(A Speech Delivered to the Igbo Community Ikeja During their 2017 Iri Ji Ceremony, held on the 4th of November 2017)
The theme presupposes a few things. First, that there is a Land worth remembering. Second, that there is an assumption or fear, that this land is being or can be forgotten. And a third but invaluable metaphor here, highlighting a tendency that almost implores and pleads.
What ever deduction we make from the topic, we must be aware that there is a contiguous space, which we all call Igbo land. Which from evidence before us, has become a distant place out there. We talk about it both cryptically as if it is under siege. Yes, it is.
The array of attack upon Igbo land is visibly numerous. From without, the assault has come in the form of political suppression and the limiting of our spaces. From within, it is most visible in the changing faces of leadership, values, ideals and culture. Both are insidious and have gotten hold of our respective personas.
Do not forget Ala Igbo, sounds like an admonition and an extraction of promise; desperate plea, prayer to both our ancestors and us the ingredients of future historical narratives and inheritors of Ala Igbo. It rings also as a firm promise by a desperate soul like the anthem of the Psalmist “If I forget you Oh Jerusalem…”.
What then is this land that we are enjoined not to forget?
It’s the land of our birth. It is the land of our forebears. It is our notions of home. It is home and it is the melting pot of our ambitions and hopes. It is our mother’s womb. The soil and soul of our history and language. We drank and continue to drink from it’s springs of values, cultural spices and from it our tendentious dreams are formed. Geographically, it stretches across present day South East and most of South South. For Ndigbo of my generation who have grown up in a country where we’ve largely been outsiders, the boundaries and the borders of Igbo land have always been fixed and in our constantly evolving knowledge of our history have represented an abstract concept rather than an obstacle or concrete physical limits. With our roots firmly anchored and grounded far beyond our national borders, we’ve travelled, worked and also lived crossing freely those faded lines on the ever shrinking maps.
We have developed a sense of unity, the awareness of being part of something larger than our little selves but largely distant from our roots and, quoting a well-known Baha’i Saying, that “the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens”. No group has imbibed and exhibited this global citizenship more than Ndigbo.
A combination of actions and activities has forced us more and more to migrate outside this territorial Ala Igbo. But in that, many have jettisoned the “software”, that indispensable ingredient that makes us Igbo. We are not and would not be the first or last generation of migratory Ndigbo. But alarmingly we are arguably the generation that has eclipsed the others in our un-Igbo behaviors and attitudes. That we have replaced our culture, cultural traits, values and language with a dark unrecognizable garments of foreignness is a colossal betrayal of Ala Nnanyi.
We are enjoined not to forget. By this we are being requested and asked to remember. Forgetting is human, but a symptom of a diseased mind is when memory, especially Communal Collective memory becomes warped a is evident amongst us. This has affected every aspect of our lives. We are slowly forgetting our history and our Homeland. And slowly and steadfastly forgetting our language and culture. Here lies the deeper challenges facing us today as a people and a community. Here lies the Crux of the theme of this year’s Iri Ji festival.
What can we do? How can we reverse this trend?
A while back, Igbo Commonwealth of communities had a healthy relationship and competition amongst them. They fought to outdo each other in development and well-being of the local population. The homestead was truly a pleasure to be called home. Fear wasn’t the currency of the day. Then each community built Schools, health centers and collectively educated the brightest and communally awarded scholarships to the less privileged. The beneficiaries of these communal efforts didn’t get to end up in UK, America, Lagos, Abuja or where else they went to. They came home. Have back to the community and helped raise the next generation.
Migration was for them a needful necessity to help them get or earn the golden fleece. This in turn helped them carry out the massive development we all experienced before, during and after Independence. One remarkable trait of the earlier generation, was that they first DID for Igbo land through their respective communities before they did for themselves.
All politics they say is local. All developments are local too. The driver of everything is development. If our efforts at getting the fabled golden fleece have led us to under developing Ala Igbo, then we have openly and brazenly betrayed our history and Homeland. Nothing can be farther from the truth, when we try to defend our naivety and failure by posting economics and profit as the reasons why we are not investing and developing our community.
