South-East Summit: When Ndigbo Met And Talked -By Ikechukwu Amaechi

Many “experts” on Igbo affairs who claim to know everything about the people than Ndigbo know about themselves abound in Nigeria. And one of the ridiculous tales they bandy about when it suits them is that Ndigbo have neither the capacity to come together, nor agree on anything. “They can never speak with one voice,” they pontificate in their desperation to ridicule an entire race even as they also accuse the same people of being clannish, apparently oblivious of the oxymoron.

But there is absolutely no basis for such a claptrap. Yes, Ndigbo may be republican in their worldview but enlightened collective-interest comes in to aggregate those differences in opinion in situations of existential crisis such as they are facing now. That was exactly what happened in Owerri, Imo State capital, on September 28 and 29 when they gathered for the consequential South-East summit on security and economy.

The fact that the summit held was, in itself, an achievement considering the fact that the naysayers had, typically, predicted otherwise. But not only did it hold, the summit had in attendance notable Igbo sons and daughters from all walks of life, including the five South-East governors, serving ministers, members of the National Assembly, captains of industries, top ranking military and police officers, academics, traditional rulers and representatives of women and youth groups.

It was a pan-Igbo gathering, especially with the presence of the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe (Agbogidi), and the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. But perhaps more important was the pre-summit activities which led to the setting up of three sub-committees on Regional Economic Development, chaired by Dr. Abraham Nwankwo; Peace and Security, chaired by Okoye; and Regional Cooperation and Integration, headed by Dr. Sam Amadi.

Each of these sub-committees prepared a detailed and robust technical report beforehand that gave direction to the summit. All the speakers harped on the fact that insecurity has damaged the region and brought untold hardship and suffering to her people and economy, a fact that was eloquently reiterated by the guest speaker, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO.

The WTO boss who called the summit an “extraordinary gathering” said if followed through, would kick-start the much-anticipated improvement “in the lives of our people in Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Abia and Imo states.” On the issue of insecurity, she warned that there can never be development without security. “Insecurity in our region is sending the wrong signal that no one can invest in the South-East. The lesson is clear. We can’t have development without security. To sustain development is possible but the sit-at-home is one of the problems. And to move forward, we have to solve the issue of insecurity.”

All agreed. Whether it was the Ebonyi State governor, Francis Nwifuru, represented by the deputy governor, Patricia Obila, who harped on the need for Ndigbo to sit together as one family, or Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma who lamented that “we have allowed ourselves to be strangulated,” or Enugu State governor, Peter Mbah, who insisted that “what we should be talking about now is how to meet regularly with the security agencies to discuss insecurity challenges in our area,” or Abia State governor, Alex Otti, who was emphatic that “for us to move forward, we must be willing to engage with our youths to know their problems, we must begin to know there is anger in the land,” the central theme is that the potentials for economic development in the region are overwhelming but they will forever remain potentials if the insecurity ravaging the homeland is not brought under control.

Even Anambra State Governor, Chukwuma Soludo, who seemed to think differently with his assertion that the South-East must have the self-belief to turn things around despite insecurity and other challenges facing the zone, also agrees despite his insistence that the region must make all efforts to thrive despite insecurity.

The former Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, governor may have a point when he admonished that: “We can lament about insecurity and so on; this is not the most insecure place in the world, other places are thriving despite their insecurity”, but the fact remains that without security the South-East will ultimately become the “desolate homeland” he is decrying. But he is not a businessman. He is a governor with all the full compliments of security. So, he may fully appreciate what the issues are. Leo Stan Ekeh, a consummate businessman, does, which explains why his take on the insecurity must be taken serious.

The Zinox Group chairman charged the five South-East governors to take up the release of Nnamdi Kanu, the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, as a one-point agenda to President Bola Tinubu, noting that a positive outcome on the issue will quell the restiveness in the region and usher in sustainable prosperity. He spoke the minds of everyone, including those not at the summit as it became apparent in discussions during the closed-door session on September 29 where everyone who spoke saw the release of Kanu as the beginning of the thawing of insecurity ice in the South-East.

Leo Stan made that point much more eloquently the previous day. Insisting that no concrete investment or development would take place in an atmosphere of tension and insecurity, he urged the governors to put aside party affiliations to forge a common front to press for the release of the pro-Biafra agitator. “The average Igbo youth is smart, energetic and imbued with a dose of spirituality. Equipped with the necessary tools in an enabling environment, these qualities can transform our youths into world-beaters and global champions… However, we must first take steps to secure the release of Nnamdi Kanu as this will instantly bring about a measure of calm and sanity in the region. Kanu is a critical factor in the security issues of the South-East. President Bola Tinubu is not a stubborn or inconsiderate leader. I am sure he will listen.”

All the South-East governors have also agreed that the IPOB leader be released. In fact, Otti, governor of Kanu’s home state, Abia, has said that he should be released to him personally as the guarantor. Now, the argument is not whether Nnamdi Kanu is responsible for the continued mayhem in the South-East or not. After all, he has distanced himself and the IPOB which he leads from the debilitating sit-at-home mandate and its brutal enforcement.

But the fact is that some elements in the pro-Biafra movement are using his continued incarceration as an excuse to levy war on the region. Releasing him will take the wind out of their sails. And there is absolutely no reason why the President Tinubu-led administration should not release him except if his continued detention has become a ploy by the Federal Government to continue fanning the smouldering embers of insecurity in the region. So long as Nnamdi Kanu remains a prisoner of conscience, there will continue to be turmoil in the region. Chaos in the South-East is a mazuku, an evil wind that does no Nigerian any good.

At the end of the day, the Summit has come and gone. The reports have been sent to the conveners – the political leaders of the region – for action. On the face value, it was a huge success. The Senator Chris Anyanwu-led organising committee delivered brilliantly on its mandate which is to bring Ndigbo together to talk and proffer solutions to the existential crisis staring them in the face in Nigeria. All that is left is for the governors to walk their talk on the roadmap to a more secure and prosperous region which the Summit has provided them.

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