By Chijioke Ngobili

In Africa and particularly, Nigeria, gathering to make deliberations on “The way forward” can never be found an uncommon exercise. If a library is opened to take stock and record of all “The way forward” exercises engaged in by Africans and for Africans, I believe the library will be filled up before the stock-taking itself expires. The greatest problem facing Africans and the Black race is: The consistent inability to translate the deliberated “way forward” to what I call “the way onward”.

Ndi Igbo are Africans as much as they are Nigerians. They are Black Africans as much as they are part of the Black Race elsewhere in the world. As part of these continental and racial groups, we cannot claim not to share in the above mentioned problem – even if we are a lot better than others. Extensively, this means: We, ndi Igbo, have great ideas, skills, force, and everything great; yet these “greats” have only manifested little in our advancement as a people, nation and ethnicity in the last 40 years. Does it mean we have not been making efforts? No, we have! Does it mean we have not been progressive in the ideologies and philosophies that bind both our contemporary and traditional lives as a people? No, we are one of the most progressive-minded groups in Nigeria and around the world. Are there not our sons and daughters in some strategic positions elsewhere in the world who display great skills and distinguish themselves? Of course, there are! Have all that and others unmentioned really taken us far and forward as we may desire and in comparison to other advanced groups of the world we aim to be like? No, they have not. Now, the next natural question to this will be: “Then, why?”

Then, Why?
The question “why” always tells about a reason or cause of effects, and that implies what happened before (past) that brought about the present, and is feared to determine the future as well. Intellectuals call it “history”. Evidently, it is necessary that I review a few of the contemporary historical highlights that formed the obtained problems in our recent past, and which help (helped) to shape/reshape/misshape what we have as the present, as to determine what could possibly be obtained in the future we dub: “The Way Forward”.

The Media/War Factor:
The Lagos/Ibadan Media Mafia has, in the last 40 years, steeped deep in re-engineering and re-tooling of the mind of the contemporary Igbo person to be against and suspicious of his fellow Igbo. The Mafia knew what it wants and knew the right time to execute its motives; which are to present Ndi Igbo in a bad light to others and to entrench hate amongst the Igbo people as to keep them pitching against themselves. That right time was just after we were fresh from the Nigeria-Biafra civil war and torn apart by the ravages of it. A critical study of the Lagos/Ibadan axis newspapers from the end of the war till now will reveal this to a discerning mind.
At the consummation of that war in 1970, so many Igbo people, as we know, were weakened economically by the different policies aimed at emasculating us – policies like: the Indigenization and 20 Pounds. Consequently, poverty and wretchedness enveloped us and the only way left was to survive by any available means. In There Was A Country, the author, Chinua Achebe mentioned that vices exploded alongside various degrees of insanity just at the end of that war. Everyone wanted to survive and live and it did not matter if one survived on eating the flesh of another. Of course, when such things explode, it is always impossible not to have them escalate to a very disturbing degree. Naturally, when people are consumed by an ‘on-your-own’ survivalistic struggle to find what to eat, every other aspect of human growth and development is left aside for just the filling of the belly. Education – and I am specific on ‘Indigenous Education’ – will suffer in the attention given to it and it did. Language, tradition, morality, culture will suffer too, and the result will be a reduction in the totality of our humanity. And all that happened. The news making rounds were: “Ndi Igbo are never united and never will be”; “Ndi Igbo are too individualistic and so, will never have a common front at the national levels”; “Ndi Igbo hate themselves naturally”, etc. All these were paraded around by people who were and have remained threatened by the force of our unity with which we fought them during the war. Unfortunately, the many gullible ones amongst us were caught by this doctrine coupled with the vices perpetrated by some inelegant elements amongst us. Those gullible ones obliviously helped the Igbo enemies greatly in achieving their aims by fostering and promoting these beliefs which often, are over-hyped and over-flogged. Almost 40 years after, we are beginning to realize this damage just when we have repositioned and recovered economically in our individual strides. An average and contemporary Igbo person who is well-informed is aware of a Media war continuing against us which aims at disorganizing us inter-ethnically and intra-ethnically.

Christian Religion factor:
While this does not seek to undervalue the great help of Christianity, especially the Catholic and Anglican which are most pre-dominant in Igbo land in rehabilitating our people after the war, we must also realize that they, inadvertently, failed in providing the indigenous education that would have enabled our advancement as Ndi Igbo. While they taught everything about the Western education and civilization in the last 40 years, they did not consider it serious to educate us on what it means to be Igbo: The Igbo language, integration, history, tradition, culture and strides. It was all about Western education and very little of the areas I just mentioned. Again, I do not claim that the Western education and civilization did not help in advancing Ndi Igbo by enabling them occupy (or reoccupy) the positions of power and influence they do today around the world. I only protest the so much concentration on it which helped to de-concentrate or even devalue the knowledge of who and what we are as Igbo people and nation. I still insist, like I have always told anyone who cared, that the entrenchment of the custom of baptizing our children with English (saintly) names affected our psychic disposition towards our real Igbo names. Whenever you mention this, many Igbo persons are ever out to protest it as they feel it affects their religious sensibilities. They will bring up protest questions like: “So, why are you writing and communicating in English?”, “Why do you dress in shirts and gowns instead of tying ‘obi akwa’?”, “Why using cars in transportation instead of trekking by foot?” These and many more are always the funny retorts you get when you question that status-quo. They forget that there is something sinister in a religion which compels you to adopt a “foreign name” of a certain “saint” so that you will remain closer to God, even when you have a language given by God from which you can coin thousands of names with different meanings. They forget that over time, some of us will go to the extent of making these English names our surnames, especially in our children as we can see happening today where some Igbo kids are identified as “Peter John”; “John” being his dad’s name and “Peter” being his baptismal or first name. About 95% of Niger Delta people are all bearing English names as first, middle and surnames, courtesy and partly because of this same reason. And that is why it is difficult to know their tribes with such names. Consequently, we lump them up as “South-south people” which is merely an appendage for the distribution of political and democratic dividends. Ndi Igbo are far too big for such appellation and approximation in their nominal identity, and the preservation of our identity lies in understanding the effect of such Christian/baptismal/saintly names imperialism as innocent as it may seem.

