1970] resulted essentially from the violation of federalism, that it is the sustenance of that violation that feeds Nigeria’s recurrent fissiparous, divisive, separatist and anomic tendencies, which, in my candid view, will remain the case until we find the courage to restore the original wisdom of the letter and spirit of federalism. For the Igbo, that should be a crucial mission, since, among the ethnic components of Nigeria, we appear to be foremost in the belief that over-centralization of power has been the bane of the country, at the root of the current state of the union – at once unstable, disunited, unproductive and poor. Evidently, the Igbo, also the most widely spread across the country, are the natural frontline victims of the insecurities, injustices, inequities, human rights abuses, suppression and oppression inherent in the present unitary system.
Arguably too, the Igbo more than others, crave to live and operate in a social and political environment of freedom, justice and equality, a level playing environment in which all citizens could freely and legitimately exploit without hindrance, their God-given talents and communal endowments to make of themselves and their communities the best they could possibly be. The youths of Nigeria, the Igbo in particular, have become pessimistic and despondent, as unitary rule continues to render their abundant reservoir of creativity, inventiveness and innovation dormant, thus denying them the chance to exploit the numerous opportunities in their environs to effect personal and community progress, growth and development.
We must therefore, reject the cynicism and lamentations of those among us, the elite, who insist that the Igbo have paid in blood and treasure, their fair dues for a better Nigeria, that we should now take a back seat and allow others to pilot the course of change. No, I don’t subscribe to that. I think they are wrong, because our fate is involved, and our highly cherished freedom is at stake. More than ever before, this moment in the history of the Igbo in Nigeria demands our collective action [the igwebuike spirit] to build, strengthen and formalize a national coalition of the willing, to reinvigorate and sustain the campaign for a new Nigeria governed under a constitution based on the known principles, structures and processes of federalism. The present constitution of 1999, amended or not, does not meet that criteria, it is a federal constitution in name only.
The Way Forward.
Internal Restructuring of Alaigbo – First, we must quickly seek to overcome the surfeit of anarchic-individualism and hyper-materialism that have taken Igboland hostage. We must seek to restore the core values of dignity, integrity, and hard work, by putting a stop to the progressive erosion of historic Igbo consciousness – a once cohesive national character, distinctive positive attitudes, strong moral beliefs, and a self-confident worldview.
This implies above all else, a collective endeavor to reinstate that crucial defining value – IGWEBUIKE – the theme of this summit – the very communal ethic that simultaneously earned the Igbo both admiration and respect on the one hand, fear, envy and resentment on the other. Igwebuike is the spirit of unity, solidarity, and being one’s brothers’ keeper, a cultural distinction that led to the rapid rise and advancement of the Igbo in the scheme of Nigeria’s political economy within just three decades, 1935-1965. How unfortunate that the Igwebuike spirit has been replaced by an evil trinity of self-destructive individualism, excessive materialism, and insensitivity to the consequential resentment of others.
These negative character developments are accentuated today, by a neo-cultural bombast, boastfulness, ostentation and brashness, all alien to Igbo cosmology. I have highlighted these ills for one reason – that to regain the trust and credibility needed to lead our quest for freedom within Nigeria, restoration of our traditional Igwebuike character is inevitable. That is easier said than done, but it remains a cardinal duty of our generation, a duty we must not fail to accomplish.
Secondly, our children and future generations of Igbo must not be allowed to accept the narrative of others which blames us, the Igbo, for Nigeria’s present condition. I doubt if there is anyone in this place today who has not experienced it – that, for even our most enlightened compatriots, confronting the facts of the Nigeria-Biafra war is uncomfortable, inconvenient and anathema. Some blame us for championing the moderated form of federalism that Nigeria adopted during the pre-independence conferences at Lancaster House, in London, a federal model that excluded clauses for secession and/or referendum for self-determination.
They blame us for an “Igbo coup” of January 15, 1966, and the subsequent military decree 34 that heralded creeping unitary rule. They blame us for the failure of the Lagos consultative conferences which they claim could have rationalized and made implementable the historic Aburi Accord. They even blame us for the subsequent outbreak of the civil war, even though they were the first to fire a shot.
In all of their narrative, there is never a mention of the episodic anti-Igbo pogroms, massacres, and gross human rights abuses prevalent in the pre and post independent era. There is never a mention of the multi-ethnic composition and nationalist ideal of the January 15, 1966 coup leadership. There is never a mention of the fact, that it was mostly Igbo officers that quelled the coup and ensured its failure. There is never a mention of the unwillingness, some say incapacity, of the federal government to prevent or stop the mass murder of Igbo civilians across the North, thus, compelling the declaration of Biafra, and leading to the civil war in which nearly three million Igbos lost their lives.
