I have tried to measure the contribution of Igbos to the development of the Nigerian project and the conclusion I have reached is that Nigeria must do everything possible to get the Igbos to remain within the Nigerian union. They (Igbos) have contributed unprecedentedly to the development of the country in every sector. They are an exceptional nationality, comprising ‘born’ entrepreneurs, industrialists, academics, adventurists, etc. A Nigeria without this set of people and their drive for economic success might be boring and uninteresting.
In terms of their industrial spirit, the Igbo are probably the only nationality that has built several industrial estates across Nigeria. In 1997, an Igbo engineer, Ezekiel Izuogu, produced Nigeria’s first indigenous prototype car in Imo State. Africa was excited by his ingenuity. However, due to financial constraints and dirty Nigerian politics, the Izuogu Z-600 model could not hit the Nigerian market as a mass produced car. His workshop was later vandalised and his efforts destroyed. The dream died.
Few decades later, another Igbo, Innocent Chukwuma, has launched Innoson cars, making him the first indigenous car producer in and from Nigeria. Anambra and Enugu states alone have over six indigenous estates. By indigenous, I mean industrial estates built by indigenes, and with little or no government support. Nigeria’s first indigenous car is made in one of those estates – in Nnewi precisely.
The industrial estates are hosts to several other indigenous manufacturing companies, including one of the biggest plastic manufacturing plants in Africa.
One would be pleasantly surprised to see what the Igbos are producing in their industrial estates. It will not be wrong to say that Igbos are driving the indigenous manufacturing sector of the Nigerian economy with little or no government support. The first indigenous Nigerian company to produce an internationally certified brand of computers, Zinox, is Igbo, by the name, Stanley Nnamdi Ekeh from Imo State. The Igbos dominate the electronics market and have built a series of ‘computer villages’ across the country. Nigeria’s leading pharmaceutical companies – Emzor, Juhel, Orange, Rico, etc. – are Igbo owned.
Anabel Mobile, the first indigenous Nigerian phone manufacturer, is also Igbo owned. There are several industrial breakthroughs the Igbos have made in Nigeria than I can presently count.
On the level of trade and retail businesses, Igbos are the most successful traders and retailers in Nigeria, and possibly around the world. Across every Nigerian city, they do not only control the major retail markets, but they equally dominate small and medium scale industries, and are synonymous with the description of being ‘importers’.
Their natural inclination towards economic activities has driven them across the globe in search of opportunities. There is hardly a country in the world where you don’t find an Igbo man doing one legitimate or illegitimate form of business. The Igbos have proven to the rest of Nigeria beyond reasonable doubt that they are not lazy people.
In literature, the father of modern African Literature is an Igbo man by the name Chinua Achebe. His work, Things Fall Apart has remained one of Africa’s most read book, which brought international attention to Nigerian literature. Chinua Achebe remains an inspiration to most African writers.
In politics, the Igbo are the only nationality to have successfully executed Nigeria’s first and only political revolution, with the subsequent military coups being merely revenge ploys and schemes for political power.
In 1966, a group of senior Igbo officers forcefully took over power and wiped out a set of corrupt politicians in a bloody putsch. While the Igbos laid the foundation for political revolutions in Nigeria, today they are demanding for an independent nation. The Igbos like to fight for what they believe in and they always do while damning the consequences of this.
The Igbos control a fair share of the oil and gas servicing industry in Nigeria. The biggest indigenous oil servicing contractor in Nigeria today is Igbo-owned. The first indigenous and independently (without any shred of government funding) owned gas power plant was built by an Igbo in Aba – the Geometric Power Limited.
From haulage to logistics, procurement to real estate, finance, sports, entertainment, manufacturing, engineering to medicine, science, etc., the Igbos have been making Nigeria proud, locally and internationally. The Igbos might be arrogant and even exploitative in their quest for profits and expansionism, yet Nigeria can ill-afford to lose them from the union. They technically control the formal and informal sectors of Nigerian economy and they are everywhere making progress, with or without political patronage.
I was surprised to find out sometime last year that Igbos still engage in rural-riverine-onshore trading across the remotest villages of the Niger Delta. In this remote village near the Atlantic ocean in Bayelsa State which is only accessible through water and the air, these entrepreneurial Igbos have designed a floating market. They bring in their goods, dock their big boats once in two weeks, make sales and move to another village along that dangerous terrain – a business idea the indigenes of that area have never considered venturing into. The Igbos are definitely risk takers!
In this community where I have stayed for the past few months in Anambra State, the number of modern houses in this non-industrial, non-commercial small Igbo village is more than I have seen in all the oil communities I have visited in the Niger Delta put together. The Igbos are that successful and they always remember to invest in real estate in their home states.
The Igbo influence in the Roman Catholic Church worldwide is amazing. An Igbo, Cardinal Arinze, was once rumoured to become the first black Pope! The Igbos have a strong affinity with the Roman Catholic church and they have made a mark on the church globally.
Anyone who thinks the Igbos cannot survive as an independent nation might need to have a rethink., and it will be in the interest of Nigeria if they stay.
- Osborg is a public affairs analyst.