Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, frontline political leader and Intellectual used his lecture titled “Ndigbo In Contemporary Nigeria: A Social, Cultural, Political and Economic Reflection” at the 5th Annual Umunri Colloquium which held at Enugu-Ukwu Civic Center on December 28 to proffer new solutions to the Igbo leadership question.

The Civic Center at Enugwu-Ukwu in Njikoka local government area of Anambra state witnessed a different kind of Christmas. As people of the area enjoyed the Christmas festivities, Uche Nworah, the Director General of Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS), was up to a different kind of party. For him, it wasn’t just about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with food and drinks and masquerades et al. He added something intellectual to the festivities. Nworah dragged who is who in Enugwu-Ukwu to the 5th Annual Umunri Colloquium where Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, a frontline political leader in the state had the podium.

The tone of the discourse was set by the traditional ruler of Enugwu-Ukwu and Igwe Umunri, His Royal Highness, Igwe Ralph Ekpeh, who in his remark lamented the absence of leadership in Igboland. He stated that the dearth of leaders in Igbo land has become a source of concern to the generality of the people. According to him, the time has come for the Igbo to re-examine its leadership.

Igwe Ekpeh’s remark was more like peep into Dr. Okonkwo’s lecture. Speaking on “Ndigbo In Contemporary Nigeria: A Social, Cultural, Political and Economic Reflection” before an audience that greeted his logical presentation with a standing ovation, Okonkwo argued that for the Igbo must work to find the right mix of business and politics for the sake of its future. He argued that as business leaders, the Igbo must fashion out a way to allow their leadership of the business and economic sector to translate into political leadership.

He however noted that for same to happen, the Igbo must re-work its leadership recruitment process to put an end to leadership by the unprepared and the hungry and enthrone meritocracy. Okonkwo, who paid glowing tribute to the political leadership of the Igbo in the first and second republic, noted that the time has come for the Igbo to return to the drawing board, ask themselves very critical questions and plot the graph for a new beginning.

He noted that unless this is done, the Igbo will remain rudderless and without a strong voice in the emerging political equation of Nigeria. “While economic and political developments come down to leadership, it is also very important that the Igbo people develop a leadership recruitment process that leaves the voting public with the option of choosing the best among the best. The best here should be persons that have overcome personal want; persons who would not see leadership as an avenue to satisfy personal desire for outlandish lifestyles and previous deprivations; persons who hit society with new visions and bigger ideas. This ought to be the starting point”, he stated.

Okonkwo said: “The Igbo must quit lamenting and begin to see the opportunities we have missed as new opportunities for growth. That was why I instituted a study into the Onitsha Main market as the entrepreneurial hub of Igbo business. I believe that if we re-draw our map and change our projections, we will be able, as Ndigbo, to see the opportunities available to us and use same to change our own narrative by ourselves.

“If the Igbo political landscape must be re-worked, the Igbo must ensure that Igbo business leads. Igbo business leads simply by the Igbo supporting their own. Imagine the impact an Igbo business will make if governors of the region spend part of their budget to support Igbo business which service they need. In Germany, German politicians drive German brands. In China, Chinese politicians drive Chinese brands. In India, Indian politicians drive Indian brands. So doing, their national brands are improved and their capacities for additional jobs and expertise are expanded. Therefore, it is only when Igbo businesses lead that the Igbo will regain the economic power that once made them the darling of all.

“When we achieve that, then, we can use that to swing political power to our advantage. There is no race that is politically naïve or unimportant. However, you are treated as such if you are seen not to have any economic power. In the United States, black are regularly shot on the streets by the Police unlike they do Hispanics, Jews, Asians because they do not command the same economic powers that Jews, Hispanics, Asian command. So, the Police know it can kill a black and all that would happen is street protest. If they do same to Jews, the economy will feel the impact.

“Also, when other groups negotiate with you politically, they do not do so because it is you. They do so because of the economic powers that you wield. God has blessed the Igbo with the power of business vision through which we have become individually rich. However, Igbo communities have remained poor and without basic amenities, in spite of individual contributions as give-backs, because our economic and business acumen have only been able to translate into individual attainments, not real political power. And this is principally because we have not been able to fashion out a system through which our businesses will lead our quest for political power.

“For the Igbo to achieve that therefore, Igbo business must support and grow Igbo business so as to expand the economic power that would enable the Igbo to regain political power. It is simply about using economic power to negotiate political power to your favour even if when you are not the one sitting in the office. The Jews constitute about 3 percent of Americans, but you cannot be the President of the Unites States of America without the support of powerful Jewish entrepreneurs who control the media and other businesses.

“Igbo was very well respected in the first republic, somehow, because of the exploits of Sir Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who history records as lending Nigeria his personal Rolls Royce, in which Queen Elizabeth was driven during her maiden trip to Nigeria in 1956. That event ought to shows us the linkage between economic power and political power. Nigeria’s political leaders of the time went to Sir Odumegwu-Ojukwu because he had the capacity to provide the sort of car the queen was to be driven in. Nigeria did not go to Sir Ojukwu because he was an Igbo man.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I conclude by telling us all that the narrative on Igboland will begin to change as soon as the Igbo realize that no one will develop Igboland except the Igbo people. Therefore, we must take advantage of our place in business to create the political opportunities that advance the progress and growth of our homeland. Igbo business and Igbo politics must create the right mix to develop a leadership recruitment system that would work for the good of the Igbo.

“This is what the Chinese did. In Democracy and Development: A Prolegomena For Growth a paper I authored in commemoration of the 80th birthday of Okwadike Chukwuemeka Ezeife, I discussed this reality that has helped propel China to the top of world economic and political ladder. “China is a democracy”, I argued adding that “its people sat back and fashioned out a democratic system that works for them. Several years back, we heard of China only in negatives. The West was at the forefront of attempting to export its own brand of democracy to China. But China closed its gates and while the West bamboozled it with negative media, it worked behind the curtain to push its development. When eventually China opened its doors to the world, the West started a new kind of diplomacy -to ask China to slow its growth. Today, China is the largest economy in the world. It did not achieve that depending on models exported to it by others. It designed its own system”.

“In that paper, I quoted Zhang Weiwei, Director of China Institute at Fudan University where he explained that “China’s rise has attracted global attention and many have focused on China’s economic model behind its rise, which is of course important. But China’s evolving political change has somehow been ignored by many. In fact, without much fanfare, China has established a system of meritocracy or what can be described as ‘selection plus election’, where competent leaders are selected on the basis of performance and broad support through a vigorous process of screening, opinion surveys, internal evaluations and various types of election”. Weiwei said what Chinese leaders did to put their system right “is much in line with the Confucian tradition of meritocracy”.

“What China has been able to do, is to develop a leadership recruitment system that promotes merit across the entire political stratum. This leadership by merit is what now drives China’s super-fast economic growth”.

Okonkwo left so much to chew at 5th Annual Umunri Colloquium. His paper set a new challenge for the Igbo people as they work to redefine their leadership question. For the attendees, it was a different kind of engagement, one which elevated intellectual discourse at the colloquium, and fulfilled the thirst for deeper intellectual engagement on the place of the Igbo in contemporary Nigeria.

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