Buhari: What Do Igbos Want? Obi Nwakanma Writes A Response

Buhari: What Do Igbos Want? Obi Nwakanma Writes A Response 

During the presidential media chat on Wednesday 30th December 2015, Nigerian President Muhammed Buhari said that Igbos were not maltreated, and should stop screaming marginalization.

Speaking of the continue protests and struggle for the realization on Biafra Republic in parts of the South East and South South, the former miliary head of state said:

“Why does it have to worry me, when I have militants, Boko Haram and other. They said they are being marginalsed but they haven’t defined the extent of their marginalisation. Who marginalised them? How? Where? Do you know?,” he queried.”Who is the minister of state for petroleum, is he not Igbo? Who is the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria? Is he not Igbo? Who is minister of labour, science and technology? What do the Igbos want?”

And now, Obi Nwakanma, a Poet, journalist, biographer and literary critic, has written an article in answer to the question, “What do the Igbos want?”


In Biafra, under three
years, they were making their own rockets and calculating its distances;
distilling their own oil and making aviation fuel, creating in their
Chemical and Biological laboratories, new cures for diseases like
Cholera, shaping their own spare parts, and turning the entire East into
a vast workshop, as Ojukwu put it.

the end of the war, the Ukpabi Asika regime brought together these
Biafran scientists and set up PRODA. The initiative led, in the first
five years between 1970-1975 under the late Prof. Gordian Ezekwe and
Mang Ndukwe, to designs of industrial machinery models and prototypes
for the East Central State Industrial Masterplan, which remain
undeveloped even today. The Murtala/Obasanjo regime took over PRODA in
1975 by decree, starved it of funds, and basically destroyed its aims.

Buhari: What Do Igbos Want? Obi Nwakanma Writes A Response 

2ndly, Federal government policies
centralized all potentials for innovation and entrepreneurship. Before
1983, states had their Ministries of Trade and Industry. These were
charged with local business registration, trade, and investment
promotion, and so on. But today in Nigeria, if you wish to do any
business, you’d have to go to Abuja (it used to be Lagos) to register
under the Corporate Affairs Commission. It used to be that local
business registration was state and municipal functions. The
concentration of the leverage for trade utterly limited Igbo
entrepreneurs, particularly in the era of import licensing, once your
quota was exhausted, you could not do business. 
This affected the old Igbo money in Aba
and Onitsha, who were the arrow-heads of innovation and traditional
partners in the advance of Igbo industrial economy. It is remarkable
that as at 1985, a least by a book published by the Oxford Economist Tom
Forrest in 1980, The Advance of African Capital, the Igbo had the
highest investment in machine tools industries in all of Africa, and the
highest depth of investment in rural, cottage industries. In his
prediction in 1980, if that rate of investment continued, according to
Forrest in 1980, the Igbo part of Africa would accomplish an industrial
revolution by 1987. Now, by 1983/85, Federal government policies helped
to dismantle the growth of indigenous Igbo Industry through its targeted
national economic policies. As I have said, there is a corollary
between industrial development and innovation.
3rdly, the severe, strategic staunching
of huge capital in-flow into the East starved Igbo businesses and
institutions of the capacity to utilize or even expand their capacities.
There were no strategic Federal Capital projects in the East. There
were no huge infrastructural investments in the East. The last major
Federal government investment in Igbo land was the Niger Bridge which
was commissioned in 1966. Any region starved of government funds
experiences catatony and attrition. Private capital is often not enough
to create the kind of synergy necessary for innovation. Rather than
invest in the East, from 1970 to date, the Federal government has
strategically closed down every capacity for technological advancement
in the East and stripped that region of its capacity. 
By 1966, the Eastern Nigerian Gas
masterplan had been completed under Okpara. But in its review of a
Nigeria gas masterplan, the Federal government strategically
circumvented the East. Oil and Gas are under Federal oversight. The
Trans-Amadi to Aba Industrial Gas network/linkage had been completed in
1966, to pipe gas from Port-Harcourt to Aba. The Federal government let
that go into abeyance and uprooted the already reticulated pipes. The
East was denied access to energy with the destruction of the Power
stations during the war. 
The Mbakwe government sought to remedy
this by embarking on two highly critical area of investment necessary
for industrial life: the 5 Zonal water projects, which were 75 completed
by 1983, and set for commissioning in 1984, which was to supply clean
water for domestic and industrial use to all parts of the old Imo state,
and the Amaraku and Izombe Power stations, under the Imo Rural
Electrification Project. These were the first ever massive independent
power projects ever carried out by any state government in Nigeria which
would have made significant part of Igbo land energy independent today.
The supply of daily electricity was possible in Imo as at 1984. The
Amaraku station had come on stream, and the Izombe Gas station was
underway, when Buhari and his men struck. 

The first order of business under the Buhari govt

in January 1984, was to declare all that investment

by Mbakwe “white elephant projects.” They were

abandoned, and left to decay. 

