NDI IGBO 2003 AND POLITICAL EMPOWERMENT
IN CONTEMPORARY NIGERIA

 

Protocols
 
 I extend my sincere gratitude to Aka-Ikenga, a highly esteemed Pan-Igbo Organization, for affording me, this rare opportunity to stand before the podium of Igbo elite and public to deliver this timely and topical lecture, Ndigbo 2003 and Political Empowerment in Contemporary Nigeria. Aka Ikenga is fast building a reputation as the fearless conscience of Ndigbo in the complex maze of the Nigerian Federation. The contributions of this organization in the resolution of major national issue vis--vis the interest of Ndigbo will remain salutary.  It is not a surprise that you have again risen to the challenge of the hour; to discern the fate and secure the future of Ndigbo in contemporary Nigeria. As usual, and in keeping with your lofty antecedents, you are doing justice to this challenge.

A few months ago, I was your guest at the Aka-Ikenga hot seat, a programme designed to subject Igbo Political office holders to the dispassionate but rigorous scrutiny of the ever vibrant Igbo public and electorate. Such programmes should be encouraged as they help to keep us public office holders on our toes. I congratulate Aka-Ikenga for the penetrating foresight it has demonstrated towards keeping the Igbo dream aglow. I salute you. I thank you.
 

Ndigbo 2003 and Political Empowerment in Contemporary Nigeria is an apt topic for our times. How and why did Ndigbo come into such a sorry political pass in Nigeria? How and why did Igbos play themselves into the unenviable position of third fiddlers in the Nigerian politics? How come Igbos are begging for political relevance in a country where they have an intimidating population, spread across the length and breathe of the republic?  These are but a few posers that should agitate our minds enough to prepare us for the jolting realities we shall soon confront in this lecture.
 

It has been canvassed by some that part of the political undoing of Ndigbo is their extreme republicanism wherein every man is at once a major player in every sphere of life. Those who hold this view insist that unlike in the West where the Yorubas have an appreciable level of cultural oligarchy, which instills rhythm and pattern in their political posturing or like the North where a combination of feudalism and common language have helped to hoist an acceptable uniform identity, Igbos have had no rallying point for any commonality to blossom.
 

This position may not be too far from reality. To some extent, it may be true that the mainstream of Igbo identity and personality were destroyed by the events of the civil war. The trauma of the war and the subsequent defeat in the war significantly eroded the socio-cultural base of Ndigbo and substantially battered the Igbo spirit. We need not bemoan this forever.
 Part of the resultant crisis of identity among Ndigbo includes willful enslavement to other cultures. When you attend a major function in Igboland in which the audience is largely Igbo, you will discover from the riotous dressing mode that truly Igbos have lost their identity. But attend a similar function in Yorubaland or in the North and you will be in no doubt that you are in the land of a people proud of their heritage.  Incidentally, the way a people dress speaks volumes of their personality. A people who by their dressing demonstrate love and respect for their culture are most likely to attract same from their neighbours. For Ndigbo, the reverse is clearly the case and the reaction from our neighbours cannot be any different. Conscious of this, and also conscious of the urgent need to restore that self-respecting Igbo personality, we all cherish, I am very proud to inform you that from day one I became governor, I have always dressed in typical Igbo regalia as you can see even now.

 Distinguished Ndigbo, even more regrettable is the fact that Igbos are rapidly loosing their language. To a reasonable extent, we can say without fear of contradiction that majority of the Igbo elite no longer speak Igbo language.  When we do not speak our language, we automatically loose link with our roots and our culture. And how do we really expect to play any significant role in the complex, plural Nigerian polity when we must speak to ourselves in another man's language? How do we expect others to take us serious? It is only the demands of protocol that compel me to speak to you in English.  Again, conscious of the need to redress this sad anomaly, I am happy to inform you that one of my first actions as Governor of Imo State was to restore the Ahiajoku Lecture Series which was proscribed by the military. That Lecture Series is aimed at a renaissance of Igbo values and culture.
 

