THEME: MEETING NNEWI DEVELOPMENT CHALLENGES
A KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY
DAME UNOAKU EKWEGBALU, ESQ
@ NNEWI USA (NUSA) ANNUAL CONVENTION
HELD ON JUNE 29- JULY 3, 2011 @
RADISSON HOTEL, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, USA
The President of NUSA, Other members of the executive committee of NUSA, Various Chapter Presidents of NUSA and their executives here present, Distinguished guests,Umunnem n’Anaedo deemenuo!
N – NOBLE
N – NATION
E – ENDOWED
W – WITH
I – INTELLECTUALS
I Salute you.
It is my pleasure and honor to present the keynote address for this year’s NUSA Annual Convention. The theme is – Meeting Nnewi Development Challenges and I consider it very appropriate. Two years ago, at Atlanta, the theme had been “Unity, Co-operation, and Understanding for the Development of Nnewi.” If the message of that theme sank in, we would then say that we are ready to meet the challenges to be faced.
It is by God’s design that this Convention is holding in Los Angeles – City of Angels. It means that God is here to help us fashion ways to meet the challenges. At the dedication of the temple and royal place which Solomon had built, God had appeared to him and promised – “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sins and will heal their land.” At the City of Angels, on this Saturday, July 2, 2011, we the members of NUSA pledge that “we will humble ourselves, pray and seek your face so that you will hear from heaven, forgive our sin and heal our land. Lord, please give us the eyes to see, the ear to listen, and the mind to discern how we can meet the challenges of Nnewi Development. We are also standing on the authority that you said that wherever two or three are gathered you will be in their midst and grant their request. Meeting the challenges of Nnewi development is a race against time, which we must all join to run in order to succeed. Some forty-odd years ago, while in Secondary school, I met this dashing young man from Uruagu, Nnewi. I came from Agulu, In Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State. Forty two years later, I have not regretted the decision I took to marry Edwin Ekwegbalu of Akabo-Edoji, Uruagu, Nnewi. All these years, I have derived exceptional joy and fulfilment
from any project or activity that aims to make our dear Nnewi a better place. This year’s theme, in essence, captures a fundamental question that should burn brightly and passionately in the heart of every proud son and daughter of Nnewi- how our dear city can attain its vast development potentials given its rich history, richer people and arguably, the richest potentials for growth of any community in Nigeria! By mentioning “Development Challenges”, our convention organizers have clearly drawn our attention to the fact that there are, indeed, challenges to Nnewi’s development that we must decisively tackle at events of this nature if our dear city is to truly live up to its nickname- “The Japan of Africa”.
Nnewi, as a city, presents a lot of interesting paradoxes. If architectural masterpieces were to be one of the key criteria for assessing development, I believe Nnewi would readily qualify, given the sheer number of such wonders that dot our landscape. Yet, juxtapose this with our
ugly distinction of having some of the narrowest and worst road infrastructure of any city in Nigeria and a totally different picture emerges. Indeed, a visitor once joked that Nnewi people deliberately keep their roads in such deplorable state to ensure that the auto spare parts trade, for which the town and its people are nationally acclaimed, is sustained! Viewing Nnewi from the standpoint of the exceptional achievements of its sons and daughters can also be very uplifting. From J.C. Ulasi, one of the country’s earliest transport magnates, to Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, undisputedly Nigeria’s wealthiest man prior to his death in 1966, his son Ikemba Emeka Odumegwu- Ojukwu; Senator Nwafor Orizu, the country’s first Senate President, Chief Augustine Ilodibe and a host of other exceptionally accomplished businessmen, the impression you get is that of an exceptionally gifted and successful people. Yet, contrast this with the widely acknowledged disdain that the average Nnewian acquired for western education, especially from the late 70s to date and this illustrious history assumes some worrisome dimensions, especially for the future, given the power of knowledge in today’s society.