As I was writing this paper, I tried to look up statistics and facts about Ndigbo and their attitudes towards language, clothing and food. When I couldn’t find any real information about what I sought, I took a simple survey on my own. I called and spoke to an average of 20 teenagers or so between 18 and 28 years, across 4 major cities in Nigeria. On language, those living in Lagos and Abuja didn’t get to speak the language as much as those in Enugu and Aba. On culture and it’s attendant values, those in Lagos and Abuja were more conscious of their Igbonness and expressed it in their mannerism. This I found out was driven by the discriminations they had to contend with on a daily basis. Food was where we had a majority of them, putting down our cuisine as against foreign Staples. What this told me is simple: The next generation of Ndigbo, while not consciously wanting to, seem on the verge of losing it. Here is where we have to get together for a serious planning.
All our outlandish plans at a wholesale massive development based on some faulty formula would fail as it has always failed. As my teacher in Russia would say, stick to what works. What has worked in Igboland is competitive development amongst communities and from community to community. We must get back to that to rescue our places. The era I spoke about were less endowed, less educated and poorer than us. But they had something we don’t have, AN UNFLINCHING AND UNDIVIDED LOVE FOR ALA IGBO.
Today we have formed and bet me, will continue to form different organization, with phony goals and ideals, yet, year in year out we cannot advance beyond our comfort zones of meetings and arguments that yield nothing.
To live up to the demands, which are very urgent today, of not Forgetting Ala Igbo, we must take a few drastic measures. We must hold ourselves solely responsible for the underdevelopment of Ala Igbo. In doing so, we must start the difficult journey of each heading back to our respective communities to re-engage. Our immediate action must be to rescue our various community primary and secondary Schools and our primary health centers. This efforts might sound mundane but it should be the bedrock of reclaiming the spaces. Added values come from usage. One cannot predict what the outcome of this would be but it is obvious that a local community cannot stagnate when attention is given to the demand for investment there.
Echefula Ala Igbo… Forget not Ala Igbo, becomes a rallying call. When we drop our notions of Igbonness and take on the fake identities of our borrowed cultures we are doing ourselves a lot of damages. Language becomes key here. A good way to communicate history and values is through language. We must endear our young impressionable ones with the love of the poetic nature and rhythms not the diverse dialects of our language. Igbo language is not limited or limiting. It’s Beauty lies in it’s uniqueness. Hearing and speaking it gives them a sense of their specialness. When Suzy, Jennifer, John and Some other funny foreign names take the place of our Nneka, Odunwa, Nnamdi, Urenna and so many other deep mystically meaningful and illustrious Igbo Names, my brethren, we are betraying and forgetting Igbo land.
Action plan must be concentrated in building up the Homeland. We must be truly visionary in conceptualization of present and Future Igbo communities. We must build and create within the changing nature of our migratory nature. We cannot legislate a whole scale return or Exodus of Ndigbo back to Ala Igbo. But we can tweak and tinker with our notions of what our relationships with her is and ought to be.
Where ever Ndigbo congregate outside the Homeland is and ought to be called Ala Igbo. Here the physical becomes relative and at most irrelevant. It’s the spiritual that becomes key. The language. The norms. The values. The Artistic. The Cuisine. The Attire and the myriads of internal pulses and traits that define our way of life. All these with a focused eye on the Homeland would be the new approach towards keeping the promise of never forgetting our land. As a growing global tribe, we must not be limited by space and norms. We imbibe from others and in turn we give to the world. What we give is us. It makes the promise realistic and the admonishment becomes ingrained. When we freely share of the egalitarian traits of our culture we ensure that the Igbo ideals are not forgotten. In celebration and remembrances of our various cultures… Weddings, New Yam festivals and other cultural, religious and artistic ceremonies, we uplift and ingrain our ethos.
