The phrase Ndigbo usually evokes certain feelings amongst other tribes and races in Nigeria and the world over, these feelings can sometimes be that of love, hate, fear, contempt, compassion and threat. This is to be expected because Ndigbo by virtue of their failed attempt to secede from Nigeria in 1967 have therefore set themselves up for such mixed interpretations of their ultimate objectives and intentions in a Nigeria that has increasingly tended towards suppressing and oppressing minorities. It is therefore for reasons of the later, and the resultant consequences of losing in a war of which Nigerians were made to understand had no victor, and no vanquished that Ndigbo continue to search and yearn for their pride of place in either a united Nigeria or in an independent Igbo nation.
Because Ndigbo as a people are respected, loved, derided and at the same time hated by other tribes in Nigeria, due mainly to stereotypes which we as a people have not done much to either accept and confirm or dispel, it is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s globalised world to try to fashion, shape or articulate a common agenda and purpose for Ndigbo, which would then serve as mantra in our various dealings and interactions with the other tribes, and such that would serve our wider purpose in the global community of nations.
Several issues may have led to this quagmire, one of which is the increasing difficulty for Ndigbo to work as a progressive unit with a common agenda. Though the Igbo states are now five in number, but recurring inter-ethnic and communal divisions and clashes within these states sometimes give-off the impression of complete dissatisfaction of the component units in the political arrangements even though on a local level, an indication therefore of the wider disaffections in the Nigerian macrocosm.
There is also the problem of identity and the difficulty of defining Ndigbo, in terms of determining who may be addressed as Ndigbo and who may not, the tendency in the past has always been to claim also as Ndigbo people that are located within and outside the five geographical Igbo states including Ogbaru, Onitsha, Asaba and the surrounding towns, some parts of the Niger Delta region etc, but surely the inhabitants of these areas have been known in the past also to voice out openly that they are not, and do not wish to be called Ndigbo. This ‘a house divided’ scenario plays out politically in the larger context and may have been responsible for the swinging of votes to the ‘other side’ by the dissenting units, who would feel better having a non-Igbo President than an Igbo President as would have been expected for a people purportedly pursuing a ‘common agenda’.
The foregoing may also be hinged on the fear of dominance, which contrasts sharply with another of Ndigbo’s worldview and practice: the concept of egalitarianism – a presupposition of equality of all men irrespective of their socio-economic circumstances, hence Ndigbo would say ‘Igbo enwe eze‘, but in reality this is hardly the true situation in traditional Igbo societies where the Igwes, Chiefs, the Nze na Ozors, Iyoms and other titled men and women hold sway and direct the affairs of the respective communities and towns. It is also such that Ndigbo have continued to suffer the ridicule and indignation by the other tribes who accuse them of being megalomaniacs and addicted to power which traditional titles are wrongly supposed to confer on them, but then history and present day realities inform us that almost all the tribes revel in such, and have their own native titles which are given both to deserving and non-deserving members and friends of their community. Even Ndigbo’s traditional three back hand salute reserved only for titled men and elders have severally come under attack as another evidence of Ndigbo’s vanity and love for titles and vain protocols, but the other tribes do also have their respective traditional ways of greeting, some of them prostrate and the others bow, kneel, embrace etc, but hardly have Ndigbo ever disrespected such practices nor subjected them to critical scrutiny.
Ndigbo are a people whose lives and social systems are rooted in tradition, dignity of labour, strong and proud identity, respect for elders, honour for the family name etc are also important aspects of the Igbo worldview, which in turn play a big role and influence in the rearing of Igbo children, but Ndigbo lately may not have done enough to re-introduce some of these values into the mainstream of their daily lives. There seems to be a prevalent acquiescence culture, of accepting that things are no longer the way they used to be, and accepting even the most minimal of standards and behaviours when actually it serves our best interests to continue to maintain strong links with our tradition and past, whichare largely envied by other tribes and nations. This laxity has generated a serious crises of identity, low self-esteem and poor confidence which is now evident amongst some Igbos, who are now in self denial of their origins, this has meant that they are also doubtful of their future and destination.
