Ndigbo: Listen to Ojeligbo

08 May 2012

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•Ohanaeze leader, Ralph Uwechue

By Okey Ikechukwu

Anathema! Nausea walks the land as I write. It is true that all animals must eat, but the eagle and the vulture do fight over food. The lion does not find nourishment the way a worm does. Scavengers thrive in death and decay, but true hunters acquire a reputation based on their own skill and kill. The wise maxim says: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”; but the imprudent will continue to dig furiously, complicating their lives and making it more difficult for help to reach them. The elders look on such things with calm amusement, knowing that you do not describe anything or anyone blown by the wind as “Akwaa Akwuru” (the unshaken and unshakable, no matter what). Only an ignorant child can assume that the head of a sheep must have more meat than that of a goat, because it has no horns.

Therefore, let no be deceived by some reprehensible prancings in Igboland today. An adult who goes to a heap of birds and brings home a vulture (pretending that it is edible meat) may deceive children and not the clear-sighted. The elders already know that he has an appointment with a witch doctor, even if/when they say nothing. But for him to either feign ignorance of what he is doing, or attempt to prove that the vulture is an eagle is to display the baseness of soul that is best shown in a certain lack of personal dignity and character. This is traditional wisdom!

But who has shown such wisdom in the barely-concealed scramble to claim pre-eminence and pretend to be a replacement for Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Some of the schemes were already afoot before his body had gone cold in the London hospital! But no sleigh of hand can elevate any of the persons concerned to the esteemed status Ojukwu occupied while alive. Igbos should know their own! Does the average Igbo man look like he does not know where he is going; even when he does not? He is probably one of the few black people you meet at an international airport walking confidently in a direction that leads nowhere in particular. Confront him and he will turn and wonder why you are not telling him where the toilet is, since he is looking for it and you have just said that he is heading in the wrong direction! To lead these people in real terms? Eji kwa m ogu o!

Senator Ben Obi, Chairman of the Outreach and Contacts Sub-committee for the burial of the late Ikemba of Nnewi, bears the traditional title of Ojeligbo. This literally means “One that deals on behalf of Ndigbo”, a person who serves (and truly serves) his people. He is a tall, fine man of uncommon sobriety and refined maturity. There is never a sentence amiss in his communication and he is the wrong person to approach if your objective is to further complicate a problem, any problem at all. He is a solutions person and one whose network, capacity, strength of character and objectivity are sometimes belied by his calm mien and soothingly steady voice. But he had cause to comment on the prancings of would-be Igbo leaders after the demise of Ojukwu. Listen to Ojeligbo: 

“Ikemba did not just get up one morning to say he is leader of the Igbos…. Igbos are a completely republican people. You don't impose yourself on them. At the appropriate time the man who will lead them will emerge and we will follow him the way we followed and adored Ikemba. So all these fly-at-night leaders will be shocked, because you don't just get up and say you want to be leader. It’s not done! You have to go back and look at the antecedents of Ikemba… and then where he took the Igbo nation to”.

As the elders would say: “Nke a wu nke wu ezi okwu (This is the plain truth).
The “morning after” Ojukwu’s burial has enabled a sober review of forty years of national hypocrisy, showing that his belief in an indivisible Nigeria was couched in a misunderstood resolve to make equity and mutual respect among Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities the bases of our nationhood. His faith in the beauty of diversity is borne out in his often-repeated statement that Nigeria needs unity and not uniformity. The land of his birth, Zungeru, stood still on the day they mourned him. It was no different in Calabar, Port Harcourt, and other places. The Lagos State declared that his state was in mourning because Ikemba, one of Lagos’ illustrious sons, was no more. He turned down the request of the National Burial Committee to use the National Stadium for the events scheduled for the state and gave them, instead, the Tafawa Balewa Square, which he said is used for the most prestigious national and international events hosted in Lagos State.

But the issue before us today is how Ikemba’s death has thrown up the easily-revealed challenge of leadership facing Ndigbo. One of the most insightful sons of Imo State, the late Sir Warrior, once sang “Agamevu ari nma na aju”. A literal interpretation of this proverb means that you do not place a thorny bramble, some really prickly thing, on your head and put a heavy load on it (hoping to use it as cushion). Agamevu is an abominably thorny plant and the statement “Agamevu ari nma na aju” it too true to be contested. Ndigbo should know that no one eases the discomfort of a heavy burden by using a thorn-filled object as the cushion, or head rest, between your head and the heavy burden. That would be asking for greater misfortune than the burden itself. Therefore, Igboland should sort out the Agamevus masquerading as aju.

Many are said to be in contention for Igbo leadership. Yet they know the Igbo saying that a family with a serious matter to argue before the village council does not send someone suffering from catarrh to speak on their behalf. Yes, a dumb person cannot be titled “Onu na ekwuru oha” (the voice of the people). The Ikemba metamorphosed from the brilliant and stubborn son of a wealthy old generation aristocrat to a leader by grit. Those currently under the delusion that some philanthropic, or pseudo-populist sleight of hand will make them replace Ojukwu should wake up. Despite appearances to the contrary, Ndigbo are a sober and patient people. They are particular about the antecedents of those who claim to lead them at any particular time. They may keep quiet and even allow a decades or more to sweep away some emergent curiosities, while it seems expedient not to intervene. But underneath the apparent acceptance lies the deep certainty they couch thus: “The season of ndi akalogoli (never do wells) eventually ends and rationality prevails”.

But will Ndigbo must wake up and remember the words of wisdom thrust on them by Sir Warrior, the late musician about the inappropriate uses of Agamevu? “Ikemba did not just get up one morning to say he is leader of the Igbos….You don't impose yourself …. you don't just get up and say you want to be leader. Its not done!”. Thus spoke Ojeligbo! Enough said by Ojeligbo, nwoke m!

A community that has no Ijele may mistake hardheaded masquerades of the Okwonma and Agaba variety for an Ijele. But that is for children and the dregs of the community. An Ijele has no imitation, because it is not a masquerade. It is the Ijele.  Big and violent masquerades always can only take over the village square by force, but no one defers to them out of genuine respect.  People run from the Square to avoid injury. The Ijele, on the other hand, takes precedence as of right. It is honoured and respected because of what it is!

Bob Blasts Everywhere
Families are still in pain. Livelihoods are still threatened. A man’s investment that has become a national institution and a sure source of income for thousands of families lost hundreds of millions of Naira to purposeless malignity. And all for what?

The trend is on the increase and the only evidence that something is being done is that access to public places is now something of a chore, if not a nightmare. Many dual carriageways in major cities have lost one lane to barricades. The checkpoints are everywhere and incompetent young soldiers who may never have seen a grenade by the look of them man the barricades. Pre-emptive intelligence is apparently not on the cards. This is not sustainable and we need a real solution sooner than one year ago.
•Dr. Ikechukwu is a member of ThisDay Editorial Board.

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