‘The Igbo In The Politics of Nigeria’ – Rotimi Amaechi
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, 12th Convocation Lecture Delivered by Rt.Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi
Let me acknowledge without any reservation whatsoever, that I am honored by the invitation to deliver this year’s convocation lecture from an outstanding institution named after the great Zik of Africa. In the course of this lecture, with the topic in mind, we shall hear a lot more about The Right Honorable Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe but not about this university and I hope you will all forgive me.
I will trace the history of the Igbo people from the middle years to the era of Trans Atlantic slave trade, the colonial and post-colonial era, relying chiefly on the works of renowned historians, Professor Kenneth Dike, first Nigerian Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan and Professor Elizabeth Isichei. I will also deal with the issue of Igbo identity and Igbo emotionalism, the two main issues that may have impeded Igbo political advancement in Nigeria.
Professor Elizabeth Isichei in her book, The History of The Igbo People, is of the view that in the pre-colonial times, The Igbo people had no real sense of ‘pan-Igbo identity’. “The villagers view of external reality was a sharp dichotomy, ‘them and us’, with the sense of attachment to ‘us’ growing weaker as the unit grew larger – the family, the lineage, the village, the village group. Invariably, he [the Igbo] felt a strong local patriotism”. She makes the point that a sense of pan-Igbo identity came only when the Igbo finds himself outside Igboland as was the case during slave trade and “when colonial conquest and rule violently extended the categories through which the Igbo perceived the world.”
Prof Isichei also referenced the work of Dr. William Balfour Baikie, a British Naval doctor and explorer who visited the Niger and the Delta in the 1850’s and made enquiries about the Igbo whenever he could. Baikie described the Igbo conceptualization of themselves in words that are still true today. “In Igbo each person hails from the particular district where he was born, but when away from home all are Igbos”.
A question of change and continuity is an interesting sub title in chapter two of Isichei”s work. Please permit me to quote extensively from it. “The question of whether the Igbo saw themselves as a people in pre-colonial times is, of course, quite distinct from the question as to whether they could be existentially described as such. But the process of describing the distinctive characteristics of Igbo society – what made them a people – involves us in two difficulties. The first is that of generalization. The many local differences in Igbo culture make it difficult to describe them accurately in a book of this length. Each statement should be qualified, and one is in danger of describing the average of all Igbo societies, which does not correspond with any actual Igbo society. This is a difficulty which is implicit, however, in all historical writing. The second difficulty is more serious. It is necessary to describe the society, in order to understand the nature of the changes it was to undergo. But nothing is more repugnant to a historian than to describe a society in, as it were, a temporal vacuum. Societies undergo constant change; the historian, inevitably, focuses on changes rather than on continuities. One’s description of Igboland should be rooted in a particular moment in time, because the society was constantly changing. A description of Igboland, once upon a time, in the mgbe ndichie, is bound to do violence to a constantly mutable reality”.
That is a crucial point because what is true of the Igbo in the past may not be true today. How people respond to issues today maybe different from how they responded in the past. But the one that has remained true is the issue of Igbo emotionalism. The Igbo historical past is very important and at certain times it has been quite tragic. But we cannot remain trapped in our past and as someone once said, we cannot wish away the war that took place but we cannot continue to move forward with our heads slightly inclined backwards. You will either trip or not move fast enough. Don’t forget that you are in a race with other groups. Nigeria of the sixties is markedly different from Nigeria of today and the Igbo nation would have to adjust to that reality and strategize accordingly.
The Portuguese were the first European visitors to South East Nigeria at about 1472 in their search for a sea route to India. They were soon followed by other Europeans who were in desperate need of labour to work on their vast farmlands and to help exploit new discoveries of mineral deposits in the new world. In 1518, Isichei recounted, “the first load of African prisoners was taken directly from West Africa to the West Indies, ushering in over three centuries of the infamous triangular trade. The triangular trade contributed vastly to the wealth of Europe.”
