Rocking in his evening arm chair under an Oha tree, gazing at the setting sun, a familiar past time of his for many year.
And a position from which Mr Chikwelu has previously regaled me many times before of the “good old days”; his life and times as a British trained Nigerian police officer, his highs and lows of a glittering career and his experience fighting on the Nigerian side of the civil war despite being a full Igbo man.
This day, he begins again, philosophical as ever, “never has it been this bad” he enthused, obviously referring to the abject state of governance within the country and the south east in particular.
Today, he has been telling me of a training experience somewhere in Ghana during the years leading up to the Nigerian civil war, he and some officers were to drop from a helicopter (commando style) into a big river and swim to the shore.
He goes,” I knew they didn’t fully trust me, being the only Igbo man in their midst. If anyone had any faith in me, it will be our British training officer or my good friend Akpan from Oron.”
Yet I was committed to being the best and showing leadership as the most experienced officer and commander of the group”. Then according to him he was asked to drop first into the deepest part of the river further away from the shore, while the helicopter flew further forward as others dropped at intervals obviously closer to the shore than himself.
Despite the odds, he pauses, looks at me as if for emphasis and continues, (and you my readers will need to see the joy and pride on the old man’s face when he says those words) “I swam ashore!”
Too much has been written and said of the indomitable spirit of the Igbo man, the grit to bet against all odds and risk it all against very unfavorable odds on any venture for which he is convinced; and this piece would rather not dwell on such.
Unfortunately for our generation, there appears to be a systematic attempt to lay up as much odds as possible against the teeming population of youths in the south eastern part of Nigeria. Forgive me for sounding sectional because in every capacity, I can fully identify with the plight of being a youth in Nigeria as a whole.
So believe me when I tell you this has nothing to do with ethnic bias and be thou not quick to term me as IPOB because, unlike a popular Igbo “pastor”, I am a man of a preacher of love! And more like any other person who has shared the glory and gloom of being in this country, I bleed green and white to live and die on the promise of a greater Nigeria.
Having said that (and believing that those who so often sees nothing except through the lens of tribal configurations, would at least give me a benefit of doubt) the reason I am particular about the plight of youths in the south east, is due to the very peculiar nature of their challenges coming from the most underperforming zone in the country, and facing challenges, the making of which they have absolutely nothing to do with.
Whether knowingly or unknowingly, elders and leaders have through actions and policies bequeathed to the south east region, a terrible hand of fate and have all retired to their rooms to watch these young men and women grovel about as they try to navigate through very rough and trying times without much support whatsoever. God help me as I try to elucidate on this points.
Travelling through the five south east states, one cannot help but notice an ignoble irony – the fact that there’s an obvious lack of government presence in a place that has too many police and military check points.
Never mind what the government owned and most times monitored media houses or their retinue of SAs and SSAs on all kinds of media will have you believe, the people of south eastern Nigeria, have come to see government and governance as a necessary evil.
Necessary for the fact that we can’t do without it and evil in the sense that it largely does the people any good.
In almost all (and I leave the assumption that there could be few to be exempted to your conscience) federal government ministries, agencies and parastatals within the south east, there operates an entrenched system of extortion and some form of racketeering in the provision of their core duties to the public.
I am not one to criticize leaders because I believe that inherent in any person who seeks a leadership position of any kind, is a genuine conviction that he/she can contribute positively to the lives and welfare of his/her people (or so it should be).
Also, I am a firm believer that occupants of leadership positions should be adequately respected and at all times given the benefit of doubt in recognition of the office more than of the persons. However, from the federal to the state and local government, one cannot but notice the disconnect between the leaders and the led within the south east and really agree with my old friend that really, it has never been this bad.
Most of our state governors seem to have benchmarked all the indices of good governance at being able to pay the worker’ salaries and for consistently meeting that benchmark, every dog should rather sing their praises than bark. Within the southeast, suddenly job creation seems like rocket science; suddenly engaging local / indigenous contractors seems like mission impossible.
An Igbo adage says that an elder does not sit at home while the goat dies tethered. Do we still have elders and leaders in the south east while suddenly, all military and paramilitary formations across the country and commands even within the south east has no igbo man as head?
Granted that the federal government controls the security architecture of the state, is the Federal Government also responsible for the inability of the governors, elders, or even civil society organizations to collectively protest or even raise awareness against the day light robbery and brazen extortion of the masses in the south east by the police, army, road safety and all other arms bearing organizations in Nigeria the likes of which cannot be seen in other regions?
How have elders and leaders especially political leadership of the south east states managed to turn a blind eye while security personnel serving in the zone continue to act like an army of occupation?
As for critical infrastructure and interventions which directly affects job creation and industrialization, and to which many other regions have a comparative advantage such as, south west have the ports and first international airport; south-south have oil wells and NDDC;
North Central continues to thrive and enjoy agricultural support in aids and FG programmes; North East enjoys global aid support and more recently PINE; Northwest as the home of many national security apparatchik and industries; what exactly has South east got?
The promise of a second Niger bridge to what economic aim? So while other regions complains of few opportunities, the south east region is confronted with the realities of no opportunities at all.
And I ask, in a household where the meat and bones are both eaten and digested with glee, who will blame the dog for biting its owner? Really, we have never had it this bad in our land and while my good old friend Mr Chikwelu was able to swim ashore against all odds, many of our youths today are drowning in despair and many more are simply floating with the tide.
Never have we had an obvious lack of leaders who are people oriented, never have people been so mercilessly abandoned by those with whom they had entrusted a mandate both to manage their common patrimony and to represent them in issues of governance.
This days it seems like political office holders cannot bother about even their extended families talk more of the poor masses and “dividends of democracy” is nothing but an election campaign rhetoric.
But I dare to believe. I challenge you men and brethren to believe likewise. Maybe I am ever the optimist, maybe I live like the “just” by faith. Yet I choose to believe that against all odds; when our backs are against the wall and it looks as if it is over, that God always makes a way.
That it doesn’t matter what is thrown against us; let us answer those who seek to break us with resilience and to those who hate us with love!( I wish that IPOB will see this line of thought). For this land (Nigeria) is ours to plough not to plunder. We have no other motherland and as they sing,
“…Nigeria is ours, Nigeria we serve”.