…the people from South-East Nigeria are certainly not the worst off people in Nigeria. They just happen to be the most difficult to please, and probably impossible to impress. They are doing better than most. And why? Not because the government has been nice to them, but actually the opposite. These are a people who have learnt to stand up for and by themselves…
I have just undertaken a pit-stop visit to three state capitals and passed through several villages in the South-East of Nigeria (at least the ones en route). It wasn’t planned, as it was just a working visit for two days. I landed in Enugu State, presented a paper in Awka, Anambra State, and flew back out of Owerri, Imo State. I took hundreds of pictures with my phone as we journeyed – especially between Anambra and Imo States, and the above title is my verdict.
I have been to quite a number of states in Nigeria, and would hopefully be undertaking a visit to the others shortly. Whereas the ‘federal’ roads between Enugu and Awka were bad in the beginning, the truth is that I’ve seen much worse within Nigeria. 75 percent of the Enugu-Awka road – though single-lane – is well-maintained. I can quite clearly confirm here that there is no such road network between any two states in South-West Nigeria as what I saw between Enugu and Anambra, as well as between Anambra and Imo States. The Anambra-Imo stretch was particularly shocking to me for its smoothness. Not even in the north of Nigeria have I seen such roads. The Kano-Kaduna expressroad is presently shameful, and the Kaduna-Abuja one was only recently patched up with about N1 billion or so, when we had to repair the Abuja Airport. I hear the road is back to disrepair. I have been to Katsina as well, and the Kano-Katsina road, or the Kaduna-Katsina expressway is nothing to write home about. I hear that the roads in the Adamawa axis isn’t good as well, and people blame Atiku for not doing anything while he was the vice president. So we should probably bust the myth that northern Nigerian infrastructure are particularly invested in at the expense of others.
I left my hotel in Awka early enough because it was a Friday and there were already rumbles in Abia and Rivers States over the IPOB matter. I didn’t want to get caught up in any of the snake dances that might be on the way. The Nigerian Army had declared Operation Egwu Eke. Kanu, the new, very rude and negatively-intelligent Chancellor Hitler of South-East Nigeria had been blowing fire and brimstone lately, advising his followers to burn down Nigeria if he was arrested. A number of my highly-enlightened friends who share the same language with Kanu have sided with him and for some odd reasons cannot see the danger the guy portends for the entire people of Nigeria, especially as we have on the other end of the quarrel, President Buhari who equally has his own cult/religious following, only larger than that of the South-Eastern demagogue.
My driver was a highly enlightened chap named Daniel from Ideato-South area of Imo State. I didn’t have to prod him before he opened up on the stupidity of Kanu and his area-boy followers. He spoke of the way they looted people’s shops and damaged property when they came into Owerri, especially those of fellow Igbos, and wondered how they could hope to make a dent in the war they have chosen to fight since the odds were greatly stacked against them. He wasn’t for Kanu at all, and believed – like I do – that the man has only gathered together the unteachable boys of that region, who believe they have lost out in the game of personal prowess that is the culture of the people, and are neither ready to try harder or bid their time. Kanu’s crowd are the type that engage in crimes, taking by violence from those whom they see are ahead of them financially. They are simply driven by the anger that some others have more than them, simple. How my corporate friends cannot see that the guy’s simple strategy is that if we scatter everything and start afresh, he will be right on top of the pack, even as his compatriots who have invested in diverse places around the country at least, lose all they have and come under his majestic feet. That is if things are done in a peaceful and orderly manner. But the guy is not peaceful, and only recently on September 3, 2017, spoke of burning down the zoo called Nigeria. It’s also appalling how educated folks with careers and businesses, who have keyed into a globalised world will see nothing wrong with being led by such a megalomaniac who even insults his own people, calling them ‘fools and idiots’, merely for having businesses and buildings in other parts of Nigeria apart from the East. Kanu, by every means, is a loser, and so also are those who follow him around and kiss his feet. And if the region follows him, they will rue their fate.
As I waited to be picked up by Daniel, I received something which could be a threat call. Can you imagine? One Aloysius who said he was calling from Abuja, called to tell me ‘I should keep it up’ and hung up. I called him back after 15 minutes to know who it was. He explained that I should just ‘keep up what I am doing, you hear!’ It wasn’t a nice keeping up he wished me. It was quite amusing to me. The same person just ‘flashed’ me again yesterday night at exactly 10.24pm! What exactly have I done and said over this issue to warrant a stalker and threats? Well, I recall begging the whole world that the invasion of Libya was a bad idea, and being told by some Libyans in a Facebook group I formed, that they were not part of Africa anyway. I realised how ‘racist’ north Africans were at that moment, but also the need for us here in Nigeria to sit up and govern ourselves properly. Anyway, Libyans stupidly supported western countries who destroyed their country, killed their leader and today the place has no government. One could say they are still better than Nigeria though, because our people still get deported from there by the droves!
