I: Not too sure of the exact dateline. But it started sometime in 1994/5. Then, finance houses were booming, as well as some other quick profit businesses . . . Some elite Ndokwa sons and daughters felt the need to get together in Lagos. The dream initially may have been merely social, but God has His ways of raising His ‘Moses’. Well, the gathering became a reality and big boys and girls of substance started meeting in ‘big circles’ and where else but in Lagos Sheraton Hotels and Towers where they met to feast . . . until their conscience pricked them to engage in a more noble, patriotic cause. It could be a forum to broach ideas that could facilitate the emancipation of Ndokwa, a ‘think tank’ of some sort.
Great visions attract. News of the meetings filtered. Every Ndokwa ‘big boy’, especially, had heard of this forum and wanted to belong. It was not difficult for these foundation members to invite in other influential Ndokwa big wigs. Matter of fact, the group was joined by ‘professionals’ from other major Nigerian cities: Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Benin, warri, etc. It gathered steam. Think of the bankers, savings and loans cum finance entrepreneurs, managing directors of established firms, general managers, consultants and controllers, and of course successful business men and women, lecturers, etc. Most were renown professionals. Ndokwa could boast of a robust cache of them like any other ethnic nationality in Lagos. Was that the (pointless) point these folks wanted to prove? Any wonder that when it came to choosing a name, ‘Ndokwa Professionals’ easily came up and was adopted?
And God’s counsel will stand . . . for sooner, NP thought of putting the Ndokwa nation ahead of their personal interests. Sooner, they started to discuss how marginalised we are as an ethnic nation in the comity of Nigerian ethnic nations. Recall the theme that dominated the discussion here in web before NNU came into the equation? That tells us that the passionate writings, opinions and idea generation we read every day didn’t start here. You know the facts of Ndokwa’s pains stares you in the face and no two or three Ndokwa indigenes can avoid that ugly side of our reality sitting idly sipping a glass of drink wherever on this planet earth. It must be discussed.
So, this very versatile, passionate group (not team) of Ndokwa professionals started thinking projects and the first in the project line that caught their fancy was to do a documentary that showed to the whole world how naturally endowed yet deprived and exploited Ndokwa is. You can’t be surprised this was their priority. It would have been mine too. The point however is, it took off, generated steam but no one saw the documentary; I mean outside the core team that worked unsuccessfully on it! For, no documentary was fully made and none was sent to either radio or TV for airing. And that for lack of adequate funding, teamwork and sustained steam power towards the original vision. Waoh! Sounds familiar problem? As nothing happened from what was planned to happen, what do you expect? The center could not hold for lack of well articulated purpose supported by an effective structure. So attendance thinned down, meetings held far between and then, dispersal. Well, well, well.
II: Two truisms: talent is not enough. Our brother, Tony Egba would sound this from the roof top. The other is, good intention is hardly enough. Talent and good intentions (or vision) and much more is needed when it comes to delivering on vision. It is the reason visionaries must leave the place of just envisioning and become missionaries. This level of engagement leaves little room for armchair philosophers. It compel the visionary to offer clear direction, agree resources needed with his team, detailing how assignment will be carried out (including infusing agreed values), and what all stakeholders will benefit by being part of the team. All these seem to me necessary ingredients for any missionary to succeed. And no gain saying, intentions clearly articulated should not only be big enough to attract interest of great men, it should be equally realisable else it could frustrate. It it will take all these to attract the interest of kings and queens like you. And we are kings and queens; ‘republican’ yet ‘kings’ and ‘queens’.
And back to the documentary project. Did this project earlier embarked not meet these standards in order to attract and sustain the interest of the early comers to Ndokwa Professionals? Or was it meant to toast? Was it some project capable of sustaining interest of all that came? Please don’t see this as criticism of what happened then, neither of the great men and women who participated in the abandoned project. For, until we see then as ‘days of little beginning’ just as today represents ‘little beginnings for what our umbrella body (NNU) will attain in five to ten years time’, we may miss the point.