Ground had already been acquired and
cleared on the Umuahia-Okigwe road to commence work by the South Korean
Auto firm, Hyundai, under a partnership with Imo for the Hyundai
Assembly plant in Umuahia, to cater to a West African market. The first
order of business under the Buhari government in January 1984, was to
declare all that investment by Mbakwe “white elephant projects.” They
were abandoned, and left to decay. The equipment at the Amaraku power
station was later sold in parts by Joe Aneke during Abacha’s government.
Some of the industries like the Paint and Resins company, and the
Aluminium Extrusion plant in Inyishi were privatized, and sold. Projects
like the massive Ezinachi Clay & Brick works at Okigwe are at
various stages of decay, as memorial to all that effort.

4thly, you may not remember but Odumegwu
Ojukwu founded and opened the first Nigerian University of Technology –
the University of Technology Port-Harcourt in 1967, under the
leadership of prof. Kenneth Dike. He had also compelled Shell to
establish the First Petroleum Technology Training Institute in
Port-Harcourt in 1966. All these were dismantled. The PTI was take from
Port-Harcourt to Warri, while University of Tech, P/H was reduced to a
campus of UNN, until 1975, when it became Uniport. You will recall that
for years, up till 1981, the only institutions of higher learning in
Central Eastern Nigeria were the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, IMT
Enugu and Alvan Ikoku College of Ed, in Owerri. There is no innovation
without centers of strategic research.

Mbakwe and Jim Nwobodo changed all that
in 1981, when they pushed through their various states Assembly, the
bills establishing the old Anambra State Univ. of Tech (ASUTHECH), under
the presidency of Kenneth Dike, and the IMOSU with its five campuses
under the presidency of Prof MJC Echeruo. The master plan for these
universities as epicenters of research and innovation in the East were
effectively grounded with the second coming of the military in 1984, and
the diminution of their mission through underfunding, etc. As I have
said, I have given you the very short version. After a brief glimpse of
light between 1979-83, Igbo land witnessed the highest form of attrition
from 1983- date, and the destruction of the efforts of its public
leadership to restore it to its feet has been strategic. 

Some have been intimidated, and the Igbo
themselves have grown very cynical from that experience of deep
alienation from Nigeria. I think you should be a little less cynical of
Igbo attempts to re-situate themselves in the Nigerian federation:
starved of funds, starved of investments, subjected to regulatory
strictures from a powerful central government which sees the East in
adversarial terms, and often threatened, the Igbo themselves grew
cynical of it all. You may recall, the first move by the governors of
the former Eastern Region to meet under the aegis of the old Eastern
Region’s Governors Conference in 1999, was basically checkmated by
Obasanjo who threatened them after they called for confederation in
response to the Sharia issue in the North. 
Their attempts to establish liaison
offices in Enugu and create a regional partnership was considered very
threatening by the federal government under Obasanjo, that not too long
after, they abandoned that move, and that was it. If people cannot be
allowed to organize for the good of their constituents, then it only
means one thing: it is not in the interest of certain vested interests
in Nigeria for a return of a common ground in the Eastern part of
Nigeria because establishing that kind of common ground threatens the
balance of power. It is even immaterial if such a common ground leads to
Nigeria’s ultimate benefit. There are people who just find the idea of a
common, progressive partnership of the old Eastern Region threatening
to their own long term interests. This is precisely what is going on –
its undercurrent. This of course cannot be permitted to go on forever. A
generation arises which often says, “No! in Thunder.”

The Trans-Amadi to Aba Industrial Gas network/linkage

had been completed in 1966, to pipe gas from Port

Harcourt to Aba. The FG let that go into abeyance and

uprooted the already reticulated pipes.

