An ideology is a general concept that informs collective understanding and focus for policy formulation, planning and implementation. It is the philosophy that informs state and individual actions towards development. Ordinarily, the mention of ideology takes everyone’s mind to Capitalism or Socialism.
This should not be so because it is not only Capitalism or Socialism that can develop a people. It could be an ideology that combines all and even more provided it is relevant to the developmental needs of the people. This is because as an instrument of society development, ideology should be appropriate and sensitive to the peculiar needs of the people. Therefore every ideology must be ready to resolve the imbalances in the society, provide a roadmap towards the true development of society and truly develop it. My point of interest today is on Rochas Okorocha’s ideology for the true development of Ndigbo. As an aspirant for the gubernatorial election in Imo State under the APGA political party, he has maintained that his key agendum is free education. How relevant is this free education ideology to the development of the Igbo in Nigeria? Before we answer this question, let us retrospect on the ideologies that have sustained Nigeria’s major ethnic groups and state why free education should be the best to liberate and develop the Igbo in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, the Igbo is one of the major three ethnic groups that have been ruling the country since independence. The others are the Yoruba and the Hausa-Fulani. In the social, economic and political considerations, one can easily say that the Yoruba had survived in Nigeria mainly because of the free education implemented by the Western Region under the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. While others were busy castigating Yoruba for producing less qualified professors, the Yoruba were busy producing them and hoping that in due time, the quality will improve and today they remain the best educated in Nigeria to the extent that they are in control of all the professions and industrial sectors of the country. To the Hausa-Fulani, their own key means of survival in Nigeria today is political leadership of the country. To the Igbo, the most obvious important means of survival is trade business. Remove education from the Yoruba, political leadership from the Hausa-Fulani and trading from the Igbo and tell me how these people would have fared in Nigeria? Consequently, the Yoruba had been investing his best in mass education and the Hausa-Fulani is doing same in political leadership. These investments are funded mainly through federal, state and local government funds. To the Igbo, the strength of public funds in supporting trade development in Igboland is very minimal. During the Eastern Region era, scholarship was strictly available for the children of the chiefs and the elites. The rest merely struggled to send their children to school. It would have been asking too much from the individuals to also fund free education up to the tertiary level so as to improve the quality of trade activities by the Igbo. That was the reason trading has not been well refined and improved to adequately support Igbo development.
Instead of improving state investments (through regional or state or local government funding) in free education to support trade development, governments in Igboland had been engaged in other inappropriate ideologies. They had the republican ideology that negated strong collective efforts at society development. This gave room to too much of individualism in the process of survival. Later, it was the nationalistic ideology championed by the Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. This ideology was not to reverse the republican stuff, but for Nigeria and maybe Africa to immediately become Americans or Europeans. What about his own people in a heterogeneous federation? In a federal state, the well being of the state must first begin from the well being of the composite units. That was why Nigeria under the regional arrangement was economically stronger than she is today, despite the abundance of the petrodollars. From there, Igbo went on to secession ideology championed by Col. Odemegwu Ojukwu. But Ralph Uwechue would argue that Ojukwu should have explored the ideology of constructive diplomacy where he would have demanded for the safety of his people instead of going for secession. The rest is history. After the war, the rulers of Igbo agreed and settled for another ideology called re-integration derived from General Yakubu Gowon’s Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation (the 3Rs) post-war policy. Reintegration informed the post civil war attitude of the Igbo for survival in Nigeria; hence, they cried against any government action that seemed not to carry them along as marginalization. For example, in the creation of states, local governments, building of airports, appointment of military chiefs etc, the Igbo had always cried marginalization which pointed to the fact that the Igbo is not being reintegrated into the Nigerian system. But we need to ask, in the republican, nationalist, secessionist and reintegration ideologies, who had been the ultimate beneficiary? The Igbo elite! Today, an Igbo is Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS). Has this made Igbo duly integrated into Nigeria they way it should be? No! So, all these are whitewash ideas that cannot develop Igbo. Rather, they made the elites richer twenty four seven.
