Minister of Transportation, Rt Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi has called on Igbos to rise up to the challenge of being in the government at the centre by upping their politics from regional to national.
This he said can be achieved by collaborating with other regions of the country to form a national bond of collective development. He hinted that the All Progressives Congress (APC), a party with a national base covering states in all geopolitical zones of Nigeria could be a facilitating platform for this.
Amaechi stated this while delivering a lecture tagged “The Igbos in the politics of Nigeria,” at the 2018 Convocation Lecture of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Anambra State.
Amaechi traced the Igbos regional patriotism to the issue of Igbo identity and Igbo emotionalism, the two main issues that according to him, may have impeded Igbo political advancement in Nigeria.
He cited the book, The History of The Igbo People, by Professor Elizabeth Isichei which stated that “in the pre-colonial times, The Igbo people had no real sense of ‘pan-Igbo identity’. “The villagers view of external reality was a sharp dichotomy, ‘them and us’, with the sense of attachment to ‘us’ growing weaker as the unit grew larger – the family, the lineage, the village, the village group. Invariably, they [the Igbo] felt a strong local patriotism”. She makes the point that a sense of pan-Igbo identity came only when the Igbo finds himself outside Igboland as was the case during slave trade and “when colonial conquest and rule violently extended the categories through which the Igbo perceived the world.”
Amaechi however noted that “what is true of the Igbo in the past may not be true today. How people respond to issues today maybe different from how they responded in the past. But the one that has remained true is the issue of Igbo emotionalism. The Igbo historical past is very important and at certain times it has been quite tragic. But we cannot remain trapped in our past and as someone once said, we cannot wish away the war that took place but we cannot continue to move forward with our heads slightly inclined backwards. You will either trip or not move fast enough. Don’t forget that you are in a race with other groups. Nigeria of the sixties is markedly different from Nigeria of today and the Igbo nation would have to adjust to that reality and strategize accordingly.”
He referenced King Jaja of Opobo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as key figures to emulate and achieve even better. “Jaja was the Igbo born champion of the 19th century and Zik of the 20th century. The 21st century yearns for that champion. The theatre of politics for the coastal and inland states of Eastern Nigeria before colonialism, was in Bonny and for the colonial and post-colonial politics of Nigeria, it was in Lagos. Jaja excelled in Bonny while Zik excelled in Lagos. Why is Abuja politics so difficult for the Igbo to play? Perhaps, we are on the wrong track and employing the wrong paradigms. The Igbo nation should engage with others and immerse itself fully in national politics just like Jaja and Zik did. The handshake across the Niger celebrated recently in Enugu by Ohaneze Ndigbo and Nzuko Umunna is welcome but a handshake across the Benue is most desirable now.
“Zik has been the only Igbo politician, so far, to attract political and electoral support outside the South East. After the 1979 elections, he encouraged the NPP to go into alliance with the northern dominated National Party of Nigeria [NPN].
“Since 1999, the Igbo people have always voted for the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP]. There is nothing wrong with that, but the question must be asked; has the PDP justified that support or reciprocated it in any manner? Is that support really earned? The complaint now is that the All Progressive Congess [APC] government of President Muhammadu Buhari abandoned the South East and is marginalizing them. Without conceding to that, let us compare a situation where the PDP you voted for gave you a few appointments here and there and denied you any major developmental projects. As against the APC government of President Buhari, you did not vote for and who even if he denied you appointments, has certainly not denied you crucial developmental projects,” Amaechi said.
He listed some developmental projects being embarked upon by the Buhari administration in the East, “The Enugu – Port Harcourt dual carriageway abandoned since 1999 by the PDP is being handled with dispatch by this government, including both sections of the Enugu – Onitsha dual carriageway. Early works section four of the second Niger Bridge is ongoing. Then you have the rehabilitation of the following roads: Oba – Nnewi – Okigwe road linking Anambra state with Imo state, the Otuocha – Ibaji – Nzam road in Anambra state, the Abakaliki – Onueke – Abomega – Afikpo road [Ebonyi state], the Nnenwe – Uduma – Uburu road connecting Enugu state with Ebonyi state, the Oji – Achi – Mmaku – Awgu road in Enugu state, the Ozalla – Akpugo – Amagunze road [Enugu state] and the Ikot Ekpene – Aba – Owerri dualization project linking Akwa Ibom, Abia and Imo states among others. Almost all the important Igbo cities, Enugu, Owerri, Umuahia, Aba, Awka, Onitsha are captured in the existing Calabar – Lagos railway project and the Port Harcourt – Maiduguri standard gauge new railway projects approved by the President.”
Amechi concluded by urging the Igbo nation to focus on solutions, not recriminations. “In what political direction should the Igbo go? Let the quarrel with the north, real or imagined stop. Let the recriminations stop and let us join hands as one people to chart the way forward for a brighter future for Nigeria. We need to examine very carefully the Igbo political trajectory and learn crucial lessons of history. How did Jaja an Igbo slave found a multi ethnic state in Opobo and became the King with the consent of the people? How did Zik achieve national prominence and stature? We have an incredibly proud past, a rich political heritage forged in the most difficult circumstances. We must therefore focus on constructing the path to a proud future.