Igbo Nation and the Poverty of Ideas—
The Personal Experience of an Igbo Scholar
By Nwankwo Tony Nwaezeigwe, PhD
It is not often the weird dancer that is ashamed of his performance in the public square but his relatives among the spectators. That the Igbo of the Southeast are a spectacle of bad dancers in nearly every aspect of Nigerian nationality question except in matters of primitive individual accumulation of wealth, and the West Niger Igbo as their kinsmen are ashamed of them is no longer an issue of debate. So the relationship between the West Niger Igbo and their Southeast core-Igbo kinsmen is not a matter of hatred as it is now being insinuated by the politically and intellectually gullible majority among the Southeast Igbo but that of being ashamed of a kinsman dancing naked in the political market-square of the Nigerian nation, which to some extent generates the whirlwind of identity crisis on the part of the West Niger Igbo themselves.
This is my case with the Igbo of Southeast Nigeria who often style themselves core-Igbo, while the rest Igbo subgroups domiciled outside the Southeast are described as peripheral Igbo. But the point of departure from their classification of authentic and fake Igbo is the fact that geographical location does not often define the root identity of a people for the obvious reason of migrations and cross-migrations over the centuries of peoples of diverse ethnic origins and cultures. Thus being part of the geographical Southeast Igboland does not confer any superiority of ethnic identity over the other groups inhabiting outside the zone. What defines the true identity and personality of any given ethnic group goes beyond physical occupation of a defined homeland. It has to do with one’s degree of patriotism and not individualism.
The fact cannot be denied that the average Southeast Igbo lacks the fundamental ingredient of patriotism which is the fundamental basis of a strong-hearted and principled personality. Patriotism begins when one collapses his personal comfort, interest, and objectives into the wider interest of his people. To the Igbo of the Southeast patriotism without pecuniary objectives is a foolish adventure and madness in concept. To them it sounds strange for someone to devout his time, energy and even money preaching civil rights for the people without the hidden objective of making extra money from the venture.
Of course they can prove this because Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe matched his nationalism with money-making as shown by the Zik Group of Companies, African Continental Bank, Ziks Flat Hostels at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and the kilometers of large expanse of land along Nsukka-Adani Highway which he sold to the Umeano Family of Enugwu-Agidi shortly before his death. To state the fact, the habitual Igbo individualism is antithesis to patriotism. When one always thinks of himself he forgets the fact that it is his connection with the other individuals that defines the society.
The average Southeast Igbo man is habitually impatient with the world around him. He is always on the fast-lane struggling to out-run every individual around him both competitors and non-competitors, including his Chi and the same God he prays to for guidance and protection. It is only in the Southeast that the Police will stop a commuter bus to check its particulars and you see the passengers urging the driver to offer the Police bribe so they could leave. Indeed if you are travelling from Onitsha to Abuja through Ninth Mile-Nsukka axis you will witness no less than thirty Police road-blocks both mounted and mobile from Onitsha to the Enugu State boundary with Benue State after Obolo-Afor. From that point to Abuja, the only check-point you will meet on the way is the Army Check-point after Abaji as you approach Gwagwalada. Indeed it is a common knowledge that Northern Police Officers pay their ways in order to be posted to the Southeast.
The fact that fast-lanners do not often leave enduring imprints on their lanes of life are remarkable evidence of Yoruba business superiority over the Igbo when one compares the business imprints of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and those of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. What has happened to Zik’s Group of Companies? What has happened to the West African Pilot and her sister-newspapers, while Awolowo’s Tribune is still bubbling with life? What has happened to Eastern Nigerian News and Nigerian Outlook both of which were Eastern Nigeria Regional Government-owned newspapers, whereas the Western Regional Daily Sketch is still alive and bubbling under the present Oyo State Government? What about the successor-newspapers—Daily Star and Nigerian Statesman?