Be it as it may, I hasten to add that the position of this school of thought is discredited by the enviable political antecedents of the great Zik of Africa, the Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. It is on record that in the good old days of NCNC Nationalism, Ndigbo found the platform to speak with one political voice. The great Zik had such loyal followers as Michael Okpara, Nwafor Orizu, Akanu Ibiam, Dennis Osadebey and a host of others. So cohesive was the Igbo political machine that NCNC did not just hoist its flag in the then Eastern Region alone but held sway in the Midwestern Region.
 

With a federal structure of four regions, it meant that the political hegemony of Ndigbo covered 50% of the Federal Republic with the real threat of extending even beyond. Indeed, but for the first political coup of 1952, that hegemony would have extended to the Western Region and therefore covered 75% of the Federation.  In a way, therefore, the turning point in Igbo political ascendancy could be traced to 1952, during the infamous carpet crossing at the Western Regional House of Assembly. Because Zik, who as a leader of NCNC was denied premiership of Western Region, which he won, he was consequently forced to return to the Eastern Region to become the premier by displacing Eyo Ita. That singular act estranged the Eastern minorities from Ndigbo and I dare say that we are yet to recover from those unfortunate incidents. Time, indeed, should heal this wound. It is our prayer and wish that the wound be healed.
 

How did Zik achieve the rare feat of bestriding our political shores like the political colossus that he was? How did he attain such high level acceptability in the West, in the Midwest and in the east?  A successful explication of this poser will help us appreciate better the present political predicament of Ndigbo in Nigeria. Zik was famed for his resilience, resourcefulness and accommodation.  These rare qualities made him appreciate the sensibilities of others by accommodating their fears in his political ministry. It was this benign disposition that endeared him to other Nationalities who did not envisage any risk in entrusting political leadership with him.
 

That such political civility endeared Zik to even his greatest political foes, such as Chief Awolowo is stating the obvious. Awolowo in all modesty once declared that the only person he could accept to serve under politically was the great Zik of Africa. Perhaps, part of the problem may well be that the present crop of Igbo political leadership failed to imbibe this enduring political sociology from Zik.  The most alluring aspect of that political heritage was stoic discipline by the Igbo elite of Igbo leaders were disciplined enough not to seek to be jack of all trade and master of none.  Igbos who were in business diligently applied their skill to their calling. For instance, although, Sir Odimegwu Ojukwu, an Igbo, was one of the first generation millionaires in the country then, he never on account of his wealth ventured into politics.
 

The Igbo elite at that time believed firmly in the overt advantages of economics of scale, whereby one profited most from where his skill excelled most. And that is but natural. Thus, while the Ziks of this world played politics full blast, the Ojukwus blossomed in business. The resume is that Igbos carried themselves as a responsible army of well-focused, sure-footed and self-respecting tribe, firmly rooted in different fields but in collective pursuit of an identifiable political goal, to wit, Igbo ascendancy and dignity.
 The discerning Nigerian community reciprocated with their respect the admiration for Igbos. The story is radically different today. The misplaced assumption by a few wealthy people that money decides everything and the prodigal abandonment of Igbo heritage has thrown Igboland asunder. Those who made it in business seem to be hell bent on dictating what happens in politics even if politics is not their calling. Simultaneously, both the rich and the poor are rapidly distancing themselves from their Igboness as if it were a leprous plague ready to strike at noon. Consequently, Igboland has been turned into a veritable battleground between the wealthy and the politician and between foreign cultures.

 Some of our businessmen on account of their success in business have appropriated the position of Kingmakers or even that of kings. They want all at once to become the politician, the Royal Father and the businessman. Some, if given the opportunity will want also to become Bishops and even Popes. Ironically and sadly, this is only unique to the Igbos. Such conduct only smack of heavy intoxication by wealth. It confirms fears by on-lookers that for the Igbo money is the god that must be obeyed.  It is sad that we are allowing others to see us as a race where drunken dramatization of wealth is the determinant of political vision. Even more regrettable is that most of these new generation millionaires live in far away Lagos and Abuja from where they want to dictate who gets what at home. In other parts of the country there still exists a distinction between the political class, the business class and the traditional class. It is painful to admit that it is only in Igboland that this difference is fast fading into oblivion to the peril of the race.

