Articles, Essays

The tribal emancipation of ndi Igbo from northern domination -part 3


Permit me to make this modest and higher proposal that will accelerate justice and unity in a divided society called Nigeria. But before I delve into this proposal, it is pertinent to reflect on a historic proposal made by Jonathan Swift. With great wit and penetrating humor, Jonathan attacked injustices of his time. He forced his readers to look at the ugly side of truth with wary introspection. Swift was in his college life when he published the essay, “A modest proposal” in 1729. At that time, England ruled Ireland, and English polices had ruined Irish economy. Ireland then was filled with poor people like we have today in Nigeria who experience injustice and inequality of the day. In that essay, Swift posed as an official who offers crazy solution to the nagging problems of the time-namely, to have Irish babies sold for food. By launching such modest proposal, Swift was really attacking England and its rich landlords who mistreated the Irish poor as cases found in Lagos, Portharcourt and Abuja. His proposal was like challenging the hassles for life in Osodi and Ajegule. It was really a melancholic objection to those who walk through these great towns or travel in this great nation, when they see the streets, the roads, and the cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female and male sexes, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for their alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work, spent their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants, who, as they grew up, either turns thieves for want of work, or have their dear native country to fight for the pretender, or sell themselves to men as customers. If you picture this image painted by Swift, you would certainly say that there were prodigious numbers of children in the arms, on the backs or at the heels of their mothers while they beg for food on the strange streets of Lagos, Onitsha and Aba. These deplorable sights and other incidents culminating in the present fosters additional grievance to families in a nation of plenty. I therefore believe that whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these Eastern and Western children of Nigeria sound useful members of a noble and wealthy nation deserves so well of the public as to have his status set up for a preserver of a nation. I have always found my epistles grossly mistaken in a computation of arrogance. It may be true, but I am not arrogant. I am moved and motivated by grievances and the deplorable condition of life in which people found themselves in a nation of abundant resources and in a country of deep oil reserve. For my own part, I have for a very long time pitched my tent and articulations on what the East can do to prevent voluntary abortion, and that horrid practices of women murdering their children, alas, too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babies, more to avoid the expense and expedience than the shame, with more tears and pity in the most salvage and inhuman breast. Beyond these horrible practices; beyond Swift’s social and economic emancipation, people from the North and people from the East are urged to cast down their anger and change the way they make decisions. If Swift’s proposal is not sufficient enough, permit me to make this higher proposal that would challenge Nigerian senators and leaders to put the governed first before anything. Let me propose in this sarcastic epistle by calling Nigerian leaders to cast down pride where it makes them carry out barbaric activities. Cast down negative feelings about other tribes. Cast it down in the House of Representatives so that law-makers can make genuine friends and not “friends of benefits.” Cast down those personal ideologies that limit your abilities to make friends from other races, nationalities from strange geographical upbringings and by whom you are surrounded, by whom you must confront on a daily basis. Cast it down in postal services, in aviation industries, in banking services, in schools and churches, in agriculture, in domestic services, in cultural disparities, in financial inequalities, in religious indifference, in nutritional differences, in moral disparities, and above all, cast down all immaturities that drag you down from attaining your sublime goals in your chosen professions. Your greatest danger is that in the great leap from inequality to equality; from injustice to justice and from religious freedom to religious intolerance; from Islamic intimidation to Christian brotherhood; from Islamic imposition (Harem/pudah) to freedom and liberty of Christian women; and from the exaltation of the Caliphate to the adoration of the chieftaincy titles; you may overlook these differences; you may overlook the fact that you are from the East or North; you may overlook the fact that the masses of you people are to live by the production of your hands; by the wisdom of your commercial racketeering; by your enviable and creative entrepreneurship; by the ingenuity of your academic excellence; by the geographical separateness of your tribal sects and by the differences of your tribal tongue. If you cast down pride; if you cast down selfishness; if you cast off greed and sabotage; I mean if you allow humility to encapsulate you and all the entities in your tribal hemisphere, you will grow in dignity and in the abundance of the fact that the masses of you are to live by the productions of your hands. But if you fail to cast down, you will lack the ability to prosper in any adequate proportion as you will not learn to dignify and glorify common labor, common tongue, common economy, equal education and employment opportunities. But if you cast down you will glorify personhood and manhood. You will glorify womanhood and motherhood. You will put brains, education, skills first and tribe last. Putting human acumen and national interest first is a noble ambition. The ambition to cast down will glorify common efforts and drives human skills into common occupations of life. While I urge you to cast down, I will not fail to echo that no tribe in Nigeria can prosper till it learn that there is as much dignity and glory in living together as brothers. If you fail to cast down; if you continue to remain prisoners of the past recklessness, you will destroy the energy and dynamism inaugurated by your ancestors who were great patriots of your great sovereignty. When you cast down, you will earn the enduring confidence and the irrevocable trust of people from other tribes and other races; other tongues and other linguistic expressions. An irrevocable trust is one which cannot be changed or cancelled once it is set up without the consent of the beneficiary. Like in many financial worlds, we often observe that contributions cannot be taken out of the trust by the grantor. Therefore, irrevocable trusts offer tax advantages that revocable trusts don’t for example by enabling a person to give money and assets away even before he/she dies. An irrevocable trust obtained after you cast down is and would be quite different from “revocable trust” you acquired while you proud on or when you puff ahead.