The Oodua investment Corporation established by Chief Obafemi Awolowo under the auspices of the Western Region is still operating as a viable joint venture of the present constituent States of the defunct Western Region. What has happened to a similar company established by the Eastern Regional Government under Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe? To state that the popular Igbo solidarity song “Nzogbu Nzogbu Enyi Nzo Enyi” is a call for unity in destruction rather than construction is a truism which is difficult to controvert.
In April 2011, I was privileged to host the Deputy Ambassador of the State of Israel in Nigeria George Deek, who incidentally is the present Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan, to deliver a lecturer to my students on Israeli-Nigerian Relations. As we drove from Enugu-Airport en route Nsukka through Ninth-Mile Corner he noticed the large expanse of lands wasting away and exclaimed: look at all these lands; I wish they could just be lifted right from here to the State of Israel.” My quick response was why not engage in a joint-agricultural venture with our people, instead of lifting the land to Israel. He replied by stating that it is difficult for the Israelis to engage on joint-business ventures with the Igbo because they are not patient with result but want quick returns from investments, which can only come by way of their habitual buying and selling business culture. It should be noted that at that point in time Israel had the largest agricultural business venture in Nigeria at Niger State. I remember him telling me when I visited him later at the Embassy that the Kano State Government had invited him for similar business venture and asked me if it was advisable for him to honour the invitation given the volatile religious situation in the State, and I advised him to go so long as it was official invitation from the Government.
Patriotism cannot thrive under a get-rich-quick environment because it requires additional impetus for fraudulent activities for such business ventures to be sustained over time. In some instances they come by way of outright fraud for which reason most of the sources of the success of such business ventures are kept secret from even the owners’ children who are supposed to inherit the business ventures on their death or retirement. And because the inheritors of the business ventures are always in the dark of the sources of their father’s business acumen, they often find it difficult to sustain the tempo of the business after him. Perhaps one can look back to the last forty years and see the number of industries and big business ventures that had collapsed in the Southeast with the demise of their founders to understand the dimension of this argument.
Again patriotism thrives within a sustainable spiritual base which gives the impetus to self-sacrifice woven in undaunted determination. The West African Pan Africanist Attoh Ahuma wrote in 1905: “the greatest calamity of West Africa that must be combated tooth and nail… is the imminent loss of ourselves… rather let men rob our lands…but let us see that they do not rub us of ourselves. They do so when we are taught to despise our names, institutions, customs and laws.” Yoruba ethnic nationalism is founded on the sublime pride and strong attachment to their traditional norms which are intrinsic parts of their traditional religion, in which both Christianity and Islam assume peripheral places. In other words, the Yoruba fully understand that they are first one Yoruba before being either Christians or Muslims.
The Fulani have in their own case effectively used Islam as their weapon of patriotism to mobilize other unsuspecting non-Fulani ethnic groups to actualize their political aims and objectives. The Middle Belt in countering the Fulani ideological onslaught decided to construct an exclusive multi-ethnic cross-cutting patriotism based on Christianity. In the case of the Igbo, neither their traditional religion which they belittle with myopic impunity nor the Christianity which they erroneously claim to be its fountainhead in Nigeria could play the role of the standard bearer of their nationalism.
The Igbo of the Southeast equally lack a functional sense of history. The Southeast is a land where you can boast of the least zealous professional historians and the most adroit unprofessional historians dispensing concocted historical traditions as in the manner of fake oracular priests. And being that the greatest enemy of any group that lacks a sense of history is truth, there is always the tendency for the uninformed leadership to rely mainly on the tool of sentiment rather than facts to exert dominance over the equally uninformed masses. Referring to his Jewish people Micah Berdichevski wrote: “Enlightenment and knowledge will avail little, so long as they are not necessary expressions of the course of our own history. Every culture is the end of a process, not a fresh beginning induced from outside.” Moses Hess went further to tell the Jew that: “As long as he lacks the character to acknowledge that he belongs to that unfortunate, persecuted, and maligned people, his false position must become ever more intolerable.”
