Nnaemeka Luke Aneke, MDFriday, November 14, 2008
Westbury, NY, USA





ike any other ethnic group in Nigeria or around the world, the Igbos have their own share of problems both within and around them. But divisiveness and disunity are the greatest bane of the Igbos, by reason of which they have been ridiculed, cajoled, left behind in the scheme of things both in Nigeria and around the world, and accomplished nothing tangible in the last fifty years.

The problem of disunity has hunted the Igbos from the pre-independence era to the civil war, to the post-war Nigeria, including the most shameful performance of the World Igbo Congress in Tampa, Florida in late August 2008, where the apex Igbo organization became the laughing stock of Nigerians because they could not get their house in order. Participants who traveled from Europe, Nigeria and other parts of the United States to Tampa, Florida cringed in disbelief as the most respected and most celebrated Igbo organization, the World Igbo Congress (WIC) was torn down the middle by crisis, with different factions organizing events in different hotels in the same city. What a shame!

But the solution to a problem begins with the realization of the reality and actuality of the problem and the urgency required to resolve it. One thing that is clear, whether accepted or not, is that Igbos have gone nowhere, and are going nowhere without urgently addressing the divisiveness that has essentially paralyzed them, denied them of their legitimately deserved rights and privileges and made other groups reluctant to form alliances with them.

There is a proverb in Igboland that succinctly fits into the situation of the Igbos today and it goes thus: if a child, whose mother and father both died of mushroom poisoning, is seen holding a mushroom, that mushroom must be taken away from him urgently. This proverb cannot apply to the Igbos any better at anytime than it does today. This "mushroom" proverb, although common to all the Igbos, has some different variations which are necessary to highlight here. The first part, finding a child with a mushroom, whose parents died of same, is common to all Igbos, but the second part, what to do about it varies somewhat from place to place.

In some parts of Igboland, the response of the adult to the child is: "who gave you the mushroom?" or "drop the mushroom" or still, "give me the mushroom", all in an effort to remove the mushroom from the child, poisonous or not, at least for the moment. However, in my part of Igboland, Amokwe, in Enugu state, the adult response conveys a real and actual sense of urgency: "If a child, both of whose parents died of mushroom poisoning, is found holding a mushroom, that mushroom must be impounded from the child immediately". It does not leave room for language of negotiation, e.g., "drop the mushroom" or "give me the mushroom". It must first be impounded without compromise, poisonous or not, child crying or not.

Then, and only then, can the adult have the luxury to begin to ask questions like, "who gave you the mushroom", etc. This is the situation the Igbos are in today. They are like a child holding a mushroom, something both parents died from, who must be relieved of it immediately. The question is: How can that be done?

The main cause of divisiveness among the Igbos is a leadership problem emanating from the struggle for supremacy between those Igbos empowered from within Igboland, and those empowered by outsiders, from outside Igboland, and used to remotely control events among the Igbos. The empowerment of certain Igbos by outsiders, aimed at subjugating the Igbos in general is not a new phenomenon.

Professor Chinua Achebe, in his book, "The Trouble with Nigeria, 1983", traced some of the primordial destructive outside empowerment of the Igbos to the advent of the colonial administration and the imposition of Warrant Chiefs. On page 48 of his book, he states in part:

"The real problem with the Igbo since Independence is precisely the absence of the kind of central leadership which their competitors presume for them. This lack has left them open to self-seeking, opportunistic, leaders who offered them no help at all in coping with the new Nigeria in which individual progress would no longer depend on the rules set by a fairly impartial colonial umpire. The lack of real leaders in Igboland goes back, of course, to the beginnings of colonial administration. Once the white man had crushed Igbo resistance it was relatively easy for him to locate upstarts and ruffians in the community who would uphold his regime at the expense of their own people. From those days the average Igbo leader's mentality has not been entirely free of the collaborating Warrant Chief Syndrome."

Also, in one of his brilliant pieces written in 2003, ubiquitous and veteran (but young) writer, Rudolf Okonkwo in his piece in July 2003 titled "…the fall of Igbo Civilization" had the following to say:

"Since the coming of the Europeans, Igbo civilization has been on its knees. In the last two decades, it has fallen to an unimaginable depth. The place where Igbo civilization currently is, our ancestors would hardly identify it. It is on the verge of absolute ruin. Unless something is done to change its present state, the Igbo would be vanquished…. Assimilation into Nigeria that began with the coming of the white man has gone for so long, unchecked by god and man that the place the Igbo has no reflective connection to the place the Igbo used to be. Igbo must react to this destructive fate. Igbo must wake that indomitable spirit to survive before it is too late. Igbo must separate the chaff from the wheat".