Triangular trade is a multilateral system of trading in which a country pays for its import from one country with exports to another country. During the 18th and 19th century, Britain shipped goods to West Africa in exchange for slaves that will now be shipped to the West Indies in exchange for sugar, rum and other items which will then be shipped back to Britain. Not all the slaves were taken to West Indies, some were taken to Gabon and Sao Tome and most of them were Igbo.
In the 18th century, the slave trade then dominated by the British, rose to its climax in Igboland. In 1882, Captain John Adams, who made ten voyages to the area between 1786 and 1800 wrote: “This place [Bonny] is the wholesale market for slaves, as no fewer than 20,000 are annually sold; 16,000 of whom are members of one nation, called Heebo [Ibo], so that this single nation during the last 20 years, exported no less than 320,000; and those of the same nation sold at New Calabar [a Delta port], probably amounted in the same period of time, to 50,000 more, making an aggregate amount of 370,000 Heebos. The remaining part of the above 20,000 is composed of the natives of Brass country and also of Ibbibbys [Ibibios] or Quaws.” [Prof K O Dike – Trade & Politics in the Niger Delta 1830-1885].
In the words of Dr. W B Baikie, who interviewed King William Dappa Pepple of Bonny in Fernando Po in 1854, “the King of New Calabar [Kalabari] and Pepple King of Bonny were of Ibo descent, of which also are the mass of the natives.” The influx of Igbo migrants and slaves into the Delta in the 19th century blurred the lines of earlier migrations and even though there were migrants and slaves from different places including Benis, Efik, Fulani’s etc but the Ibo migrants formed the bulk of the Delta population at that time. Prof Dike noted; that “they bequeathed their language to most of the city-states, Bonny, Okirika, Opobo and to a certain extent, influenced the language and institutions of old and new Calabar. But the population which evolved out of this mingling of peoples, was neither Benin nor Efik, Ibo nor Ibibio. They were a people apart, the product of the clashing cultures of the tribal hinterland and of the Atlantic community to both of which they belonged.” Let me place on record here that a lot of people from the areas described do not accept Igbo ancestry and that should be understood as part of what Isichei, as earlier mentioned, described as ‘constantly mutable reality’.
Slave trade was abolished in Britain in 1807 but the trade actually ended about 1850. That was not too long ago and it was a big business both for the Delta slave traders and the Igbo slave suppliers from the hinterland. And the major sources of supplies of slaves was through kidnapping, sometimes war and then the complex spiritual/trade network set up by the Aro people anchored on the influence of its oracle, Ibinukpabi. Several thousands of people that were taken before the shrine of Ibinukpabi for settlement of all manner of disputes, were believed to have been ‘consumed’ by the oracle but in actual fact they were all sold into slavery. The victims were from all parts of the Eastern region and beyond but no Aro person was ever a victim. Some communities also sold criminal elements in their midst and many poor families also sold off children and adults alike but the major sources were through kidnapping and the Aro trade network.
The Igbo society was traumatized not just during the era of slave trade but also when it ended because the societies had grown accustomed to collecting slaves and a considerable part of its economy sustained by the trade. There was fundamental insecurity and human life was cheap. People lived in fear of their neighbors. Going to the farm was dangerous. And even as the Europeans abandoned the trade, slavery continued as internal trade for sometime.
Nothing can be worse than the conditions of slavery, the traumatic and dehumanizing conditions of the slaves, yet, some slaves made the best use of the situation. All through human history and up till this day, societies face all manner of challenges at different periods. The crucial issue really, has always been and will always be – how to cope with the situation at hand and overcome it. And my conclusion at the end of this lecture will be focused on what I believe the Igbo people should do to better their present political condition. No matter how bad you think the situation today is, not even the three-year period of the civil war was as bad as the era of slavery but yet the Igbo slaves did not keep lamenting about the fate that befell them. They struggled through a most difficult era and in some cases, as we shall see, became great achievers.
