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Are You Better Off? The Igbo Homeland Yesterday and Today

Part C. Soul-Searching: Questions on Selected Aspects of the Igbo Homeland

By the way, let me ask you some questions about the Igbo homeland of yesterday and today to enable you compare and contrast the pre- and post-war leaders of the Igbo society and draw your own conclusion. Each question is preceded by a brief background information.

Please answer them as truthfully as you can. If you were born after the Nigeria-Biafra War, you can (a) visualize a time warp linking the present and the 1960s, (b) consult your elders to learn more, or (c) do some research (in the Igbo homeland or online) to discover the facts and better inform yourself.

Case 1: General

Nothing is static in nature. And nothing is non-living. Every element of the Universe vibrates at its frequency. For you to actualize the dreams of your life, change has to occur from good to better, and from better to best. Change is progress. Such is the law of the Universe. And the Igbo homeland is no exception. The Igbo homeland, therefore, must undergo a profound rebirth if it is to survive the aftermath of greed and corruption left by the Nigeria-Biafra War and serve the interests of ndi Igbo for years to come. So, here is your first question:

Question: In the light of the negative changes that are occurring (= taking place) in the Igbo homeland since the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War – changes from best to better, from better to good, from good to bad, from bad to worse, and from worse to worst – are you in a better or worse situation in the Igbo homeland today than you were or would have been in the 1960s, the pre-war years?

Case 2: Apartment Rental

Before the Nigeria-Biafra War, employees in the private and public sectors in Eastern Nigeria were paid their monthly salaries with clock-like regularity at the end of each month. As a result, they were paying their apartment rents at the end of the month as well.

Today, an Igbo in need of an apartment in the Igbo homeland is required to cough out two- or three-year rent in advance (plus agency fee) before he or she moves into the apartment or building; even though no employee across the homeland is paid his or her monthly salary regularly, let alone do so more than one month at a time. The practice is not limited to individually-owned buildings. A company that owns a rental property in the Igbo homeland collects two- or three-year down payment from its tenants but pays its own employees their salaries one month at a time.

Ironically, these avaricious homeowners are Igbo, too. In Quebec, Canada, tenants and landlords are forbidden from paying or demanding more than one month rent at a time, respectively. And in Ontario (Canada), a tenant pays only the first and last month of his or her one-year lease. Regulations are in place to protect the tenants and the homeowners.

Question: If you are a tenant or a prospective tenant in the Igbo homeland today, are you and your loved ones better off with the prohibitive, multiple-year down payment your government sees nothing wrong with, or with the pre-war monthly payment of your rent?

Case 3: Water Supply

Water is one of the basic necessities of life. Liquid plasma, the watery portion of your blood is predominantly water. And the digestion of the food you eat is essentially a process of hydrolysis. Without water, the operating system of the human body will collapse.

Before the Nigeria-Biafra War, every major city in Eastern Nigeria had its own water delivery system: pumping stations, water reservoirs, and underground pipes that supplied water to buildings, the suburbs, and strategic public places around the city. As indispensable to human life as water is, that system collapsed shortly after the war and has hitherto not been revived.

If our erstwhile colonial administrators were able to build railroads across Nigeria, and if General Yakubu Gowon was able to build an oil refinery in Kaduna and pipelines from Port Harcourt (in the East) to the refinery (in the North), I see no reason why we cannot build a network of water pipes and drain pipes across the Igbo homeland for delivering water to the cities and villages twenty-four-seven (= 24/7) and carrying off waste matter, respectively. A pipeline project of this sort takes time and money, but it’s not rocket science.

Question: If you are a fireman fighting fires at Aba, Umuahia, Okigwe, or Enugu without water and fire hydrants, are you and your colleagues better off with the pre-war water delivery system that made firefighting somewhat easier or with the water tanks that sprang up around the Igbo homeland in the aftermath of the Nigeria-Biafra War?

Case 4: Electricity Supply

With resources from coal, palm oil, palm kernel, and cocoa, the Government of Eastern Nigeria was able to supply its cities with electricity twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week (= 24/7).

Today, the only thing that is constant is power outage and electric bills the subscribers pay monthly for services they are not provided with. As a result, a growing number of households and businesses across the Igbo homeland have two or three generators on their balconies for home and the workplace.

Question: If you live in the Igbo ancestral homeland, today, are you and your loved ones better off with the 24/7 service or with the payment of hydro bills you did not consume?

