NDIGBO: THE REALITY OF A VIRTUAL NATION IN THE DIASPORA

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GUEST COLUMNIST

BY CHIMAROKE NNAMANI

The recent spate of the killings in Igboland, the latest being in my own constituency of Enugu East senatorial district where Rev. Fr. Paul Offu and pregnant Regina Mbah were gruesomely murdered by hoodlums alleged to be Fulani herdsmen is barbarous and horrendous. I condemn in totality the odious and dastardly acts and extend my heartfelt commiseration to the families of the victims.

I have taken note of the commendable actions of the governor of Enugu State, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, towards arresting the situation. If given time, these actions will completely stem these atrocities. I also have full confidence in the government and people of Enugu State and all relevant groups within the Enugu system that this too shall pass.

However, and more importantly, this should avert our minds to a deeper socio-political dilemma. Ndigbo, an African ethnic nationality primarily domiciled in South-eastern Nigeria and also some communities in neighbouring states who subscribe to Igboness have gone through travails leading to sociological mutation.

By simple calculations, Ndigbo are the people who occupy the vast mangrove and forest terrain in the political as well as geographical East of Nigeria.  Many may wonder what I mean by political alongside geographical Eastern Nigeria. This is simple. By political actions, particularly emanating from colonialism, Eastern Nigeria starts from the eastern tip of the Niger Bridge in Onitsha, but this is a reductionist partitioning against the more meaningful and natural habitation by which Ndigbo are also known as occupying the vast plain from the western tip of the same Niger Bridge at Asaba to points far beyond the western borders of Agbor in Delta State. 

These social trauma include the slave trade that began in 1471 when the Portuguese and the Spanish carted away over 3,000 West Africans, mainly Igbo, and by the time the slave trade ended in 1833, over 3.5 million Igbo had been shipped to the new world.

It is on record that as far back as 1591, the Igbo areas of today’s Nigeria were put on Portuguese world map as inhabited by some vigorous people whose deep culture celebrated energy, accomplishment and wisdom. The Spanish in 1593 were to expand on this view in identifying the terrain as deeping in a stretch of the Bight called Biafra whose people lived their lives in lifting to art form the career in sojourn (njepu), thought (echiche), industry (olu) and accomplishment (ntozu).

The truth of this glorious past and the joy of her greatness have been celebrated by our modern historians and writers who, though, regret that the same Igbo areas (Bight of Biafra) exploded in one ball of fire with the introduction of the slave trade which depleted the manpower resources as it upturned values.

It is alleged that European slave traders were fairly well informed about various African ethnicities, leading to slavers targeting certain ethnic groups which plantation owners preferred. Particularly desired ethnic groups consequently became fairly concentrated in certain parts of the Americas. The Igbo were dispersed to colonies such as Jamaica, Cuba, Saint-Domingue, Barbados, Haiti, the future United States within the then Virginia and Maryland colonies and Belize. With the goal for freedom, enslaved Igbo people were known to the British colonialists as being rebellious, cantankerous and having a high rate of suicide in the process of escaping from slavery.

In May 1803 a shipload of captive West Africans, upon surviving the notorious Middle Passage, were caged by U.S.-paid captors in Savannah via a slave ship, to be auctioned off at one of the local slave markets. The ship’s enslaved passengers included a number of Igbo people from the then Portuguese-named Bight of Biafra. The Igbo were known by planters and slavers of the American South for being fiercely independent and resistant to chattel slavery. The group of 75 Igbo slaves were bought for forced labour on plantations in St. Simons Island for $100 each. The chained slaves were packed under the deck of a small vessel to be shipped to the island. During this voyage the Igbo slaves rose up in rebellion, taking control of the ship and drowning their captors, in the process causing the grounding of the ship in Dunbar Creek at the site now locally known as Igbo Landing.

With the strongest, the best and the brightest forcibly exported to Europe and the Americas as slaves, the Igbo areas were set in an unprecedented track in retrogression. So, for about two hundred years after formal abolition and about one hundred years after apparent extinction of slave dealing business, the Igbo areas, the people and their resources lay prostrate, yet to recover even in the face of pernicious modern allocation of values.

Even in the grim periods in history, Ndigbo have held on to the dominant values and character traits which elevated those forebears of the people who thought (echiche), sojourned (njepu), worked (oru) and accomplished (ntozu). Their accomplishment showed in the glamourous Bight of Biafra culture seen by the Portuguese and the Spanish. Till date, the modern Igbo explore to the fullest those attributes which are identified as the trinity of Igbo character trait and process of personality.  Every Igbo man employs his. The same Igbo sojourns, home and abroad and at the same time acts, works and creates wealth. We all know that sojourning is a great industry of the Igbo, which is achieved with the proper deployment of one of the greatest Igbo media of actualisation – Ukwu n’ije.

