It is incontrovertible that Alaigbo is endowed with abundant human and material resources. Alaigbo is currently 1000 times richer in material resources than we were about 50 years ago. Painfully, in-spite of these resources, we are 1000 times intellectually, mentally, and spiritually poorer and less developed in the real sense than we were 50 years ago. While it is established that the 30 months Biafran War had a devastating impact on our collective psyche as a people and also on our material wellbeing, it is important for Ndigbo to stop blaming the loss of War or anybody for the parlous state of things across Alaigbo. We must begin to re-integrate for collective, structured, and purposed sustainable development of Alaigbo and Ndigbo.
Ndigbo, assume formlessness
Ndigbo made their greatest strides between 1930 and 1960 owing to their assumed formless nature. They behaved like Asians, focusing on moving higher, making money, and changing destinies without shouting about it. The best way Ndigbo would protect itself is to be as fluid and formless as water; never bet on stability or lasting order. Everything changes”. Ndigbo should learn to be more discreet, working underground, making impacts without being seen. There is so much we can achieve without being loud about it, but by being loud, we are warning our enemies and competitors to get ready for us, that is why in many areas of businesses that we had exclusive preserve say 20 years ago, others have come in and we are in competition. In the next 15 years, Igbo people will lose their hold on niche trading sectors such as electronics as over 70% of these products will be sold by online shops and not at Alaba International Market, or Onitsha Main Market same also most other products. As we welcome foreign mall operators with open arms, we should also understand the implications for our street and open market shops. Thus the need to innovate.
Why did we leave our land in droves to occupy and develop that of other people? Many people have tried to explain this phenomenon unfortunately without recourse to both the historical and the economic reasons. According to J.S. Coleman in “Nigeria: Background to Nationalism” (1985) “Iboland is one of the most densely populated rural areas in the world. In some places, the density is more than 1,000 persons to the square mile. Moreover, the soil is comparatively poor. As a result, in the past, the Ibo expanded territorially and exported to other areas large numbers of seasonal laborers and even semi-permanent residents. In fact, the Ibo were expanding territorially in many directions at the time of the British intrusion. Since then this outward thrust has continued and has been the source of anti-Ibo feeling among the tribes bordering Iboland (for example, the Igala, the Idoma, the Tiv, and even the Ibibio.)”. This clearly points out that the antagonism against Igbo people outside Igboland did not start today neither is it a new development.
According to Prof. Mobolaji Aluko, “during the forty-year period 1911-1951, the number of Igbos in Lagos increased from 264 to 26,000. In the Northern Provinces there were less than 3,000 Igbos in 1921, and nearly 12,000 in 1931; by 1951 the number had increased to more than 120,000, excluding settled Igbo minorities along the boundary between Eastern and Western Regions”.
Whereas the records have it that the unbridled migration out of Igboland was because of land hunger, there is evidence that lack of opportunities in Igboland contributed immensely. Is it, therefore, possible to create opportunities in Igboland such that Igbo people who chose to live outside Igboland would do so as a matter of choice to explore what fate holds outside Igboland and not because they could not find opportunities to make a living in Igboland? Yes it is possible.
Ndigbo are a people who under good leadership and guidance have shown the capacity to overcome whatever challenges and circumstances. More so, our people are go-getters. We were latecomers in almost everything in the landscape called Nigeria. This is principally because of our hinterland habitation which made it hard for ‘civilization’ to penetrate to us as at the time other regions embraced westernization. This gave the Yoruba and even the Efik a head start of almost 100 years ahead of the Igbo. But this 100 years gap was closed in less than 40 years between 1930 and 1965. As of 1936, there were more Igbo people than any other nationality at the Yaba Higher College and in most major Nigerian secondary schools. As of 1952, the number of Igbo at University College, Ibadan, was nearly equal to the number of Yorubas, 115 against 118. Ndigbo has always shown they are not lacking in the capacity to achieve greatness.
In support of the call for regional integration and ‘restructuring’, it is important that we collectively channel our angst towards the development of Alaigbo by positioning ourselves and utilize all that we are getting presently for the transformation of Igboland. A well-developed industrial and livable Alaigbo would come faster via a restructured Nigeria with autonomous or independent states/regions. We should work more to achieve Biafra of the mind instead of the Biafra of territory. Even with whatever the South-East states are getting presently, we can transform Alaigbo if it is well organized.
