President Buhari angrily (and infamously) asked during one of the few sessions he held with Nigerian journalists, “what do the Igbos want”? I will attempt to answer this question, but before I do, I will refine it a bit and provide some context.
Robert Malpas said, “change results from dissatisfaction, disaffection and (most importantly) practical first steps”. It is obvious that there is a great desire for change among Igbo youths, and that IPOB is riding on this energy, this anger and this pent-up frustration. The status quo is no longer acceptable, but the big question is, “what should replace it”?
I have identified four main thematic areas, and if these issues are dealt with, I believe we would be on our way to answering the question, “what do the Igbos want”.
The first thematic area is Better Advocacy. The Igbo man is, if anything, self-confident. He is brought up on a steady diet of “onye kwe, chi ya ekwe”. So naturally he will gravitate towards public figures who exude the self-confidence of an Emeka Ojukwu, an Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Mbonu Ojike or a Michael Okpara.
This is a far cry from what obtains today; the Igbo man’s “representatives” are a motley crew of yes men, “aligning with the centre” parrots and unprincipled charlatans who jump from one political party to another to protect their ill-gotten wealth from EFCC.
The Igbo man is, if anything, self-confident. He is brought up on a steady diet of “onye kwe, chi ya ekwe” – Onye Nkuzi
Nnamdi Kanu, for all his faults, is the only public figure that seems to exude the qualities of a strident advocate. The last two years were a perfect opportunity for elected representatives to speak out against a disastrous foreign exchange policy that decimated traders and discriminatory utterances from the very top of the ruling party. Unfortunately, none was bold enough to do so. (Please note: an” advocate” does not just “work behind the scenes”, he or she must be seen to speak, openly).
The next thematic area is Better Representation. This, I believe, is more of a structural matter. A situation where the South East is restricted to five states and limited representation in the National Assembly is simply no longer tenable. However, unlike most politicians, I do not believe the solution lies in creating more (non-viable) states, local government areas, senatorial districts and seats for local representatives.
I strongly believe the solution to this problem lies in reworking Nigeria’s internal political architecture towards a more regional structure. A balance should be made between economic viability and political realities. The Willink Commission Report can provide a useful framework to undergird this new structure.
The third thematic area is Better Governance. Contrary to what is commonly believed, this agitation in the South East and parts of the Niger Delta is in reaction to bad governance at BOTH the Federal and local levels. It is not simply a “rebellion against Abuja”.
Governance at the local level needs to improve. For far too long, local administrators have neglected the economic potential of important cities like Aba and Onitsha. This has led to a mass exodus of talent away from those cities to cities like Lagos. Far too many of our local administrators struggle with the basics like provision of roads, potable water, primary education and paying teachers. Instead they resort to trivia and playing the counterproductive politics of “esemokwu fada na CMS”.
Abuja, on the other hand, is quite simply uninterested in the economic development of the South East. There are at least 47 years of post-Civil War evidence to back up this claim and the South East usually appears on Abuja’s “economic development plans” as an afterthought. Abuja is more interested in the economic development of Kano and Kaduna than the entire South East, and since this is unlikely to change in future, greater sub-national autonomy to make economically consequential decisions is the ONLY way forward.
I strongly believe the solution to this problem lies in reworking Nigeria’s internal political architecture towards a more regional structure. A balance should be made between economic viability and political realities – Onye Nkuzi
The last thematic area is Better Infrastructure. It is an indictment on the Federal Republic of Nigeria that Ndigbo (who travel the most), were denied an international airport till 2013. And that it took a president and an aviation minister from the former Eastern Region to make it happen.
We are a commercially orientated people, near the Niger Delta and the Atlantic Ocean, but for some reason Abuja has worked hard to ensure Niger Delta ports do not work (over a period of more than 30 years, not just the 5-year reign of former President Jonathan). So, we end up dealing the ridiculous situation of routing our goods via Cotonou. If the generation that experienced the Civil War (and was intimidated by that experience) tolerated this, this generation and future generations will not.
Once again, since Nigeria as presently structured cannot guarantee us better infrastructure; Nigeria’s internal political architecture should change, and fast.
In conclusion, it is not enough to just tell youths in Aba and Onitsha seething with pent-up frustration that “Nigeria is better than all other alternatives”. The wiser course of action, is less talk (and less extra-judicial murder by security services) and practical steps to address the sources of grievance.
This is what “Igbos want”.
By Onye Nkuzi | Follow on twitter @cchukudebelu
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