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 Uche Chukwumerije And Igbo Leadership Question

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By Law Mefor
In one of my books, The Igbo Leadership Question, I had cause to refer to Comrade Uche Chukwumerije as 'an exasperated tiger'. That was how the comrade came across to me or how his thoughts fill my mind each time I consider the Igbo leadership question. I saw him as one of the very few who genuinely cared for Ndi Igbo, since Emeka Ojukwu.

Since the loss of the Biafra war, Ndi Igbo have remained essentially without a rallying point and it is a big issue. Ojukwu continued in that role when he returned from exile in Ivory Coast though, but it was just to some degree, for so much water had already passed under the bridge and the people Emeka Ojukwu met on return were in very poor shape. It was expected though, since one of the major psychological consequences of losing a war is a splintered group and Ndi Igbo were no exception.

In locating properly who truly led Ndi Igbo in history and in contemporary times not even the Great Zik truly fits in. In the 2nd Republic politics when Ojukwu returned from exile, Nnamdi Azikiwe had only remerged from his cocoon and sought presidential nomination under the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP). Throughout history, Zik had his eyes set too high on Pan Africanism to bother much about organizing Ndi Igbo for a place of pride in the Nigeria power equation, as Ojukwu and Chukwumerije would.  He preferred to be seen as Zik of Africa than be seen as an ethnic champion.  But Chukwumerije combined both Igbo cause championship and nationalism so admirably.

I saw Ojukwu and Chukwumerije as both authentic Igbo leaders, yet nationalists. I saw the duo as two sides of the same coin. While Ojukwu represented the zenith of Igbo possibility, Chukwumerije the philosopher, to me, represented the Igbo spirit. Throughout his life, Chukwumerije proved that indeed only the deep can call to the deep and it easily showed any time he spoke, both in formal and informal settings in his trademark armed words. He was deep, ponderous, calm, collected. A no-nonsense fellow, there was one thing most men had which the comrade didn't have – time to waste.

I had had cause to discuss with him, one on one, about why Ndigbo come under the hammer every now and then, and for all the wrong and right reasons. Why there has often been an intense feeling about the race by fellow Nigerians and the world at large. Why they receive all the bashing from people .

His answers were instructive and shaped my Igbo-centric life ever since. He brought refreshing insights into what he called ‘atomization of Ndi Igbo’ and traced all their travails to that. Chukwumerije also made some of us to see that the enterprising and highly successful nature of many Ndi Igbo have made them very visible and objects of envy.

Before discussing what Chukwumerije told me was the panacea to the Igbo travails, I would like to look at a few examples of where and how Ndi Igbo came unjustly under the hammer, which require interventions and leadership that only a Uche Chukwumerije could give.

In a vile article published on the back cover of the Sun on Monday, 10th December, 2007, 'Igbo and the Jewish Connection', conceitedly written by one Adeyinka Makinde, the embittered writer deridingly asked: “Where did this people get off feeling superior to other people, when it is clear that they are not?”. And then went off to ridicule the Igbo race and paint a picture of a people without savvy – a story of savages, all in an attempt to denounce what he called Igbo sense of entitlement, to use his words, 'Igbo sense of specialness'. In answering his untamed question about Ndi Igbo, he even looked in the direction of mental disorder literatures, rather than carry out a social/psychological research as required in studying special or rather belligerent group as he sees his subjects – Ndi Igbo.

If you find nothing repulsive with this extreme expression of contempt  for a race of well over 30 million people by even such unknown quantity and  would have ordinarily denied it access to  further publicity , what do you make of this other example? The Guardian newspaper of July 19, 2004 published a letter from one G.K. Dosunmu,  titled: 'The Story of Lagos',  which similarly reviled Ndigbo as Makinde had done. In his further rejoinder published in The Guardian of 20th  September, 2004, under the caption: “Again, Ibos in Lagos”, the same G.K. Dosunmu raised the matter of what he feverishly described as “the daily massive invasion of Lagos and its environs by Ibos under a dubious apprenticeship scheme  in furtherance of their ill-motivated dream of turning Lagos into an extension of Ibo States”. Accordingly, Dosunmu called on Lagos state governor to stop consenting to the sale of landed properties in the State to Ndi Igbo.

According to Gregory H. Stanton, the president of Genocide Watch, there are ten stages of genocide. He tagged them as Classification, Symbolization, Discrimination, Dehumanization, Organization, Polarization, Preparation, Persecution, Extermination, and Denial. He said these stages do not follow any particular order. They can occur concurrently and Chukwumerije had always drawn the attention of Nigerians to the strong possibility of genocide the way we have gone about nation building.

