What they won’t tell you about Ndigbo
By ORI MARTINS
Sunday, June 26, 2011
This is not a very good time to be an Igbo man in Nigeria. If you don’t understand what I mean, read my mind. The Igbo do not occupy the Presidency nor Vice Presidency, Senate Presidency, Speaker of the House of Representatives and even chairmanship of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Rather the PDP gave the South East the position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). This is the first time this position will be ranked as a grade one office for zoning by the ruling party since 1999.
This was how it started in 1993 when the Social Democratic Party (SDP) zoned its offices and what was given to the Igbo was the SGF, which Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu rejected, saying the position of secretary was for a tea server. Sadly, Ojukwu is still hospitalized and no person to speak against it. Thus, this position has reared its ugly head again and forced down the throat of Ndigbo when Imo State, an Igbo enclave, gave President Goodluck Jonathan the highest number of votes. So, what did Ohanaeze and other Igbo leaders negotiate with President Jonathan during the pre-election campaign? Well, this is a topic for another day.
Despite the fact that Nigeria is the trouble with the South East, even as the region is always painted in bad light when actually its sons are enterprising and ingenious, there are certain things, like other tribes, we are not doing right. How? Diplomatic ties between America and Japan went sour and the USA dropped atomic bomb in the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1946 killing 140,000 out of the city’s 350,000 population. Two days later the U.S. bombed Nagasaki, another town in Japan, and 76,000 people died.
To tell the story to the unborn generation, Japan made these two cities tourist centres and ensured that every child born in Japan is taught and lectured about the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki even as it preserved the carcass and debris of the shattered towns till date. Japan is yet to forget the bitterness of Hiroshima and Nagasaki .
British journalists and authors continue to regale us with tales of Winston Churchill’s heroics during World War II. But Ndigbo have no trace of all the fabricators and manufacturers of the Ogbunigwe (bomb) and have allowed them to die unnoticed and uncelebrated. This is not how to survive as a people in a plural state like Nigeria. How many Igbo men and women that witnessed the war, especially those who fought at the battle-fronts or who held positions, have told the story in a book for posterity? Is there any institution that was preserved so as to point to the coming generations that there was an incident called the Civil War in which about two million Igbo lost their lives? There is the Ojukwu Bunker in Umuahia, the Ahiara Mbaise Declaration Joint, Zik Mausoleum, etc. But these historic and symbolic memorabilia are allowed to decay even when it is less than 50 years after the war ended. Will anybody recall the Civil War again after 100 years?
You see, the Igbo have so many heroes, heroines and monumental achievements to be proud of and even celebrate but they do not toe this direction. Rather, we allow the efforts of our ancestors to waste like that. In sports, the Igbo have always held sway. For instance, how many us know that the first sports person to win an international medal for Nigeria was Emmanuel Ifeajuna, an Igbo? Ifeajuna put Nigeria’s sports on world map when he jumped over 6ft 8” high and gave the country gold in high jump at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada. As you read this, you may not know that an Igbo ward, Dan Anyiam was the first Nigerian coach to obtain an overseas certificate in coaching and eventually became the first indigenous coach to be hired by NFF.
Anyiam later made Enugu Rangers the most dreaded team in Africa as the side emerged as Nigeria’s undisputed champions between 1974 and 1976, leading to its African Cup glory in 1977. By 1975, Enugu Rangers, formed after the war, was the first Nigerian club to play in any CAF competition, the CAF Champions League, in the final , but lost to Hafia of Guinea. The late Chris Udemezue was the first coach to make Nigeria qualify for any FIFA competition. Udemezue attained this enviable height when he took the Flying Eagles to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Mexico in 1983. From here, the gate was opened for other subsequent qualifications and glories at the world level. Sadly, Udemezue is not credited for this wonderful feat rather, he is remembered more with the Chile’ 87 calamity than his other glorious deeds. Do you still remember Dick Tiger (Richard Ihetu)?
Till date, Dick Tiger remains the only African to be inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame. He took the world by storm when he punched America’s Gene Fullman to stupor and was crowned the World Middle-weight champion He successfully defended the title in a spectacular first world title fight (boxing) ever to be held in Africa, staged in Ibadan in 1963.
We also had Chief Jerry Enyeazu, the ebullient sports administrator who founded Enugu Rangers, Heartland, Enyimba and Grasshoppers of Owerri. Enyeazu was Nigeria’s first Director of Sports who conceptualized what is now called National Sports Festival and put in place the second All Africa Games in 1973 in Lagos which Nigeria hosted. He also facilitated the establishment of the National Institute of Sports (NIS) . Nwankwo Kanu led Nigeria’s soccer team to the 1996 Olympics and won the soccer gold. Chioma Ajunwa and Emeka Omeruah also did Nigeria proud by winning gold medals on the international scene. Chioma Ajunwa won Africa’s first ever individual gold in a field event.
Do not forget that Omeruah as Sports Minister groomed the team that won FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1985. With him as NFF Chairman, Nigeria qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 1994 and lifted the Nations Cup for the second time in Tunisia. To cap it all, it could have been marvelous , if Ernest Okonkwo were alive to tell Nigerians how Enyimba lifted the elusive CAF Champions League cup for Nigeria in 2003. How many of these persons are honored nationally or remembered by the Igbo nation? Yet, the South West honours Awo annually and new books on him emerge. Just recently the Yoruba celebrated Pa Awolowo’s legacies but not so for the Great Zik by his Igbo people. Emulating the South-West, the South-South have learned to celebrate Adaka Boro with fun-fare via the Niger Delta Volunteer Force but the Igbo remain adamant about their heroes.
An example of what Ndigbo can do is Prof Kenneth Onwuka Dike’s notable deeds. He wrote about contemporary Africa; supervised the transformation of colonial University Ibadan to a glorious modern university. He was the institution’s first Nigerian indigenous Vice Chancellor[thus he was Nigeria’ first ever VC] ; he established the Nigerian National Archives. He also headed Nigerian Antiquities Commission that set up the National Museum and eventually founded the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs[ NIIA],Lagos.
Dike was among organizers of the first World Festival of Negro Arts which was held in 1968. Despite all these accomplishments, has Dike been honored by any government in Nigeria or Igboland? As it is with Dike, so also it is with Prof Eni Njoku , the first Chairman of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria(now Power Holding Company of Nigeria) .That was in 1956. Later in 1962, Njoku was made the Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos. Him with Dike, were the first two indigenous Nigerian VCs of Igbo extraction! Still in academics, the accomplishments of Profs Chike Obi, Chinua Achebe and Ben Enweonwu cannot be overlooked. How many Igbo students in the higher institutions know Ben Enweonwu?
Great minds like Jaja Wachukwu, Nigeria’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs drafted the country’s foreign policy thrust. Mbonu Ojike; K.O. Mbadiwe; Akanu Ibiam; M. I. Opkara; Amanze Raymond Njoku who was voted by British journalists as Africa’s Most Well Dressed Man in the 1960s. K.B.C. Onwubiko was West Africa’s most accomplished historian and author; Mbazulike Amaechi, was the first Aviation Minister. They and few others who are of Igbo extraction who worked assiduously for Nigeria’s independence and greatness. If Nigeria forgets, why should Ndigbo forget?
Between 1950 and 1966, Sir Louis Ojukwu was not just West Africa’s richest man but also the greatest investor in transport and mercantile businesses and was the first DG, Nigeria Stock Exchange[NSE].
•Ori Martins (08060205494) works for The Sun.