Monday, March 30, 2009

Igba Ndu In Igboland

By Alloysius Duru

MAN naturally is a social animal that interacts as well as try to adapt to his environment. However because man's nature is influenced by his desires for survival, dominance and control over his environment, this leads to issues of conflict among them. Such conflicts could attain the dangerous dimension of taking of lives, physical and spiritual injuries or material destruction. This can be at individual or group levels or even to communal proportion. The need therefore for conflict resolution of these prevalent issues, to avoid destructions and mistrust among peoples, and which can be of a permanent basis, to ensure peace and security of lives and properties, gave rise to the concept of Igba ndu in Igboland.

What is Igba Ndu

The concept Igba ndu literarily means to bond life, Igba stands for bond or tie while ndu means life in Igbo language. However the concept of Igba ndu is better understood as a covenant between individuals or groups. The Igbos are predominantly associated with the Igba ndu, however other groups outside their boarders also have their own concept for covenant or oath taking. The Igbos are found in the south eastern and parts of the south-south geopolitical delineation of present day Nigeria and they are a very industrious, energetic, and enterprising people that speak the Igbo language. They are basically skilled in merchandising, and indulge in agriculture and other economic activities. By the nature of their activities and interactions, there is a high level of socio-economic interaction among them and even beyond their boarders, hence such interactions can and most times give room for mutual and peaceful co-existence as well as mistrust and conflict. Hence the need to institute an idea which can help sustain peaceful co-existence of a lasting time led to Igba ndu. This practice emanated not only out of fear of the unknown, especially with the knowledge that man is inherently wicked, hence to check on the wiles of men, covenants or Igba ndu is entered into to help safeguard the life and confidence of the parties that have entered into the agreement. Another reason for the Igba ndu is as a result of man's desire to maintain peace, orderliness and harmonious living among themselves, hence where such is existing there is the need to consolidate such harmony among peoples.

The concept of Igba ndu is tied to the knowledge of the existence of a supreme being or deities who are very powerful as to intervene in the affairs of men when they are invited and thus dispense justice to defaulters who break the covenant entered. For any Igba ndu to be potent, in most cases it is tied to a deity or god. In Igboland, there are many deities that are involved, depending on the people concerned. Prominent deities such as, Igwe ka ala, Amadioha, Ibinokpabi, Ahiajioku etc, are some of the deities called upon to witness such covenants. The parties to the covenant while swearing will pronounce punishments which the gods are to excise on the defaulters.

Types of Igba Ndu

There are different types of Igba Ndu just as we have different types of agreements among peoples. The types of Igba ndu can be known in terms of the number of people involved or the type of agreement entered into. For influence, there is Igba ndu that can exists between two individuals, within a family or between two different neighboring communities. Igba ndu can also exist between an individual and a deity. In Igba ndu issues involved range from love, disputes between individuals or communities, trading or business concerns to agreements with the gods for protection or favour by individuals or groups etc. in undertaking Igba ndu certain people are involved; apart from the people concerned, the gods or deities are invoked, the departed ancestors are also involved, elders especially titled men, native doctors or Oha dibias, as well as chief priest of the community, is dependent on the people type of Igba ndu to be entered.

For instance where there is between lovers, only the two lovers and some times dibia are physically involved but the gods and ancestors are called upon as witnesses. Where the Igba ndu involves family or community a larger group of people mentioned are involved and the gods and the ancestors' role is to witness and dispense justice to defaulters or uphold the one that conforms to the covenant.

The dibias are to prepare the relevant concoction as well as make the necessary pronouncements/incantations that make the covenant potent. The chief priests invoke the gods and ancestors as well as participate in the preparation of necessary materials for the covenant ceremony. In some cases, the parties concerned are to come with their witness. These witnesses will attest to the facts of the covenant if anything should happen afterwards.

Objects needed for Igba Ndu

In understanding the Igba ndu, some items are required; these items are dependent on the type of Igba ndu. Such items as kola nut, palm wine, hot drink, ofo staff, blood, plantain stalk, cockrel, kaolin (nzu), fresh palm frond, snail, yam etc other none material objects and the incantation made by the priest or dibias, which can not be interpreted, it is privy to the dibias only. In the case of two lovers who want to undertake the Igba ndu, both partners can use a kolanut and dip it into their blood and then make a declaration as to their intention as well as what will befall anyone of them that breaks the covenant, they can call on a deity they believed in as witness, including their ancestors and Ala (the goddess of the earth). After which they eat the kolanut. In the event of a land dispute between either individuals or community the Igba ndu is more elaborate as the group concerned will invite witnesses, elders, the chief priest and dibias. In most cases, the covenant is administered in the shrine after the necessary items have been prepared and incantation made to invoke the ancestors and gods to witness it. In this type, the people concerned are to swear not to harm each other in any way either physically or spiritually any one who goes against the covenant the gods and ancestors will dispense justice. In other instance, a hole is dug and plantain stalk used to cross the hole, the people concerned will be made to cross the makeshift bridge, with a declaration that whosoever breaks the covenant will fall into the pit which signifies endless problems

Essence of Igba Ndu in Igboland

The role Igba ndu plays in Igbo society can be best appreciated from the axiom of social control. It is important as it tries to eliminate deep seated hatred and calm frayed nerves especially on issues concerning land disputes, and other communal or individual squabbles. The process of Igba ndu ensures that the parties to a dispute settle such disputes amicably without physical or spiritual attacks on each other.

Igba ndu is also very important as it strengthens the unity that exists between the individuals, groups or communities.

It also plays the role of adjudication as it is the final processes of arbitration in which parties concerned, witnesses, ancestors and the gods are involved in the process of ensuring peaceful coexistence, hence when administered it becomes the final process of peaceful resolution as partied concerned have involved the spiritual world to adjudicate on their behalf.

Thus any default is punished by the gods.

Igba ndu checks the incidence of witch craft or spiritual or physical attacks, then puts a check to the activities of the wicked against the just in the society.

Penalties for default and the process of appeasement

Igba ndu is a serious covenant that carries a very severe punishment on the defaulter. This punishment if not quickly addressed or appeased will result in a family or generational curse or stigma. A defaulter is known when mysterious occurrence begins to affect his life, such as death, infertility, sickness etc. the penalties for a defaulter is an outcome of the covenant entered into as well as the reaction of the deity in which the covenant is administered. In addition to this is the curse, which is also placed on the defaulter. The penalties also defer in terms of the type of Igba ndu entered into. For instance, in the case of two lovers, the penalty for defaulter, where one breaks the covenant and abandons the relationship could be either madness, barrenness, inability to hold down any relationship or even death. Igba ndu where a deity like the Amadioha is involved has a very disastrous penalty for the defaulter. This can either be stricken down by thunder, mysterious illness that defies medical solution etc. the process of appeasement by the defaulter is tedious, this is so as people will not want to associate with such a person for fear of reprisal attack on them from the gods. It is only when a clearance is gotten from the gods through divination on how to appease the deity and also on how to re integrate the person into the society before he or she is allowed access to people. The gods will determine the items for appeasement, which most times are enormous. It is the chief priest of the deity and the dibias that handle such appeasement rites. Also the person will do rites that will allow him access to people (oriko). In some societies, items of appeasement include, cockerel, palmwine, local bull, ram, tortoise, cowry, yam, palm oil etc.

Igba Ndu in contemporary times

The influence of religions has had its impact on the appreciation and promotion of our rich cultural attributes including Igba Ndu.

However, there are some few who still believe in the efficacy and powers of our deities. These few have tenaciously held on to the cultural practice such as the Igba Ndu and other aspects of our cultures that recognize our deities in societal control. Though they are few but yet they have been able to ensure that these practices do not fizzle away into oblivious.

Duru discussed this topic with the National Museum Study Group, Port Harcourt recently

Adiele Afigbo: A tribute

By Obi Nwakanma

I MET Adiele Afigbo, the eminent historian, the first time in 1982 at the Government College, Umuahia. I was in the fifth form and in Simpson. Professor Afigbo had brought his son to school from Nsukka to register him into his freshman class - Form One - and he had been sent to Nile.
I happened to have been, possibly, the first person they met that day on arrival to school, I, returning early from the blocks after preps, and he walking with the young Afigbo down the College drive. He struck up a short discussion with me, and I was apparently in my best manners, and it was all an assurance that his son would have interesting times in Umuahia. I helped take them to the Nile common room, and a brief handshake later, was on my way to other things.

Many years later during the Igbo Studies conference at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, organized by the now late Don Ohadike in April 2003, I again met Adiele Afigbo, who had given a brilliant keynote statement, and introduced myself. He had a clear memory of the “lad” who met him over 20 years thence.

Perhaps that is the true gift of historians - clear memory - and Adiele Eberechukwu Afigbo was the giant among historians in his era. Born in Ihube Okigwe in colonial Eastern Nigeria in November 1937, Afigbo’s path was shaped by the time and events of his society. His promise was spotted early in primary school where he came to the mentorship of the formidable teacher and Methodist missionary, Mr. Iheukwumere from the neigbouring Uzuakoli.

