By Ochereome Nnanna
WHEN people say: “Igbo don’t like themselves”, do they really know what they are saying? What is their evidence? How does the Igbo self-love compare with those of their peers – the Westerners and Arewa people?
I am taking up this topic because an Igbo moneybag, Arthur Eze, recently caused a stir when he recycled this tawdry cliché in a certain provocative context. Ordinarily, Arthur Eze is not such a topical personality. I have also heard people, especially the Igbo, parrot this when they run out of useful things to say.
Arthur Eze said that after the war, he travelled to the North and met people who gave him the contracts that eventually turned him into a billionaire. That is very nice for him. Is there anybody who does not know about the legendary generosity of the Northern Muslims? Is there any notable Nigerian who has not been touched by the Arewa man’s unparallelled capacity for philanthropy? The Igbo have a word for it: Aka Awusa, “Hausa hand” (literally).
But this same Arewa man is more likely than any to take your life if you stray (deliberately or unwittingly) into the forbidden areas of his religion. Yes, religion has everything to do with the Arewa man’s capacity for generosity. It is one of the five things he must do as a Muslim to merit paradise when he or she dies.
Adherents of other faiths are also enjoined to be generous. They have evolved their own peculiar ways of applying this injunction. We will see how the comparative traditions of generosity or social “love” have impacted the people and environments in which the aforementioned groups inhabit. You can then choose for yourself.
It is also true that out of the three broad groups, the Arewa man brings in his kinsmen into any public office he finds himself. He benefits his “brothers” with its “juicy” goodies. The Westerner also carries his people along in like manner.
But the typical Easterner (South East and South-South person) tends to be more careful and individualistic. This is so for a simple reason: if you are entrenched in power as the Arewa man has been since independence, you can afford to be more generous to your kinsmen and others than those who are considered “outsiders” might be.
Before the civil war when the Igbo were still strong in the system, they were accused by other Nigerians of constituting themselves into an ethnic cult and dominating in every sector of the government. In fact, that was why the Igbo State Union, ISU, led by Chief Zik Obi was banned by General Yakubu Gowon’s regime.
The ISU was accused of being the clearing house for “Igbo domination”. A situation where an ethno-regional group dominates government at any level and dishes out favours as it wishes without concern for merit is not good for Nigeria. It is one of the reasons Nigeria is backward, disunited, corrupt, poor and insecure.
Arthur Eze did not tell us whether the contracts and oil wells that made him a billionaire went through due processes. Were there open tenders and he was found the most qualified? Or, did some avuncular mandarin simply “dash” him the contracts as usual?
When you are given contracts as a favour, it could be that the person wants to use you to feather his nest against the interests of your own people. Arthur Eze lobbied and brought the Police Zone 13 Headquarters to his hometown, Ukpo in Anambra State.
The same police that condones killings, kidnappings and rapes by herdsmen and hunts down young men who try to resist Fulani infiltrators who are forcibly setting up settlements in Igbo forests! Whose interest is Arthur Eze fronting? How many contracts awarded to Arthur Eze’s companies did he deliver? Beyond the vainglorious displays of physical cash, how has Arthur Eze shown genuine love to his kinsmen?
We measure love by its impact, especially on the less-privileged. In Western Nigeria, love is demonstrated by creating educational opportunities for the children of the poor, which is the common passport out of poverty. Nobody’s aspiration is circumscribed by social status.
In the East (especially Igbo land) apart from mass Western education, access to apprenticeship is also available, thus paving a dual carriageway for self-actualisation for the youth. But in the North, the same mandarins who made Arthur Eze a billionaire send their children to the best schools but encourage the children of the poor to go to almajirai “schools” to keep them downtrodden and hostages to religion.
Every kind of “love” has its consequences. While the Easterners and Westerners enjoy relative peace because the children of the poor can aspire to the greatest heights, the situation in the North is the direct opposite. The long-neglected children of the poor are now colluding with foreigners to mindlessly massacre their own kinsmen in the North East, North West and North Central. No one is safe. People are leaving the North and streaming into the South for safety and greener pastures.
In the North, they give people fish, but in the South (especially Igbo land) people are taught how to fish. This is not just love, it is also peace. Arthur Eze should enjoy his fish and leave us alone. The notion that Igbo do not love themselves is baseless. Without mutual love and support, the Igbo would not have been able to overcome the scars of the civil war and become educationally and commercially dominant even outside Igbo land.
My only problem with the diaspora Igbo is their penchant to abandon their homeland while developing their places of abode. Building expensive country mansions is not development. Country mansions are liabilities, not assets. They only provide jobs for gatemen and gardeners. These are not choice jobs for the typical Igbo youth. They are also nice dens for burglars and kidnappers.
If Ndi-Igbo do not change this attitude, when the approaching flame arrives, there will be no Igbo youth on ground to put it out.
Today, I celebrate my 60th birthday! Thank you, O Lord, for making me a Diamond!!