Assuming Igbos Return Their Businesses To Igboland, Would Nigeria and Nigerians Survive? By Kelechi Abonuyo


It wasn’t because of the Igbos, of southeast Nigeria, that the great author imagined a suitable title of a book: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger, from the colonial master’s perspective. Nay! Not at all.Another world class author, Ngozi Achebe, the author of ‘‘Onaedo – the Goldsmith’s  Daughter’’, told us some wonderful tales about how Igbos regard authority, on the one hand, and industry, on the other. ‘‘Our people did not want Eze. Eventually a compromise was reached.’’

In her fictional book, partly set in the 16th century, the community town crier roams the entire villages every night and announces to everyone, to the hearing of the King, that Abonani town accepts king but with limitations. He would have no power of life and death over anyone. He would rule by consensus. So the town crier reminds the king every night of his contract with Abonani that ‘‘their king did not have more powers than the people he ruled. The king’s power comes from the people and can be revoked at any time.”

That is, Abonani people do not tolerate nonsense from the King. If care is not taken, today is the last day of the king. We made him what he is; we, too, can unmake him. Our King, have you heard?

Abonani town crier carries metal gong to sound his warning diligently until an authoritarian Eze asks himself, ‘‘what sort of kingship is this. Would it not be better I relinquish’’.

The King of Abonani never has respite.

It is an error to say Igbo people know no king. Igbos, as represented by the people of Abonani, know King. Eze or Igwe is their name for King, but they despise his authority. From the Igbo titles of Nze, Ozo, Ichie, Oba and finally Eze/Igwe, Igbos ‘‘lay ambush’’ for their recipients with too much requirements.

These titles cost the earth. Recipients spend fortunes in order to acquire them. At the end, a recipient only has prestige and respect, but no authority. Igbos despise authority. They like a decentralised authority of Ndi-Ichie. Any time an Igbo boy-child is born, a king is born. His kingdom is that his small household, which he aspires to build and fend with all his might. Igboman wants freedom; he wants to acquire wealth and touch the sky. Part One!

The prevalent ‘‘push’’ and quest for breakthrough in establishing oneself amongst the Igbos are owed to this worldview of having no limitations and authority over oneself. So long as there is life, there is hope. And so they painstakingly grow their businesses, establishing a chain of apprentices. And wherever they go, where no one else dares, they re-establish themselves. They see opportunity in virtually everything. He is a shrewd entrepreneur. He is a survivor.

Instead of working for a King and an expansion of imperialism, they work for themselves.

In the form of Eneda – a skilled blacksmith and Onaedo’s father, we are privy to the entrepreneurship that the Igbo people are known for today. Eneda is wealthy and known throughout Olu na Igbo – their small world. He is a man who gains respect using his God-given talent or; to be more precise, talent from his Chi. Onaedo’s mother has a soap making business.

As you read this, welcome to Ibo made – also known as: Aba made! Welcome to Part Two – the peril of Nigeria.

No one can be too sure if it is due to hatred – an attempt to suppress a people, or shear folly. Nigerians deliberately shunned Ibo made goods, which would have helped transport Nigeria wholesomely from consumer to producer nation. China, which we once despised for sub-standard products, is a good example.

The best way to lead you on to read this part of article is to peripherally review Professor Pius Adesanmi’s article of October 17, 2014. He described his childhood world of 1970’s and 80’s in Isanlu, an Okun town in the old Kwara State, and also criticised severely the Nigerian state. In that town, there were the Hausa/Fulanis, who lived in Sabo area, from where they sold suya and fura da nono (only).

Then there was this ‘‘ambulant’’ Ghanaian, Kwaku or Mensah, who was a roaming cobbler in the neighbourhood. His wife, Akosua, sold rice and beans during recreation (break period) at school. But there was this Okoro – whatever his real name was, from Igbo land. Unlike others, he spoke the local dialect and standard Yoruba.

Of the three ‘‘settlerist migrant’’ personalities, Prof Adesanmi said of Okoro, ‘‘he was a quintessence of integration other Nigerians hardly ever achieve.’’ On top of that, ‘‘Okoro owned the only trading store in town.’’

In order to provide insight into Igboman’s strong grip of the middle class economy in Nigeria, the same way Asians mostly hold it in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, Prof Adesanmi brought comic relief to his childhood description.

He says, ‘‘Okoro was the villagers’ sole access to manufactured goods: clothes, maths set, exercise books, whot cards, ludo boards, kerosene stoves, sardines, geisha, glucose, Wembley 4 soccer balls, skull slip-on shoes for women, candles, asepso, tetramosol, nku cream, elephant blue detergent, tomapep, shelltox, knitting needles, name it! Okoro’s store was the world: miniature globalization in that little corner of Africa………’’.