The biggest paradox, perhaps, is the fact that though Nnewi is widely acknowledged to be economically very rich, at least individually, our city is curiously very poverty-stricken, olitically speaking. While even less endowed communities have parlayed their patchy economic resources into good political advantage; Nnewi has little or nothing to show for all its unrivalled economic clout. Even when one of our own, Dame Virgy Etiaba, assumed governorship position for a brief period, it was owing to fortuitous circumstances, rather than any planned, sustained and decisive action by Ndi Nnewi. Contrast this with a certain shadowy group called the Jewish lobby in this country and how their limitless economic resources have been deployed to great political advantage. While other communities have been known to organize themselves into monolithic political units for effectiveness, what you continually find in Nnewi is disorganized activity- people working at cross purposes, a town with no defined political leaning and a people consumed by the belief that once personal economic success is achieved, little else matters! The result is the Nnewi we have had to contend with in recent years- a town with ravaged by fear and insecurity; first of armed robbers that repeatedly rampaged through the town in
utter disregard for the security agencies; then kidnappers that kept away many well-meaning
Nnewi people from their beloved city especially in 2009 and 2010. Another outcome of the foregoing is that while Nnewi evolves from its previous agrarian setting to a modern city, it is totally lacking in the essentials of a modern city - from recreational facilities, any form of organized town planning and basic societal infrastructure. Also, though the city can boast of a University teaching hospital, the challenges faced by that
institution in meeting, sometimes even basic healthcare needs, are legendary.
Evidently, fancy houses, fancy cars and good bank accounts can symbolise signs of development at the personal level, but they do not represent development in the societal context the term is usually applied to. Development, according some on-line definitions I looked up, is a state of advancement or growth; a progression from a simpler or lower to a more advanced, mature or complex form or stage. It is also defined as “the gradual advancement or growth through a series of progressive changes”. Development, the definition continues “is a process, not a level”.
If we, therefore, accept that development is a process, then it is clearly not a process we have mastered or applied ourselves diligently to. At the personal level, yes, but at a collective level as Nnewi people, the answer is a resounding NO! What are these development challenges we
need to urgently and decisively tackle? I have identified a few in the hope that they would engender further suggestions and productive discourse at this convention.
1) FAITH IN OURSELVES
I actually borrowed this sub-title verbatim from the theme of an excellent address presented by Chief C.C. Mojekwu, one of the first lawyers from Nnewi during a civic reception to mark his appointment as a Minister in the Eastern Region in 1963. In that address, he lamented the absence of collective faith among Nnewi people asking the critical question back then “Can’t we plan together, can’t we have more faith in
He continued “...this ancient town has a history and a culture; a past of which we are justifiably proud; a heritage which has not been surpassed; a culture and tradition which has been respected by many until by our lack of faith in ourselves we started to
lose grip”. Forty-eight years later, I can attest to the fact that we appear to have truly lost grip, especially politically. The problem is not in individual self-belief, which the average Nnewi apparently possesses in abundance! Our biggest challenge is in coming together as brothers and
sisters to plan for our collective future and that of our children both young and unborn. In doing this, we must eschew all forms of duplicity, infighting and religious or cultural differences.
2) INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT
Judging by the number of industries in the various villages and wards of Nnewi, we clearly have the passion and will to transform our environment, create employment and contribute to the development of our dear nation Nigeria. What we have always lacked, are the needed government support and a common front to clearly and constructively present our case to the appropriate authorities towards making our operating environment better. For this reason, most of these industries are either function epileptically or out rightly closed down presently.
The biggest problem faced in this regard is power and in view of the current power reforms in the country, should we not collectively make plans for a power plant that would ensure our power woes are over forever or in the alternative, ensure our community is given the needed power support from government to viably sustain our industries? This point is particularly urgent in view of the on-going power reforms in Nigeria. I believe there are power experts in NUSA that should provide better insight on this.
With the emergence of the knowledge society where skilled and professional human capital hold sway, it is clear that any society that lags behind educationally, as Nnewi has done over the past three decades may lose out in the scheme of things. We must find ways of ensuring that our young ones, particularly the males, proceed to tertiary educational levels rather than the propensity to go into trading shortly after, at best,
secondary education. I propose the establishment of an Nnewi Educational Trust by groups such as NUSA for the purpose of not only providing scholarships for bright, but indigent Nnewi sons and daughters will to acquire tertiary education, but to help create awareness on the value of education and re-awaken interest among the populace in education. Presently, what obtains is that these bright, financially-disadvantaged children are often railroaded straight into trading apprenticeship for the boys and marriage for the girls. We cannot afford to lag behind in today’s knowledge society.