From the Methodist Central School Ihube Okigwe, the young Adiele Afigbo went on to secondary school at St. Augustine’s College, Nkwerre, and among his contemporaries at St. Augustine’s were people like the famous literary critic and scholar, the late Obi Wali whom he also met up with later at the University College, Ibadan into which Afigbo himself was admitted in 1956.

From what we can glean from Adiele Afigbo’s biography, it seems that he came under the considerable influence of certain key figures at both St. Augustine’s Nkwerre and at the University College, Ibadan, whose direction helped ultimately to point him towards his own clear ambitions. At St. Augustine’s, Afigbo came into contact with such people as Mazi F.C. Ogbalu, the famous Igbo cultural nationalist and linguist, who spent his professional career dedicated to the promotion and propagation of Igbo language and culture. F.C. Ogbalu taught Afigbo at Nkwerre.

So also did G.I.C Eneli - an old Umuahian himself and foundational student of the University College Ibadan, who spent his first career after leaving Ibadan in 1953, teaching history at St. Augustine’s Nkwerre. Eneli, one of the finest scholar-athletes of his time would later on in 1957, join the first corp of Nigerian Foreign Service officers when it was established, serving in his last post as Nigeria’s Consular-General in Rome before the civil war and years later, after the Nigerian civil war, would become an entrepreneur and chairman of GICEN. But it is apparent that his influence as a history teacher in his first career bore even more magnificent fruit, for he left a great imprint on Adiele Afigbo, his best student at St. Augustine’s.

In his letter to Dr. Kenneth Dike, then Principal of the University College, Ibadan, in 1955 intimating him of his desire to pursue scholarship in history at Ibadan, the young Afigbo, in brash confidence wrote that if all it required to be admitted into Ibadan was mental or intellectual energy, that he felt himself more than adequately endowed and prepared, especially since he had always come at the top of his peers in the subject of history.

There is no evidence now to show Kenneth Dike’s reaction. But it may say something about Kenneth Dike, doyen of modern Nigerian history, that he gave benefit of the doubt to youthful confidence and apparently showed more than amused interest, for Adiele Afigbo was admitted to the highly elitist University College, Ibadan in 1956, and true to his claim, emerged top of his class in the department of history which included such notable and talented scholars in their own rights, Obaro Ikime and Philip Igbafe.

He graduated ahead of his class in 1964, and was conferred with the first Ph.D of the University of Ibadan in 1964. He was thereafter employed as a young lecturer in the Ibadan history department, and could have settled to a career at Ibadan. But the crisis of 1966 disrupted all that, driving Afigbo, and many other Eastern Nigerian scholars out of Ibadan to the East. It was thus that Adiele Afigbo moved to Nsukka. But in between his scholarly life at Nsukka was the disruption of the war. In Biafra, he was employed in the Directorate for War Propaganda.

The war over, Afigbo settled to an exciting academic life at Nsukka, where he made a great impact. He was head of History and Archeology. He rose to the Deanship of the Humane Letters. He served as Director of the Leon Hansberry Institute of African Studies, and had been seconded from Nsukka as the first Director of Research of the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies. He was also, between 1984 and 1987 Commissioner for Education, and later, for Local Government in the “old” Imo State.

Energy of scholarship

He was also awarded the Nigerian National Order of Merit - Nigeria’s equivalent of the Nobel. Afigbo retired from Nsukka in 1992 and was feted by his peers as a great and humane scholar. It was on account of his significance and the breadth of his work at the University of Nigeria, that Chibuzo Abdulaziz Ude endowed a chair in his honour as Professor of history at Nsukka to continue his work.

Adiele Afigbo’s formal retirement from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, did not prohibit the energy of his scholarship or his quest to distillate the questions of his time and impact them upon a new generation of students.
He was invited to positions at the Abia State University in Uturu, and later at the Ebonyi State University at Abakiliki. Afigbo spent time in 2005 as a senior research fellow at Cambridge, and the pace of his work remained a continual challenge and inspiration to younger scholars.

Indeed it was in acknowledgement of this that the historian Toyin Falola of the University of Texas, Austin, organized a colourful celebration of Adiele Afigbo’s life on the occasion of his 70th birthday at Nsukka in November 2007. Adiele Afigbo died three weeks ago, on the morning of March 10, 2009.

As the Igbo, his kinsmen would say, a great tree fell. Adiele Afigbo was such a giant in the company of the giants of historical scholarship on Africa in the 20th century.

His reconstruction of the history of pre-colonial and colonial Igbo and the surrounding world is without compare, and was a tone clearly set when he gave the prestigious Ahiajoku lectures in 1981 on the topic: “The Age of Innocence: the Igbo and their Neighbours in Pre-Colonial Times.” Afigbo’s conclusions were startling, clear, and daring. Of his many works, Warrant Chiefs in Igbo Land and Ropes of Sand will stand in the pantheon of great books that have come to clarify, with great insight and empathy the pre-colonial and colonial contacts of the Igbo, one of Africa’s most intriguing cultures.

It was a duty and labour borne out of great love that Afigbo spent his life reconstructing their footprints through time in what will now be a timeless account. His work is done. Adiele Afigbo rests with the greatest of our world who have now made their home in immortality. Afigbo is immortal because his work in cold print now lives warmly preserved by time.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Rebranding a ‘Good People and a Great Nation'

By Obi Nwakanma

ASIDE from oil, Nigeria’s other major national exports are bad news and farce. Crime, corruption, instability, disease: signs of human and material decay and trauma. Add Nollywood and the picture would be fairly complete.
Nigeria is an awesome contradiction. It is an enormously rich country but it has one of the world’s highest public manifestations of poverty: unliveable cities; increasingly inhospitable and impolite people driven mad and desperate by lack – mostly the lack of what the poet and novelist, Gabriel Okara, in his great experimental novel, The Voice, would call an “inside”- a soul. For sometimes indeed, what Nigerians suffer is far more poverty of the spirit rather than of the stomach. But let us be clear also, Nigerians live in some of the worst human conditions in the world.

Take urban housing. These are mostly hovels that pass for human habitations; humongous slums which should put any decent nation to shame: Nigerians live in conditions which would be intolerable to any other people elsewhere in the world.

Take this sordid picture of Onitsha floating on the internet. Once the “gift of the lordly Niger,” but now the true picture of catastrophe: it is a picture of these blocks of apartments near Silas Works, besides which is a massive pyramid of sludge and refuse, with pigs scavenging visibly atop it.

This picture situates the condition of the city and of the nation: the decay and destruction and absence of municipal services makes that picture acute: the world sees how Nigerians live in close organic relationship with disease bearing sows. It is the true metaphor of the wilderness encroaching, and the sad part is no one bats an eyelid. It has become too normal to shock.

Nigerians have possibly the ugliest cities in the world. Someone, an American visitor who had once visited Nigeria when she was a student at Harvard, and who came to Nigeria to do doctoral research on the Igbo village life as a model for politically and ecologically sustainable systems based on her readings of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart once described Lagos to me: “it is like looking up and seeing despair, as if everything is crumbling....” She swore never to return to Nigeria.

She was also terribly disappointed that the Edenic image of the Igbo village preserved in Achebean lore had totally disappeared. Not anymore the so-called village democracy; or the distinguished conclave of elders and titled men, or the shrines and the sacred groves or even the calm dignity of people. Ogidi - the model for Umuofia - has not preserved these elements.

Laura is not the only one often disappointed on visiting Nigeria. My mother-in-law swore that she would never, ever visit Nigeria again, following her experience of Lagos. In vain have we, my wife and I, told her that Lagos is not the sum total of Nigeria.

That there are in fact places where the air is cleaner, like my village, although increasingly, the heat from the not too distant gas flaring in Izombe about 80 kilometres away, is also turning its once paradaisal, tropical coolness into something of a hell on earth.

Nigeria shocks anyone who visits it. The shock is numbing until you of course get used to the incessant and contradictory liveliness of the people. But in terms of the visual encounter with its built places, we must face the fact, and tell Dora Akunyili, Nigeria’s minister for information and communication, that Nigeria in its current situation cannot be rebranded because indeed, there is nothing to rebrand. It has far too much ugliness.

It of course has great beauty too. But it is beauty which we are now forced to look at closely in order to see because the ugliness is just too prominent and overwhelming. We must, therefore, look at this Dora Akunyili project of “rebranding Nigeria” for what it actually is: another misguided government programme which shows a thorough failure of imagination.

And that is, above and beyond the issue of corruption, the real problem with Nigeria: a massive failure of the imagination. Great governments are the product of strategic thinking and consent building. Nations depend on an able thinking community with an able, and efficient bureaucratic system to transcribe thinking and instrumentalize it and transform their societies.