Chinua Achebe seems to capture the ideal characteristics of the Southeast Igbo personality in four of his novels. In his “Chike and the River” the second chief personality character Mr. Nwana pictures the Southeast Igbo person in action when it comes to making money. In his iconic novel “Things Fall Apart”, the chief character Okonkwo pictures how wealth and political influence borne out of the mad quest to escape poverty from humble beginnings could lead to excessive autocratic tendencies, infantile self-pride and reckless disregard to time-honoured customs and traditions. It equally shows how your people could abandon you at the last moment of your patriotic desire to fight for them. On the other hand, “Arrow of God” through its two major characters—Ezeulu and his son Oduche shows how the descendants of the very custodians of Igbo value system became the destroyers of the same tradition—the very essence of Igbo norms and value system in the name of modernity. Finally Obi Okonkwo of “No Longer At Ease” who Achebe ascribes to a grandson of Okonkwo of “Things Fall Apart” became the symbol of corruption which pervades most Igbo lives today.
The West Niger Patriots among the Southeast Igbo Quislings
The West Niger Igbo have always seen themselves as part and parcel of their Southeast Igbo kinsmen and are always willing to contribute their best quota to advance the interest of the Southeast with dedicated services driven by untainted ethnic patriotism. But over the time the latter have come to see such sacrifices as the acts of the foolish in the service of the wise. The West Niger Igbo have also tried by examples to inculcate into the mind of the average Southeasterner the true spirit of being Igbo which does not lie in wearing spotted Isi-Agu attire adorned with red Moroccan Fez-Cap and dancing around hilariously to the mono-beat sound of their often tired Igba Ndi Eze drums, or the adoption of foreign traditional titles that lack cosmological linkages with their ancestors.
The records of valiant West Niger Igbo soldiers and commanders of the Biafran Forces remain untainted till date. Indeed Col J. O. G. Achuzia had to shoot fleeing cowardly Southeast soldiers from the warfront because he could not understand why the same people they were sacrificing their lives for would be leaving the battlefield for the guest fighters and he was accused of shooting their brothers. Ambassador Raph Uwaechue as Biafra”s Representative in France stood dedicatedly with Ojukwu till the end of the war while Ojukwu’s Southeast kinsmen were sabotaging him and diverting money meant to purchase arms. He did the same as the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo sacrificing his time and money but went down to his grave unsung without a single honour from the same Southeast leaders.
Similarly, Professor Frank Ndili took over a University of Nigeria dotted with wooden prefabricated buildings constructed by his predecessor-Southeast Vice Chancellors—Professors Kodilinye and Ezeilo with the huge sums of money given to them by the Federal Government, and decided to initiate a massive post-civil war reconstruction of the University with solid building structures. Midway into his tenure the same Southeast ganged up against him and threw him out of office ignominiously.
Today it on record that when after the retirement of Bishop Eneje of Enugu Roman Catholic Diocese there was in-fighting among the Southeast over who would succeed him, it was a West Niger Igbo—the pioneer Bishop of Issele-Uku Dioceses Bishop Anthony Gbuji that was sent to stabilize the Diocese, and he did very fervently until his retirement. Similarly, at the same time Bishop Gbuji was presiding at the Enugu Catholic Diocese another West Niger Igbo—the present Anglican Archbishop of Enugu Province of the Anglican Communion was presiding as the Bishop of Enugu Anglican Diocese again to bring stability that arose after the retirement of Bishop Otubelu of Ukpo in the present Anambra State. Not only did he perform extraordinarily but did what no other Southeasterner could do. He presided over the splitting of his original Diocese into seven Anglican Dioceses at a time most of his South east colleagues were resisting the splitting of their Episcopal realms into two.
It was in obedience to this ancestral-driven Igbo patriotism that I found my way to Enugu to seek employment opportunity after my West African School Certificate in 1980 against my father’s advice to move to Lagos and secure a waiting employment opportunity with the Nigeria Customs through the help of one of his friends. My father who was then working as a Store-Keeper with InterContractors—the construction company that constructed the present Ninth-Mile-Nsukka-Oturkpo Highway wanted me to study Mechanical Engineering after working briefly with the Nigeria Customs. But I never loved Customs because at that point in time it was the “cyber-crime” of the present day and I told my father that I was not ready to engage myself in any venture that involved bribery. Abandoning me to my fate, I moved to Enugu where I joined one of my friends from my town Emmanuel Ulanmo who was then working with the Post and Telegraph (P&T) as a telephone technician and stayed with him at Emene. From that point I started looking for job.
