In Igbo cosmology of identity definition, a family of criminals does not stand for a family without good persons but a family where the hell criminals predominate and the good ones are unable to act to remedy the bad reputation of the family.
This is idiomatically expressed in the Igbo saying: Ofu aka luta mmanu ozuo ora aka onu—“when one finger touches the palm oil it spreads to the rest.” That the Igbo as a people are collectively deemed bad by both outsiders and some sections of the same group should therefore be seen in the context of the above definition.
Ethno-biologically, being “Igbo” could be timeless in definition since ethnic identity in its ideal historical conception is genetically rooted. But in reality this is not so because of the many intervening factors over time and space that border mainly on fission and fusion of different ethnic groups as a result of cross-migrations and the resulting miscegenation. So in general there is no pure ethnic group especially among the Southern Nigerian groups running from the fringes of Badagry in Lagos State to the borderlands of Ogoja in Cross River State. What we define presently as an ethnic group is no more and no less the synthesis of different culture groups in which the dominant one assumes the trade-mark of identity.
Before the Nigerian Civil War Igbo was the second language of the entire Eastern Nigeria, to the extent that “Bonny (Ibani) Igbo” was a defined dialect of the Igbo language. Those who were not originally culturally and linguistically Igbo were then drifting towards common Igbo identity and those who were originally Igbo but were fused with other borderland ethnic groups were re-discovering their Igbo identity because of one factor—Reputable and responsible leadership.
Towards the West, ethnographical Igbo land extends deep into Edo territory up to the present Ugoneki along Asaba-Benin highway.
Former Governor Samuel Ogbemudia was from Igbo-Akiri which he later christened “Igbanke” to water down his original Igbo identity after his appointment as Military Governor of Midwestern State. Indeed in the wake of the 1966 crisis Ogbemudia was fully identified as a full-fledged Igbo and was attending the Igbo Senior Army Officers Meeting in Kaduna. His personal accounts reveal that he was only saved from the army pogrom by the late General Sani Abacha who escorted him as south as Ilorin.
Towards the South Igbo territory extends to the present University town of Abraka where the original settlers are bilingual with one group claiming Edo origin and the other group claiming Igbo origin. The same applies to the present town of Orogun where the present Deputy Senate President Senator Omo-Agege hails from, which is linguistically and culturally an Igbo community. In fact before the Nigerian Civil War, the present West Niger Igbo were referred collectively as “Ika-Igbo” and all were drawn towards the socio-cultural whirlpool of Igbo State Union under the towering political compass of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe even though conservative in carriage and bankrupt in ideology.
Today there is total recoil from that centripetal identity definition to centrifugal force of identity denial and sub-ethnic irredentism. The question here is why such recoil? It is not enough to accuse a group of denying their original identity. One must try to find out the reasons for such decision. Agukwu-Nri changed to “Nri” in 1940 for a reason. Ifite-Ukpo changed to “Ifite-Dunu” for a reason. The same applies to Igbo town’s change to “Igbo-Ukwu”.
Today the Yoruba—originally known as Anago— adopted the former as their common identity which was formerly the sectional identity of the Oyo sub-culture group with which they now lay claim to common identity not only in the six Southwest States of Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, and Oyo, but also among their people in Kwara, Kogi, Edo, and Delta States with no atom denial of identity, vilification of identity, and discrimination of identity. There is neither the case of superior nor inferior Yoruba; neither mainstream nor peripheral Yoruba.
The question again is why is it not the same case with the Igbo? The major reason which explains this variation in identity definition between the Igbo and Yoruba revolves round the single act of “Self-centeredness” among the Igbo leadership which is oiled by a band of spineless followership as addressed below in its various garbs.
First is the problem of self-centeredness in leadership which began with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s attempt to impose himself on the Yoruba as Chief Minister of the Western Region in 1951 just because of his privileged position as the leader of NCNC. Today most short-sighted and historically deficient Igbo use that episode of Yoruba revolt against a clear case of an imperial ambition of an Igbo east of the Niger, to vilify the person of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the author of “tribalism” in Nigerian politics without looking at the other side of the political coin. The question here is what stopped Dr. Azikiwe from presenting one of his Yoruba lieutenants as the possible leader of the Legislative House to avoid the obvious fear of Igbo domination?
It was that self-centeredness that led Ifeajuna and his co-Igbo coup plotters of 15 January 1966 to spare high-ranking Igbo politicians and General Aguiyi-Ironsi against their collective agreement with Major PCK Nzeogwu, which resulted to the definition of that noble mission as “Igbo-inspired” Coup
It was that self-centeredness that made Dr. Azikiwe to oppose the creation of both C.O.R. and Middle Belt States while supporting the creation of Midwest Region, just to create a political empire for himself out of Chief Awolowo’s sphere of political influence.
