Saturday, 24 December 2011 01:33

Igbo Political Behavior

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Igbos, as I see them, and many people concur with my perception, are self-centered and pragmatic; generally, they are unwilling to commit to any goal beyond what serves their individual interests. Therefore, they make mediocre political leaders. And why is it necessary to point this negative aspect of them out? It is so that they know it and watch out for it and strive for its opposite. They have to learn to become true leaders; seeing themselves as leaders does not make them leaders. True leaders ignore their self-interests and work for public good.

Igbo Political Behavior

Ozodiobi Osuji

The Igbo man’s approach to politics is very intriguing. When you hear him talk he seems very bold and talks as if he is willing to stand for something, fight for it and if needs be dying for it. But when you observe his actual political behavior very closely what you see is a coward. He is afraid to be harmed and to die; he does not back his seeming bold talk with fearless disregard for his life (which is what makes for good political leaders). He is careful that harm does not occur to him. He is always seeking safety and upon the slightest threat to his physical existence will run for safety. He is cautious and actually thinks that his caution is sign of wisdom!

He is very pragmatic. Before he does anything he asks: what is in it for me and seldom does something because it is good for the entire society regardless of what is in it for him. In fact, he is generally unprincipled and selfishly opportunistic; he would do what he believes serves his self-interests, not necessarily what is self-evidently right.

In serving his self-interests the Igbo tends to work very hard; thus, some individual Igbos are, as the world sees it, successful. There are many Igbo stars in their fields of endeavor but they generally amount to nothing socially because they are unable to rise above self-interest and work for community interest.

I will be very blunt about it: I have not seen one Igbo man that has leadership qualities (and I have taught college courses on leadership, management and organization behavior and have written books on leadership and ought to know a thing or two about the subject).

The Igbo talks about Igbo interests (I call it noise making, really) but will sell out at any time he sees some personal gain for him. Other Nigerians know this ugly fact about Igbos and give him money to get him to change his positions; they know that he is fickle and has no strong beliefs; they know that he will even sell his mother down the river for money; they have contempt for him (even though in his delusion he thinks that other Nigerians respect him!).

If the going gets tough the Igbo will run and hide so that he survives to talk boldly another day. All that seems to matter to him is to talk boldly and appear socially powerful while in fact he is a chicken shit!

(Booker T. Washington was an Igbo; his mother was a recent slave from Alaigbo and actually spoke Igbo; her slave master raped her hence her mixed son, Booker. Virginia, where he was born, was practically a haven of Igbo slaves; for some reasons the whites of Virginia preferred Igbo slaves; they said that they worked very hard. Mr. Washington was a pragmatic coward who to please his white masters said that black folk should not threaten white sense of superiority by seeking intellectual knowledge but instead should go to vocational schools, become carpenters and mechanics, and generally perform menial jobs so that the Man is not threatened by powerful black men. W. E. B. Dubois had contempt for Mr. Washington for he saw him as a freaking coward. He was a coward as were his ancestors. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the so-called premier Igbo leader, was a compromiser and a damn coward. Nigeria has produced only one political leader of note, Obafemi Awolowo. If Mr. Awolowo had ruled Nigeria perhaps Nigeria today would be at the level of the Asian Tigers.)

As he is currently constituted, the Igbo seem incapable of political leadership; certainly, he is not capable of world political leadership. He does not have principles that he is convinced are worth dying for, that he is willing to fight and die for. He does not say here I stand and I will go nowhere else.

He does not think politics and economics through and decide on a political ideology (communism, socialism, capitalism, conservatism, liberalism, corporatism, mercantilism, fascism etc.) and commit to an ideology that makes sense to him and work for it; instead, he does whatever he thinks would enable him to survive and amass wealth and seem a big man in his fellow Igbos eyes (but a nonentity in the world’s eyes).  In the old days he worked hard to acquire wealth (including selling his people to get money) to buy the Ozo title and masquerade around his village as a very important person. That was all that life meant for him: to be big man. He did not know that folks do live for principles and are willing to die for them regardless of whether they are big men or not.

Whereas the above observations seem like stereotyping of the Igbo yet they are true; I have not seen an Igbo politician that struck me as anything but what I have just described. If you have alternative I am willing to be corrected.

Frederick Lugard, by the way, had a similar negative perception of Igbos; he saw them as narcissists who only seek titles but do not work for the good of the entire community; seeming very important persons is all that matters to them, he said; as it were, they are developmentally arrested at the narcissistic level; that is, before age ten. He attributed this seeming arrested leadership development to their lack of developed political structures.

Igbos had not developed Igbo wide political superstructures for governing all Alaigbo; instead, each village had rudimentary communalistic ways of governing itself. Such primitive political structures did not enable the development of sophisticated political skills, the type acquired from living in large polities.

