BETWEEN ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL FREEDOM
IGBO DIASPORA IN FOCUS
By Oguchi Nkwocha, MD
and Osita Ebiem
In this discourse we are going to concentrate on what happens to “economic power” without political empowerment. Economic strength is impossible without a free, secure and stable political space. Economic progress can only take place when a society has adequate control of its political space and is positioned to influence the instruments that affect the direction of its collective destiny. So long as someone else makes the laws over you and executes them to spite you, nothing that you do otherwise can help you advance your station in life and in society or alter the collective poverty and destitution that you have been constrained to.
To be able to advance as a people, the society must first create a free and enabling social and political environment where the people are in charge and can consciously steer the ship of their destiny toward where they would like it to be. It can only amount to a sort of social or collective suicide to recklessly pursue fleeting financial acquisition without a corresponding enabling sturdy political structure and base because all the money acquired in the process will end up being frittered away, withered by unscrupulous and pernicious forces that love to hate and abhor ambition, audacity and entrepreneurship.
Such has been the case of the Igbo/Biafrans since 1970. For example, the Igbo/Biafrans have used all their energy and ingenuity to dominate the distribution-end of the Nigerian economy, having been completely and malevolently shut out of the other aspects, by Nigeria; but as long as they are powerless (as they are, deliberately kept so by Nigeria) to influence the instrument of legislation which constitutes the political lever of real power, the Dangote’s of Nigeria who make the laws and decide on the policies especially designed to make it impossible for the Igbo/Biafrans to compete on a level field, will always come out ahead.
It is our goal, using just one area, to show how an otherwise economic success story of our people has been totally obscured, ignored and paralyzed by our political nonentity-status in Nigeria. We will point out who the real culprits are in this matter; and it is our hope that, seeing what we can already do well, we may be empowered to do what is necessary to make sure we get due credit and lasting value for our efforts.
Having economic ability without corresponding political freedom and base is only tantamount to perpetual slavery. Another way to frame the issue and make the point is the Igbo/Biafran proverbial successful acquisition of a beautifully woven sleeping mat without first securing the ground where you can spread that mat. It is not a secret that the Igbo/Biafrans as a race have worked very hard to demonstrate that they can chase after and acquire money: they are well known for that; but they must now prove that they can work hard to secure and keep that money. Otherwise, it becomes a case of someone busily transfusing blood into a hopeless hemorrhage whose wound cannot clot. It does not make much sense trying so hard to earn money which eventually one is dispossessed of by the chicanery of another who avoids the culture of hard and innovative work.
We will illustrate these points with the recent observation which is credited to the former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. John Campbell, who said that “the Niger Delta” [and by extension, in our own interpretation, the entire Biafraland] “is under the colonial rule and its people are being subjected to suffering by both the Federal Government [of Nigeria] and the oil companies operating in the area…”
(where “the Federal Government” in fact consists of Northern Nigeria and Western Nigeria, to the exclusion of the East and South, as we see it). Such, then, is the obnoxious imposition of the Yoruba/Hausa/Fulani hegemony over the land and people of our region. If the colonial rule of the British over our land and people was considered wrong and immoral and a yoke that must be thrown off by our forefathers, has anyone ever wondered what makes it right for these people (Yoruba/Hausa/Fulani and the Federal Government of Nigeria) to exercise the same subjugating power over our people today?
Now, no one needs a stretch of imagination or strain of reason to agree with the conclusion that the phrase “colonial rule” can also be interchanged with “slavery” or “enslavement,” at least, within the context of this essay. Slavery as a practice is a system and an institution; as in all systems and institutions, there are interwoven classes, parts and strata. “Slave Mentality,” for example, works by discouraging in the slave such basic human ability as simple self-reflective questioning and answer. The slave must not have a reflective time when he can dialogue within himself on such a simple line of thought like, “Today I am here, how did I get here, why and where will I be tomorrow and how will my today’s actions influence where I will be tomorrow?” The slave must not be allowed to hold long term goals otherwise he will begin to revolt and the slave-owner would not like that.
Having poignantly made the point of the political powerlessness of the Igbo/Biafra in Nigeria, we set the stage to look at one aspect of the economic activities of a small segment of the Igbo/Biafrans. A recent report in the press dealt with the magnitude of the foreign exchange remittances attributed to Nigerians in Diaspora. The report states that Nigerians abroad sent back “home” a total of $10 billion in 2009 and the estimate is that figures will be higher in 2010 and future years.
