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Cheta Nwanze: On the Ohanaeze communique

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It was a bit alarming reading the kind of rhetoric that came from Ohanaeze Youth over the weekend about Nigeria ceasing to exist, especially when you consider that the capacity to carry out such a threat doesn’t exist in the South-East.

But as usual, the media went for the story that would guarantee a reaction (many followed Vanguard’s lead), and ignore the one that had more substance. A more mature statement, which was issued by the elders of Ohanaeze, was made the same day. I’ve taken the liberty to upload it here, and reading it was a bit of a relief.

I’m glad that their first point of concern was about insecurity. Remember that Ohanaeze covers five South-East and two South-South states, and the recent uptick in insecurity that a lot is being made about in the region is worst in Delta and Rivers states.

I’m also glad that Ohanaeze’s elders devoted the bulk of their statement to the economy and the Alaigbo Stabilisation Fund, something which is being worked on in conjunction with the Society of Igbo Professionals. This is the way forward, and this is what nd? Igbo should be focusing our energies on. The key issue is the economy, and there is no way we can survive as a people if the economy keeps getting worse. For nd? Igbo, it is important as we cannot do it without the South-South.

There were three other themes that the Ohanaeze statement focused on, and of these the most important is education. A lot has to be done to improve education in Nigeria, but this being Ohanaeze, the focus has to be on ani nd? Igbo. How do we make sure that we build solid links to the best education methods globally such that even the poorest child in the smallest hamlet na ala Igbo has access? For me, the answer is in tech infrastructure, but that is a technical discussion for another day.

Then there was power-sharing & restructuring, and finally Igbo presidency. Here is where things began to get, funny. From my point of view, you cannot have both given the direction that Nigeria has gone. You have to choose one of these and chase it with all your strength, and for ala Igbo to not just survive, but thrive, what we need is devolved powers. The quest for Igbo presidency is a hiding to nothing, and as the experiences of the North, South-South, and even South-West prove, having the presidency only gives a feel-good factor for the political elite of whatever region, nothing gets down to the man on the street, which should be the concern of Ohanaeze.

It worries me that Ohanaeze seems detached from what the bulk of young people of Igbo extraction seem to want (I’ve spoken with many both online and offline), which is a devolved Nigeria in which they can do business without having to worry about politics. It worries me because nd? Igbo are not a hierarchical people, we are a collegiate people, and as long as our political class keep pushing an agenda that was reached without consensus and without political backing, they will keep losing the support of the people, and a 3% turnout in last weekend’s by-election in Abia shows it. What Ohanaeze should focus the bulk of its attention on is the ASF, and on reaching out to groups in other regions who have recognised that Nigeria’s decline is terminal unless we restructure. The continued focus of attention on an increasingly weak centre in a country where the resources that give the centre its power are reducing is a hiding to nothing.

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Cheta Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence

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