Well, well, well. The dispersal (or better still, gradual drift) happened and it continued. But these guys never lost their passion. They still met. Thanks to them. They met at events, (planned and unplanned).events like weddings, birthdays parties, book launch, fund raising, or even burials, etc. Even casual friendly visits helped. Depending on how many friends destiny brought together at a time, then recent experiences of Ndokwa national pains easily made the unofficial agenda. This invisible hand resuscitated their passions and no sooner, there was another clarion call and a resurrection of Ndokwa Professionals meetings. But this time, the idea was nobler.
The heights attained by the various ethnic associations, (Urhobo, Isoko, Ijaw, Itshekiri, to name a few had began to shame our non-existence. The need now meant nothing less than raising the bar. With political campaigns in the air, the need to galvanise our people to speak with one voice and checkmate these ‘perceived oppressors’ was rife. Ah, no more mere clubbing; rather they had burning desire to address the problem of discordant voices from Ndokwa. There was an urgency to it; to have Ndokwa people speak to the interest of the Ndokwa nation. And bang!
The metamorphosis was quick and timely. Paul said and I paraphrase, whether for real or ulterior motive, the important thing was that Christ is preached (Phil. 1: 18). And I say, whether for personal or collective interest, for the first time, the Ndokwa elite became collectively interested in the leadership of Ndokwa under one umbrella. What else can we ask for? These are a crop of people that cannot be led by the nose. I was convinced about that. They could hold their own anywhere. Name the shakers and movers then. They are still happening today; those who are still alive. They were well empowered to stand their ground, even with the topmost leader of note.
Permit me to cite a meeting at the late Rear Admiral Uguna’s country home one night after a burial event I don’t want to mention. Our guys spoke elatedly. I almost thought the late general of blessed memory was going to be conscripted to the leadership role that day. After the meeting, I was asked to lead the prayer. I prayed the prayer of my heart re the issue of Ndokwa leadership, unity and progress. There was a resounding ‘amen’. You could feel the pulse of the nation through this gathering, which had a good representation of our elite. After that meeting, there was further conscious attempt to reach out to people of like minds, and of course those they saw as passionate respectable leaders capable of uniting our people. But as an organisation, it was like a new wine in an old wine skin. It was difficult to hold.
Well, the regrouping happened. The name was given. Ndokwa National Union (NNU). The name made sense. It addressed the sensibility of the elite. Partly too, that of the ordinary Ndokwa man. That is, if he/she ever heard of the existence of NNU. Not when Justice Obi led it. Even during the time of Prof. Okecha led NNU, it was hardly different. It was still very much elitist, which attests to the procedure for their elections. The Ndokwa nation was hardly involved in their choice and installation. Their financing said who owned the association; it was not the Ndokwa people. So they (the executives) were hardly accountable to them. And accountability is not about responding to emails as some would want us believe. I am talking about informing clans of what was in the offing, and seeking their blessings to the programmes, if any. At this time when the vision was getting widened, it would have been more appropriate to widen its base. It would have needed a new structure; a new wine skin; not the old.
But organisations take time to evolve . . . It wasn’t just a question of who was reached and who was chosen? That is history now. It is a matter of vision and translation of the vision. Was it well articulated for the ultimate good of Ndokwa? Was it a grass root movement? If it wasn’t, was there any attempt to make it a grassroot movement? For it to be ours? For us to own it? I doubt and very much so.
III: The NNU, now registered under a modified name, Ndokwa Neku Union, wasn’t a child of circumstance as the Ndokwa Professionals and the Justice Obi’s led NNU would be considered. Prof. Okecha’s led NNU was not either. For an annual general meeting was convened. An annual report rendered and an election conducted to succeed it. The criticism that trailed the previous administration literally crippled it. Only a court injunction held it back from the claws of it’s impeachers.
The life of this new NNU was in fact salvaged from a wreckage, which lack of cooperation within its own executive team left it. It wasn’t jaundiced at birth, remember. Maybe it failed to reinvent itself and the in-fighting that took place ravaged it and left it comatose. Well-wishers fought tooth and nail to erase the clannish colouration that attended the internal crises it suffered. And those who watched wished things would be better this next time. Like they say, today is the tomorrow you talked about yesterday.
