Book by Agunze Chib Ikokwu Foundation)
One thing is clear about the Igbos, by whatever standards there are, they are a remarkable people, strong in will, great in achievement, and undeterred by difficulties.
What is it that has produced these remarkable people? What keeps them going? How do people enhance their self-awareness even amidst open hostility, jealousy and outright discrimination? It would seem as if the harder the other people in Nigeria beat them, and discriminate against them, the more successful they become.
This book gives a peep into the complexity of what makes the Igbo character. It starts from a very simple assumption, that education is a key component of development. Education fosters tolerance, but it may also foster bigotry, and when you take people eager to be educated, eager to change their positions in life, eager to find the world, to leave the world a better place than they found it, that inspires.
I've always believed that Nigeria's 256 different ethnic groups must be, no matter how you cut it, eventually a conglomerate of values, some of which complement each other and others which discriminate against each other. But as societies are evolving and changing, perhaps we should look into each ethnic group and find out which values are transferrable. What is it that an Igbo person can teach a non-Igbo so that the life of the non-Igbo is better than it was before the encounter and vice versa? What is the diamond nugget in each ethnic group?
It would be, if you like, picking the jewels of the various ethnic groups and finding out how to amalgamate them. Maybe, this is where Nigeria ought to be and a good place to start is this book.
The book deals with a period in the Igbo life which is difficult by any standards but because of the cosmology, because of worldview, because of art, because of culture, and training, the changes that come with the challenges of modernization are easier to assimilate. We have remarkable people as our neighbors; the true response to that is not jealousy but to be proud that a neighbour of ours is so well endowed.
It is time for us to appreciate one another. It is time for the Igbos themselves to appreciate themselves. Maybe they are over boisterous but then, who wouldn't be given the talents embedded therein.
The book deals with all the information gathered by the intelligence officers during the old colonial rule. It also deals with the pre-history of the Igbos, archaeology, their scientific knowledge, and knowledge in metallurgy.
The book is coming out at a time when the changes within the Nigerian culture viz a viz whether or not we remain one, or whether or not we break into several parts that those changes have got to be internalized. It deals with the new knowledge of numeracy, words such as 100, 500 and 1 million, have Igbo equivalents which is not the same as many languages.
Language situates a culture and maybe sometimes the neighbours of the Ibo find them a bit overbearing, but it is not their problem. It is the problem of their neighbours to appreciate the goodness which exists in others and vice versa.
Timely as many Nigerians of differing backgrounds know little about where they came from and their culture. There are thousands of Kalabari children who do not speak Ijaw. Hundreds of thousands of Igbo and Yoruba children don't speak either language.
The same applies to Urhobos, Edos, Ora, and Isoko: but they are highly educated in the western tradition, and speak English or French or Spanish or American with the appropriate diction. Not only are there now these hordes of Nigerians with no knowledge of our respective culture or language, but the march for modernism has also further eroded our culture.
Moreover, the lack of education in our schools about our language and culture poses an existential threat as a people about to be turned into anomalies. The Igbo culture teaches what it means to take the Ozo title a great honour not only earned for preserving that culture but to preserve its essentials, for example, a title Ozo Igbo cannot and must not lie.
What is produced now is a hybrid, either Igbo or foreigner, a miasma of cultural incompatibilities leading to people with no groundlings. This book tries to restore some balance in the hope that it is not too late. From 1954 till now, there have been all kinds of interpretations of what happened to Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and the NCNC in Western Nigeria and how Zik was unable to become Premier in the West and what happened to Professor Eyo-Ita thereafter in Eastern Nigerian where he had been premier/ leader of Government. Eyo Ita is not Ibo but by his appointment as leader of Government, it is conveniently forgotten that an Ibibio man was elected Premier in Eastern Nigeria, an area of Ibo majority. That must deserve some praise as nowhere else was this done.
The first mayor of Enugu was Kaltunge, a Hausa Fulani; the Finance Minister was Dr. Imoke from Ugep in present-day Cross River State. The interpretation given about the ousting of Eyo-Ita is in this book a little academic, but what else is learning if it is not controversial?
Today the Igbos claim a right to leadership, why not? But leadership cannot be bestowed on Igbos, they must compete for it, they have to do what politicians do, to convince others of their own point of view. They have done it before. They should try again. No one has an inherent right to rule Nigeria or to put it better, everyone has the such right as a Nigerian. It is like the Olympics, you have a right to participate if you prepare well and beat other competitors, as you prepare for the finish line. What you have a right to is to participate and beat all others to the finish line.
I commend this book to your reading.
Dr. Cole, OFR is a former Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil. He wrote this as a review of the book Learning About Ndi Igbo, authored by Agunze Chib Ikokwu Foundation