Chinua Achebe, in Things Fall Apart, tells a story of Okonkwo, the main character, who was banished from his village of Umuofia for accidentally shooting a young man. When it was time for Okonkwo to return, after seven years in exile, he instructs his wives and children to prepare a huge feast for his mother’s kinsmen in a gesture to show his gratitude for their support. When asked why he was “overloading the table with food,” he said, “I cannot live on the bank of the river and wash my hands with spittle.”
Suffices to say that like Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, Igbos who are known to be outgoing are not washing their hands with spittle, because across the Nigerian landscape, they are living right at the banks of the Benue River, Kano River, Kaduna River, Ogun River, Sokoto River, Cross Rivers, etc. They also thrive at the banks of these rivers and “overload” their abode with human and infrastructural development.
Unfortunately, every now and then, one of the most absurd analyses by the proponents of an independent state of Biafra which is that the five Igbo states in imaginary Biafra is not landlocked makes it to the mainstream media. Last week, in a piece “It is a lie: Igboland is not Landlocked” published in Sahara Reporters, Aloy Ejimakor presented what looks like overwhelming evidence on how easy it is to transfer Apapa Port to the banks of the “Atlantic” Oguta Lake in Igboland for the business of shipping.
As expected, those without a good understanding of the Nigerian physical and human geography; no good grasp of the maritime industry, and no clue on the economies of shipping and logistics are attempting to push water uphill. The campaign to entice Igbos to withdraw from the waters off the coast of Lagos, Port Harcourt, Warri, etc. is an attempt to force the waters to flow uphill.
Forget about the “dredging” of the Oseakwa River in Ihiala, the Azumiri River, or the “Atlantic Ocean” at the mouth of OgutaLake, the truth is that Igboland is landlocked and will suffer, economically. Do not let anyone deceive you about that. All you need to confirm that is to consult a good physical geography teacher. If you do not have one, simply go to Google Maps on your phone and look for blue markings indicating water bodies and decide for yourself how close the Atlantic Ocean is to Igboland. It should be that simple, if only you approach this quick visual research with an open mind.
Here are some facts per World Bank economists working on trade logistics issues, being landlocked is a major reason why 16 of the world’s 31 landlocked developing countries are among the poorest in the world. According to the Economist, of the 15 lowest-ranking countries in the Human Development Index, eight have no coastline. All of these are in Africa.
Without seaports, these landlocked countries pay more and wait longer for imported food, and other goods. Also, they have an equally hard time exporting, with the result that they trade less and grow more slowly than their coastal neighbors. A quick look at the map of Africa and the location of Central African Republic, Burundi, Niger, Chad, South Sudan, Mali, and Burkina Faso, will give you an idea of what it means to be landlocked. So, it is clear, the most obvious handicap of Igbo people who are known for international trade will be moving goods to and from ports.
It has been augured that the actualization of the state of Biafra does not mean that Igbos will be forced to come back to the land-locked states. We are told that we will still have access to the ports in the neighboring countries around landlocked Igboland and as such can easily import and export goods and services. A counterargument is that if Igbos are forced to pass through dozens of police checkpoints between Lagos and the Niger Bridge, Onitsha, under one country Nigeria, how many roadblocks will be put in place if Biafra is an independent country?
Just imagine that for a moment.
Now, imagine also what will happen if the same blockade is put in place from the northern, southern, and eastern boundaries all around Igbo land. How on earth will such an independent state be independent economically? If the movement of imported heavy goods must be re-transported inland to landlocked Igboland, how on earth will the economy be viable?
I am a teacher who makes use of graphics to help my students understand some concepts that would otherwise be difficult to grasp. So, for clarity and easier comprehension, I ask that you pause here and take another look at the Nigerian map. Pay particular attention to the location of Apapa, Port Harcourt, and the new Lekki Deep Sea Port under construction. Then, slowly move your eyeballs inland towards Igbo states for a good understanding of why seaports are sited on the coast of major water bodies. So, forget about emotions and sentiments, a sea is a sea and a river is a river.
So, do not let anyone deceive you, international treaties can promise access to the oceans, but the responsibility for implementing them lies with the governments of the “transit states”. Now, imagine how happy and eager the minorities in the Niger Delta region will be to help build infrastructure that would mainly help their landlocked Igbo neighbors. They have little incentive to.
Also, just like Nigeria has closed its borders for months now, transit states to landlocked Igboland can interrupt commerce making the economic viability of landlocked Igboland difficult. For Nigeria with known civil strife between ethnic nationalities, landlocked Igboland will have to reroute trade at exorbitant cost, reducing their competitiveness. You cannot argue with facts.
It is also important to warn that landlocked Igboland should not be deceived by the success of the few rich landlocked countries like Switzerland that specializes in finance, which does not travel by boat, and its high-end manufacturing is integrated with Europe’s single market. Also, Botswana, a middle-income landlocked country, exports diamonds, which are shipped by air. Pointing at such countries offers little hope to a landlocked Igboland without similar natural resources and with people that are heavily involved in the importation of heavy goods in containers.
From the analysis, above, you will see that it is not necessary to tell a wise person to get out of the sun. We are Igbos and we are wise. There should, thus, be no need for anyone to tell us that land-locked Igboland is an economic disaster waiting to happen.
On a final note, when you show the moon to a child, it sees only your finger. Sadly, no matter the size or how full and bright the moon is, people who want to see the Atlantic Ocean at the banks of Oguta Lake or Otamiri in Imo state will see one. But, do not be deceived, landlocked Igboland will be an economic disaster. As my father used to say, I am a teacher and my responsibility is to keep teaching irrespective of whether the students are listening or not.
The worlds of the elders do not lock all the doors; they leave the right door open. Igbos should not lock themselves up. Rather, we should leave the right doors open as we work for an equitable and better Nigeria, for all.
Together, we can.
Churchill Okonkwo, Ph.D.
On Twitter @Churchillnnobi