You may wish to laugh out loud on this until you hear of Prof’s addendum to this. For instance, he adds, ‘‘Okoro’s customers always expected him to have two versions of every item he sold: the original and the fake.’’

According to him, based on local lore, original articles came from Europe and America then (and China now). But the fake was manufactured in Igboland by ‘‘ingenuous folks capable of reproducing any industrial good with the speed of lightening.’’ Gbam!

This was the same thing that China, India, Indonesia, Taiwan and even the western countries did to survive their bad economies but of which Nigeria ignored at its own peril. Gbam!

I can now join professor Adesanmi to welcome you to the legend of ‘‘Ibo made’’ – in Nigeria’s national imaginary, which came to represent all sorts of things, including inferior or cheap article – the type of good you ‘‘bought grudgingly because you couldn’t afford the real deal’’.

If something isn’t wrong in the head of Nigeria, at least on its present structure, then tell me something else. Today most of the goods consumed in the western world are manufactured in some Asian countries – the once-upon-a-time third world economy, where they create job and therefore quell social unrest. The reason is that, over time, their manufacturing capabilities – including supply chain management, quality, technical knowhow and skill transfer, firmed up to match the developed world’s specifications. In Nigeria, only the Igbos could have represented this virtue.

And so, Prof says, ‘‘Ibo made” is the most explicit metaphor for the Nigerian tragedy. It explains why we abandoned mal-development and underdevelopment for zero development. It is an unserious country that expects development by disparaging and killing the industry, inventiveness, and technological savvy of an entire segment of its population, socializing generation after generation of her people into a mental universe where every candle or pencil made in Aba is deemed inferior because it is “Ibo made”. Neither the obtuse rulers at the centre nor the Governors of the respective “Ibo made” states were ever imaginative enough to develop “Ibo made” into a full scale national asset.’’ Another gbam! In fact gbamer than before.

Igbos know why they are ‘‘tall’’ in Nigeria. In order to survive and stand tall in the comity of nations, Nigeria must come to terms with this ability of an Igboman. One of the many ways the ‘‘Ibo haters’’ orchestrated the killing of Igboman’s ingenuity is the deactivation of seaports in the south-south region and the seeming lack of interest in southeast. Those haters simply want a paradigm shift.

While Igbos relapsed with political anaesthetic, today the nut of manufacturing sector in Nigeria lies in Lagos-Agbara-Ogun axis, manned by the Chinese, Indians and Lebanese. Not any longer by an Igboman, not even a Nigerian of any type. And Nigeria is paying dearly for it. But if the seed of manufacturing still remains in Aba, and I believe it does, Igbos can still look inwards and recreate themselves. The time is now, as the momentum rages on. The momentum will continue to rage because Nigeria, as presently constituted with all the authority at the centre – over and above Igboman, does not work for the Igbos.

Perhaps this is why Professor Adesanmi called Nigeria a funny country. He says, ‘‘Nigeria is truly a funny country. Her ports are permanently congested because she imports everything from wooden tooth picks to wooden rulers. If air could be imported, Nigeria would import it. Yet, half the things clogging her ports used to be made in Aba and other places in the east. Nigeria killed rather than develop those manufacturing potentials.

What Nigeria rejected as “Ibo made”, our friends in China took to unimaginable levels. Now, foolish and ostentatious Nigerians who consider buying “Ibo made” an insult buy stuff that are even inferior to “Ibo made” from China! The Chinese, not being as foolish as we are, flood Nigeria with every imaginable fake and pirated product under the sun. Nigerians buy everything from fake Louis Vuitton products to fake tooth picks from China.’’ Of course it’s no longer news that Nigeria is now importing rubber rice.

Anyway, before I end this piece, Professor Adesanmi, whoever you are, wherever you are, I thank you for that article of October 17, 2014, where you showed your dauntless faith in Ibo made. I thank, too, your Igbo friend – the one who lives in France, who inspired that article. I don’t bother he even dismissed you impatiently by saying, ‘‘Pius, abeg, leave matter jare’’ to show his lack of trust in Ibo made.

Let’s leave Nigerian matter for now jare. Yours sincerely, Igbo man.

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Categories: Opinion

15 replies

  1. You are an expert writer. So smooth


  2. Nice article. I love it. I am impressed. I will share it with friends.


  3. If igbos relocate their businesses to igno land, who will buy what they sell there


  4. The world will buy it, just like the way Chinese are flooding the Nigerian market


  5. “What do the Igbos want?”,Buhari asked during his media chat.