Current Nigeria is not the product of high thinking. It is the reflection of mediocre thinking and a mediocre bureaucracy. Dora Akunyili’s farce - and that is exactly what this project to rebrand Nigeria is, a great farce - will not create a representational turn-around for Nigeria where the four horsemen of the apocalypse - war, hunger, pestilence and death - roam freely.

Nigeria, where a drunken corporal on roadblock could shoot anyone to death for failure to “drop” N20, where there is great unemployment; where nothing works – hospitals, refineries, power stations, municipal services and so on and so forth.

To rebrand Nigeria, Dora Akunyili and co will have to go beyond mere slogans. We have been there before: Ethical Revolution, WAI, and the last was the needless profligacy of the “Nigerian Image project” which had been launched also by the Ministry of Information under the Obasanjo administration. None of these will work.

These will all remain futile efforts until Nigeria deals with the fundamental situations that have brought it dishonour among nations. Let me remind us all of a particular axiom: a good product sells itself. In its current situation Nigeria is hardly a hot item of merchandise. No one wants to come to Nigeria. Why?

Well, simply because suffering and ugliness is not exactly great tourist attractions. People come to places to see beauty; to be enriched by art; to hear great music in the open air or in fine musical halls; to visit great galleries and great sites of history; or great, original cultures preserved over time.

They want to encounter great built spaces; beautiful and eclectic cities; go out and sense the night, and feel safe and secure, and smell clean air, eat great food, and encounter fine people who are not beggars, shafts, thieves – whose greatest instincts are welcoming and hospitable; who respect other people and other cultures because they respect themselves; and are not servile or religious fanatics, or ignorant or bigoted.

Ultimately, a nation models and brands itself, not quite in the ways that Dora Akunyili’s rebranding farce proceeds to “re-brand” Nigeria. Let me draw attention to what Nigeria can do to rebrand itself, using the example of India. In the 1960s and 1970s, India had the same image problem as Nigeria currently does.

Its people were dispersed into a diverse diaspora, seeking work across the world, and taking many menial positions in many countries because of great economic and political crisis.

The Indian was accused of everything - dishonesty, making fake drugs and fake everything; cheating and, yes, 419. Indian education was derided. But it had far more going for it than was immediately obvious.

The Indian government invested massively in science and technical education, and research. Today, the Indian Institute of Technology is one of the world’s elite universities, recruiting the finest and training a generation that, with the stimulation of a burgeoned Indian diaspora, launched what today is India’s social, economic and technological miracle.

Today, India is considered among the new great powers of the world - no longer a 419 nation or a nation of fake products and cheats. It did not set apart trying to “re-brand” itself with mere words and fake images. It went to work.

Indeed, in the 1970s, India led the charge for the New International Economic Order through the South-South commission and through the Uruguay round of talks. By the 1980s, according to a RAND report, India’s foreign policy had shifted from the moralistic to the self-interested.

This is a brief summary of course, but there ought to be a lesson there for Nigeria. As we have been told, a tiger does not go about proclaiming its tigritude, it pounces. Serious nations do not go about like Akunyili puppeteering about “rebranding a good people and a great nation.” They go to work.

They rebuild their broken cities. They re-arm their centers of knowledge. They produce value and are not dependent on the goodwill of others. A great nation is self-advertising. Nigeria is not a great nation.

I do not know about being a good people. It is like other nations and other people: what you see is what you get. And what we see currently in Nigeria is not pretty. Dora Akunyili should not waste our time and our resources in this grand deception.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Interview: Want To Regenerate Anioma Culturally And Politically – Uche Honnah

Uche Honnah, newly elected President of the Anioma Association USA – the umbrella organization for all Anioma people in the United States of America is a man on a mission. This real estate investor and efficient organizer spoke with correspondent last week on his plans to build a strong, unified association. He also weighed in on the controversy surrounding the election of an Anioma son, Chief Ralph Uwechue, as head of pan Igbo group, Ohaneze Ndigbo.

TON: Congratulations on your recent election as the National President of Anioma Association, USA. Kindly tell us a little bit about yourself?

Answer: Thank you very much. My name is Uche Honnah and I am from Idumuje Ugboko in Aniocha local government area of Delta State. I am based in Maryland and into real estate investor and appraiser. That is what I do for a living. I have a family which comprises of my wife, two sons and a daughter. One of my son is currently in Nigeria doing his national youth service. My other son is in India studying while my daughter lives here with me.

TON: What is your vision for the Anioma Association?

Answer: As the saying goes, everything starts locally. Before I joined the race for the national president of the association, I did notice that the association was not really progressive. They were not addressing the goals I felt should be address. They were enmeshed in infightings and were losing chapter members as a result. Some people came to me because they knew what I had done with another association called Aniocha progressive union. They felt I will be able to bring some purpose to Anioma national. I thought about it and decided to join the fray. Since I became the president we have been better focused. My goal is to unite our people here in the USA and I think we are making headway. I have travelled to a lot of chapters and spoken to members and I think we are beginning to see the fruits. I was in Nigeria last year to make our people aware of our present here. I spoke a lot of our leaders. Anioma leaders who are captains of industry and our political leaders. I spoke to Col Okwechime, I spoke to the president of Oganihu Anioma, Pat Utomi and other leaders. My goal is to concentrate on bringing economic benefit to our people by exposing to opportunities here in America and elsewhere. Bring people from Nigeria and America together so that we can benefit from interacting with one another. At the same time we want to project our culture. We are a people who are very proud of our culture. These are the things I want to do; regenerate our culture.

TON: How do you intend to actualize these lofty goals of projecting Anioma culture and economic empowerment for your people?

Answer: Let me take the economic part of it first. We have a lot of people in Nigeria who I believe needs to be plugged in the right channel. If you have ideas and you are not aware of people who can help you achieve them they don’t come to fruition. Next year I want to use the forum of Anioma World Economic Summit to bring politicians, captains of industry, - people who want to bring industry to our people because once you bring industry it creates jobs and it helps the development of the area. At the same time, there are people in America who want to sell their goods and services to other parts of the world and are looking for markets. So one of the things we have to do in the Anioma world economic summit is to link the buyers and sellers. We will also use the occasion to showcase Anioma culture and tradition to the world.

TON: How do you intend to reposition the association to become more relevant both in the United States and Nigeria?

Answer: Thank you. That is a very good question. The point is that previous leadership of the association was not able to look into the direction of making it a strong political force. When I was elected I decided there is a need to make Anioma association relevant in the body polity of Nigeria because no matter what we do we have to realize that we come from somewhere and we need to establish our presence there. One of the ways we intend doing it is by more media exposure, become more involved in local issues, raise issues relevant to Anioma people and hold our political leaders accountable. Work with our political leaders as partners. They will also hear from us whenever they go wrong. When do right we will praise them. I hope that they are there for the betterment of our people and part of that is to hold them accountable. We will shout it out when they do good and also shout it out when they do bad.

TON: if you look at similar organizations, they are not just a socio-cultural group but they are also political pressure group. Do you plan to steer the association towards this type of political advocacy back home?

Answer: As an organization, despite the fact that we realize the need to look out for our peoples interest are always are that we are a non-profit organization and there are pitfalls associated with it. So whatever we do, the paramount question is whether our elected officials are working in the interest of our people. So if there comes a time where we realize that our elected officials are not doing the right thing, despite the fact that we are not an all out political organization, we will weigh in on it and make our position known. I believe that one of our primary goals will be to speak up when things are going bad. So they will hear from us.

TON: There has being this lingering issue over the place of Anioma people within the Nigeria political and cultural space. While some see Anioma as Igbo and believes it should be a member of Ohaneze other are vehemently opposed to this idea saying that culturally and politically Anioma has a distinct identity and should remain so saying Anioma should build a strong group that will represent the people’s interest. What is your take on the matter as President of the association?

Answer: My position is based on facts. Facts based on history. One it is a fact that culturally we have a lot in common with the Benin kingdom. That is very obvious because if you look tradition, the succession of the Obiship it is same as in Benin. It is from father to son – hereditary. That is not the same across the Niger. Secondly the mandate for a new Obi or king in our area comes from Benin because of the cultural affinity we have with them. Also you look at the traditional titles such as Iyase; these are not Igbo words. What it alludes to is that there is a place we came from. When you look at places like Ebu and Obamkpa they have different language that’s not even Igbo. You go to Ndokwa area; you discover they don’t have any affinities with Igbo across the Niger. These are facts. So if you put the fact on the ground together, you can say yes we do speak a dialect of Igbo but we are not from across the Niger. What it then tell you is that we are a unique people. We are Anioma. That is what we are. But we have association with people across the Niger because we speak the same language. Whatever people want to interpret is as is left to them but the question you asked is who are we? We are Anioma. That’s what we are and that is indisputable.

