ND'IGBO, OHANEZE, UWECHUE, AND THE ALABA MARKET SYNDROME

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This piece was provoked by an un-informed criticism of Ambassador Ralph Uwechue and his leadership of Ohaneze Nd’Igbo, the Igbo umbrella organization by Mr. Ikenna Anokute in the Nigerian internet discussion fora. I began by making out a reply to Mr. Anokute, but my thoughts strayed to other aspects of the case and I remembered that the late Dr. Stanley Macebuh had counseled Ohaneze not to focus solely on politics. As I wondered why Mr. Anokute seems to believe in nothing but himself, listens to and respects no one, I recollected that Dr Macebuh, in the same lecture identified the “Alaba Market syndrome” in Igbo youth.

What is the place of Nd’Igbo in Nigeria of the future? Macebuh also dealt with that.

Hey, why not allow Dr. Macebuh speak to you on the seemingly divergent but related topics? I just did that. Happy reading!

My preamble: I am not sure Mr. Ikenna Anokute has ever seen any copy of the “AFRICA” magazine that Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, the Ohaneze Ndigbo leader, published in the 1970’s and 80’s. I have seen and read several copies. Yet, any good library will still have some copies in case Anokute wants to know what the monthly looked like. I am not sure Ikenna Anokute has seen or read any of the three encyclopedic books Uwechue edited on Africa. I have and that is why I respect Uwechue.

I am not sure Ikenna Anokute knows the role Uwechue played in the decolonization of Africa and in advancing the African freedom movement. I do. I am not sure Ikenna Anokute knows that even South Africa's Thabo Mbeki calls Uwechue "Sir" and with respect too. Well before he became President, he was once on Africa magazine's pay roll. I am not sure that Ikenna Anokute knows how Nigeria had the big problem of bringing Leopold Sedar Senghor's (I hope Ikenna knows the name) Senegal to attend FESTAC ‘77. Obasanjo gave Uwechue that task. A few days later, an elated Uwechue reported his success ... that Senegal was in and Senghor would personally attend. A surprised Obasanjo exclaimed "I didn't know we have a one-man OAU!".

I am not sure Ikenna Anokute knows that Uwechue remains one of the few Africans that have stepped into every State House in every capital of every country in Africa. I am not sure that Ikenna Anokute knows how during an OAU meeting in Lagos around 1990, Babangida was walking with Nwalimu Julius Nyerere who suddenly saw Uwechue standing afar, and left Babangida to greet Uwechue, dragged him to meet a bemused Babangida, saying, "this is one of the treasures of Africa".

Please Ikenna, do not just believe me on this tale concerning Nyerere but ask Mr. Chuks Iloegbunam, yes, the same one who recently resigned from Governor Peter Obi's government. Just like you, he is a journalist, so you should be able to reach him - especially as your correspondents are said to be everywhere. Ikenna Anokute may not know it but the late M.K.O. Abiola had penciled Uwechuwe down to be his Foreign Affairs Minister. Please ask Abiola's former doctor, Ore Falomo too, about this.

Even though I have talked with Ambassador Uwechue several times on the phone since the April elections, I never discussed Ohaneze's endorsement of Mr. President. Also, even though I was against that blanket endorsement, looking back, I think Ohaneze may have made the best of a bad situation. It did not blow against the wind by opposing Jonathan, an incumbent, as that too would have alienated the Ijaw nation and the South-South. Ohaneze's support would have reassured the South-South and broken their support for and reliance on the North. It must be important to the Igbo to mend fences with all peoples of the Eastern minorities.

Second, a grateful President Jonathan has made Ndigbo to be exultant in the high positions their sons and daughters now occupy. Some psychological wounds are being healed little by little. I am not sure if I do not need to define the sort of wounds I have in mind – for Ikenna Anokute and many others. But instead of striving to clothe the ideas I received from the great Dr. Stanley Macebuh who died last year, in my own words, I will honour him by quoting him at length. (On Macabuh: Ambassador George Obiozor told me in 1999 at Hilton Hotel Abuja, as Obasanjo’s administration was being put together and Macabuh struggled hard for the intellectual input that was necessary for the Camelot he thought was in the making – “Macebuh is Nigeria’s Immanuel Kant”).