Case 5: Nurses and Patient Care

Nurses are the backbone of hospital care. They are as indispensable in that regard as doctors. Today, as we deal with the invisible enemy called COVID-19, nurses are at the war front with doctors. Can you imagine what a hospital (or residence for seniors) will look like without nurses and other caregivers?

Between 1960 and the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War, bed-side nurses and ward maids were responsible for monitoring inpatients, giving them medication prescribed by doctors, and taking care of their personal hygiene needs. Family members and friends of the patients were allowed to visit their loved ones in the wards from 16h00 to 19h00 daily.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (now Federal Medical Centre) at Umuahia, for example, was so well managed by the expatriate administrator that the hospital had a bicycle park (with roof) and full-time assistants for the convenience of the common man and woman.

The personal hygiene component of bed-side nursing was abandoned by nurses across the Igbo homeland after the war. Today, family members of the inpatients provide them with their personal hygiene needs.

Question: If you (or a member of your family) have (or had) been an inpatient in any of the hospitals (= healthcare establishments) in the Igbo homeland before and after the war, were you and the family member taken better care of by nurses before or after the war?

Case 6: Medical Treatment Abroad

Some Nigerians travel abroad for any specialized medical treatment that is not available in Nigeria. Others are flown abroad for such treatment by companies or the government.

Even though these compatriots are flown abroad, sometimes as a status symbol, they end up being treated by the same Igbo doctors who are specialists in their areas of need and would have seen and taken care of them at home if the world-class hospital we herein advocate had been built in the Igbo homeland.

Like the pipelines projects, it does not take a rocket scientist to demonstrate that we cannot be masters of our own destiny without such a facility amongst others.

In short, we have Igbo doctors abroad who are qualified to do the job and willing to serve their ancestral homeland in that regard. But they must be provided with the tools they need in a conducive environment devoid of the ills of the Igbo society.

Question: If you were one of the leaders of the Igbo homeland, today, would you fly ndi Igbo abroad for specialized treatment that is not available in Nigeria, or build an equivalent, state-of- the-art, world-class super hospital here in the Igbo homeland to take care of such needs?

Case 7: Road Maintenance before and after the War

Roads and highways in Eastern Nigeria were maintained by the Public Works Department (PWD) before and throughout the Nigeria-Biafra War. The full-time road maintenance PWD employees filled up pot holes, cleared gutters of debris for easy drainage after rainfall, and cut fast-growing grass on both sides of the road.

The need for its services notwithstanding, the PWD was axed at the end of the war along with thousands of jobs; consequently, the economic infrastructure of the Igbo homeland is no better today than it was then (= 50 years ago).

Question: If you are living in the Igbo homeland, today, are you and your loved ones better off with the PWD that took good care of our roads before the war or with the dismantling of the department after the war without a substitute? In other words, are Igbo homeland roads better today without the PWD or worse than they were in the days of the PWD?

Case 8: Igbo Homeland Environment

Life in the Igbo homeland is made possible by the plants, rivers, streams, lakes (= our fragile water resources), trees, animals, insects, birds, forests, etc. the ecologically conscious ndi Igbo share their environment with. Because the pre-war generations of Igbo speakers saw divinity in everything and understood the oneness of all things, they were aware of the interconnectedness between us and these elements of the Universe; consequently, they tried their best to maintain the delicate balance.

All that changed at the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War. Today, streams in the Igbo homeland are drying up prematurely. Some species of fruits, vegetables, and medicinal herbs indigenous to the Igbo homeland are in danger of extinction. And farm lands are polluted and impoverished by imported fertilizers and pesticides that are harmful to the environment and marine life.

Question: Are ndi Igbo and their homeland better off, today, with the looming ecological disaster (= the endangerment of these elements on which human life depends) or with healing the rupture between humans and nature that precipitated the disaster?

 

Case 9: Pension Payment

Pensioners are normal human beings like you. The difference between you and them is that they have paid their dues to the Igbo society, dues that you are still paying. The pre-war leaders of the Igbo society recognized that fact by paying retirees pension at regular intervals to enable them meet the basic costs of living and enjoy the rest of their lives.

That enjoyment and peace of mind is apparently unacceptable to the post-war leaders of the Igbo homeland. As a result, the pension payments are several months behind schedule. And the accumulated arrears are carried over from one month or year to another.

In Canada, retirees receive their pension cheques at the end of each month. If the end of the month is a weekend or public holiday, the payments are made a few days before.

Question: If you are one of these elderly pensioners, are you and the other old age pensioners better off with the pre-war regular payment of your pension or the post-war belated payment many of the pensioners do not live long enough to collect and enjoy before they die of hunger and starvation?