Therefore, one would argue for ideologies that should be of benefit to the masses of Igbo. For example, constructive diplomacy and the consistent demand for the safety of the Igbo in Nigeria would not have claimed many lives as did the secession ideology. Indeed, the best ideology after the war should have been mass free education instead of re-integration. Let us now address the significance of the Rochas Okorocha’s free education ideology in the lives of Igbo youths who are traders and mostly illiterates.
Free education means that every child of school age is entitled to attend school at no cost by his/her parents. Why is free education relevant to the Igbo especially after the civil war? We are aware that after the war, the Igbo were socially, economically, politically, environmentally and physically devastated. What else could have raised sufficient knowledge power for Igbo development if not mass free education? With free education, the educational glory Igbo lost would have been regained. It would have, in the next 30 years (1970-2000), raised a crop of astute Igbo educationists and professionals who would have constituted the intellectual pillar Igbo development needed.
Another peculiar factor that called for free education was the fact that most Igbos who engage in trading are illiterates. Today in Nigeria, Igbo traders occupy over 60% of Nigeria’s trading activities. They were critically involved in the development of important areas in Lagos State: Idumota, Apapa, Ikeja, Alaba etc. Remove Igbo traders in these areas and see what will happen to Lagos! What of Onitsha, Aba, Ibadan, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt, Maiduguri, Jos, Sokoto, Makurdi etc. Yet, they do their businesses under very harsh environments where there are no well planned city arrangements that can make trading less stressful, convenient with full functional infrastructure. When I was in Lagos, Idumota shops where Igbo traders do their business had no ventilation whatsoever, no water, no electricity, poor sewage system, roads are always blocked, dust was something else, no space for parking of cars, ambience was zero and yet they sustained the economy of Lagos. How come Igbo traders are ever ready to accept and dwell in such very poor environment? It was not because there were no alternatives; it was because to reject this poor environment required higher intellectuality which they did not have. Most of them, despite the fact that they control millions of naira, are school certificate holders and I believe this was the case because they could not afford better and higher education. This is where the ideology of free education by Rochas Okorocha becomes very significant, 41 years after the devastating civil war.
With free education in Igboland, starting from Imo State, the quality of trading activities would certainly change and this will be reflected in the pattern of trading, investment and higher portfolio Igbo will command in the Nigerian economy and indeed all over the world. If the personal struggles by Coscharis, Kenquip, Chisco owners could lead to where these companies are today, then we can imagine five times of that progress if these entrepreneurs were well educated abinitio. The method and quality of service offered Nigerians by ABC Transport is surely a case in support of education first before business.
It is sound free education that can galvanize all the wasting talents in drugs manufacturing and trading, iron smelting and manufacturing, cement manufacturing (and save our dear Nkalagu Cement from total extinction), goods trading, into highly improved and sophisticated activities. Most importantly, their attitude to business will change for quality in quantity. It is only education that can move Igbo trade apprenticeship system into a more refined practical system where it is formalized into the business education curriculum of Igbo. Igbo is the most capable of teaching the world trade education through the development and automation of the Igbo Trading Apprenticeship System (ITAS). What it means is that after acquiring formal first degree education, the graduate who wants to be a trader, will now enroll in another institution to learn professional practical trading where the ITAS amongst others would be thought. It is like after studying Economics in the University and one wants to manage a big progressing business; he/she goes to Harvard.
We must note that this free education must key into the peoples’ existing and popular way of life. This is important because Igbo cannot truly develop outside itself; but from within. Therefore, Igbo education must revolutionalize existing occupation (trading) to meet higher society expectations. Igbo free education must be to positively affect Igbo’s environment, talents, resources, needs, productivity, culture and ultimately development. The philosophy of the free education should be: Igbo Free Education for Igbo Development. Therefore if Rochas is not paying politicians’ lip service to free education in Imo State, one will suggest that Imo people should give him a chance to implement this idea that distinguishes him from the crowd. He is the only one that is talking politics in the land; the rest are all infrastructure politicians. He is playing politics of ideology which is the essence of politics.