There is a common saying amongst the igbos: “If you arrive any land and do not find an igbo man there, return, for that land is dead.”(Most especially dead for commerce, if I may add.)
The igbos of the eastern part of Nigeria take great pride in their economic power and business acumen which have dubbed them the Jews of Africa. They have travelled and made their homes in every cranny of not only Nigeria, but the rest of the world.
I regularly bask in that pride too when I come into a town outside the east and, say a trader whom I am in headlock with over pricing suddenly says something in igbo.
“So you are my brother and you are treating me thus?” I would say, even though that does not make them change the price at all. For the igbo man does not part with his money so easily not even at the mention of kinship.
As a child of the 90s who only heard about the civil war in snatches and in moonlight reminisces of the aged, I gathered that the rest of Nigeria teamed up and made war against the Igbos because their pride had gotten to their heads and they were asking for their own country thereby threatening to divide Nigeria.
Many of the elders say they have not forgotten how devastating the war was and Igbo pride had reduced significantly because of how brow beaten they were after the war. Many Igbos out of shame changed their names to entirely English or Hebrew names. You could hear of someone bearing James John or Andrew Success in an attempt to remove himself from his Igbo identity.
But many still bask in their heady Igbo pride. You can hear it the voice of the man ordering containers from the high sea or in the swagger of another at the bar trying to impress a lady with his uncouth opulence.
With the recent agitation for Biafra, I often wonder at the real motive of the agitators. I asked an Igbo businessman, Ebuka who has traveled the length and breadth of the country for business if he ever felt marginalized and if there was need for the Republic of Biafra. He responded in the negative. He believed that the “Biafrans” were in this for all the wrong reasons which were mostly selfish.
“They don’t really want secession,” he said. “They want attention. The Igbos are too much of economic nomads that they do not really care for a country of their own. Their talk of oppression baffles me. When I go to buy goods, no one refuses to sell to me because I am from the East. All they care about is your purchasing power and not your tribe.”
But his sentiments run in an opposite spectrum from other Igbos who support the ongoing Biafra movement. Recently the Arewa youths from the northern part of the country had issued a command for all Igbos to vacate the north in a matter of months. No one can say for sure what led to this pronouncement and wisely, the government has stepped in to mitigate the effect of such announcement because if left unchecked, riots and tribal killings could ensue.
“You see what we are saying?” Phillip an igbo Banker had said to me at the news from the North. “They don’t like us. We don’t belong with them. Let us divide and go our separate ways.” When I asked him if he believed we had all it took to be a country seeing that many of the Igbo politicians and leaders have not shown enough promises for us to believe in.
“It doesn’t matter,” he replied. “When we get to that bridge we’d cross it. Just give us our country. We are tired of all these nonsense.”
And the question remains, now that the Igbo pride has returned slowly and steadily, is it over reaching again? The cry for their own nation does it really hold water or is a group of charlatans bored beyond their wits and thereby seeking ways to make headlines for want of what to do?