I begin this piece, my first in the New Year, by telling you this story; a story that best exemplifies the Igbo spirit. It was way back in the time I graduated from the University. I had just collected my call up letter for the compulsory National Youth Service Corps Programme. I was to serve in Edo State. But the problem was that I saw Edo as one place I should not be in. This was no thanks to stories I had been hearing before then about how the people engaged in witchcraft, even in daylight. You can then imagine my consternation when I was not only posted to serve there, but to serve in a remote village.
Come the day I was to go there, I equipped myself with holy water, plus my Rosary. These were supposed to fend off any evil influences I was sure I was going to encounter. The place I was to serve was called Sabongida Ora in Owan West LGA of the state. It was indeed located deep inside Edo State. As I journeyed in the bus I boarded, my apprehension grew as we seemed to leave civilisation behind us and move deep into Edo heartland. I saw many forests that looked forbidding and which did little to dispel my notion that I was about to encounter the dreaded witches and wizards of Edo State.
As we continued to journey past the forests, I was sure that I would find none of my people there. How can anyone except the indigenous people live in such a place? We eventually came to a stop at our destination. By that time I was famished and badly needed food. Luckily, close to where I came down, was a rather shanty-like bukateria. I entered and asked for food. As I waited to be served, while seriously looking at the woman who owned the joint to know if she could be one of ''them'', I had a shock. She was Igbo! I knew this when she asked her girl to get water. Immediately my tension cooled. At least I had one of my people here that I could go to if things went wrong, I thought. I then told her about my fears and she laughed, telling me that the place was populated by Igbos. This I soon confirmed eventually when I settled down in the town. I discovered that the Igbos controlled the economy of the remote town. All the better supermarkets were owned by them, even some of the commercial bike drivers were Igbo. I soon settled down to enjoy the town and was actually loathe to leave when my service ended. That's Ndigbo for you: ubiquitous, industrious and ever adventurous.
What I saw the Igbos doing in Sabongida Ora is also what Ndigbo do all over Nigeria. They are not only everywhere but they are active drivers of the economies of their host communities. They are never a burden. Indeed, the Igbo spirit has become so legendary that they are believed to be direct descendants of the Jews, sharing in their sense of industry, as well as in their persecutions. During the unfortunate Nigeria/Biafra conflict, despite all odds, they were able to sustain the war for nearly three years, with weapons they fabricated which included bombs and armoured tanks. They also refined fuel. What these people, the Igbos, need is just an enabling environment to give full vent to their creative spark.
Today we have a certain Innocent Chuwkwuma, MD, CEO of Innoson Motors. He is credited with owning the nation's first vehicle manufacturing plant. A feat that should have brought pride to Nigerians, or many Nigerians. But from nowhere, Innoson was hounded over a matter that was a private business transaction between him and his bank. But they made a mountain out of a mole hill from that; a development that, as usual, raised the ethnic alarm, rightly or wrongly. But in such circumstances, no one would be blamed for thinking along those lines; fact being that the Buhari administration always appears bent on committing avoidable blunders or flying the wrong kite.
The Innoson saga isn't yet over as he has reportedly sued Buhari's blood hounds, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for defamation and sundry matters.
But then, how did we allow such things as this to still be haunting us when we should have been masters of our very own destiny? Why should we still be depending on Nigeria when Nigeria ought to be depending on us? Why haven't we fully exploited our God-given talent for turning a desert into a land flowing with milk and honey? Why, why, why, I keep asking. The fault is ours; at least largely so, based on our collective experience. Let's blame not our gods any further.
Today, we have five Southeast governors who can make things happen for us, but have rather chosen to go it alone. By going it alone, the zone has yet to realize her full potential. So many things have been left undone; the few we had were left to deteriorate, with Nigercem a grand case in point. Our governors are more comfortable with pursuing individual glory to the detriment of the collective.
That is why we have been unable to learn from the positive developments in Nnewi, Aba and Onitsha, vis-à-vis our exploits in industrialization and merchandize. Any Nigerian who wants genuine spare parts must come to Nnewi, whether they like it or not. Aba has long carved a niche for manufacturing. They can today produce shoes and sew clothes that can compete fairly with others elsewhere. Onitsha has the largest market on the entire West African Coast.
Because we have neglected this, we continue to cry about marginalization. But the glaring truth is that we can carve out our own destiny by utilising what we have to get what we want. If the abilities of Ndigbo are harnessed and deployed to good use, I bet you, Nigeria will come looking for us; not the other way round.
So how do we go about this? Our governors should come together with a view to producing a marshal plan for the economic development of the zone. A plan that will take cognisance of our strides in merchandize, industry and commerce. Such a plan will include connecting the industrial and commercial cities of Nnewi, Aba and Onitsha by rail. It will also include expanding the road network to connect all these cities. Enugu already has an international airport and the Onitsha Seaport, which, when finished and functional, will take care of the rest.
In each individual state, all major industries must be provided access roads and given a favourable atmosphere to thrive. This way, we will produce more Innosons who will in turn offer employment to our people. The result of this line of thinking is that the Southeast governors will have developed a strong economic bloc in the Southeast Zone that will be the envy of other zones. It will help to curb the craving by the youths to go abroad for greener pasture; after all, as we say, wetin dey for Sokoto, e dey for Sokoto.
If such an enabling environment is provided here, there will be no need for our youths to wash dead bodies abroad after refusing to do more respectable jobs here. Our migration to other parts of Nigeria will be curbed and so will be the killings. Indeed, has anyone wondered why our people are always targeted by others where they are based in times of crises? It is simply because of their property there. Igbos are perhaps the only group of Nigerians that invest heavily outside their land and contributing massively to the economies of their host. Thus when crisis erupts, their property become prime targets. Those other Nigerians who don't have property are largely ignored.
Thus if we behave like others and develop our place and stay here, there will be no Igbos to be persecuted outside. Their property will be safe and everybody will be happy.
But then the first step has to be taken and the people to do that are the governors. They should quit thinking and planning only for the present; they should focus on the future. It is no use having a forum of Southeast governors when nothing tangible comes out from their meetings. For all I know, such a forum of governors may as well not exist if all they do is to just yak and yak.
For as long as we fail to seize our destiny, the nation's major policies will continue to seem to be against us. Governance isn't all about paying salaries of workers. For goodness sake, that isn't an achievement by any measure, for the Bible tells us that a labourer deserves his wage. So why throw parties for paying salaries? The greater job lies in creating a brighter future for our people by those saddled with the responsibility of doing so, and there's no greater time for that than now. Ndigbo, ku nie nu n'ula!