4) IMPROVING SECURITY/ SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE
I believe this distinguished gathering should also look into the issue of the abysmal level of security and social infrastructure in Nnewi with a view to making suggestions for improvement and where possible, making contributions towards the improvement of the current situation in Nnewi.
We must all join hands to ensure that kidnapping and other terrible social vices that have driven people away from our beloved homeland, are driven out of our lands permanently. They are alien to our culture as Nnewi people are known for honest, industrious pursuits!
5) DEVELOPING NNEWI INTO A MEGA CITY
By now, we should start projecting into what we want our dear Nnewi to look like in, say, the next ten years. We should start making Nnewi look, and feel, like the city it is gradually being transformed into. No group is better positioned to this than a group such as NUSA, given your exposure to best practice in town planning and the value Nnewi professionals in USA in this area can add. Now is our opportunity to define the
city we want Nnewi to be like, not when it has fully assumed the shape of an urban jungle it is gradually been transformed into.
6) IMPROVING HEALTHCARE
There is no doubt that our health care delivery system in Nnewi is in urgent need of improvement. While medical missions are helpful, the biggest challenge is providing some of our most critical health institutions with the working tools they need to function effectively such as dialysis machines, robust mammogram equipment, better diagnostic facilities and – yes, quality power generating machines!
7) DEFINING OUR SUCCESS PARAMETERS
It is often said that with effective measurement, whatever we are doing is similar to winking in the dark- you know what you are doing, but nobody else does. We must therefore define what our success parameters should be to enable us measure and ascertain progress in some of the critical areas aforementioned. For instance, achieving zero power downtime, though sounding presently like an impossible feat, is something we can set as a target and work towards achieving, just as we can also target halving maternal/infant mortality on a year-on-year basis.
8) OTHER SUGGESTIONS FOR NUSA
a. As head of different organizations at Nnewi, we had cause to embark on development projects. From that experience, we devised code for successful project implementation.
1. Keep faith with the stakeholders at all material times
2. Be faithful in implementation of the project
3. Show courage at every level
4. Speed counts
5. Keep to the original concept
6. Accountability counts
7. Changing goal post in the middle of the match can be a costly mistake.
Following this code, we were able to complete our three-Storey Hall project, Skill Acquisition Academy, Water Project, among others. NUSA came into being many years ago to fill the yawning leadership at Nnewi. NUSA commanded respect and carried out laudable projects like distribution of equipment to schools and hospitals, refurbishing of schools, among others. Having identified the dearth of Educational facilities in Nnewi, NUSA planned to build a Library. Funds were raised; the sod for the project was turned during NUSA home coming in December, 2007. Thereafter, NUSA broke the development codes. The Library project became a topic for discussion at conventions rather than project for completion.
While NUSA argued back and forth, she lost the followers and partners who never have patience for hesitant leaders. NUSA come to build like Nehemiah, but did not show the courage of Nehemiah when provoked. But all hope is not lost if we retrace our steps today. The Nkwo Triangle Project encompasses the Library, ICT Center, and other projects. Let that project take off immediately for NUSA to meet Nnewi development challenges. Different states in United States of America have different features Nnewians could tap to meet their development challenges. Those in the Tri-State area could explore the facilities from the United Nations, International Agencies, and Development Banks to plan trade missions to Nnewi or plan Economic forum in the United States. NUSA should also: - Plan exchange programs for the Youths. - Give support for Public Enlightenment Programs especially for Community participation in governance. - Be focused on crossing the hurdle and attaining their goal. The hurdles should only sharpen your zeal to succeed. - Never fail with good reasons. Umunnem, my suggestions above are not exhaustive. They are just some of my thoughts on how we can begin the process of overcoming our development challenges in Nnewi and transforming our city into the true “Japan of Africa”. I have no doubt that the eminent gathering here have all it takes to provide meaningful insights and solutions to the issues
raised here and much more in our quest to make Nnewi the land of our eternal joy and love. I wish us all very successful deliberations here and a most wonderful and fulfilling time at this convention. Umunnem, ogwu k’oha n’onu moo!
DAME UNOAKU EKWEGBALU, ESQ