• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Re: Igbos, think home!

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 Chuks Oluigbo of BusinessDay has tickled my fancy and conscripted me into his very healthy and robust debate on the above subject matter. It is thoughtful of Oluigbo to have stimulated a debate in that regard. My entry behaviour in this treasured concept will be structured to rekindle our emotions, and doggedness which gave us wings to fly over victory resisting heights and mountains to surmount obstacles in landing our various fortunes and economic turnaround.

A retrospective incursion into what is widely known as the commerce and trading blaze of the Igbo is traceable to a small beginning instituted in the mid-15th century following the arrival of the Portuguese. The Niger coast, as previously known, played host to the sprawling business merchandise which took place between the African and European traders, long before the Dutch and the English decided to hoist their flag in our country. Though the initial commodity for trade centred on slaves, the dynamics of time and need shifted the focus to palm products and timber.

Business further peaked when the British eventually made it to our shores. The imperialist strategy of the British was to administer the Niger coast as a protectorate on southern Nigeria and the colonial office was detailed to oversee this latest acquisition. Igbo trading merchants became beneficiaries of the eventual diversification which the British introduced. Since then, it’s been like a never-ending race for the Igbos to deploy ideas and tact to rule their environment, given their ability to sell ice to Eskimos. This explains the incredible doggedness with which the Igbos bounced back in spite of the colossal loss they suffered during the civil war.

I identify with Oluigbo’s position that “given the stakes of the Igbo in their various host communities, they cannot possibly return home en-masse – permanently. It cannot and will not happen – not even for those Igbos living in the flashpoints of Northern Nigeria”. Practically speaking, that may not see the light of day, and far be it from any right-thinking person to advocate such. But the clarion call is tailored to sensitise our well-established Igbo brothers and sisters on the vitality of locating a measure of their fortune home so as to avail their kith and kin the opportunity of having paid jobs. These organised and blue-chip investors of Igbo extraction would have contributed extensively in depopulating the south-east unemployment market.

A south-easterner who has located a cable and household manufacturing firm in Agbara, Ogun State, cannot suddenly begin to dismantle machineries for relocation to the south-east at the promptings of his people. That, in my estimation, will negate the principle of one Nigeria, which the Igbos genuinely believe in and are seen to be practicing. Besides, factors like nearness to raw materials, as the case may be, may have influenced the decision to situate the cable factory at Ogun State. It will only be fair, therefore, that a little representation of that company in Agbara be replicated anywhere in the south-east to widen their leverage in checking unemployment just as it is happening in the company’s host state. After all, the former gave life to the chicken that is laying the golden egg. It will be foolhardy to wish away the truth that operating environment in one’s place of nativity will be more receptive than elsewhere.

Let me probe and pre-empt the mind of our eastern entrepreneurs by addressing the agitations and uncertainties of patronage. Not a few organised Igbo entrepreneurs, whose ventures are located in the East, are being extensively patronised by African businessmen from nearby countries – Cameroon, Gabon, Congo Democratic Republic, Ghana, et al. A well-designed effort to register a measure of our fortunes at home will predictably stimulate the influx of these African businessmen. If you display wares that are irresistible, people will look for you. If we claim to share a historical trait with the Israelis, we need to drive these traits home by repatriating a measure of our investment quota towards the social and economic wellbeing of our ancestral land as the Israelis do. It beats my imagination sometimes when I struggle to reconcile why most of our Igbo investors battle, in the face of obvious threat to life and outright rejection, to pitch their tent where they are not wanted.

Infrastructure or lack of it, as may have been bandied, should not be an inhibition in attaining this objective, else we will be driving against the popular parlance “where there is a will, there is a way”. The resilience which saw our entrepreneurs triumph over epileptic supply – and near absence – of energy and access roads to institute their virile legacies can be featured back home. We can attest to the amazement bordering on the occupation of Alaba International Market. It was hitherto a swampy neighbourhood overgrown with mangroves before Igbo businessmen invaded and conquered it for the habitation of their various business interests. They bothered less about bureaucratic bottlenecks prevalent in government business, which would have frustrated occupation. The south-east government, I believe, will be very receptive to their Igbo brothers’ cause, who desire to heed this clarion call, but a noble cause should not be confined to unpatriotic excuses. Private sector input in the onerous task of building egalitarian society cannot be over-emphasised. It will be a taboo for sons and daughters of the soil to receive hostilities or be ill-treated if they genuinely wish to make a change at home. I will, therefore, request them to perish that thought and make the necessary rapprochement for an eventful business climate in the entire south-east states.

Geometric Power Station, Osisioma in Aba, Abia State is set for commissioning; its timely intervention will permanently banish darkness in Aba, Nnewi and environs and continuously act as a veritable platform for our Igbo businessmen to latch on and inject life into their businesses.

I will humbly request Igbo businessmen who share in this aspiration and are genuinely desirous of putting smiles on their people’s faces to constantly congregate, in a replica of what obtains in the Indian Expatriates Day as Oluigbo rightly opined, for a possible way forward. Governors of south-east states will have their people to contend with if they are seen to be indifferent in embracing a people-oriented cause and I can say without fear of contradiction that such possibility is not anywhere in sight. Else the government of Abia State would not have made available several acres of land at Osisioma to some auto dealers of Igbo extraction who desired such facility to diversify their outlets.

The mood and the need of the moment crave for this business sense and as Igbos have variously done in the past, we can, if we put our minds to it.

 

IYKE OGBONNAYA

Ogbonnaya, a public affairs analyst, wrote in from Umuahia, Abia State 

 

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