Valentine Ozigbo
Ozigbo

By Valentine Ozigbo   |   

The choice of the topic ‘Onodu Anyi bu Igbo taa’ (The State of Igbos in Contemporary Society) stirs mixed feelings in me and I believe that this is true of any Igbo son and daughter who is conscious of our history and journey as a nation within a country.

The storyline of the Igbo evolution is filled with the tragedy of a rich culture, values, strength, enterprise, resourcefulness, egalitarianism, enormous success and wealth that paved way for suspicion, envy, conspiracy, subjugation, annihilation, nepotism and marginalization. Onodu anyi taa kwesiri igba anyi anya mmiri. Ma nke ka mkpa bu ime ka anyi bu umu Igbo chee echiche miri emi banyere onodu anyi.

I have given this topic deep thought and I have a personal conviction that despite our obvious relegation in the scheme of things in contemporary Nigeria, the Igbo nation holds the key to her liberation as a nation and the emancipation of the black race all over the world.

My keynote address derives from this firm conviction that we must end the blame game and focus more on what we must do to change the narratives. Umunnem, our issues are diverse and multifaceted and attempts to confront the issues must be proactive, strategic, and we must acknowledge that it is a long distance race. I, therefore, title my speech, “NDI IGBO: WHO WE ARE AND THE CHANGING OF OUR NARRATIVE”.

WHO ARE WE – ONYE KA ANYI BU?

Who are we? If anyone asks a group of Igbo people this simple question, the answers will run deep and wide. Many will focus on the socio – cultural values of our nation. Many answers would be embedded in our history, our customs, and our traditions. Answers would be determined by the world-view, perception, life experiences, disposition, mind- set, and environmental influences of the respondent. The answers would vary as those that were given by the proverbial blind men who were asked to describe the elephant they touched.

To a lot of people, the Igbo man is that strong and defiant person who stops at nothing to achieve success. To some, we are proud, arrogant, boastful, clannish, greedy, boisterous, and self-aggrandizing. Some of those who hold the latter opinion point to instances of our people’s involvement in vices such as drug trafficking, kidnapping, or other criminal enterprises. As sad as these crimes are, we must reject the notion that the actions of a few of us should define the majority.

I am calling on every Igbo man and woman, especially, you the youth, who are our pride and our future to refuse the label. In a thunderous voice can I hear you say ‘That is not who we are!’

Then, who are we?

Umunnem, in answering this question I will take us to a few paragraphs in the lecture delivered by Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Ikemba Nnewi, on the occasion of TSM’s 2nd Diamond Lecture to mark the fourth anniversary of the magazine on February 22, 1994. I quote,

“Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the Nigerian Odyssey of Ndigbo, their journey from slavery, through colonialism to Independence – their journey through crisis to crisis, into war, their journey out of war into crisis again has been a route-march through the fields of Golgotha.

“Today Ndigbo are plying their trade everywhere in Nigeria. We are bent but are most certainly not broken. We are bent because we are, to a large extent, devitalised and our presence in every aspect of Nigerian life understated. We are not broken because we have hope, we have intellect and we have energy.

“I believe that one of the biggest problems which Nigeria has to face derives from Nigeria’s inability to absorb Ndigbo. This problem is not new, the white man never could either. The war has come and gone but we remember with pride and hope the three heady years when we had the opportunity to demonstrate what Nigeria could have been even before 1970.

“In the three years of war, necessity gave birth to invention. During those three years, knowledge, in one heroic bound, we leapt across the great chasm that separates knowledge from know-how. We built bombs, we built rockets, we designed and built our own delivery systems. We guided our rockets, we guided them far, we guided them accurately.

“For three years blockaded without hope of imports, we maintained engines, machines and technical equipment. We maintained all our vehicles. The state extracted and refined petrol, individuals refined petrol in their back gardens. We built and maintained our airports, maintained them under heavy bombardment. Despite the heavy bombardment, we recovered so quickly after each raid that we were able to maintain the record for the busiest Airport on the continent of Africa.

“We spoke to the world . . . [and the world] spoke back to us. We built armoured cars and tanks. We modified aircraft from trainer to fighters, from passenger aircraft to bombers.

“In three years of freedom we had broken the technological barriers. In three years we became the most civilised, the most technologically advanced black people on earth. We spun nylon yarn, we developed seeds for food and medicines. At the end of the war this pocket of Nigerian civilisation was systematically destroyed, dismantled, scattered. What a great pity – this was a beginning of a truly Black risurgimento.”

 

It is difficult to beat that excellent description of the definition of the spirit of the Igbo. Ladies and gentlemen, that is what and who we are, the pride and jewel of the black race.

I often reflect on these words from our Hero Ojukwu (May his soul continue to rest in peace.) and so many times I have wondered and asked, “What would Nigeria have been if Igbos were given their proper right of place in the nation?”