TON: An Anioma so is currently president of Ohaneze and some are interpreting it to mean all Anioma are both Igbo and member of the group. Prominent Anioma people have publicly criticized Uwechue on this. As President of Anioma association in the USA what is your position on this?

Answer: First I will like to thank Ambassador Uwechue for his previous service to our people and the country. I believe I am not in a position to criticize him. He has seen fit to take up the position he has taken and why he did that obviously is up to him. But again, there are facts on the ground and the facts remains that we are Anioma people. I can give you an example; the fact that the Americans speak English does not mean they are English. But they speak English. But if an American decides that he or she wants to go and become the Prime Minister of England and the English allow him or her, that’s ok with me. That will not make all Americans English. So I wish Ambassador Uwechue all the best but that does not mean I am Igbo or that all Aniomas are Igbo because we are Anioma people.

TON: So you are in agreement with Col Mike Ukwechime who while reacting to Uwechue’s election as Ohaneze president said, “Anioma is by birth, Ohaneze is by association” meaning uwechue is free to associate with whomever he wants.

Answer: I think there is a lot of wisdom in that. Okwechime is right.

Photo courtesy of Times of Nigeria

Sunday, March 8, 2009

In Nicaragua: A poet's odyssey

By Obi Nwakanma

LATE last year, the Mexican poet, Lina Zeron as I understand, asked the organizers of the Nicaragua International Poetry Festival in Granada, to get me to read at this year’s event.I flew straight from a weekend of conferencing at the American Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Chicago to Houston, Texas, and from thence, on a three-hour flight to Managua, Nicaragua to read as a guest poet at the fifth Nicaragua International Poetry Festival from February 14-22, 2009.

As it happened I was on the same Continental Airline’s flight from Houston with some other poets on their way to Nicaragua, though I did not know it at the time: the Palestinian poet and playwright, Nathalie Handal, the American poet Janet MacAdams who teaches poetry at Kenyon College and has been involved with the prestigious Kenyon Reviews, and the intense and mercurial Uruguayan poet and professor at the Texas A & M University, Eduardo Espina, editor of the Hispanic Poetry Review whom I had met first in Medellin last year.

We were received at the airport in Managua by Maria Augusto Montealegre who took us to Granada from Managua that night. One of the most impressive features of Nicaragua is the sense of safety and calm. There was not an overwhelming sense of security; of policemen on the road or military roadblocks. This ease of life had a calming effect, and I could not help but notice it, I from a country, torn apart by violence and a massive situation of insecurity.

In many ways, Nicaragua reminded me of Nigeria: the landscape, even sometimes, the architecture, and the street advertisements. There is something almost very distinct about life here in Nicaragua which felt eerily familiar. In the first place, the calm and hospitality was of the kind of Nigeria in which I grew up in the 1970s; in which people had not been driven much by the fierce, deadly quest for survival. The air in fact felt very familiar.

I left snow drenched Chicago into a warm sunshine and a hot and humid space - a tropical land between two Lakes. Nicaragua indeed has two main lakes, the Lake Nicaragua and the Lake Managua, all of which are vast and spectacular. Modern Nicaraguan history is also defined, much like Nigeria by conflict. It is conflict that has roots also in occupation and colonization.

From Christopher Columbus’s exploration of what became known as the Mosquito Coast, to the Spanish conquests and the settlements by Gil Gonzalez Davila who established two of Nicaragua’s principal cities - Granada and Leon; to the wars with Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba who was later defeated and publicly beheaded on the orders of Pedrarias Davila.

The bloodtide of war swollen by conquest and resettlement has given Nicaragua its distinct political character, and its distinct political divide between the so called Liberals and the Conservatives, two faces of the mask of Nicaraguan politics and identity.

The liberal elite formed around the city of Leon, while Granada, the site of the International Poetry Festival was always the bastion of the conservative elite. It is an intricate history, and I have, like many of my peers, always associated Nicaragua with the Sandinistas and with the Iran-Contra scandal in America in the 1980s.

It was the fare of international news that shaped much of the discourse in Nigerian university Cafes and pubs of the 1980s, of what we knew in part as the character of the international revolutionary resistance.

The roots of the Sandinistas are also quite epic. They took their imaginative leap from the ancestral inspiration of the popular Nicaraguan revolutionary leader Augusto Cesar Sandino who led a rebellion against the United States whom he declared “the colossus of the north” and “enemy of our race!”- the Indo-Hispanic race of Mestisos and Mestizas. In a sense, Sandino was the first Bolivarian revolutionary, long before the Venezuelan Hugo Chavez.

Augusto Sandino grew to be a popular figure for many Latin Americans who felt the overbearing presence, intrusion, and weight of America, whose many interests were at the core of the exploitation of Nicaragua. Sandino guerrilla activities led to the withdrawal of the US Marines after the election of the puppet regime of Juan Bautista Sacasa, and the establishment of the National Guard in 1931.

Sandino was assassinated on the orders of Sacasa in 1934 in an ambush by Anastasio Somoza Garcia, who later deposed the puppet regime of Sacasa and established the Somoza dynasty that ruled Nicaragua until 1979 when the Sandinistas - the Sandinista National Liberation Front - founded by Carlos Fronsesca and Tomas Borge - inspired by the ideals of Sandino, led a rebellion against the Somoza dictatorship and overthrew it.

The fall of the Somozas began with the earthquake that destroyed Managua, the corruption of the Somoza regime, and the alienation of the national elite, including the conservative interests that once supported the regime. The final straw was the regime’s assassination of Pedro Chamorro the popular editor of the powerful newspaper, La Prensa, in January 1979 - much like the letter-bombing of Nigeria’s Dele Giwa in 1986.

There is much in Nicaraguan history that speaks very closely of the experience of Nigeria from 1966 to date right down to the making of local puppet regimes in Nigeria by powerful international interests.

One of the great legacies of the Sandinistas now led by Daniel Ortega, who have since been swept in and out of office, and in again, is the establishment of credible popular elections. True, many old supporters of Daniel Ortega now find grounds to oppose him, but there is without doubt a sense in Nicaragua of freedom and even dignity.

True, in his address of welcome to the poets, the president of the Festival, the poet Francisco de Asis Fernandez, urged participants to keep political chatter or talk out of the festival and keep it poetic, apparently to keep the intricate politics of Nicaragua at bay from the Poetry Festival.

It is still a poor country. But the streets are neat and well paved in Granada, this old, conservative colonial city with its Spanish colonial architecture. Granada is the oldest city in the Americas.

It is the quaint hybrid of the old and new, the mestisage of cultures from the East and West that have come to define its character and mood - a most befitting example being the Al Hambra Hotel by the city square and the Cathedral or Church of La Merced. There is much begging.

There is even a certain meanness to the poverty because of the clear difference between tourists and the inhabitants, yet there is a warmth to the character of the Nicaraguan that was welcoming. It was to these that we, about ninety poets from across the world arrived in Granada.

We stayed in various hotels in the cluster of the vibrant city centre, with its hotels, open air bars and restaurants, and its charm of a large village square.

I stayed at the Hotel La Peragola with some others including my friend the Ugandan poet Juliane Okot P’Bitek, the poet Obediah Smith from the Bahamas, Marko Pogacar from Croatia, Nicaragua’s Silvio Ambroggi, Marta Leon Gonzalez, poet and editor of the culture pages of La Prensa, and her friend, the Mexican poet Zyanya Mariana with whom I got quite close.

Indeed, Obediah (Obie) Smith quickly told me about meeting the Nigerian poet Odia Ofeimun in Cuba last year and being friends with Bolu Rosiji, as students in Tennessee in the 1970s.

This year’s festival is dedicated to the memory of the Nicaraguan poet Alfonso Cortes (1893-1969). It is usually a municipal event: poets read at street corners, at the municipal prisons, open public parks and public squares, galleries, old churches, disused monasteries, university auditorium and libraries.

It was exciting – the mingling of poets, spies, traders, mendicants, and tourists, in this intense space of performance, that saw major international poets from across the world, including Russia’s Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Italy’s Roberto Pasquali and Minarelli, Giaconda Belli and Blanca Castelon from Nicaragua, Frank Chipasula from Malawi, Max Rippon from Guadalupe, and so many more.

Indeed at the inauguration declared open by the Vice President of the Republic, I was given something of a star treatment, reading alongside the American poet Anne Waldman one of those who with Allen Ginsberg founded Naropa, and Nicaragua’s leading poet and former minister, Ernesto Cardenal, who had been nominated for the Nobel prize in 2005. It was an evening to silver buntings.

BOOK REVIEW: A Lady By Birth

How To Revive Nigeria's Dying Dream

By Anthony Akaeze

Alani Akinrinade, retired lieutenant general and former chief of army and defence staff, at a lecture in Osogbo, Osun State laments Nigeria’s wasted opportunities

There are times when the star event at an occasion suddenly turns out to be something different from what was earlier advertised, thereby taking the shine off the main issue. That was the situation in Osogbo, capital of Osun State, March 4. The occasion was the public presentation of a book titled A Lady By Birth, which is a biography of Betty Bakare, an accomplished banker, administrator and public servant who also hails from Osun State.