The words are from “Humanism in Chains” 17th Alumni Annual Lecture delivered at Trenchard hall, University of Ibadan in 2002. He said: “Any change in the normal conditions of the environment, any tilt in the delicate balance between social necessity and individual ambition, was bound, inevitably therefore, to cause a profound dislocation in the community’s assumptions about social existence, and in its competence to adapt to new realities. And it is strictly in this context that the Civil War becomes truly significant in the contemporary travails of the Igbo.

The dislocations of the civil war were for the Igbo, who almost exclusively bore the brunt of the war’s brutality, indeed numerous and far-reaching. The war destroyed a communal reference point of all action, and caused a rift in the hierarchy of values from the reverence for old age, experience, maturity and wisdom, to cult of youth and the rejection of the concept of apprenticeship and therefore of accountability. At a time when no one could be certain to be alive the next day, when one was virtually obliged to die young, it was natural to be contemptuous of age, and resolutely pursue whatever gratifications were to be had before one died, prematurely.

It (the war) brought to the fore of Igbo sensibility the existential conviction that regard for self-interest must necessarily now become the measure of all things. The war and its aftermath exacerbated the materialistic impulse that was always there in Igbo traditional culture, and destroyed the traditional basis for optimism, for the faith that, always subject to the personal passion that the individual brought to his transactions, all is well with the world, and received notions of human conduct were perfectly in order. It brought to the fore of Igbo sensibility the existential conviction that regard for self and self-interest must necessarily now become the measure of all things.

The prevalent, though hardly exclusive paradigm of the contemporary Igbo mind is that which negates and refutes all traditional norms and restraints (my comment: take note Ikenna! Mend your ways). It is perhaps most graphically illustrated in what we might call the Alaba Market Syndrome. The cardinal presumption of the Alaba theory of existence is the proposition that wealth, no matter how acquired, is the measure of man, or woman. It preaches the supremacy of the wallet over the mind. It proposes a rejection, or abandonment of the intellect; and it exalts a profound contempt for education, even for the mere acquisition of utilitarian skills. Standard assumptions concerning the basis of the social order are for it a hoax. It demonstrates, in action, a deep uneasiness with tested moral values (just as Ikenna does). It is suffused with a stark vulgarity of consciousness. It worships at the hitherto unfamiliar alter of opportunism and irrationality (and Ikenna is irrational). It is ostentatious and egotistical (just like Ikenna). And it thrives most in the ramparts of the mob and the trickster (no, I don’t want to name names here).

Were this syndrome a minor, insignificant trend within the mainstream of contemporary Igbo consciousness, one would be happy to dismiss it with some amusement. But it remains a fact, today, that the vast majority of the population of the Igbo consists of those who were born in 1960 and after, who therefore are the authentic children of the war and all its dislocations. One would feel a great deal less agitated by the prospects that these children of war offer, were they content to confine their exploits to Alaba Market and its sophisticated electronic extensions. But these illustrious children of Igboland, these anger-ridden, money-driven avengers of a collective grievance, have already appropriated the highest councils of governance, and in forums of state and national legislatures.

Governance, unfortunately, is far too serious and problematic a matter to be left in the hands of enthusiasts, angry, ill-bred, ill-tutored, contemptuous of knowledge, experience, and tested values, and priding themselves in their presumably superior mercantilist exploits, and in their youthfulness.

It is tempting to seek to rely on a deterministic interpretation of history as an explanation for the contemporary response of the Igbo in Nigeria to the new challenges that arose from the war. The psychological effects of defeat in war, the potential for resignation or for fool-hardy heroism is always there of course. But history teaches us that in the affairs of men, there is always room for the intervention of the individual sensibility, for the human ability to choose a course of action that is not necessarily predetermined.