 The political class is not made up of saints either. Most politicians are in fierce pursuit of wealth to the detriment of the welfare of the people whom they have sworn to serve. The way some of our politicians have conducted themselves, appear to have been further alienated  Ndigbo from political socialization. Many Igbos are becoming increasingly interested in politics only because they see it as the shortest road to wealth. Put differently, politics in Igboland is fast becoming another variant of business except that in this case the containers come in smaller boxes otherwise known as the ballot boxes. Little wonder then that the politicians are at each other's throat in Igboland for these little containers (ballot boxes). 

All these do not, and will not, speak well of Ndigbo as a people, or should they?  It is doubtful that the rest of the country can afford to take us serious when it is only in the South-East Zone that millionaires insist on dictating who becomes what in politics. It is doubtful that Ndigbo can be taken seriously when they appear to be ashamed of their heritage. It is, indeed, doubtful that we can make much political progress without a language of our own. I regret to note that these acts of indiscretion on our part have made the Southeast the most vulnerable political zone in the country. From what I have seen, and from what I can see, I dare say that I foresee chaos for the Southeast unless we quickly retrace our steps and return to the path of reason and self-esteem.

Today, it is disgusting to observe the titanic struggle for power amongst our major political players, to the utter neglect of the dire needs of the Igbos in a complex Nigerian political scene. The time has come for us as Igbos to firmly put our feet down against the continued bastardization of our political psyche by a band of Emperor-aspirants who want to overrun Igboland on account of their wealth and love for power. We must tell them the stark truth, which is that there are no Empires to build in Igboland and that there are not territories to conquer. We should be no less frank with our politicians. We must resist rice and stockfish politics. We should compel our politicians to remain accountable to the electorate and we must find the courage to reject money-driven politicians who want public office for self-aggrandizement.

With every sense of modesty, permit me to inform you that in Imo State, we have shown exemplary leadership in accountability. Apart from meeting the people at the grassroots to explain to them how the State is run, we also brief Imo Leaders of Thought periodically on the state of Imo finances, how much we earn and how we spend.

From the foregoing, I will add that it is only when we have put our house in order that we should expect our neighbours to accord us the respect due to us. It is only then too that we can meaningfully pursue our agenda for 2003 and beyond.

At this juncture, permit me to dwell briefly on the media and political empowerment of Ndigbo. It is now a settled fact that the media plays a crucial role in the political process of any nation. At the end of the Second World War in 1945, the Jews found themselves surrounded by a very hostile world. The Jewish caucus met and agreed to do something to change world perceptions of their race.
Part of that resolution was to seek to own and use ownership of the media to mould world opinion in their favour. Today, Jews own the world's major media outfits including the famous CNN and the result ? World opinion cannot afford to snub the Jews. In a sense the Igbos are facing a similar crisis in Nigeria as the Jews faced. But are we ready to use the media for our cause? So far, the answer is no! Apart from Champion Newspapers, founded by Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, the Post Express, owned by Chief Sunny Odogwu and Minaj Television by Senator Mike Ajegbo, I doubt that Ndigbo have another credible medium to pursue political self-actualization. With over thirty private National Newspapers and no less than thirty private Television and Radio Stations and with Igbos owning about three of them, the question must be raised how far can the Igbo political agenda really go? Certainly not far enough.

Perhaps, it will not be out of place to draw the attention of this distinguished audience to the correlation between Zik's dominance of the Newspaper industry between 1930-1950 and the Igbo political ascendancy and prominence within the same period. Social scientists may, therefore, wish to confirm that there is, indeed an empirical correlation between media control and political empowerment particularly against the background of the balance of political power in present day Nigeria. It is auspicious at this juncture to advise our multi-millionaires to emulate the Iwuanyanwu, Odogwus and the Ajegbos of this country. Even more pitiable is the fact that Igbos constitute a very significant proportion of media writers and journalists in Nigeria. Yet from what we see and read on the pages of newspapers everyday, there is no evidence that even our Igbo journalists are mindful of any Igbo agenda. So how far do we really hope to go in our dream as a people? Your answer is as good as mine.

