Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Igbo march to freedom

Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe

THERE is presently a visionary and purposeful spirit felt by the Igbo as well as across Igboland, Biafra. This development is immensely uplifting. 

The Igbo appear poised to complete the march begun on 29 May 1966 – the reinforcement of their inalienable right to freedom, in the wake of the outbreak of the genocide. Surely, the sun is on its ascent. These are indeed extraordinary times the likes of which have not been seen since the 12 January 1970 end of phase-III of the genocide and the progression to phase-IV. During the previous, phases I-III-harrowing 44 months (29 May 1966-12 January 1970), the Nigeria state and its allies murdered 3.1 million Igbo people, or one-quarter of this nation’s population, in this foundational and most gruesome genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa.

20 years before…

AS THIS march to the restoration of freedom dawns, the Igbo should, as a matter of urgency, retrieve from the archives the plan for the reconstruction and transformation of the then east Nigeria drawn up in the 1950s by Mbonu Ojike, the cerebral Chicago University scholar and African peoples-centred economist, who was the minister of the region’s economic development and planning. The Ojike Plan had envisaged a 20-year timeframe, beginning in 1954, during which the east would be transformed into an advanced multifaceted industrial and agricultural economy. 

The main thrust of this plan is still valid and should be reworked and adapted to 21st century priorities and the advantage of new technologies. Such was the impressive pace of this programme that, by 1964, ten years later, the overall economic performance of the east had not only outstripped the rest of Nigeria but was in fact Africa’s fastest growing economy. The east had the best schools and the first independent university system in the country, the best humanpower development in the country across a range of fields including, crucially, engineering, medicine, the arts, and the middle-range technical cadre. 

THE REGION also had the most integrated infrastructural development in Nigeria and its manufacturing, distributive and extractive enterprises centred in the Enuugwu-Nkalagu-Emene conurbation to the north, Onicha (commercial capital and home to the future Oshimili stock exchange and index) to the west and Igwe Ocha/Port Harcourt-Aba-Calabar to the south were clearly the hubs of the making of this African industrial revolution of recent history. But for the Igbo genocide, the east was on course to construct the “Taiwan” or the “China” or the “South Korea” or the “India” in Africa – 20 years before these post-1939-1945 war much-vaunted “economic transformational miracles” of the era emerged!
(Alice Coltrane Sextet, “Something about John Coltrane” [Coltrane, piano; Pharoah Sanders, soprano saxophone, bells; Cecil McBee, bass; Tulsi, tambura; Rashied Ali, drums; Majid Shabazz, tambourine, bells; recorded: Impulse! Records, New York, US, 8 November 1970])
The Igbo should now resume this journey in earnest. Right from the outset, Igbo women, who, in the past (i.e. prior to the British conquest and occupation), controlled and exercised extensive rights and authority over their own affairs as well as those of the rest of society, must be repositioned at the epicentre of the shared dual-gender complementary spaces of responsibility, power and authority in this historic transformation of Biafra (for authoritative insights into pre-conquest Igbo gender relations, see, especially, the studies and writings of sociologist Kamene Okonjo and novelist Flora Nwapa). 

THE Igbo have one of Africa’s best-developed, multidisciplinary humanpower contingents to work this transformation. Given their well-known hardworking ethic and entrepreneurial drive, the Igbo should be able to achieve an annual 10 per cent growth rate in their economy to effectuate this transformation without difficulty. They should immediately set up a trust fund foundation to finance the enterprise in the next decade. The foundation should have a core membership of distinguished Igbo men and women of which the Igbo have unlimited number. An appeal should be sent out at once, calling on every adult Igbo woman and man at home and in the diaspora in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world to make an annual voluntary contribution of US$100 dollars to the fund with allowances made of course for those who wish to contribute more than this stipulated figure or indeed less. The foundation should set up actualising working/implementation committees made up of experts in their fields to focus on various sectors of the Biafran economy: power generation, town-city/urban revival/development, industrial manufacturing, agriculture, information technology, communication/infrastructure, healthcare, education, culture/history/heritage, recreation/leisure, rural embodiment, environment/regeneration – particularly focusing on the heightened erosion and landslide occurrence in the northwest region. 

Hubs of industrial and agricultural activities are already in place in their designated sites of operation in Igboland and these would form the foci of this transformation: the Onicha-Nnewi-Oka-Ihiala industrial conurbation for machine tools and heavy industry; the Enuugwu-Emene-Nsukka information technology valley; the Aba-Umuahia-Abiriba-Igwe Ocha precision equipment/light industry; the Uburu-Okposi-Egbema sodium carbonate deposits/other minerals for potential pharmaceutical and food-processing manufacturing; reactivation of Enuugwu-Udi coal fields for unlimited power generation to work this manufacturing enterprise and provide affordable lighting and other energy requirements for domestic and industrial requirements in addition to exports to countries across west Africa and elsewhere; work on renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, refuse – it is indeed incumbent on Biafran engineers to exponentially increase the country’s access to these renewables in this first vital phase of redevelopment; enhanced agricultural activities in the central and east Asu/Ebonyi valleys/Abakaleke corridor and the Onicha/upper Anambra farming belt... 
(Andrew Hill Trio, “Tripping” or “Naked spirit” [Hill, piano; Rufus Reid, bass; Ben Riley, drums; recorded: Barrigozi Studio, Milan, Italy, 3/4 July 1986])
Skills & talents
The involvement of Igbo expertise, especially that currently based abroad in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australasia, and elsewhere in the world is of utmost importance in this transformation project. The utilisation of this asset will understandably be managed with obvious flexibility in the drive and implementation of the enterprise. This will involve opportunities for visiting/adjunct professorships with appropriate colleges/schools/hospitals/laboratories/industrial facilities in Igboland to work in, summertime slots, and sabbatical emplacements.