Despite our frustrations, we have shown strength in diversity more than any race in the world today. With all our wealth in the banking system taken from us and £20 handed to us after the war, we rebuilt our lives and a few decades later, we excel in commerce and industries all over the country and beyond. Apart from dominating all the major markets in Nigeria and controlling trade in various sectors of the economy, there is hardly any country in the world without an Igbo man contributing positively to its GDP through trade and merchandise.

Umunnem, I make bold to say that we are one of the most enterprising races in the entire world. From the ashes of war, genocide, and destruction, we have built a dynamic and egalitarian society anchored on liberation from self- limitations, social justice, equity, dignity of labour, entrepreneurship, performance, and wealth creation.

However, as is taught by the sages who averred that virtue stands in the middle, human weaknesses are often either an overuse or underuse of a strength. As a people, we are admittedly egalitarian. This is why we are often regarded as republican, and rightly so. It is for this same reason that some people often say that “igbo enwero eze”. It would have been okay if “igbo enwe eze” were a mere expression of this egalitarianism but alas, it has gradually become an idiom for a more fundamental problem within the Igbo nation – Crisis of Leadership.

After the curtain fell on the lives of such Igbo leaders as the great Zik of Africa and Ikemba, the wait for the emergence of an Igbo leader capable of unifying the whole Igbo nation continues. Because of this vacuum, the task of nurturing our narrative in line with the pace of change and the dynamism of our people has suffered neglect.

Consequently, I must now turn my attention to the task of articulating the steps we must take to not only change our extant narrative but also enthrone the framework that can make our narrative adaptable to changes over time.

CHANGING OUR NARRATIVE

Umunnem, our narrative needs to change. We need to actively change the stories we tell about ourselves. We need to change the stories that others tell about us. This change of the collective narrative about the Igbo nation will happen when we imbibe what I call The Critical Four.

i.   Competence in Leadership
ii.  Reorientation on Values
iii. A Culture of Continuous improvement
iv. Regional Synergy

i. COMPETENCE IN LEADERSHIP

Ladies and gentlemen, the biggest catalyst to positive growth and development of any race or nation is leadership. In today’s information economy, competence and knowledge are the two ingredients for revolutionary and inspiring leadership.

One of the biggest issues confronting the Igbo race today is leadership.

Who are we looking up to? Who are our mentors? Who is defining the values? Who is setting the path and charting the course?

I make bold to say, without prejudice to anyone here, that Igbos are lagging behind in the kind of inspiring leadership that empowers our people. We are in a dynamic and fast changing world where everything is becoming knowledge based and technology driven. Brothers and sisters, we will continue to remain in the same circle with same songs and rhetorics if we do not start empowering people with knowledge and competence to lead us and show us the way.

It is sad that we have been unable to build on legacies of great Igbo leaders like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Emeka Ojukwu, Michael Okpara, Sam Mbakwe, and their contemporaries. As a matter of fact, we have slipped backward significantly and our pride of place has been undermined by enthronement of questionable characters in leadership.

Umunnem, we must be conscious to never sacrifice competence and knowledge on the altar of any kind of political expediency when choosing our leaders. The Igbo problems must be solved by Ndi Igbo through leadership. We should never expect a man who speaks a different language, who doesn’t understand our culture, who grew up in Kano or Ogun State to solve our problems. Our solutions must come from within.

The truth of the matter of leadership is that Igbos occupy political leadership positions in our states and local governments, including our traditional rulership. As a collective, Igbo leadership can drive the change that we want to see.

We owe it to ourselves to select leaders who are competent and are abreast with modern ways of doing things, of solving problems, of leading positive change in society. As the leadership guru, John Maxwell puts it, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”. Simply put, leadership must be about competence and knowledge.

Selecting the right leaders must be supported with inclusive participation that relies on our republican-ness to collectively hold our leaders accountable. It is through this collective assurance of accountability that we will live out the ageless Igbo ethos of “igwe bu ike”

ii. CULTURE OF CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT

Next to leadership is imbibing the culture of continuous improvement. This is called Kaizen in Japanese and it is the culture that evolved Japan to become one of the most technologically advanced countries of the world today. Kaizen means change for the better and it is largely about ‘cutting waste’. It is about challenging the status quo.

I am privileged to be one of the global champions for Kaizen.

We must seek ways of doing things differently and better. We must seek for knowledge and keep improving our skills and processes to get better and better. How do we train our children, do our business, build our houses, make our dishes, weave our baskets etc. We must imbibe up-skilling and upgrading our level of practice in every respect. We must always upgrade our use of technology in solving our problems and making lives better. We must adopt prudence in our public spending.