Furthermore, Professor Barth Nnaji, in his piece, "Igbo Politics gone to the dogs" in Vanguard of August 14, 2003 expressed his disgust at the political state of events in Igboland and also pointed to what he called "military errand boys" who are, again, empowered from outside Igboland and then unleashed on the Igbos

It is noteworthy that, paradoxically, the problem of divisiveness and leadership paralysis at the pan-Igbo level is relatively absent at the level of the Igbo traditional village and clan, or at least, not as severe. At this level in the culture and structural organization of the Igbo society, there is an internal cohesion that ensures peace, progress, unity and justice, but which presence lacks at the pan-Igbo level. This is because the leaders of the Igbos at the traditional village and clan level know who is who among them and can separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to serious issues such as leadership and representation.

In one of my erstwhile article, "The Igbos are facing the wrong direction", (See Nigeriaworld.com, September 2, 2003), I tried to capture this effective internal Igbo organization as I knew it growing up with my grand mother:

"At the time in my hometown, the elders were still alive including the parents of my grandmother who I knew well. You had "Ndi Ezeani", the policy makers; "Ndi ichie", the titled men; "Ndi Ogaranya", the elders; "Ndi Uyom", the wives; "Ndi Umunna", the kindred; "Ndi-Ukwunne", the mother's people; "Ndi Ogo", the in-laws; "Ndi Mmanwu", the masquerade and "Ndi Otu", the different groups. Anytime a dispute arose, whether it involved a community project, land dispute, a suspected poacher, maltreatment of a widow or meddling with someone's wife, the appropriate group or groups met, deliberated, reached an accord on what to do and proceeded to do it. And I do believe it was largely so in other parts of Igboland".

Another cause of divisiveness and disunity in Igboland is everybody trying to be one and the same thing at the same time. We cannot all be governors and senators and president at the same time. Some will be in central roles while others are in support roles, so that Igbos as a people can function as an effective body and make progress and advancement.

Igbos must choose leaders at the pan-Igbo level who can emulate the leadership of the indigenous Igbo traditional units, the Ndi-Ichie, Ndi-Umuada and Ndi-Umunna, who for fear of God, the oracles or the land, shun money, favours and golden handcuffs for the truth and good of all. Also, Igbos have to decide who their leaders are, empower them within, and give them support, so that those empowered from the outside and by non-Igbos cannot lord it over the Igbos and their true representatives, and create confusion and falsehood among the Igbos.

Igbos have received undeserved negative publicity from the media, making their contributions to the Nigerian society to be largely unappreciated. Igbos were the progenitors of the Nigerian Independence movement during the colonial administration. They are the political glue that hold the Nigerian society together, as they are found in every nook and corner of the county, giving life to commercial activities and supplying the country with much needed goods and services. Again, as Professor Chinua Achebe said, "Nigeria, without the inventiveness of Igbos would be a less hopeful place to live."

More importantly, Igbos are about the most politically accommodating group in the whole country of Nigeria. On the record, Igbos are the only group that have elected non-Igbos to leadership positions in their midst. In the early fifties, Igbos elected Professor Eyo Ita, an Efik in charge of government house in Enugu, and elected a Fulani, Umoru Altime, as mayor of Enugu. This is a feat that many ethnic groups in Nigeria will not even contemplate, what more actualize.

The above notwithstanding, the prevalent talk about the Igbos is how they have to beg for forgiveness before they can belong. For instance, in the heat of the geo-political zone tussle for the presidency, preceding the 2007 presidential election, Dr. Reuben Abati of the Guardian, wrote a piece that definitely created a difficulty, if not an impossibility, of an Igbo presidency. In that piece, titled "South South and the Presidency," Guardian, Friday May 26, 2006, he added another layer of challenge to Igbo presidency by stating, among other things, that " other ethnic groups have also never really forgiven Igbos for the civil war".

Now, forgiveness of Igbos has become a conceivable requirement for Igbo advancement. So, in addition to our present problems-marginalization, divisiveness, lack of unified leadership and discordance, has been added an "Abati factor" of forgiveness of Igbos by other ethnic groups before they can have their rightful place in the scheme of things. Does one help the Igbo cause by suggesting or remotely implying that they (the Igbos) need forgiveness by other ethnic groups before they can be fit for the presidency? Incidentally, Dr. Abati did not tell us when the ideal time to forgive the Igbos will come or why the Igbos must be forgiven before they can claim their rightful place?

Disunity, like any human vice, cannot be entirely eliminated but it can be controlled and minimized. More importantly, among the Igbos, where it has been a cause of paralysis and inaction for decades, the need to tackle it is urgent and dire. The solutions suggested in the foregoing writing is not a panacea, but can serve and a starting point for the job that must be done and done right.. A stitch in time saves nine, and every second that passes makes the situation more urgent.

God bless the Igbos, and Nigeria.

Dr. Nnaemeka L. Aneke is a physician, attorney and ordained minister in Westbury, New York. He is the Medical Director of Balm of Gilead Medical Corporation in New York, and the author of the recently released 800-page book "The Untold Story of Nigeria-Biafra war".