Written by Nwankwo Tony Nwaezeigwe
I read with profound sympathy the spineless tirades of one Orji Ogbonnaya Orji who styles himself a public affairs analyst but who from his clannish pedigree as a member of the National Executive Council of Nzuko Arochukwu is better described as a local affairs analyst.
From all indications, and more especially arising from the intellectually and historically disjointed analysis in his reply to my paper, which was presented at the First World Conference on Igbo History, Culture and Civilization, held at Owerri from 19 - 22 January 2009 and which preceded the 2009 Ahiajoku Lecture by Professor Chinua Achebe, it is obvious that Orji Ogbonnaya Orji is threading on an unfamiliar intellectual ground. This is further betrayed by his despicable attack on my person, not minding the fact that the subject matter is intellectual.
Ordinarily, I should have chosen to ignore the likes of Orji Ogbonnaya Orji for the mere reason that they lack the required professional and intellectual stature to engage on such important historical discourse. But for the sake of avoiding the triumph of intellectual mediocrity founded on infantile historical fabrications, the need therefore arises for a rebuttal.
I believe that the Aro sub-cultural group of Igboland have better qualified intellectual and historical gladiators to write on the issue of Aro inhumanity to Igboland with an air of possible intellectual finality, than the intellectual minion called Orji Ogbonnaya Orji. Such historians as Professors S. C. Ukpabi, a military historian, and James Okoro Ijoma, the present official historian of the Aro sub-culture group and who incidentally was both my teacher and Master’s Degree dissertation supervisor at the Department of history and International Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, I believe, are better placed to respond to my paper if at all they have any contrary opinion.
Questioning my pedigree in this case is therefore out of place since both Professors of history of Aro extraction are quite aware that I possess the intellectual pedigree to defend the facts with an air of historical finality. And this was the major reason why I was invited to the Owerri intellectual harvest of Igbo history, culture and civilization.
Agreed, as Orji Ogbonnaya Orji aptly stated: that one of the major objectives of the Ahiajoku Lecture is to “shop for ideas and evolve strategies to deal with Igbo questions in the contemporary Nigerian society.” But the basic question which he failed to answer is, can the Igbo national question ever be answered without a critical re-examination of the past? The fact remains that just as the carpenter pulls the hammer backwards to effectively drive the nail into the wood, so every nation in order to effectively advance, must look back to its past.
The Igbo therefore must look back to their past in order to make meaningful strides in national development. And being that the Igbo like every other people have their pasts dotted with dark and glorious eras, it will be an act of intellectual dishonesty for any scholar, more importantly a historian to treat one era at the expense of the other, just because a particular sub-culture group which parades larger than size image is involved. .
It is evident from his shaky analysis of facts that Orji Ogbonnaya Orji did not have comprehensive access to my paper, which was entitled Questioning the Hegemonic Roles and Cultural Conceptions of the Nri and Aro in the Context of Igbo origins, Culture and Cultivation.
Describing the slave trade therefore as falling within the era of European colonialism is to say the least a crass exhibition of his psychic intellectual debility.
The historical fact which Orji Ogbonnaya Orji did not deny is that the Aro were principal partners in the enslavement of Igbo people. Searching for the statistics of the number of the people sold into slavery is therefore not an important issue. Agreed that the Aro might not have been the only sub-culture group that engaged in the slave trade, but the fact that it s only the Aro in the whole Nigeria that glorifies their past roles in the satanic trade today as a form of hegemonic culture calls for some critical moral questions. And that is what I did by my paper.
I do not know how Orji Ogbonnaya Orji expect me to describe a people whose ancestors ravaged the length and breadth of Igboland carting away millions of productive Igbo citizens into slavery; or a people whose ancestors introduced the culture of local Advance Fee-Fraud (419) into Igboland, through the use of their notorious Long Juju (Ubinu Ukpabi) to deceive, coerce, extort and enslave innocent Igbo citizens.
Worst still is that the present descendants of the Aro slave traders have not exhibited an iota of remorse for the sin of their forefathers. Instead one sees them priding themselves as a special breed of the Igbo nation. Whereas, from all every historical evidence they are certainly not.
Orji Ogbonnaya Orji’s claim that the Aro were already engaged in legitimate trade before the emergence of slave trade is a watery face-saving defense that cannot find a space in the basketful of historical evidence.
If Orji Ogbonnaya Orji does not know, Arochukwu was founded about 1690 AD, following a revolt of a group of Igbo slaves against their Ibibio masters with the aid of Akpa mercenaries from the Upper Cross River region. In other words, the business of slave trade had existed more than one hundred years before the town of Arochukwu was founded. So, at what point in history did the Aro engage in legitimate trade?
The conclusion of the matter is that the Aro were guilty of involvement in the evil and dehumanizing trade. The moral question, before historians and humanitarians now is, is it justified for Black Africa to demand reparations from Europe for their engagement in slave trade without first holding their local Black African collaborators like the Aro responsible?
That the Aro should pay reparation to the Igbo nation for their engagement in slavery and slave trade cannot therefore be wished away. Orji Ogbonnaya Orji failed, in the light of available historical evidence to explain why this assertion is, in his words, “quite incorrect, unfair comment, rude, selfish, flimsy and exuberant conclusion”.
All he needs to know is that history is all about facts built on incontrovertible evidence, and not on infantile and reckless use of unfixable adjectives. Orji Ogbonnaya Orji has proved by his inconsequential defence of his people’s inglorious past that he is only an intellectual puppy in the terrain of historical studies.
The tragedy of Orji Ogbonnaya Orji’s intellectual debacle is further hastened by his fruitless effort to seek refuge in what in actual fact is the farcical roles of the Aro in contemporary politics in Nigeria. Hear him; “In politics many Aros were in the forefront during the struggle for Nigeria’s independence. They include but not limited to Mbonu Ojike, Dr. K. O. Mbadiwe, S.G. Ikoku etc’.
Well, what Orji Ogbonnaya Orji failed to know is that, whatever roles the Aro might have played in contemporary Nigerian politics were overridden by their negative roles as the leaking-pots of Igbo identity,
solidarity and struggle for collective emancipation from the crucible of ethnic politics in Nigeria.
The mere mention of Ohuabunwa’s appointment as Chairman of Nigeria’s Economic Summit shows that Orji Ogbonnaya Orji has lost his intellectual steam. What significant economic policy has so far been credited to Ohuabunwa’s Chairmanship of the Council? Is he the highest ranking Igbo in-charge of economic matters in the present Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?
But if one may ask Orji Ogbonnaya Orji, what relevance has the above names in the issue under debate? Does the mere mention of their roles in contemporary Nigeria obliterate the fact that the Aro should pay reparations to the Igbo? Is this not a case of the drowning man seeking to hold on any floating object to save himself?
From the foregoing, it is evident that the Aro, even in contemporary times, like their ancestors of old, have not in any manner contributed to the positive development of the Igbo in terms of collective ethnic consciousness, unity and political advancements. Rather, Aro roles have been those of half-Igbo, half-Ibibio; their original ancestors.
Like Presidents Obama, and against Orji Ogbonnaya Orji’s belated opinion, the only panacea to Igbo national problem is a return to even their deepest past in order to drive with a strong force to the future. Obama looked back to his past and so never denied his Kenyan ancestry and he won. The Igbo cannot therefore be denied of this veritable intellectual instrument just because a group called the Aro are involved.