We must eschew the spirit of otu odi na mbu, ka odi ugbua, ka o ga adigide rue mgbe ebighi ebi.

 

iii. VALUE RE-ORIENTATION

My dear brothers and sisters, our value system and ethos as Ndi Igbo must be reviewed and upgraded. We must discard what no longer serves us and embrace a higher set of ideals. This recommendation is true for any society.

In the past few decades, I must say, we have become what we are not. The celebration of criminality and the open embrace of ill-gotten wealth is alien to the traditional Igbo society.

We must return to the values of placing character above commercial considerations. We must begin to interrogate sources of wealth. We must begin to celebrate the right ideals of integrity, family, truth-telling, community, sacrifice, deferred gratification, education, and excellence.

We must commit to begin today to be the model that our children need to succeed. This change must begin in the cradle. At home, we need to instill in our children the right culture and values. Only then can be raise a generation of heroes to carry on our pride as Ndi Igbo.

 

iv. SYNERGY AND REGIONAL COLLABORATION

In my view, one of the biggest drawbacks to the advancement of the South East region is the lack of synergy among States. A maxim drawn from ancient wisdom says, “United we stand, divided we fall”.

Our region has the advantage of being monolith. This should be considered a strength for the South East. We have been unable to tap into the opportunities available to a people who are not divided by tribe, language, culture, traditions, or even religion.

It is time our leaders ignore the imaginary divisions presented to us in the form of states, senatorial zones, and federal constituencies. Those are just administrative units. We need to begin to see ourselves as one united entity and our leaders must urgently create the synergy needed to drive development for our region.

We need our leaders to rise to a higher calling and eschew the syndrome of greed, ego, and unhealthy competition that has, so far, prevented this co-operation and collaboration from happening.

One of the challenges of the Igbo nation at the federal level is that we are the only geo-political region with five states, versus six for every other region. At the Senate, the House of Representatives, federal cabinet, and the distribution of resources, we are disadvantaged in every way.

Umunnem, we can correct this if we speak with one voice! The call for Igbo Presidency is gathering steam, what is our collective stand? Can we speak with one voice? We must kill the spirit of Onye kwulu oto akwatuo m ya, so mu bu eze ga akwu oto n’uwaa.

We must come together as a Region to chart a common cause and purpose for the benefit of the Igbo race. We must synergize and confront our common problems, be it political, developmental, economical, socially and otherwise as one. We can fix our common infrastructure with stronger collaborations because we are the ones using them. Other nations within Nigeria are floating regional security outfits to protect their people. Where are we on this sensitive and important issue? We must come together as one Igbo nation, first, before anything else.

 

CONCLUSION

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”

Ladies and gentlemen, these words were composed in 1776 by the founding father of the United States of America. I believe these words are timeless because they capture the fundamental of human existence.

Equality of all humans. The right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to the pursuit of happiness.

Just like all humans, Igbos are created free. We have the same rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness as any other tribe with Nigeria. We must not be apologetic about our aspirations and pursuit of social freedom, justice, equity, and happiness within Nigeria.

I am, however, concerned that these lofty ideals of a liberated society will elude us if we fail to put our house in order, get our act right, say and do the right things, and inspire our people to greatness. We must work together to reclaim our lost position of pride and restore our lost glory.
John Maxwell, said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I believe that in order to actualize our big dreams, we must close the leadership gap with urgency. We need the right leadership, a purposeful leadership, a revolutionary leadership, to be able to compete in a fast-evolving world.

In driving this positive transformation, there is no denying the role that young people, a new generation of leaders, have to play. With every sense of modesty, I consider myself a new generation leader who is well positioned to drive this agenda for the prosperity of our people.

This is why I decided to step down from my role as President and Group CEO of Transcorp Plc, at the peak of the Nigerian corporate world to offer myself to serve my people. To lead them to that land of greatness that we all yearn for. I believe that I have the right combination of competence, knowledge, character, leadership experience, an understanding of global economies and so many more qualities like compassion and emotional intelligence to lead my people of Anambra as their governor.

I call on the youth of our nation to rise up and take their power, walk in their liberty, reach for the stars, and by so doing, create a new future for us, and the generations to come.

I am confident that God is on our side.

God bless everyone.

Being the text of a keynote speech entitled “The state of contemporary Igbo Nation” delivered at the 2020 Summit of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Wing on Saturday, December 12, 2020 at Nike Lake Resort, Enugu. Valentine Ozigbo is a respected Nigerian business leader and philanthropist. He is the immediate past President and Group CEO of Transcorp Plc, a position he stepped down from to pursue a career in public service. He is widely regarded as a frontrunner in the upcoming 2021 Anambra governorship election. He is the founder of the eponymously named, Valentine Chineto Ozigbo (VCO) Foundation. He can be reached on Twitter @ValentineOzigbo.