While we continue to call for a restructuring of the Nigerian state which I strongly believe should be done, it is, however, noteworthy that between 1999 and 2020, the five states in the South Eastern region collected cumulatively over N12 trillion from the federal government in the monthly allocations and other interventions. Can we honestly say that those who have been in charge of affairs in Igboland have utilized this huge sum creditably? Are there pieces of evidence to show that we have made efforts to develop Igboland or leave things as they are? Can we, in all honesty, continue to blame other Nigerians and the Biafra War for where we are today?
Why do we need Regional Integration?
The Ikenga is the symbol of Igbo cultural unity. It signifies that we are one and the same, irrespective of where you came from, as far as you are in Alaigbo, you are one of us. The need to reconstruct the development trajectory of Igboland to reflect this cannot be overemphasized.
To kick-start the regional integration, we must begin to build the link roads. The most effective development concept ever employed in the world today is through the roads. The Chinese have an old saying that “where there is a road, development follows”. This concept has been responsible for the immense opening up of the Chinese hinterlands leading to the massive dent on poverty over the last two decades. Igboland has massive well-connected road networks that can be explored for the massive development, but of all the roads we have, three stands out, and that is the three trunk-A roads traversing the region. Somebody call it ‘The Great Triangle’ development strategy.
In that which many see as our disadvantage, lies our advantage. Igboland occupies the smallest landmass of all the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria. This is a seeming disadvantage because we have a population that is about 40 million people inhabiting a space that is smaller than Borno State. In fact, the Sambisa forest is bigger than Imo and Abia states combined. I have read many ignorant comments questioning the possibility of Ndigbo occupying their small landmass in the event of a break up of Nigeria, such uninformed commentators are of the view that if all Igbo come home, they will suffocate because their landmass is small. Such commentaries show the shallowness of information available to those who make them.
The Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area has a population of over 30 million. The landmass of Tokyo is less than Anambra State. Hong Kong, with a landmass that is less than Imo State, has a population that is more than that of Imo, Abia and Ebonyi put together. New York with its small landmass has a far larger population than Imo, Anambra, and Enugu.
Our small land mass makes for easy connectivity which is an advantage. There is no place within Igboland that takes more than 4 hours to get to from any point. That is an advantage, what we need to do now is to integrate our economy, and specialize. We should help the states to project their areas of comparative advantage, instead of cross competing with one another. Imo State should not compete with Ebonyi in agriculture irrespective of the fertile lands in Ohaji, however, Imo should focus on areas Ebonyi has no answer such as Palm Plantation and Cashew plantations. Enugu should not compete with Anambra on small and medium scale industries or with Abia on manufacturing.
Enugu should develop its tourism potential with the help of other Igbo states. Based on a study from a group from South Africa in collaboration with the Nigerian Tourism Development Board four years ago, Enugu has more underground caves than any other state in Nigeria. The stretch from Udi Escarpment down to Milken Hill has underground lakes that are as pristine as they are exotic. If developed, it will attract more visitors than Obudu or Ikogosi Spring. More so, the Akwuke Beach in Enugu is the most pristine in West Africa, yet many people are unaware of such. For Nsukka’s sake, we should make Enugu our intellectual capital, it has more bookshops and research centres than any other state, we should help the establishment of more research centres and educational foundations in Enugu, primarily because the state and city are well suited for such.
The most visionary leader to come out of Nigeria is Dr. Michael Iheonukara Opara. It was he who established the first Metallurgical industry in Nigeria, and he chose Onitsha for that for a reason. Anambra is the natural home for foundry, Awka men have started handling iron and other metals before the coming of the Europeans, and it is natural to them. Anambra is best suited for the establishment of SME’s on a mass scale. We should pursue the establishment of an SME’s industrial estate between Awka and Orji River, the estate will be for SME’s only, they will have 10 years tax moratorium on virtually everything, they will have free building for their offices, with a dedicated mini power station that will provide power 24/7 for the estate, this will bring together all great minds of Igbo extraction wasting away across the country. After 10 years, the impact of this experiment will be phenomenal. Nnewi and Onitsha should be promoted as centers of industrial excellence; they will have dedicated areas for incubations. With this, we will make Anambra our center for industrial development.
Ebonyi: our food basket
Ebonyi State has the capacity and potential to feed entire Southern Nigeria. Contrary to beliefs held before now, there is no crop that cannot do well in both the northern and the southern parts of the country. In Lagos now, most of the vegetables used in preparing salad such as Spring Onions, Lettuce are now grown locally. Anyone who says that if Nigeria breaks up, Igbos will die of hunger is lying. Ebonyi State can produce more than enough rice for the entire Igboland. However, there is a need for focused agro policies that will encourage cooperatives, smallholder farmers union, mechanization, and above all, a farmer’s bank that will help farmers’ source funds on low interest.