So many events have continued to prove Chukwumerije right. Few weeks ago, a Texas-based cardiologist, Dr. Adeniran Abraham Ariyo called for xenophobic attack against the Igbo in Nigeria the way foreigners were violently being attacked in South Africa. His words: “You see how they are being slaughtered in South Africa,” Dr. Abraham Ariyo wrote. “That's what's going to happen to them in Lagos…When are they not going to be slaughtered in Abuja?…God might have put a curse on them …We will continue to bus them to Onitsha.”

Days to the Governorship Election of April 11, 2015, the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwanu Akiolu made yet another damning call against the Ndi Igbo:

“By  the grace of God, I am the owner of Lagos for the time being. This is an undivided chair. The palace belongs to the dead and those coming in the future. On Saturday, if anyone of you, I swear in the name of God, goes against my wish that Ambode will be the next governor of Lagos state, the person is going to die inside this water. For the Ndi Igbo and others in Lagos, they should go where the Oba of Lagos heads to. When they were coming to the state, they didn't come with all their houses. But now they have properties in the state. So they must do my bidding. And that is the bidding of the ancestors of Lagos and God. I am not ready to beg you. Nobody knew how I picked Ambode. Jimi is my blood relation and I told him that he can never be governor in Lagos for now. The future belongs to God. I am not begging anybody, but what you people cannot do in Onitsha, Aba or anywhere you cannot do it here. If you do what I want, Lagos will continue to be prosperous for you, if you go against my wish, you will perish in the water.”

These chilling anti-Igbo sentiments as expressed in the reviewed newspaper articles and statements by some prominent people from other races against Ndi Igbo were the sort of things Chukwumerije fought all his life and would have taken on these recent ones if he were not already down the valley and in the departure lounge. Some of these lunatic and genocidal statements against the Igbo race represent what the ethnic group goes through, calling for the kind of symbolic leadership and guardianship that Chukwumerije offered the Igbo people when he was around.

The most contemporary incident, which confirmed the commitment of Chukwumerije to Igbo cause, is the Apo Six incident, where one Nigerian killer cop, wiped out 6 Igbo businessmen and a female friend in Abuja. The girl's death was most gruesome, as she was drilled with a long nail through the nose until she gave up the ghost. Were it not for the indefatigable Comrade, the Apo Six issue would have been swept under the carpet as usual. He said no and got the Nigeria Police to account, for once, for the deaths of some innocent Nigerians. Such was the stuff Comrade Uche Chukwumerije was made of.

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Comrade was so concerned about the deliberate, despicable and desperate attempts by such people to provoke anti-Igbo sentiments reminiscent of the experience of the Jews in the Arab world. He believed that the length some can go to malign and crush the otherwise virile race into the mire of inferiority requires anti-Semitism kind of social intervention. He believed that the real danger beyond all the polemics is that a cowed Igbo race, which is not in anybody's interest, is the target, and, worse still, Ndi Igbo, unlike the Jews, are not bonding to raise a formidable defense against such common, exterminating enemies.

I asked Chukwumerije if Ndigbo were totally blameless for the outrage others have visited on them and he told me, believably, that we have a share of the blame but must resist the pressure to assume a docile identity, just to appease our neighbours or even the world.  He believed that part of the Igbo man's problem is that he is more catholic than the pope for not approaching the Nigeria project from self-preservation perspective in an organizaed fashion. For a fact, while other ethnic groups are busy positioning their people and securing their future, Ndi Igbo have carried on till this day as if only they can make the country stand. Others see this as chauvinism and have remained hostile to them as a response and feeling of rivalry as a result.

No doubt,  Ndigbo suffer unjust prejudice but Chukwumerije does not believe that they are hated as canvassed by some Ndi Igbo. He asked if indeed the Igbos are that hated, why are they found in the remotest parts of Nigeria and the world? Prejudices can also stem from passions of the heart just as from the biases of the mind. Comrade said that when things go wrong like the Nigerian project appears to have repeatedly suffered, finding someone in the Igbo man to blame (scapegoat), can provide an outlet for anger and frustration.

Comrade Uche Chukwumerije believed  Ndigbo should not accept this as their  fate. He told me the way out was for the Ndi Igbo to remain firm, fair and united. He believed that unless Ndi Igbo jettison atomization and individualism, they will not be able to overcome. But united, he believed Ndi Igbo can take the world center stage.

The derivable question then  is: now that Comrade has done his bit, made his life so sublime and departing, left his footprints on the sands of time; what happens to the big shoes he is leaving behind? I am scanning the landscape to see such self-sacrificing legs large enough to wear them.What a challenge!

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