RESTRUCTURING  the communication/infrastructure base of Biafra 
would appear to be the trigger to impact tremendously on other sectors of the economy. Igbo road, rail, waterway and air networks should now be rehabilitated and expanded radically. The entire length and breadth of Igboland from Igwe Nga/Opobo, Azumini, Umuebelengwu, Umu Ubani/Bonny, Ahoada, Igwe Ocha, Asaba, Onicha, Aboh, Ogwashi-Ukwu in the Oshimili Delta to Enuugwu, Nsukka, Eha-Amuufu and Abakeleke in the central, north and northeast should be comprehensively networked by these services. There should, for instance, be daily express rail services linking Igwe Nga, Azumini and Igwe Ocha in the south to Nsukka and Eha Amuufu in the north, via Aba and Enuugwu, and from Umu Ubani and Ahoada in the south to Olu, Okigwe, Ugwuta, Onicha, Asaba and Agbo in the west/northwest. Other trains should be crisscrossing on the east-west routes originating from Abakaleke, Aruchukwu, Ohafia, Umuahia, Abriba and Ehuugbo to Enuugwu, Oka, Onicha, Asaba, Ogwashi-Ukwu and Agbo and vice versa. This transformation should envisage dredging the Oshimili south of Onicha to the Atlantic coast and the construction of additional international ocean-bound port facility at Azumini and Onicha and a dry dock at Aba.

Another road and rail bridge should link the historic twin cities of Asaba and Onicha and a tunnel service under the Oshimili to carry these dual modes of transport should also be constructed. Both bridge and tunnel should be appropriately named Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. Asaba and Onicha should also have a modern hovercraft service in operation. Commuter bus, coach, tram and rail services in Igbo cities and towns should quickly replace the ill-suited and unsafe “okada” or motorcycle provisions of the present. The Igbo, a much travelled people worldwide, must now establish direct flight access entry to Igboland from the outside world that is not dependent on Nigeria via Lagos, Abuja and Kano or any of its other “entry points”. The Enuugwu and Owere airports should be transformed immediately to the full, operational status of international airports to ensure the uninterrupted movement of people, goods and services overseas flying directly into Biafra and vice versa. Direct flight routes from Igboland to Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, São Tomé and Principe, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Sénégal,  South Africa, United States, Canada, Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, China, Brazil, Jamaica, Barbados and Australia should be in operation here as of utmost priority in this first phase of the implementation, given the high number of Igbo people who live and work in the cited countries. Igbo émigrés in these countries should negotiate with their hosts for the latter to establish or augment existing consular/diplomatic presence in Igboland to ease travel plans and processing, especially for those starting their journeys from Igboland: Asaba, Onicha, Enuugwu, Oka, Owere, Umuahia, Igwe Nga, Aba, Abakaleke, Ugwuta and Igwe Ocha should enjoy these upgraded facilities. International airports should also be built at Onicha and Ugwuta to cater for the movement of people, goods and services in the west, and at Nsukka and Abakaleke to respond to demands in the north and east of the country respectively. 


The restructuring of city and local governments in Biafra is vital in this transformation project. Igbo cities and towns should enjoy extensive autonomous status in order to transform themselves into advanced modern spaces for living, working, recreating, and the growth and development of culture. Each Biafran city and town should have a municipal authority to raise its own taxes, power its own development including the establishment of educational institutions at all levels, transport systems, including buses, trams and rail services (underground and overground) and city airport facility, cultural institutions (including homes for orchestras and bands of varying musical genres and traditions) and recreational facilities such as parks, theatres, museums, galleries, concert halls, stadiums and the like. 

EVERY Igbo child must have access to a computer and every school in Igboland linked to the internet. Equally crucial, technical colleges should be set up in Igbo cities and towns to develop and expand on that sphere of humanpower resource upon which the advancement of society is largely predicated – growth of plumbers, electricians, draughtspeople, carpenters, builders, etc., etc. Cities and towns including Aba, Nnewi, Agbo, Nsukka, Eha Amuufu, Abakaleke, Ohafia, Mbano, Item, Umuahia, Onicha-Ugbo, Owere, Ogwashi-Ukwu, Aboh, Ozubulu, Agbaani, Akaeze, Abaa, Okigwe, Enuugwu, Asaba, Ogidi, Igwe Ocha, Olu, Isele-Ukwu, Igwe Nga, Onicha, Mbaise, Okpana, Oshiri, Ahoada, Ogwu, Ehuugbo, Ehuugbo Road, Uburu, Aguleri, Nnobi, Umu Ubani, Ahiara, Abiriba, should be sites for these colleges. These urban centres could also have their own city universities to cope with the continuously high demands from Igbo youths and others who have, since 1970, consistently maintained top position for the highest number of students seeking university places in Nigeria, despite the occupation. The existing universities in Igboland need to expand even further to respond to these needs. The trust fund will no doubt be looking into ways to increase funding to these institutions after 45 years of programmed neglect and degradation, which have, all along, been critical features of the overarching strategy of phase-IV of the genocide by the occupation regime.

THE 50 MILLION Igbo should now set to work as determindly as ever. The prospects are incredibly exciting. This resultant transformation of Biafra within a generation will at once be a time-honoured memorial to the 3.1 million and the additional tens of thousands murdered since (phase-IV) and the triumph of the nonnegotiable right to freedom by the survivors and their children and grandchildren and theirs...

*****Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is the author of, among others, Biafra Revisited (2006) and Readings from Reading: Essays on African History, Genocide, Literature (2011)


No comments:

Post a Comment