Nietzsche criticized Christianity, abused theology and dethroned the Christian God with his “superman” postulation.  Despites these radical thoughts, Nietzsche were able to cast down before he died. The philosopher, Hegel showed no pride before casting down. That was why he articulated that the liberty of Greeks polis was destroyed for two major reasons.  Hegel believed that the private acquisition of riches leads to inequalities which by destroying the opposition of interests destroyed the reciprocity of ends. Secondly, the spread of Christianity perpetuated the dualism by conferring an absolute value to the individual conscience to the detriment of communal values (Okere, 1983). The city of Italian corruption and proprietorship which identified the reality of a person by the goods which he possessed contributed to the same effect witnessed in many industrialized societies and in many African countries like Nigeria and South Africa. Northern proprietors must cast down. Eastern entrepreneurs must cast down. Both tribes must not evaluate the financial ability of a person before he is accorded respect within the rank and file of the society. Both tribes must cast down in humility before they can deal with any national issue of human interest. Hence, incidents of tribalism are tragedy and painful even when they are abandoned in our consciousness. At times, when the North feels that Ndi Igbo are witnessing stupidity of being put on the spot or treated in a manner inappropriate to their educational, social, political or moral worth, it is not unusual for them to respond by denigrating another person’s knowledge. Common sense as Ndi Igbo would believe is more profound than what the North learns from the book of Koran. Rather than withdrawing altogether from social contracts with people who have different belief, tongue, dialect, value, Ndi Igbo seem to feel a need to be near them, even if the means call for sometimes differentiating and defending a nation.