There was promise of a new era. Or was it set up? And the various Ndokwa internet fora populated by a fresh wave of Ndokwa elite (somehow different form those of yore) began to contribute to the new life (boost) this new NNU got. Many were diasporans and youths in Nigeria. Trust them; nothing is free these days. The boost they gave had a price; the currency was their great expectations with great weight, which cannot be denied them. Like the gbali-gbali debt collectors, you paid your debt or nothing.
First was the great expectations of a ‘best practice’ NNU. Second was the hope of deliverance for a beleaguered ethnic nation. It was hoped the Moses would deliver the enslaved. Thirdly, they hoped this NNU was theirs and they had a stake in it. So, with great fervency, they set up debates and made posts how they wanted this body to look like. Prescriptions upon prescriptions . . . Like the proverbial tortoise who beat up his little child because he endangered the puppy he hasn’t bought yet, many violent exchanges ensured on a constitution yet to be adopted.
And all these were driven by zeal. Genuine zeal? I thought so, for the discussions centred exactly on same issues that brought the ‘Professionals’ together in the first place. This time, more accentuated by the political marginalisations they could see and feel, and the hope of emancipation. The multitude wished something would change. It couldn’t have been a misplaced hope. They knew the new officers on first name basis. They believed they could call them to make suggestions and make quick amends even by proxy. This NNU is ‘ours’ they believed.
So, for a prolonged six weeks and counting, the web was agog with NNU matters. Delete buttons helped little because you had to deal with more unwanted posts that ran into hundreds the next day. It was a place to catch up on news. It was also a place to be schooled in constitution drafting. Article clerks became professional lawyers. Everyone an expert. But all with good intent . . . to make Ndokwa a better place, better organised to gain relevance in the Niger Delta geopolitical zone. And, you lost count of committees and sub committees.
I can say with benefit of hindsight that, so much water has passed under the bridge since then. In fact, my posts from tomorrow will be talking about the kind of water that passed through and the king of fish that flowed in its tide.
IV: Deliverables, deliverable, deliverables. Today’s organisations are chronically customer-driven and they pride themselves in being customer-driven. They constantly review their promises or ‘deliverables’ just to close the gap between ‘perceived’ and ‘actual’ in what the customers want and what is offered. The customer is king, you see. Similarly in an ethnic nation like Ndokwa, citizens are kings of some sort and have to be served by the ‘government’ delivering on citizens’ rights and privileges. Conversely, government demands that these ‘citizens’ acquit themselves by fulfilling their roles and obligations too. Tricky but that’s the contract. So, to expect much requires you give much too. To wish that NNU is ours, you needed to legally belong either by being represented by your clan or as an individual (depending on what the rules say. That positions you and indeed anyone to make legitimate demands. To be a customer, you must be a user of the good or service and so paying for it. This is one of the things that passed under the bridge that was not properly addressed. It touched on the grassroot base NNU. Who were its members? Which clans are today listed and can be regarded as financial members of NNU? You can identify that in UFU. When we talk then of town hall meetings, how are the attendance generated? But please, don’t let me abandon the issue of ‘weighty deliverables’ NNU got saddled with when it took off this last dispensation.
To effectively deliver, these organisations pressure themselves by setting performance standards, engaging in researches, etc to close the gaps between the perceived and actual in their deliverables. It also pressures its people through training and retraining (including sanctions), to deliver on their pre-engagement promise(s), which ultimately becomes mutually agreed ‘deliverables’. Call them targets, goals, a quantity cum quality of products or services, or broad strategic objectives or directions, they are essentially what is agreed the ‘qualified occupant’ of an office will offer in exchange for recognition. It trickles down from the collective vision and mission of the organisation, which gets factored into departmental, unit, team, and or individual positions. Seen as a whole, these deliverables can be daunting. But if everyone did his job, the weight well distributed, the organisation should deliver to keep its customers, I mean, all stakeholders satisfied and never keep them waiting.
