History is still clearly in the making. It is not a fixed, immovable and permanent thing; it is evolutionary and dynamic. And I am not Adiele Afigbo, those are the ones who are trained Professional historians of the Igbo world. Nonetheless, it has always struck me that the Igbo are generally antipatethic to their own story, often prefering the glamorized story of other people. Mazi Offoaro, I salute you, and I’ve taken note of the spelling of your name.
I am particularly taken with the following statements: “Yes, Ahmadu Bello may have prepositioned the Hausa Fulani to dominate Nigeria militarily for 38 years and Awo may have prepositioned the Yoruba for economic dominance while it appears the Igbo is the short changed. This is understandable. Yes, because of the civil war. But we have rebounded or we are rebounding.” I’d like to point out that this is generally but not specifically true.
In fact Azikiwe positioned the Igbo and the South-East for a dominance of the Officers corp of what later became the Nigerian Army. Until July 6, 1967, the Igbo and the East in general, occupied the highest echelon of the Nigerian high command; that is its General staff.
How did this happen?
In 1953, Eastern Nigeria achieved home rule with the NCNC as the ruling party in the new Eastern House. Azikiwe became the leader of government and Premier of the East in 1954. Between 1953 and 1954, George Kurubo became the first Easterner to be trained at the elite British military academy at Sadhurst straight out of the Goverment College, Umuahia, the “Eton of the East.” Following George Kurubo closely in 1954 were Alex Madiebo and Patrick Anwuna, also straight of Umuahia, and thus began the floodgate. Indeed in the same period, Eastern NCO’s rapidly converted through short officers training to the officers corp.
It was Azikiwe’s policy and it was Zik, a highly trained political scientist, who understood the nature of military power in a postcolonial society, who also pushed and pushed for the admission of indigenous Nigerians into the officers corp of the then West african Frontier Force, through his party’s affiliation and alliance with te Ex-Servicemen who were ardent nationalist agitators.
Bear in mind that Zik himself had trained very briefly in the Police Inspector’s course in Ghana in 1923 before he left for the US in 1925. So, indeed, it was not accidental that by 1954, Igbo men like Madiebo, Anwuna, Okwechime, Unegbe, all of whom went to Sandhurst with just one northerner, Jack Gowon in their Sandhurst class, and not a single Yoruba, began to enlist in the officers corp of the Nigerian Army (then known as the Queens own Regiment). It was not accidental that the floodgate of Igbo who began to be recruited into the officers corp of the new Nigerian Army happened from 1954 when Zik became premier in the East.
Indeed, by the coup of January 1966, Eastern and Igbo officers from accross the pond, constituted at least, 60% of the officer’s corp of Nigeria’s Armed Forces. When Welby Everad left in 1965, it was pressure from Zik that ensured Ironsi became the first GOC of the Nigerian Army.
Indeed, as at January 1966, and under the presidency of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s strategic defence and national security paraphenalia were in the hands of the East in the following order: Ironsi (GOC, Army), George Kurubo (Chief of the Air Force), Louis Edet (Inspector General of Police) Commodore Wey (Chief of Navy). Although Wey was of Yoruba parentage, he was effectively a Calabar boy.
So basically, the Easterners held the entire apparati of state security, as a result of Zik. Basically Zik handed Nigeria to the East; but we, out of sheer incompetence lost it. Nobody should blame Nnamdi Azikiwe. Azikiwe’s efforts were replicated everywhere: as a result of Zik, for instance, two Igbo men – Kenneth Dike and Eni Njoku – were Vice-Chancellors of the only two Federal universities in Ibadan and Lagos until 1966. The Yoruba of course went up in arms over this with the Eni Njoku/Biobaku incident in Lagos.
But in fact, Azikiwe’s greatest coup happened with the opening of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka on October 8, 1960 – only seven days after the independence celebration, making Nsukka the first Nigerian university to award its own degrees. Ibadan began to award the degrees of the “university of Ibadan” from it’s 1962 intake. Nsukka was strategic. Zik made sure that inability to pay tuition did not prevent those unable to pay from attending the University. So, Nsukka became the first, and perhaps only university in Nigeria to begin a students work program. You could go to school, work part time in the farms, or the library, or the grounds, and so on in the classic American land grant system of its model.