Olaudah Equiano was abducted at age eleven and sold into slavery but with sheer courage and ability, he ‘bought’ his freedom, educated himself by learning arithmetic and science and to read and write in English. He became the first Igbo to author a book in English. His autobiography remains one of the most valuable sources of knowledge of the Igbo historical past. He was born at about 1745 and died in 1797. He lived for only 52 years.
After the British abolished slave trade in 1807, they made very serious efforts to enforce it by placing a naval squadron off the coast of West Africa to intercept illegal slavers. It was not possible to return intercepted slaves back to their original homes, they were moved instead to the colony of Sierra Leone. In the words of Isichei, “it is difficult to imagine the colossal difficulties which these ‘recaptives’, as they were called, faced and overcame. They landed in Sierra Leone destitute, exiles from their homes and families, with no knowledge of English.” With the help of the CMS and Methodist Missionaries, they became Christians, got educated and by sheer determination, they soon became part of the wealthy class in Sierra Leone and provided their children with sound education and they soon became Lawyers, Doctors and Missionaries. The first Christian Mission in Igboland was located in Onitsha and was established in 1857 by the Igbo community in Sierra Leone, under the headship of Reverend John Christopher Taylor, a Sierra Leonian of Igbo parentage.
I will devote a little more time to King Jaja of Opobo, the greatest African of his era and the most famous of Igbo slaves. His life story illustrates very clearly the trajectory of slavery from the Igbo hinterland to the Delta and the ethnic fluidity in the Niger Delta. There was a massive influx of Igbo slaves into the Delta in the 19th century with different impacts in the area. The Kalabari/Ijaw states developed their own techniques of assimilation but in Bonny, the indigenous language Ubani was almost replaced by Igbo. In the words of Isichei, “a visitor to Calabar in 1853 was informed by the Missionaries that more than half the population were Igbo. In the Island state of Okirika, on the southern fringes of Igboland, only a few of the free-born were ignorant of Igbo. In 1895, it was stated that the Brass tribes are a mixed race, recruited largely by the purchase of slaves from chiefly the Igbo people, living inland and by domestic slaves born in their families.”
You will recall that slavery was officially abolished in 1807 but did not quite end effectively until sometime in 1854 and that affected only the international arm of slave trade. The European traders transferred their shipping and trading skills and experience to the trade in palm oil and palm kernel, which was then in great demand in Europe that was fast industrializing. The product once again was in abundance in the Igbo hinterland. But not all of Igboland fell within the palm oil belt – Elele, Ihiala, Owerri, Ozubulu, Onitsha axis – and therefore not all could participate in the palm oil trade. And so, prevented by geography from participating in the booming palm oil trade, states like Nike and Arondizuogu, leveraging on their skills in slave trade, intensified their efforts at capturing and sale of slaves. But this time, the slaves had to be absorbed either in the Delta or within Igboland but mostly in the Delta. So slaves became cheaper and their number grew exponentially. Their increasing number Isichei noted, “worsened the social distortions which the slave trade had created. Paradoxically, the evil heritage of the trade in slaves became most evident after, internationally it was abolished.”
KING JAJA OF OPOBO
The pivot of the Delta social organization was the HOUSE SYSTEM or HOUSE RULE, which was developed because of the peculiar nature of the Delta society where almost every trader and of course the monarchies owned a lot of slaves from different tribes. It reflects, to a large extent, the extended family structure of the Igbo [Umunna] and Ibibio people [Ekpuk]. The fundamental difference, however, is that in the case of Umunna and Ekpuk, all the members are related by blood but in the House system, it was a mixture of slaves and the free-born. The contact and trade with the Europeans influenced the structure of the House system that ultimately, it became at once, a ‘co-operative trading unit and a local government institution.’