However, on the strength of equity I will say, without prevarication that Ndigbo have a strong claim to produce the next president of Nigeria come 2003. I say this because Igbos have contributed most creditably to the nation's economy and growth, yet they have been deprived the most by the same nation. Igbos reside, work and contribute to national growth in all parts of the country. Apart from the five core Igbo states, Igbos are second to the indigenous population in each of the other 31 States. In fact, in some cases, they are about the same number with the indigenous population.

Indeed, it is doubtful that the population of the Igbos has been correctly stated. In all these places where they reside, they work assiduously towards the growth of the economy of those States, and therefore, the nation. This, in itself is a strong electoral advantage for Igbos. Sadly because the aftermath of the civil war has so brutalized the psyche of Igbos, they have been unable to take full electoral advantage of this spread.

Zik was able to use it to his advantage. We should never be appendages; we should never be errand boys and girls. We have every reason to be proud of our race. We should stand proud and firm in the committee of nationalities in Nigeria. Even in addition to this advantage is the natural economic benefit for Ndigbo. The South-East is blessed with crude oil and other natural resources. Izombe, Oguta and Egbema in Imo State and Owaza and Ukwa in Abia State, for instance, have been sources of crude oil supply for the nation even before the civil war broke out. Unfortunately, till date, the Igbo States have nothing to show for their oil-bearing status.

For the Igbos, the list of woes and willful political deprivations is very long. Shortly after the war and after the indigenization exercise, the need to establish State owned firms became manifest. The Federal Government consequently invested in manufacturing industries in the areas of cement, chemicals, sugar, textile, wood paper mill, palm products, salt, etc.
The government also ventured into service industries such as banking, insurance, transportation, mass media, etc.  Refineries were sited in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna. Other companies such as steel, paper, sugar and many others were sited in different parts of the country. Instructively, none was sited in any Igbo speaking State. Instead, what the Igbos got for their clamour for the citing of a petrochemical industry in their land was the ceding of Ndoni/Egbema and Obigbo/Afam Oil Fields to neighbouring States in the 1976 boundary adjustment exercise.

These oil fields harbour the highest petroleum deposits in the country. Their being removed from Igboland was to further reduce Ndigbo to a position of irrelevance in the matrix of the nation's political economy. It was obvious that the authorities were determined to employ divide and rule tactics between the Igbos and their neighbours to further emasculate them politically and economically.

In the area of political empowerment, conscious efforts were made to exclude Igbos from the political calculus of the country. Of the ten (10) heads of State or Executive Presidents that have ruled Nigeria for 40 years, Igbos have produced only one who ruled for only six months. In other words, out of the total number of 432 months these ten heads of government have ruled, Ndigbo have ruled for 6/six months or about 1% (one percent) of the total period. Nothing can represent injustice more graphically. Even in the area of other consequential public offices, Ndigbo have not fared any better. No Igbo has been Army Chief or Inspector-General of Police since the end of the war.

In the area of infrastructure development, the picture is even more pathetic. Out of 13 (thirteen) dual carriageways in the country, only two (Onitsha-Enugu) and Enugu-Port Harcourt) pass through Igbo speaking States. Of the six (six) international airports in the country, none is sited in the South-East. What this incredible but true picture of deprivation presents is the compelling need to politically empower Ndigbo on the grounds of equity to avail them the opportunity to redress the glaring injustices of the past.
It is correct to argue that Igbos have been so marginalized because they have not been allowed adequate and appropriate political representation to defend their interest. A classical illustration of this is ably demonstrated by the gross injustice perpetrated on Ndigbo by the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). Whereas the PTF was set up as an intervention fund to address the need of the deprived, it ended up bowing to the biblical injunction of giving more to those who already have. It is an irony of fate that while some zones benefited far more than 20% projects from the PTF, the entire Southeast has only a paltry 5% of the Funds attention. No less pertinent is the exclusion of Ndigbo from economically empowering contracts in the Oil, Power and Defense sectors. It may be pertinent to ask who the sacred cows that have continued to execute these contracts are. Why should Igbos not benefit from such plum contracts if truly they are equals with other citizens?