    Obi Nwakamma answers him.

    And now, Obi Nwakanma, a Poet, journalist, biographer and literary critic, has written an article in answer to the question, “What do the Igbos want?”


    In Biafra, under three years, they were making their own rockets and calculating its distances; distilling their own oil and making aviation fuel, creating in their Chemical and Biological laboratories, new cures for diseases like Cholera, shaping their own spare parts, and turning the entire East into a vast workshop, as Ojukwu put it.

    At the end of the war, the Ukpabi Asika regime brought together these Biafran scientists and set up PRODA. The initiative led, in the first five years between 1970-1975 under the late Prof. Gordian Ezekwe and Mang Ndukwe, to designs of industrial machinery models and prototypes for the East Central State Industrial Masterplan, which remain undeveloped even today. The Murtala/Obasanjo regime took over PRODA in 1975 by decree, starved it of funds, and basically destroyed its aims.

    Secondly, Federal government policies centralized all potentials for innovation and entrepreneurship. Before 1983, states had their Ministries of Trade and Industry. These were charged with local business registration, trade, and investment promotion, and so on. But today in Nigeria, if you wish to do any business, you’d have to go to Abuja (it used to be Lagos) to register under the Corporate Affairs Commission. It used to be that local business registration was state and municipal functions. The concentration of the leverage for trade utterly limited Igbo entrepreneurs, particularly in the era of import licensing, once your quota was exhausted, you could not do business.

    This affected the old Igbo money in Aba and Onitsha, who were the arrow-heads of innovation and traditional partners in the advance of Igbo industrial economy. It is remarkable that as at 1985, a least by a book published by the Oxford Economist Tom Forrest in 1980, The Advance of African Capital, the Igbo had the highest investment in machine tools industries in all of Africa, and the highest depth of investment in rural, cottage industries. In his prediction in 1980, if that rate of investment continued, according to Forrest in 1980, the Igbo part of Africa would accomplish an industrial revolution by 1987. Now, by 1983/85, Federal government policies helped to dismantle the growth of indigenous Igbo Industry through its targeted national economic policies. As I have said, there is a corollary between industrial development and innovation.

    Thirdly, the severe, strategic staunching of huge capital in-flow into the East starved Igbo businesses and institutions of the capacity to utilize or even expand their capacities. There were no strategic Federal Capital projects in the East. There were no huge infrastructural investments in the East. The last major Federal government investment in Igbo land was the Niger Bridge which was commissioned in 1966. Any region starved of government funds experiences catatony and attrition. Private capital is often not enough to create the kind of synergy necessary for innovation. Rather than invest in the East, from 1970 to date, the Federal government has strategically closed down every capacity for technological advancement in the East and stripped that region of its capacity.

    By 1966, the Eastern Nigerian Gas masterplan had been completed under Okpara. But in its review of a Nigeria gas masterplan, the Federal government strategically circumvented the East. Oil and Gas are under Federal oversight. The Trans-Amadi to Aba Industrial Gas network/linkage had been completed in 1966, to pipe gas from Port-Harcourt to Aba. The Federal government let that go into abeyance and uprooted the already reticulated pipes. The East was denied access to energy with the destruction of the Power stations during the war.

    The Mbakwe government sought to remedy this by embarking on two highly critical area of investment necessary for industrial life: the 5 Zonal water projects, which were 75 completed by 1983, and set for commissioning in 1984, which was to supply clean water for domestic and industrial use to all parts of the old Imo state, and the Amaraku and Izombe Power stations, under the Imo Rural Electrification Project. These were the first ever massive independent power projects ever carried out by any state government in Nigeria which would have made significant part of Igbo land energy independent today. The supply of daily electricity was possible in Imo as at 1984. The Amaraku station had come on stream, and the Izombe Gas station was underway, when Buhari and his men struck.

    The first order of business under the Buhari govt in January 1984, was to declare all that investment by Mbakwe “white elephant projects.” They were abandoned, and left to decay.

    Ground had already been acquired and cleared on the Umuahia-Okigwe road to commence work by the South Korean Auto firm, Hyundai, under a partnership with Imo for the Hyundai Assembly plant in Umuahia, to cater to a West African market. The first order of business under the Buhari government in January 1984, was to declare all that investment by Mbakwe “white elephant projects.” They were abandoned, and left to decay. The equipment at the Amaraku power station was later sold in parts by Joe Aneke during Abacha’s government. Some of the industries like the Paint and Resins company, and the Aluminium Extrusion plant in Inyishi were privatized, and sold. Projects like the massive Ezinachi Clay & Brick works at Okigwe are at various stages of decay, as memorial to all that effort.

