By Valentine Obienyem/Sun News Publishing
Nigeria as a country can be said to be fast degenerating. Today, we see the encouragement of vices, of despicable behaviour, of mad rush for materialism and the general degeneration of our pristine values. I have deliberately decided to start thus to let you know that it is not restricted to the Igbos. Restricting it to the Igbos in this write up is simply to justify the task I have rashly laid upon myself: self appraisal, self criticism as a stakeholder in the Igbo nation just like every other Igbo man.
In the bygone years, there were a lot of values that were applauded in Igbo land. At that time, excellence was the norm. Igbos cherished and applauded excellence. That was when titles and dignities were conferred and granted to people based on merit and nothing more. As far back as we can pry into Igbo history, we shall find out that it was not in vain that Igbos conferred names and titles such as Diji, Diochi, Dike, Dimgba, di this or that on people. Those people were experts in cultivation of yam, palm wine-tapping, heroism, wrestling and other fields. These people achieved excellence in their fields.
Today, the degenerative looseness of the West and many other extreme factors have conspired to reduce the Igbos, so is some other tribes, to pitiable sight. We are talking about what happens in politics, at social functions, at places of work, etc.
Politics has to do with the science of governance, playing chess with power. This is very critical that a society that wanted to survive allowed its best and most experienced to play this game. In traditional Igbo society, the Okpala, the first son did this because he was regarded as the repository of wisdom and experience. As time went on, depending on the part of Igbo land concerned, it was by choosing the best to man critical sectors. Thus, Diogu, led the war, while Dike was the Hercules of the society and led in dangerous enterprises. Today, we seem to have lost standards of measurement.
The fact of the matter is not that we do not have the best as you could get elsewhere, but they are no longer given opportunities. Politics has become a game of our last eleven, especially those of them that had the opportunity to make a little money, one way or the other. Have you asked yourself why some charlatans can today confidently challenge the Ojukwus in Igbo land, even those barely out of their diapers? All over the place we have little demons that do not have respect for the holy water.
Look around you and all you see is Ukwachinaka, Onwa this Onwa that; Kpakpando this, Kpakpando that; Akuiriri this and that. These titles, like the Onuku in the masquerade genre/world, as masterfully interpreted by Dr. Okey Ikechukwu, actually represent degeneration as Ijeles are in short supply. Most often these are men without pedigree. In the past Igbos preferred a man without money; today they go after money without the man. Today, one Akuiriri could push an Ojukwu out of the way on the reasoning thus: “How much does he have?”
Men of worth always have minimum standards. The Anyaokus, the Achebes and their likes cannot under any circumstance set the patrimony of Anambra State on fire as we witnessed in 2004, but today, our political players can bomb the entire State because they are interested in booties. Look at what is happening in Igbo land today because of money and power, brothers kidnapping one another for money with the clear conscience of nature. Men hirthetho considered as responsible going to Okija shrines naked to swear. In the Niger Delta, where kidnapping started at least, though condemnable, they went after Oyinbo. Today in the East it has become an industry. When people shout about security I laugh, because I do not think other Governors are more concerned for this than the South East Governors. It has to do with values and orientations.
Can somebody tell us the true essence of burial ceremonies? Though different cultures believe in reincarnation or transcendentalism, but in Igbo society, burial ceremonies have great ontological values. Through decent burials the dead are bid farewell to wherever they go and the journey made easier. It was neither to show off nor for Epicurean indulgence. Today, the contrary is the case. These days, it is not even advisable to attend burial ceremonies because almost all of them are assaults to the eyes and desecration of our values.
Have you seen a burial brochure lately? It used to be a handy document that contained order of service and a brief on the dead. Sometimes it was deliberately made to look dull and uninviting to represent the mood of the time. Today, it has become one bogus brochure that most contain pictures of children, grand children, great grand children and all the relative of the deceased.
What for? Today, people do all they can to have the Governors, Ministers and important personalities in the society to send their condolences for publication in brochures. These are vanities and it is agonizing that our people spend so much celebrating vanities.
A friend of mine remarked, rather cynically, the other day on how somebody spent a conservative 400 Million Naira on burial. Our people have recently introduced giving of souvenirs at burials, sometimes television and fridges are given. The argument used to be that some of those doing this might not have even taken good care of the dead. Some who did not own bicycles were carried as corpse in Hummer jeeps, vehicle considered as reserved for Agberoes. But come to think of it, why should somebody spend 400 million on nonsense that has only but a fleeting effect on the people. 400 million is enough to change the face of a small village that will make the village to be perpetually beholden to the benefactor.
We have so many importations into our culture. This degenerative looseness explains the culture of ashebi that has recently become part of the Igbo society. Before now people dressed modestly, especially durinf burials; today, we now see sartorial elegance and a certain show-off mentality among our people. During wedding women are now dressed as showcases of their husbands' prosperity.
Oh, yes, our society is degenerating. The other day, I was told of somebody who had to transport the body of his dead mother by helicopter to his village. Just as one good turn deserves another, vices beget vices. After assaulting the minds of the unemployed youths, some of them are tempted to take to kidnapping. Meanwhile, the man hiring helicopter to transport decaying corpse would not have the good judgment to repair the school he attended in the village that had become dilapidated. Our society cannot grow or develop when people are myopic-minded. If the society has been fair to you, the only way to contribute to its growth is to give back to the society. But rather than be fair to humanity our people take delight in false living and the practice has become cacophonous. Houses today are built as if the occupants are going to live forever and yet these people eat as if they will die tomorrow.
Today, during social events, one sees group of youth playing all sorts of musical instruments, including those used by Adam and running after those that dress well for some wads. When the Igbo society has become this pitiable, grave danger lies ahead. Those that give money to these people are encouraging the culture of laziness. It is part of the degeneration in our society that people take politics as career without looking for something meaningful and edifying to do. This is obtainable because politics in Nigeria has become an open sesame to wealth and renown. Have you read about the richest men in the western world? How many past Presidents and Governors make the list? In Nigeria today I am almost sure that the richest are those that have been in politics one way or the other.
We cannot continue like this and think that our society will become a better place. In Anmbra State we have a Governor who understands the degeneration in the society. Mr. Peter Obi seeks through personal rectitude to force people to think and act wisely. I am happy that it is working rather slowly. I have been in circles where people praised the return of normalcy in the State, attributing it to the Governors personal example. Our society will be better if other Governors do likewise and if those in the position to influence others take a cue from him.
Obienyem writes from Awka.