Sincerely, I thought the enormity of interests of our people (consciously or unconsciously generated) in the affairs of the NNU described earlier was the game changer; a signal that things could not remain the same. It is like an entrepreneur praying for more business and suddenly gets a huge order for his product. That is a good problem; not a burden to moan about. It required he reinvented, recapitalised and did more to meet rising customer needs. The Chief Paul Enabeli-led administration from inception became saddled with this increased awareness of an Ndokwa umbrella body that needed to facilitate Ndokwa to speak with one voice, ameliorate the deprivations, perceived marginalisations, and above all make Ndokwa relevant. Ndokwa had to become a player, if not a key player, in the affairs of Delta State and by extension the Niger Delta. Political offices must trickle down and we seemed poised to mount the highest office in Delta State. Ndokwa on the march . . . Also, there was this weighty body of enquirers waiting in the flanks. Some needed guidance on how to belong, the clans needing help with their local administrations (including chieftaincy tussles not to think of the communal conflicts) . . . Haba!
Let’s get it and I thought this executive team got it; from onset, there was indeed great expectation! You can’t climb this hill with same gear three! For God’s sake, the Ndokwa nation is three large LGAs put together. In fact, it is the second largest ethnic nationality in Delta state only next to the Urhobos only if the Okpes are included. I mean, Ndokwa can become the largest in Delta State if Okpe, like the Isoko, gets excised from the Urhobo nation (they have been working on that for your information). I did say the expectations were great. I should have said monumental. Yes, monumental expectations, but a beautiful one for a team that knew the gem it had in its hand. This challenge if they rose up to it could make them more prominent than any of the LG administrations. Yes and that was there for the grab. Let me explain.
You see, the modern government is an aberration. Our local institutions are the true leadership to the people. The state and local governments are only there as support. They can’t come to rule or police you, your family/house, your street/quarter or your town except you ‘invite’ them. They are there to serve, not rule: to provide water, electricity, roads, schools, etc because they collect your taxes. They are to consult and be consulted through its agencies, including the representatives. The real leadership is offered by the family, the larger family and clan heads based on our customs and traditions, our beliefs. We are empowered to decide our future and the government only helps us attain it. So, if a robust NNU is in place as a think-tank, it should guide our people to check the excesses of these warrant rulers (politicians) by offering direction. This is a tall order at the moment. However, if the NNU did not realise this was the monumental expectation they faced, this is time to think again. Think again because this kind of challenge left no room for wishful thinkers, armchair philosophers, conflict romancers, high-brow team membership and players, half-hearted commitment or unorganised or incompetent team players. However, it offered a place for fusion and mutuality of interests, synergy, and building of a great vision; collective interest. And the people were eager to lay their hand on the ‘control’ button.
V: Ndokwa is our kingdom; the land our forefathers prophesied is a paradise. Ndokwa bu anieze. We haven’t experienced that potential yet. But I believe them. The oil we see on our soil is a tip of the iceberg in the blessings our eyes can’t see. It is literally everywhere! But like the Garden of Eden, we should take dominion; not let political jobbers, draughtsmen from other ethnic nationalities dominate us.
If we understand the ‘vulnerability’ of the political class (including our political class: local government chairmen, councilors, representatives at the various levels and their chieftains), we will become more wary of entrusting our collective destiny in the hands of people who see political parties as their clans; who see us simply as numbers, pawns to be traded for their desired destinies. Even our entire land mass (Ndokwa) to them is a big territory to be traded for higher political payoffs. Negotiation is their business. You can’t hold them accountable. They can slip off your fingers like ọmili (eel fish) and if he can’t slip through, he shocks you like elieli (electric fish) and runs off.
If you are still guessing why we can’t hold professional politicians accountable no matter the rules of engagement, know today that they have a master they consider greater than us or even our land (in their political game plan). To the extent that he manages to deliver on any promise(s), it is a long term strategy to get us to do more for him; give him/her greater liberty and platform to operate.
