• Monday, July 15, 2024
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Umahi, the Ibiam statue and allied matters

Umahi, the Ibiam statue and allied matters

Those criticising Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, for erecting the statue of Dr Akanu Ibiam in Abakaliki can only be likened to rogue preachers of any religion who quote sections of the Holy Book out of context just to advance their selfish ends. They are all guilty of confirmation bias.

What are their reasons? They ask whether a statue of Akanu Ibiam should be a priority issue for Ebonyi State at a time many youths of the state are risking death daily hawking all-what-not in busy traffic across the country. Then they question the economic value of such a statue and its impact on people’s living standard.

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The good argument on the surface. It is a moot point that just like many youths of Akwa Ibom and its sister state were renowned domestic staff before the intervention of Godswill Akpabio, Ebonyi youths today dominate the clan of traffic hawkers in most cities across Nigeria. I am also reliably informed that they play actively in the piracy business at Alaba International Market in Lagos. A Nollywood veteran told me in an interview last year that there is a community in Ebonyi State where the youths seem to be under oath that their only mission in Lagos is piracy. So, a timely intervention on the youth front by Umahi may yet reverse this ugly trend.
And there is no pretending about the fact that Ebonyi is in dire need of development on many fronts. Only last week, BD SUNDAY reported how superstition was holding back the development of the Mmahieze Salt Lake in Okposi-Okwu, a town in the state, into an industry that would utilise the brine from the lake to produce a salt that could sell in all parts of the country. Even Umahi himself admitted his state’s backwardness when he said in June this year that he was neither in support of the agitation for Biafra nor the call for restructuring of Nigeria because his state was not yet economically viable but totally dependent on the federal allocation for survival.
But then, that does not negate the other fact, which is that the unveiling of the Akanu Ibiam statue was not a stand-alone but a part of a whole. But like rogue preachers with egotistic intent, these critics have merely taken one verse in their Holy Book just to score a cheap point. How come they did not read that President Muhammadu Buhari also commissioned the 700m-long Dr Akanu Ibiam Twin Flyover Bridges over the African Trans-Sahara route running from Enugu to Cameroon during the visit? How come they did not read about the 14.5km federal road constructed by Umahi’s government which was also commissioned? And they also did not read that the president commissioned the Senator Offia Nwali Flyover and laid the foundation stone for Ebonyi City Mall and the President Muhammadu Buhari Flyover Bridge/Road Tunnel.

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In any case, does Dr Akanu Ibiam deserve such honour? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Already, he has the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, the Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana, Ebonyi State, the Francis Akanu Ibiam Stadium at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, among others, named after him. Does he deserve more? Yes. If megalomaniac governors are naming government buildings after their non-achieving daughters, then no honour is enough for a man of Akanu Ibiam’s status.
And who the hell was he? Well, Akanu Ibiam was the First Republic governor of Eastern Nigeria (December 1960 to January 1966). A great Igbo man of noble standing, Akanu Ibiam was among the first three Igbo university graduates, alongside Dr S. E. Onwu and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was received in Lagos in 1936 by the Igbo Union, an umbrella organisation for all the Igbo in Lagos, which had been formed earlier in 1934. The Igbo Union became Igbo Federal Union in 1944 and later, in 1948, it changed its name to Igbo State Union to accommodate many of the exclusive Igbo community or town associations.
While many writings on him highlight his political side, Akanu Ibiam was a distinguished medical missionary whose work in hospital service is well documented. Of course, he graduated with a medical degree from the University of St. Andrews, England, in 1934. It was in his role as a medical missionary of the Church of Scotland that he established Abiriba Hospitals (1936-1945) and later superintended mission hospitals at Itu and Uburu. I heard about Dr Akanu Ibiam National Ambulance as a primary schoolboy in the mid-to-late 1980s.
Ibiam played a key role, using his position as one of the six presidents of the World Council of Churches (WCC), in raising humanitarian aid and support for Biafrans during the civil war. Indeed, as a sign of protest against the British government’s support of the Nigerian Federal Government in that war, Ibiam returned his British knighthood and renounced his English name, Francis.
Dr Akanu Ibiam, whose father, Chief Ibiam Aka, was a traditional ruler of Unwana, later in life acceded to the traditional stool, taking the title of Eze Ogo Isiala I of Unwana and Osuji of Uburu. I consider myself privileged to have met him in person during his lifetime. As a flautist in my junior secondary school band in 1992, we were invited to play at a convocation ceremony of Abia State University, Uturu, at the time Ogbonnaya Onu, currently minister of science and technology, was the state governor. Afikpo was then still part of Abia State. It was a very old Eze Akanu Ibiam that gave the keynote speech. He died three years later, in 1995. There is even a legend that claims it was to honour Dr Ibiam that General Sani Abacha created Ebonyi State.
There are those whose grouse is not with the statue per se but with the personality that unveiled it. They argue that it was not right that President Buhari who has shown, through his body language and his deeds, that he does not particularly love the Igbo people should be the one to unveil the statue of a great Igbo son. The right person to do that honour, they argue, should have been someone like Nnia John Nwodo, president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
There may be a sense in the above argument. However, as long as politicians remain politicians, most of their actions would continue to be driven by the need to gain political capital, more so for a man like Umahi who, though in an opposition party, is desperate to be in the good books of the central government. Naming one of the flyover bridges he is building after Buhari was not enough, so the traditional rulers in his state and those of the entire South-East had to confer the president with two chieftaincy titles. Wow!
Over and above every other thing, the conferment of chieftaincy titles on Buhari has angered many Igbo brethren who are still very sore about Nigerian military’s Operation Python Dance II in the South-East and its aftermath, including the messy handling of the IPOB issued by the Federal Government. They have a right to their anger, but as Mark Anthony reminds us in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, ambition is made of sterner stuff. Umahi is simply working out his salvation in fear and trembling. Did you also hear he urged Buhari to run for a second term?