Along the way, the driver tuned into a station in Port Harcourt where an anchorman chatted with people in a phone-in programme. The topic was on whether Ohanaeze should be allowed to hold a meeting in Port Harcourt. Almost everyone who called in vehemently asked that the meeting be stopped, especially as the Secretary General of Ohanaeze had announced that the meeting was to hold in ‘Port Harcourt, Biafraland’. The Ikwerre people and others who phoned in were vehement that Rivers State could never be part of Biafra, but one man from Etche, said he was Igbo and that the meeting should be allowed to hold. He also said that Rivers State does not belong to anyone but the Rivers people, and that he didn’t support the IPOB Idea. The first resistance to the Biafra idea is from next door, although it is interesting how the Etche Igbo people consider themselves Igbo, while the Ikwerres – with a very similar culture and names – totally differ to being looped into the same category. This reinforces my own research (in an area that has been criminally neglected by our intellectuals), that each village, settlement, town in Nigeria before and even after the British incursion, were/are nations onto themselves and therefore should be respected and documented as such, not tucked under some fairly recent grouping such as ‘Igbo’, ‘Yoruba’, ‘Hausa’ and the rest, which are more political than substantive.
I would advise they pitch the fight to be that they want Nigeria to be generally a much better country, because it can be so. Except if they believe they have achieved enough and would want to walk away and do even more. I think we can live together. I believe that apart from the cash flow which percolates in the South-East…that region has also done well because they are a very critical people.
Yes, even Hausa. Hausa is a language, not a people. And even as a language, it differs in places, just like Yoruba or Igbo, or Ijaw. There is absolutely no geographical demarcation of these ‘tribes’ or languages anywhere if we are to be honest with ourselves. The languages and cultures flow into one another, and the peoples of Africa have always inter-married, warred with, enslaved, given succour to, banished and generally interacted with each other in a stochastic manner for eons. It is fraudulent, therefore, to ignore the nuances and uniqueness of each community. And it speaks of our usual lack of attention to details if we so do. My driver told me of the Asaa and Awara people of Imo State who are always at each others’ necks, quarreling and killing one another in their villages. He also spoke of the Ohaji Egbema Ugwuta people, whose language the rest of Imo people hardly understand. At that point I recalled meeting an Uber driver in Lagos who spoke to me about his people in Anambra State – the Ogwaru, who are called the ‘Olu Bialumba’ people by Anambra locals, because they are deemed to have migrated from elsewhere. Indeed, if we Nigerians submit ourselves for DNA testing, most of us will be shocked to discover where we are truly from.
My key observation about the Igbo people is that they seem to have very high standards in leadership. However, I believe the present ‘war’ should be properly defined. Yes, Nigeria does manifest behaviours worse that what wild beasts will tolerate in a zoo. But let us properly define what we want. First of all, the people from South-East Nigeria are certainly not the worst off people in Nigeria. They just happen to be the most difficult to please, and probably impossible to impress. They are doing better than most. And why? Not because the government has been nice to them, but actually the opposite. These are a people who have learnt to stand up for and by themselves, and who have developed business acumen that have stood them apart everywhere in the world. Even American authors have taken note of this. Read Amy Chua’s Triple Package for a sample. What about the mentorship programme they have in business? Yes, that may have waned as the population increased and business become more formalised, but it has proven to be priceless in terms of knowledge transfer and the democratisation of wealth. My people say ‘Ise omo aleseje, owo re omo alasela’, meaning when you work you shall be able to feed, but when you trade, you can truly be wealthy and successful. I believe South-Eastern Nigerians should take a moment and count their blessings.
I would advise they pitch the fight to be that they want Nigeria to be generally a much better country, because it can be so. Except if they believe they have achieved enough and would want to walk away and do even more. I think we can live together. I believe that apart from the cash flow which percolates in the South-East because people go back home as a matter of culture, and all those houses and mansions even deep in the villages have brought money back to those areas, that region has also done well because they are a very critical people. What other states – like those in the north of Nigeria – will accept from their leaders in the name of respect, the Igbos will not. My host in Awka, and Daniel the driver, says that Willie Obiano has done very well with infrastructure in his state, but many Anambrarians feel otherwise, and would describe their leaders in very unflattering terms.
