PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE
FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA
A SPEECH PRESENTED BY HIS EXCELLENCY SENATOR ANYIM PIUS ANYIM, PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE AND HEAD OF NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA ON THE OCCASION OF RECOGNITION AND AWARD PRESENTATION BY THE IGBO NATIONAL COUNCIL HELD AT ENUGU ON SATURDAY, MAY 12, 2001
I am especially pleased o be in your midst today to stare solidarity with our people and to discuss an issue that is dear to my heart. First, I want to thank the officers and members of Igbo National Council (INC) for inviting me to this occasion.
I can feel the tremendous energy, intelligence, beauty and vitality of our people gathered here today this gathering here represents the enormous potential of a race with a long and proud history. Ndigbo Ndewo nu!
Everyone will agree that the state of Ndigbo today is not only a front burner national issue, but also one that is deservedly so, not only to all Ndigbo, but I dare say to the rest of Nigerian, nay the world.
Not only will it be a good model for other to follow, it will help uplift mankind as a whole. The position of Ndigbo in the world has been a subject of intense scrutiny since the last thirty years marking the end of the Nigerian/Biafran war. This scrutiny has become even more so since the advent of the Third Republic.
The igbo question has become a rhetorical one, which has been subject to abuse and misuse by individuals or groups, either as a result of their ignorance, their greed or both. In the cacophony of opinions and disparate actions ostensibly aimed at addressing the so-called Igbo question many carpetbaggers have succeeded in feathering only their own nests. In the end, the collective body and image of Ndigbo has been the unfortunate victim.
The plight of Ndigbo was undoubtedly amplified by the events of the political crisis of the mid 1960s that culminated in the disastrous Nigeria/Biafra war. The consequences of the war included the loss of lives and property and the decline in the overall condition of living among the people. Young lives were changed for the worse as many people who had career aspirations were either maimed or were no longer capable of facing the challenges of their chosen paths. The future changed for many and the situation has not improved for many of them till date.
In the old glory days of Ndigbo, there was sufficient presence of Umuigbo in all spheres of Nigerian life be it the civil service, professions, academia, military or politics.
There were certain attributes, which made Ndigbo stand out wherever they were. Their dedication to professionalism-i hard work and integrity made them role models for others in the societies they lived. They lived in peace and friendly rivalry with their neighbours.
The main form of economic activity was agriculture with oil palm as the largest foreign exchange earner. With the earnings from oil palm, the old Eastern Nigeria developed an appreciable level of infrastructural base and contributed to the development of its people. It made education a major plank of its development efforts and in the process the Region set up various scholarship schemes for deserving children from all parts.
Indeed before the onset of the civi war, the economy of the then Eastern Region was reputed to be one of the fastest growing in the world. Other nationalities came to Ndigbo to draw lessons and inspiration.
Today, there is a surfeit of Umuigbo involved in menial and dishonourable pursuits. Our young ones scent left with self-doubt and despondency. They have little faith in their future and in themselves. Today, education and professionalism have taken a back seat and there is an unsavory quest for money and material acquisition. Craftsmanship and dedication are sacrificed on the altar of Mammon.
The challenges facing Ndigho are multifarious They include the prospect of balancing their pursuit of a stable polity with that of establishing their unique identity as Ndigbo. Amongst the ethnic groups in Nigeria, Ndigbo seem to be among the most susceptible to loss of identity even within Igboland. We also need to restore pride and belief in ourselves. It is only the very young amongst us who will not know that prior to the war, Ndigbo had established themselves as models of achievement and progress in many parts of the country. The Igbo community in Kano, for instance, had set up a secondary school in the town for the benefit of all deserving students whether of Igbo stock or not.
Today many of our children can no longer speak Igbo because they consider it beneath them to do so. It is very disheartening to notice that this phenomenon is taking place even among Ndigbo who live in Igboland.
In addition to these challenges, the mos important one. which Ndigbo must address without delay, is how to modernise their culture to be consistent with the demands of today and the future. We need to get back to those values that saw us take enviable positions in many pursuits of life. It is noteworthy that the first secondary school in Igboland, Methodist College Uzuakoli, was set up only in 1923. In comparison, some other parts of Nigeria had had secondary schools about fifty years earlier. Yet, just before the onset of the war, Ndigbo had almost closed the gap in education between it and the leading ethnic groups. There are still vivid images of our parents who would starve or wear simple clothes just to see their children go to school.
The development of the culture of Ndigbo is very crucial for its own economic and political survival. One’s culture helps in guaranteeing one’s development, health and succession. For instance, the mere patronage for traditional forms of Igbo dressing provides substantial employment to those involved in the business. It also helps to keep alive a heritage that we can hand over to our children.
The problems facing Ndigbo are quite many and sadly we seem to have no one to blame but ourselves for a majority of them. Ndigbo are quick to declare that they are Republicans in nature. In the interpretation of many, every man is his own boss and is free to act in his own way. In actual fact, every Onyeigbo sees himself as a leader and in the process, there are too many leaders with no followers. The natural effect of having too many leaders is poor leadership. There is no constituted and respected hierarchy, which will help impose order in the society.
My sincere belief is that it can be done. Ndigbo have all the attributes that make for success. Already there are encouraging signs of that resurgence among Ndigbo as a result of new thanks to the actions and policies Ndigbo can once again regain their lost glory.
Ndigbo must harness their energy whatever it may be. There is need to collaborate with those in the Diaspora, some of whom have shown that we possess immense intellectual skills and business acumen. The Chinese and Jewish models, whereby their people in Diaspora serve as the core of their strength may be relevant to Ndigbo. We have Ndigbo serving in various capacities in various parts of the world. During my trips abroad, I endeavour to discuss with some of them I meet and my observation is that many of them desire to come home and contribute to the development of Igboland.
We must take pride in our culture and traditions, which make us unique and proud of our heritage. Our language, our way of dressing, music, folklore and so on, all serve to make us who we are. It takes only one generation of disuse to lose them forever. It is up to us to hand them over to the younger generation.
Ndigbo need a develop a prand vision for themaches, which will help define their objectives as a people and also their relationship with other ethnic groups within and outside Nigeria. We must develop once again our indomitable spirit of self and community help. The revival of Ndigbo after the war was to a large part attributable to these two attributes. Many Ndigbo communities today built for themselves the secondary schools, hospitals and other utilities in their environs.
Most of our early university graduates were beneficiaries of education paid for by contributions from all members of the community.
It is therefore imperative that we invest more in human capital development. A good human resource base makes an economy more flexible, especially in the labour.