Yet, such intervention is possible only where available options are mediated by systematic analysis, by thought, and by sustained reflection.”

Here, this quotation must end. Ambassador Uwechue is a quintessential diplomat, seasoned intellectual and strategic thinker; he must have brought a lot of “systematic analysis, thought and sustained reflection” to bear on the decisions his executive made on behalf of Ndigbo. If Uwechue erred, it must have been on the side of over-reflection, a “crime” I’ll never accuse Ikenna Anokute of.

Come the next election, Ohaneze may insist on the Presidency so that if they lose the PDP nomination to, say a Namadi Sambo, an Igbo may clinch the VP-ship from where the Aso Rock shot would be launched.

Sincerely, I do not know Ohaneze's calculations, but I was just thinking strategically. Does Ikenna Anokute want to give us his own strategic thoughts, even if they would show how mistaken Ohaneze and Uwechue may have been? That would be better than making blanket statements.

Something else; the late Dr. Macebuh’s lecture was 26 pages long and did not begin or end as abruptly as the excerpt. From the curious “political and social tendency of narcissism” Macebuh touched on the effect of the South-East’s lack of empires, unlike the South-West or North, (leading to those geo-political zones’ “familiarity with the complexities of acquiring and sustaining power … apart from the distinctiveness that comes to victors of great wars”.

He found dissonance in the East’s call for true federalism and desire for power at the centre –at the same time, just as he saw as mistaken the “retreat back to tribal enclaves, in the guise of ethnic nationalism”. To Macebuh, “the future will not be about who rules us but about who controls our rulers” – perhaps as in the US. He said: “Those who control our rulers, and determine the scope and emphases of our political debates, will be those who control our banks and refineries, our insurance companies and telecommunications outfits, our airlines, and service industries, our newspapers, and magazines and broadcast stations and advertising and entertainment institutions, our hospitals and cemeteries. These institutions will not be constrained or impelled by ethnic particularizations. For them, state and national and sub-regional boundaries will constitute an impediment, an irritant, rather than the justification for their exploits. It is a world that, compared to present, would be totally unrecognizable. But it is there in the making. And it will come”.

Macebuh proposed that it is in this new world that the Igbo nation “will come into its own and thrive” as it will respond to the “authentic impulses of their culture; “stateless”, never conceding that geography can restrain their impulses, restlessness or enterprise. He said that the Igbo, not having been a people of empire, are not of government and only when government constrained their freedom, rather than guarantee it, “have they been driven to intervene, to seek a place and a role in it, sometimes with disastrous consequences, as in the civil war.”

Macebuh therefore called on the Ohaneze Nd’Igbo, “the descendent of the Igbo Union” not to totally focus on “political advocacy” but promote and encourage interest in education.

Then the bombshell: “the failure of the Igbo to grasp the true meaning of the Nigerian future:

The failure of the Igbo to decisively participate, as a group, in the on-going privatization process is, in my view, a veritable disaster. The failure of Ohaneze to recognize the probability that all the disputation concerning a rotational presidency is certain to become a mere irrelevancy ten years from now is to be regretted. And its failure to accept that the justifications for true federalism remain valid without the ethnic angle is equally to be mourned”.

From there Macebuh delved into the “predicament” of the “enchainment of Humanism as a dynamic intellectual project” in Nigeria which began in the 80’s and failed to scrutinize and leave a “substantive body of systematic study of ethnic nationalism, resource control, regional government, fiscal federalism, the free market and the intensity of their impacts on our lives” and other problems of present day Nigeria. But this piece is about Nd’Igbo and Ohaneze and so must end here.

Tony Eluemunor, a journalist and public affairs analyst, is a 1991 Ford Foundation Scholar and Fellow of Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism. He is an authority on the Nigerian Presidency.



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