That said, how can anyone jeopardise all the investments in the South-East? How can anyone jeopardise all these beautiful people in this region? How can anyone hope to reduce this plush region to ashes once again? My people say that an injury is treated on the body of the injured, not on someone else’s. Provoke military action as a result of the call for secession and treasonable felony and it is your people who will suffer. We have seen what urban warfare has been like in places such as Syria, Libya, and the rest. It is best never to invite such on oneself. How can we not see this? I’m just broken-hearted.
Well, South-East Nigeria is where you would find the most beautiful and well-fed people in the whole of Nigeria… OK, the most Westernised at least. Even the lady who served in the airport restaurant had just returned from the USA. An Air Peace worker who came in made this known. As we drove through the many villages of Nanka, Nise, Aguata, and so on, what I saw were young boys and girls who could fit into Lagos or New York in one breath. They didn’t look malnourished or even rough. They looked like they were in touch with the modern world, being well-dressed and well groomed.
I love these people, and it pains me what they are attracting to themselves. The situation is made more complex as we are presently led by General Muhammadu Buhari, whose core constituency is still the Nigerian Army. He sees nothing wrong with deploying his boys to start ‘doubling up’ anyone who errs. He doesn’t understand all the niceties of deploying the police, instead of the Army; and to be fair to him, with the kind of things Kanu has threatened, only an irresponsible leader will not act strongly and show force. The combination of cult-following by the two leaders could be very lethal to the nation. For now, I sway on the side of Buhari. Kanu is a Hitler in the making, except he properly calibrates his quest for a greater cause.
On getting to the airport, I also noticed another peculiarity with the Igbo people. People respect themselves. There weren’t the usual gangs of beggars and touts as in other Nigerian airports. No one seized the tissue paper in the toilets hoping to extract a bribe. The bathrooms were neat at Owerri Airport, the cleaners kept to their schedules and were not hanging around precariously after they had done their duties.
The message should be that Nigeria can and must get much better and urgently so. The message must be on behalf of all Nigerians and for the sake of our humanity. It must elevate all of us and not put anyone down. It must be delivered in carefully-chosen language and at the right pitch because it’s a very serious matter. It must be deeply intellectual and backed with action. There is enough of tardy leadership already! We need leadership that will impact the humanity of our people. We must learn to live together.
On a lighter note but in deep connection with my spirit, as we drove through the villages and plush greenery of the South-East, I couldn’t help but reminisce that indeed life is beautiful. That lushness and greenery, the forests and the lakes, even the rustic towns and the modern mansions that intersperse them would have earned tourism billions if such were in Europe or even East Africa. Why have ours become forbidden even for us to explore?
On getting to the airport, I also noticed another peculiarity with the Igbo people. People respect themselves. There weren’t the usual gangs of beggars and touts as in other Nigerian airports. No one seized the tissue paper in the toilets hoping to extract a bribe. The bathrooms were neat at Owerri Airport, the cleaners kept to their schedules and were not hanging around precariously after they had done their duties. One thing I can surmise is that part of the problem here is that the average South-Easterner never wants to beg the next person to feed. However in life, sometimes valiance fails one. What we do when that happens shapes society for good or ill. Do we tear down the structure? Do we take from those ahead of us by force? Or do we need to understand that sometimes things may not always be on the up and up? I posit here that the whole of Nigeria needs to begin understanding that life is not a straight line graph; both leaders and the led must know this.
Let me do an advert for a small bookshop at Owerri Airport where they have perhaps the most diverse collection of American books in a small space than I’ve seen anywhere lately. Anyone who passes through that airport must visit that place for a complete journey. Next door to the bookshop is a shop where I bought more than 40 different CDs of Nigeria’s rare music – all the highlife, Majek Fashek’s original album, Sir Warrior’s series, including Oriental Brothers, Inyang Nta Henshaw, Chief Osadebey, Congo, including Owerri’s Bongo music. Even Nigeria’s first ‘modern’ Nollywood movie, Living in Bondage, is there. They are cheap, and could only be found in places like this. The challenge for you is to find your way to Owerri Airport and the cities that Rochas is struggling to bring under his control. As a lover of history, that passage through the airport, for me, was priceless. I also met a young businessman from Ebonyi, named Godwin. In our brief chat, this man said to me “our people have everything but they don’t know”, and he refered to something Ben Bruce had said about the Igbos.
Life is beautiful. Nigeria is indeed beautiful. We can talk through our issues. The time is now.
Postscript – I started writing this article while waiting for my flight at the Owerri Airport. Upon eventually landing in Abuja, I picked up the news that government has declared IPOB a terrorist organisation. I think we should not waste time arguing and nitpicking. Are they terrorists? Can they not complain? The IPOB boys probably have their own aims and strategies. They are locked in battle with the government. The two will sort themselves out. Let us keep out of arms way. I can never side with Kanu.