The first reaction might be to dismiss this figure of “billions of US dollars” as bogus, but the sources are quite reliable (World Bank’s latest Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011, for example). Such remittances are ongoing. For example, another source ( http://danfonds.blogspot.com/2008/08/remittances-to-nigeria-running-at-179.html ) pegs such remittances at $17.9 billion in 2007, $10.5 billion in 2006, and $6.5 billion in 2005). A further confirmation also came in the form of the fact that Chukwuma Soludo, the then Central Bank governor of Nigeria, had considered setting up a government-owned commercial bank solely dedicated to servicing this fiscal influx of pure cash into the Nigerian economy, thanks to the largesse of Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Before we consider the size of this amount of money in the light of its purchasing power let us first look at the position of the Igbo/Biafrans in the picture. The Igbo/Biafrans are estimated to constitute the greater majority of Diaspora “Nigerians” (not surprising: even within Nigeria itself, the Igbo usually make up the largest population after the indigenes of each respective non-Igbo NigerianState). Thus, 60% to 80% of this Diaspora $10 billion remittance to Nigeria can be safely assumed to be the contribution by Igbo/Biafrans, which would then translate to $6 billion to $8 billion.
What does US$6 billion ($6,000,000,000) to US$8 billion ($8,000,000,000) of raw cash really mean? Well, it is projected that the Government of Nigeria will “earn” a “bumper” income for the year 2010 from Oil, amounting to $64 billion. (By the way, ask yourself: whose Oil is it, anyway? Niger Delta’s, of course.) So, in fact, a comparatively few hard-working and sacrificing Igbo/Biafrans in Diaspora alone have managed to raise and send back anywhere from one-tenth to one-eighth of what the entire, lazy, usurping government of Nigeria is going to rake in, in easy Oil money this year! What does that teach us, if it isn’t that creativity, ingenuity and hard work will always earn far in excess of what the Oil and Gas deposits can bring in to parasitic and bloated Nigeria, even though Nigeria is considered among the eight largest producers of Oil and Gas in the world?
Let us get more perspective on this. It means that if we put together the amount of money the Igbo/Biafrans in Diaspora sent to Nigeria in the past 10 to 12 years, plus the transaction fees, it would be sufficient to buy-out Shell BP and its subsidiaries in Nigeria. In one year alone, the Igbo/Biafrans in Diaspora remit enough money to Nigeria to buy out Halliburton, MTN, all the Nigerian banks and all the foreign construction firms in Nigeria. Imagine that!
Each year, the Igbo/Biafrans in Diaspora, constituting probably no more than ten to fifteen percent of the total Igbo/Biafran population, send back enough money to:
· Dredge and maintain the lower Niger River
· Build, staff, operate and maintain an inland Port at Onitsha
· Build and maintain 2 bridges or more across River Niger
· Build, staff, operate and maintain 8 international Airports in Igbo/Biafraland, along with a world-class Airline service
· Build, operate and maintain a world-class network of interconnecting roads and bridges in Igbo/Biafraland
· Build, staff, operate and maintain a modern world-class Rail Transit System connecting all the cities—major and minor—in Igbo/Biafraland
· Reopen, staff, operate and maintain all the coal mines around Enugu, along with new ones, using modern and available clean air techniques
· Build, operate and maintain a reliable, accessible clean Potable Water system in Igbo/Biafraland
· Build, staff, operate and maintain world-class Hospitals in each of the Igbo/Biafra cities and towns; and first class clinics in each village
· Build, staff, operate and maintain reliable Power plants for commercial and residential use, with excess capacity to export to neighboring regions.
Every year, with this size of money remitted by the Igbo/Biafrans in Diaspora, we can:
· Build, maintain, and support, equip, staff and pupil at least 15 to 20 world-class Universities in Igbo/Biafraland
· Provide free Education with requisite supporting infrastructure, up to University level, in Igbo/Biafraland
· Provide, staff, operate and maintain Wide Area Network of Telephonic, Media and Internet technologies affording free electronic access, processes and amenities to all in Igbo/Biafraland
· Provide free or at least affordable, accessible modern Health Care for all our people in Igbo/Biafraland.
· Re-establish our original proud and successful Agriculture/industry based economy to provide affordable food in self-sufficiency and for export, and gainful employment for our people.