Igbo population is quite huge, and
people who truly know understand that the Igbo constitute the single
largest ethnic nation in Nigeria. Much has been made about how this
so-called “small” Igbo land space could accommodate the vast Igbo
population. But People also forget that Igbo land accommodated Igbo who
fled from everywhere else in 1967. So, the question of whether Igbo land
is large enough to contain the Igbo is a non-issue. In any case, Biafra
is not only the land of the Igbo. It goes far beyond Igbo land. But
even for the sake of building scenarios, we stick to Igbo land alone –
the great Igbo cities of Enugu, Port-Harcourt, Owerri, Aba, Onitsha,
Asaba, Abakaliki, Umuahia, Awka and Onitsha are yet to be reach even 30%
of their capacities. 
New arteries can be built, facilities
expanded; there are innovative ways of moving populations through new
transportation platforms -underneath, above, on the surface, and by
waterways. The East of Nigeria has one of the most complex and
connected, and largely disused system of natural river waterways in the
world. New, ecologically habitable towns can be expanded to form new
cities from the Grade A Townships – Agbor, Obiaruku, Aboh, Oguta,
Mgbidi, Orlu, Ihiala, Amawbia/Ekwuluobia, Elele/Ahoada, Owerrinta,
Bonny, Asa, Arochukwu, Afikpo, Okigwe, and so on. The Igbo will be fine.
The Japanese and the Dutch, for example, have proved that there are
innovative ways of using constricted space.
As for the economy: it is supply and
demand. New economic policies will integrated Igbo economy to the
central West African and West African Markets. The Igbo will create a
new vast export network, unhindered by idiotic economic and foreign
policies. The re-activation of the PH port systems will for e.g. open
the closed economic corridor once and for all to global trade. As
anybody knows, it might take a fast train no more than 45 minutes to
move goods from the Warri or Sapele ports to Aba and even in less time
to Onitsha. As Diette Spiff once observed while playing golf at Oguta,
all it would take to connect Warri and Oguta is just a long bridge, and
the vast economic movement will commence between Warri and its
traditional trading areas of Onitsha and the rest of the East. 
The quantum of economic activity will
see the growth of that corridor between Aba-Oguta- Obiaruku down to
Warri as the crow flies. The impact of trade between the Calabar ports
and Aba will explode. In fact, the old trading stations along the
Qua-Iboe River (the Cross River) at Arochukwu, Afikpo, down to Oron and
Mamfe in the Cameroons will explode and create new prosperity and new
opportunities. I am giving the short version. So, the Igbo will be
alright. They would simply be just able to define their own development
strategies, deploy their highly trained manpower currently wasting
unutilized, and the basis of its vast middle class will create new
consumers, and generate an internal energy that will thrive on Igbo
innovation, industry, and know-how, which Nigeria currently suppresses.
This is exactly one very possible scenario.
So, Tanko Yakassi is wrong. May be if
the Igbo leave Kano, the Emir will no longer need to buy his bulb from
an Igbo trader in Kano. He will have to buy it either from an Hausa, a
Fulani, a Lebanese, or some such person. But those will have to come to
Igbo land to buy it first before selling to the Emir. There was a time
when all of West Africa came to Onitsha or Aba to buy and trade because
it was safe, and those cities were the largest market emporia in the
continent. People came from as far away as the Congo to buy stuff in Aba
and sell in the Congo. It could happen again, only this time on a
vaster, more controlled scale. The network of Igbo global trade will not
stop if they left Nigeria. In fact, they will have more access to an
indigenous credit system that would expand that trade, currently
unobtainable and unavailable today to them, because Nigeria makes it
impossible for Igbo business to grow through all kinds of restrictions
strategically imposed on it, including port restrictions.
However, although I do think that the
Igbo would do quite well alone, they could do a lot better with Nigeria,
if the conditions are right. This agitation is for the conditions to be
made right; for Nigeria and its political and economic policies to stop
being a wedge on Igbo aspirations. And Igbo aspiration is quite simple:
to match the rest of the developed world inch by every inch, and not to
be held down by the Nigerian millstone of corruption, inefficiency, and
inferiority. The Igbo think that control of their public policies on
education, research and innovation, economic and monetary policies, and
recruitment, control and deployment of its own work force both in public
and private sectors will give them the leverage they need to build a
coherent and civilized society. 
They point to the example of Biafra,
where under three years, they were making their own rockets and
calculating its distances; distilling their own oil and making aviation
fuel, creating in their Chemical and Biological laboratories, new cures
for diseases like Cholera, shaping their own spare parts, and turning
the entire East into a vast workshop, as Ojukwu put it, while Nigeria
was busy doing owambe, importing even toothpick, and creating new
wartime millionaires from corrupt contracting systems by a powerful
oligopoly. It is a fallacy much driven by ignorance that Igbo will not
thrive and that Igbo land will not accommodate Igbo population if they
leave. That is not true. There is no scientific basis for it. 
The dynamics of human movement will take
great care of all that. It’s a lame excuse. What people who wish for
Nigeria to stay together should do is not to make such puerile
statements, because it is meaningless. What we should all do is to find
the strategic means of containing Igbo discontent by LISTENING to the
Igbo, and seeking peaceful and productive ways of fully freeing their
energy to instigate growth both of themselves and of Nigeria within
Nigeria for everyone’s benefit. Threatening them will not work. It has
never worked, and it is important to understand a bit of Igbo cultural
psychology: the more you threaten him, the more the Igbo person digs in
very stubbornly. Igbo, with a long tradition of diplomacy, thrive on
consensus not on threat of the use of force, or the like. 
Frankly, those who continue to think
that the Igbo have no options are yet to understand the complexity of
this movement as we speak. They still look at the surface of events
while the train is revving and about to leave the station. We need to
work very carefully on this issue. I myself, I prefer Nigeria. I like
its color of many peoples and cultures. That in itself is the very
condition for growth and regeneration. A single Igbo nation may be more
prosperous, but will be less interesting, and that is the more valid
By Obi Nwakanma