Echoes of the Ohanaeze Elections

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EDIFYING ELUCIDATIONS By Okey Ikechukwu

An epidemic of Ohanaeze Presidents General is not the way to go. Who knows, there may even be more such Presidents Generals waiting to pop out of every street corner. So, watch out: One may spring forth right behind your house. The call here is for Igbo stakeholders of all political persuasions to work towards avoiding a situation wherein several masquerades of stature that are already in the village square are so badly managed that they begin to fight over Right of Way before women and children. This is what could lead to a profanation of the mysteries of the masquerade cult. It may get so bad that even children who should be afraid of the “spirits” in the masquerades could one up to one of them, shake hands with it and say: “Uncle Chike, I want pure water.” Mbanu!

Ndigbo say that a person who is in a daze and who is staggering and swaying while on his feet is never given the title of “The Pillar that Holds the Edifice” (Onye aju na ebu anaghi aza ide ji uno”). The reason is obvious! Igbo will also tell you that the vulture and the eagle do not fight over food (Ugo na udele anaghi azo nri); because one is a scavenger, while the other is a grade one predator. It is also a known fact of the Igbo world that no family, or kindred, of yore would send out its mad offspring to represent it in the village square as “The Voice of the People” (Onu n’ekwuru oha). These proverbs show that Ndigbo have a set of core values that make a clear distinction between the sublime and the ridiculous. It is also within the context of the foregoing that we must remind ourselves that “No big masquerade announces itself.” The glory of the big masquerade (ebube nnukwu nmanwu) is self-affirming. There always is something wrong when several masquerades announce their ontological primacy.

Which is not to contest the fact that the old Igbo worldview is under pressure. It is now a world where you hear “He who brings kolanut brings life” uttered by many who do not know the meaning of the statement. The kolanut ceremonies emphasise the interdependence in every community and among all living things. That is why it is said: “May the river not dry up and may the fish not lack water to swim in.” The river’s beauty is enhanced by the presence of the fish, while the life of the fish depends on the steady flow of the river. Ndigbo also pray thus before eating the kolanut: “Elders shall live and the young shall live. Our harvest shall be rich and none shall pray for the misfortune of another, lest his farm be the only patch of earth without rain,” etc.

Because this prayer is the first event in every serious gathering of Ndigbo, it is easy to see that the people were always organised; with a mature sense of community and social responsibility. What the Igbo traditional political system lacked in absolute monarchy comes as a republicanism that uses the council of elders, titled men, age-grade associations, etc., to arrive at consensual decisions. Those who use the saying “Igbo enwe eze” (Ndigbo do not have kings/Igbo are not ruled by kings) to suggest that Ndigbo are traditionally ungovernable people should please note its true meaning and import: “No single feudal authority is allowed by the traditional Igbo leadership structure to visit tyranny on the community unchallenged.” That is why you have the Igbo saying that when your talisman begins to presume to have a life of its own, and to even presume to oppress and terrorize you, then it is time you showed it the tree from which it was made. Instead of “disrespect for constituted authority” the way some people try to misrepresent “Igbo enwe eze” today this saying means this: The collective will and rights of the people should be invoked to remind anyone with tyrannical aspirations that a hero is always a people’s hero. That is also why Ndigbo say that “A masquerade that flogs its drummers and followers ceases to dance, because it then walks alone”.

From the foregoing it should be clear that the Igbo concepts of power and authority rest more on respect for the laws of the land, and respect for those who rise by merit while respecting the laws of the land. That is also why the true Igbo concept of success is always linked with respect for Omenala (The laws of the land); as the ultimate determinant of right and wrong. That is also why Ndigbo say that it sometimes becomes necessary to cover your face and walk up to a leader and tell him a few home truths. The idea of covering the face with a basket is not out of fear for the life of the person who decides to speak out. Whereas tradition forbids anyone to just walk up to the community leader and insult him, only one who is sent by the community may do so. Once sent, you no longer represent yourself. The human being is presumed to have transcended this world once dressed up as a masquerade. The covering of the face allows this mysterious being from the beyond, speaking for the gods and men but using the voice of a man, to do so to any unworthy occupant of an office.

It is against the background of the foregoing that Ndigbo make a distinction between heroes and charlatans. An Igbo hero is not a violator of the laws of the land, nor an oppressor of the people. A hero for Ndigbo shows courage and the readiness to make sacrifice for the common good, when faced with danger and adversity. A charlatan, on the other hand, is a never-do-well (onye ome k’ome), whose exercise of courage and dare devilry is always for self-interest. The major trademark of the traditional Igbo charlatan is that nothing he does can ever lead to sustainable development, or a healthy communal, religious or Family life. But he may impress the uninformed or mislead those who are on the fringes of social and spiritual morality. He parrots parrot proverbs like: “The goat only follows the person who is carrying its preferred green leaves” – which is palm fronds (Ewu na-eso onye bu igu). This statement is true, but it applies only to goats and to whoever behaves like a goat.

Such sayings were originally admonitions against thoughtless materialism and immorality. Today it is freely used to justify irresponsible leadership and followership. Meanwhile, it is not true that only the person who offers immediate material satisfaction deserves loyalty. In the traditional Igbo society, where the cardinal communal philosophy says: “The human being is not a goat” (nmadu abughi ewu), the person who exhibits the irrational reflexes of a goat stands diminished. The fact that this proverb and others like it have become the most popular in Igboland in recent times shows that the region may well have been taken over by the dregs and never-do-wells in our society. Those who will do everything possible to turn our values upside down!

One of the many conclusions that can be drawn from what has just been said is that Ndigbo know the difference between heroes and charlatans. Another conclusion, and one that is being pushed in some political circles, is that some charlatans are conniving with the wider Nigerian society to hold the South East to ransom. True or not, the question remains: Why is such a remarkable people, with their cosmopolitan and innovative achievers, in this sorry pass?

The ongoing drama, following the Ohanaeze elections, has occurred with similar organisations in every geopolitical zone in the country. It also does not necessarily follow from this is that the affected organisations and zones are morally and politically unreliable; or that the lack the needed level of political consciousness for group survival. What needs to happen is for Igbo stakeholders to seek and obtain consensus and rein in dissenting voices, via deal that everyone can live with. Ndigbo need not lose face in national politics because of this. This is not the time for (real and imagined) non-inclusive political conspiracies. Let it not be, or turn out, that Ndigbo will appear unstable at home and are also deliberately misrepresented at the national level. It is time to move from leadership charlatanry to a strategic response that would create a new profile. The fundamental focus should be to restore the values of effective/responsible leadership and followership. Only an accommodating, large hearted and forward-looking leadership consensus can create such badly needed group solidarity today. It is time to say: “Thus far and no further”.

Igbo leaders must bear in mind that there is a desperate need to fully incorporate the people (OHA) into the defining essence of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Who likes to feel taken for granted? Who likes not to be consulted, or noticed, as being part of what is going on around him? Does the average Igbo like to feel hurried, or tricked, into a decision? Which of the persons who were visible actors in the Ohanaeze events of the last two months would like to be a mere appendage in an event he felt he ought to influence? Which of them will not like to air his opinions and be acknowledged as a person, a contributor, or facilitator? Has the Igbo spirit of competition and visible, effective and dramatic engagement not suffered a setback? Who likes to give up fair/open processes for one in which he feels derided, insulted, or cheated? For a people who are fundamentally republican and who sometimes celebrate success, even to the point of self-inflation, the various contenders must now sit down and talk.

I leave every contending group to make its own inferences, knowing that the prevailing perspective at the moment is such that no one wants to be told what to think. But we need an end to the show of shame. Ekwuchakwaa nu m!