Recall the subject of “Slave Mentality” raised above. The unfortunate thing is that the Diaspora Igbo/Biafrans who make the sacrifice to provide this huge amount of money share largely in this same “slave mentality” of our imprisoned folks at home. They are yet to ask themselves (after so many decades) the question: “why are we not making the difference with all this money remitted “home”? Are they even aware of what their money, collectively, could do, for example? They have failed to see and understand that throwing money to a slave is equivalent to “dashing” that same amount to the slave-owner or slave-master. The reach and expectations of a slave do not penetrate the constraining walls of the slave-world, no matter how long and strong the lifeline thrown at him—not until the slave begins to want liberation and freedom. Alas, here again, the Diaspora Igbo/Biafrans share this mentality with the imprisoned Igbo/Biafrans in Igbo/Biafraland so well: it looks like neither liberation nor freedom is on their agenda either. So, while the Campbell’s of this world are busy pointing out the obvious—that the Igbo/Biafrans are in fact living under slavery/colonial domination—the archetypical Diaspora Igbo/Biafran in the stature of Chinua Achebe (who as a matter of fact initiated and hosted the so-called “Colloquium” where Mr. Campbell spoke), for example, has continued to fail to grasp the meaning and import of this former American Ambassador’s accurate and pertinent pronouncements. Thus, Achebe, in fact, exemplifies the typical Diaspora Igbo/Biafran: rich in so many ways and on so many planes; yet, clueless as to true existential realities—his status and station in life, and his people’s.
Yes, of course, the Igbo/Biafrans could accomplish the things enumerated above since they have and continue to demonstrate proven adequate resources; but the fact is that they have been unable. Lamentably, here are things truly within their grasp which they can do, but they have allowed themselves to be beaten down so much that they cannot even conceive of these things: they do not even realize their own power. The reason is simple; they are thoroughly steeped in slave mentality: they, the year-in-year-out benevolent givers handing out largesse, just as much as the recipients with insatiable needs, as only slaves can have. That is the problem. That is the Igbo/Biafrans problem.
The consequences of this problem cannot be escaped until all “Igbo/Biafraland” Igbo and “Diaspora” Igbo/Biafrans begin to cultivate the desire, culture and mentality of Liberty and Freedom, different from their present culture of enslavement. It is only through the superimposition of this new culture over the old one, to override and cancel out the negative and limiting one, that they shall be able to break through and escape the terrible dehumanizing situation in which they find ourselves today. It is only then that any contribution to the lives of their people and Homeland can begin to have any real value. Right now, they have no choice but to acknowledge that they can get nowhere unless they first understand that they are really slaves in Nigeria today. With this acknowledgement they can start thinking clearly and make plans and real efforts that will lead to their liberation and freedom from Nigeria. It is only then that they can truly see what $6 billion to $8 billion in annual contribution will make in the lives and conditions of their people, and how that can be leveraged to perhaps, $600 billion to $800 billion each year.
To those still in doubt and to those who never even thought of it, ask yourself: what do we have to show for all that raw cash we have poured into Igbo/Biafraland annually? Then, turn to the ex-Ambassador of the U. S. to Nigeria, Mr. Campbell, for the answer: we are under enslavement. For action, you can only blame yourself if you continue to think that merely throwing in that cash annually for the rest of your life will change anything for the better: it won’t; it hasn’t. Brothers and sisters, the truth is that our current effort remains that of a people who are pouring a huge amount of water into a sieve with the hope of getting it filled. It will never work; it is a waste of time. Instead, let the Igbo/Biafrans everywhere work now to change their status and mentality from enslavement to that of liberation and freedom.
We press the point home by further breaking down the situation in order for us to see more clearly how the Igbo/Biafrans as a people have only succeeded in not only wasting their money but have actually used the money to directly empower the oppressor, Nigeria, and its various organs of torture and oppression. In the final analysis, let’s look at how the $8 billion actually got spent. For every, say, ten dollars remitted “home” for capital projects (building a home for example), only one dollar may actually go to the materials and labor for the project. Most times, the house has to be rebuilt, anyway, because of poor material/construction, or poor workmanship, requiring another ten dollars to correct; many such projects get abandoned eventually, out of frustration. The other nine dollars go to deliberately inflated costs, real market inflation per se, heartless deep carve-outs taken by entrusted family members with an unjustifiable and insatiable sense of entitlement, and all manner of bribes. So, you end up sending the original ten dollars, plus another ten dollars, for just one dollar’s worth of real work; and the project is either incomplete or will be abandoned. That’s twenty dollars for originally planned ten dollars, achieving next to nothing of value, accomplishing next to nothing of original intent.
