FOR Ndigbo, August, a month of homecoming and celebrations, is special. They love going back to their ancestral homes across the Great River, called Niger, to celebrate the new yam festival (Iri-ji Ohuru). The magnificence of the ceremonies was aptly captured by the inimitable raconteur, Chinua Achebe, in his 1958 classic, Things Fall Apart, thus: “The pounded yam dish placed in front of the partakers of the festival was as big as a mountain. People had to eat their way through it all night and it was only during the following day when the pounded yam ‘mountain’ had gone down that people on one side recognised and greeted their family members on the other side of the dish for the first time.”
Such imagery of a mountain of pounded yam as conjured by Achebe, which helps in a unique way to capture the grandeur of the occasion, still fascinates me. For Ndigbo, it is a time of peace and thanksgiving to the supreme deity (Chi Ukwu) as a giver of yam and donor of a good harvest. Though yam is regarded as a male crop, women and children are not left out of the pomp and pageantry. In recent times, the women have added what is now called “August Meeting” to the whole ceremony, thus deepening the homecoming legend.
Because of the migratory nature of the Igbo and their unequalled ability to make anywhere, they sojourn home, new yam festival has become a global phenomenon. Ndigbo, whether in their ancestral homes or in the Diaspora celebrate Iri-ji ohuru with the same passion and equanimity, what Dr Okechukwu Ikejiani, foremost nationalist, First Republic politician and an accomplished scientist, once described as “an equal amount of curiosity and zeal to re-engage their life-world and cosmological values”.
Last year, I celebrated the new yam festival with the Igbo community in Nottingham, a city in central England’s Midlands region, known for its hilltop castle museum and art gallery. The pomp and pageantry were mind-blowing. Dignitaries from Nigeria graced the occasion. Perhaps, that was what former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, had in mind when he accepted to honour the invitation of the Igbo community in Nuremberg, the second-largest city of the German federal state of Bavaria, as a guest of honour in this year’s new yam festival. He was not the only one invited. Chief John Nnia Nwodo, President-General of the apex Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, was too. Like Nottingham, Nuremberg is known for everything else other than yam. A city with a fascinating history that dates back to medieval times, Nuremberg, home to a 1000-year-old castle, is best remembered for its rather insalubrious place in history as the site of the Nuremberg Nazi Party rallies of the 1930s, the Allied bombings during the war, and ultimately the Nuremberg trials afterwards. But like Nottingham and indeed every other piece of real estate across the globe, Ndigbo who live in Nuremberg also indulge in the annual new yam festival.
Perhaps, forewarned by a recorded speech by Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, in which he rebuked Igbos in Germany for inviting the Ohanaeze leader and threatened that he will not leave Germany alive, Nwodo opted out of the trip. Ekweremadu, not so minded, didn’t, thus giving Nnamdi Kanu the opportunity to carry out his threat. The former DSP, who until recently was the highest-ranking Igbo political office holder, was thoroughly manhandled and almost stripped naked by IPOB activists on the explicit order of their leader for daring to honour the invitation.
The video of the assault which has since gone viral was a repudiation of not only all known Igbo values but a desecration of the time-honoured tenets, beliefs and mores of new yam festival. And what was Ekweremadu’s crime? Nothing other than that Nnamdi Kanu accused him and indeed every other Igbo elite of being quislings and Fulani stooges who are against the realisation of his dream Biafra where he will be the supreme leader. Simply put, they are saboteurs to the Igbo cause as determined and dictated by Kanu: a crime which he has decreed must carry the death penalty.
Emboldened by the Nuremberg assault on Ekweremadu, Kanu is now overreaching himself by urging his followers to mete out the same treatment to President Muhammadu Buhari who is attending the Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development, TICAD7, holding in the City of Yokohama, Japan. It is said that the young man has allowed his unbridled ego and greed for money, power and fame to push him down this self-destructive path. It is sacrilegious for Kanu to label Nwodo a saboteur. Insulting every Igbo leader who refuses to be led by the nose into the blind alley is tantamount to the axiomatic nwa-nza bird that overfed itself and challenged its personal god (chi) to a wrestling contest.
And what is the issue? None in my opinion. I doubt if there is any Igbo who does not believe that Nigeria is highly skewed against the South East. Most, if not all, believe that structured as it is today, Nigeria is not working. And will not work. There is a consensus of opinion that the marginalisation of the South East is a deliberate policy of the Nigerian state. With his unbridled nepotism and politics of exclusion, President Muhammadu Buhari has worsened the situation, making the majority of Ndigbo feel unwanted in their own country.
So, if this feeling is catholic, what remains is how best to tackle the matter given the disposition of those who have made it a state policy to hold an entire race down. And it goes without saying that there are bound to be varied ideas as to how best to solve the problem. That shouldn’t be an issue. Labelling anyone who holds a contrary opinion enemy of the people who must be exterminated is evil. That, unfortunately, is the crux of the matter.
Nnamdi Kanu wants a total divorce with Nigeria by creating a sovereign, territorial Biafra. So, for him, secession is the irreducible decimal. On the other hand, there is a more elitist school of thought that believes that since territorial Biafra was defeated in the late 1960s with the Igbo losing almost everything, what is needed now is another kind Biafra – of a philosophical hue.
This Biafra, rather than being a territorial pursuit, becomes a philosophical enterprise, a way of life that encapsulates all the egalitarian principles of nationhood – true democracy, freedom, equality and rule of law. This school of thought believes that this Biafra can still be achieved within the context of a united albeit restructured Nigeria.
As Nwodo noted in his recent open letter to Ndigbo: “Restructuring Nigeria will give the South East sovereign independence in the control of our national resources and political control of our government structures.” This is the most sensible route to travel given the prevailing circumstances because short of another war, it is difficult to see how IPOB can force Nigeria to grant Ndigbo a territorial Biafra. But Nnamdi Kanu would not hear of that. For daring to proffer an alternative viewpoint, he has declared the Igbo socio-political elite persona-non-grata, placing a fatwa on them. Unfortunately, Ekweremadu is the guinea-pig with which the IPOB leader tested the efficacy of his anti-Igbo elite brew, hence the Nuremberg disgrace.
Does it then mean that Nnamdi Kanu does not realise the folly of his territorial Biafra illusion? He does. Yet, he is cynically tapping into the reservoir of discontent among impressionistic Igbo youths. It is typical of manipulative, power-crazy, self-important, despotic leaders. This is not about Ekweremadu, an alleged self-serving Igbo political elite, getting a deserved comeuppance in faraway Germany in the hands of shortchanged, disgruntled and disillusioned Igbo youths, as some people are claiming. What we have on our hands is the case of an impostor profiteering from the gullibility of his followers. It is something ominous – Nnamdi Kanu is a megalomaniac, in fact, a psychopath on the loose. The fact that he has a firm grip on the psyche of his confederates who see him as the “chosen one” makes him even more dangerous. His ideology is ruinous and an existential threat to the global Igbo race. The question now is: Who will stop him and how?