The atmosphere that day was one of conviviality and merriment, with hundreds of friends, well wishers and family members of the celebrant in a happy mood, because the event also coincided with the 70 birthday anniversary of Bakare.

But many people’s mien at the Women and Children Development Initiative Foundation Centre, WOTCLIF, venue of the book launch, soon began to give way for soul searching and sober reflection once Alani Akinrinade, a retired Lt General and indigene of the state, started presenting a paper entitled Taking Stock of Our Nation. It turned out to be a sad commentary on the state of affairs in Nigeria.

For a start, the retired army general, who was also chairman of the occasion, took time to praise Bakare, whom he had known for a long time. Describing her as a remarkable and formidable woman who has made stellar contributions to Nigeria’s national development, Akinrinade said the book, which chronicles the subject’s life from infancy to adulthood, is a permanent tribute to a woman who has achieved so much in her public career.

Then he delved into what could best be described as a treatise on Nigeria, taking a swipe at Nigeria’s successive leaders for the failure of leadership in the country, for their inability to turn around the fortunes of an unbelievably gifted nation like Nigeria.

In choosing to discuss Nigeria at such an auspicious occasion, Akinrinade informed the audience that “birthdays, particularly of senior citizens, are part of our political and social history” and therefore, “are our window to the past and door to the present.” That afforded the General the ‘licence’ to educate members of the audience about the promise Nigeria once held out, compared to now. “Our nationalists, who fought for the independence of this country, had big dreams for it and its people. They believed in their collective capacity to build a great, united and prosperous country that would truly be the giant of Africa. Forty nine years ago, that dream was almost tangible. We felt it and we could almost touch it,” recalled Akinrinade.

But he added that “the dream and the promises of independence,” soon “turned into a series of national misfortune for the country and its people,” leading to an arrested national development. “Our collective dreams were turned into our collective nightmares,” due to corruption, incompetence and moral bankruptcy. And so, “a country so richly blessed by God finds itself in a state of self induced confusion and apparent helplessness. Its leaders at all levels are thus unable to deploy its unbelievable human and natural endowments to serve the noble end of the common good.” He then asked: “Are we not embarrassed when we see our oil rich nation numbered among some of the poorest countries on earth? We should be embarrassed. We should be ashamed.”

For a proper analysis, the General traced Nigeria’s descent to its current state. Nigeria, he said, has seen a lot and been through a lot in nearly 49 years of independence. “We had nearly twenty-nine years of self styled corrective regimes that corrected and compounded some of our national ills and exacerbated others. Military rule came with the promise of a revolution. If it was a revolution, it was a failed one because it failed to make the nation rediscover itself as a country of laws and not a nation of political jobbers. The problem was that the military rulers pandered to the petty geopolitical, ethnic and religious interests. These interests are often at variance with the needs and interests of the nation.”

Although some people expected that the current democratic dispensation which began in 1999 would usher in a season of hope, growth and development, that, sadly has largely turned out to be a pipe dream as Akinrinade explained: “Some powerful individuals, the so-called political godfathers and their godsons are feeding fat on our collective misery. Ours is a democracy with a difference. Democracy is supposed to be a government of the people by the people and for the people. But ours is a government of the few by the few and for the few.” He said the antics of these political godfathers, godsons and their collaborators, are responsible for the electoral fraud that has characterised Nigeria’s elections in recent times. “The cynical subversion of the people’s will is comprehensive and common place. Two years after the conduct of the 2007 elections, which, so far, are the most disputed in the history of our country, the courts are still enmeshed in deciding who really won and who really lost. Those elections were roundly condemned for failing to meet the basic regional standards for free and fair elections. More than 1,500 suits were instituted to challenge the elections from presidential elections to the elections in the state houses of assembly. Nigeria should lead the rest of black Africa in its democratic journey. Is it not a matter of grave national shame that our country has lost its assumed position and now holds the candle to Ghana and other countries on the continent?,” asked Akinrinade.

Such sad state of things, in Nigeria, he continued, is the reason people like him cannot afford to keep quiet, for to do so would mean to resort to cold complicity: “One thing Nigeria cannot afford at this point in its life is to continue to live a lie. It is for this that some of us refuse to be silent when we see things going wrong. When we see no evil where is evil, hear no evil, where the voice of evil is loud and when we refuse to speak against evil in order to protect our individual, political, economic and other interests, we push our country towards the precipice. Wherever we are gathered and whatever might be the occasion, let us speak truth to power.”

For Nigeria to be great, Nigerians must pause at regular intervals to ponder the future of their country by telling themselves the bitter truth. Akinrinade called on President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to show courage and, among other things, reform the faulty political system that brought him to power. That will be the best way to kickstart Nigeria’s march to greatness, a move that first began with Nigeria’s founding fathers and their succeeding generation of which Bakare is a part of.

Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Osun State governor, who is the brother of Bakare, praised the woman’s qualities. Describing her as “my amiable and darling sister,” Oyinlola said the celebrant has experienced life in its various forms, leading to her reaching the milestone age of 70. “I congratulate Princess Betty Bakare. I’ve had the worthy opportunity of growing up with my sister. She’s an epitome of industry and selflessness…a loving, caring but no nonsense woman who does not suffer fools gladly, someone who dedicated her life to the service of humanity.”

He praised the authors of the book which, apart from shedding light on the hitherto unknown aspect of the subject's life, is the newest addition to the world of literature.

Lekan Ogunyemi, the book reviewer, praised the efforts of the four persons who authored the 150-page book. He said the book captures the “events and circumstances of a lady who can aptly be described as a personification of multiple factors,” and that the work would be “useful as a teaching and reference material by lecturers and practitioners in education, industry, politics, civil service, religion, judiciary and those that are genuinely committed to preventing our society from within and outside entering a state of moral and academic barrenness.”

Other dignitaries who attended the event are Olusola Obada, Osun State deputy governor, Ayo Otegbola, traditional rulers and top government officials from within and outside the state.

The book, which was written by Kayode Adedire, Sunday Odedele, Kayode Akinsola and Akinola Owolabi, was launched by Oyinlola, with the sum of one million naira.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: "Married to Africa"

Love and Marriage for an American Ex-Pat in Ghana

By Megan Harlan, San Francisco Chronicle.

G. Pascal Zachary's memoir 'Married to Africa' bridges his life as an American journalist with a Nigerian Igbo woman, his polar opposite.

"Love is an adventure," according to G. Pascal Zachary -- and, as it turns out, perhaps for him more than others.

Weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, Zachary, then a Berkeley-based foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, was offered a high-profile assignment to report on the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. He turned it down, instead making arrangements to return to Ghana -- and to a woman he'd met at the Accra Zoo, caring for an orphaned baby chimpanzee.

The two had dated for less than a month, but he couldn't stop thinking about her. On his last night in Accra, she'd wooed him with a dinner of roasted jungle rat and hired a glass eater and contortionist to perform for him on the beach. For them both, it was love.

Zachary, a frequent contributor to The Chronicle who's a technology columnist for the New York Times and a journalism professor at Stanford, here offers a vivacious, thoughtful, often gently humorous memoir of his relationship with and marriage to Chizo Okon, a Nigerian-born Igbo woman a generation younger than him, and, in many ways, his polar opposite.

Indeed, as Zachary tells it, their relationship represents a flash point between America and Africa, serving to symbolically underscore and occasionally bridge all manner of cultural and temperamental divides.

Take religion: Chizo is a devout Christian who also believes wholeheartedly in juju, the African spiritual belief system ("Never you joke with juju," she warns him). Zachary, by contrast, is a vocal atheist of Jewish and Italian background. Each seems to relish the impossible challenge of converting the other to his or her cosmic view.

The narrative skips back and forth across the duration of their relationship, opening with their wedding in 2003 at San Francisco's City Hall, both decked out in white Nigerian lace. Along the way, Zachary explores the universal mysteries of marriage, using the rather heightened and unusual elements of his own, while delving headlong into its complex racial components.

He does this most sharply in the chapters involving their families, extended and otherwise. For example, when the newlyweds move to Zachary's hometown of Berkeley, they live on the same property as his ex-wife (in a backyard cottage while a buyout of the main house is negotiated). This fact sends Chizo's mother, Edith, into a paranoid frenzy: She is convinced that the ex-wife will poison Chizo, and solicits her church congregation in Nigeria to pray for Chizo's protection. Zachary spends many hours on the phone trying to reassure both Edith and her pastor.

No poisoning occurs, though, in a misunderstanding over what constitutes "trimming," after Chizo takes a machete to Zachary's ex-wife's garden. Peace is restored through many helpings of Chizo's homemade pepper soup.