Prof Dike observes; “that even in the hey-day of the slave traffic, the Delta middlemen retained the best slaves in their personal service, some of whom manned the fleet of canoes indispensable for the trade with the interior or engaged in agricultural work on the farms. The smaller Houses numbered anything from 300-1000 members; others, such as the royal Houses, numbered many thousands. In 1847, King Eyo of Creek Town, Old Calabar, had in his House many thousand slaves and four hundred canoes with a captain and crew for everyone.” Dike also pointed out, that with the emergence of the House System, “the words Umunna and Ekpuk disappeared from the vocabulary of the extribal Ibibio and Ibo-speaking peoples in the Delta; in their place we have ‘Ulo’ and ‘Ufok’ – [meaning] House, expressing the new coast relationship based not on kinship but on common interests and economic necessities. Master and servant, the bond and the free, all became members of one House, a veritable hierarchy, with numerous gradations, each rank with its duties and responsibilities, its privileges and rewards.”
In the House system unlike Umunna and Ekpuk, the master of the House was an absolute leader and could subject the slaves to very cruel conditions. The Master often balanced the exercise of his power with the need to get the best out of his slaves. Productive slaves were always well rewarded which meant that intelligent and hard working slaves could actually become rich, buy their freedom and can become a chief but not the head of the House and certainly not a King.
Jaja was to shatter that glass ceiling in an intriguing turn of events. There were three classes of hierarchy in the House – first is the freeborn, then the children of slaves born in the House and the slaves taking up the lowest rung of the social ladder. Jaja belonged to the lowest rung – a first generation slave. Dike, quoting Opobo sources, recounts that Jaja was born at Umuduroha, a village in Amaigbo, Orlu Division, in the heart of Igboland in 1821. At about the age of 12, he was sold as a slave to Chief Allison of Bonny who because he found Jaja very headstrong, in turn sold him to one Chief Madu, a chief of the Anna Pepple House of Bonny. He became a member of the Anna Pepple House as a domestic slave of Chief Madu and by 1861 at the age of forty, he had risen to the first line of Chiefs of Bonny by sheer hard work and exceptional productivity.
When King William Pepple of Bonny returned from exile in 1864, he could no longer assert effective control over Bonny, which was essentially a federation of the various Houses. He died the next year and George, his son, became the king of Bonny. But during his time in exile, Allali, the head of the Anna Pepple House and his main traducer had become quite formidable and had consolidated the power of the Anna Pepple House to which Jaja belonged. The rival Mannila House, was controlled by Oko Jumbo another very intelligent ex slave. I need to point out that King William Pepple was forced into exile by the British at the instance of European traders who felt threatened by the protectionist policies of the King, who had limited their sphere of trading activities. Several years later, Jaja was to face a similar fate.
When Allali died, the Anna Pepple House was for sometime left without a head because Allali was heavily indebted to the Europeans. The most senior chiefs refused to accept the headship since it meant inheriting the debts piled up by Allali. After repeated meetings by the chiefs to elect the leader, they unanimously elected Jaja, one of the youngest chiefs as the head of the House. He was a very good trader and was well respected by the white traders for his honesty. Jaja did not accept the headship immediately knowing the implication of his slave origins. He asked to be given sometime to think about it. Some days later, at a public meeting of the chiefs of the House, he accepted to lead the House and to maintain the great traditions of the House. The chiefs unanimously offered him their full support and loyalty.
The British consul to the Bight of Biafra, Sir Richard Burton, commenting on the election of Jaja in 1863 wrote; “one Jaja, son of an unknown bushman, a common negro, had been elected to head the Anna Pepple House. He is young, healthy and powerful, and not less ambitious, energetic and decided. He is the most influential man and the greatest trader in the River, and 50,000 pounds, it is said may annually pass through his hands. He lives much with Europeans and he rides rough shod over young hands coming into Bonny. In a short time he will either be shot or he will beat down all his rivals. At present he leads the party against King Pepple.” It was not long before the prophecy was fulfilled.
