By Uduma Kalu
At the recent First World Conference on Igbo History, Culture and Civilization, prelude to the 2009 Ahiajioku Lecture delivered in Owerri, Imo State, by Prof. Chinua Achebe, Dr. Nwankwo Tony Nwaezeigwe, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, asked that the Aro people of the Igbo pay reparation for their slavery activities. In this interview with UDUMA KALU, the academic explains further why he mounted the campaign.
Is your call that Aro pay reparation for slavery not a way to sabotage black people’s agitation that Europe and America pay reparation for slavery?
This is not correct. My call will rather strengthen the agitation than sabotage it. This is because it is a call that looks at the historical reality of the situation. The European slave traders only anchored at the high sea and never entered the hinter land.
This is their case. What about those who brought the slaves to them from the hinterland, should they be exonerated? I believe that the man who sold his kinsman to a foreigner stands to be condemned more than the foreigner, because if the former had not presented his kinsman for sell, probably the foreigner shouldn’t have bought him.
This is the trust of my call. And I believe by this call, the Europeans will then realize that the call for reparation is not based against them.
Who will the Aro pay the reparation since it was not only the Igbo they enslaved?
Aro slaving activities were markedly centred in the Igbo hinterland and these areas are well known. Any other ethnic group inclusive of Aro slavery activities is only incidental and therefore highly infinitessional to their devastating effects on the soul and land of Igbo people. The reparation should therefore be paid to the Igbo nation, particularly those communities the Aro boisterously claim to have lorded over.
How much do you think Aro should pay?
This is a matter left for international assessors to determine.
What did Aro benefit from slavery?
It is like asking what the Europeans equally benefitted from slavery. Definitely, the Aro gained what the Europeans gained from the trade. Of cause, wealth and land. The Aro made money from the trade and were adduced to be a wealthy class according to the standards of the time. They also seized and occupied people’s lands, like the case of Akpu and Ajalli in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State.
What about the Ohafia, Abam, Edda, Abiriba war leaders?
The Ohafia, Abam, Edda, Abiriba including the Item and other such head-hunting sub-groups were never slave traders like the Aro.
Their role was rather that of seizing the opportunity of Aro slaving activities to advance their generic head-hunting culture.
In fact, these people were not Aro mercenaries as some writers have claimed, because they were not primarily propelled into going to war by what the Aro would pay them, rather it was the desire for advance in their socio-political status, which required the cutting of human head. A mercenary is one whose primary intention of going to a war which does not concern him is propelled by a payment both in cash and kind.
Won’t your revisitation of the past open forgotten wounds?
Definitely not. Rather it will heal. It is especially the one like the Aro case which has refused to be healed. The past must be remembered for the primary purpose of correcting the mistakes of the same past for the benefit of the present and the future.
As the Igbo would normally say, “any person who does not know where the rain starts to beat him, will never know where it stops to beat him”. In fact, it is the Aro that are opening old wounds by holding their heads up as a special people whose ancestors enslaved the whole Igboland.
How much did the slavery affect the Igbo as people and nation?
When you look at the standards such Igbo ex-slaves as Olaudah Equiano, Col. (Dr. ) James Beale Horton and Reverend Taylor – the Anglican Missionary to Igbo land attained even under that inhuman condition, at that period, then it becomes difficult to either qualify or quantify what the Igbo lost as a people and nation through slavery and slave trade.
Do you think your call will achieve Igbo unity?
Of cause yes. Presently the Igbo have no genuine unity. What we have now is a stereotyped unity in which clannish and not Igbo national interests hold sway, like the case of the Aro wearing dual personality within the comity of Igbo sub-culture groups.
Is there a platform for this campaign?
This is only the result of a research carried out by a Research Fellow from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which is followed with a recommendation. It is therefore left to the Igbo nation to determine if the recommendation will be a subject of campaign or not.
Do you think the enslaved Africans now nationals of their various places in the west will agree with you?
I think so, because a lot of them have often erroneously accused every Continental Black African as an accomplice in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Now that the real culprits are being identified, I think they will be even more supportive of the recommendation.
Are you not too hard on the Aro? Even Mbadiwe, Mbonu Ojike?
Our people normally say that truth is bitter. Definitely, for any truth to be bitter, it must be hard. I am therefore only saying the bitter truth which must be hard, and even too hard if those concerned are hard people like Dr. K. O. Mbadiwe and Mazi Mbonu Ojike.
If the Aro show remorse, will you be satisfied?
The matter in question is not a personal concern. It is left to the Igbo nation to decide.
Well, there are many good Aro such Chukwuemeka Ike and your professor?
Well, in like manner there are many good Americans and Europeans like Abraham Lincoln, and William Wilberforce. But the point here is, is their so called goodness enough to now declare that the European slave traders and their American slave holders are innocent of the crimes of slavery and slave trade? Definitely not.
Both Professors Chukwuemeka Ike and James Ijoma reaped profoundly from the primordial juicy benefits of slave trade through their Aro ancestry and therefore cannot now be separated from the rest of Aro because of their so-called goodness. The issue in question concerns a sub-culture group called the Aro, and not individual Aro personalities, like Professors Ike and Ijoma.
You accuse Aro of claiming Ibibio origin but even the Ibibio claim Igbo origin
Linguistically, the Ibibio including the Anang, Efik and Oron belong to the semi-Bantu group, while the Igbo belong to the Kwa group. In other words, it is historically more plausible to say that the Idoma, Edo, Igala, Igbira, Yoruba and a number of the Northern Cross River small language groups claim Igbo origins since being of the same kwa family, than the Ibibio.
Historically, there is no doubt that a number of cross-border migrations occurred between the Igbo and Ibibio over time in the past, like the case of the Aro, leading to some settlements of Igbo origins in Ibibio land, and vice-versa; that definitely does not mean a whole group originating from the other.