Of course, no one mentions the role of lust and greed to own and control the oil and gas resources in the then Eastern region as the bait and the prize for doubling down on the path of unitary rule.
These are reasons compelling enough to encourage the future generations of the Igbo to inherit, internalize and own the factual narrative and memory of the events that brought us where we are today. For those who may think that this is irrelevant or unimportant to the reason we are here today, may I refer them to our own Prof. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart – ‘he who does not know where the rain started to beat him, will not know where he dried his body’. And more recently, our daughter, the young Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, reminds us that ‘he who does not know what killed his father, may fall victim of the same cause’. In short, those who do not know, or choose to ignore their history may repeat it, and if they are lucky, they might live to blame history for repeating itself. History does not repeat itself, people do, and then turn around to blame history for repeating itself. Therefore, the Igbo nation cannot again, afford to allow itself be isolated and ganged-up against for collective assault, conquest and humiliation by the other ethnic groups, never again. Consequently, we must endeavor to bequeath to our children and future generations our own story and the memory of our experience. How we achieve that is open to discussion.
This is therefore the time to mobilize all the Igbo elite at home and in the diaspora – the political, economic, rural, urban, traditional, religious, professional and intellectual – to rally around Ohaneze Ndi Igbo and make it both, de facto and de jure, the apex body to articulate, coordinate, lead and sustain the demarche for Igbo interests in Nigeria. It is therefore imperative that the Ohaneze itself should be reset structurally to inseparably link the ‘’Oha’’ and the ‘’Eze’’, to secure the gains made under Chief NNia Nwodo, as well as resolve the lingering challenges confronting the body. Such a reform may include the establishment of an Elders Council to work with the ‘’Imeobi’’ and the President General in outreach missions, and timely resolution of inevitable conflicts. In this regard, all Igbo-centric social, cultural and professional organizations should willingly pledge allegiance and support, moral and material, to the Ohaneze as the one voice that speaks for the Igbo nation in matters of social, cultural and existential concern. Speaking in wig-wag tongues will achieve nothing much for us.
In close collaboration with the various groups, Ohaneze should lead penetration of Igbo communities around the world with a coherent message of where we are, how we got here, and the way forward. The generally preferred way is already comprehensively articulated in the Awka Declaration for a restructured Nigeria.
Furthermore, as the zone that perennially laments marginalization, even exclusion from the core of Nigeria’s political economy, one would expect SE political leaders to out-think and out-perform the other zones, and not join in the pervading national morass of decadence, corruption and ‘’anything goes’’. Confronted by adversity and constrained by centrally manufactured obstacles, the Igbo nation ought to be instinctively reliant on its best and brightest, its formerly vibrant intelligentsia, as leaders of thought and organizers of its affairs. The South East cannot afford to leave its immediate and long-term destiny in the hands of a mercantile class driven more by the allures of power, profit and the perks of office, than service and commitment to the survival, development and advancement of the Igbo in Nigeria.
In fact, the opponents of restructuring have a strong point when they query what use the Igbo states have made of the limited, yet significant structural changes introduced since the mid 1990s – the zonal structure for instance, which two prominent Igbo sons championed and secured during the Abacha era. I am aware that the six States of the South West are doing something with it under the acronym DAWN – Development Agenda for Western Nigeria. I am unaware of any SE equivalency yet.
It is therefore time for the Igbo professional and intellectual elite to terminate their apparent sabbatical from politics, to take over the executive mansions and legislative Houses in Igboland, to begin to hold public officials to account for their actions and/or inactions while in office, and to encourage the voting masses by own example to shun crude blandishment of wealth, to align themselves with men of knowledge and proven integrity, to rid Igboland of mediocre leadership, and retrieve the SE from its current slide to failure and irrelevance.
Still under internal restructuring, you will agree that there is an obvious and widening gap, a gaping disconnect, between the ruling Igbo political class and the Igbo collective – the masses and organized groups – in the pursuit of what is generally considered vital Igbo interests. By way of illustration, I do not know what could be more disturbing than the eerie silence on the part of our leading politicians – governors, senators, House of Reps and State Assembly members – over the palpable siege of the entire streets and motorways in Alaigbo by security operatives in all hues and colors of uniform. We do not observe similar heavy military presence in other zones, not even in the zones of the country where deadly insurgency is active and on-going. Are all these security agents all over Igboland really necessary for our security and protection?
