By Patrick Dele Cole
I AM somewhat surprised by Mr. Nnanna’s rebuttal of my piece on the Origins of Nigerians. I normally expect criticism and even abuse to some of my views but his answer seems unfortunately to be something he wanted to say and was looking for an opportunity to do so.

It is a pity. He claims that there were “non-existent” “Igbo” “Slaves” in Bonny and other Ijaw city states; basing his conclusion on a belief that ethnical classification of “Igbo” and “Ijaw” was some white men’s invention and curiously that an artifact from Abiriba was found by Professor Isichie in Bonny.

That many Abiriba have names like Ubani (presumably a corruption of Igbani) and that I confused trade and cultural relationship between the Igbo and Bonny as a relationship of master and slave. Finally that I somehow managed to damage Chief Ekwueme’s chances of becoming President because working for my “mentor”,

President Olusegun Obasanjo, I, in some inexplicable way, influenced Obasanjo’s choice, thus climaxing a deep plan to sow confusion between various ethnic groups. What disturbed me most was that his piece left some idea that I, in cohort with others, hatched a plan to sow ethnic division in Nigerian. For him it is “just playing to the gallery, deployed by people with ulterior and unwholesome mindset to create divisions to get people fighting one another…. celebrating this fallacy”. I reply solely to refute the insinuations littered throughout the piece about hidden strategy to deride and divide the Igbo and other Nigerians, thus preventing them from living peaceably with their neighbours.

As to the indictment of Obasanjo being my mentor and somehow making this affect Dr. Alex Ekwueme’s chances of being the President, I am beyond surprise that a respected columnist as Mr. Nnanna, without a stirred of evidence could peddle such baseless accusation. What exactly did I do to harm Dr. Alex Ekwueme? Nevertheless, I am flattered that I was so powerful to be able to influence People Democratic Party, PDP, Obasanjo was never my mentor. He was my President and I was his Adviser and friend.

I have been on record celebrating the achievement of the Ibo. My parents spent over 40 years working among the Ibo in Enugu, Abakaliki, Enugu Ngwo, Udi, Aba and Onitsha. There is a Cole Street in Onitsha. I probably speak better Ibo than many Ibo people. My first language is Yoruba, the second Ibo, third Ijaw and fourth Hausa. I do not claim that I speak all equally well, but when both your parents are civil servants posted to all parts of Nigeria, you tend to pick up languages easily.

I grew up on the diet of Omenuko, an Igbo primer. “Okeke tara oseoji, da lala, tie npuku, o ok ko ko.” I may be Mr. Nnanna’s alligator pepper!! He also may well benefit from the lesson in the proverb, “Gaga nogu, anu kporunku ne ju onu”. I am dried meat and would swell up and fill his mouth, such that he might find it difficult to chew or swallow. This is one interpretation: another is the pith of wisdom is brevity; yet another is that it is sometimes wise to be quiet. The Yoruba have a similar idiom about it is impossible to speak with water in your mouth.

Among the Ijaws there were trading ports both for slaves and other merchandise, where there are Ibo and Ibibio admixtures with the people. The Ijaws of Okrika, Bonny, Buguma, Abonnema, Bakana, Nembe, Brass etc. are ascriptive and assimilationist in their culture. As Mr. Nnanna himself admitted, Jaja was himself a slave who “purchased” his freedom, to become the celebrated king Jaja of Opobo, about whom there is plenty of Ijaw pride that one of theirs was so eminent and about whom Professor Minimah has written a quintessential play performed in Port Harcourt, Lagos, London and now going to New York. King Jaja is celebrated as an Ijaw chief and his existence is matter of pride to the Ijaws to whom it is immaterial that he was once a slave.

I said earlier that the culture in these Ijaw city towns was assimilationist: people (Igbo) were welcomed into the household and never referred to as slaves; instead they were “people of the house or the home” (“wari bio apu”). The Kalabaris never referred to the Igbo who were assimilated as slaves. They were members of the household, who have rights as the biological children of the chiefs, and in certain circumstances have more rights than the children of the chief or head of the household.

For example, if the daughters of the chief are fully married according to custom (iya), the offspring of that union has less rights to claim than the child of the person of the household. Among the Kalabaris and other Ijaw people one chief may find his position threatened or untenable. He may take his people – wives, household, servants, slaves, soldiers etc. to another chief for protection; in the native parlance “he has put his head in the hands of the protector chief”, who extends his protection over his new client chief and his people. They are not his slaves. In other cases, two chiefs may quarrel and fight. The victor takes steps to wipe out all traces of the defeated chief who is removed as a chief and all his possessions, chattels and wives are distributed.

The Chiefs were war chiefs and needed soldiers to do their fighting. In this quest any able bodied persons able to work was engaged. If he came with female relatives they were absorbed through marriage to produce more children – knowing that wealth was calculated by the number of followers in one’s household.

The Don Pedro’s have relatives in Umuaka (Imo), the Briggs were closely related to Isiokpo and a dozen other Ibo towns; Chief Michael Broadfield Jack was called Abiriba as a praise name, not in denigration. My uncle, Chief Kio Young Jack was known as Oke Ngbudu; my mother’s name is Ezinwanyi. It would be tedious to go on.

Every Kalabari can trace people from his compound to various areas of Ibo land. The Riverine chiefs traded extensively with Igbo, they have large plantations in all parts of Igbo land and special markets and even “colonies” within Igboland, hence the “Kalabari beach” in Oguta, Imo State. My late first wife was from Oba, from the illustrious Ikokwu family. I could not therefore be anti-Ibo. I am on record as advising the Rivers people to seek the help of the Igbo and invite them back in rebuilding Port Harcourt seeing the failure of the people of Rivers to rebuild the once beautiful city of Port Harcourt.

There is no society in the world that did not have slaves and slavery. Among all the European nations, the Chinese, the Indians, Afghans, Slavic Russians, Uzbeks, Kazastans, Persians, the whole of the Middle East, had slaves, etc. So I do not see what is so appalling to say that there were Igbo slaves in Bonny.

Mr. Nnanna should well study the linguistic and ethnographical interactive about Nigeria and shed himself of prejudice about whether white man or black man named “Ijaw” or named “Igbo”. I was astonished that he should find the linkage of Igbo and Bonny offensive; although he concedes that some Aro sold slaves to coastal people; so what was the purpose of his article?

Allow me to mourn once again, here as elsewhere the scrapping of history in our schools. Without history we cannot be a nation.  Mr. Nnanna is not the only person who objected to some aspect of that piece. I am glad that it produced some interest and I have learnt a great deal from these responses.

 

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