by Dr. James C. Agazie
Most writers and cementers, Igbos and non-Igbos, have very little good to say about the Igbos. The purpose of this essay is to point out one or two things positive about the people known in Nigeria as the Ibo or Igbos or Ndiigbo. This essays concludes with a simple appeal to the conscience defined as scruples or sense of right and wrong. We Igbos can do without the well-meaning but misplaced, malicious, and condescending criticisms of detractors. We Igbos do not deserve to be over-psychoanalyzed. Of all things the Igbos lack and need the most is the right to be understood and respected.
Two points need to be underscored amid current avalanche of detractors' deafening rhetoric against the Igbos. First, detractors ought to realize that many Nigerians, particularly the Igbos, have made many self-sacrificing contributions to what is now known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Without Ndiigbos, Nigeria would not be what it now is. Igbo contributions are indelible; meaning the parts Ndiigbo played and are still playing in the development of Nigeria and their contributions to many facets of Nigerian life are ineffaceable. The contributions are ineradicable, and they are impossible to ignore.
Therefore, it is advisable that detractors should resist the temptation to insult Igbo people because the Igbos allegedly are the vanquished, the losers rather than winners, in the 1967-70 conflict. Are the Igbos being punished for being the first to orchestrate the first successful bloody coup? Aren't Igbos being sidelined for attempting to secede? Are they being penalized for publicly parading hard-won wealth? Is the reason behind Igbo problems the jealousy of neighbors? Jealousy is defined as envy, resentment, protectiveness, suspicion, or distrust . Human emotions can run wild.
Perhaps the purpose of current detraction is to get Ndiigbo to do what detractors want done: bury heads in sand and forever be apologetic about engaging in war efforts or agitations for secession from so-called Federation. While we're on the subject, detractors ought to practice tolerance for differences of opinion and imbibe the philosophy of inclusion, through use of effective positive reinforcements such as praise, smile, inclusion, or a pat in the back, for examples if the aim is to help Igbos want to become as much productive as the detractors could want to see or imagine.
We would add the third point of social observational learning. Let other Nigerians model behaviors they want others to emulate, including honesty, humility, respect, and generosity. If you want me to love you, you may first demonstrate somehow that love is beneficial to me, to you, and to the nation of 170 million citizens. Hence, L = f (C+ I), where Love is a function of Commitment increased by Inclusion.
People cannot and should not negate the fact that Igbos were in the forefront of the struggles to modernize Nigeria before independence and in the early post-independence years. Nigerians ought to realize that Igbos helped to pull many Nigerian communities out of the thralldom of superstitious darkness and backwardness. As a baby, this writer spent his primary and secondary schools years with a family that criss-crossed the length and breadth of the backwoods of then Benue Plateau State. Igbos criss crossed the State cities like livestock herded by divine hands.
We were on missionary work under the Methodists. We built Igbo Camps and established the first primary schools, modern post offices, dispensaries and local courts at oturkpo, Gboko, Igumale, Utonkon, Adoka, Egwugwuewu to name only a few. Many Igbo men served as Catechists, choir masters, band leaders, and town criers. Mr. Nzurum was the travelling teacher, and Mr. Uba was the primary school headmaster. Papa doubled as preacher, Catechist, and ABC teacher of alphabet) children known as the ota akara (akara eaters) or pre- kindergartners.
The names of these Igbo teachers and preachers are to be recorded in the Book of Life and they canonized as saints. God will welcome them and accord them mansions in heaven as rewards for their zeal and self-abnegation, or self-emptying endeavors. They took on the daunting responsibility for propagating the unheard of Gospel of Jesus Christ in the by-ways and open markets of Nigeria. Early missionary work in Nigeria was daunting because it was fraught with unspeakable dangers. The job was frightening, intimidating, overwhelming, disheartening, or scary. Igbos did the job no other group wanted. Igbos did it for one reason and one reason only: there was a divine calling, and there was a need . If not Igbos, then who? With bare hands and clenched teeth,the Igbos constructed school houses with mud walls and thatched roofs with grass and palm fronds.
Ears will pop and eyes dilate to twice the normal size as stories are told of Igbo men who jumped into mud pits, using thin legs as pestle to mix red and brown mud and water. They poured the sloppy mixture into wooden boxes that were left to dry under the hot, scorching, baking, suffocating , blistering tropical sun. The sun baked the mud which then became blocks that the Igbos used to build churches and schoolyards.
That the Igbos propagated the Western education in Nigeria, is no small wonder . To propagate is to circulate, spread, promulgate, broadcast, proliferate, disseminate, transmit, or publicize. Two simple messages were being disseminated. The first was: "Send your children to us at school, that we may teach them the white man's ways" Another message was: "Thou shalt have no other gods besides Me Jehovah." The Igbos took preaching and preaching very seriously. They had heard of the exploits of the twelve apostles, of the teachings of Saul of Tarsus, and of God's miraculous deliverance of Hebrews from Egypt.
