Why Nnewi model can transform Nigeria
February 11, 2014 by Azuka Onwuka
Any time Nigeria is compared to a smaller country like Ghana, some great logicians would retort that “Ghana is just as big as Lagos State,” as if the more populated a country is, the more underdeveloped and disorganised it should be. When such “Aristotles” are reminded that, except for Pakistan, the other five countries that are more populated than Nigeria – including China and India that are individually almost 10 times larger than Nigeria – are ahead of Nigeria in all development indices, such people keep quiet or look for other feeble excuses. Therefore, it will not be surprising to see such people scoff at any comparison between Nigeria and Nnewi: “a mere town in Anambra State of Nigeria.” But it is incontrovertible that attitude is far more critical to success than size.
Nigeria has perennially been “work-in-progress,” with its democracy always “nascent.” We are always changing our systems and policies, deceiving ourselves that they are the cause of our problem, like the typical poor workman that always blames his tools but never himself. Although Nnewi has some things in common with Nigeria, comparatively, it has evolved a system that works for it, a system which gives it peace, stability, growth and development: luxuries which have eluded Nigeria for over 50 years.
Just like Nigerians, Nnewi people are proud people; some would say “arrogant”. There are some reasons for that. Like Nigeria, Nnewi is bigger and richer than all its neighbours. The town has produced many prominent figures. Among them is the first President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, described as the richest Nigerian of his time: a man who lent Nigeria his Rolls Royce and personal driver for the use of Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Nigeria in 1956. There is also his Oxford University-trained son, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the first military governor of Eastern Nigeria, the leader of the defunct Republic of Biafra, and a folk hero among the Igbo. Then, there is Dr. Nwafor Orizu, Nigeria’s third Senate President and three-month Acting President in the First Republic, as well as Dame Virgy Etiaba, Nigeria’s first female governor of a state. There are also many business moguls and industrialists like Chief Augustine Ilodibe, founder of Ekene Dili Chukwu Transport, and Chief Innocent Chukwuma, Chairman of Innoson Motors, whose company manufactures motor vehicles in Nnewi. In all modesty, it is doubtful if there is another town in Nigeria that has more millionaires than Nnewi town.
However, unlike Nigeria, Nnewi is not rich because of any natural resources. There is no proof that Nnewi people are physically stronger, more intelligent, more prayerful, or more righteous than others. There is no evidence that God loves the town more than other towns. However, it is obvious that Nnewi indigenes made their town what it is by imbibing certain principles. Like Nigeria’s ethnic groups, “the four arms of Nnewi” cherish their individual identity: Otolo, Uruagu, Umudim, and Nnewi-ichi. But unlike Nigerians, every Nnewi son or daughter sees himself or herself first as an Nnewi indigene before laying claim to his or her part of the town. These four arms compete among themselves, quarrel, disagree and resist any attempt by any part of the town to dominate others. Yet, in all the internal rivalry, there has never been any record of bloodshed between two communities in the last 100 years of modern history.
The four arms of Nnewi are not equal in terms of land size and population. They are bigger in the descending order of Otolo, Uruagu, Umudim, and Nnewi-ichi. In the late 1980s, three of the arms of Nnewi protested against marginalisation and domination. Subsequently, each arm boycotted the events the town did together. For 10 years, the unity of the town was threatened but there was no bloodshed. That crisis led the town to adopt the rotation of all political and socio-cultural posts in the town among the four arms. So, if Otolo provided the chairman of the local government area, Uruagu would provide the deputy chairman; Umudim would provide the secretary and Nnewi-ichi would provide the member of House of Assembly. Positions that involved other towns and local government areas – like national legislative positions, governorship, and Presidency – were excluded from this arrangement. No arm of the town is deemed too intelligent to always provide the leaders of the town. To ensure that other parts of the town do not wait forever for their turn, each person is allowed only one term in office. Whatever magic one wants to perform in office, one has to perform it within the three or four years of one’s tenure.
But the only offices that are not open for contest are the traditional ones. Each of the four arms has a traditional head called the Obi. Since Otolo is the first arm, the Obi of Otolo is also the Igwe of Nnewi: he leads rather than rules. Within the four arms, there are also villages, and within the villages, there are umunna or big families. Each level has an obi as its traditional head. The position of every obi is hereditary by primogeniture. In the event that an obi dies without a son, his oldest brother takes over. This tradition has existed since time immemorial. Nobody schemes to become an obi or the Igwe. If the first son is guilty of bloodshed or some other taboos, he will not inherit his father’s throne. Because the throne is not open for contest, it has helped to ensure peace in the town for generations.
Most importantly, there is a great passion among the Nnewi people to develop their town and make it secure. After the Nigerian Civil War, the Igbo lost much of their investment in almost all parts of Nigeria. Nnewi businessmen decided to found a motor and motorcycle spare parts market in their town: the Nkwo Nnewi/Agbo-Edo Market. They nurtured it and it grew to attract people from different parts of the country and beyond. That was the same spirit that made Chukwuma to situate Innoson Motors automobile plant in Nnewi even though other bigger cities would have been more attractive for such a big venture. The owners of transport companies like Ekene Dili Chukwu, Izuchukwu, EEkesons, and Orizu Motors also ensured that they have major terminuses in Nnewi. Consequently, it is easy to access the town from all parts of Nigeria.
That is the aku-luo-uno philosophy: If you have money, intelligence, or physical strength, bring it home. No matter how influential an Nnewi man is, if his impact is not felt at home, he is regarded as a nobody. The people do not wait for government to develop their town for them. Through individual and communal efforts, schools, libraries, hospitals (including the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital), scholarships, churches, pipeborne water, electricity, and roads are provided. In addition, one thing that helps to drive development in Nnewi is the intense but healthy rivalry that exists among the four arms of Nnewi. For example, if one arm starts a scholarship scheme for its indigenes, or paves a road, the other arms immediately want to beat that record. And whenever someone from an arm of the town is holding an elective post, other people from the other communities watch to see what impact he will make in the town. If he does not perform well, his people are continually ridiculed.
Unlike the Nigerian, the Nnewi person thinks of what he can do for his community rather than what his community can do for him. Unlike the Nigerian, the Nnewi man never ridicules his town before non-indigenes. Unlike the Nigerian, the Nnewi person is very proud of his Nnewi-ness: he proclaims his identity unapologetically wherever he is and defends his homeland always. Undoubtedly, Nnewi is by far smaller than Nigeria, but it has evolved a system that has made it excel. Occasionally, it stumbles, but it does not fall. If Nigerians were to imbibe the Nnewi spirit by putting the nation first always, seeking peace, creating the spirit of healthy rivalry among the ethnic groups, pursuing industrialisation, and perpetually thinking of ways to make the nation great, Nigeria would be the envy of other nations.