Case 10: Communication Lines

Before cellular phones, the universities, government agencies, and private companies in Eastern Nigeria had landlines (= land-based phones) anybody could call. And telephonists (= telephone operators) were available to connect the callers.

Today, in the Igbo homeland, these landlines have become extinct. A cellular phone subscriber has to know the cell phone number of the person he or she wants to speak to in a given office, department, institution, etc. And radio stations use several cell phones for phone-in programmes instead of a land-based telephone with several lines and extensions.

In North America where Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, cell phones have not replaced landlines. Appointments, for example, can be scheduled, rescheduled, confirmed, or cancelled altogether by phone. And 911 Emergency Lines exist for Police, Ambulances (with paramedics), and the Fire Service Department. Unlike the situation in the Igbo homeland, though, the phone numbers, without exception, are reachable 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Question: Are residents, businesses, and institutions in the Igbo homeland better off with the extinction of land-based phones compounded by the unreachability and network problems of their cell phones?

Case 11: Mail Delivery to Homes and Businesses

Mail delivery to homes and businesses is not luxury. It is an essential service residents of a city and businesses can, in no way, do without. That is why mails are delivered daily to homes and businesses in the Western countries even when postal workers are on strike.

Families depend on mail delivery; businesses depend on it; rural and urban communities depend on it; and government and its agencies depend on it, too. Without postal services and a suitable economic infrastructure, a city and its businesses cannot thrive and compete for foreign investment with other cities.

In the Igbo homeland, the postal system not only survived the war in tact; it remained relatively efficient until the 1980s. In those years, post offices were established in every city by the Post and Telegraph (P&T). And in the rural areas, postal agencies served the needs of villagers and their communities. The revenue-generating system collapsed when corruption rife within the P&T made the Nigerian crown corporation unsustainable.

Question: If you are living in the Igbo homeland, today, are you and your businesses better off with the suspension of the pre-war door-to-door mail delivery services?

Case 12: Igbo Markets and Market-Day Celebrations

The Igbo people have four cyclic market days named after the deities representing the four elements or the sign of the cross. Each of the market days is composed of a big (= full) market day and a small (= half full) market day. The eight market days so formed make up an Igbo week, the genesis of the Igbo indigenous calendar.

Every Igbo child is born on one of the four market days. Some kids are also named after the market day on which they were born.

Every Igbo community consisting of several villages has its own local market and market day that is celebrated when it falls on a Sunday, every two months. Generally, parents use the market days and the big events surrounding them to remember a lot of things, including the birthdays of their children. The market days and market-day celebrations are, thus, important components of the Igbo culture they help to keep alive.

Like the communities, every city in the Igbo homeland has one or more markets where the rich and the poor, from within and without the city, buy and sell everything that money can buy. One of such markets is the historic Umuahia market – an untouchable landmark in the Igbo culture.

The historic market at the service of mankind that received shoppers and visitors (heads of states, foreign dignitaries, friends of Biafra, etc.) from around the world when Umuahia became the provisional seat of the Government of Biafra after the fall of Enugu during the Nigeria-Biafra War was razed to the ground by the post-war leaders of the Igbo homeland on the pretext that it was being relocated. Umuahia was thus dispossessed of its lone historic market – all at the expense of the populace, the common people.

After Umuahia, the Owere New Market was bulldozed in a similar manner, amidst protests by the stakeholders. The popular markets did not only disappear from Umuahia and Owere; the disappearance took a heavy toll of human lives.

As destructive as it was, the Nigeria-Biafra War did less damage to the cities of Umuahia and Owere than the post-war leaders of the Igbo homeland have irreparably done to them and their inhabitants (= our own people).

Question: If you are a resident of Umuahia, a trader in Owere, or one of the store owners deprived of their licensed stores and means of livelihood in the two cities without compensation, are you better off with the razing of the markets against the wishes of the inhabitants of the two cities, of the communities they served, and of the petty traders whose lives and businesses depended on them?

Case 13: Payment of Workers’ Salaries

A worker deserves his or her wage. It is a matter of common sense and fair play. Before the Nigeria-Biafra War, employees in the private and public sectors across the Igbo homeland were paid their salaries monthly in arrears (= at the end of the period they worked). The regularity of the payments enabled the workers to make financial commitments and honour them. Nobody was owed a penny by his or her employer.

From one month belated payment after the war, the contagion spread across the Igbo homeland in no time and, before the workers realized what was happening, it had become the norm. Today, the payment of workers across the Igbo homeland is several months in arrears.