As dangerous as teaching and preaching the Word was, we Igbos felt very uncomfortable living in the midst of idol worshipers and their local chiefs who were incensed at the strange religion and learning Igbos were troubling people with. The villagers were highly incensed as they considered Igbo teachers ns preachers and religious converts as unwanted interlopers, intruders, impostors, or trespassers.
The villagers were incensed in that they were furious, irate, riled up, irritated, exasperated, or infuriated at Igbo families living among them. Who want to be told: "Your gods are nonsense, but ours is to be reckoned with?" Who can bear to hear: "Your god is nonsense, and it is garbage, twaddle, baloney, claptrap, drivel gibberish , gobbledygook, or hot air. Religion is one thing people usually fight over , and to be told that one's religion is false or bullshit may result into a scuffle or exchange of blows.
Igbos were the objects of hatred because Igbo preaching was direct and had the idolatrous natives irritated: The Igbos preached fire and brimstone sermons: "Your gods are nonsense, and we bring you good tidings of the only true Jehovah of this Book." The Igbos held up their Akwukwo Nso (Igbo for Holy Bible). They declared "the Bible is the Basic Instruction Before leaving Earth" The next thing you saw was this writer's daddy jumping upon yam mounds on which witch doctors had carefully laid out their clay bowls of animal blood and pieces of chicken parts as sacrifices to their gods.
The witch doctors had carefully placed their sacrifices and charms at strategic places ostensibly to ward off evil spirits from descending upon the villages but truly to instigate villagers to downgrade the new religion of the Igbos. Clowning on yam mounds and destroying their sacrifices, Daddy aimed at attracting new Christian converts. While Daddy was joyfully wild with his Jehovah, and demonstrating that gods made with man's hands were less potent than the Jehovah of the Holy Bible, Mama and we kids covered our heads in shame. Villagers were expecting the evil spirits cast by the witch doctors to descend upon us and annihilate us with a tongue of fire.
We Igbos are not primitive; it is just that we are a high-strung, aggressive and indefatigable group on the outside, but underneath, are fearful, intimidated, and stressed out. Remember that Igbos are barely crawling out of a terrible war as a brutalized, traumatized, and seemingly defeated people. It is normal to expect symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome to engulf us and thwart our personality. With time, oga adi mma (all will be well). Call it making excuses, or begging the issue. You'll never understand pain until you wear the shoes and feel which toes pinch badly.
This writer was at Enugu at the end of the War as the Eastern Nigerian Government under the sole administration of Ukpabi Asika as efforts were made to spearhead the repatriation of Biafran children from London and other African countries to which they were sent to escape Nigerian Army's weapons of war and Awolowo's starvation and attendant kwasiorkor. You would faint to notice the Igbo babies and surviving children were not provided with any type of adjustment or rehabilitation services.
The Igbo babies and teens were just being reintegrated anyhow into society with families that proved to be exploiters and abusers. Their parents were either dead or unable to care for them. There was no food at home. The only option was haphazard adoption by men who seized the opportunity to marry underage babies. How these kids survived to this day is magical, and only Chineke (God of the Igbos) knows.
We Igbos have survived so much for too long under the most inhospitable environments it believed we igbos can survive anything, anytime anywhere. The Igbos are resilient. Who said the Igbos are not mini gods that descended directly from heavenly angels? Ahh!
Of all Nigerian tribes, the Igbos appear to be the only group that hasn't been offered the opportunity or taken advantage of the altruistic, help-your-brother programs the world had offered the Jews and Italians. The Yorubas take care of their own with the help of Awoists. Igbos are still suffering the effects of the Biafran War. Igbo friends at Abuja's Federal Ministries had indicated they would rather prefer Hausa or Yoruba heads to one of their kind. I asked: "Why not fellow Igbos?"
Reasons given are many. They said that Igbos are taskmasters, and that ,Igbo bosses would underpay their fellow Igbo employees;They said Igbo heads are less likely to have empathy towards subordinates. They also said that Igbo bosses are heartless. The real reason is this: Igboland is so overcrowded the oppressed inhabitants would rather move out than suffocate There is not enough room to grow and experience freedom in Alaigbo (Igbo homeland). Igbo community represents a bucket of crabs grabbing each other by the hands with sharp claws that immobilizes and suffocates.
Remember the experiments psychologists have done with mice in an overcrowded environment where electrical shocks were delivered at random? Like Igbos just out of a war with nowhere else to go, the mice experienced PTSS (post traumatic stress syndrome), resulting in maladaptive behavior that included homosexuality, cannibalism, with male mice attacking females and infants.
I admire the Igbos for surviving the atrocities of war and carrying on as though nothing has happened and being without extensive psychotherapy. Other groups like the Jews wouldn't be able to survive the ordeal without massive reparations and UN-sponsored rehabilitation programs. With time, we Igbos shall acquire such survival skills as politeness, resilience, loyalty, and all those good stuff. The Igbos need the kindness and encouragement of the world. We Igbos can do without the well-meaning but misplaced and condescending criticisms of detractors. We Igbos do not deserve to be over-psychoanalyzed. Of all things the Igbo lack and need the most is the right to be understood and respected. After all, the Igbos are people too.