by Okey Ikechukwu
The scenario in Enugu and Abia States had all the trappings of the unbelievable. That is when you think of the usual nature and character of political gatherings in the South-east. The respective halls set aside for the event in these two states were filled to the brim. Besides friendly banter and last minute comparing of notes by representatives of various organisations, there was calm. There was also a conviviality that could best be described as uncommon when groups come together to present their respective positions on the same issue. Although most of the people came early, chief among them some of the leaders of the South-east zone, the air of restlessness and irritation that often accompanied any event that came close to starting late was absent.
On both occasions, in Abia and Enugu States, the people were assembled to meet with the National Dialogue Committee set up by President Goodluck Jonathan. The committee’s mission in the South-east was to ascertain how the people wanted the talk shop to be organised. As soon as the work plan of the national committee was made public, painstaking consultations began across various divides. In the end, major stakeholders and power centres in the South-east resolved that the zone should speak with one voice on the simple matter of whether Ndigbo wanted the conference, how it should be organised, who should attend and the legal framework for such a venture.
That’s how it came about that the opinions and positions of the various organisations were subsumed under an umbrella submission. That is also how it came about that it was Ohaneze that rose to speak on behalf of the South-east. Most of the other high profile organisations only sent credible representatives, with the brief that they should only get up to announce that the position of Ohaneze was indeed the agreed position on the issues under reference. The surprise of many people was palpable, even though they were part of the consensus decision. While they found themselves excited about everything, they were dazed to discover that the series of meetings and reconciliation of positions which had been going on for nearly two weeks before the event yielded something after all. It was during these earlier consultations that issues were trashed and positions fine-tuned.
The logic of the new thinking about consolidation is that, notwithstanding its challenges, Ohaneze Ndigbo is generally regarded as the apex pan Igbo organisation. Besides this body, there are so many others, such that counting them may present enough work to keep the National Population Commission busy for weeks. But it can be helped to do better, not killed. Thus when some very prominent persons from the South-east floated the South East Peoples Development Association (SEPDA), there were concerns about further political balkanisation of the zone and the consequent undermining of group cohesion. The fears were totally unfounded, as the goals of SEPDA were beyond all that.
The objective of the main drivers is to offer direction, draw and deploy capacity, engage stakeholders and potential partners in a quiet resolve to offer selfless leadership to a region traumatised by reckless power seeking by persons of questionable credibility and controversial antecedents. Working quietly and unobtrusively, SEPDA has repaired many political bridges, applied soothing salves to frayed political nerves and appears poised to insists that good should be done without the ‘do gooder’ prancing all over the place or claiming accolades for it. That is why the association also took up the matter of ensuring that the people of the South-east were not just involved in the proposed national dialogue, but that they actually understood what the issues were at any moment and made informed decisions and contributions.
In this regard, one of the challenges that presented itself when the dialogue was announced was the possibility of Ndigbo coming out to sing discordant tunes, as usual. But SEPDA leadership reasoned that the dignity of a family in the Village Square is best demonstrated when the family sends just one person to speak on its behalf before the community; with any subsequent speakers elaborating on one or two minor details. It was also the thinking that no kindred gains respect by ridiculing its elders and that a family that sends out several people to represent it in the Village Square has announced the absence of wise elders within its fold. It is folly for a family to bring too many voices into a matter that will not be decided by votes and it is proof that the family cannot manage its human resources in a sane manner.
Ndigbo says that no one hails a drunken and staggering man as “Ide ji uno” (the pillar that holds the fort, or house). It is also common Igbo wisdom that you do not give the title of “onu na ekwuru oha” (spokesman of the people) to the dumb, lest your people be struck with constraints of the vocal cords. Thus SEPDA summomned one and all to think like a people with a purpose and a sense of history.
Ndigbo Lagos, Aka Ikenga and several other high profile organisations representing strong Igbo positions, populations and perspectives across several fronts conducted themselves with uncommon dignity and propriety.
They responded by forwarding their considered positions for integration into a common South-east position. With this head start, any group with the submissions could have decided to posture as the ‘new face’ of Ndigbo in national affairs. With so many active politicians, former governors, retired Generals and sundry powerful active politicians in the SEPDA fold, for instance, it would have been a simple matter of announcing that SEPDA had ‘retired’ Ohaneze. But that did not happen. Instead the drivers of SEPDA told Ohaneze what it was doing, put the positions together and met with Ohaneze to arrive at a final, common position.
In the end, it was possible to draw capacity and leverage a common effort, rather than set and run an alternative platform – with the attendant discord and bad blood. What this has brought out is that the possibility of peace and cohesion is strong in the South-east. But it must be peace and cohesion that is predicated on a new realisation. That realisation is that a people can make great progress if they learn that not everyone must be on the front row in every event.
The additional realisation is that certain words sound better and more credible in the mouth of someone who may actually not have crafted it. A man is not diminished because he is working quietly in the background, just as there is no greater danger to a people than when they cannot manage the potential or actual excesses within their own fold. SEPDA has started on a commendable and firm footing and should continue on this trajectory.
One thing that must change, though, is the attitude so robustly displayed by the Enugu State Governor Sullivan Chime. My admiration for Chime for the complete transformation of the urban outlook of Enugu is undimmed. While I prefer to believe that some truly phenomenal matters descended on him during the period of the visit of the dialogue committee to Enugu, I must put it on record that he could have given a much better account of himself. Everyone was appalled.
The Abia State governor and his chief-of-staff were fully prepared and ready for the event, as the state government mobilised everyone for the occasion.
But it was plain hell getting the government of Enugu State to give some kind of proof that Governor Chime was at least the owner of his own phone. He did not take calls or respond to text messages from representatives of the national dialogue committee for over a week before the event. While responses to calls and enquiries from Abia were always prompt, Enugu woke up less than three days to the event through the Secretary to State Government (SSG); a diligent and decent man who appeared hamstrung.
Abia State made it a national event. Enugu State tried very hard to make it a non-event, but failed. A few hours before the commencement of proceedings, representatives of the national committee were still desperately trying to get the venue cleaned and ready in Enugu. The chairs were also yet to be procured and taken to the venue. No one in government could do anything because the governor was said not to have given any clear instructions on some very basic things. Then there was the matter of the totally abhorrent accommodation that was nearly inflicted on the National Dialogue Committee, but which was rejected for fear of snake bites!
Whatever may have happened during the time of the visit, our hard working Chime knows that a host has very fundamental duties, to say nothing of when his guests are from distant lands. The government of Enugu State disgraced the good people of the state and should strive not to do so again. The unfortunate thing, however, is that you cannot call back a guest who has left with a bad impression in order to treat him well.
As for Abia State, one thing was clear from its handling of the events. The government knows how to mobilise its people to turn out for an event. Where it should place some greater emphasis when the real discussion begins is on the submissions of the various interest groups. Consolidation is always a way forward, especially when it is given in any discursive situation.
The South East Economic Summit
What needs to happen to make the South-east attract greater trade and investment? This was the central theme and question at the just concluded South East Economic Summit. Finding the right cocktail of policies and incentives to leverage the economy of the region is the only way to re-invent the energies and possibilities of the South-east region in the 21st century. But that is a matter we must discuss another day.
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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.