Jaja’s ascendancy was swift and he quickly consolidated his hold on power and in two years repaid the debts owed by his predecessor and in no time became very popular in Bonny and idolized by his own people. Oko Jumbo and other chiefs of the rival Mannila House almost immediately began to plot his downfall. Knowing that Jaja had accumulated a lot of resources but had not yet acquired enough arms and ammunition, they declared war on Jaja and the Anna Pepple House. Jaja had tried every thing possible to avert war but his opponents knew he was unprepared for war and moved in to subdue him. He quickly surrendered to the consternation of both the British consul and his opponents.
The surrender was Jaja’s clever way of buying time. He used the period of peaceful negotiation of the terms of surrender to execute a masterful evacuation of his army and logistical requirements to a location in the Andoni area that gave him control of the creeks and access to the best palm oil markets. He had also arranged trade treaties and covenants with the chiefs of the hinterland giving him a near monopoly of the palm oil trade supply routes, cutting off Bonny from its source of supplies. By the time he left Bonny in 1869 all arrangements to found a new state had been completed and a few weeks after his evacuation, he signed the Minima Agreement [constitution] with his principal chiefs, with himself as the King. The state of Opobo was born and the reign of King Jaja commenced.
King Jaja’s technical defeat of his rivals in Bonny was so decisive that of the 18 important Houses of the city-state of Bonny, 14 followed him to Opobo. By 1871, two years after the founding of Opobo, the economy of Bonny collapsed forcing its leaders to negotiate with Opobo. In January 1873, the British government intervened in the dispute together with neutral Delta chiefs and after three days of negotiation, a peace treaty was signed and in another treaty, Britain recognized Jaja as the King of Opobo. In 1881, Jaja annexed the Qua Eboe territory contiguous to Opobo hinterland and was proclaimed the King of the place in June 1881. Jaja did not only block the Bonny middlemen from the interior markets but also the European traders. As he consolidated his hold on power, the stage was set for a major confrontation with Britain.
From the early part of the 19th century, European countries notably, France, Germany and Britain exercised informal control over parts of West Africa in furtherance of their trading and economic activities. They were negotiating treaties with the coastal states and in most cases, relied on the Delta middlemen for access to the interior. Britain had a consul for the Bight of Biafra based at Fernando Po. The French concentrated in the Gulf of Guinea with a base in Porto Novo. The German consul was based in Gabon. The Cameroons was a fluid territory where German merchants from Hamburg worked on friendly terms with British traders. With the unexpected annexation of Cameroon by Germany in July 1884, an international rivalry soon developed with Britain quickly concluding treaties of protection with African states in the Bight of Benin and Biafra.
With those treaties, Britain was able to claim suzerainty over the Delta and Lower Niger at the West African Berlin Conference of 1885 and declared a protectorate over those areas and others, including Lagos in October 1885. Most of the Kings and Chiefs never understood the terms of the treaties and never intended to surrender their territories and so they resisted the occupation of their territories. Britain resorted to the use of force and the period of resistance began.
King Jaja signed the treaty but had sought the interpretation of the word ‘protectorate’ insisting that he needed a written assurance that his sovereignty was not diminished in any manner. He resisted every attempt by the British traders to penetrate his territory until September 18, 1887 when he was lured unto a British Naval vessel by the acting Vice Consul, Harry Johnston to negotiate terms of trade with Britain. Once inside the Vessel, he was seized and exiled to West Indies. He died in 1891 and the people of Opobo paid for the repatriation of his body and gave him a royal funeral. Meanwhile, Britain deployed its full military might and overwhelmed a determined Igbo resistance to colonial rule.
Nnamdi Azikiwe [Zik of Africa]
On the 16th of November 1904, thirteen years after the death of King Jaja, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe was born. He was not a slave but he too faced very challenging obstacles placed on the path of Africans by colonial rule. His Father was a clerk in the service of the British colonial government and after his education in different parts of Nigeria he travelled to the United States of America for further studies. He returned to Nigeria in 1934. He moved to Ghana to establish the African Morning Post and finally returned to Nigeria and established the West African Pilot newspaper in 1937.