The Forced Mass Migration to the West:

At the dawn of the 80s – just nearly 20 years after the war – till this day, many of Ndi Igbo migrated to Europe and America in search of greener pastures and better opportunities. The craze of “obodo oyibo” was no rifer than in the 90s and early 2000s with the increasing favourable chances enabled by visa applications. Many of our communities competed amongst themselves who had more sons and daughters in “obodo oyibo”. It was a very good news to hear that one has left for obodo oyibo/ala bekee. Everything obodo oyibo was more impressive, superior and preferable to anything Igbo. Gradually and unknowingly, something negative was happening on our collective psyche and would later manifest in years to come. It is not like this anomaly has not been there but it was more a bred-in-the-bone thing within this time than ever. Of course, the ravaging effects of the war which ended only two decades ago by then, and the rabid military dictatorship that brought the Nigerian economy to its knees necessitated all that. Young Igbo men and women leaving Nigeria then were made up in the mind to raise the kids they will beget strictly by English language and obodo oyibo standards if that would make them stay connected to good life and material affluence. And they did and we can see such effects now in many of their kids between the ages of 6 – 23 who cannot be believed to be Igbo except for the Igbo names or surnames they bear.

What To Do
A closer look at the above mentioned problems will get one see how they are all narrowed down to – in few words – “assimilation, absorption and perception in the mind of the Igbo”. To address any case of the mind that is not insanity, no other rehabilitation is better than reorientation through a re-education. I will never stop seeking a “re-education” for the younger Ndi Igbo using our indigenous educational materials and resources alongside that of the West as the first way forward and onward.

Igbo Studies
How many Igbo kids and young adults born from 1980-2000 can give an intelligent answer to this: “What does it mean to be Onye Igbo?” Definitely, very few can. Like we say: “Onye na-amaro ebe mmili si maba ya, a gaghi a ma ebe o ga-akocha ya”. And like Chimamanda Adichie, our daughter and world-class writer would say: “I am first Onye Igbo before being a Nigerian”. Even America has a system that educates her citizens on what it means to be an American and it is evidently effective. Proximally, if you juxtapose about 50 Yoruba kids and 50 Igbo kids, you will find out that there is more consciousness of identity amongst the former than amongst the latter, no matter where they reside or grew in this world. A close study of the educational policies of Obafemi Awolowo administration in the 50s will reveal how the sage emphasized on indigenous education. Today, the kids that benefitted from that are parents who have equally transferred same to their children, and it continues.

The University of Nigeria, Nsukka has a Centre for Igbo Studies established two years ago. While this development is soothing, nothing much can be said to be happening there as ideally expected. It is hoped that future students would begin to feel the effects of that establishment when things begin to take their due shape there. However, no other university in Igbo land is known to have such establishment. Many Igbo people, even academics, would laugh at such “Igbotic” ideas “when the world is advancing”. They forget that it was the same “Igbotic ideas” that bequeathed to us the ingenuity of Ogbunigwe, building of bunkers, refining oil, converting sugarcane into fuel and so many others during the war. They all happened because there were more Ndi Igbo then who understood what it means to be Onye Igbo! I don’t know of any advancement than such feats that astounded the world 40sth years ago! Let Igbo Studies be adopted and adapted in our primary, secondary and tertiary schools strictly for the Igbo kids. The studies wouldn’t make them tribalistic but make them know parts of Igbo land and their histories; elements of our culture and tradition both homogenously and as separate communities; strides of our late illustrious sons and daughters and those of the living, etc. Let the legislators in the Igbo States accentuate this, and funds sourced for more research and writing of text materials on the research results. Those ones in the diaspora can always access these written materials as to keep their kids updated, or they can organize themselves to set up a school system that will have their kids receive Igbo Studies from experts who will be working together with people at home. And this can be done at crèche, high school and college levels and the language will be made to be strictly Igbo. I recommend that this begins from crèche because it is easier to get a child learn something most basic (especially for the diasporans who can’t easily discipline their kids without being embarrassed) than when he grows into adolescence. This effort, as tedious as it may seem, can only evolve with time and we can’t be grateful enough when the results begin to manifest.

Igbo Language:
A lot has been said by many on improving this, but like I said earlier, the translation of all said has always been the bane. However, like we say: “Anụ gbaa ajọ ọsọ, a gbanyere ya ajọ egbe”. Desperate measures should be adopted here, in my opinion. I would recommend that the study of Igbo language be different from Igbo Studies itself. Of many African languages, Igbo is one of the most complex. A good study of it gulps enough time and we will have to find our graduates who read Igbo in the universities and get them busy as many of them feel shy to express what they studied simply because of the stigma given to it by Ndi Igbo themselves. This is not so with Yoruba people. Let universities in Igbo land make it a must that an Igbo student credits Igbo as a course as to be able to graduate, just like UNIZIK in Ọka, Anambra State made it.

There are many things to do or suggest as “The Way Forward” but the thrust of my argument is based on starting with “reorientation via re-education”. There is a very high uniting force in the language of a people from which proceed all their heritages of history, identity, culture, etc. We need to re-know this Igbo language as well as re-study what came from it. And that can be summarily dubbed “The Igbo Education”. For now, that’s my little way forward for Ndi Igbo.

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