SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2019
On behalf of the government and good people of Imo State, it is with great delight that I welcome you all to Owerri and indeed, Imo State, on the occasion of the 2019 Ahiajoku Festival and 40th Anniversary of the lecture series. I share with us all, the boundless joy at witnessing the restoration of this most cherished Igbo cultural and intellectual summit, after nearly a decade of abeyance. This year’s event acquires even a broader significance especially because of the presence of distinguished personalities from across the length and breadth of our country.
2.0. AHIAJOKU IN IGBO COSMOLOGY.
2.1 Ahiajoku, in Igbo cosmology, as you may wish to recall, was part of the pantheon of Igbo gods and goddesses. She was the goddess of cultivation, fertility and harvest. Like the Pantheon in Rome was transformed into a Christian monument. Today, the Ahiajoku, while losing its pagan core, has been recreated to retain its social essence as a unifying factor among the Igbo. Certainly, the Festival is no longer about cultivation and harvest. It has indeed, metamorphosed into a pan-Igbo intellectual harvest of sorts. It seeks to spotlight the contributions the Igbo have made and are still making to culture, civilization and humanity. The Festival is the celebration that accords formal recognition to a culture which as Igbo people, we were almost in danger of losing. It further creates a context for serious reflection on the profound cultural values of the Igbo people.
2.2 The Ahiajoku Festival is intended to provide a veritable platform for defining the core tenets of Igbo culture in relation to the larger corpus of Nigerian culture, Africa and world civilization. It also seeks to provoke and encourage scholars to undertake relevant researches on Igbo Culture in relation to the Igbo world view and overall human development.
2.3 According to Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” At Ahiajoku, the Igbo people seek to examine their life, their fortunes and their culture. The Lecture Series, you would all agree with me, was and still is, the apex Igbo intellectual convention of our time. The light kindled during the discourses radiated far beyond the shores of Nigeria. Since the event was founded four decades ago, it has provided a veritable platform for intellectual and cultural “Ita Nti” or caucus, among the Igbos.
3.0 THE AHIAJOKU INSTITUTE
3.1 The 2019 Ahiajoku Festival, certainly, marks another milestone in the “Rebuild Imo Agenda” of the present Imo State Government. Less than a month into this administration, we successfully revived this important element of the Imo State Brand. It was elevated to the status of an Institute overseen by a Director-General. This is with a view to making the event a first class resource centre on Igbo culture and civilisation, like the Goethe Institut; the German cultural association and Instituto Italiano De Cultura – the Italian cultural institute. We hope that with this structure in place, the Festival would now have an enduring institutional framework.
3.2 The Institute also would drive the implementation of the actionable resolutions of the conferences as well as serve as a veritable institutional memory. At its full bloom, it would be a centre for the production and exchange of films, music, theatre and literature. Furthermore, it would serve as a vehicle for the celebration of other Igbo artistic forms like Mbari. In this regard, it will gather, collate and publish in book and electronic formats, cultural milestones including the Ahiajoku Lectures.
3.3 Since the Ahiajoku was instituted, many outstanding Igbo Scholars have answered the clarion call to lead the triumphal homecoming. Prof. Michael Echeruo, then in his mid-thirties – gave the curtain raiser in 1979. Since then, it has attracted a constellation of stars. These include, Professors –
➢ Bede Okigbo
➢ Adiele Afigbo
➢ Anya o. Anya
➢ Donatus Nwoga
➢ Ben Nwabueze
➢ Pius Okigbo
➢ Michael Onwuejeogwu
➢ Anazionwu Okoro
➢ Mark Chijioke
➢ Alexander Animalu
➢ Romanus Ohuche
➢ Gabriel Umezurike
➢ Emmanuel Obiechina
➢ Victor Uchendu
➢ Cyril Onwumechili
➢ Emmanuel Emenanjo
➢ Rev. E.N. Onwu
➢ Michael Nwachukwu
➢ Inyang Ette
➢ Laz Ekwueme
➢ Chibuzo Ogbuagu
➢ Monsignor Theophilus Okere
➢ Chinua Achebe
➢ Barth Nnaji and
➢ Chinedu Nebo
3.4 We pay glowing tributes to these great intellectuals without whom the story of the Ahiajoku lectures would be incomplete. As you can see, keynote speakers span various departments of human endeavour: the Humanities, Social Sciences, Sciences and Law. They also include scholars from across the former Eastern region. This mosaic of guest lecturers over the times underscores our common brotherhood.
