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 ( Published in the Vanguard on 6 September 2022)

EMMANUEL IWUANYANWU, engineer, soldier, businessman, newspaper proprietor, football club owner, politician and indeed one-time aspirant to the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was 80 at the weekend. The elder statesman was celebrated by Nigerians as Owerri was agog for him Friday to Sunday with Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State undisguisedly at the driving wheel of events.

The topic of the birthday lecture: “Igbo Quest for Nigerian Unity” was quite apt yet sounded paradoxical but deeply revealing afterwards. The lecture which was the highest point of the three-day event and chaired by no less a personality than the immediate past President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, paraded notable Nigerians from all walks of life with the expected dominance of the creme de la creme of the Igbo nation.

Expectedly, politics ruled the days with the quest for Igbo presidency most palpable, though cautiously handled and deliberately shrouded in the most strategically crafted Igbo quest for Nigerian unity. I said it was paradoxical because of the orchestrated notion of Ndigbo preoccupation for secession from the Nigerian fragile union. Yet, what was most revealing was the Igbo quest for fair inclusion of all Nigerian nationalities, including, of course, the Ndigbo as panacea for peace, unity and ultimately  the development of Nigeria.

The tone was set by President Jonathan who carefully examined some of the pronouncements of the founding fathers of the Nigerian federation, which he suggested probably revealed the philosophical mind-set of their ethnic or regional origin. To him, while Awolowo described Nigeria as mere geographical expression which only distinguishes the occupants thereof from those outside its borders and both Ahmadu Bello and Balewa felt Nigerians were not as enthusiastic   as the British had thought of the integration of its constituent nationalities; Zik was more optimistic of a union that was destined for endurance in spite of its seeming ethnic incompatibility.

Governor Uzodinma spoke in a similar vein as he felt Zik’s preference for alliance with Ahmadu Bello’s Northern Peoples Congress from which he emerged a ceremonial president rather than the real power of the Prime Minister offered him by Awo in an alliance proposed with the Action Group was a sacrifice for Nigeria’s unity as an alliance by the two southern giants would have been seen as a gang up against   the North with dire consequences for the health of the young federation. He also felt the  celebrated Enahoro motion of 1953 was a declaration of self-determination which failed because Zik and his NCNC did not support it in the interest of national unity.

Chief John Nnia Nwodo, former Minister and flamboyant former President-General of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo who delivered the birthday lecture, extolled the virtues and competitive spirit of Ndigbo which, according to him, distinguished them in every sphere of life, including the academics, commerce, sports, the entertainment industry, all of which showcase Nigeria to the world.

The unfairness of the Nigerian State to Ndigbo is demonstrated in the juxtaposition of the declaration of Igbo youths reaction to discrimination as an act of terrorism and the sour situation of another set of youths who mindlessly waylaid a train, kidnapped its occupants, audaciously kept them within the nation’s territory, demanding the huge sum of N 100 Million Naira and were being paid as ransoms.

On a lighter mood, but most critical in our view, was his narration of how he defeated Olu Adegboro in the contest for the office of the President of the Yoruba predominant University of Ibadan which demonstrated the   legendary accommodation and openness of the Yoruba which makes the South-West of Nigeria the most accommodating territory where Ndigbo has prospered more than any other part of the world and in absolute peace, a place where Adekunle Fajuyi offered his life rather than betrayed Aguyi Ironsi, a people so contented with what they have that the abundance of Ndigbo property in our territory were protected for them throughout the civil war while, in other climes, they were coveted and confiscated as abandoned property.

Being one of the elder statesmen in the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, the constituent nationality groups were all on hand   to honour Chief Iwuanyanwun, the Ahaejiagamba (one whose name opens doors) Ndigbo   and with goodwill messages. Speaking for the PANDEF delegation which included its Secretary General, Dr Alfred Mulade, the spokesman of the Organisation Ken Robison opined that Nigeria was at a most critical juncture of its history and that the campaigns for a Southern president in 2023 was the minimal antidote to preserve its sovereignty.

The pregnancy of the political atmosphere was thunderously delivered when Dr. Bitrus Pogu, President of the Middle Belt Forum, in his contribution said the Middle Belt nationalities which cut across all the zones of the north were resolved that power must shift to the South and in this connection, a rally of the Forum would soon take place in Jos with Peter Obi in attendance. No one needed be that was what the audience was waiting   for.

For the Afenifere, the restructuring of Nigeria was the way to justice in the federation. In our view, it is impossible for an Igbo Igbo Presidential aspirant to win the Primary election where the Local Government system is used to select delegates in view of the atrocious 95 Councils in the entire South East while for no justifiable reason, only 3 states of Kano, Katsina and Jigawa in the North West parade 105.

We used the platform to drive home the point that the positions of Awo on Nigeria being a mere geographical expression was an empirical and correct analysis of federation which has even worsened today in its inter-ethnic relationship, just in the same way as the motion of Enahoro was for the independence of Nigeria in 1956 and not for the self determination of a region which was already self-governing since 1952.

The Secretary-General of the Ohaneze Ndigbo,   award winning career diplomat and former Nigerian Consul General in South Africa, Mazi Okechukwu Emuchay, who played a yeoman job in hosting us, appreciated the roles of Chief Iwuanyanwu in the birth of the Igbo sociocultural Organisation.

The Church service on Sunday and the reception that followed was a grand political event. One of the lessons I learnt was that there was virtually no Igbo of matured age who was not enlisted in the Biafran Army and remained proud of their roles and ranks. One of such was Chief Iwuanyanwu who was drafted to lead troops to war soon after his commission as a second lieutenant, even before his passing out parade as the best officer of his set.

General Ike Nwachukwu, distinguished military officer, former Military Governor of old Imo State with whom I had the privilege of a private and exclusive flight from Lagos to Owerri and back, not only chaired the reception with his resplendent urbane personality,   he was a study in humility as he was available for robust engagement with me on all aspects of Nigerian history including his life as a Lagos boy   who speaks Yoruba as anyone could and his parentage which is a combination of Igbo and the royal Katsina extraction.

Ebiseni is Secretary General, Afenifere.

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