Don’t get me wrong. There are those God uses to deliver oppressed people and we should pray fervently that God gives Ndokwa such politicians. However, for the ‘made’ politicians, even when they say they are ‘their own man’ á-la PMB, understand it is double-speak. I am not writing the political class off. But think and you’ll see my meaning. Most politicians, especially in African settings, are the same having been brought up in the mould and mentality that being in government is for the take. Hannah Arendt’s ‘Lying In Politics’ lays this bare.
The point therefore is, the ordinary Ndokwa man and woman needed some other organ and set of operators (not the politicians) to trust to do business for them, aid their local clans, and stand for the ordinary Ndokwa man like the US, UK, or any responsible government would when the destiny of their people are threatened. Is this not the rational for an NNU that should be OURS? It sounds academic I hear someone mutter. But at the least, we should have some utopia to inspire us; ‘a sugar candy mountain’, a land flowing with milk and honey’ kind of vision to motivate us and empower us as a people.
I am emphasising that NNU should be an Ndokwa mandate. It should be clan-based to reach the grassroots, and also have affiliates joining on equal basis to reach all nooks and crannies of Nigeria and the diaspora. Structure betrays ownership and NNU must disabuse our minds of any idea that all Ndokwa is not involved in this agenda. This is not an attempt to allude any group have appropriated the NNU. It is rather to say the present structure have not encouraged the kind of participation of the Ndokwa people from the grassroot as all want to see and NNU must structurally open up by fire and by force! Someone should prove me wrong if this is already so. The mechanism must become open to all and no administrative bottleneck should stunt this design. It should be deliberate, constitutional, all inclusive and every clan should be engaged and mobilised in the exercise. We all must own NNU and allow the organs to be so structured to enable this important Ndokwa institution to play its expected role at this evolutionary state, which it has attained. Nothing should be rated too important over and above our collective destiny as a people. And it is the job of this executive team to work at this in the life of this administration.
Jesus’ way, the money is in the belly of the fish. It is true of any organisation. If well managed, the more the merrier financially. Yes, we can tap into other ways of raising funds; but we cannot underrate the contribution of a broad-based membership. There is a way this gives a sense of ownership. Financial contributions could be reviewed with time. I suggest also that the clans, represented on ward basis, should form the congress. Their life should be as guaranteed as the life of the executive. Affiliate bodies, chapters should be represented in the general congress even though they have their local branch meetings. Standing committees should be inaugurated to liaise on various responsibilities. These thoughts sound familiar. Maybe nothing new is said so far. However, if these ideas have been in place, then we should, with other great suggestions, get them infused into our governing document and do the needful. Get them working. This sore issue happen to be one of the waters that passed under the bridge. Because proposals in this area was not adopted, it was bound to be some issue to be regurgitated.
One thing I see with this team of executives is that we can boast of their competencies. They are accomplished, well rounded in their own rights. So far, we have hardly exploited 5% of their capacity as leaders, including that of conflict resolution. They must be brought to a round table. They should be afforded the opportunity to set the stage for any in-coming executive. The issue is not so much of what is lost but what great future we have ahead of us. That is why I wish to encourage us not to join issues. Many have been in the background trying to see how the power of this great team can be fanned to flame and to get the best of them while they are still in office. Never say never, my people. They are being tested. It is by no means a small challenge.
VI: I have come to praise Caesar, not to bury him. This mission is about giving a new lease of life to NNU and to transform it so it can become OUR NNU; an NNU we will all be proud to belong; the one that can answer us when we call. So, my thought from onset is to initiate a transformation agenda. It has nothing to do with who is wrong or right in all that have transpired in the past. I believe there is a place for that. Wa buo efo aguiyi n’ uka. As a people, we should learn to eschew bitterness and create opportunities for effective conflict resolution in this kingdom.