One thing should be made quite clear – it would be an uphill task for Igbo organizations, even working in lock-step with Ohaneze, to achieve anything much, without the commensurate commitment and collateral action of our elected and appointed political officials, the State Governors and federal law makers in particular. To succeed in resetting Alaigbo, this set of people must be onboard the efforts to rebuild our core values, strengthen the bond of collaboration, and regain the respect and trust between the “Oha’’ and the “Eze’’, the elite and the masses.
Consolidating the National Coalition for Restructuring.
A note of caution is necessary here. There are some among us campaigners for restructuring who tend to think that realizing the goal is a 100-meter dash. As a matter of fact, some of them are already proposing what they call ‘’cooperative federalism’’, whatever that means. Restructuring is not guaranteed to be a short march to freedom. On the contrary, bracing the tape of freedom in any country of the world, could be a relay marathon race that spans decades of sustenance, dedication, sweat and sacrifice. That is part reason future generations must inherit the factual narrative to enable them stay the course of the campaign for our liberation from unitary rule, no matter how long it takes.
We are also aware that there are those who have prioritized a campaign for the emergence of a president of Igbo extraction in 2023 over restructuring as the declared priority agenda of the SE zone. They are entitled to their decision, even if they might be wrong, as I think they are. First, one has to hope that those purporting to champion the emergence of a President of Igbo extraction in 2023 are not offering us a red herring, a Greek gift, or worse still, a bait for demolition of the fledgling unity that still exists in Igboland. Second, the fact of a President of Igbo extraction, though desirable, could not possibly resolve the deep-rooted Igbo question, the alienation and frustrations of the Igbo in Nigeria. In fact, under the unitarized system we now operate, the policies and actions of a president of Igbo origin, no matter how noble, well intended and nationalistic, could be misinterpreted to complicate an already complex situation.
We shall leave that debate for another day, though pursuit of both goals at different levels of engagement need not be mutually exclusive. That said, what I consider important at the moment is to recognize the harmony of interest between both sides – the campaigners for restructuring and those for the presidency. That mutual interest lies in a well-planned and executed program of outreach of the Igbo nation to the other ethnic groups and zones of the country. Both sides should therefore collaborate and work closely together to win the trust and support of those others beyond Igboland who are also hurting and stressing under the strains and constraints of our unitary status quo. Whichever way it goes, neither the presidency nor restructuring would be available without the buy-in of the other ethnic nationalities.
Resumption of the Handshake Program Across Nigeria.
There is a general assumption that the Igbo are resented across the ethnic divides of Nigeria. That may well be true. However, in a multi-cultural country of so many diverse peoples, what any component group needs to survive and thrive is not admiration, adoration or love by the others. What is required could be just mutual respect and accommodation earned through negotiations, confidence and consensus building to smoothen the path of collaboration in pursuit of shared interests and achievement of mutually beneficial goals. It is the objective of seeking such consensus and collaboration on the issue of restructuring that advised NU and Ohaneze to establish a program of handshakes with other zones, in particular, those that have by inclination or declaration, expressed their disposition and preference for a truly federal Republic to replace the present unitary arrangement. The overall objective of the handshakes is to make new friends and allies, to win over the support of the neutrals, those presently sitting on the fence, and turn into neutrals those viscerally hostile and opposed to restructuring, and/or any other matters that the Igbo consider as vital interest.
As noted already, after the initial outreach event that witnessed an assemblage of prominent Yoruba and Igbo leaders at Enugu on 11th January, 2018, the program lost the zeal and steam to sustain the feverish momentum that propelled its initial success. As we speak, I feel more persuaded than ever that the pace of resetting Nigeria to a federalist constitution, structures, and efficient governance processes, lies in our determination and capacity to revive and sustain the stalled outreach program. One has to wonder what might have happened had we continued with the handshake process as planned. Whatever, we do need to now renew and start implementation of the Enugu communique jointly approved by Ohaneze Ndi Igbo and the Afenifere. We need to rejuvenate the enthusiasm that propelled the Enugu conference, build on the momentum it generated and replicate same in the planned but aborted events at Ibadan, Yenagoa, Makurdi, and the Lagos grand finale.
