Nigeria: What Does Ohanaeze Have to Say?

26 July 2021

A good question, no doubt. But, first, what is the subject on which Ohanaeze is supposed to say something; or on which it is supposed to have said something? The state of the nation? Unknown (now-vanished) gunmen? The arrest and detention of Nnamdi Kanu? The Igboho saga? The increasing brigandage of bandits in the north? The downing of an aircraft by bandits? The fact that it takes more than ordinary bandits to bring down a military aircraft? The fact that we are calling fully armed soldiers who are waging a war against the Federal Republic of Nigeria bandits? The question of who is really the true President-General of Ohanaeze, since there are several claimants to the title? Or, perhaps that there is now one Ohanaeze President-General and not three? Oh, I get it, Ohanaeze's position on the meeting of Southern Governors in Lagos, where most of the Igbo governors were only represented? No, the matter of how an Ohanaeze that has been quoted as pushing for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction has been dumb over the conduct of the South-east Governors in many respects? What?

An Igbo proverb says that to keep silent when speaking is not only expedient, but an absolute necessity, is not a sign of wisdom. Some of the statements credited to Ohanaeze Ndigbo in recent weeks have created a mixture of dismay and confusion. Reason? Not many are entirely sure which faction of Ohanaeze is the authentic one. Even if we graciously assume that there is an authentic one, in which case all the others are mere pretenders to the title, has the response to pressing national issues been timely, focused, credible and possessed of real substance? I think not. And it all boils down to the fact that the reprehensible fallouts of the last election Ohanaeze held in Owerri have not been resolved, despite elaborate pretensions to the contrary. It was observed on this page, on January 18 that: "An epidemic of Ohanaeze Presidents General is not the way to go." There was a call, at that time, for "Igbo stakeholders of all political persuasions to work towards avoiding a situation wherein several masquerades of stature that are already in the village square are so badly managed that they begin to fight over Right of Way before women and children." Six months down the road, there is no evidence that anyone then was paying attention.

As was also Observed in the aforementioned article: "Ndigbo say that a person who is in a daze and who is staggering and swaying while on his feet is never given the title of "The Pillar that Holds the Edifice" (Onye aju na ebu anaghi aza ide ji uno"). The reason is obvious! Igbo will also tell you that the vulture and the eagle do not fight over food (Ugo na udele anaghi azo nri); because one is a scavenger, while the other is a grade one predator. It is also a known fact of the Igbo world that no family, or kindred, of yore would send out its mad offspring to represent it in the village square as "The Voice of the People" (Onu n'ekwuru oha). These proverbs show that Ndigbo have a set of core values that make a clear distinction between the sublime and the ridiculous."

Ohanaeze must be reminded that it has probably lost the true capacity to say: "He who brings kolanut brings life." The kolanut is not a snack, but a symbol of communion. It is because the breaking of kolanut presumes "the interdependence in every community and among all living things that it is said: "May the river not dry up and may the fish not lack water to swim in." The river's beauty is enhanced by the presence of the fish, while the life of the fish depends on the steady flow of the river. Ndigbo also pray thus before eating the kolanut: "Elders shall live and the young shall live. Our harvest shall be rich and none shall pray for the misfortune of another, lest his farm be the only patch of earth without rain," etc.

As this prayer is the first event in every serious gathering of Ndigbo, is it not obvious that an Ohanaeze that can no longer hear its own voice may have difficulties breaking kolanut today? Some may argue, obviously with very limited understanding, that Igbo republicanism makes what we are seeing today unavoidable. Wrong! As was said in the article of January 18, "Those who use the saying 'Igbo enwe eze' (Ndigbo do not have kings/Igbo are not ruled by kings) to suggest that Ndigbo are traditionally ungovernable should please note its true meaning and import: "No single feudal authority is allowed by the traditional Igbo leadership structure to visit tyranny on the community unchallenged." That is why you have the Igbo saying that when your talisman begins to presume to have a life of its own, and to even presume to oppress and terrorize you, then it is time you showed it the tree from which it was made. Instead of "disrespect for constituted authority" the way some people try to misrepresent "Igbo enwe eze" today this saying means this: The collective will and rights of the people should be invoked to remind anyone with tyrannical aspirations that a hero is always a people's hero. That is also why Ndigbo say that "A masquerade that flogs its drummers and followers ceases to dance, because it then walks alone".