3.5 The choice of Prof MJC Echeruo as keynote speaker for this edition was deliberate. It was designed to rekindle the flame once again. More so because the tail-wind of his commencement lecture imbued the series with such a great momentum that sustained it for 31 years. We, therefore, need him to fan the dead embers into flames, after nine years of cold ash. By this token, Prof. MJC Echeruo would be lighting the intellectual torch of the festival again and then pass it over to the coming generation.
3.6 Another unique feature of this edition is that it is being co-chaired by no less personalities than his majesty– the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe – along with former Vice President of Nigeria and one-time military governor of Lagos State – Ochiagha Ebitu Ukiwe.
4.0 LOOKING BEYOND OIL
4.1 At this juncture, may I please pause to address a matter of common concern to all of us. Indeed, we are in the “epoch of incredulity” and “season of despair,” to borrow these pertinent phrases from Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities.” The dark clouds are looming as oil has now become an “endangered species.” Given the terror visited on the West because of their addiction to oil, their scientists have spent sleepless nights in their search for alternative energy sources. Whether to combat global warming, or to free themselves from dependence on the black gold, the central issue is that the days of oil are numbered. The question however is how prepared are we for a life after crude oil? I am concerned and I believe, we are all concerned.
4.2 It is also instructive to note that we are also carrying our seed of salvation. As we are aware, Nigeria was once the world’s largest producer of palm oil. This activity, was largely centred on the Niger Delta Region, hence, the area was named the “Oil Rivers”, long before the advent of crude oil. Till date, oil palm remains one of the most important cash crops in the region, and could serve again as a major driver for the economic development of the region, in line with the vision of the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan.
4.3 I have stated it again and again that the years of the oil palm are not over. Consequently, Imo State is poised to regain its leadership place in the subsector in the next three years. We will be planting one million oil palm seedlings every year over this period in the first instance. The multiplier effects derivable from the oil palm cannot be quantified. Our other agricultural produce of great value consists of cassava, cashew, yam tubers and maize among others. Other sources of high economic potentials include our huge deposits of mineral resources such as calcium carbonate, gypsum, white clay, limestone, lead and zinc among others.
4.4 Furthermore, another major essence of our gathering today, is that people are seeking for explanations for the numerous challenges of the time. From the South East to other parts of Nigeria, Ghana to South Africa, Malaysia to Singapore, London to Washington, Thailand to Guangzhou, the Igbo and indeed, the people of the South-South today have become a phenomenon to contend with. As a result, of our high mobility, apprehensions have arisen that need reassurances, there are misperceptions to be corrected and ethos to be reinforced.
4.5 Your Excellencies, our very distinguished celebrities, my dear brothers and sisters. I perceive a sense of urgency now. Let us begin to forge a new sense of brotherhood rooted in forgiveness and mutual respect. Let us rekindle our enthusiasm for a collective drive for corporate growth. As a people the South East and South-South regions we must recreate that sense of enterprise that made the old Eastern Region the fastest growing economy in the world at the immediate post-independence era.
4.6 We need to shine a bright light on our strength of character and community spirit: strengthen our common bonds and recreate those qualities that saw us become the only race in the world that survived a devastating civil war without a rehabilitation commission. Even, post-war Europe as great as they were, required the Marshal Plan to rebuild after the World War II. But for us, we rebuilt through the dint of our brows, overcame scorched earth financial barriers and surged forward on our own momentum.
4.7 Certainly, the Ahiajoku Festival is part of the comprehensive efforts to rebuild the blocks of our broken economic, social, institutional and infrastructural bulwarks. This, we believe, is possible through that kind of intellectual engagements that squeezes out the enterprising spirit out of us. This is again, why we are here.