The effect was singular: in 1963, when Nsukka graduated its first class, it caused a sort of earthquake.
That year, Nsukka graduates also came tops in the federal civil service exams. The implication can only be imagined – the flooding of young Igbo men and women in all the sectors of the Nigerian economy at its most strategic levels. All these were wiped out by 1970, samee with the destruction of the hierarchy of the Nigerian Armed Forces by 1970, with the destruction of Biafra, which effectively left the Nigerian Army in the hands of the North and the West. Indeed, few Nigerians remember today that when the Nigerian Airforce was established in 1962, Enugu was designated the Tactical Air Command HQ of the Nigerian Airforce with the plans to establish the Airforce Training Academy between Udi and Okigwe. Whereas Kaduna would retain the Army, Enugu will be the grounds for the new Airforce. Zik ensured that. But all these were erased by war.
I just want to make that clear, that the Igbo lost it, not because Azikiwe did not try; he basically placed the Igbo at the corridors of power. The Igbo churlishly spit out what Zik gave to them, and when the effects came, turned round to blame him because we need a scape goat so very badly for what we became in Nigeria from January 1970. Rather than re-strategize, the Igbo cry, and blame, and agonize. Great people do not allow their laments to drown the cry of the unborn. They buckle up. State creation is not buckling up for the Igbo.
Please, we must remember, that by 1954 when Zik became premier in the East, the Eastern region was the poorest region in terms of revenue. But that did not deter Zik and Okpara. They did not do the blame thing. The Northern region has always had the highest number of reps in parliament. What the Igbo must do is to bite into that chunk. Elect Igbo in the North and West by all means necessary! We have the capacity. We must move in that direction. The other option is to ignore everything else and concentrate efforts at creating the East as the oasis of prosperity in Nigeria. We have the resources even now.
Note: Imo state alone has more resources today than was available to Zik and Okpara in the Eastern Region. Yet today, key Igbo cities are in decay. No school has been upgraded to reflect contemporary realities in the East. We have five states; we have nothing to show for it; a sixth state will be a distraction. Let us concentrate effort in giving the people effective service with what we already have. Great schools, world class health systems; jobs, adequate housing; great cities; sustainable environments; clean air, easy means of public transportation; access to protein; opportunity for recreation, security of life; clean water; cheap and available energy; freedom from police brutality; access to civil justice through transparent judicial services (a jury of one’s peers).
Let us build a joint regional economy. Let’s make it possible to have 24-hours of economic life in the East. Let us build a metro interlink in the South-East, that might allow me to drink beer at Enugu at 10 pm, enter a fast train at 2:am and arrive by apartment in Owerri by 3:am, and get back on my desk by 10:00 am. It is possible. Let us create an Eastern Telecommunication grid that would employ a vast number of our young men and women, and place Eastern Telecoms squarely in the hands of the East; Let us revive a joint Energy policy that would allow us to rebuild and modernize the Oji River station; the Amaraku power station, and so on to provide 24 hour electricity to the East; let us create an Eastern Public Radio Service, that would give access to an informed public in an unbiased way as much as it would tell the story of the East without mediation; let us create the Eastern highway links with patrol services; we should think about building a resort community that would stretch from Aboh, through Uli, to Awo-Omama, to Oguta and to Ahoada, with the most modern facilities, so that we can stimulate Eastern River economy and attract holiday makers and time shares just as we have here in the US. Let us revive the trade along the Imo river, down to the Qua River at Aro-Chukwu with a beach head at Oron for effective internal trade Let us fight for the opening of the Eastern trade corridor from Asaba/Onitsha down to Ikom/Bamenda into the central African region. Let us build our cities – create great libraries, great galleries of art; great music halls, etc, that would support city life and draw visitors and investors to our land. Let us stir the industry of our people; let us build great research and production centers. Indeed, here is my suggestion: the model that allowed Ojukwu to mobilize and deploy the finest talents in Igbo land is still available to us; let us run Igbo land like a great “war economy” and revive as well as upgrade all the accomplishments of the Biafran engineer.
We must create an Eastern joint Services that would allow mobility of labour. We must stop thinking in very small and clannish terms. Great economies do not thrive with such limitations that give no quarter for talent, no matter where you find it. Our works are made for us in this generation. We must buckle up, or we will look one day at the mirror and howl at the trickery of time.