Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Trouble With The Igbo – Always Other People As Alibi

By Olaitan Ladipo, Sahara Reporters

It is refreshing to read a couple of Nigerian writers castigate their own ethnic—as Okey Ndibe and Jideofor Adibe did in ‘the war in Igboland’ and ‘when did things really begin to fall apart’ respectively—when tribal journalism and sectional commentary have become the norm. It is refreshing because both writers are Igbo, a people not entirely famous for their self-censure. My niece, a barrister and possibly my strongest critic, frequently accuses me of embracing stereotypes and of being politically incorrect. She is right. I subscribe to stereotypes because I believe every stereotype has a historical background. Hausa want to dominate other ethnics. Yoruba like the easy life. Igbo worship money. Calabar women are the most wifely. All those reputations are well earned. As for not being politically correct, though I acknowledge my moral duty to be polite and kind I refuse to be limited by artificial standards imposed by self-promoting activists who would invent another sound bite as soon as the one wears out.

When recently I wrote ‘the trouble with the Yoruba’ the response, well anticipated, spanned the whole spectrum of opinion and courtesy—from ‘well done’ to being called a bastard and a disgrace to my race. I do not expect any less after this article.

The best way to see one’s self, they say, is through a mirror held at a distance. In any case there is nothing one tribe of Nigeria is largely guilty of that the others are not, in varying degrees.

It requires volumes to itemise the myriad of troubles of Nigeria’s ethnics, and commentators have written many. However, Ndibe and Adibe’s discourse present a timely opportunity to comment on an innate tendency of the Igbo to blame other persons and people but never themselves, for things that have gone wrong with Ndigbo in Nigeria. They evidently face up to their national challenges, and they do so valiantly in many cases, but there is always a non-Igbo scapegoat responsible for creating the problem.

Consider for a start the way they chide the rest of the country for calling their name wrongly, you would think it was our idea in the first place to name them Ibo against their will. But ask an Igbo, even today, where he is from, many of them will still answer, I am Ibo. They blame the Awolowo for misleading them into declaring a war, as if the only factor worth considering was whether the West would open a second front. They blame Biafra’s defeat on eastern region’s minorities who sabotaged the war effort when, even though the attitude of the minorities evidently is the most important reason the war was lost, refusing to acknowledge the genesis of their grievance is beheading the truth to leave a stump that is nearly but, to borrow an Irish saying, not as tall. They blame the whole world for not believing they descended from Jews when all they can offer to support their claim is a take-it-or-leave-it-we-are-Jews attitude.

The Igbo seemingly consider it weakness to admit a fault, thinking perhaps that it is something to be overwhelmed with mass denial. It is as if they resolve at Igbo Union meetings to select common targets for the apportioning of blame for a list of Igbo misfortunes. Moreover, they do so with a blatant disregard for facts.

That a versatile people of such proven ambition, industry and tenacity—qualities that apparently make them surpass even earlier starters of many human development endeavours—would continue to carry this collective chip on their national shoulder, is hard to understand. The problem though, is that in going for dizzying heights (to borrow Adibe’s phrase) and as many commentators agree, the Igbo frequently throw integrity and excellence out the window. The result is criminal or mediocre or both.

This criminality and mediocrity easily taint Igbo achievements, incur contempt from other ethnics—who themselves have little to crow about in terms of probity anyway—and are probably the reason there is need for so much self-promotional chest beating at Igbo national events.

The problem is not helped by Igbo leaders like Chinua Achebe, a beloved master storyteller who, typically bitter at Igbo failure to capture the political leadership of the West in the first republic, turns logic on its head, saying Awolowo was the precursor of tribalism in Nigeria. Ibadan was not capital territory. It is core Yorubaland, yet an Igbo-led party won elections there. If the Yoruba, sadly, chose to become latecomers to tribal politics by crossing the carpet in Ibadan, it does not make them guilty of starting it.

If anybody has marginalised the Ibo since 1999, it is Igbo against Igbo. Olusegun Obasanjo, allegedly in his quest to make sure no other Yoruba rises above him in prominence, in 2003 practically handed over the political economy of Nigeria to the Igbo—central bank, finance ministry, stock exchange, commercial banks, economic planning, securities and exchanges commission, economic advisory team, etc. The most powerful man in Aso Rock after Obasanjo himself was an Igbo. The recent shifts in power domination have been helped by the accompanying dynamics of economic power, which clearly has benefitted the Igbo immensely. So who is marginalising whom?

Currently, maps of the power structures and centres of Nigeria are being redrawn by what I call natural forces. It is a movement that old strategies cannot stop. New and old power blocs will have to make far reaching choices between now and next year. The Igbo too will need to make choices that, should they turn out to be less than the best, they should not be looking for non-Igbo scapegoats.

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