If we are to rest our case for an Igbo presidency, come 2003, on the logic of equity alone, then it goes without saying that Igbos have a legitimate claim to produce the next President of Nigeria. Indeed, I believe that justice demands that the next President of Nigeria should be Igbo. If the West can be compensated with Presidency over the injustice of June 12, 1993 annulment, then why not Igbos who have suffered not one injustice but a chain of injustices that seek to dehumanize them and whittle down their self-esteem.

From the pogrom of May/September 1966 to the civil war starvation strategy, Igbos have been stampeded into mass graves in a country that upholds their citizenship. The aftermath of the defeat of Igbos in the civil war has been a prolonged and protracted deprivation and exclusion from the core decision-making process.  This, in practical terms, demonstrates the abject neglect and abandonment of the Igbo nation. It is on the strength of these that I make haste to add that justice, which is good for the West is not harmful to the East. I will, perhaps, add that there can hardly be peace without justice. But I remain mindful of the fact that Ndigbo may never find justice in the present contraption called the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I believe that it is common knowledge that the present Federal structure is a gross aberration. If anyone is in doubt, then we should hear from someone who should know and he is the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Atanda Fatayi-Williams, who in 1976 declared:

 
"Unlike most of the older federations, what we did in Nigeria was like unscrambling scrambled eggs. We started as a Unitary State and then opted for Federalism afterwards. The problem of Nigeria originally in 1951-52 was one of devolution of powers, but when the Constitution, which was given us by Macpherson broke down, we opted for a Federal Constitution. Very little was known by most of us about the theory of Federalism at that time It may well be that if we knew more about the theory at that time, we would have emerged in our effort to provide our people with a Federal Constitution that took account of all the peculiar circumstances of our country and our people. When things began to fall apart, those of us in the know quickly realized that ours was the tragedy of assumptions."
 
That tragedy of assumptions played into the hands of the military. As Fatayi-Williams also noted, "the result was emergence of military rule. It became clear to all of us, therefore, that all the time there was no total commitment to the concept of Federalism."  I must quickly add that today, again, we are beginning to practice Unitarianism instead of true federalism. It was, therefore, not any surprise that the military further bastardized the concept of federalism. The military twisted the concept to enable it win the civil war. After the war, it became convenient for the military to perpetrate the anomaly to suit military style of governance.

Part of what informed the haste by the military to balkanize Nigeria into smaller insignificant States was their pathological phobia for the Aburi Accord in which an agreement was reached to restructure the nation along geopolitical zones with each granted substantial autonomy. Yet it is obvious to me, and I believe, to many now, that the spirit of the Aburi Accord has continued to haunt Nigeria 36 years after it was brokered. Today, the clamour for a restructured Nigeria is becoming louder by the day. I suspect strongly that restructuring Nigeria is not only inevitable but a task that must be done sooner than later. To a reasonable extent, it appears correct to say that majority of Nigerians are saying loud and clear that they stand on the agreements of the Aburi Accord.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the truth is that restructuring Nigeria along the six geopolitical zones and the devolution of more powers to the zones appear to be the only framework upon which Ndigbo will ever hope to find the elusive justice. As I have already alluded to, the persisting federal structure is a militarized version tailored to serve the interest of the victor over the vanquished. This explains why 32 years after the war, the Igbos are yet to taste real political power in the land. Instead, they have continued to slide even further into third if not fourth fiddle status. I have no doubt that were we to have a true level playing ground, the Igbos of our generation would have re-enacted the Zik charm and we would have found ourselves at the driving seat of the political train. But regrettably, the structure is skewed and deliberately twisted to obstruct the will of equity. Ndigbo must therefore insist on a restructured Nigeria as our only hope for justice.