My first attempt was to apply for job with the Anambra State Civil Service by Okpara Avenue in which I was told that the jobs were for indigenes only; and when I claimed Onitsha origin I was quickly faulted by my dialect and eventually sent out. I went to one of my Ibusa kinsmen—Mr. Nwajei who was then the General Manager of Niger Motors by the same Okpara Avenue for employment and after looking at my result, he told me as my father he was advising me to go back to school and leave the nonsense job I was searching for. When I told him I had no money, he shouted on me that I was disgracing our people there because even the colleges of Education in Bendel State were tuition-free which was correct. But I never wanted to be a teacher but an Engineer because I was good in sciences as in arts.
I again applied to Nigeria Airways on the same Okpara Venue. On the day of the interview the officials announced that those with grades one and two should stay one side and those with grade three and G-Four should stay at the other side. As those of us with grades one and two were standing with pride while those with grade three and G-four were downcast, the officials announced that their vacancies were not for those of us with grades one and two because we would not stay long in the service. However the situation changed when I visited one of my Secondary School friends and classmates Donatus Ofonye from Ezi in Delta State; and as I was discussing my statement of result with him over my next plan of action, his brother and host Mr. Buzugbe who was then the Higher Executive Officer-Accounts with Nigerian Civil Aviation, Enugu Airport entered.
As we greeted him, his attention was drawn to my statement of result. Glancing through it, he said: “you mean this is your result? I thought you failed woefully like my brother; and I have been helping other people who are not from my place. Just write application and bring to me immediately.” I eventually wrote an application, undertook a mathematics and physics test and came second, interviewed the same day by a panel of interviewers and eventually offered employment as a Civil Aviation-Signals Technician-in-Training.
While working at Enugu-Airport I began to see injustices and frauds in administration especially against those of us on the technical line. An ordinary Clerical Assistant will confiscate part of your salary because there was no change. The senior officials will confiscate the essential commodities supplied to the staff and nobody would talk for fear of being denied promotion or sacked from his Job. Out of rage I began a one-man protest writing for the public opinion pages of the Enugu-based Satelite and Daily Star newspapers. Not long after that I was elected in absentia the Propaganda Secretary of Civil Service Technical Workers’ Union of Nigeria Enugu Airport Branch.
I became in the process an associate member of “Jim’s Vanguard” under the guidance Senator Fidelis Okoro of Nru-Nsukka and Chief Frank Oloto of Ovoko-Nsukka which was formed by the then Governor of Anambra State Chief Jim Nwobodo to curtail the excesses of Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu’s “Ikemba Front” which was unleashing mayhem on defenceless NPP supporters of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. I was enraged by the saboteur tendencies of the NPN Igbo Fulani stooges at the time, the infamous NTA-led “Federal Government Presence in Anambra State” by Chike Ubaka, the Ojukwu-led Ikemba-Front attack on Governor Jim Nwobodo at Nkpor Junction, the dastard activities of Police Commissioner Bishop Eyitene, the burning of ABC Transmitting Station at Ngwo, the struggle over the construction of Nnewi-Igbo Uwu-Ekwulobia road and a host of other acts of sabotage against the spirit and soul of those killed in the Nigerian civil war. Today as I am writing nothing has changed in that quisling mentality of the average Igbo of the Southeast. It was under these circumstances that I was advised to abandon the ambition of being an Engineer and go into the social sciences or arts; and being that I have had passion for history even as a science-oriented student, I chose to go the way of my passion.
Tony Nwaizeigwe holds a Phd. He lectures at the University of Nigeria, (Nsukka) until recently