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The average Igbo man has wonderful faith in his capability to survive any form of hardship or situation, irrespective of his place of abode and the hostility. The after-effects of the Biafran war which depleted Ndi Igbo politically, economically, psychologically and humanly are still conspicuously visible for even the blind to see in Nigeria today.
There is a sense in which one can argue that the civil war experience, particularly the ‘abandoned property’ saga did inculcate some sense of responsibility into the Igbos. Many of them who had lived in fine mansions in other cities where they had established themselves prior to the war returned home as refugees to squat in mud houses with their relatives in the villages.
Reason: they had no homes in their homeland.
The gross infrastructural dilapidation of the Igbo nation as a result of the civil war and deliberate economic strangulation of the people via anti-Igbo economic policies initiated by then Gen. Yakubu Gowon-led Federal government, forced surviving Igbos into a massive exodus from Igbo land to look for greener pasture. It is a known fact that post-civil war economic policies of General Gowon‘s government cost Igbos more than what they lost during the three-year protracted civil war. The change of currency which culminated in giving twenty pounds to each Igbo person, irrespective of how much one had in the bank and subsequent introduction of the Indigenisation policy (what is known today as privatisation), when Ndigbo was struggling to recover from the negative consequences of the war made hitherto Igbo millionaires paupers and economic slaves in their land.
These hostile anti-Igbo economic policies made to cripple Ndigbo economically made a lot of Igbos outside the South-East geo-political zone to deny their Igbo heritage just to survive. It also turned some other Igbos into economic scavengers and adventurers, moving out in droves from the East to look for opportunities in other regions and other countries of the world. Failure of the Gowon-led Federal government and successive governments after him to implement the 3Rs—Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Renovation in the war-ravaged South-East of the country alienated the Ndigbo nation more. Since then, there have been an unwritten conspiracy against Igbos, not just to deny them political power but economic wherewithal.
Igbos, out of sheer ingenuity, entrepreneurism and adventurous spirit have prospered, blossomed and advanced their economic fortunes in the midst of daunting challenges and stark marginalisation in Nigeria. At the individual level, Igbos have regained and made more than what they collectively lost during and after the civil war, but the psychological effect of the war still hangs on the Igbo nation.
That sad experience brought about new thinking, Aku Ruo Ulo (let the wealth be felt at home). The Igbos learnt to take part of their wealth to their native land, in the form of community development projects through the town unions, as well as big mansions. But that did not seem to have lasted for long before they reverted to their pre-war ways.
Some Igbos seem to have forgotten home entirely, especially those in the Diaspora. They are busy investing and developing other parts of Nigeria while leaving Igbo land to deteriorate. A situation where an Igbo person is fixated on building industries, businesses and houses across the length and breadth of this country and beyond while neglecting where he comes from calls for serious concern.
The irony and pathetic aspect of it is that the people Igbos are helping to develop their places still treat them with so much disdain and contempt, irrespective of the economic gains they have made from the investment of Igbos in these places. They see Ndi Igbo as opportunists who are trying to dominate them in their own land. For example, Lagos State, Nigeria‘s economic capital will become a shadow of itself without investment and huge opportunities created by Ndigbo, yet markets built and run by Ndigbo are being demolished at the slightest provocation without adequate consultation and compensation, thereby pushing Ndigbo to go and develop other virgin lands which are mostly swamps, that will still be taken over from them forcefully later.
The Lagos State government makes 70 per cent of its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), from business investments of Igbos, yet they are still treated like third-class citizens in their own country. Eighty per cent of goods coming into Nigeria via Lagos seaports are owned and imported by Igbo business people, yet no Igbo person has been appointed Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority.
Senator Stella Oduah was blackmailed out of office as Aviation Minister for daring to upgrade Enugu Airport to an international status, thereby opening the Igbo nation to the outside world. The dredging of River Niger and construction of the second Niger Bridge have remained tools for political campaigns while other federal government projects more gigantic than these ones in other regions have been given accelerated construction.
It is no longer news that the South-East has the worst network of federal roads in the country. The Federal Executive Council recently approved an additional seaport in Badagry, Lagos State, and there are plans by this administration to establish a Dry Port‘ in Kaduna State where goods shipped to Nigeria via Lagos ports would be transported to Kaduna through railways for onward clearance, while the Igbo nation, a major tribe in Nigeria famed for business exploits has no functional seaport or cargo airport.