What We Must Do on Outreach
i] We should now empower the PG Ohaneze to establish a Pan-Igbo Organizing Committee of select members from various Igbo socio-cultural Associations across the country and in the diaspora, to develop a sustainable strategic plan of action for the handshake program, to build and consolidate a National Alliance of the Willing, NAW, to deliver a restructured Nigeria;
ii] guided by the proposed Elders Council, and working under the supervision of the PG, the Committee should, without further delay, pursue consolidation of the SE-SW alliance for restructuring; we should harmonize their declared positions [not much at variance to start with] in accordance with the Awka-Ibadan Declarations;
iii] we should mount new intensive SE-SS consultations, and thereafter convene a SE-SW joint handshake across the Imo River to formally embrace the SS, reconcile and align its position on restructuring [the Yenagoa Declaration] with the Awka-Ibadan Declarations;
iv] After similar consultations and establishment of confidence-building measures, the three zones of the South would jointly convene a handshake across the River Benue to also formally admit the MB into the Alliance for restructuring Nigeria;
v] The leadership of the NE and NW would also be formally invited to join the alliance at their own discretion. I am aware that such discussions had started with the Northern Elders Forum before the 2019 elections;
vi] The handshakes project should culminate in a Grand Rally in Lagos during which the harmonized consensual positions of the Alliance zones would be adopted and advertised for public buy-in as the basis of a Joint Bill of the people to the National Assembly for passage into law;
vii] Alternatively, the harmonized positions would serve as a joint working paper of the Alliance zones in the event a fresh National Constitutional Conference, which then must be vigorously canvassed and pursued to the end;
viii] Once the harmonized position gains enough support countrywide, the Alliance and its component zones should commence the arduous task of lobbying and working with politicians – governors, senators, House of Reps and State House of Assembly members; political parties, interest groups and other stake holders – to come on board the movement for a restructured Nigeria.
ix] In addition to vigorous publicity and press campaigns, there would be sustained education and mobilization of the electorate, trade and professional unions to organize and sustain peaceful mass rallies across the country in support of the restructuring project. Such mass rallies would make it abundantly clear to all political actors – elected, appointed and aspiring ones – that their political fate would for the most part, depend on their support and concrete actions to either pass the restructuring bill at the National and State Assemblies, or pass an enabling bill for the convocation of a Constitutional Conference whose outcome would be subject only to a United Nations-supervised national referendum.
X] Role of the International Community.
Before we conclude this statement, let us be clear about one thing – the demand for a restructured Nigeria is within our domestic constitutional and international conventional rights. Not to make an academic exercise of this, I plead to refer us to Art. 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR, to which Nigeria is signatory – “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status, and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”. This is to reassure us that those who tend to ascribe ulterior motives to the demand for return of our rights as federating citizens to freely determine the pace of our economic, social and cultural development are wrong. So, while we may not require fresh approval of the international community to seek these rights, it is appropriate to ensure that in pursuit of these rights, we keep the international community aware of the situation, and that in all activities, we strictly abide by the letters and spirit of the UN Charter on the maintenance of global peace and security.
I believe we are all agreed that:
i] only in a truly federal arrangement and system of governance could a multi-cultural country like Nigeria find bases for peace, unity, security and stability, and its citizens find commensurate incentive to convert existing potentials and opportunities to human and capital resources for growth, prosperity and development;
ii] the Igbo have cause to lead a vigorous but pacific campaign to mobilize other ethnic nationalities to build a National Coalition or Alliance of the willing for resetting the country to its federalist origins;
iii] to be able to do this, Igbo leaders need to rally around Ohaneze to immediately commence the onerous task of restoring the fast eroding Igbo communal ethic of “Igwebuike’’ and ancillary attributes – honesty, dignity, integrity, hard work, brother’s-keeper, and a self-confident worldview, as part of rebuilding the stalled economies and political coherence of Alaigbo;
iv] embark on sustained lobbying of the political class, continuous education and mobilization of the masses and the electorate to understand the fateful existential imperatives of restructuring, and support every effort to actualize a return of the country to functional federalism;
v] the PG Ohaneze should be empowered to establish a Pan-Igbo Organizing Committee to reengage the outreach program or handshakes across the various divides and zones of Nigeria, in order to secure mutual understanding of common interests, and to harmonize positions on restructuring;
vi] convert the consensual position of the Alliance zones into a Bill on restructuring for consideration and passage by the National and State Assemblies;
vii] or, use the harmonized position to persuade the central government to convene a fresh National Conference backed by law, to produce a new constitution, subject only to validation by referendum of the peoples of Nigeria without any further executive or legislative interference and fiat;
viii] we should ensure that in pursuit of our legitimate demand for a truly federal Republic of Nigeria, we keep the International Community aware of the situation, with assurance that in all activities pertaining thereto, we strictly abide with the letters and spirit of the UN Charter on the maintenance of global peace and security;
ix] Our children and future generations should be made to inherit and internalize our narrative, and own our memory of the events that brought Nigeria to where it is today, they must not be allowed to inherit any narrative and/or memory that is at variance with ours;
x] finally, and in furtherance of all the foregoing, the Igbo nation must never again, allow itself to be isolated and ganged-up against for collective assault, conquest and humiliation by the other ethnic groups of the county, never again, never again.
Thank you for listening.