The Igbos and their unifying factors (3)
THE Igbos ventured into the sale of electronic appliances many years ago, paying exorbitant rents for cramped up spaces in Broad Street, Lagos, which then was busy and noisy as one loudspeaker sought to outdo the other, the then Lagos State Governor moved them to Alaba Market which today is the largest electronic market in Africa. Other ancillary and supporting business soon followed – apart from radios, TVs, etc the market now sells washing machines, refrigerators, freezers, microwaves, etc. It is the centre of pirated music and videos films. Given the opportunity, the Igbo have incredible drive to make a success of any venture.
The biggest property developers in Lagos and Abuja are Ibos. They seem to have a sixth sense for these things. They were first to really believe that Abuja will succeed as the capital city of Nigeria. They moved into Abuja with a vengeance. Most of the Malls in Abuja are Igbo owned. They were willing to pay the price needed for land and permits; and went at it as only the Igbo can do. Other ethnic groups have estates but nothing compared to what the Igbos have. Yet other Igbo branched out into estate development for sale and establishing myriads of hotels.
Marriage among Igbo
All these frantic activities must take a toll on social life.
Many Igbo billionaires are self-educated, having come up through the apprenticeship system. It means that the girls in Igbo land stayed back to go to school, even though at the beginning, like most Nigerians, they regarded education of women as a waste of time and money since the young girl will soon marry and leave the family. Thus today there is a preponderance of Igbo girls at school, who currently far out number the boys in both secondary and tertiary institutions.
Bride price in parts of Igbo land used to be expensive. Non-Igbos suspected that the girl’s family was calculating how much they spent on her education and expected the husband for recompense. In the early 40s and 50s, bride price was so high that the Eastern House of Assembly Legislated on it!! The girls today fear high bride price for it scares away suitors and now have started to revolt against it. How do these girls pay for tuition? Sometimes parents help, relatives help and there is a good dose of self help.
Marriage custom of Igbos is similar to that of many other ethnic groups – for example, that marriage is not just a union between individuals, but one between families, who, in fact are, sometimes, the initiators, and actually arrange the match-making between the spouses. Today this is not so common. But the other processes remain largely unchanged : When a suitable spouse has been found, people are sent to ask questions about the spouse’s pedigree – is there disease in the family, any witches or wizards or unkind and wicked people, how fecund the women have been, etc (Aju-ese?)
On receiving satisfactory responses to these questions, a delegation from the family of the husband-to-be is then sent to the girl’s family to ask for her hand in marriage; and her family, at some stage, would have to ask her for her consent. The bride price is then haggled over. On reaching a consensus, the proposed groom is supposed to supply drinks, etc., for four market days (Eke market days).
You may shorten the period by bringing everything in one day. After consultation, including reports on the groom’s family, his standing in society and wealth, a date is fixed for the marriage. To show the bride’s consent publicly – she would take a glass of wine (often palm wine) to the groom to drink in public during the traditional marriage ceremony.
Thereafter, the parents bless the couple and festivities begin. If the marriage is unsuccessful, the dowry is returned; but not if the couples have a male child.
The Igbos take marriage seriously, probably more so than any other ethnic group in Nigeria. Many non-Igbo girls want to marry Igbo men because of this myth that an Igbo man knows how to look after his wife and family. Many of the semi illiterate billionaires marry graduates and they insist that their children get the best education which they had missed.
Every December, thousands of Igbo travel home especially in areas where Christmas is robustly celebrated. During these holidays marriages are arranged, couples introduced, etc. One variant of Igbo courtship that is rapidly gaining ground is that of trial marriage. It is really an extension of the custom of knowing the family one is marrying into. Many Igbo bachelors from the U.S. flock home every Christmas to see who they can marry while resuming the family bonds which living overseas may have somewhat loosened. Where a successful introduction has been made, the young lady and prospective husband agree to go back to the U.S. and live together for some months to see whether they like each other enough to stay married, (usually for three to six months) at the end of the period a decision is made to continue with the ‘’marriage’’ or to terminate it. Sometimes the girl would go to the city where the ‘’husband’’ is working in Nigeria – usually Abuja or Lagos again on trial basis to make sure the marriage is successful.
In the old days, the girl would have gone to stay with the parents of the prospective husband for a while for the groom’s parents to assess her. These are simply variations of the theme of arranged marriages. Where the experiment does not work, there is no shame or bitterness, whatever was paid in dowry is returned and the “marriage’’ is dissolved.
The Ibo Economy
Nnewi, in Anambra State, is now the manufacturing capital of Nigeria. It has several manufacturing factories, several breweries, soft drinks, bottled water, etc., factories, food processing plants, vehicles assembly plants, etc., including the making of generators, and a host of other items. Nnewi has overtaken Ikeja as the industrial hub of Nigeria.
The Onitsha market remains the largest market in Africa, selling practically everything: There are Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese traders in the market. The banks in Onitsha carry the largest amount of cash than any other city. There is an airport in Asaba, capital of Delta State. The Niger Bridge is the main transport artery between East and West, and perhaps even large parts of Middle Belt and some parts of Northern Nigeria. Just south of Onitsha is Awka, the Anambra State Capital. There are plans to dredge the River Niger, build a second Niger Bridge, and a cargo airport in Anambra State. Thus, within an area of a few kilometres to Onitsha, the major market, there is the industrial hub, Nnewi.
Also, the Administrative Capital of Anambra State is 20 kilometres from Onitsha. Nnewi is 10 kilometres from Onitsha. Our planners have to be (compare the axis between New York and New Jersey) blind not to see the potential of a conurbation axis between Asaba/Onitsha; Onitsha Nnewi, and Nnewi – Awka. A small investment of building 10 lane highways between these three towns will give the biggest industrial and financial fillip for Nigeria; not just for Igbo land.
• To be continued tomorrow.
• Dr. Cole (OFR) is Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Brazil.