Lugard did not consider Igbos ready for political leadership and established the Warrant Chief system (those super imposed chiefs became as corrupt as corrupt can be; each of them looked after his self-interest but not his community’s interests) as a mechanism for bringing them to feudal level of political organization before they could climb to bourgeois democracy.

I have not seen Igbo non-politicians that seem different from their politicians; Igbo non-politicians would talk as if they know it all, understand politics more than anyone else and give silly opinions on every political idea and that would seem to make them knowledgeable but when you dig a little deeper you find out that they are just grandstanding and do not know what the hell they are talking about and certainly are not committed to any perspective on politics.

The Igbos political behavior is calculated to make him seem important, have power and money even though he is not contributing to any useful thing to political discourse.

Azikiwe talked in bombastic English but did not really give Nigeria serious political thinking; he did not posit a political framework that he strongly believed is what Nigeria needed. On the other hand, Awolowo gave Nigeria serious thinking and reached the only conclusion that any thoughtful man would reach: given the ethnic mix of the Nigerian population each ethnic group ought to be made a state and thereafter all of them have a true federation where at the center power is shared.  That is to say he had a political philosophy. Azikiwe, on the other hand, did whatever put some pennies into his pocket, whether it was establishing a chain of poorly edited newspapers, engaging in petty bourgeois businesses or talking rubbish about Africa; the man was not a political thinker at all; he is not relevant in any serious political discourse.

All Igbos political leaders from Azikiwe to Okpara to the present crop of politicians as thieves (the governors, senators, assembly men, chair persons of local government areas etc.) are, strictly speaking, not political leaders; they are individuals out for their personal pockets and the pursuit of their eternal desire to seem very important persons (VIP).

(The fools actually do not know that the only way one human being can be important to others is if he did something for them; if you did not do anything for me why are you important to me; poor fools, no Igbo politician to date is important to other persons. Emeka Ojukwu, the fellow who recently died in London, did not leave any discernible economic benefit for Igbos. Folks sing his praises for what he did during a span of three years when accident made him the leader of Igbos…he was an accidental leader. Thereafter, he did nothing for the benefit of Igbos. The man was not a leader by any stretch of the imagination.)

The Igbo has not produced a political leader of world stature at all. Igbos are political lightweights; this is largely because they are uncommitted to ideas beyond their personal survival.

Because of their infantile pragmatism, doing whatever they can do to make it at the personal level even if it is at the expense of the public, I have contempt for them; I do not take them seriously, nor do other Nigerians.

Unfortunately, they do not seem to know that they are not taken seriously by other persons and think that just because they talk loudly that they are politically important persons; they are not.

It is what someone stands for that makes him or her politically relevant, not just what he says or the titular office he holds.

I think that Igbo political culture handicaps Igbos and makes them committed men, men who have examined ideas and accepted some and fight for them and not do so for pragmatic reasons.

The question I have is whether Igbos can produce politicians of world stature? I doubt that they can do so at this time in their history. They are too cowardly to be able to produce men of strong convictions, men willing to fight to death for ideas not just for their bellies.  We just have to wait for future generations of Igbos to see if they can produce real leaders, not just thieves in political offices.

In the meantime one has no illusions when one sees Igbo politicians for one knows that one sees men who would change their minds at any moment they see the color of money; they would not hesitate selling their Igbo compatriots into slavery if other folks offer them money. Like their slave selling ancestors they use that money to buy titles from their fellow villagers, titles that make them seem important. They are not important. When they die nobody would remembers them.

No one remembers any Igbo who lived a hundred years ago, for they were not real leaders who dedicated themselves to society; they were self-serving opportunists; opportunists are not remembered by society; society remembers only those who serve it.

The sad part of it all is that the Igbo do not seem to realize that he is a political nincompoop; he fancies that he is special and talks as if he knows what he is talking about. This is a pity; these people are deluded and take their fantasy world as reality; they need to start seeing how other people see them, as nothing, not the Mr. Big stuff they tend to believe that they are.

These people are narcissists; they seek attention and social admiration; they have no moral qualms; they would use you to attain their objectives and discard you when you are no longer useful to their goals and not feel any kind of remorse or guilt.

The Igbo would steal if offered the opportunity to do so; therefore, you have to closely supervise him if you do not want him to steal. I learned this lesson when I visited an Igbo friend in Canada. This man has a PhD from Cambridge University and runs his own small college. He took me to a Chinese restaurant, one of those all you can eat deals, ten dollars per person. He told the cashier that he is in a hurry and wanted to take the food home and he was told to do so. This man took enough food to feed, at least, ten people for his ten dollars payment. I was furious at him and waited until we got out and asked him whether he did not know that he was stealing food, whether he did not know that the restaurateur was a business man who wanted to make profit so as to stay in business. By taking ten people’s worth of food he had robbed the man of nine parts gross sales hence helped to put him out of business. How could he do such a dastardly thing? He laughed and did not say anything. No wonder these people rob down every business in their world. I decided that the man is thief and vowed to have nothing to do with him, again.