It was that self-centeredness that led Ifeajuna and his co-Igbo coup plotters of 15 January 1966 to spare high-ranking Igbo politicians and General Aguiyi-Ironsi against their collective agreement with Major PCK Nzeogwu, which resulted to the definition of that noble mission as “Igbo-inspired” Coup, leading consequently to the loss of millions of Igbo lives, their exalted political and economic positions, and dignity of identity in Nigeria of today.
It was that same self-centeredness that made General Aguiyi-Ironsi refuse to release Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his colleagues, including the thirty-five Tiv men imprisoned by Sir Ahmadu Bello for their roles in Tiv riots against Fulani domination because he wanted to please the Fulani to insure his self-preservation; yet at the end of the whole quisling episode he perished with millions of innocent Igbo people.
It was the same self-centeredness that led Aguiyi-Ironsi to promulgate the infamous “Unification Decree” which abrogated the Federal structure of Nigeria and unified the Civil Service thereby confirming the allegation that the objective of the January 15, 1966 coup was to pave way for Igbo domination. The immediate result was the May 1966 anti-Igbo riot which claimed hundreds of lives of Igbo people; to be later followed by the July 29, 1966 counter-coup, the pogroms, and eventually the civil war.
It was this act of self-centeredness that saw Ojukwu declaring the State of Biafra even after many laudable attempts were made to settle the rift amicably between him and Gowon after the Aburi Conference, thereby putting General Gowon who did not initially want war on a tight corner. Even the prosecution of the same civil war saw the same act of self-centeredness played out by Col. Ojukwu assigning the duty of purchasing arms to his kinsmen civilian novices and granting many of his kinsmen “passes” to engage on lucrative commercial activities while others were busy sacrificing their lives for the war.
It was this self-centeredness that led to the 1967 Biafran invasion of the Midwestern Region with Ojukwu personally appointing a replacement to Col David Ejoor, after it was agreed by both the Federal Government and the Eastern Region that the Region should remain neutral in the crisis, thereby prompting the massacre of the West Niger Igbo population by the advancing Federal Troops.
The same sense of self-centeredness led Ojukwu to subtly plan the elimination of Major PCK Nzeogwu whose popularity he not only feared but who was openly opposed to secession, a situated that presented Nzeogwu clearly as an impediment to his inordinate ambition to create an empire out of Nigeria.
The same guiding self-centered mentality of Col. Ojukwu led Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to abandon Biafra because of the former’s placement of his personal ambition over the untold sufferings and death of millions of Igbo people under Biafra.
The same spirit of self-centeredness led Col. Ojukwu to flee Biafra on its collapse without his seasoned commanders, who were later clamped in detention for years with one of the most brilliant among them—Major Timothy Onwuatuegwu being murdered in cold-blood by his adversaries.
Ojukwu returned from his thirteen year-exile and for the same selfsame act of self-centeredness joined the Fulani-led National Party of Nigeria (NPN)—the same people he led his people to fight against for thirty months, just to demystify the towering political stature of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe; but unfortunately he ended up being demystified himself by unknown political quantities such as Alhaji Umaru Diko who slapped him in Public, Chief C. C. Onoh who slapped him for attempting to wrestle the governorship ticket from him, and Dr. Edwin Onwudiwe from Ogbunike who defeated him with a landslide victory in the 2003 Senatorial election.
Ojukwu’s further clandestine role as “unmarked Political Adviser” to General Sani Abacha prompted him into revealing the pro-June 12 dispositions of Admiral Alison Madueke—his Igbo kinsman and General Chris Ali to the former which led to the removal of the two men as Chief of Naval Staff and Chief of Army Staff respectively by General Abacha.
Today, his political scions in the Southeast are carrying on with the same reckless act self-centeredness in political leadership caked in shameless acts of quisling.
Needless to recount the spineless political dispositions of the Governors of Anambra, Enugu, Abia, and the new Caliphate imposed “Administrator” of Imo State towards the matter of insecurity in the Southeast vis-à-vis the reckless killing of innocent Igbo citizens by Fulani herdsmen.
Chief Orji Uzor Kalu once a young vibrant Igbo patriot is currently paying for his latter-day quisling dispositions against his Igbo ethnic nation. Chief Rochas Okorocha not long ago received his baptism of political fire from his Fulani masters in spite of playing the quisling against his people in his bid to advance the same act of self-centeredness. The allegation that Mr. Peter Obi gave out a large parcel of land in his Agulu hometown to the Caliphate to build a world-class Islamic Center in exchange for their support for his ambition to become the President of Nigeria is yet to be proved either way.
Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State has turned the Abakiliki section of his State to large colony and haven for fleeing Fulani from Central African Republic in exchange for support for his ambition to become a lame-duck President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. First it was the promise of making his younger brother in the army—a Major General Umani now retired, the Chief of Army Staff that propelled him into becoming a pronounced Fulani stooge. When that failed, it now turned to the untenable promise of supporting him to become Nigeria’s President in 2023 with Nasir el-Rufai as his Vice. For this reason of self-centeredness he is willing to turn his Ebonyi State into an extension of Sokoto Caliphate within the shortest possible time to meet up with the assigned target.