    Forthly, you may not remember but Odumegwu Ojukwu founded and opened the first Nigerian University of Technology – the University of Technology Port-Harcourt in 1967, under the leadership of prof. Kenneth Dike. He had also compelled Shell to establish the First Petroleum Technology Training Institute in Port-Harcourt in 1966. All these were dismantled. The PTI was take from Port-Harcourt to Warri, while University of Tech, P/H was reduced to a campus of UNN, until 1975, when it became Uniport. You will recall that for years, up till 1981, the only institutions of higher learning in Central Eastern Nigeria were the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, IMT Enugu and Alvan Ikoku College of Ed, in Owerri. There is no innovation without centers of strategic research.

    Mbakwe and Jim Nwobodo changed all that in 1981, when they pushed through their various states Assembly, the bills establishing the old Anambra State Univ. of Tech (ASUTHECH), under the presidency of Kenneth Dike, and the IMOSU with its five campuses under the presidency of Prof MJC Echeruo. The master plan for these universities as epicenters of research and innovation in the East were effectively grounded with the second coming of the military in 1984, and the diminution of their mission through underfunding, etc. As I have said, I have given you the very short version. After a brief glimpse of light between 1979-83, Igbo land witnessed the highest form of attrition from 1983- date, and the destruction of the efforts of its public leadership to restore it to its feet has been strategic.

    Some have been intimidated, and the Igbo themselves have grown very cynical from that experience of deep alienation from Nigeria. I think you should be a little less cynical of Igbo attempts to re-situate themselves in the Nigerian federation: starved of funds, starved of investments, subjected to regulatory strictures from a powerful central government which sees the East in adversarial terms, and often threatened, the Igbo themselves grew cynical of it all. You may recall, the first move by the governors of the former Eastern Region to meet under the aegis of the old Eastern Region’s Governors Conference in 1999, was basically checkmated by Obasanjo who threatened them after they called for confederation in response to the Sharia issue in the North.

    Their attempts to establish liaison offices in Enugu and create a regional partnership was considered very threatening by the federal government under Obasanjo, that not too long after, they abandoned that move, and that was it. If people cannot be allowed to organize for the good of their constituents, then it only means one thing: it is not in the interest of certain vested interests in Nigeria for a return of a common ground in the Eastern part of Nigeria because establishing that kind of common ground threatens the balance of power. It is even immaterial if such a common ground leads to Nigeria’s ultimate benefit. There are people who just find the idea of a common, progressive partnership of the old Eastern Region threatening to their own long term interests. This is precisely what is going on – its undercurrent. This of course cannot be permitted to go on forever. A generation arises which often says, “No! in Thunder.”

    The Trans-Amadi to Aba Industrial Gas network/linkage had been completed in 1966, to pipe gas from Port Harcourt to Aba. The FG let that go into abeyance and uprooted the already reticulated pipes.

    Igbo population is quite huge, and people who truly know understand that the Igbo constitute the single largest ethnic nation in Nigeria. Much has been made about how this so-called “small” Igbo land space could accommodate the vast Igbo population. But People also forget that Igbo land accommodated Igbo who fled from everywhere else in 1967. So, the question of whether Igbo land is large enough to contain the Igbo is a non-issue. In any case, Biafra is not only the land of the Igbo. It goes far beyond Igbo land. But even for the sake of building scenarios, we stick to Igbo land alone – the great Igbo cities of Enugu, Port-Harcourt, Owerri, Aba, Onitsha, Asaba, Abakaliki, Umuahia, Awka and Onitsha are yet to be reach even 30% of their capacities.

    New arteries can be built, facilities expanded; there are innovative ways of moving populations through new transportation platforms -underneath, above, on the surface, and by waterways. The East of Nigeria has one of the most complex and connected, and largely disused system of natural river waterways in the world. New, ecologically habitable towns can be expanded to form new cities from the Grade A Townships – Agbor, Obiaruku, Aboh, Oguta, Mgbidi, Orlu, Ihiala, Amawbia/Ekwuluobia, Elele/Ahoada, Owerrinta, Bonny, Asa, Arochukwu, Afikpo, Okigwe, and so on. The Igbo will be fine. The Japanese and the Dutch, for example, have proved that there are innovative ways of using constricted space.