Let’s say, instead, the remittance is for non-capital spending. For every ten dollars sent by the Diaspora Igbo/Biafran which actually ends up in the hands of the intended recipient at “home,” two or perhaps, up to three dollars are extorted from them by the Nigeria Police at the so-called Security Checkpoints in Igbo/Biafraland; (only recently it was reported that the Nigerian police collect in bribe and extortion money from the various roadblocks in Igbo/Biafraland over N300 billion annually, which is equivalent to almost $3 billion, each year! Nearly all of that is sent back to the thieving policemen’s homes—outside of Igbo/Biafraland.) Another dollar is shorted by unfavorable exchange rates; another on difficult activities and related transactions to collect the money from the banks or financial institutions. No one knows exactly how much is spent tending to such practical intangibles as security, inflation proper, medications and other attendants of the physical and psychic squalor, strain and degradation to which the recipient’s current slave status in Nigeria subjects him or her. In the end, the original ten dollars fritters down to less than one dollar of actual spending-money; which means that more money will be needed and asked for. Oh, forget savings, for sure! So, you sent ten dollars but that only created another ten dollars of need for the recipient; and nothing has been solved, yet. That’s twenty dollars—another ten chasing the original ten—and nothing accomplished, except to purchase more needs to be filled!
It is easy to forget, in going through the mechanics of how this money is “expensed,” the real reason why Igbo/Biafraland has nothing to show for this “largesse.” It is a matter of “mentality.” Allow us, therefore, to remind you again: let us point out that the present mentality of the Igbo/Biafrans everywhere is that of enslavement—enslavement by Nigeria with such a tight grip that it looks like there is no hope of escape. Today, the Igbo/Biafra Land is an occupied territory. The entire land—along with its worth and natural resources—is under the sole control of Nigeria/Northern Nigeria/Western Nigeria. The people—Igbo/Biafrans—are under full occupation by the State of Nigeria and the Northern and Western Nigerians. The people of Biafra have resigned themselves to this because they say “we ‘lost’ the Biafra war,” in their minds, a terminal loss for all times. Could there be a worse example of Slave Mentality than this? Could there be a worse disposition than this?
A slave cannot control his destiny, especially when the notion of liberation and freedom has no resonance with him. In that case, Destiny or its direction has no meaning at all to such a slave. A slave cannot control his own life, let alone control anything of value given to him. In fact, what is naturally of value has no such quality when handed to a slave. It is for these reasons that there is nothing at all to show for all the money from the Igbo/Biafra in Diaspora thrown into the lives of their people and Homeland.
Given these analyses, the Igbo/Biafrans have no choice but to acknowledge that they go nowhere and get nowhere, even (but especially) economically, unless they first understand that they are really slaves in Nigeria, and having gotten clarity on that, plan and execute their liberation and freedom then from Nigeria.
Ironically, many Diaspora Igbo/Biafrans reside in the U.S. Either they do not read U.S. History, or do not understand that the wealth of the South which has persistent ripples up to contemporary times was built up by Slaves—African slaves in America, actually, mostly the Igbo/Biafrans’ own flesh and blood, being that most of the slaves came from Biafra Region of Africa (because of which they were referred to as “Biafran Slaves” then, not “African Slaves”).
History and facts will show that while the Slaves massively enriched their Southern masters, they themselves owned nothing—not even their own lives: they had nothing to show for all their efforts. And, even after “Emancipation,” (which did not much change the slave mentality neither of the freed slave nor of the Southern slave master and culture), the African American had little to show for all his struggles. Not until the Civil Rights Laws were enacted in the U.S. and then, seriously and systematically enforced in the last few decades, was a dent made in the endemic slave mentality—real Liberty and freedom at last!; only then would the African American begin to thrive in the U.S. The lesson that should not be lost here is that the Igbo/Biafran are only slaves building up wealth for the Slave master—Nigeria/Hausa-Fulani/Yoruba—with nothing to show for it; not now, not in the future. They must liberate themselves and gain their freedom from Nigeria if they are ever to thrive.
By actualizing the Sovereign Independent Nation of Biafra, they will regain their freedom; in changing the status of Igbo/Biafra to that of a Sovereign Independent Nation, they get their liberty. Then, whatever they do for Igbo/Biafra, whatever they contribute, can have real value and meaning. It is indeed up to them.
In summary, we invite you, Igbo/Biafran, to scroll back up and see what you could do economically—the money is already there, every year; then, we ask you to understand why you have been unable to do it; lastly, we urge you to do that which must be done to be capable of doing that which you are already able. Economic power without political empowerment, or with denied political power, is the hallmark of slavery and colonization. Seek and effect your emancipation that you may thrive and prosper—really thrive and prosper.