These people seem to be born with anti-social personalities; they have no conscience, no sense of guilt or remorse from doing evil.

As long as they keep at it they will remain at the bottom of everything while having their childish sense of being a superior people.

Do not take what does not belong to you; do not cheat even when no one is looking; how difficult is this to learn?  God, take these people out of my face, they annoy me.

POLITICAL REALISM VERSUS POLITICAL IDEALISM

The politically realistic part of my mind tells me that Igbos did not develop political superstructures for governing themselves, did not have Igbo wide political structures such as parliament, executive and judiciary and that all they had was village rule by all male adults, Amala, Umudiala and that it would take them, at least, two more hundred years to learn Western type of governance. That is to say that my rational part would like to dismiss them as a bunch of primitive Africans who do not know what they are doing and ignore them.  Why bother with a bunch of folks who only few years ago were roaming around, naked, and capturing their people and selling them to whoever wanted to buy them, Arabs, white folks etc. They are pieces of shit and one should not bother with them.

Political realism aside, the soft, emotional part of me, political idealism, keeps wishing that Igbos could be brought to the twenty-first century and taught how to govern themselves (replace their politician thieves with men who actually work for their people’s welfare).

What I said about Igbo political behavior probably applies to some other Nigerians? However, in this paper I am primarily interested in Igbos. If the reader is non-Igbo and feels an urge to let us understand his people’s political behavior I would appreciate it. However, he must not engage in ethnic songs of praises singing for his people. The truth is bitter but we all learn from the truth of who we are than from telling lies about us.

In writing truthfully about Igbos my goal is not hatred but helping them change some of their egregiously untoward habits and become better persons.  I understand the Yorubas after all I was born in their neck of the woods and grew up with them. I could say a negative word or two about their political behavior. But as a matter of public policy I choose to restrict making negative statements only about my people, Igbos.  I do not think that a Nigeria should say negative things about folks who are not from his ethnic group. This is not cowardice; it is called diplomacy.

IGBOS ARE MY NEGAIVE TEACHERS, MY NEGATIVE SAVIORS

Igbos gave me the opportunity to learn how egos cause themselves conflict by pretending to be important and from self-elevation insult other people hence generate conflict between them and live in conflict.

Given their bodies and culture they had to be whom they are, and do what they do; engage in their ego deluded dances.

I have a desire to learn about who I am. Since I am nominally an Igbo my quest for self-knowledge entailed knowledge of Igbos.  That is to say that to understand who I am I had to understand Igbos.

Igbos, thus, exist for me to learn from them. They are me writ large and are there for me to learn from. In understanding that they are egotists and seeing the problems their egos create for them I learn about my own ego and eventually jettison it. To the extent that I discard my ego I know peace and joy. Thus, Igbos are my negative teachers; they offered me the opportunity to understand the problem with ego and thus let go of my ego and in letting go of my ego save myself.

To be saved is to let go of the ego and live from the Christ in all of us; to know that one is part of love and love all people.

In a manner of speaking I should give Igbos thanks for being egoistic hence offering me opportunity to learn about the shortcomings of the ego and choose not to be an ego; they are my negative saviors, my negative teachers; I must be grateful to them for being living examples of everything that I do not want to be like.

Lest I sound superior I must hasten to add that I have more or less behaved like an Igbo all my life. As I look back at my life I have always known what the truth is but have not always lived it. I have allowed fear to prevent me from doing what I know is true.

The truth is love for all people and working for the good of all people, respecting all people, never looking down on any one, always striving to correct people’s antisocial behaviors while still loving their real selves.

I am an Igbo and learn from them about my own cowardice. I am not seeing something in me, denying it and projecting it to Igbos. What I see in Igbos is how most non-Igbos see them so there is social validation of my perception of them.

(I am very careful not to see people from neurotic ideal perspective, to posit ideals and identify with them and use them as standard with which to judge one’s self and other people and finding them not good enough; I make every effort to see people correctly and what I see is what I have written about. I am not comparing Igbos to imaginary perfect, ideals and finding them not good enough relative to those unrealizable ideals; I see them as they truly are.)

PS: Are you not generalizing in talking as if all Igbos are the way you just talked about? I know a thing or two about making generalizations, about stereotyping a people. I know that there are a handful of Igbos who fall outside the norm. What I said is the Igbo norm (al) behavior and I feel that it must be said so that they know about it and resolve to change it. At present their behavior stinks and as long as they allow it to be so they cannot really run any human polity well; they need to change if they want to be able to make a go of running human polities. As they currently are I would not elect them to be the supervisors of dog catchers (certainly not political offices).

Ozodiobi Osuji

December 23, 2011

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: ozodiosuji@gmail.com (907) 310-8176