By Muyiwa Adetiba

I can only remember meeting Professor Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike once or maybe twice—it was so long ago and time plays tricks on one’s memory. But I do distinctly remember spending an evening with him at his Yaba residence some four decades ago. I was then a young man in search of literary direction. I had seriously considered veering into creative writing—poems, plays and novels—and sought the best way to go about it.

The book: ‘Toads for Supper’ by Professor Ike was one of the toasts in town at the time, so I was going to one of the best as it were for advice. I had a manuscript I wanted him to look at and advise on. If he had seen hundreds of such manuscripts and met thousands of wannabe writers, he made a good job of hiding it. He was polite and patient as he explained the constraints and hurdles along the path of young writers.

He did not in any way discourage me. In fact, I think he gave me one or two names I could call on for further assistance. I left feeling grateful. Since then I had only met him on the pages of newspapers. I was to come across him again two weeks ago on the pages of Vanguard Newspaper where a blazing headline screamed, ‘Biafranisation.’ It was credited to him.

Professor Ike leading an ethnic campaign? It didn’t quite gel with the image I had carried of him and quickly rushed to read the article. I was not only relieved after I had read the article, his arguments resonated with me. In fact, I had canvassed some of them some years ago during a meeting with a top Yoruba leader.

If the government at the centre was as inept as claimed, I had reasoned, why then were the Yoruba leaders relying so heavily on it for direction and support. Why couldn’t they look inwards? His argument was that the centre was so powerful that no section of the country could survive without it.

He cited the proposed intra-state railway line among the South-West states that was supposed to encourage easier movement of goods and services within the states but which was purportedly scuttled by the centre as an example. I didn’t think that was enough deterrent and said so. I also said that the slogan of an Oduduwa nation or any other slogan for that matter would make no sense to me if Osun State, for example, could not show me that it could use its resources— men and material—better than say Rivers State.

I had to be sure I would be better off leaving the whole for the part. Next to squash, my favourite game is chess. It is a game that teaches you to look inwards in a strategic way. Each time you lose an officer, you look at the remaining officers and their placement on the board. You look at your strength. It is what determines which way to go.

Your competence in chess depends on how you can strategically use your officers to gain the upper hand. That was the core of Professor Ike’s message. The need to look inwards and use your comparable strengths to your advantage. He used the Biafran imagery because it was something his Igbo people could identify with.

The Biafran spirit is a can-do spirit. It was the spirit that came to the fore during the unfortunate civil war. Sweet they say, are the uses of adversity. Left with little money and little resources, the people surprised even themselves. They had few vehicles; they made more.

They had few guns; they made more. They ran out of fuel; they refined their fuel. There were even accounts, largely unsubstantiated that they had started making rockets and bombs. This was about 50 years ago. You can imagine if they had continued at that pace after the war. That is the spirit Professor Ike was trying to evoke. First, for Anambra State where he comes from, then the entire South-East.

That is the spirit I am trying to evoke for the rest of the country. Look inwards. Stop depending on the centre in the case of the federating units. And stop looking to Europe in the case of the centre. That was in part, the message that won Donald Trump the election. He might have been uncouth, bare-knuckled and downright insulting about it. He might have couched it in a way that sounded racist and xenophobic.

But he connected with people who felt marginalised in their country. He connected with people who felt US jobs were going out to other countries and with it the competitive advantage of the country. The whole world is afraid of the Trump presidency for many reasons. A lot of them are valid because the world has come to accept the leadership and a certain measure of stability that the US brings to the world. I am afraid too. But the issue of immigration scares me the least.

Heavens won’t fall if he makes it harder for Nigerians to come to the US. It might even be a blessing. Our people should stop emigrating from home and learn to make something of their country. Our politicians and government officials should stop ferrying looted money to Europe and learn to re-invest it in their country.

Our leaders should trust and use home-made resources whenever possible. Looking inwards means encouraging the production of local gin instead of declaring it illegal. Nothing says alcohol has to come from grape or barley. If it can come from palm wine or kola nut, fine.

Elsewhere, local alcohol is promoted as a tourist attraction, not banned. And I still can’t get the logic behind destroying small refineries at the creeks when our refineries are not working. Why not organise them and give them templates they can work with.

That way, we’ll create cottage industries and find jobs for the youths. Our dependence on European standards in everything is destroying local initiatives. Lagos, Ogun, Abia and Kebbi states seem poised to develop their respective areas of strengths.

But they are works in progress at best. I know people who want to invest heavily in Lagos and Ogun States for example who are being frustrated by bureaucratic bottlenecks and nonchalant officials. One, a secondary school mate of Ambode, has his foreign backers in place, his technical partners in place. It is a big project that should transform a rural area.

All he wants is the co-operation of the state which as at today, is not forthcoming despite all the talks of Lagos being an investment friendly State. I know someone who wants to with his backers invest massively in housing nationwide and finds the minister in charge uncooperative.

One way of shaking off the insults that Trump was alleged to have heaped on Nigeria and Africa is to show that we can on our own, come up with the goods. Whichever way you look at it, the Trump presidency will present an enormous challenge for Africa.



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