He returned from America determined to confront the challenges at home, picking up as it where, from where King Jaja stopped. If there was any Igbo involvement in the early nationalist struggles before the entry of Zik, it was not reported anywhere. The lot fell on him to lead the Igbo people and Nigeria as a whole on the path to freedom. In order to mobilize public opinion against the colonial government, apart from the West African Pilot based in Lagos, he established a chain of newspapers across Nigeria – Eastern Nigeria Guardian Port Harcourt , Nigerian Spokesman Onitsha , Daily Comet, Kano [founded in 1933 but acquired by Zik Group in 1944], Eastern Sentinel, Enugu, . And most importantly he established the African Continental Bank, [ACB] in 1944. Can anyone imagine what the economic and commercial life of Eastern Nigeria would have been without the ACB?
He was a Pan-Africanist and in the context of Nigeria, he believed firmly in the oneness of Nigeria and that the Igbo will always be better served in a united Nigeria. A lot of people may disagree with him but if we must rely on the evidence of history not sentiments or emotions, then I can safely say that he was right. To that extent, I admit to being an adherent of the Zikist philosophy. The alternative trajectory has led to nothing but sorrow, ruin and gnashing of teeth. And the debate now is not about who caused what but about the consequence of the options taken.
Herbert Macaulay founded Nigeria’s first political party, Nigeria National Democratic Party [NNDP] on the 24th of June 1923. The party won all the seats in the elections of 1923, 1928 and 1933. The dominance of the NNDP was challenged by the National Youth Movement [NYM] which was founded in 1933 by Professor Eyo Ita. Other members of the NYM were Zik, H O Davies, Samuel Akinsanya, Obafemi Awolowo, Ernest Ikoli, Samuel Akintola and others. It was a truly national platform which fought and won elections to the Lagos Town Council in 1938, ending the dominance of the NNDP. The NYM split over irreconcilable differences of its members and Zik left the party and teamed with Herbert Macaulay to form the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons [NCNC]. Macaulay was elected the President while Zik was elected the Secretary General. At the death of Macaulay two years after, Zik took over as the President of the party.
Zik effectively led the struggle against colonial rule and conference after conference in conjunction with other Nigerian nationalists forced the colonial government into full retreat. He became the Leader of Government Business in Eastern Nigeria and later Premier of Eastern Nigeria and finally the Governor-General and later the President of the Republic in 1963. Zik’s political achievement is yet to be matched by any other Igbo and it was achieved within the context of national politics not Igbo politics. [We shall take another date to discuss the champions of Igbo politics].
The NCNC was never intended to be an Igbo party or a regional party. But subsequent events after the death of Herbert Macaulay, its first President, made the party to become a regional party and some would say, an Igbo party. But Zik struggled all through to maintain a national posture. He was determined to play in the political turf of Western Nigeria and when that failed he retreated to the East complicating the politics of the East to some extent. He has been criticized for that, but taking the totality of his political career, no objective analyst will fail to see that Zik’s overall objective has been a united Nigeria.
His role in Biafra and for which hardliners in Igboland may never forgive him has been discussed in detail in ‘The Politics of Biafra And The Future of Nigeria” by Chudi Offodile. And it is clear that even then, as tough and as traumatic as the situation was, Zik remained clear eyed and took steps that may have been unpopular at the material time but ultimately was in the interest of his people. That is statesmanship. Zik had exhibited such statesmanship earlier in 1964, after the disputed elections boycotted by the Action Group and NCNC. The NCNC and Action Group led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo had formed an alliance – UPGA – under which they contested the 1964 election. Zik, as President resisted intense pressure from his party the NCNC and still called upon the Northern Peoples Congress [NPC] of Tafawa Balewa to form government. Those who thought it was a mistake and called him all manner of names and encouraged a violent takeover of government, should reflect on what eventually happened two years later in 1966. Have we recovered?
