Thursday, 15 June 2017

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Igbos and the N45 trillion blackmail

The Igbos don’t mess with strangers in their midst. In their towns and villages, in their cities and homesteads, they don’t hurt strangers. It is not being nice. It is simply in their own interest. It is an abomination to do otherwise.

Igbo customs and traditions insist on the protection of the vulnerable. Who can be more vulnerable than the stranger, the visitor, and the wayfarer? Disputes have to be resolved in hisfavor. You just have to cut the visitor a slack even when he inadvertently breaks the rules. He is pardoned for his lack of information, for his ignorance and for not being familiar with the customs.
In spite of the massive erosion which has swept through Igbo land not just its landscape but also its customs, the theology behind the protection of strangers is stated and affirmed at every place where two or three Igbos are gathered and a kola nut is presented.
‘The kite must perch. The eagle must also perch. None shall obstruct the other… The guest shall bear his host no ill will. When he departs may he bear no bruised back… blah blah blah.’
Igbos are forced to listen to these principles recited endlessly. It is so boring because you hear it so many times. It does not vary. It does not change. The message is simple. Don’t mess with strangers. You cannot hurt visitors. You are obliged to protect him. She must not be mistreated. If he is, there will be consequences. It is set in stone.
When Igbo elders overhear outraged youngsters threaten tit-for-tat for the outrageous things done to Igbos in Northern Nigeria, they are tempted to think the youths are ridiculous were the subject not deadly serious. You received body bags from Kano, Kaltungo or Kaura Namoda, so you want to send some body bags, too? You want to sink to that level? But, first, how do you do it? First, you cannot shed a stranger’s blood in Igbo land. It is sacrilege, an abomination. And it is personal. The repercussions are scary. Elders will cite instances of thriving families that were wiped out, their lineages obliterated.
Many will dismiss it as superstition. It just might be. But its non-superstitious effect is that Igbos go everywhere, to the remotest confines of the globe, without fear. And the reason is they trust they would be well treated if they behaved themselves. They do not expect to be hurt or attacked or victimized without cause. If the ‘guest bore the host no ill-will, he will depart without a bruised back.’
Yorubas seem to share the same aversion to shedding the blood of innocent strangers depicted in Soyinka’s The Man Died. Area boys, alayes, and Idumota and Alaba traders may have a brawl. But a brawl is the next thing to wrestling, which is sport. Auto parts dealers at Ladipo may have a tug of war with officials of the Lagos State Government.
But it never goes beyond the usual, age-old competition between Igbos and Yorubas with the verbal stereotyping, a scuffle here and there.
Was it just coincidental that in July 1966, in Lagos, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon readily betrayed his Supreme Commander Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi when Lt. Col. T.Y Danjuma informed him on the phone, “we want to arrest the Supreme Commander,” whereas in Ibadan Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi chose to die to protect his guest, Gen. Ironsi? History has not recorded noteworthy incidents when strangers’ blood was shed in Yoruba land in 60 years.
On the other side, the Northern parts of Nigeria seem to have a totally different rule of engagement. And on 18th of July (2014) old ghosts were raised when the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) issued a warning to the Igbos that they (Igbos) stood to lose N45 trillion worth of properties if special identity cards were issued to Northerners living in Igbo land.
The exact origin of the identity card controversy is murky. The best that can be reconstructed is that the Imo State Government, following the discovery of a huge arsenal of bombs in Owerri, felt it would be prudent to distinguish innocent Northerners from Boko Haram terrorists by issuing ID cards to the former.
Apparently, representatives of the Northerners who live in the South-South and South East found the proposal discriminatory and took the issue to the ACF, an organization dedicated to protecting the interests of Northerners in Nigeria. The Deputy Secretary-General of the ACF, Engr. Abubakar Umar, who received the visitors, tried to reassure the visitors. No cause for alarm, he said, Igbo investments in Kaduna, Kano and Jos alone , he informed the representatives, amounted to N45 trillion. “If the table turns it could be disastrous as the investments may suffer for it, but we are praying for understanding.”
He further explained (more of a confession) that Yoruba and Igbo people in Jos lost N480 billion and N410 billion investments respectively in the 2011 post-election violence and that the South-South people also lost N996 millions in the same crisis.
“We know these statistics, we have these statistics, so we expect the Igbo to treat our kinsmen, our brothers and sisters in the East, as kings and queens in view of the fact that they (Igbos) have more investments in the North than in the East. Take Abuja, the FCT, for example, the Igbo occupy 73 per cent of the land, so these are some of the reasons they should be everybody’s keeper in their place.”
Igbos would be merely amused by Engr. Umar’s advice on how to treat sojourners. After all, Enugu, the Coal City, elected a Northerner as the city’s mayor – and actually re-elected him! Again, ordinary Northerners do not covet other people’s hard-earned property. Ask the Igbos who fled before but returned after the civil war.
The computations of Engr. Umar might be right. Politicians who thrive in politics of cleavage invent anduse such figures for political blackmail, often to advance their personal interests. Igbos who put down N45 trillion in Kaduna, Kano and Jos do not think like Engr. Abubakar Umar. They have a different thought process.
Most of them are ordinary men and women who think nothing of politics in their daily lives, who are simply trying to make a living. Engr. Umar thinks N45 trillion worth of property is a lot. It sure is. But as impressive as the figure sounds, Igbo custom and tradition would rather prefer that not one more drop of Igbo blood be shed in Kaduna, Kano or Jos – not for N45 trillion, not for N100 trillion.
The trouble with political people like Engr. Umar is that the moral dimension is often lost to them. But most issues tend to be moral before they become political. When you lose sight of the former, the latter is always troublesome.
NB:This article was first published in August 2014



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