Abia: Industrial base
Abia State is more than Aba, but Aba is so important not only to Abia State but to entire eastern Nigeria. Aba was the hub of West African trade from 1957 to around 2000 when Aba started dying. Most businessmen across West Africa depended on Aba for their businesses. Aba is strategically located, it is minutes away from Nigeria’s oil and gas capital Port Harcourt, Aba has never made any concerted effort to gain from that closeness to Port Harcourt. There was a project years ago called Obuaku Project aimed at building a city at the boundary between Abia and Rivers, that city was supposed to be a feeder city to Port Harcourt. It was designed like Agbara in Ogun State which feeds Lagos. Governor Ikpeazu Okezie should revive that project. Moreso, the connecting road between Aba and Ikot Ekpene is a death trap; efforts should be made to get the federal government to rehabilitate that road.
Aba is the center of commerce in eastern Nigeria, I think we should try and make Aba regain its pre-eminent status. The multiplier effects of that will be immense as they will create business opportunities for our youths, and get them productively engaged which will, in turn, pull them out from crime. Using Aba as our point of contact, Abia State should serve as our industrial base in Igboland, and the development of Aba should be multi-pronged, one should be towards Port Harcourt, the others should be towards Owerri and Umuahia. The growth of Aba as the industrial base will help other states in Igboland in no small way.
Imo State: The junction state
Owerri, the state capital, is Nigeria’s Junction City. No city in Nigeria has more direct connections to other cities as Owerri. Owerri has a direct road link to Aba, Port Harcourt, Onitsha, Umuahia, and Enugu, via Okigwe. That alone makes it the resort town of Igboland, even as Owerri indigenes traditionally, love good things, thus the need to establish world-class shopping and resort centers in Owerri. As a shopping city, Owerri is a commercial hub with more quality supermarkets than most cities in Nigeria. Owerri can safely accommodate four big shopping malls with cinema centers. We should recreate the city as the show capital of Igboland, establish movie and music industries there, and everything that pertains to show business. There are few cities in the South East where you can market an average of N40k perfume and it will sell out more than Owerri. This strength should be encouraged and expanded so our men and women will leave Lagos and come home to ply their trade in the east. But above all, there is the need to construct a full ring road around the city to mitigate its traffic challenge. As I said, it is a junction town.
We should discourage projects that have little development value; we should also discourage our states from unnecessary competition. For example, there is no place in Igboland that is more than an hour’s drive from the closest airport in either, Enugu, Owerri, Asaba, or Port Harcourt. This means that airport is not a priority to any state in Igboland; Asaba Airport is closer to most Anambra people than Deltans. Embarking on the construction of another airport either in Abia, Ebonyi, or Anambra will be an ego trip.
Equally important is the need to open up interconnecting roads that are not major interstate roads. From Obowo to Ezinihitte East in Mbaise, there is a smooth tarred road that leads to the Imo River at Udo, Ezinihitte, the old civil war bridge there should be fixed to connect Enugu- Port Harcourt Expressway at Umunwanwa, which provides huge access to the hinterlands. Roads like that litter the entire Igboland, developing them is important because development follows where there is a road. And as the ancient Chinese saying goes, “if you want to get rich, build the roads first”.
The Great Triangle
Roads are the arteries through which the economy pulses. By linking producers to markets, workers to jobs, students to school, and the sick to hospitals, roads are vital to any development agenda. We can uplift the critical mass of Igbo people if our development ideas are well thought out and channeled. In 2013, President Xi Jinping announced a massive initiative called “One Belt, One Road,” which would transform the economic core of Eurasia. The One Belt component consists of rail links from western China through Central Asia and thence to Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. The strangely named One Road component consists of ports and facilities to increase seaborne traffic from East Asia and connect these countries to the One Belt, giving them a way to move their goods overland, rather than across two oceans, as they currently do. This model can equally be adopted by linking the closest access to the sea in the region especially the Azumini River in Abia State, or link port cities of Port Harcourt and Calabar.