In some cases, the unpaid salary of workers in the public sector is embezzled by their superiors who take undue advantage of their positions of authority to intimidate and silence the employees thereafter. Elementary and secondary school teachers bore the brunt of the hardship occasioned by the ugly situation.

Question: If you are a wage earner in the Igbo homeland, today, are you better off with the payment of your monthly salary, stipend, allowance, etc. whenever it pleases your employer or boss?

From our villages and cities to our schools and colleges, and from mass transportation and rural development to the security and well-being of the Igbo homeland, the situation is the same: ndi Igbo are lost on the road to nowhere with no credible leadership and voice to give them direction.

Ndi Igbo are starving and dying in greater numbers today than during the Nigeria-Biafra War. Thousands of them are, in fact, dying of curable diseases because they cannot afford hospital bills that range from hundreds of thousands of Naira to over a million a handful of inhabitants of the Igbo homeland make in their lifetime.

The fabric of the Igbo society has fallen apart. Ndi Igbo living, working, and contributing to the economy of their city of residence in the Igbo homeland have been tagged personae non grata à la Nazi, laid off their jobs, and asked to go home as if they were alien residents (= resident foreigners). And in the name of the Igbo homeland, untold and irreparable damage is being done to them, to their families, and to their businesses – all without compensation. The rich amongst them is getting richer and richer; the poor, poorer and poorer. And the values and attributes that set the Igbo society apart as a peculiar nation in Africa are being desecrated and trampled underfoot. With such a situation, how can the Igbo homeland fare any better?

To be fair to the post-war leaders of the Igbo homeland, they may have done their best under the circumstances; however, doing one’s best is neither an acceptable plea for understanding on the part of the leaders nor consolation for the innocent victims of their failed and disastrous policies when the result that matters most is not good enough (see Aba, the industrial hub and economic powerhouse of Africa that used to epitomize the Igbo entrepreneurial spirit our post-war leaders have bastardized and reduced to nothingness).

Fifty years after the Nigeria-Biafra War (1970 – 2020), none of the successive leaders of the Igbo homeland (with the exception of the late Governor Samuel Mbakwe) has cared enough about the common people to provide them with water and electricity twenty-four-seven (= 24/7), despite the billions (= thousands of millions) of Naira given to the state and local governments, since the end of the war, for the development of the Igbo homeland. So, how will recycling one of the failed leaders (who are all billionaires at the expense of the people they were supposed to serve) or their political cronies as president or vice-president of Nigeria someday be advantageous to the Igbo homeland, given their fifty years of zero concern for the welfare of the people, and fifty years of abusing their patience with impunity?

We should, perhaps, blame ourselves for handing the leadership of the Igbo homeland over to the youth too soon after the Nigeria-Biafra War. On the other hand, the post-war leaders should have buried the responsibility underground for zero dividend, as one of the biblical talent recipients did, and left the Igbo homeland and its establishments as they were before the war instead of mothballing, liquidating, destroying, or defacing them beyond recognition.

In other words, the Nkalagu Cement Factory, the Obudu Cattle Ranch, the Oji River Power Station, the Golden Guinea Breweries (Umuahia), the Aba Textile Mills, the Star Beer Breweries (Aba), the Nsu and Umuahia Ceramic Industries, the Enugu Coal Mines, the Avutu Poultry Farm (Obowo), the Nsu Tiles Industry (Ehime), the Ikeduru Aluminum Industry, the Owere Cardboard Packaging Industry, the Mbaise Paint Industry, the Aba Glass Industry, the Mission-owned and operated colleges across the Igbo homeland, the farm settlements and palm plantations of the Eastern Nigerian Development Corporation (ENDC), and much more – all should have, at least, been left for us as they were before the war, including the thousands of jobs they created for our people.

Because it is always easier to destroy than to build anything, the post-war leaders of the Igbo homeland chose the former over the latter and left most of the industrial projects of Sam Mbakwe and his predecessors moribund.

The situation reminds me of the perceptive Igbo woman who humorously requested that one of the colonial officials of Nigeria be allowed to remain behind for her at the time Nigeria got her independence from Britain in 1960 because she had no confidence in the ability and willingness of Nigerians to govern the country well for the common people. Sixty years later, events have proved her right.

Perhaps the Igbo homeland is drifting rudderlessly (= aimlessly without direction or control) because the President of Nigeria and the governors of the Igbo homeland are non-Igbo. It is very convenient to blame our blunders and misdeeds on Nigeria.

 

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