The state of contemporary Igbo nation – Part 2
Continued from yesterday
Despite our frustrations, we have shown strength in diversity more than any race in the world today. With all our wealth in the banking system taken from us and £20 handed to us after the war, we rebuilt our lives and a few decades later, we excelled in commerce and industries all over the country and beyond. Apart from dominating all the major markets in Nigeria and controlling trade in various sectors of the economy, there is hardly any country in the world without an Igbo man contributing positively to its GDP through trade and merchandise.
Umunnem, I make bold to say that we are one of the most enterprising races in the entire world. From the ashes of war, genocide, and destruction, we have built a dynamic and egalitarian society anchored on liberation from self-limitations, social justice, equity, dignity of labour, entrepreneurship, performance, and wealth creation.
However, as is taught by the sages who averred that virtue stands in the middle, human weaknesses are often either an overuse or underuse of strength. As a people, we are admittedly egalitarian. This is why we are often regarded as republican, and rightly so. It is for this same reason that some people often say that “Igbo enwero eze” (Igbo have no king). It would have been okay if “Igbo enwe eze” were a mere expression of this egalitarianism but alas, it has gradually become an idiom for a more fundamental problem within the Igbo nation – Crisis of Leadership.
After the curtain fell on the lives of such Igbo leaders as the great Zik of Africa and Ikemba, the wait for the emergence of an Igbo leader capable of unifying the whole Igbo nation continues. Because of this vacuum, the task of nurturing our narrative in line with the pace of change and the dynamism of our people has suffered neglect. Consequently, I must now turn my attention to the task of articulating the steps we must take to not only change our extant narrative but also enthrone the framework that can make our narrative adaptable to changes over time.
Changing our narrative
Umunnem, our narrative needs to change. We need to actively change the stories we tell about ourselves. We need to change the stories that others tell about us. This change of the collective narrative about the Igbo nation will happen when we imbibe what I call The Critical Four:
Competence in leadership
Reorientation on values
A culture of continuous improvement
Competence in leadership
Ladies and gentlemen, the biggest catalyst to positive growth and development of any race or nation is leadership. In today’s information economy, competence and knowledge are the two ingredients for revolutionary and inspiring leadership. One of the biggest issues confronting the Igbo race today is leadership. Who are we looking up to? Who are our mentors? Who is defining the values? Who is setting the path and charting the course?
I make bold to say, without prejudice to anyone here that Igbo are lagging behind in the kind of inspiring leadership that empowers our people. We are in a dynamic and fast changing world where everything is becoming knowledge based and technology driven. Brothers and sisters, we will continue to remain in the same circle with same songs and rhetoric if we do not start empowering people with knowledge and competence to lead us and show us the way.
It is sad that we have been unable to build on legacies of great Igbo leaders like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Emeka Ojukwu, Michael Okpara, Sam Mbakwe, and their contemporaries. As a matter of fact, we have slipped backward significantly and our pride of place has been undermined by enthronement of questionable characters in leadership.
Umunnem, we must be conscious to never sacrifice competence and knowledge on the altar of any kind of political expediency when choosing our leaders. The Igbo problems must be solved by ndi Igbo through leadership. We should never expect a man who speaks a different language, who doesn’t understand our culture, who grew up in Kano or Ogun State to solve our problems. Our solutions must come from within.
The truth of the matter of leadership is that Igbo occupy political leadership positions in our states and local governments, including our traditional rulership. As a collective, Igbo leadership can drive the change that we want to see. We owe it to ourselves to select leaders who are competent and are abreast with modern ways of doing things, of solving problems, of leading positive change in society. As the leadership guru, John Maxwell puts it, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”. Simply put, leadership must be about competence and knowledge.
Selecting the right leaders must be supported with inclusive participation that relies on our republican-ness to collectively hold our leaders accountable. It is through this collective assurance of accountability that we will live out
the ageless Igbo ethos of “igwe bu ike,” (unity is power).
Culture of continuous improvement
Next to leadership is imbibing the culture of continuous improvement. This is called Kaizen in Japanese and it is the culture that evolved Japan to become one of the most technologically advanced countries of the world today. Kaizen means change for the better and it is largely about ‘cutting waste’. It is about challenging the status quo. I am privileged to be one of the global champions for Kaizen.
We must seek ways of doing things differently and better. We must seek for knowledge and keep improving our skills and processes to get better and better. How do we train our children, do our business, build our houses, make our dishes, weave our baskets, etc. We must imbibe up-skilling and upgrading our level of practice in every respect. We must always upgrade our use of technology in solving our problems and making lives better. We must adopt prudence in our public spending.
We must eschew the spirit of otu odi na mbu, ka odi ugbua, ka o ga adigide rue mgbe ebighi ebi, (as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be).
My dear brothers and sisters, our value system and ethos as Ndi Igbo must be reviewed and upgraded. We must discard what no longer serves us and embrace a higher set of ideals. This recommendation is true for any society. In the past few decades, I must say, we have become what we are not. The celebration of criminality and the open embrace of ill-gotten wealth are alien to the traditional Igbo society. We must return to the values of placing character above commercial considerations. We must begin to interrogate source of wealth. We must begin to celebrate the right ideals of integrity, family, truth-telling, community, sacrifice, deferred gratification, education, and excellence.
To be continued tomorrow.
Valentine Ozigbo, a Nigerian business leader, philanthropist and the immediate past President and Group CEO of Transcorp Plc. delivered this text as keynote speech at the 2020 Summit of the Ohaneze Ndigbo Youth Wing on Saturday, December 12, 2020 at Nike Lake Resort, Enugu.