By Ikenna Emewu, Daily Sun
On January 17, I wrote in this column on a topic I called ‘Core and Peripheral Igbo’. My reason for writing on that topic was because the present Ohanaeze president, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue was appointed to head that pan-Igbo body and I heard that some Igbo in areas called the ‘core’ protested because they feel Uwechue is Delta Igbo and ‘peripheral’ as I tagged it. My argument was and remains that every Igbo is Igbo.
One is either Igbo or not. But I do not foreclose the right of the individual to deny Igbo for whatever reasons – reasonable or unreasonable. But whoever speaks Igbo as mother tongue, a language he/she was born to be taught by the parents as the language of his/her forebears is Igbo. I don’t know of any other point of strong affinity for a people than the language.
But last week a newspaper published an emotional article on the Igbo question and who the Igbo is. The piece was specific on the Delta Igbo on whether they are Igbo or not. The reporter spoke with so many Delta Igbo personalities and one other Igbo from the other side of the divide. It was all lamentations. But we should not forget that the solution to that problem is already around the corner. As we haggle on this topic, Uwechue remains the head of Ohanaeze, and before him, Achuzia was the immediate past Ohanaeze Secretary General. In addition, His Majesty Prof. Edozien, Asagba of Asaba was the last chairman of the Igbo parley, World Igbo Summit in Owerri early this year. I have not forgotten his proposition that day that the solution to the Igbo disunity problem lies in ensuring that all the Igbo in other states have their own states and in effect would be brought under the umbrella of the South East geo-political zone. This is a suggestion I will ever live to associate with. It was a wise word of an elder, and as an Igbo son, I respect Asagba as an Igbo father and leader and would not in my wild imagination dispute his wise position for Igbo unity.
I cite once again what I had done in that piece early in the year that many ethnic groups exist across international boundaries and have maintained their affinity, so why is Igbo different. “I know there are numerous ethnic groups in the world that fall within some number of nations who still hold to their identity and unity.
Yoruba exist in Nigeria, Benin and Togo. Hausa and Fulani exist in almost the north of every West African country. The Berbers are in all the nations of North Africa. Swahili live in Kenya and Tanzania. Mandingo are in Senegal, Gambia and Liberia. They all still know and recognize each other in unity because they still speak the same language with some minor variants. The Pujabi live in India and Pakistan, as the Bengali live in Bangladesh and India. Their affinity with each other surpasses national boundaries. The Basque are in Spain and France, the Eskimo live in Siberia, Russia, Alaska etc with their identity intact as the Laplander don’t mind the fact that there is national boundary between Sweden and Norway where they are found”.
If the Igbo at both sides of the bank of River Niger speak same language, so where is their demarcation outside the one created by political dividers who came as white men, strangers that show the natives where their land boundaries are.
In that piece I wrote: “Honestly, I don’t know when a race or a nation like the Igbo or any other for that matter started having core and peripheral members. I also should guess that a place is core or peripheral depending on the datum point of reference. Point A would be the epicentre of action only in relation to the point from which reference takes effect. And if every location would never be at the same spot, then it would take the core (centre) to know the periphery or vice versa”. That means every place is core and periphery depending on where you are coming from.
I think what is happening in Ohanaeze is a wise ploy to re-invent the oneness of the Igbo nation, a unique people. I also foresee the prophecy and wishes of our father and leader, the Asagba coming true maybe in my lifetime. When the Anioma Igbo is carved out of where she is not wanted and given a state and brought back to the South East, the false divide that made him have more affinity to Ibadan as in 1960 or Benin as in 1963 will be wiped out.
While I agree that the Anioma Igbo might not be wanted by some of the other Igbo, I also agree that some people of this area I have met don’t help matters. I most of all accept that the false divide created long ago before many of us alive were born have effect, and people now view Igbo from that prism of division. Both sides are guilty. Some of us who believe every Igbo is Igbo have at many times been rebuffed by our Igbo kinsmen across River Niger. When you call them your brother, they deny you in the public that you are not.
They send the signal that you are inferior and should not be associated with. They tell you they are Anioma and not Igbo. A lady once told me the Igbo have nothing good about them as to make her feel like part of it. On this particular issue, the Igbo are like lepers to her. Unfortunately, this lady, though a graduate displayed an embarrassing knowledge of Nigeria history and how these things came to what they are today. And worst of all, many of us while taking our positions and claims don’t make any effort to understand our past and how we came to our present pass. I have also met Anioma Igbo who proudly identity as Igbo. In the same vein, there are some other Igbo from the ‘core’ that tell off the Anioma Igbo as an outsider. But you can find out from the Ohanaeze setting where the elite, elders and enlightened meet that they know better on who the Igbo is. The people who remain rigid in that cast mould are the lesser beings, especially lesser in intellectual experience.
My Anioma Igbo brothers should not feel so bad on this matter, but should understand it is a passing phase. It is the problem that has to do with living at the transition belt of any culture group. It exists everywhere including among the Oku Yoruba in Kwara and Kogi States. The forces pull them from both ends in a most discomforting way as regards identity. It takes enlightenment over time to overcome. In the Igbo nation, the race for the correction has started and will mature with time.
Some months ago I listened to a more elderly Igbo tell the story of the real and full name of Okpanam, the town near Asaba where Nzeogwu was a native. I heard the full name is Okpala Anam (first son of Anam) Anam is a major clan in the Anambra Igbo. And the okpala is in Delta, a place some say is no longer Igbo. I also know of some number of towns called Onicha in the Igbo nation (Onicha Ugbo, Onicha Olona, Onicha Uku (all in Anioma) Onicha umu Ezechima (Ado) in Anambra. Onicha in Ebonyi, Onicha Ngwa (Abia), Onicha Mbaise (Imo) and many more. Are these not signs of relatedness? And I know they are more of such everywhere. Some people created the problem to undo the Igbo and the Igbo of this generation with awareness can reverse the trend. Let’s not lament further and rather align with Ohanaeze that has the blueprint and awareness of what to do to correct the past error that haunts us today. And such action is so much needed now.