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Ikengaonline: Salvaging the Southeast

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By Chido Onumah & Osmund Agbo

“As long as my Ikenga is active, I can wrestle in the land of the spirits” – Igbo proverb.

In precolonial Nigeria, the Igbo administrative unit was some sort of a quasi-democratic republican system of government. It was a system deeply rooted in the people and guaranteed equality among its citizens, as opposed to a feudal system where a king lorded over his subjects in an empire.

The Igbo society at the time could be described as acephalous, operating a system devoid of centralization. Village by village rule fostered participatory democracy based on strong traditional values and beliefs. Every member potentially could contribute to discussions and help in arriving at the final decision. Every village had an Age-Grade system as well as Elders Council that carried out executive, legislative and judicial functions. That was how the people were organized and it also informed the process of maintaining law and order.

Unfortunately, that pleasant Igbo traditional administrative system of old, which provided a safeguard against unwholesome behavior and helped popularize the concept of being our brother’s keeper (“onye aghana nwanne ya”), is no more. It died when the colonialists abolished what they met on ground and imposed an alien structure that had no basis in Igbo people’s philosophy of life.

The ultimate failure of that imposed structure and lack of a homegrown alternative led to rabid individualism and materialism that is perpetually self-serving and seeks to continually work against the common good. In place of the Age-Grade system and Council of Elders is the political class, ever ready to sell the people and mortgage their future on a whim. Today, Ndigbo is floating in the middle of the ocean, aboard a rudderless ship.

The crack in Igbo values that started with the arrival of the colonialists soon widened after independence. But it was not until after the Nigeria-Biafra war that everything unraveled. The people became so impoverished that almost every action defaulted to survival mode. Ensuring that the source of wealth is legitimate and noble quickly took a back seat to projection and celebration of the good life. Dodgy characters who, otherwise, should hide their faces in shame, became role models and thought leaders. We became a society of “anything goes.”

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Today, Ndigbo have in positions of power the mercantile class whose stock-in-trade is emptying out the public purse while feeding their insatiable greed. They engage in such acts so brazenly, believing that as long as they are able to stay in the good books of their masters, they have nothing to worry about. In their reckoning, everyday people don’t count.

The fallout of this selfish and purposeless leadership is that the South-East geo-political zone has come under siege and buffeted mercilessly on all fronts by garden-variety criminal elements committing all forms of atrocities including inexplicable heinous murders. Undoubtedly, the region has become an ungoverned and ungovernable space.

Regrettably, the South-East is faced with unpardonable neglect; its once vibrant cities virtually abandoned. Job opportunities are lacking to the extent that many of our young people leave the region as soon as they are done with their education. Those who stay are forced to become career criminals, just to meet up their basic human needs.

Sadly, some of these young people are now willing tools in the hands of evil men and women and increasingly are being indoctrinated by fringe elements with nefarious agenda. Things must change before the situation becomes unsalvageable.

Among other things, a big part of the challenge has to do with the absence of a region-focused media coverage, such that will beam a searchlight on the activities of government and public office holders in a way that promotes accountability and good governance. Eternal vigilance, it’s been said, is the price of liberty.

Although the South-East is not lacking in media entrepreneurs, financial challenges have forced many news organizations to go cap in hand, soliciting for government assistance and by so doing have become more or less propaganda vehicles that pander to the whims of political office holders sponsoring them and, therefore, unable to go against pernicious influences.

“A good newspaper,” Arthur Miller once said, “is a nation talking to itself.” It has been long since the Igbo nation spoke to itself through a free and independent media. And as Thomas Jefferson said, “If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.” We have functioned for so long in the South-East with governments without newspapers, good newspapers.

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Ikengaonline is here to fill that void. It will maintain a healthy distance from the State and those in positions of public trust. It hopes to carry on in a way that will foster media independence while empowering citizens with fact-based information.

Ikengaonline will focus on the five southeast states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo. The aim is to draw attention to the challenges facing the southeast, give voice to the citizens of the zone and highlight many issues that are underreported and misreported in the media.

The southeast has been punching way below its weight since Nigeria’s return to democratic governance in 1999 and it is not hard to notice the correlation between lack of accountability and poor governance and the deteriorating security situation in the zone.

According to Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, “Good Governance cannot remain merely a philosophy. Concrete steps have to be taken for realizing its goals.”

Ikenga is the right hand’s alter ego; a horned totem that speaks to the value placed on one’s right hand. In Igbo mythology, the right hand represents the agency and ability to enforce one’s will upon the universe around them. Ikenga means being in control of your fate as you are bestowed with an all-powerful right hand that God used in creating the universe. Ikenga is the spirit of industry, enterprise, agency, victory in action, inner power, and achievement.

It’s time to bring back our values as we take our destiny in our own hands.

It’s time to salvage the South-East to help it fulfill its potentials. This is exactly what Ikengaonline hopes to achieve.

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We are grateful to The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for supporting this initiative through the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ).

Dr Chido Onumah (@conumah) and Dr Osmund Agbo (@osyagbo) wrote on behalf of the management of Ikengaonline.

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