5.0 AKU RUO ULO
5.1 In the words of our ancestors, “Aku ruo ulo, ya akaa onye kpatara ya.” Meaning that; “It is when the wealth made in foreign land reaches home that it tells the story of the person that made it.” We are very mindful of the national and global exploits of our intelligentsia. What remains is for the fruits of these intellectual exploits to reach home. We are challenged to provide answers for the challenges of our time.
5.2 Your Excellencies, erudite scholars, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, as the Heartland of the East, Imo State is undeniably the bastion of Igbo culture. We are ringed completely by Igbo speaking states and communities. Hence, everything about us is Igbo. We boast of the highest literacy rate in the country as well as the largest diaspora population. As a result, while Abuja is the administrative capital of Nigeria and Lagos its commercial hub, we are, unarguably, the intellectual capital of the country.
5.3. Being mindful of our huge human capital, tourism and cultural endowments, we could not but brace up to fulfil the demands of our unique calling. Consequently, with a GDP rated 5th in the country, we have worked to restore our pride of place as the business hub of the South East. Today, Imo State is on the march again.
5.4 Consequently, we are working to rehabilitate our infrastructure that suffered neglect in the past eight years. Works are ongoing in 25 critical roads across the State Capital. We have awarded contracts for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of parts of five major Federal Roads in Imo State conscious of their economic importance to us. These include the Owerri-Orlu Road, Owerri-Okigwe Road, Owerri-Obowo -Umuahia Road, a part of Owerri-Port Harcourt Road and part of Owerri- Aba road.
5.5 In addition, construction works have started on various rural roads involving a cumulative distance of 380.7 kilometres across 26 local governments of the State. The N13.5 billion project are being financed in partnership with the World Bank under its Rural Access and Mobility Project (RAMP).To get the project off the drawing board, we quickly rallied and paid the N500 million counterpart fund which enabled World Bank to roll out the projects.
5.6 Other areas of top priorities in the State are security, education and human capacity development. We have done so much to improve on our Ease of Doing Business in the State. Owerri has the best array of hotels per square kilometre in Nigeria. With over 20,000 hotel rooms in the State, an enlightened and friendly people, Imo is the state to beat when it comes to tourism and conference hosting. Next time you would be here, significant progress would have been made in restoring Oguta Lake Resort as an international tourist destination.
5.7 To underscore the growing investor confidence in the Imo State economy since our assumption of office, we now have four airlines flying in and out of the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airline while the existing ones have increased their fleets and routes. The AfrExim Bank, is currently working to establish its Investment Centre for the South East and South-South Zones in Owerri with a $50 million (N18 Billion) investment in Imo State. This is for the construction of its proposed Quality Assurance Facility in Owerri.
5.8 Recognising our huge diaspora population, we have set up an Office on Diaspora Matters under the Governor’s Office. Diaspora remittances recently was estimated at $25bn nationally. South East immigrants, it is believed, contribute over 50 percent of this amount and we estimate that Imo State constitutes over 40 percent of this number with its nearly 1.2 million Diaspora population. To further harness these potentials, we are set for a Diaspora Summit on the 3rd of January, 2020 and we invite you all to attend. In addition, recently, a leading Nigerian Business newspaper, BusinessDay declared Imo State, the fastest growing economy in the Country.
6.1 On this note, distinguished compatriots, it is time we united as a people and to find a common umbrella under the Ohaneze. We must sink our differences and pool our resources and talents together. Our ancestors, understanding the power of unity said, “Igwe bu ike” which infact is the original name of the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport. It is my considered opinion, therefore, that everybody can find a suitable place under the leadership of Ohaneze, in our pursuit of Igbo renaissances.
6.2 Excellences, our royal fathers, distinguished academics, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to assure you all that our vision is to become one of the top three most developed state economies in Nigeria by 2025 and ranked within Africa’s top ten economies by 2030. We therefore, invite you to come to Imo State and invest. We have created an investment information desk outside to help you with the pieces of information you might need in this regard.
6.3 Once again, I welcome you all to Imo State. It is therefore, my sincere pleasure to declare the 2019 Ahiajoku Festival open. I hope we all would have an insightful event and indeed, a very refreshing time.
6.3 Thank you all for your attention and may God bless our collective aspirations.