Part of the strategy to actualize this and even to realize our dream for the presidency is negotiation with our neighbours. I re-echo the position of Southeast governors that the surest route to Igbo Presidency is through negotiations with our neighbours.
Ndigbo have traveled long and tortuous roads in search of political friends and allies. After the 1952 Western Regional carpet crossing episode, Zik went back to the East and took over premiership from Eyo Ita. This forced the minorities into opposition. In search of new friends, NCNC struck an alliance with the Northern Peoples congress after the 1959 elections. But no sooner did the NCNC realize that NPC was only using it to ride to power to her perpetual disadvantage. This forced NCNC to seek fresh alliance with the Action Group in 1964, giving birth to the United Progressive Grand Alliance. This, too, did not last.  The Second Republic saw a replay of the above scenario between first NPP/NPN and later NPP/UPN/PRP/GNPP. Like houses built on quick sand, these alliances gave way to perpetrate Northern conservatives, who always pick them as running mates, in power.

Perhaps, a fresh way to look at new alliances for Ndigbo to look inwards first and strike enduring political friendship with their minority brothers. There is an urgent need for the entire old Eastern Region to return to the pre 1952 era of mutual trust amongst all ethnic groups. The entire east may need to speak with one voice again to facilitate their chances for the presidency. A strong united East is more likely to emerge successful from the negotiating table for the presidency than the East with discordant tones, as is presently the case. I see very bright chances in this respect political inclination of the East. It is instructive that for the first time since post civil war politics, the entire East now belongs to one strong political family, the PDP. Ndigbo should take advantage of this development to strike more enduring political friendship with her neighbours.

I initiated the Southeast Governors' Forum, the nine Eastern Governors Forum and the Southeast Political Office Holders Meeting with this view in mind. It is, therefore, my well-considered view that the Southeast should take full advantage of their stronghold in PDP to negotiate their way to the presidency. It is regrettable that in spite of the fact that the South-East and South-South are the greatest stakeholders in PDP, their chances of clinching the presidency do not appear any bright. This is an inexplicable political contradiction that must be addressed urgently.

If the South-East and South-South can be rightly seen as the headquarters of the ruling PDP, which they are, then it only follows that the presidency should have ordinarily been theirs for the asking. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case, which they are, then it only follows that the presidency should have ordinarily been theirs for the asking. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case, which suggests that we are not getting our political acts together yet. There is need, therefore, for us to re-strategize and take that which is clearly within reach.

The quest for political empowerment must also incorporate economic empowerment. While a few successful businessmen in Igboland are busy polluting the political waters in the Southeast, our neighbours are busy buying up shares in strategic federal industries currently being privatized. Available evidence suggests that the Ndigbo have not risen to the challenge of the on-going federal government's privatization exercise and the five States of the Southeast are financially too weak to give any support. I enjoin our people to rise to this challenge now before it is too late. I will like to note that it is a settled fact that there is a high degree of correlation between economic empowerment and political empowerment. There is, therefore, the need for a homeward movement in terms of capital investment flow by the Igbos. The time frame for this movement must be established and firmly and resolutely observed.

Let me paint here, a visionary picture of a viable Igbo homeland, with an assemblage of all Igbo businesses as presently dispersed in Nigeria. In such a scenario, the economic power base in this country will be in our hands and by extension, and with planned empowerment, the political power will equally be ours.