The Homeland is in dire need of repair and renewal. It behooves us to rise up to the challenge. When those who are appointed, elected and chosen to manage, govern and run our states and communities, steal from us and syphon the resources meant for development and stall growth, they have not just forgotten Ala Igbo but they have simply betrayed the spirit of our forebears. This is also true of anyone of us, indeed all of us, who have cut and ran and turned their backs on our way of life, on our community of minds and on the way things are done or are going on in Igboland.
We spend so much time these days and energy comparing ourselves to others—usually comparing our weaknesses to their strengths. This drives us to create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet. As a result, we never celebrate our good efforts because they seem to be less than what someone else does. There’s been a lot of successes in and around Igbo communities worldwide. We must celebrate it and strive to improve on it.
Everyone and every Community has strengths and weaknesses. It’s wonderful that we are cognizant of our strengths. Rebuilding to the extent we’ve been able to do individually and collectively since 1970 is worth celebrating and putting in perspective.
Our challenge in the early stages of the 21st century is to eventually turn our weaknesses into strengths, but we must recognize that this is a long-term goal. Our journey toward making Ala Igbo a great place is long, but we can find strength in even the tiniest steps in that journey.
In conclusion, let’s not forget the following:
We must be prepared and ready henceforth to make good sacrifices. A good sacrifice is when we give up something good, in the interim or short term for ourselves for something of far greater worth for the entire community.
Today, so much of our common fabric of united response to issues has frayed. In the years since the civil war ended, and recently the politics of division and the lack of an agreed common agenda has added to the frayed nature of our internal cohesion; thus, we’ve been beset on various fronts, but our near economic successes have bred unbridled excesses and our failure to honor the fundamental laws of financial risks by investing in Ala Igbo has fractured us.
We’ve gone about our lives with too little connection to the Homeland apart from building houses in the village, that I more or less call an expensive burial ground and more so ignoring and distancing ourselves from the sacrifices of those who fought for the privileges we enjoy today and the sacrifices of the few we left living in our villages managing and securing our ways and habits.
Echefula Ala Igbo… Here are some things worth contemplating:
We’re still limited and restricted in Nigeria and in most of the communities we’ve come to reside. And this limitation has honed us to work harder, but this has equally forced out of our consciousness our thoughts of the Homeland. Despite this successes the binding hatred of most of our host communities have not extinguished and in recent months we’ve seen the rage rise to an extreme level. We need to be more effective in promoting the Igbo ideal and worldview without using violence. And to also slowly start thinking about improving the Homeland by at least 40% increase in investment, involvement and presence.
We need to be consciously Igbo citizens again, offering our assistance to one another and to others… Onye aghala Nwanne ya. By doing so, we will show we can be more than the sum of our parts and that no matter how far we go or how long we are away from the Homeland, we are still carrying with us the true meaning of our Igbonness. Throughout our diaspora communities, States, and the wider Igbo nation, on rural areas and in countries around the globe where Ndigbo have settled, Ala Igbo needs us.
We need to listen to each other more and shout less at each other. The level of frustration and bickering within our enclaves is difficult to bear. The 1966-1970 genocidal attacks were not the beginning of the difficult passage in Igbo land, and no one group of Igbo Community has all the answers. In other to succeed we must listen to each other, support each other and collaborate more.
Because of technology, our planet, even with its growing number of inhabitants, is more connected than ever before. By the same token, it is more competitive. We cannot keep our place as a global tribe and the greatest entrepreneurial race in Nigeria and arguably in Africa if we are a self-absorbed, deeply divided people, too quick to forget the unity that prevailed before and during the civil war.
We owe those who lost their lives for the Igbo struggle and in the various phases of marginalization, internal and external, a common commitment to the values they personified, the values that have made us an exceptional people.
Whenever I go home, which is very often, I always remind myself the commitment I made to the ancients….
Igbo ga adị
Agaghị m echefu ala Igbo
Nwannem I enjoin you to make similar commitments to the ancients, Ndi Ichie and to Igbo Land.
Echefula Ala Igbo.
Thank You. Chineke Gozie Ala Igbo
© Ireke A Kalu Onuma
Saturday, October 21, 2017