If Nigerian leaders fail to cast out, citizens would remain poor, sad, disappointed and worried. Plenty of people will continue to be sick and mad but if the government cast down, people will remain joyful and satisfied.  The sufferings associated with tribalism and marginalization is reflected in many cosmic Igbo music and stories. In hard times, Igbo songs call leader to cast down. It calls parents and children to cast down. A Carter Family song called “No Depression” had similar Igbo choruses: I’m going where there’s no depression. To the lovely land that’s free from care, I’ll leave this world of toil and trouble; my home is in heaven, I’m going there. All these have, challenged writers in Nigeria to publish manuscripts in which they knew when they were growing up. Their writings reflect the frontiers of the Sugarland that has an enduring romance with Igbo land. As a result, many have been associated with trilogies, a series of books about a strong tribe that had stood tall against tribalism, about national pride, about personal contempt, about individual insecurity, and the desire of many who were caught up in an unforgiving time. At all times, citizens are required to “put off”, so that they can overcome difficult conditions of living. Zora Neale Hurston was a writer and anthropology who studied black culture and folklore in the Americas. Her writings influenced Harlem Renaissance writers of the 30s. The following except from her autobiography describes an incident during the depression that showed her how principles can be compromised when a person’s ability to make a living is threatened. Many events have taken places in Nigeria that has continued to threaten lives and society. Many of these incidents have made Ndi Igbo to realize how theories go over board when a tribe’s livelihood is threatened.  An illustrative story is unmistakable here. An Igbo man came into a Berber shop in the North one afternoon and sat down in Mohammed chair. Mohammed was the owner of the shop and had the first chair by the door of his shop. It was so surprising that for a minute Mohammed just looked at him and never uttered any words. After he found his tongue, Mohammed asked, “what do you want this Igbo man?” “Hair-cut and Suya” Okafor replied in hostility. “Why are you hostile in your response?” asked Mohammed. Because your enquiry was aggressive and belligerent, responded Okafor. “But you cannot get hair-cut and Suya here. Mr. Okonkwo has a Kiosk for Ndi Igbo on the nearby street across the rail road, Mohammed told him. “I know that, but I want a hair cut here.” By force, Mohammed held him by the arm, took his Revised Standard Bible and his Umbrella and threw them out of his shop. While he held him roughly in his arms, he was also helping him out of his chair nevertheless. I don’t know how to cut the hair of an Igbo man, Mohammed objected. “I trained on Hausa and Muslim hairs. Nobody here knows how to please an Igbo man said Mohammed. Go away and find your folks and pray the Bible while your hair is being roasted. I will stay up here until my Umbrella and Bible is brought back to me. I know my rights and I know I did not start this drama. “Disrespect of this nature got to be stopped,” Okafor responded. I will stay right here because things like this have got to be straightened up. I will continue to be here until the Mobile police arrive. “Go ahead and call the mobile police and if you wish; wake up Azikiwe from the grave, call his brother Ojukwu,” Mohammed retorted. “You must go uptown and get your big head cut. Don’t be hardheaded for a haircut. “I am waiting in line expecting my turn for a haircut. “You are next, Alahaji Usman,” Mohammed said to the waiting customer, “Sorry, mister, but you better go uptown.” “But I have the right to wait for my own turn if I please, Okafor said, and started heading to the best of the swinging chairs which has been empty. Usman whirled the chair around so that Okafor could not sit down or step in front of it. “Don’t touch that swinging chair,” Usman glared. But instead Okafor made a stride to get into the chair by force. “Don’t argue with him! Throw him out! As they began to struggle, neighbors and passers-by joined force to drag Okafor out of the Berber shop for the second time. The rush carried him away out into the dusty hamarttan street and flung him down on the middle of the express road. He tried to lay there and be a martyr, but the roar of oncoming rail train made him jump up and scurry off. While trying to avoid the train, he was hit by a fast moving car and Okafor sustained head injury and died on the spot.