    As for the economy: it is supply and demand. New economic policies will integrated Igbo economy to the central West African and West African Markets. The Igbo will create a new vast export network, unhindered by idiotic economic and foreign policies. The re-activation of the PH port systems will for e.g. open the closed economic corridor once and for all to global trade. As anybody knows, it might take a fast train no more than 45 minutes to move goods from the Warri or Sapele ports to Aba and even in less time to Onitsha. As Diette Spiff once observed while playing golf at Oguta, all it would take to connect Warri and Oguta is just a long bridge, and the vast economic movement will commence between Warri and its traditional trading areas of Onitsha and the rest of the East.

    The quantum of economic activity will see the growth of that corridor between Aba-Oguta- Obiaruku down to Warri as the crow flies. The impact of trade between the Calabar ports and Aba will explode. In fact, the old trading stations along the Qua-Iboe River (the Cross River) at Arochukwu, Afikpo, down to Oron and Mamfe in the Cameroons will explode and create new prosperity and new opportunities. I am giving the short version. So, the Igbo will be alright. They would simply be just able to define their own development strategies, deploy their highly trained manpower currently wasting unutilized, and the basis of its vast middle class will create new consumers, and generate an internal energy that will thrive on Igbo innovation, industry, and know-how, which Nigeria currently suppresses. This is exactly one very possible scenario.

    So, Tanko Yakassi is wrong. May be if the Igbo leave Kano, the Emir will no longer need to buy his bulb from an Igbo trader in Kano. He will have to buy it either from an Hausa, a Fulani, a Lebanese, or some such person. But those will have to come to Igbo land to buy it first before selling to the Emir. There was a time when all of West Africa came to Onitsha or Aba to buy and trade because it was safe, and those cities were the largest market emporia in the continent. People came from as far away as the Congo to buy stuff in Aba and sell in the Congo. It could happen again, only this time on a vaster, more controlled scale. The network of Igbo global trade will not stop if they left Nigeria. In fact, they will have more access to an indigenous credit system that would expand that trade, currently unobtainable and unavailable today to them, because Nigeria makes it impossible for Igbo business to grow through all kinds of restrictions strategically imposed on it, including port restrictions.

    However, although I do think that the Igbo would do quite well alone, they could do a lot better with Nigeria, if the conditions are right. This agitation is for the conditions to be made right; for Nigeria and its political and economic policies to stop being a wedge on Igbo aspirations. And Igbo aspiration is quite simple: to match the rest of the developed world inch by every inch, and not to be held down by the Nigerian millstone of corruption, inefficiency, and inferiority. The Igbo think that control of their public policies on education, research and innovation, economic and monetary policies, and recruitment, control and deployment of its own work force both in public and private sectors will give them the leverage they need to build a coherent and civilized society.

    They point to the example of Biafra, where under three years, they were making their own rockets and calculating its distances; distilling their own oil and making aviation fuel, creating in their Chemical and Biological laboratories, new cures for diseases like Cholera, shaping their own spare parts, and turning the entire East into a vast workshop, as Ojukwu put it, while Nigeria was busy doing owambe, importing even toothpick, and creating new wartime millionaires from corrupt contracting systems by a powerful oligopoly. It is a fallacy much driven by ignorance that Igbo will not thrive and that Igbo land will not accommodate Igbo population if they leave. That is not true. There is no scientific basis for it.

    The dynamics of human movement will take great care of all that. It’s a lame excuse. What people who wish for Nigeria to stay together should do is not to make such puerile statements, because it is meaningless. What we should all do is to find the strategic means of containing Igbo discontent by LISTENING to the Igbo, and seeking peaceful and productive ways of fully freeing their energy to instigate growth both of themselves and of Nigeria within Nigeria for everyone’s benefit. Threatening them will not work. It has never worked, and it is important to understand a bit of Igbo cultural psychology: the more you threaten him, the more the Igbo person digs in very stubbornly. Igbo, with a long tradition of diplomacy, thrive on consensus not on threat of the use of force, or the like.

    Frankly, those who continue to think that the Igbo have no options are yet to understand the complexity of this movement as we speak. They still look at the surface of events while the train is revving and about to leave the station. We need to work very carefully on this issue. I myself, I prefer Nigeria. I like its color of many peoples and cultures. That in itself is the very condition for growth and regeneration. A single Igbo nation may be more prosperous, but will be less interesting, and that is the more valid argument.

    By Obi Nwakanma


  6. God bless you brother. I am impressed


  7. I must say I admire not only your style of writing but your thought process too. Your write-ups (so long as you do not support Buhari…:-) ) are educative, inspiring and thought provoking.


  8. How many people will buy form them there


  9. Nevertheless I enjoyed reading your write up


  10. Yours sincerely, Igbo man. Lol


  11. Mmmmmmh!


  12. This man your own is mightier than many swords. You are dangerous


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