Chizo was born in 1971 to a family so impoverished that even a war reporter like Zachary admits to being shocked by her parents' living conditions (they raised 10 children in one room with no running water). He, by contrast, was born in middle-class Flatbush, Brooklyn, in the 1950s.

Despite her humble beginnings, Chizo is a lightning-quick study, possessing great optimism and confidence. Zachary, meanwhile, reveals himself to be a sensitive soul: Many scenes depicted here - ranging from their watching TV clips of Martin Luther King Jr., to their visiting a former African slave fort - end with tears streaming down his face, while Chizo admonishes him, in so many words, to pull it together.

In a chapter called "Jew Meets Juju," emotions and racial tensions run highest. Here Zachary admits to feeling "abject terror" when he brings Chizo to visit his widowed, elderly Jewish mother (whose name he never mentions) at her gated community in Delray Beach, Fla. And with good cause: His mother doesn't want them staying in her house, lest the neighbors realize that her son is married to an African woman. Zachary is furious with his mother's racism; Chizo, not the slightest, at least not outwardly. Pragmatic and unflappable, Chizo draws out her mother-in-law by respectfully discussing the elderly woman's need for a romantic life, wins her apologies and an invitation to stay, and brings the battling mother and son closer together.

Not every story has such a happy ending, and Zachary's background as a reporter serves him well. He raises insightful questions, but doesn't force the answers. For example, he observes that Chizo "never imagines her blackness as a handicap, but neither does she look beyond color." He wonders: Does his own attraction to Chizo involve color, culture or both? How can anyone look beyond the color he is attracted to?

If he doesn't solve, as he puts it, "the riddle of my romance with Chizo," that seems to be the point: "There are no certainties in marriage," he writes, "across racial and geographic lines or within them." Living with that uncertainty, even embracing it, is the real adventure story here.

INTERVIEW: Why Aro must pay for their slavery activities, by UNN scholar

By Uduma Kalu

At the recent First World Conference on Igbo History, Culture and Civilization, prelude to the 2009 Ahiajioku Lecture delivered in Owerri, Imo State, by Prof. Chinua Achebe, Dr. Nwankwo Tony Nwaezeigwe, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, asked that the Aro people of the Igbo pay reparation for their slavery activities. In this interview with UDUMA KALU, the academic explains further why he mounted the campaign.


Is your call that Aro pay reparation for slavery not a way to sabotage black people’s agitation that Europe and America pay reparation for slavery?

This is not correct. My call will rather strengthen the agitation than sabotage it. This is because it is a call that looks at the historical reality of the situation. The European slave traders only anchored at the high sea and never entered the hinter land.

This is their case. What about those who brought the slaves to them from the hinterland, should they be exonerated? I believe that the man who sold his kinsman to a foreigner stands to be condemned more than the foreigner, because if the former had not presented his kinsman for sell, probably the foreigner shouldn’t have bought him.

This is the trust of my call. And I believe by this call, the Europeans will then realize that the call for reparation is not based against them.

Who will the Aro pay the reparation since it was not only the Igbo they enslaved?

Aro slaving activities were markedly centred in the Igbo hinterland and these areas are well known. Any other ethnic group inclusive of Aro slavery activities is only incidental and therefore highly infinitessional to their devastating effects on the soul and land of Igbo people. The reparation should therefore be paid to the Igbo nation, particularly those communities the Aro boisterously claim to have lorded over.

How much do you think Aro should pay?

This is a matter left for international assessors to determine.

What did Aro benefit from slavery?

It is like asking what the Europeans equally benefitted from slavery. Definitely, the Aro gained what the Europeans gained from the trade. Of cause, wealth and land. The Aro made money from the trade and were adduced to be a wealthy class according to the standards of the time. They also seized and occupied people’s lands, like the case of Akpu and Ajalli in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State.

What about the Ohafia, Abam, Edda, Abiriba war leaders?

The Ohafia, Abam, Edda, Abiriba including the Item and other such head-hunting sub-groups were never slave traders like the Aro.

Their role was rather that of seizing the opportunity of Aro slaving activities to advance their generic head-hunting culture.

In fact, these people were not Aro mercenaries as some writers have claimed, because they were not primarily propelled into going to war by what the Aro would pay them, rather it was the desire for advance in their socio-political status, which required the cutting of human head. A mercenary is one whose primary intention of going to a war which does not concern him is propelled by a payment both in cash and kind.

Won’t your revisitation of the past open forgotten wounds?

Definitely not. Rather it will heal. It is especially the one like the Aro case which has refused to be healed. The past must be remembered for the primary purpose of correcting the mistakes of the same past for the benefit of the present and the future.

As the Igbo would normally say, “any person who does not know where the rain starts to beat him, will never know where it stops to beat him”. In fact, it is the Aro that are opening old wounds by holding their heads up as a special people whose ancestors enslaved the whole Igboland.

How much did the slavery affect the Igbo as people and nation?

When you look at the standards such Igbo ex-slaves as Olaudah Equiano, Col. (Dr. ) James Beale Horton and Reverend Taylor – the Anglican Missionary to Igbo land attained even under that inhuman condition, at that period, then it becomes difficult to either qualify or quantify what the Igbo lost as a people and nation through slavery and slave trade.

Do you think your call will achieve Igbo unity?

Of cause yes. Presently the Igbo have no genuine unity. What we have now is a stereotyped unity in which clannish and not Igbo national interests hold sway, like the case of the Aro wearing dual personality within the comity of Igbo sub-culture groups.

Is there a platform for this campaign?

This is only the result of a research carried out by a Research Fellow from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which is followed with a recommendation. It is therefore left to the Igbo nation to determine if the recommendation will be a subject of campaign or not.

Do you think the enslaved Africans now nationals of their various places in the west will agree with you?

I think so, because a lot of them have often erroneously accused every Continental Black African as an accomplice in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Now that the real culprits are being identified, I think they will be even more supportive of the recommendation.

Are you not too hard on the Aro? Even Mbadiwe, Mbonu Ojike?

Our people normally say that truth is bitter. Definitely, for any truth to be bitter, it must be hard. I am therefore only saying the bitter truth which must be hard, and even too hard if those concerned are hard people like Dr. K. O. Mbadiwe and Mazi Mbonu Ojike.

If the Aro show remorse, will you be satisfied?

The matter in question is not a personal concern. It is left to the Igbo nation to decide.

Well, there are many good Aro such Chukwuemeka Ike and your professor?

Well, in like manner there are many good Americans and Europeans like Abraham Lincoln, and William Wilberforce. But the point here is, is their so called goodness enough to now declare that the European slave traders and their American slave holders are innocent of the crimes of slavery and slave trade? Definitely not.

Both Professors Chukwuemeka Ike and James Ijoma reaped profoundly from the primordial juicy benefits of slave trade through their Aro ancestry and therefore cannot now be separated from the rest of Aro because of their so-called goodness. The issue in question concerns a sub-culture group called the Aro, and not individual Aro personalities, like Professors Ike and Ijoma.

You accuse Aro of claiming Ibibio origin but even the Ibibio claim Igbo origin

Linguistically, the Ibibio including the Anang, Efik and Oron belong to the semi-Bantu group, while the Igbo belong to the Kwa group. In other words, it is historically more plausible to say that the Idoma, Edo, Igala, Igbira, Yoruba and a number of the Northern Cross River small language groups claim Igbo origins since being of the same kwa family, than the Ibibio.

Historically, there is no doubt that a number of cross-border migrations occurred between the Igbo and Ibibio over time in the past, like the case of the Aro, leading to some settlements of Igbo origins in Ibibio land, and vice-versa; that definitely does not mean a whole group originating from the other.

Aro Undermined Igbo

Written by Nwankwo Tony Nwaezeigwe

I read with profound sympathy the spineless tirades of one Orji Ogbonnaya Orji who styles himself a public affairs analyst but who from his clannish pedigree as a member of the National Executive Council of Nzuko Arochukwu is better described as a local affairs analyst.

From all indications, and more especially arising from the intellectually and historically disjointed analysis in his reply to my paper, which was presented at the First World Conference on Igbo History, Culture and Civilization, held at Owerri from 19 - 22 January 2009 and which preceded the 2009 Ahiajoku Lecture by Professor Chinua Achebe, it is obvious that Orji Ogbonnaya Orji is threading on an unfamiliar intellectual ground. This is further betrayed by his despicable attack on my person, not minding the fact that the subject matter is intellectual.

Ordinarily, I should have chosen to ignore the likes of Orji Ogbonnaya Orji for the mere reason that they lack the required professional and intellectual stature to engage on such important historical discourse. But for the sake of avoiding the triumph of intellectual mediocrity founded on infantile historical fabrications, the need therefore arises for a rebuttal.

