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Okonkwo and Obierika

By Emeka Odikpo

CHINUA Achebe’s magnum opus Things Fall Apart created two characters that to a large extent define the trajectory of human thinking and actions. Okonkwo, the lead character was the brave and courageous man who had very little consideration for deep reflective thinking. He was a man of action. Well a bit like the proverbial soldier who acts out a command quite literally. Obierika on the other hand was Okonkwo’s bosom friend. He was no coward, but he had a high tendency to carefully analyze issues that Okonkwo totally lacked. Of course, Achebe also created the highly theatrical character of Unoka, who lived life by the day and without worries.  The tragedy of Okonkwo was captured in two events. One was the killing of Ikemefuna. He was forewarned by the wise Obierika who warned him sternly: “That boy calls you father, do not have a hand in his death.” Okonkwo unwisely ignored this counsel and in a show of stupid bravado followed the group that went out to sacrifice Ikemefuna, as fate will have it, he ended up hitting the fatal blow to his eternal regret.

The second tragedy and the one that led to Okonkwo’s suicide was his assumption that every other person in Umuofia was as angry as him with the white man and will go to war with the white man, with him as the leader of course. Obierika and others had heard of the white man’s mysterious powers and how they wiped out whole villages and were careful not to stir his ire. Okonkwo had no such tact. He pulled out his machete and chopped off the head of the white man’s messenger. He then realised that he was all alone, as the entire Umuofia recoiled at his action. He chose the abominable part to end his life; suicide, and like his father Unoka that he hated passionately, ended up in the evil forest.

Once again the Igbo question, the Biafran question and the structure of the relationship that should exist between the constituent nation states of Nigeria has been forcefully thrust into national discourse. On the Okonkwo side is Nnamdi Kanu and his band of fire eating IPOB members. Reflective reasoning is clearly not their strongest point. They threaten mayhem at the least prompting. They profess that they are peaceful and have actually tried to reflect this peaceful nature in their actions, as they have never been accused of armed-violence by the security agencies. But their rhetoric is far from peaceful. Name it, and they will curse it. They clearly have scant regard for the more reflective Obierikas in the Igbo nation. For them these people are saboteurs and turncoats and deserve nothing but contempt.

The Obierika school of thought is comprised of a motley crowd of intellectuals, pseudo intellectuals, Igbo elite and wise old men who have seen war first hand and do not have the stomach for any type of crisis. Unlike the Okonkwo group that has a military style command structure, with Nnamdi Kanu as the supreme leader. The Obierika group has no defined leader, but has several champions. The nearest person to a leader is the highly urbane Ohaneze leader, John Nnia Nwodo and his celebrated gift of the garb. This school of thought carefully define issues and has made it clear that whilst they are deeply appreciative of the fact that the current structure of governance in Nigeria is heavily skewed against the Igbos and that President Buhari’s policy of mistreating the 5% voters has left an indelible mark of distrust amongst Nigerians, the solution can still be got through a proper restructuring of the polity.

This struggle between these two distinct approaches to grave national issues is not a peculiarly Igbo thing. It played frequently in the Niger Delta imbroglio, with the Okonkwo’s clearly having an upper hand for several years at our collective national loss. It took the emergence of a sympathetic president,  Umar Yar ‘Adua and the emergence of one of the Obierikas amongst them as Vice President and then President to address one of the principal grouses of the Okonkwos. Unfortunately, the panacea to reducing their anger was the act of state of allowing them access to huge state funds. That at least guaranteed peace. In the South West, following the triumphalism of the 2015 elections, the Obierikas are in firm control. The recognised leaders of the Okonkwo school of thought lost out in the popular vote and can hardly afford a whimper. This same struggle, but this time cloaked with religious garb best defined the emergence of Boko Haram in the North East. The elite (the Obierikas) kept mute whilst the Okonkwos ran riot. At the last count, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost to the needless war that was occasioned by the failure of the elite to reign in the young Turks. The war appears destined to continue ad infinitum. To our collective chagrin.

The Igbo elite must never shirk in their responsibility of carefully streamlining issues and pushing the issues to the front burner of national discourse.  They must also not shirk their primary responsibility of controlling the young Turks and keeping them within the bounds of the law. It is clear to all discerning Nigerians that a restructuring of the current unitary system of government in our country in line with the accepted doctrine of real and fiscal federalism is a basic desideratum for peaceful co-existence of the constituent parts of Nigeria. The South West Obierikas should appreciate that their current assumed access to Federal power will not last forever, and that if they fail to utilize this opportunity to ensure that true federalism (their previous flagship mantra) is installed in Nigeria, they will surely rue it in the future.  It is also the responsibility of the Federal Government to appreciate that the current structure of governance in Nigeria is the cause of most of the conflicts that abound in Nigeria. The earlier this issue of restructuring is addressed, the easier life will be for the Obierikas that abound across all the geo political zones of our country.

*Mr.   Odikpo, a lawyer, wrote from Lagos.


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