Igbo and the journey back home
A certain man who felt that he could no longer afford the high cost of feeding his pussycat, took it on a ride to a far country. Miles later, at the middle of nowhere, he let it off into the thick forest that bordered the road and drove off. He had done the inevitable, he thought, battling tears that welled up in his eyes. He had bid his old-time ‘friend’ goodbye into wildlife, after a friendship that had lasted for over a decade.
But a year later, while he sat at his supper, he felt a gentle brush on his foot and was startled at the sight of his cat. His reaction was a mixture of awe, shock, guilt, tears – and relief. He let the pet stay, at all cost! The cat was family. The cat was home! Henceforth, the animal would stray into the forest for months but occasionally come back to spend time with its master. It had learnt to fend for itself!
The above narrative has triggered a deep reflection on the nature of exodus that the Igbo nation requires at the backdrop of agitations for self-determination, against marginalisation, and calls for self-rediscovery along socio-cultural, political and economic lines. Certain questions come to mind which, in summary, seek to know whether the Igbo nation needs demographic convergence with geo-political confinement or ideological dispersion with limitless expansion. While the earlier option refreshes a fantasy for an Igbo state which depicts an El-Dorado for its proponents, the later captures the culture of a people who are widely known for their republican ideology, enterprise, sojourn, rich cultural heritage, values, etc, about which enough has been widely written or said, saving further x-ray.
Opinions are divided almost in symetrical proportion over which option best favours the Igbo. For instance, while some argue for a demographic exodus of the Igbo back home for the development of Igboland, others prefer their continued strides across countries and endeavours. While the first comes with nostalgia, the later bears in mind the quantum of resources committed and developed on the outside, alongside various alliances already established. This cannot be ignored, especially, by a people who had suffered huge losses of lives and property as a result of the Nigerian Civil War.
To rock this balance of arguments, one needs to understand what triggered the cat’s nostalgia, making it travel miles over the year, through farms, bushes and forests, to locate home. Was it the canned foods that were served in ceramic plates? Or the duplex where it had lived? Or the occasional rodent chase around its master’s premises? Maybe to a little extent, but the cat’s guiding star was the friendship it had established with its master – the type of friendship that forgives – such that, on its return, it did not go snarling at his master but came with that gentle caress at his feet. Friendship resides in the heart deposited there with instances of love and affection overtime.
The Igbo need to look at those things that endear them to Igboland. It is not necessarily the physical environs of Igboland. More than the physical, it is the Igbo philosophy, which among other things: drives the Igbo republican political culture; informs their love of assembly for community good; invokes the spirit of enterprise and quest for new knowledge without bounds; has no sympathy for the lazyman; motivates achievers to hold the lamp for others to also shine; welcomes and establishes alliances with neighbours for mutual good; preaches respect for the laws and culture of foreign lands where they sojourn or inhabit; is communicated through folklores, music, dance, poetry, language and other arts; institutes a traditional value-based legal system that abhors crime and evil; beckons sons and daughters home occasionally to draw inspiration; and supports belief in the supremacy of a supernatural being.
In this contemporary time, as the world continues to contract, the new exodus of the Igbo ought to be recourse to – and consolidation of – Igbo values, which will guide their interactions with one another, neighbours and the world at large.
Nationhood transcends boundaries. Converging within the perimeters of Igboland will limit and undermine the Igbo. Positive actions by the Igbo should be to: consolidate their assemblies for the betterment of Igboland and the polities within which it situates; select and supervise competent leadership and representatives in various tiers of government, Igbo traditional institutions and assemblies for the good of Igboland and its larger polity; individually and collectively contribute to the affairs and development of Igboland; restore a merit-driven system of award and recognition of achievers and sell same to its larger society; preserve the rich cultural heritage of Igboland; export the Igbo ideology to friends and allies, and import best practices to Igboland and polities where it has stakes; exhaust all legitimate means in furtherance and protection of Igbo interests in the Nigerian polity and beyond; etc. That done, the Igbo sojourn will not be an exile but one that contributes to Igboland and the larger society, while keeping an eye ‘eastwards’. The Igbo should continue to tread new grounds until they become home. Home, for the Igbo should be anywhere there is an opportunity to thrive!
The foregoing presents huge lessons for Nigeria, the political home of Igboland. The media is awash with news of breakthroughs and achievements by the Igbo in receptive countries, such as the U.S. and the UK. For a people with such a mindset, Nigeria should apply openness to addressing their allegations of marginalisation and even calls for self-determination from various quarters (and indeed, any corner of the polity where such emanate). Efforts should be channelled at harmonising all parties rather than alienating any. It can only expand the horizon of opportunities for the country, especially as she prepares her ‘homefront’ for comparative advantage at the world stage. Where necessary, let guilt be felt. It can only lead to relief. As Chinua Achebe noted, “We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own.”
The Igbo on the other hand should find enough forgiveness in their heart not to bemoan the calamities of their past and lose focus on the opportunities that lie everywhere in the world.