KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future
‘07 Presidency and our vision (1)
Dallas, Texas, USA
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
Professor Pat Utomi captured the sentiments of many Nigerians in the Diaspora on the issue of the Nigerian Presidency of Igbo ethnic extraction on the occasion of Pan Igbo Political Conference where he was a guest speaker.
Pat Utomi is a Professor of Social, Political and Economic Environmental of Business and Director of the Center for Applied Economics at the Lagos Business School of Pan African University. His background is in Management, Management Consulting, Government and Academia.
He was Chief Operating Officer for Volkswagen of Nigeria and has served as Special Assistant to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. His academic training ranges from Policy Economics, Business Administration and Public Administration to African Politics and Mass Communication.
He teaches SPEB, Entrepreneurship and Strategy. He is the author of six books among which are Managing Uncertainty, Competition and Strategy in Emerging Economies, which was winner of the Abiola Book Prize in 1998; and Critical Perspectives in Political Economy and Management. He has published articles and chapters in International journals and books in Europe and the United States. He is active on the boards of several companies including serving as Chairman of the Boards of Platinum Bank, BusinessDay Media, Arivia.Kom Nigeria, Finacorp Building Society, and OK Computers Limited.
Prof. Utomi has been a trustee of Transparency International (Nigeria) since it’s founding. He was co-founder of The Concerned Professionals the Civil Society Organization that led opposition to military rule in Nigeria, and serves as President of Good Governance Africa, a continent-wide civil society initiative aimed at creating indicators and generating information that can help civil society hold governments accountable. As a Social Entrepreneur he has also founded the Center for Values in Leadership. Utomi has been the host of the weekly syndicated television series ‘Patitos Gang’, which he created and has been Executive Producer of the show since 2000. Pat Utomi is the Chairman of Platinum Bank.
In his address, entitled, ‘Igbo Presidency and the vision for sustainable progress and well-being of Ndi-Igbo,’ he spoke the hearts of many us in America. The excerpts:
Let me thank the Leadership of PNF for inviting me to this summit. I want particularly to congratulate Dr. Acho Orabuchi for the personal effort he has made to ensure that these meetings are successful.
It is indeed with great pleasure that I have responded to the request to address the subject of having a person who is Igbo elected to the Presidency of Nigeria as a way of getting fairness and justice to our nationality group.
I want, however, to approach this assignment with a sense for the full context of the issue and the challenge of having the heart of the purpose, in mind. In this regard I want to encourage us to be deeply reflective not to back ourselves into a corner of seeking simple and, worse still, simplistic answers to complex questions.
Is there value in seeking to have an Igbo man or woman elected President of Nigeria? No one in his right senses would consider that inappropriate. If Nigeria was assembled by the colonials on three ethnic nationality main legs, the fact that two of those three or more surrogates have between them produced the Chief Executive all of the forty five years, but for some six months of the Ironsi Interregnum, suggests that on grounds of fairness, a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction makes sense. But is the objective of Ndiigbo just to be able to say, once upon a time one of their own was called President of Nigeria?
It seems to me that what is sought is rather different. Ndiigbo desire an end to the marginalization that has come to characterize their place in the Nigerian experience. Those who call for a President that is Igbo do so in the belief that such a person would ensure that the Igbo get a fair share of the national cake while he or she is there. Advocates usually make the point that in a government dominated economy, staking out a claim to the Presidency is the only way you can hope to get your due especially in the prebendal politics that marks the Nigerian condition.
There is no question of traces of truth in such thought. But if our objective is to answer the question of how to improve the well being of Ndiigbo, then we must ask the question; is it possible to have a President who is Igbo and no improvement takes place in the quality of life of Ndiigbo, especially in a sustainable way?
Let us use the model of what was hoped for in the installation of General Olusegun Obasanjo and how Igbo leaders have been created in recent times to illustrate the point.
You may all recall that the general perception is that the North, acting at the prodding of some of the leaders imposed Obasanjo on us in 1999. Why did they do so? It seems those agitations of the Yoruba nation following the annulment of the elections of June 12 1993 and the eventual death of the ostensible winner in custody made Nigeria anxious to pacify them with a make-good Yoruba President of Nigeria. In seeking the compensation for the mandate Chief Abiola gave his life for the North was searching for a “safe” Yoruba man. Their view of an Obasanjo who was so scared of taking up the mantle when Murtala Muhammed was killed in 1996 resulting in ceding much to a much junior political second in command, Shehu Yaradua made him an attractive candidate.
Even though his own people would not support him, the patrons who invited Obasanjo in were hopeful that they could purge their conscience of the Yoruba wahala and get a reliable “coward” they could manipulate at will in Obasanjo, given his track record. The one mistake of the political chess players was they neither fully understood the Obasanjo personality, nor the impact of post 1979 experiences, especially his prison time during Abacha’s tenure. Had these interventions not taken place, it could have been possible that an Obasanjo presidency could have taken place without any justice or material benefit going to the Yoruba’s. Do we want an Igbo President that could be an Obasanjo before his Saul to Paul conversion experience in the valley of the shadow of death?
The foregoing is quite possible given the post civil war experience of leadership breeding in Igbo land. Where have most of our so-called leaders come from? They generally have not come out of a tradition of service, sacrificial giving to the cause of Ndiigbo, and knowledge ability on the challenges facing Igbo’s. Outsiders have generally picked our new leaders for us. Some Northern or Western General trying to make up numbers of Ndiigbo in the federal cabinet or appointment of military Governors asks friends for suggestions or recall the name of some Igbo classmates or party going friend. The appointment of this fellow without locus in Igbo community makes him one of the visible Ndiigbo. A year later he is dropped from the cabinet. Next time Igbo call a meeting he shows up as an Igbo leader.
It is no surprise with such a heritage that Ndiigbo have been facing a leadership crisis. Should one of those people be elevated to the Presidency? Would it be possible to achieve what some King Makers wanted of Obasanjo but were unsuccessful?
It seems to me therefore, that while the quest for a Presidency of Nigeria with an Igbo personage at the top is desirable, it is the means to an end and not an end of its own. Many who discuss the issue unfortunately make it an end in its own capacity. We should therefore concentrate here on what the real goal of Ndiigbo is. Sometimes, one can exert more influence without producing a President.
We shall therefore seek here to productively engage in identifying needs of Ndiigbo, placing them in the context of the place of Ndiigbo as a market-dominant minority which Amy Chua reminds us of is attracting hatred in her book: “World on Fire”.
Our discussion will also reflect on a framework for evaluating economic advance and how Ndiigbo can grow leaders that serve them well whether or not those people become Presidents of Nigeria. The role of the Diaspora in the shaping of leadership and extending the welfare function for the people is critical. We should allow them bring in the challenge of developing a vision and strategy for the Igbo nation and the role of the Diaspora in accomplishing the task if our discussion is to be full.
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