I believe that the Aro sub-cultural group of Igboland have better qualified intellectual and historical gladiators to write on the issue of Aro inhumanity to Igboland with an air of possible intellectual finality, than the intellectual minion called Orji Ogbonnaya Orji. Such historians as Professors S. C. Ukpabi, a military historian, and James Okoro Ijoma, the present official historian of the Aro sub-culture group and who incidentally was both my teacher and Master’s Degree dissertation supervisor at the Department of history and International Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, I believe, are better placed to respond to my paper if at all they have any contrary opinion.

Questioning my pedigree in this case is therefore out of place since both Professors of history of Aro extraction are quite aware that I possess the intellectual pedigree to defend the facts with an air of historical finality. And this was the major reason why I was invited to the Owerri intellectual harvest of Igbo history, culture and civilization.

Agreed, as Orji Ogbonnaya Orji aptly stated: that one of the major objectives of the Ahiajoku Lecture is to “shop for ideas and evolve strategies to deal with Igbo questions in the contemporary Nigerian society.” But the basic question which he failed to answer is, can the Igbo national question ever be answered without a critical re-examination of the past? The fact remains that just as the carpenter pulls the hammer backwards to effectively drive the nail into the wood, so every nation in order to effectively advance, must look back to its past.

The Igbo therefore must look back to their past in order to make meaningful strides in national development. And being that the Igbo like every other people have their pasts dotted with dark and glorious eras, it will be an act of intellectual dishonesty for any scholar, more importantly a historian to treat one era at the expense of the other, just because a particular sub-culture group which parades larger than size image is involved. .

It is evident from his shaky analysis of facts that Orji Ogbonnaya Orji did not have comprehensive access to my paper, which was entitled Questioning the Hegemonic Roles and Cultural Conceptions of the Nri and Aro in the Context of Igbo origins, Culture and Cultivation.

Describing the slave trade therefore as falling within the era of European colonialism is to say the least a crass exhibition of his psychic intellectual debility.

The historical fact which Orji Ogbonnaya Orji did not deny is that the Aro were principal partners in the enslavement of Igbo people. Searching for the statistics of the number of the people sold into slavery is therefore not an important issue. Agreed that the Aro might not have been the only sub-culture group that engaged in the slave trade, but the fact that it s only the Aro in the whole Nigeria that glorifies their past roles in the satanic trade today as a form of hegemonic culture calls for some critical moral questions. And that is what I did by my paper.

I do not know how Orji Ogbonnaya Orji expect me to describe a people whose ancestors ravaged the length and breadth of Igboland carting away millions of productive Igbo citizens into slavery; or a people whose ancestors introduced the culture of local Advance Fee-Fraud (419) into Igboland, through the use of their notorious Long Juju (Ubinu Ukpabi) to deceive, coerce, extort and enslave innocent Igbo citizens.

Worst still is that the present descendants of the Aro slave traders have not exhibited an iota of remorse for the sin of their forefathers. Instead one sees them priding themselves as a special breed of the Igbo nation. Whereas, from all every historical evidence they are certainly not.

Orji Ogbonnaya Orji’s claim that the Aro were already engaged in legitimate trade before the emergence of slave trade is a watery face-saving defense that cannot find a space in the basketful of historical evidence.

If Orji Ogbonnaya Orji does not know, Arochukwu was founded about 1690 AD, following a revolt of a group of Igbo slaves against their Ibibio masters with the aid of Akpa mercenaries from the Upper Cross River region. In other words, the business of slave trade had existed more than one hundred years before the town of Arochukwu was founded. So, at what point in history did the Aro engage in legitimate trade?

The conclusion of the matter is that the Aro were guilty of involvement in the evil and dehumanizing trade. The moral question, before historians and humanitarians now is, is it justified for Black Africa to demand reparations from Europe for their engagement in slave trade without first holding their local Black African collaborators like the Aro responsible?

That the Aro should pay reparation to the Igbo nation for their engagement in slavery and slave trade cannot therefore be wished away. Orji Ogbonnaya Orji failed, in the light of available historical evidence to explain why this assertion is, in his words, “quite incorrect, unfair comment, rude, selfish, flimsy and exuberant conclusion”.

All he needs to know is that history is all about facts built on incontrovertible evidence, and not on infantile and reckless use of unfixable adjectives. Orji Ogbonnaya Orji has proved by his inconsequential defence of his people’s inglorious past that he is only an intellectual puppy in the terrain of historical studies.

The tragedy of Orji Ogbonnaya Orji’s intellectual debacle is further hastened by his fruitless effort to seek refuge in what in actual fact is the farcical roles of the Aro in contemporary politics in Nigeria. Hear him; “In politics many Aros were in the forefront during the struggle for Nigeria’s independence. They include but not limited to Mbonu Ojike, Dr. K. O. Mbadiwe, S.G. Ikoku etc’.

Well, what Orji Ogbonnaya Orji failed to know is that, whatever roles the Aro might have played in contemporary Nigerian politics were overridden by their negative roles as the leaking-pots of Igbo identity,
solidarity and struggle for collective emancipation from the crucible of ethnic politics in Nigeria.

The mere mention of Ohuabunwa’s appointment as Chairman of Nigeria’s Economic Summit shows that Orji Ogbonnaya Orji has lost his intellectual steam. What significant economic policy has so far been credited to Ohuabunwa’s Chairmanship of the Council? Is he the highest ranking Igbo in-charge of economic matters in the present Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?

But if one may ask Orji Ogbonnaya Orji, what relevance has the above names in the issue under debate? Does the mere mention of their roles in contemporary Nigeria obliterate the fact that the Aro should pay reparations to the Igbo? Is this not a case of the drowning man seeking to hold on any floating object to save himself?

From the foregoing, it is evident that the Aro, even in contemporary times, like their ancestors of old, have not in any manner contributed to the positive development of the Igbo in terms of collective ethnic consciousness, unity and political advancements. Rather, Aro roles have been those of half-Igbo, half-Ibibio; their original ancestors.

Like Presidents Obama, and against Orji Ogbonnaya Orji’s belated opinion, the only panacea to Igbo national problem is a return to even their deepest past in order to drive with a strong force to the future. Obama looked back to his past and so never denied his Kenyan ancestry and he won. The Igbo cannot therefore be denied of this veritable intellectual instrument just because a group called the Aro are involved.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The unemployment bomb

By Obi Nwakanma

JUST last week, the federal government released the unemployment figure in Nigeria. The Bureau of Statistics, not always on the mark in these matters, has to indeed confirm that a whopping 40 million Nigerians are unemployed.
This is a startling number by any standards. It means that we have over 65 per cent unemployment rate among employable Nigerians. This figure has national security implications. Let us consider the old cliché about the devil’s workshop and the idle hand, and we may not look too far in sensing the incipient catastrophe that threatens this nation with that many hungry and angry people on the loose and in the margins.

For many years, our kinship and extended family systems had borne the brunt and the weight of our social crisis, providing the basic social security safety nets that have largely cushioned and prevented the violent rupture that should naturally come with this level of economic insecurity. But increasingly the severe weight of the problem is also weakening the once solid foundations of the kinship system and the extended family traditions that were once the vital recourse of people largely unprotected and ignored by the formal system of governance.

As our societies grow more complex, such basic, some might even say primordial forms of social security will definitely, increasingly become insufficient in dealing with the complexity of social belonging.

Of the most significant indications of the absence and increasing irrelevance of government in the lives of Nigerians, the most fundamental is in its inability to create a systematized means of social security: there is no unemployment benefit, no disability benefits, no access to credit for those who might in fact wish to explore private entrepreneurial alternatives; no well organized small business initiatives, no social welfare scheme, and so on and so forth to stem the direst consequence of social disorder, the result of increasing anger, alienation, and distrust of one’s own nation.

Forty million unemployed Nigerians is, let me repeat it, a national security threat. I will illustrate my claim by telling the story of Chima X. He grew up a typical Nigerian lad. He was raised in a small town in the Eastern Nigeria, full of dreams and hopes of a good life: a good job, nothing extraordinary, just work that would place food on the table, pay enough to secure a decent apartment in the city, a nice little car, and in good time a small family - marriage to nice girl with whom he would raise nice little kids, whom he would send to nice little schools.

He would have enough for his social commitments and civic responsibility: pay his dues to his town union, and make the yearly contribution to the community fund. Make his donations - just his widow’s mite - during the yearly town union launches at Christmas. Basically earn his dues and the ungrudging respect of his peers through fulfilling his social roles.

His dreams were that simple. Nothing earth shaking. He did not want to be a millionaire, or to be president of Nigeria. Just like a typical Igbo man, he would be content to be the lord of his own small domain - his house, beyond which threshold, he becomes a rightful agnate, with others, to the land.

That is, he simply wanted to be a true citizen: free and content, and with no big debts to pay. His provenances were simple and straight forward. Nothing special. Both his parents were educators, and taught in high schools. They had lived frugally and with apparent contentment, and provided Chima X and his siblings with basic, good education.