Ohanaeze must remember, as it was reminded six months ago that "the Igbo concepts of power and authority rest more on respect for the laws of the land, and respect for those who rise by merit while respecting the laws of the land. That is also why the true Igbo concept of success is always linked with respect for Omenala (The laws of the land); as the ultimate determinant of right and wrong. That is also why Ndigbo say that it sometimes becomes necessary to cover your face and walk up to a leader and tell him a few home truths. The idea of covering the face with a basket is not out of fear for the life of the person who decides to speak out. Whereas tradition forbids anyone to just walk up to the community leader and insult him, only one who is sent by the community may do so. Once sent, you no longer represent yourself. The human being is then presumed to have transcended this world once dressed up as a masquerade. The covering of the face allows this mysterious being from the beyond, speaking for the gods and men but using the voice of a man, to do so to any unworthy occupant of an office.

It is against the background of the foregoing that Ndigbo make a distinction between heroes and charlatans. ... A charlatan is a never-do-well (onye ome k'ome), whose exercise of courage and dare devilry is always for self-interest. The major trademark of the traditional Igbo charlatan is that nothing he does can ever lead to sustainable development, or a healthy communal, religious or Family life. But he may impress the uninformed or mislead those who are on the fringes of social and spiritual morality. He parrots proverbs like: "The goat only follows the person who is carrying its preferred green leaves" - which is palm fronds (Ewu na-eso onye bu igu). This statement is true, but it applies only to goats and to whoever behaves like a goat. Such sayings were originally admonitions against thoughtless materialism and immorality. Today it is freely used to justify irresponsible leadership and followership. In the traditional Igbo society, where the cardinal communal philosophy says: "The human being is not a goat" (nmadu abughi ewu), the person who exhibits the irrational reflexes of a goat stands diminished. The fact that this proverb and others like it have become the most popular in Igboland in recent times shows that the region may well have been taken over by the dregs and never-do-wells in our society. Those who will do everything possible to turn our values upside down!"

It is true, as was pointed out, that "... the ongoing drama, following the Ohanaeze elections, has occurred in similar organizations in every geopolitical zone in the country. ... What needs to happen is for Igbo stakeholders to seek and obtain consensus and rein in dissenting voices. Ndigbo need not lose face in national politics because of this. This is not the time for (real and imagined) non-inclusive political conspiracies. Let it not be, or turn out, that Ndigbo will appear unstable at home and are also deliberately misrepresented at the national level. It is time to move from leadership charlatanry to a strategic response that would create a new profile. The fundamental focus should be to restore the values of effective/responsible leadership and followership. Only an accommodating, large hearted and forward-looking leadership consensus can create such badly needed group solidarity today. It is time to say: "Thus far and no further". The foregoing was also said six months ago.

Also said six months ago was this: "Igbo leaders must bear in mind that there is a desperate need to fully incorporate the people (OHA) into the defining essence of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Who likes to feel taken for granted? Who likes not to be consulted, or noticed, as being part of what is going on around him? Does the average Igbo like to feel hurried, or tricked, into a decision? ... Has the Igbo spirit of competition and visible, effective and dramatic engagement not suffered a setback? Who likes to give up fair/open processes for one in which he feels derided, insulted, or cheated? For a people who are fundamentally republican and who sometimes celebrate success, even to the point of self-inflation, the various contenders must now sit down and talk."

That said, it is now time for Ohanaeze to speak. Speak credibly and responsibly it must. To do that, it must first address the little matter of proper self-definition and identification. The dignity of Ndigbo demand, and deserve, it!

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