There was a leaked audio clip some time ago which exposed a plan by some Northern and Western counterparts. The plan was to the effect that the Igbo zone would be left out of the new proposed giant agricultural scheme in the face of declining oil fortunes. The plan went further to ensure that no drug from an Igbo man‘s pharmaceutical firm should be patronised in Kano. The Igbo man would find it very difficult to have value for his property in case he wants to dispose of it, and worse still will pay through his nose to acquire any meaningful property henceforth. It was clearly stated in the audio clip that at the end of the Agricultural Programme, the Igbos should go and ‘drink their oil.’
This grand plan of suppressing the Igbos in other regions can be seen in the case of Innoson Motors and Ibeto Cement. The Nigerian Government has over the years made sure that Innoson Motors, the only Automobile manufacturing company in West Africa gets very little patronage from them. The Federal Government still imports foreign automobiles while boycotting those of the Indigenous Innson company because it was built and is being run by an Igbo man. Ibeto Cement, on the other hand, was suffocated with unethical Taxes from the Federal Government and had many of its warehouses shut down nationwide by the Government on counts of quality investigation. This was what led to the downward spiral of Ibeto cement and the dominance of Dangote Cement in Nigeria today.
From the audio clip, one could also see the envy/plot against the Igbos who lost everything and received only 20 pounds each to start life afresh, by a people who mostly believe/depend on government funds, patronage and political power. They are not happy with the Igbos who work hard and build a good number of houses in their states, the clip also revealed.
Igbos are migrant people. This is why there is a saying that wherever you go and don’t find an Igbo person, then that place must be uninhabitable. With how volatile the country is becoming, if something should go wrong somewhere and there should be a reason for another mass exodus by the Igbos, given their stakes in their various host communities in other parts of Nigeria, the Igbos cannot possibly return home en masse permanently. It would be somewhat impossible to assume that. This is because Igboland cannot even contain all the Igbo people were they to suddenly return home. Igboland is a land-hungry area. Land hunger was part of the reasons the people emigrated out of their traditional homeland in the first place.
What can be done for now is for the Igbos to begin to consider taking part of their investments home. It may not be economically viable at first, but it will be, over time, and it’s something worth doing. Imagine how it will be if just a quarter of Igbo investments in Lagos alone are brought back to Igboland.
The Igbos can also take e a cue from the fact that there are many foreigners living and doing business in Nigeria who make huge profits here and repatriate their profits to support the economies of their home countries. Nigerians in other parts of the world are also known to do the same. In 2012 alone, it is estimated that remittances from Nigerians in Diaspora into the Nigerian economy are in excess of ₦3 trillion. Who says Igbos in other parts of Nigeria (and the world) can’t do the same for Igboland?
To be able to achieve this, the governors of the five South-East states must work consciously and painstakingly to woo rich Igbo Diaspora back to Igboland. All this empty media hype won’t go anywhere. The Indian model may be instructive here. Every year, the Indian government organises Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (Expatriate Indians’ Day), an annual jamboree of Diaspora Indians, which is also used to attract expatriate investment.
The Indian government can do this because it places a great premium on its Diasporans and what they can contribute.
Shashi Tharoor, India’s minister of state for human resource development, admits:
‘The importance of diaspora financing, from the remittances of working-class Indians that have transformed Kerala’s countryside to the millions poured into high-tech businesses in Bangalore or Gurgaon by Silicon Valley investors simply cannot be minimised, especially during a global financial crisis.’
Yet, Tharoor makes a case for encouraging the Diasporans to do more, and giving them reasons to do more, because ‘when India allows its pravasis to feel at home, India itself is strengthened.’ The South-East governors can take a leaf from this.
For their part, the Igbo Diaspora also have to show a willingness to come home to develop Igboland. Then they can begin by engaging their governors. The onus is on the governors to create the enabling environment in their various states to attract rich Igbo people to invest back home, but what if these governors lack the ideas (like in the case of a few terrible Governors)? This is why the Igbo Diaspora cannot wait eternally for the governors. They can, as in the saying, be the mountain that goes to Muhammad.
Igbos have developed swamps in the west and deserts in the north for too long, but that hasn’t moved Igboland an inch out of gross underdevelopment. The Igbo adage, which says that Onye ajulu aju ada aju onwe ya (the reject won’t reject himself) says it all.
Since it has been made clear that the Igbo man is not wanted in the North, what is he doing up there? Will the Igbo man be rejected up North and also at home? No! Of course. Igbos should now think home rather than developing other states only to be compensated with their corpses back home.
This is the time for Igbos to think home while taking a cue from the Civil war. Ndigbo should concentrate now more at home, site their factories and industries at home, develop their state’s infrastructures and develop their economic activities at home with a view to increasing their Gross Domestic Products (GDP). There is never a loss when investing at home.
AFRICA DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK