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Uzodimma advocates national unity at Iwuanyanwu’s 80th birthday lecture

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Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State has advised the Igbo not to be tired of pursuing national unity in Nigeria as their past and current antecedents indicate they have always shown the way for others to follow as regards a united country.

The Governor spoke Saturday at the Concorde Hotel Owerri at a lecture organised by Imo State Correspondents’ Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in honour of Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu’s 80th birthday.

The theme of the lecture delivered by immediate past President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, Chief John Nnia Nwodo is ‘Igbo Quest for Nigeria’s Unity.’

In his remarks at the lecture that looked like a mini conference because of the presence of leaders of ethnic nationality groups in Nigeria, Governor Uzodimma said the Igbo have demonstrated fidelity in the Project Nigeria, both in the past and now, hence it is not in doubt they love Nigeria passionately and will always love to be part and parcel of the country.

Governor Uzodimma who described the theme of the lecture as apt and cogent said he was confident the lecturer would do justice to it.

He referred the audience to the thought he espoused in his book – Reflections on Igbo Question – and insisted that what the Igbo have in abundance in terms of skills in different spheres of human endeavour they lack in the power of negotiation.

” I will begin by recalling that the lecture topic resonates with my latest book – Reflections on the Igbo question. In the book, I set out to showcase the numerous contributions of Ndigbo to national unity while interrogating the challenges they face in their quest for a just, fair and equitable Nigeria.”

Governor Uzodimma explained that past and present day Igbo leaders like the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and the celebrant, Chief Iwuanyanwu believed and still believe in the unity of Nigeria, and that the experience from the Civil War which affected the Igbo adversely as well as the impact of the on going war between Russia and  Ukraine does not suggest that the path of violence to achieve a set goal by any group should be a better option to adopt.

Governor Uzodimma explained: “Let me submit that the truth of the matter is that in spite of obvious misinterpretations and misrepresentations, Igbos love Nigeria passionately and the evidence is overwhelming. There is no part of Nigeria, no matter how remote, where you will not find Igbos living happily with their host communities while contributing to the growth and development of the area. I often ask this question: Can a man live in a land he loathes? Can a man feel at home in a land he abhors? Will the gods of a land allow the business of a man to thrive in a land he does not wish well? I believe the answers to these questions are obvious, CAPITAL NOS. You can now fill in the gaps for the Igbos.

“Since 2011, when I was elected to the Senate, I have taken time to explore this topic and the complexities inherent in them. I have had cause not only to interrogate the question of suspicion among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria but also the issues that gave rise to it. This is against the backdrop of the fact that naturally the ordinary Nigerian does not have a problem living and working together for the peace and progress of the country. My findings are contained in my book, which I referred to earlier. The conclusion is that the Igbos love Nigeria, fervently; with all their hearts and all their souls and with all their might as well. However, by an inexplicable irony, the Igbos somehow believes that Nigeria and Nigerians do not reciprocate this love, at least not with the same passion. This is the paradox that has continued to define the Igbo quest for national unity.

“What the Igbos seek from the country is accommodation, not domination. What they seek is acceptance and not rejection. What they seek is friendship and brotherhood, and they are also willing and able to offer the same. There is sufficient and irrevocable evidence from Nigerian history that Igbo leaders have never been found wanting in advocacy, backed by action, for Nigeria’s unity.

“Let us briefly examine and refresh some of the issues leading to Nigeria’s Independence in 1960. The NCNC led by our own Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (Owelle of Onitsha and Zik of Africa) opposed the self -determination motion by Western legislators in 1957. He wanted a united Nigeria and not a fragmented one. If NCNC had allowed that motion to sail through, we wouldn’t have had what is today called Nigeria both in identity and geography. By patiently waiting for the North to be ready, NCNC led by a patriotic Igbo man saved the day. Again, during the Western Nigerian crisis in the early days of independence, it fell on Azikiwe and other nationalists to provide the stability needed for Nigeria to remain together.

“Even before that, Azikiwe had through sheer patriotic zeal, conceded to Alhaji Tafawa Balewa of NPC when it came to the formation of the National Government in 1959. Because the NPC would not muster enough majorities to single-handedly form the government, it turned to Zik’s NCNC for support. Zik could have turned to AG to form the government and become the Prime Minister, but he did not. Instead, he accepted NPC’s proposal which saw him playing a secondary role as the ceremonial President – instead of being the Prime Minister. This was because Zik reasoned correctly that a national government of only the South was a recipe for disintegration. That was a great sacrifice for national cohesion. That was nationalism at its peak.

“Deriving from my earlier submission that you cannot live in a land that you don’t love, let me recall that long before independence, Igbos had settled in every part of Nigeria, North, South West and South. Igbos practically built Port – Harcourt, even if it pleases some people to vainly try to rewrite history. Prominent Igbos like the same Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu, General Ike Nwachukwu and a lot of others were born in the North, by their parents who settled there as their home. I don’t want to mention Lagos and the developmental roles Igbos have played and continue to play there. But suffice it to say that there exist many Igbos in Lagos whose first language is Yoruba because they have accepted that place as their home.

“Indeed, throughout the 774 local government areas of the country, from Zungeru to Owo and from Akwanga to Ahoada, Igbos are found there in their numbers. In most cases, after the indigenous population, the second largest ethnic group in any city outside Igboland are Igbos. What other evidence do we need to authenticate our Nigerianess and our faith in the country called Nigeria?

“As I said earlier, there is no part of Nigeria today, even the remotest parts that you won’t find Igbos in large numbers engaged in commerce and sundry economic activities, thereby contributing to the growth of the nation, adding value to the economy of the states they reside in and blending with their hosts. So, if the demographic spread is a good index for measuring the confidence of ethnic nationalities in a united Nigeria, and it is, then Ndigbo will most likely rank as the number one ethnic nationality that has unfettered confidence in a united Nigeria. This is for the simple commonsensical reason that no man will make a home out of the land that he does not love or wish well.

“In my book, ‘Reflections on the Igbo Question,’ I categorically declared that the Igbo question is actually the story of the Igbo in project Nigeria and their patriotic and fervent desire for a country that offers them an unfettered space for self-actualization and identity as well. But, in another way, it means that Ndigbo have always had an unflinching faith in the unity of Nigeria because they believe that the vast geographical territory and resources and opportunities Nigeria offers are capable of providing that space.

“Actually, the question that ought to dominate the national space is not whether the Igbos love Nigeria or for that matter, whether they believe in a United Nigeria, but whether they have been offered that deserved and desired accommodation.

:While I would rather that we focus on the future, it is also necessary for us to reflect on what has kept the Igbo question recurring. In my book as mentioned earlier, I traced our current travails to the civil war.

“I recalled how Igbos were at the commanding heights of the military, academia, sports and what have you, before the outbreak of the war. However, by an unsavoury twist of fate, playing out with the vicissitudes of several other factors, including fall outs from conspiracies and counter conspiracies, Igbos became victims of national intrigues and socio-economic brutalization. This is my own summary of the events leading to the civil war and its aftermath.

“But, in spite of the crushing effects of the civil war and the hostile official policies that followed, Igbos, like the biblical dry bones, managed to rise again. Yes, the Igbos rose from the ashes of the civil war to embrace Nigeria again, spreading all over her space, to live and let’s live.

“In fact, the resurgence of the Igbo man after those harsh policies more than anything espoused the courageous and resilient spirit of the race. They derive strength from affliction and blossom in an environment considered hostile and unconducive.

“With a history of afflictions resulting from an ill-conceived war, the strong desire of Ndigbo for a Nigeria of their dream did not wane. In spite of the brutality and huge losses they experienced, Igbos returned to Nigeria, immediately after the war and embraced everyone as though nothing happened. What does that tell us? It is a confirmation of the indispensable fact that Igbos do not intend to leave. They fully recognise that Nigeria is the only country they have and they are not going anywhere, just as they will not allow any person or groups of persons to push them out of the country they call their own.

“However, I must admit that as a race we have our flaws. When we reflect on where the rain started beating us, we will come to the inevitable conclusion that we have made some mistakes, more from the heart than from the head. Because, we trust easily; because we are quick to make friends, etc. But, the greatest of all is that we are weak in negotiations. We are often not as diplomatic as we ought to be. Perhaps our greatest bane is the “Nzogbu Nzogbu, Enyimba” spirit in all of us. This spirit probably deludes us into believing that we can do it all alone or into hoping that someday “manna” will fall from heaven and give us the day.

“In the book already referred to, I made it clear that our desire for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction can only be accomplished through negotiated agreements as no one ethnic group can produce the president of Nigeria without the support of the other ethnic groups. Sadly, because we appear deficient in negotiation skills, we have not made much headway in this regard. Our poor outing in the last party primaries of the two major political parties speaks volumes in this regard. The apparent lack of understanding, cooperation or unity amongst the candidates from the South-East may also have played a role in the poor outing.

“This contrasts with what happened in 1992, when the man we are celebrating today, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, flew the flag of Ndigbo to contest the presidential primaries of the National Republican Convention (UNCP). I felt proud as an Igbo man as I watched him transverse the various parts of Nigeria canvassing votes and marshalling his plans for the country. Although we had other Igbos who showed interest, Chief Iwuanyanwu was remarkable because he showed us the way to pursue our aspirations in the project Nigeria.”

Governor Uzodimma who described the celebrant as a great son and leader, congratulated Chief Iwuanyanwu for all he did to bring Igbo and Nigeria into international reckoning through his politics, business relationship, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, sports, and mentoring of men and women, added, “We are here to celebrate our leader, mentor and proud son of Igbo land. Indeed, we have come to celebrate someone truly deserving of being celebrated and to honour someone worthy of honour.”

His words: “Getting to the ripe age of 80 years (or the 8th floor as we call it) is a blessing, but staying strong, lucid and articulate at 80 is a special grace that can only come from God. I am not surprised that Chief Iwuanyanwu has been so blessed and gifted by the Almighty because most of his life has been dedicated to the service of God and humanity. Ahaejiagamba, I appreciate and congratulate you for being a role model in humility, philanthropy and humanity.

“Judging from the celebrant’s vast network of friends, partners and associates gained over decades of involvement in business and politics, I am not surprised by the array of personalities who have come from across the length and breadth of the country to honour this jewel of Igboland and pride of Nigeria.  I have seen some dignitaries from various ethnic nationality organisations, such as AFENIFERE, AREWA, PANDEF, MIDDLE BELT FORUM and, of course, OHANAEZE NDIGBO. Indeed, it will not be totally out of place to describe this auspicious gathering as a mini-national conference.

“We are talking of a man who has spent over 50 years of his life preaching good neighbourliness, love and understanding among the different ethnic groups that make up Nigeria. So, when we come to celebrate him and also use the auspicious event to discuss the lingering topic of Nigerian unity, particularly as it affects Igbos, I believe it can pass for a mini national conference. And this is more so because the discourse on Igbos and national unity has been recurring from pre-independence days to the present day. It is also a subject that continues to generate intense national interest, controversy and misinterpretations….

“The foregoing explains why I am both excited and encouraged that at 80, Chief Iwuanyanwu has continued to seek answers to the Igbo question through his active participation in the affairs of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, of which he is a founding member. Without a doubt, Chief Iwuanyanwu has always defended the legitimate quest by Ndigbo to have a fair deal in Nigeria.

“As elders who have seen the devastating and debilitating effects of war, we would never subscribe to violence as a means of getting justice and equity. When we watch on our TV sets the gory pictures emanating from Ukraine and Russia; when we see emaciating children in Syria and Yemen; when we behold the carcasses of war in South Sudan, Iraq and Libya, nobody will need anybody to tell us that peace is preferable to war and that negotiation is always better than violence. That is why I keep advising our youths to eschew violence and toe the path of peace. Those promoting violence in whatever form as a means of getting what we desire are not helping the Igbo course. Like I have always said, Ndigbo need Nigeria just as Nigeria needs us. In that context, therefore, it is our responsibility to explore more peaceful and democratic means of resolving the challenges associated with our clamour for justice and equity.

“Ladies and gentlemen, as we ponder on the Igbo Question, let me make it clear, that we can only reap what we plant. When we plant peace and love as we are currently doing across Nigeria, we shall find that which we earnestly seek. We should take opportunities of the vast space called Nigeria to unleash our God-given talents for the attainment of our goals. What we seek may be delayed, but it can never be denied, for as long as we come to equity with clean hands.”

In his lecture, Chief Nwodo went memory lane to highlight the sacrifices the Igbo have made to keep Nigeria one and suggested that the Igbo, like other ethnic nationalities in the country, are qualified to occupy the highest political office in the country.

He also singled out Chief Iwuanyanwu as one of the great Nigerians  of Igbo extraction who have sacrificed all they have in human and material resources to keep the country one noting, “I sincerely hope that Chief Iwuanyanwu’s birthday will offer us an opportunity for this rethink and give rebirth to a more united and progressive Nigeria.”

Earlier in his address, Chairman of the occasion and former President Goodluck Jonathan congratulated Chief Iwuanyanwu for attaining the 80 year milestone, describing him as one patriotic Nigerian who loves the country passionately and gave his all to keep it as one.

Jonathan who described Chief Iwuanyanwu as his father said he learnt a lot from him in his own political journey.

He said it is difficult to ignore the Igbo in the  Project Nigeria and canvassed for a more united race with all the potentials to achieve their dream.

The Chairman of the Correspondent Chapel, Mr Chris Njoku, while congratulating the celebrant poured emcomia on Chief Iwuanyanwu as a rare Nigerian of Igbo stock who has contributed in all spheres of human endeavour for the good of the society.

Njoku also thanked Governor Uzodimma for accepting to host the ocassion and lauded the Governor for the giant strides he has recordedin Imo State in the area of infrastructure, security of lives and property among others.

The event was attended by the high and mighty from all walks of life in the country.

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