This Great Triangle will have the Enugu to Onitsha stretch as its base, while the Enugu to Aba via Okigwe (industrial processing zone) to Umuahia and to Aba as the Hypotenuse. Then the triangle will move from Aba to Onitsha connecting Owerri, and Mgbidi/Ihiala as satellite towns. We should focus on developments along with this Great Triangle in a fashion that will eventually lead to a connected circumference which will be the entire Igboland. Then there are several highly populated communities located inside this Triangle like Mbaise, Mbano, Obowo, Oko, Umuchu, etc. These communities should be pivots of developments to link up at different points of the triangle. This will also help develop other areas and depopulate the cities. To ensure cities inside the triangle like Orlu, Nnewi and those outside it such as Nsukka, Abakaliki and Afikpo are not left out, our development projects should move in two directions, centripetal, and centrifugal such that by 2040 we would have achieved optimal development seamlessly in such a way that our cities are depopulated through the movement of people, goods and services along the corridor created by the Great Triangle, and by 2035, we could have achieved a linked rail line connecting all the dots on this Triangle. But this cannot be achieved by just thinking, planning and talking, we must go for political power, or work towards influencing those with political power. I know many will ask how these laudable projects will be funded. That is not farfetched, each state within the region should dedicate a certain amount of its infrastructure funding to this Triangle while efforts by our representatives and senators at Abuja should be geared towards attracting the right projects to the region. Most especially getting the federal government to ensure the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway, Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, and Onitsha-Owerri Expressway are well maintained, expanded where need be, and the last leg being Owerri-Aba Expressway dualized to complete the ring. Our expectations from the federal government should be geared towards functional projects.
We cannot make outstanding and impactful changes without political and economic powers as that would amount to singing lullaby to a dead child. However, this does not preclude the possibility of ordinary people far removed from the corridors of power to positively impact their spheres of influence on the critical mass of individuals, but to think as big as we should, and plan towards achieving the huge layout of plans, we must aim at power. Without sounding immodest, given your position and ability to galvanize people irrespective of origin/state, I make bold to state that you are qualified to lead that process; thus, we should aim to have that political (executive—at the federal level) power. In addition, we must identify those who are genuinely interested in the development of Igbo land, and give them all the support needed to get political power at the federal, regional, state, and local government levels.
The picture painted above about our past gave birth to the Igboman known across Nigeria as the Okoroman. The term Okoro is not derogatory; it fits the description of the Igboman who abhors show-offism, who is very frugal, sparing, thrifty, prudent and very economical in the consumption of consumable resources. The Okoroman was very interested in training his children in school; he deferred all sorts of pleasure to ensure his family was taken care of. The average Okoroman may endure living in a face-me-I-face-you apartment while building a mansion in Igboland, which is in direct contrast to the average Igboaman of today who spends over a million Naira yearly on a rented apartment but does not have a block in Igboland. To understand the Okoroman and his ways of life, take a critical look at the Indians who live in Nigeria. We should try as much as possible to be less noisy and banal. We deliberately attract a lot of unnecessary hatred on ourselves through our unbridled show of materialism. Let us assume formlessness.
The future is NOW!
All these suggestions I put up are to open up opportunities so that many of our people will start coming home. Also, it will make our people productive and curb crime rates. It will enable even development across Igboland, but above all, it will project us in good light internationally.
Ndi Igbo must first certify Igboland investable before other people can come here to invest. Of all the companies that are quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, only one has its head office in Igboland, and that is ABC Transport, in Owerri. What stops our people from having their head office complexes in the East? Unity Bank has its head office in the North, yet its major businesses are in the South West. We need to change our perceptions about the East, we need to visit the East regularly and think of relocating because by staying away, we are denying the East our collective mental powers. It is important, therefore, as we work to change the narratives that have portrayed us more as ‘ndi oka mma na ama’, to begin a campaign on ‘Mmadu rue Ulo’ as we continue on the campaign of ‘Aku rue Ulo’. If not, our case shall become what the songwriter said in his song titled ‘Okpa aku eri eri’. Above all, we should all work towards making Igboland livable, especially by curbing impunity in Igboland.
The best way to ensure the South East is made livable is to encourage the reverse migration of its high net worth individuals. A society that has almost 80% of its richest people living outside its geographical space will not reap the full benefits of these individuals. Igboland is the only region where its octogenarians, billionaires, top technocrats, and key business people live outside. If at least 70% of them live within Igboland, the impact will be massive, there will be the emergence of goods and services tailored to their taste and the multiplier effect of these will greatly impact the entire region positively. As things stand, certain intellectual and social events can’t take place in Igboland because those who value such life live outside Igboland. This is wrong. Efforts must be made to redress this. If Ndigbo wants to attract the best things to Igboland, they should first show that Igboland is livable by first ensuring its illustrious sons and daughters live in Igboland. If some of these are achieved, we will witness the economic and cultural renaissance of the South East region.
This is a modified article from the main article written by Kelechi Deca