Needless to recount the spineless political dispositions of the Governors of Anambra, Enugu, Abia, and the new Caliphate imposed “Administrator” of Imo State towards the matter of insecurity in the Southeast vis-à-vis the reckless killing of innocent Igbo citizens by Fulani herdsmen. Nigerians are waiting to see how the Jihadist imposed “Toothless Community Police” will resolve the insecurity of lives and property posed by killer-Fulani herdsmen across the Southeast. But then what do you expect from a band of leaders who took delight in militarizing their States through “Operation Python Dance” against defenseless and unarmed members of IPOB, when killer-Fulani herdsmen roam freely unchallenged by security officials in Southeast with AK-47.
Even the tactless and ideologically bankrupt IPOB are busy carving out unsolicited extra territories for their delusive future State of Biafra in the South-South and Middle Belt Zones, shamelessly attacking their innocent and patriotic Igbo leaders in foreign lands, with their leader Nnamdi Kanu fraudulently junketing to the outside walls of European Union Secretariat and United Nations, even claiming to have visited the White House, in the bid to deceive their mentally pliable followers into believing that their IPOB is recognized internationally, while their political leaders continue to rampage and plunder their ancestral land and they do nothing.
Recall that for the entire six-year period of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration the Igbo leadership were placed in choice positions of political authority, yet they could not fix the three major trunk-highways that connect the zone to the other zones of the Federation—Onitsha-Enugu Expressway, Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, and Ninth Mile-Nsukka-Oturkpo Expressway. Yet these same leaders want us to believe they can achieve wonders in their leadership under a non-Southern President Muhammadu Buhari. And they want to convince us that they can equally do better when entrusted with the most tasking responsibility of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
These are the leaders whose equally spineless citizens want non-Southeast Igbo of Delta, Edo, and Rivers States to be proud as Igbo; when Igbo identity has become synonymous with decadent leadership surrounded by spineless followership. Indeed if to be Igbo is to become spineless in defending one’s rightful place in Nigeria today, then to hell with those who think they are more Igbo than the others.
The Ikwerre, Egbema, Ndoni, Ogba, Etche, Ahoada, among other Igbo sub-groups of Rivers State, and the Enuani, Ika, and Ndokwa sub-groups of Delta and Edo States are ethnographically Igbo by definition and are proud to be so, but not with the cantankerous leadership character and booth-licking followership of the Southeast Igbo who always believe that everything Igbo begins and ends with them.
If the Ikwerre and the allied sub-groups were abandoned by Col. Ojukwu and his Biafran Forces to be slaughtered by the advancing Federal Forces as they did the West Niger Igbo, and decided to seek a leeway for safety by concealing their Igbo identity, what is wrong with that? Today it is one tale of the Ikwerre denying their Igbo identity, and another tale of Delta and Edo Igbo denying their identity. The question is whose identity? Who made the other Igbo? And who has the power to unmake the other Igbo? Yesterday it was the case of Nnamdi Kanu attempting to re-designate Port Harcourt—the Chief Ikwerre city as Ugwuocha to drive home its Igbo identity in support of his delusive Biafran project.
Today, it is a tale of a Nyesom Nwike of being Ikwerre and not Igbo because of the Presidential ambition of the so-called mainstream Igbo. Yet no Southeast Governor of today can compete with Governor Nyesom Nwike in the matters of patriotic defense of Igbo rights and progressive governance of his State to the delight of his people and outsiders.
Everybody has the right to change his identity for a desired end. Let the Igbo of the Southeast put their wobbling political house in order; re-define their sense of ideology; re-design their pattern of political leadership; and re-orientate their model of followership before other Igbo sub-groups outside the Southeast will be proud to identify themselves as the same Igbo.
One fact is obvious with undoubting assurance of fate! If there is a referendum to divide Nigeria into component nations today, the overwhelming majority of South-South Geo-Political Zone will vote to join the Southwest-driven Oduduwa State rather than Nnamdi Kanu’s Biafra of the Southeast. Even Benue and Taraba States with a substantial section of Kogi State will follow the same Oduduwa track. This is because the Yoruba have been historically tested to be more politically sophisticated, ideologically-driven, patriotically spirited, historically conscious, and politically accommodating to other ethnic groups than any ethnic group in Nigeria including the Igbo.
So nobody is forcing the Southeast leadership this time around to mend their faulty ways, or the timid followership to do the needful to usher in a new progressive order. But they should stop dragging other people including their Igbo kinsmen outside the Southeast into their pet-Biafran project or identity re-definition war, until they purge themselves of the political iniquity trailing them.
♦ Nwankwo Tony Nwaezeigwe, PhD is the Odogwu of Ibusa Clan, Delta State, Nigeria.