By Obi Nwakanma (May 25, 2008)
Lagos — LAST week, following a private e-mail I received from a reader of the Orbit, who I shall simply call Ogo, and who sent her questions from London, I shall delve once again into the Igbo question.
The subject of the inquiry from London, aside from some perspicacious reading about what she calls "the Igbo problem" in sum was "who should be held responsible for the malaise of the Igbo in Nigeria?"
It was, all told, a profound rhetorical question, but it demands answers that should be far from rhetorical, and to which I would attempt some direct clarification. Who should be held responsible for the malaise of the Igbo? I should say all of us who claim to be Igbo.
But first, the thrill of the letter for me is that it comes from a young Igbo woman, which is significant, principally because it often seems like the contemporary Igbo woman in general is horrendously absent in the debate over the Igbo situation.
This glaring absence of the Igbo woman as part of the shaping intelligence over the Igbo question is indicative of at least, four possibilities: (a) The Igbo woman has given up her traditionally powerful oversight function in Igbo civic affairs and no longer cares about the destiny of the Igbo
(b) the Igbo woman has become not only an endangered species, but one who no longer exists as a result of radical assimilation that now makes her ambivalent to her Igbo identity and autonomy; in other words, she has been educated, evangelized, and domesticated into silence;
(c) she has suffered from suppression in an increasingly deviant patriarchy, in which the patria has made the formidable female voice weak, incoherent, and complicit with the impunities of the patriarchy. In other words, she is in the position of the receiver of a stolen property, and as such feels neither a moral compulsion to speak, nor a desire to re-acquire agency; and
(d) The trauma of Igbo contemporary history - the rape and violation of Igbo womanhood by war, the worst of whom became trophy wives and sex laurels or slaves to soldiers who invaded Igbo land during that war has inverted the once sacred place of Igbo womanhood. In other words, Igbo women have not recovered from the shame and trauma of their diminution in war.
This violation is compounded also by both the aversion of the male gaze, and by the reversal of status in which many of those who bore the marks of that violation, who became barrack maidens, later turned out to be "first ladies" and such things, by some not insignificant quirk of history.
This inversion of status and morality has given voice, therefore, not to the best of Igbo women, but to the hitherto unremarkable. The implication is significant, as alien mores now guide Igbo value structures. It is the radical empowerment of what the Germans would call the "umheimlich."
This factor is also quite the same among the men, in which people who were once the worst in Igbo society, by the profound absence of Igbo shadow authority, are now routinely "selected" to act as consular figures or authorities over the Igbo from outside Igbo land. The implication is also quite remarkable: "the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity," to quote that charged and apposite line in Yeats "Second coming."
This is the condition of the contemporary Igbo, living in a sort of internal colonialism. There are two broad schools of thought about the Igbo question in Nigeria: one school of thought posits that the Igbo must, as a matter of historical imperative exit from Nigeria in order to establish a coherent nation, and take their destinies into their own hands.
Nigeria, this group insists, is a profoundly flawed and unworkable relationship, which relentlessly pitches the value of Igbo love of freedom; its traditional liberal democratic culture, against the feudal and monarchical cultures of groups with whom they share the space of nation.
A second school of thought however insists that the Igbo must resolve to remain in Nigeria; that the Igbo have shed their blood and have thus earned Nigeria as birthright, and must battle to spread Igbo value of freedom, democracy, and enterprise, and must look in the long term to the inexorable transcendence of Igbo value as the national value.
It's only a matter of time, they say. These broad dichotomies that define the Igbo however also recognize that the crucial challenge for the Igbo today is the absence of a self-conscious, articulate, and programmatic leadership that would rally the Igbo towards its historic goals.
Just last week, Justice Eze Ozobu, former President of Ohaneze, lamented that the problem with the Igbo has to do with this crisis of leadership. The seemingly intractable leadership crisis in Ohaneze, Justice Ozobu said, is much at the roots of the situation of the Igbo in Nigeria.
Well indeed, I need to say just a couple of things about Ohaneze, and then about Igbo leadership in general. First, is to simply note that the crisis of Ohaneze has much to do with its mission, and the legitimating authority of that mission. Ohaneze was primarily not established to lead the Igbo. It was formed at the end of the civil war, to protect certain Igbo elite interest.
Its mission may have gradually evolved over time, as the Igbo condition worsened, but Ohaneze's strategic interest remains fundamentally elite. That is why it remains, "a socio-cultural" organization.
The transformation of Ohaneze's mission would mean that it derives its legitimacy, authority, and power from the fundamental base of the Igbo political system: the town unions; the guilds; the age grades; the women; the society of titled men, all in their contemporary formations.
It would mean that Ohaneze could be fully constituted to act as a powerful shadow authority for the Igbo, exert forceful sanction against those Igbo who act against its broad national interest, subdue the fissiparous interests within the Igbo system; arrest the social chaos in Igbo land, recruit, train, control and maintain Igbo political, economic, bureaucratic, and intellectual leadership. But today, Ohaneze does not have the organizational and material resources to constitute these capacities.
It cannot raise funds. It suffers an image crisis. It is buffeted by structural infidelities. Ohaneze does not need a "President-General." It needs to constitute a nine-member board of trustees (to symbolically represent the ancient Igbo traditional regulatory principles of "ite-olu" according to the Afa numerological system), but in fact, to represent the seven Igbo states plus two emeriti. Each trustee should be mandated to serve a maximum of ten years.
The trustees of Ohaneze should then hire and fire an Executive Director or Executive Secretary, who would be the public face of Ohaneze, run and maintain its secretariat, and manage its systems.
They should constitute a council, with various committees including the Education and Culture Committee, the Legal Committee, the Economic and Social Development Committee, the Political action committee, the Igbo Defence and Security committee, the International Committee; the Committee on Investments; the Parliamentary and Governance Committee, the Committee on Science and Technology; the Igbo Development Committee; the Committee on the Environment; the Women's committee; the Youth committee, and so on and so forth, to which a broad Igbo expertise could be recruited.
The trustees should establish various funds, including a Strategic Action Fund, the Igbo Education and Research Fund, and the Zik Foundation. Ohaneze should thus constitute the capacity to intervene in rebuilding and modernizing the Igbo schools system at all levels; its devastated cities; its bureaucracies; rebuild Igbo industry and make new strategic investments in new industry; and above all, rebuild Igbo local government system, by returning the Igbo states to the 1954 Eastern Nigerian county council system.
The Igbo do not need to operate a uniform system of local administration with the rest of Nigeria. They need one that works for the Igbo. But here is the trouble with the Igbo: it is the absence of a clear-minded, selfless, imaginative and courageous leadership that can mobilize its "talented tenth" to work.
For me, an emblematic crisis of Igbo leadership is when an Eze Ozobu, Laz Ekwueme, the late Victor Uchendu, or Green Nwankwo would succumb to the new-fangled foppery called "Traditional rulers" in Igbo land. That is part of the crisis of the Igbo: that the best is without all conviction. So the barbarians have taken over.