The Igbo of the South Eastern part of Nigeria are very great people. More than any other socio-cultural grouping or ethnic nationality in the country, the Igbo are associated with trade and commerce. They are industrious and enterprising with entrepreneurial and unyielding spirit.
They are so commercial and business-minded that even the very illiterate ones in that region are ingenious when it comes to matters relating to business. In this respect, they are fast in thinking, smart in calculation and swift in dealing with intricate and even confusing business relationships.
Besides trade and commerce, the Igbo are among the top 10 brightest intellectuals to come out of Nigeria and, indeed, Africa. They are also among Nigeria’s best thinkers, inventors, and specialists in various fields of human activity. They are everywhere on the face of the earth and wherever an Igbo man is found, he is there by merit and/or personal efforts, not by any primordial considerations.
They are, indeed, a rare breed. But, in matters of politics, these people in all their smartness, ingenuity and high intellectual bent are a pitiable lot. They are the lowest political schemers, or so it seems. In particular, the political class in that region comes off easily as naïve, self-seeking and short-term opportunist incapable of exploiting the great resources of the region for the bigger picture.
The Igbo are not only rich, they are also well read; they are not only bold, but also audacious. Yet, they have not been able to harness all these to form a formidable block, be it political or economic, to make them not only competitive, but also great players in the affairs of the wider Nigerian society.
What is lacking here, unfortunately and regrettably, is a collaborative spirit and unity of purpose which other tribes in the country have used to position themselves in a way that has made them beautiful brides for foraging suitors in the country’s political calculations.
Unfolding events in the build-up to the upcoming general election in the country have exposed the Igbo and how not to play politics in a society ruled by ethnic and religious sentiments.
The most recent of these events, which is fundamental and critical in estimating the relevance of the Igbo in both present and future political calculations in Nigeria, is the endorsement of Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), by Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
Ohanaeze is the region’s apex socio-cultural organisation that binds the entire region together. It is the equivalent of Arewa Consultative Forum (AWF) and Afenifere in the Northern and Western parts of the country respectively. These organizations are the mouth-piece of their respective regions and their views, which are collectively taken, represent the views of everybody and are regarded as sacrosanct.
The outrage that followed the Ohanaeze’s endorsement of Atiku could only be likened to a wildfire and was more ferocious in Anambra State where the state government took time off governance schedule to tell the world, through a press conference, that they were not part of the endorsement.
In Igbo land, Enugu State is well regarded as the cultural home of the region, having served as the capital of that region from the colonial days. But Anambra stands out as the commercial, industrial and intellectual hub of the entire region. In this state , it is easy to get over 50 men that are much richer than some of the South Eastern states. This is also the home of the Great Zik of Africa and many other statesmen like Alex Ekwueme, Emeka Anyaoku, Charles Soludo, etc.
In the current dispensation, Peter Obi, former two-term no-nonsense governor of the state, is Atiku’s running mate. Obi governed Anambra State and left a legacy of prudence and discipline in governance. Infrastructure and education never had it good in Anambra until he mounted the saddle.
It beats as much as it confounds the imagination that it is the same Anambra that opposes this endorsement more than any other part of Igbo land. One had actually thought that the state would lead the campaign for an Obi vice presidency. But that is not happening.
Arguably, the Igbo man needs basic education in politicking, especially in a variegated society like Nigeria. There are ready lessons to learn. Besides incompetence and health issues, President Muhammadu Buhari is an ethnic bigot that should not lead a country like Nigeria, but his people are comfortable with him and are forcing the rest of us to like him willy nilly.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a highly cerebral pastor and professor of law, has been reduced to an errand boy who has no say in what happens or comes from the presidency, but his people are still clinging onto him simply because he is their own. In spite of everything, they still support and encourage him. That is politics oiled by collaboration.
Orji Uzo Kalu former governor of Abia State and Obiora Ozobu, a former Secretary General of Ohaneze,are vehement in condemning the Atiku endorsement, describing it as a hoax and personal invention of the President General of the organisation, Nnia Nwodo.
It is true that an average Igbo man is republican in nature and an ardent believer in self-determination. But those attributes can only serve in a narrow world of self-contentment. National and even international diplomacy, especially in matters of politics, demands sacrifice, accommodation and tolerance for the wider interest of all stakeholders and beneficiaries.
Perhaps, there is no better time than now for the Igbo nation to ‘wisen up’, accommodate and tolertate one another, and forge a united front to pursue common interest, realizing that the most vilified, excluded, neglected, misunderstood, envied and even hated Nigerian is an Igbo man.
Igbo people need to collaborate and, at this point, the wisdom of the ant is critical. The true value of collaboration is shown when the stakeholders can take stock of their individual objectives and each discovers a far improved outcome that would have been impossible to achieve alone.
Bernd Meyer is a professor at the faculty of Information Technology, University of Monash.He spends his working life considering ants and their collective decision-making skills and says these unique creatures have so much to teach us about collaboration to achieve a collective goal- keeping the colony. Like the ants, the Igbo need to collaborate to keep their colony- Igbo land.