It was only that night that I analyzed the event as one of those experiences Ndi Igbo had to face as they live and struggle in a tribally wired society. The episode was one of the pointers that a tribally divided nation cannot set aside their differences to have a simple hair-cut together under one roof. A tribally divided nation cannot “cast down” and provide services to another unless they speak the same dialect. A tribally divided nation engages in a confused struggle over trivial matters. Because, Usman did not “Cast down” Okafor had to suffer and die like a fowl for the sake tribalism and principles. Okafor found himself in a tribally divided culture and received the sanction of Jim Crow (Laws or rules that discriminates against minority). The sanction of Jim Crow supports those who buy goods or services from a business. The same applies to an Igbo man who wants to earn a living in the North or to receive approval of anything from people from the North. Therefore, the Uncle Tom from the North and Okafor from East must cast down. They must cast down because experience have shown that self-interest rides over all sorts of lines, over all sorts of culture, over all levels of class and cause a tribally disadvantaged man to suffer as Islamic martyr. I have observed such episode happened in the states in racially overtone manner. I have equally read and watched it in times magazine and in the CNN where it featured, calling on both parties to cast down. I have seen similar drama breaking over racial, national, religious and social lines. East against North, West against South, Muslim against Christians, Anglo-Saxon against Anglo-Saxon, Jews against Jews, Negro against Negros, and all sorts of combinations of all. If individuals in that shop had cast down, it would have been a beautiful thing to turn to that shop crowded with customers and with the willingness to announce that Okafor was going to be served like every other person even at the risk of losing patronage. The most inspiring lesson in this episode is beyond the fantasy of the mind. The lesson is beyond the teachings and persecution of Islamic doctrine. It is beyond the prescription of Christianity.

As if things weren’t bad enough last years, the government continues to make promises to citizens to feel that tomorrow would seem better for everybody. Even when the country is still gripped by poverty, wary projects are executed to put the nation back to economic crises where all is plagued by a series of severe droughts and malnutrition.  In grasslands states of Imo, Abia and Enugu states, cattle-rearing and farming is overused depriving the lands of grasses that held it together lowering and blowing the topsoil’s away into enormous dark clouds. This unusual believe makes the tribal North to develop nostalgic images of respectability that make them conceive of themselves as sacred individuals. Indeed, Igbo regulars share my conservative opinions with those ethnic North who believe that the stability of their local community is threatened by poverty of a broader acknowledgment. Over and above this, the so-called Northern Caliphates, those core Muslims whose political allegiance shifted dramatically away from liberalism before and after the biafian war are still players with indestructible strength. Contrarily, the poor working Igbo men remain antagonistic to symbols of Islamic conservatism. While they remain very antagonistic about the expediency of their condition, they are forthright about the failures and abuses of the war on poverty and the friction on middle class. While the Igbo’s refuses to provoke a war on tribalism, they remain cynical about the motives of those who would do well with leftward leaning views on foreign policy and an overriding belief in the legitimacy of collective liberalism.  In Nigerian today, nobody is certain of the limit of tribal activities from the West, but we all know that the West is as segregated as the East. The weight of people’s opinions suggest that Ndi Igbo believes that what makes them stand out from others in Nigeria who share their views on many issues like abortion, purdah and female genital mutilation (FGM), OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) is their readiness to affirm the value of personal responsibility with overwhelming self-confidence. Over and above these, the Igbo’s are sensitive/conscious of their own separateness when behaving in accordance with specific ideas of moral and tribal worth. From much of the same Western viewpoint, the Igbo’s believe that the North holds this country in bondage. Because it is a fact, it is not accident of nature that they have governed sizably and like Oliver twist continues to seek more political power. Therefore, there is no essential distinction between any one of these ideas, or any class of them, founded on a correct observation of the nature of things, but merely on a consideration of what the West and Igbo’s believe. When philosophers say that nothing is by accident, they are making reference to the “fact” that important events are brought about by those who hold the rein of power. Walk the streets of the middle belt and the North-West, you will find no difference in language to put its people off from others in the city. Only Tiv and the Benue tribes seem to distinguish themselves from any other tribe of Midwest metropolis. But beneath the surface are patterns of life and thoughts, attitudes and customs which Igbo republic uniquely and distinctive identified within a tribal economy. Understand Ariaria and Onitsha markets and you will understand how the North depends on the east as chief economic merchandize of Nigeria. Yet no section of Nigerian city has been examined so thoroughly as those distinct of Onitsha and Aba where the Bakassai militia find save haven. Portrayed after post-Biafrian experience, these two cities are ghettos but they are as political, cultural, and economic and they are now the market hub and attraction of all tribes of Nigeria.

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