Ndigbo, rising in their cradle in the Holy City of Nri, had deployed the feet and fanned out into the global arena. As they journeyed, they bore the cot of reason we call akpa uche. This, we all know, we use to direct the strokes of physical gesture which we know as our aka Ikenga. These form the trinity of the Igbo character, at home and abroad. The end product is the accomplishment (ntozu). When it is told in the hills, valleys, cities and village, then we are celebrating that accomplishment. That is Odenigbo – the universal applause for fame.

The process of slavery and dispersal of Ndigbo have continued through search for better occupation, better livelihood and also continued voluntary servitude. The Igbo nation has therefore become a nation exercising perpetual and cultural migratory shift, thus in dispersal with heartbeat outside the boundaries of the South-Eastern states which have now become a mere symbolic home for Ndigbo Global or Ndigbo Worldwide.

With this social mutation, the Igbo has to face the reality that the search for a sovereign ethnic state outside the boundaries of the official Nigeria has become untenable, elusive, and an infinite national romanticism of the sovereign nature. This dispersal was impelled by the conditions that have made the Igbo homestead inhospitable – poor infrastructure, lack of basic amenities and the abysmal lack of federal presence in the region decades after the much-touted post-civil war reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation. 

Therefore, the heartbeat of a virtual Igbo nation is outside the confines of the Igbo homestead. Ndigbo Global or Ndigbo Worldwide who reside all over the world with the majority still in South-eastern Nigeria have unfettered access to the global basket of fortunes and limitless dreams. In the global arena where there is no quota system and where the society thrives on competition and merit, an Igbo can achieve his potential including high political offices that apparently elude him in the place he calls home, Nigeria.

The dreams of the Igbo worldwide are not therefore inhibited by socio-political conspiracies that have confined them to an engineered artificial minority status within the Nigerian state. Such conspiracies theorised as prophylaxis to recurrent and future attempt at recreating a Biafra type scenario, an unwritten policy heralded by the win-the-war strategy of the 12-state structure.  In my humble opinion, presidential power as an immediate goal for the Igbo is now secondary. Physical and fiscal restructuring of the Nigerian socio-political space to allow for full effusion of the trinity of Igbo character is more emergent. Some Nigerians in impulsive uppity have been known to have expressed umbrage at an Igbo becoming Vice President nine years after the then war of blame that is Nigeria versus Biafra.

Zik of Africa, M. I. Power, ‘Boycott the Boycottables’, the ‘Timber and Calibers’ and many others, we pray they will continue to rest in peace in the bosom of the Lord. May they hear our cries and lamentations! Onye mu na ya jere nta sina ukwum dika ukwu anu. That is to say that my fellow hunter is now seeing my legs as those of an antelope. In the mansion they built with their compatriots through their actions and inactions, their men have become consigned to the quarters for the boys.  

The new Igbo is therefore the Ndigbo Global or the Ndigbo Worldwide. That new Igbo has to define through intellectual thinking what he or she wants from the present Nigerian nation. Globalization provides a myriad of multi-sectoral potentials for human development in areas like trade, commerce, real estate, transport, agro-business, banking, construction, manufacturing, shipping, ICT, academics, sports, and so on. What he or she wants could in reality be outside political power because the leverages for achieving political power are no longer there because of inter-ethnic conspiracy that produced a hostile and neglected environment within her homestead. Thus confirming her minority status in the Nigeria of today.

From the analysis of the indices of good living such as poverty index, life expectancy, school enrollment, maternal and infant mortality rates, MDGs and SDGs, etc., Ndigbo have fared relatively well despite practical exclusion from the sanctum of power and unfair manipulation of the fulcrum of leverages of power since the ill winds of 1966. The categorisation of non-political power goals would protect her from unbridled jealousy and hostility, hence left to live in peace within the confines of geo-political Nigeria but use the global space to thrive. Yessoo – the virtual Nation in the diaspora.

Ndigbo have to sit down in a colloquium, where Igbo historians, sociologists and political scientists will define what is left for us within the Nigerian nation outside fighting for political power and then invest in the world as a canvass.

Chimaroke Nnamani writes from Ojiagu-Agbani, near Enugu, Nigeria