Neither the NCNC nor the Nigerian Peoples Party [NPP], the two parties to which Zik belonged was conceptualized as Igbo parties. We have already noted the history of the formation of the NCNC. The NPP on its part was formed as a national party but the internal disagreement led to a fragmentation of the party with one side leaving to form the GNPP. Even though the NPP was largely successful in Igboland, but it had strong political figures like Solomon Lar, Paul Unongo, Olu Akinfosile, TOS Benson and Adeniran Ogunsanya as frontline members of the party. And by the way, in Rivers state, NPP produced two senators out of five. Zik has been the only Igbo politician, so far, to attract political and electoral support outside the South East. After the 1979 elections, he encouraged the NPP to go into alliance with the northern dominated National Party of Nigeria [NPN].
Since 1999, the Igbo people have always voted for the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP]. There is nothing wrong with that but the question must be asked; has the PDP justified that support or reciprocated it in any manner? Is that support really earned? The complaint now is that the All Progressive Congess [APC] government of President Muhammadu Buhari abandoned the South East and is marginalizing them. Without conceding to that, let us compare a situation where the PDP you voted for gave you a few appointments here and there and denied you any major developmental projects. As against the APC government of President Buhari, you did not vote for and who even if he denied you appointments, has certainly not denied you crucial developmental projects.
The Enugu – Port Harcourt dual carriageway abandoned since 1999 by the PDP is being handled with dispatch by this government, including both sections of the Enugu – Onitsha dual carriageway. Early works section four of the second Niger Bridge is ongoing. Then you have the rehabilitation of the following roads: Oba – Nnewi – Okigwe road linking Anambra state with Imo state, the Otuocha – Ibaji – Nzam road in Anambra state, the Abakaliki – Onueke – Abomega – Afikpo road [Ebonyi state], the Nnenwe – Uduma – Uburu road connecting Enugu state with Ebonyi state, the Oji – Achi – Mmaku – Awgu road in Enugu state, the Ozalla – Akpugo – Amagunze road [Enugu state] and the Ikot Ekpene – Aba – Owerri dualization project linking Akwa Ibom, Abia and Imo states among others. Almost all the important Igbo cities, Enugu, Owerri, Umuahia, Aba, Awka, Onitsha are captured in the existing Calabar – Lagos railway project and the Port Harcourt – Maiduguri standard gauge new railway projects approved by the President.
Once more let me just say that the Igbo nation should focus on solutions not recriminations. In what political direction should the Igbo go? Let the quarrel with the north real or imagined stop. Let the recriminations stop and let us join hands as one people to chart the way forward for a brighter future for Nigeria. We need to examine very carefully the Igbo political trajectory and learn crucial lessons of history. How did Jaja an Igbo slave found a multi ethnic state in Opobo and became the King with the consent of the people? How did Zik achieve national prominence and stature? We have an incredibly proud past, a rich political heritage forged in the most difficult circumstances. We must therefore focus on constructing the path to a proud future.
Jaja was the Igbo born champion of the 19th century and Zik of the 20th century. The 21st century yearns for that champion. The theatre of politics for the coastal and inland states of Eastern Nigeria before colonialism, was in Bonny and for the colonial and post-colonial politics of Nigeria, it was in Lagos. Jaja excelled in Bonny while Zik excelled in Lagos. Why is Abuja politics so difficult for the Igbo to play? Perhaps, we are on the wrong track and employing the wrong paradigms. The Igbo nation should engage with others and immerse itself fully in national politics just like Jaja and Zik did. The handshake across the Niger celebrated recently in Enugu by Ohaneze Ndigbo and Nzuko Umunna is welcome but a handshake across the Benue is most desirable now.