And in regard to our mission, I think we should do all we can to get it right this time and facilitate a momentum for a quantum leap forward. Soon another campaign will start. We must position for a better bargaining position. That means we should have our facts about our populations figure and voting strength, the size of our resources, our landmass (all statistics to argue our case). We must line up our chessmen, including our patrons who will broker any deadlocks in the negotiation process, I am talking of our retired generals, elder statesmen, who must not sell out when it matters most, but be in the place where they are can be consulted as leaders of thought.
In other words, NNU must from now organise around clear and well-articulated leadership priorities. The time is now for us to articulate a vision for the Ndokwa nation and give the people a rallying cry, something to look forward to in order to effectively harness their potentials. It is time to hold a robust strategic thinking session and reposition the Ndokwa nation (priority of alignment) for the next 10 years. As a think-tank, NNU should give life to Ndokwa by giving itself life; get reorganised. NNU has to offer the Ndokwa nation effective leadership (redefine its priority of leadership intelligence).
Everyone needs to be clear where NNU is going so we can be clear how we can follow (priority of purpose keeping). Roles must be clearly defined and those who hold offices must be ready to account, not after twelve months but quarterly through the general congress or council and the body should have powers of summon and demand explanations in case of infractions with clear timetable to follow in the life of any administration. Priority of fiscal control among others should be ingrained in our enabling document and due process followed both in investigating issues and handling reported cases. It is not just about constitution, it is about establishing SOPs and follow through, We can do it.
But, the first step is getting our team of executives to a round table. Before now, I have interacted with a few to know there is a plan in place to have this discussion. We should encourage them to take advantage of this channel to iron out whatever differences and to end the year, and maybe their tenure. This is to suggest that all the earlier salvos should please cease and that we empower a team to facilitate the discussion. Part of the outcome we will expect from this meeting is the process and timeframe of achieving the recommendations we come up with in order to revive or reorganise NNU to become OUR NNU. Yes, it is our NNU but the fiscal policy and the structure should indicate our full involvement; the clan involvement.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have never had a lasting listening like this before in the forum. So, I must thank the moderators of the two fora, who held up the questions until I have said ishegwali. For me, it was worth the while. Let me quickly say that I have never claimed authority in the history of NNU. So, let me take this opportunity to appreciate those who have privileged information on the start-up. I only wanted to highlight how the momentum built up to where we are today. These pioneers sowed a seed that has taken us this far. Kudos to them all. There will be a time to put these facts down for posterity. I am sure these guys will be there to do the needful.
Let me also thank all those who have worked tirelessly on this collective mission – the Prof Steve Agwo Okecha team, and now the Chief Paul Esegbue Enebeli’s team, which is current. May we not take their sacrifice in service for granted. It is one reason good people shy away from Ndokwa leadership. We hardly have living legends in Ndokwa and it is unfortunate. Which land doesn’t have role models? We are not that base, are we? So let us learn to appreciate those God has given to us. We likume ewu, ozo anwusu. If we treat them well, others will be motivated to serve.
If we want to attract leaders and quality people to keep volunteering themselves in the leadership of NNU, we must not only value those who serve, we should encourage others to do same. If you don’t, then don’t be surprised that is the reason the people from other lands won’t respect them. That in itself is a slight on our nation. If a Delta State governor keeps our leader(s) waiting for two hours even when they have an invite, it is partly because they knows we don’t value him. That goes for every other leader we may have. Wa mu eze n’efe. You give birth to kings that we worship. When it is your turn, may it be so for you too.
* NNU, OUR NNU is a series of posts written by Ween Chukusa (30 Sept. – 4 Oct., 2015) on the apex body of the Ndokwa Nation Ndokwa Neku Union, (NNU). In the articles, he traces the formation of the union, especially the enthusiasm that followed its emergence, the efforts at sustaining it and the obstacles that may likely derail it unless something is done.
PS: Reactions to this write-up by some active participants in the early days of initiative have sent in some correction on who were key players and convenors of the first and second conferences that ushered in the first officers of the body: Dr. AW Otunyo, Engir. GOC Amuchi, all then based in P/H. Importantly, Justice Obi became the girst President-General and Engr. Stanley Agba, the Secretary General. (Information offered by Henry Okechukwu).