They had not much store, but they earned social capital as fine educators, those whose services, though not always now publicly acknowledged, had been pillars of their communities where they once earned respect as teachers, in an era when the teacher was the moral compass of communities in the East. They pinned a lot of hope on their children having an even better life than they had, and continuing the tradition of fine community service, and of bringing more social improvement and progress to their ancestral town.

They did not expect them to make a life, as they themselves did in their ancestral town, but to range farther afield as they may wish, but always touch base with home, even as they contributed to whatever society among whom they lived. It was a simple dream by parents who themselves had nothing much else but hope and prayers, after educating their children, to offer. Well, Chima X goes to the university, and graduates with a good second class degree in chemistry.

He does national service in some rural location in Ondo, and discovers that there is indeed much to be done if his country were to move, given its enormous resources and potentials, to walk at least among the company of medium industrial powers like Brazil, India, Korea, and such people with whom Nigeria had once been classified. He had the dream of all young people.

To be part of a transforming work force. To be, as the surrealist Congolese poet Felix Tchicaya U’Tamsi would say, “a pagan in the pagan renewal of the world.” In essence, to be acutely present in the social and economic transformation and regeneration of Nigeria. He was a good chemist.

A man of ideas. A believer in Nigeria; even “detribalized.” Six years after national service he was still in Lagos where he was busy looking for a job. Indeed he had come to Lagos, that melting pot of nation like most of his friends after national service, looking for jobs and opportunities, and applying for occasional openings listed in the classified sections of the newspapers.

The economic policies of the Buhari and the Babangida regimes that destroyed the manufacturing, industrial and commercial capacity of cities like Aba and Onitsha, had led towards evisceration and massive emigration of capital and labor to places like Lagos which prospered through deliberate banking and custom policies that rendered other places sterile. So Chima X came to Lagos. He soon found that Lagos was not an ordinary melting pot, it was a toxic cauldron: a haven for sharpers, smugglers, gun runners, and many who lived big on illusion.

Chima X was however lucky: he had found accommodation in the home of an old buddy, who had not, it soon came to seem, made the mistake of going to the university, but had come to Lagos as soon as they finished secondary school, and found a little niche for himself after some hard apprenticeship as a wharf rat at Apapa.

He lived on wharf ratting. He made good dough fronting for corrupt custom officials who wanted to dispose hot items through the under ground. It was thanks to his magnanimous soul that Chima X could live in Iyana-Ipaja. He also gave him occasional transport money to pound the streets of Lagos.

He pounded that street literally and metaphorically until the streets of Lagos echoed back to him. Nobody seemed in any urgent need of a chemist. He sought employment in every government agency; even in a private school that paid peanuts. He soon grew despondent until one day, he ran into another old buddy from the university. A chemist too.

But he was looking sharp and well fed unlike many chemists we know. He said he was a manufacturer’s agent. But that was not all the story as Chima X came to find. His old buddy had found a lucrative job passing old Soviet era munitions to whoever needed it across the borders of West Africa.

There was much arms floating around in West Africa from the wars in Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, Sierra-Leone, and any enterprising young man could make something of himself mopping it up.

There was also the international connection with the old Soviet era commandos, and former South African crack commandos who had become mercenaries, recruiting and training, and supplying arms for troubled spots on the coast of West Africa.

Nigeria’s Niger delta is one lucrative spot. The rich Gulf of Guinea has since become a mercenary’s haven. Chima X, trained chemist, could find his own niche. And so did he. The last time we heard, he was busy crossing the borders of West Africa, a manufacturer’s agent for incendiaries.

Anybody who thinks this fictional scenario an impossibility should look closer. The attempts to overthrow the government of the small, oil rich Equatorial Guinea two weeks ago by non-state actors with their staging posts in Nigeria, is a flash light on the potentials for the massive recruitment of available, well trained human resources by states or even non state interests.

The recruits need not indeed be angry, they just have to be hungry and without the distraction of fulfilling work. It is up to the government of Nigeria to defuse this unemployment bomb. The alternative will not be pretty.

Interview: African Magic has done great harm to Nollywood—Clarion Chukwurah

By Carol Arhere
Clarion Chukwurah is one of the known faces in the Nigerian movie industry, Clarion as popularly called has been in the industry for about three decades now. In this interview, the Anambra State born talented actress shares her views about the industry, the reason why the industry is still where it is at the moment, and what can be done to salvage the situation. Apart from acting, Clarion also runs a Charity organization (Clarion Chukwurah’s Initiative), which she also talks about. Excerpt:

CAN you give us brief introduction about your self?

My name is Clarion Chukwurah, a professional actress and by God’s grace, October this year, I will be thirty years in the industry. I started acting when I was very young say, between the ages of fourteen and fifteen. I was an armature actress but twenty eight years after, I became a semi- professional actress and five years into it, I became a professional actress. I’m a graduate of Dramatic Arts from the University of Ife. I have travelling theatre experience also, professional theatre workshop experience and other professional experiences. I began my acting from the stage, I went to television and from television, I went into cinematic films and from cinematic films, I went back to television and from there to home video.

How did you get into acting?

Well, I began acting by hanging around the theatre at the University of Ibadan. It was there I was spotted by Prof. Bode Showande, who was then a doctor and senior lecturer at the university's department of theatre. I began acting with Odun teams and from the Odun teams I moved to the University of Ibadan performing company, a semi professional theatre company. So from there I went to the University of Ife to study theatre arts. While I was at the university, I did my first film. After my graduation I got into my first soap opera a television production, Mirror in the Sun and from then on, it has been one break after the other.

Can you recall the particular movie or soap opera that brought you into limelight?

Clarion ChukwuraThe first break was Ola Balogun’s film, Money Power, it was shot and released when I was still an undergraduate of dramatic arts at then the University of Ife now the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife. My second break was Mirror in the Sun, the first and the biggest soap opera series which made me a house-hold name.

How has it been?

It’s been a growing industry... the first ten years of my career was really high, but after ten years it has been a gradual downward process especially in the last five years due to the fact that un-professionalism has taken hold of the movie industry. Unprofessionalism in all spheres of the industry and secondly, African Magic has done a great harm to the industry. For instance, there is no where in the world where institutions like DSTV, M-net, Africa Magic take over intellectual properties like they do with Nollywood movies. The one thousand dollars they pay was to show the movie once, and not over and over, if they are to show that movie again, they are supposed to pay another one thousand dollars which is the lease showing agreement.

So what is the way forward?

The only hope the industry has right now is that the director-general of the Nigerian Films and Video Censors Board should liaise with Nigerian Broadcasting Commission and bring the demise of Nollywoood to a halt via African Magic. Secondly, they have to sit down and look at the contract under which African Magic is procuring Nigerian movies. The contract has to move from buying to leasing and the one thousand dollars they are paying has to be for one single showing. Nollywood as it is, would not last ten years with African Magic. Nollywood is dead, what is on the rise at the moment is the Nigerian Yoruba movie industry which sales are on the rise because African Magic doesn’t show their movies like they do with English movies.

So to salvage the situation, the censors board has to align with NBC to put a check on African Magic. Also, the dramatic content on television has to increase, while sponsorship on dramatic content on television has to increase because the Nollywoood we have today was borne from the dramatic content on television from the mid 1980s to early 90s. Now that Nollywoood is down, it needs a rebirth and that rebirth can come from television again. New television programmes like new soap opera, new television drama, series should be welcomed. Our television has to wake up again through the helps of banks, the oil companies and other corporate bodies.

Let’s digress a little. How do you fit into different roles with different character?

I’m a method actress, I have a method and my method is borne from interpretational psychology. I mean, in characterization, I give that character a background and life. I look at the character beyond the script because what you are today, is the accumulation of your past and your present. So, it’s a psychological thing, I build my character on my human psychology

High moment?

I have had number of high moments. I started having high moments right from the beginning from my first big play, Farewell to Babylon in 1979 and my next big moment was when I went on national theatre stage in 1980 and also in 1982 when I went on the national theatre stage again to act in Wole Soyinka, Camwood on the Leaves. There were also high moments for me when I took parts in Ola Balogun’s Money Power, The King must dance Naked and Mirror in the Sun.

Dull moment?

A lot too, when things are not working the way I want them. Also my dull moment comes when I’m working with people who don’t understand the concept of professionalism, the concept of story treatment which honestly has contributed to the fall of Nollywood.

How would you describe your kind of person in one word?

I will say I’m a peculiar person, unpredictable and full of drive to win.

If you have the opportunity to change anything about you, what will that be?

Not being a Nigerian, I will not choose to be a Nigerian because Nigerians celebrate mediocrity. They don’t believe in what they can offer but what they can borrow.

Apart from acting, what else do you do?

I have a company that I run, acting is my profession, that makes me whom I am. I also have a charity organization, Clarion Chukurah Initiative. The Clarion Chukwurah initiative has one single objective: to use Clarion Chukwurah celebrity status and good will to raise support for the less privileged in society. I have members in Nigeria, I have members in the United Kingdom and United States of America.