This problem seems to affect diasporan Igbos more as the increasing physical and psychological distance from the homeland, and the lack of understanding of the Igbo psyche has created a situation where they are only able to buy into the ‘Igbo hate’ views and mentality being spread in the world around them, and by the uninformed commentaries of both Igbos and non-Igbos who may be pursuing an agenda of destabilization and so on. The least Ndigbo can do is not to do the detractors’ jobs for them by helping to spread the stereotypes further. But still, it is never late for Ndigbo to stand up and speak up for their race, and to attempt to salvage some of these members of the lost generation.
Another of our worldview – hardwork should serve us well in this rapidly globalizing world. Ndigbo have a saying that Onye luo nya erie, therefore this should continue to be our mantra. Our destiny surely co-lies in our hands since already our Chi is with us (Onye kwe, Chi ya ekwe). There are also some of our other rightly and wrongly presumed and assumed worldviews which we may need to re-examine at this point to see how and if they have indeed served us well.
Obviously the defeat at the hands of the federal army during the Nigeria/Biafra war still breeds a siege mentality in our minds, such battle traumas and syndromes sometimes last a life time and may also outlive the generations involved as stories get passed down through the ages, but we have to attempt to at least move on. Fortune has smiled on some of us through dedication and hardwork, such that despite having had to start all over from the scratch after the war, Ndigbo braced the earlier taunts and difficulties and migrated to other parts of Nigeria and the rest of the world and have now made good in these places, some of them are now strong pillars in their host communities. The onus now may be on them to think home, because Ndigbo have this inexplicable home coming mentality that is supported by the concept of Aku luo uno.
We may have also fallen victim to our commercial successes and prowess in the field of trade and industry and may have in so doing contributed (though not on purpose) to the general assumption that Ndigbo love money, but realistically is there any tribe or race that does not love money, and strive as hard like Ndigbo to make money for themselves and their families? Or is it Ndigbo that own all the businesses and shops in Nigeria? Without sounding overly defensive but we should also be able to deflate such arguments whenever they come up, especially when such slurs and arguments have portrayed us as a people that are no longer active in the other professions. While our numbers may have decreased in the other professions, but the reasons may not be unconnected with the state of affairs in the global
economy where today’s career choices are more heavily influenced by technology and by the needs of the society, as well as by the skills and predispositions of the individual.
Surely we need role models more than ever, just like we had in the days of Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mazi Mbonu Ojike, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, Dr Michael Okpara and the likes, but then so do the other tribes who are also going through their own leadership crises and wilderness. This may mean that we should begin to ask ourselves questions on how to evolve a more trustworthy Igbo leadership, which would be well represented in a Pan-Ndigbo political organisation capable of evoking the trust and confidence of Ndigbo, the failure of Ohaneze does not and should not be construed to mean the failure of Ndigbo, but rather the Ohaneze experience and case study should serve as an example for us as we strive to find our way through the maze in Nigeria and in an increasingly globalised world. This also throws open the challenge for Aka Ikenga and such other Pan-Igbo socio-political organisations to stake their claim for relevance in the Igbo, Nigerian and invariably world scheme of things.
Our age old mantra that Nwanne di na mba is ever so important, Ndigbo also charge that Onye agha na Nwanne ya, such kindred spirits of brotherhood must also be practiced by Ndigbo in the diaspora knowing that we all share a common fate and destiny. Let our children coming after us know their identity, our asusu must not be lost on them, and may their names always say who they are and where they are from – Afam efula.
In our places of work, business and residence, the Igbo kindred spirit should be re-kindled. The words of wisdom of the ancients should be preserved, promoted and sustained in our interactions using time – honoured proverbs knowing that they have always been, and would continue to be the palm oil with which Ndigbo eat their words.
Both aspiring and successive political office holders in Igboland must strive to keep peace within our communities, when we eschew violence, uphold peace and promote tolerance even though we hold differing viewpoints, we may have lived up to our other worldview that Udoka.
As we clamour for the recognition of the contributions of Igbo scholars such as F. C Ogbalu, M. J. C Echeruo and the rest, we must at the same time strive to urgently revive Igbo knowledge projects such as the Ahiajoku and Odenigbo lecture series, as that would fit nicely into our collective mantra that Mmuta amaka.
And may our collective hopes and efforts not be in vain, Ise!
This paper was written for the Umu Igbo Unite Convention holding in Atlanta, Georgia U.S.A from Friday August 4th – Sunday August 6th 2006.