My esteemed Ndigbo, I will like to warn in all modesty, that the die is cast. We have our destiny in our hands. We must rise to the occasion or sink sooner than we expect. For Ndigbo to remain relevant in contemporary Nigerian politics, we must only hope of reclaiming our rightful position in Nigeria. Ndigbo should take serious note of the fact that they have advanced best under democratic governments. It was in the Second Republic that appreciable work was done on the dualization of Enugu-Port Harcourt and Enugu-Onitsha roads. Today, they are the only two dualized carriageways in the East. It was in the same Second Republic that Ndigbo produced the Vice President in the person of Dr. Alex Ekwueme. In the First Republic, Ndigbo came close to power when Zik became the Ceremonial President of the country. Today, Ndigbo has the Senate President and other strategic positions.
But we make bold to say that what we have is not enough. The overwhelming evidence therefore is that Ndigbo fares better under democracies. Ndigbo have also had a fair share of dividends of democracy in the present dispensation. In Imo, I make bold to tell you that dividends of democracy abound. Many roads, abandoned in the last 15 years of military rule have been tarred and asphalted. Many schools and hospitals have been renovated. We have also reactivated Concorde Hotels and Adapalm, which were ruined by the Military. We have almost completed a modern Secretariat for our workers, which the military could not do since Imo's creation in 1976. Imo Economy is today far better than it was when I took over government.

n the education sector, it is pertinent to remind us that although the West had initial advantage over Ndigbo, this did not persist for too long. From 1930-1950, Igbos emerged as the leading lights in educational attainments. Igbos produced the first two indigenous Vice Chancellors - Professors Kenneth Dike and Eni Njoku at Ibadan and Lagos. With such rare feats, why should Igbos not be respected, if not revered by the rest of Nigeria.

The truth of the matter is that part of the Igbo myth and relevance has been rooted in the production of quality manpower. You will agree that, that myth has been shattered. These days, it is difficult to find the first ten performers in JAMB examinations coming from the South-East States. All hands must be on deck to redeem this inglorious situation if we truly seek relevance in the country. Again, I am pleased to inform you that in the education sector, we run a State University that ranked (by the Nigerian Universities Commission) the first and the best among all other State Universities and ninth amongst all universities in the country. This is our contribution to the renaissance of Igbo prowess in education.

There are many other dividends of democracy in Imo including our new low density Housing Estate at Area 'H', New Owerri, which I expect that some of you here will benefit from. This is in addition to our Redemption Housing Estate, which thrilled the President when he visited us last year because over 80% of building materials for the houses are locally manufactured.
The point to reiterate here is that Ndigbo have always fared better under democracy. It is also under democracy that we can hope to actualize the dream of a restructured Nigeria. We must therefore continue to support democracy with all the energy at our behest. However, for the rest of the nation to take us serious over the presidency, they must see us as a cohesive race governed by reason and respect for constituted political authority. I doubt that any geopolitical zone will take our presidential aspiration seriously when they continue to see us as a race and a people where the moneyed class, whimsically dictate the political rhythm.
Ndigbo must, therefore, reappraise their strategies, put their house in order and carry their neighbours along to the negotiating table for the presidency. Never again should the Igbo race be allowed to scramble for crumbs from the nation's political table while other zones savour the main dish.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, over and above, every strategy is the need to remain dogged on the clamour for the restructuring of our federal project. It was Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States, who, while celebrating American independence on July 4, 1776 said:

 
"When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation".
 
In our case, we do not seek separation but rather an arrangement that guarantees justice and equity to all nationals. That is what we ask, that was what was agreed on in Aburi in 1966 and that is the path to enduring peace, democracy and justice. Once this is attained, Ndigbo's relevance and consequential political role in contemporary Nigeria will be assured.
Let me leave you with this evergreen inspiration from Frank Buchman, who in 1959 declared that, "What man wants is security: a hate-free, fear-free, greed-free world.  The bottleneck is that people say that human nature cannot change. But human nature does change, and the nature of nations can change too. I want to assure you that this task, the task of making Nigeria a safe and just place for all of us, is not a difficult one. We can do it and we should do it.

Distinguished audience, I thank you for your attention. I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you. I pray Almighty God to give our leaders the courage to face the truth and to admit the truth for our nation. As is common knowledge only the truth can set you free.

 
Thank you all and God bless.
 

ACHIKE UDENWA
Governor of Imo State of Nigeria
Lagos, March 14, 2002