Dr. Tony Nwaezeigwe’s “Denial Of Igbo Identity–The Ikwerre Were Right,” A Rejoinder, by Obi Nwakanma.

Tony Nwaezeigwe is doing exculpatory narrative. There is no other meaningful way to explain it. For him, the Igbo of the west bear no responsibility for the situation of the Igbo. Just the Igbo of the so-called South East who are confused and without leadership. This branch of the Igbo is the main problem. Therefore, as a result of the incoherence of the heartland Igbo, people who were once Igbo have a right to carve new identities for themselves. Some of the Ikwerre, who have claimed they are not Igbo are right to abjure themselves. (Read Tony Nwaezeigwe’s article)
In a sense, Nwaezeigwe is right. But in very fundamental ways he is equally wrong. He exemplifies the mind of the self-mortifying son of a whore whose mother gives serial pleasure to men who can afford her, which puts cereal on the table for her indolent son, which pleases and displeases him; shames and provides for him; and he denies her publicly, but accepts her mollifying gifts quietly. Dr. Nwaezeigwe is a lazy historian. His disquisition on Igbo leadership does not merit response because it is full of ignorant inaccuracies and sweeping obloquy. I will therefore concentrate on his issues of Igbo and identity and the implications of one on the other.
It is very clear that Nwaezeigwe’s Igbo identity weighs heavily on him. He is a man at the crossroads. To be stuck at the crossroads is to be burdened by ambiguity. But he would not be the first to want to discard his Igbo weight.

Col. Macaulay Nzefili (Basically, the Nze who offered or sacrificed ten bulls) claimed he, from Ukwuani, was never Igbo. And wonders did not cease to happen, just as the sky did not fall from the heavens just because Nzefili chose not to be Igbo. It probably did the world a lot of good: it freed the true Igbo of Nzefili, and hopefully freed Nzefili of the Igbo that was in his pursuit.

fair enough! If you are not Igbo, that’s alright with me. If you were once Igbo and you no longer wish to be Igbo, that’s ok too. If you are Igbo and you do not know it, and you don’t in fact care to know, I do not give a fiddling fart! It is about time the Igbo left those who do not want to be Igbo to be whoever they wish.

It is like the man whose Igbo ancestors gave the name, “Agu,” and when his own spirit knocked on his door, he chose to discard the name of his ancestors, and choose the strange name, “Abraham.” Although it is a thing which the ear hears and becomes prickly, the Igbo should have no quarrel with such a man, because he chose to call himself after a stranger. Why? Because no one knows which spirit plays the drums to which he dances. True Igbo can only shrug, wonder if it is madness or folly, and move on.

A great credo of the Igbo, a cornerstone of its ideas, is that all humans, no matter who they are or whence they come, for as long as they come in peace, and adhere to the principles of justice, have equal value.

Igbo must concentrate on defending the rights and value of self-identified Igbo. That is a very fundamental aspect of Igbo humanism and its culture of toleration. Those who are saying they are not Igbo, let them be who they wish to be. The Igbo would say, it is between they and their “Chi.” The Igbo have a greater problem to worry about than those who are no longer of value to them.

Nwaezeigwe however is right in two respects: one, in the era of organized Igbo leadership and in the propellant facts of its clear political program, even those who were in the margins identified as Igbo. Igbo leadership is currently in freefall. That much is true. Even we know this. It demands that we rebuild and contain Igbo political, economic and cultural leadership. When the Igbo restore their power those who are lost will return. I suspect Nwaezeigwe who teaches history at UNN might be taking these extreme positions to shock the Igbo in the heartland from its current political paralysis.

Secondly, he is correct to demonstrate that historically, identities shift. Culture groups that fail to cohere become extinct. Extinction does not mean physical death. It means radical contraction and absorption into more active and powerful groups. If the national self-confidence of the Igbo is not quickly restored, even the Igbo of the heartland will begin to deny their Igbo identity and de-identify. The symptoms are already beginning to show in religious conversions, political affiliations, language loss, deformation of kin societies, etc.

Politically disempowered groups who do not find the means to create coherent group interests and the means to defend them become vulnerable to more organized interests who have greater political and therefore economic value, leverage, and stature. The attempts by Nigerian policymakers since the outbreak of the civil war was anchored on one aim: to solve Nigeria’s “Igbo problem.” This policy outcome has been to slowly and strategically reduce the catalytic Igbo to an inconsequential minority group in Nigeria. Replace the Igbo with the Ijaw in the East and contain them in one spot where they will suffer the crab-in-the bucket situation and begin to turn on themselves until they are exhausted, and implode politically.

These people speak Igbo. Talk Igbo. Bear Igbo names. And sometimes in fact act Igbo. But they are not Igbo. They are masquerades sent from outside Igboland by those who compete with the Igbo for national power, to govern Igbo from within.

Many Igbo do not understand this. But it was a goal very gravely described to me by the late Stanley O. Wey in 1992, when I used often to visit him at his Ilupeju home in Lagos after productions at TSM – The Sunday Magazine – where I used to write. It is clear the program is working. It is clear that this wartime federal policy remains official policy of the federal government. It is clear that part of its strategies of containment was to insert as the new “leaders” of the Igbo, proconsuls whose economic and political fortunes are not tied to the fate of the larger Igbo. The current example of this is the use of the Supreme Court to “anoint” Hope Uzodinma – the worst of the lot – against the wishes of Imo electorates, to be the governor of Imo state.

Dr. Nwaezeigwe is thus right: the current crop of people who lead the Igbo are strange actors on the Igbo political field. The Igbo must muster all its reserve energy, if it must survive the onslaught of the contestations of national power, to restore its tradition of enlightened, humane, and progressive leadership. It will require new strategies to rebuild Igbo leadership and the Igbo must quickly and carefully begin to recruit, train, and reposition a new generation of Igbo leadership. It is urgent. And it is not a task to be left to fate. Nor to one part of the whole. It is a task that should involve Igbo-who are-Igbo.

Obi Nwakanma is Professor of English and Transatlantic Studies.


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