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The Amaechi / Nwodo Clash We Must Tell Our Children The Truth By Emeka Obiandu

The Amaechi / Nwodo Clash We Must Tell Our Children The Truth By Emeka Obiandu New York[RR]Igweocha–On Wednesday 21 March, 2018, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka held its 12th Convocation Lecture. The Minister of Transport, Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi delivered a paper titled: The Igbo In The Politics of Nigeria which touched on the quickest route to an Igbo […]

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The Amaechi / Nwodo Clash We Must Tell Our Children The Truth By Emeka Obiandu
New York[RR]Igweocha–On Wednesday 21 March, 2018, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka held its 12th Convocation Lecture. The Minister of Transport, Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi delivered a paper titled: The Igbo In The Politics of Nigeria which touched on the quickest route to an Igbo Presidency.  As would be expected, with 2019 fast approaching, a topic such as that did concentrate minds in the audience.  
Soon it was the turn of The President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo to present his own paper but he felt the need first to make some remarks about the Hon Minister and to address the Ikwerre people (or Eleikwerre) through Hon Rotimi Amaechi. 
In his characteristic eloquence, Chief Nwodo gave a brilliant performance. A man who is not afraid nor ever short of words to address the burning issues of the day, not only as they effect Ndigbo as a people, but also issues of interest to the wider Nigeria, he acquitted himself creditably..  Cast in the same mold as Yinka Odumaki of Afanifere, it can be said that Chief Nwodo has led Ohaneze Ndigbo with remarkable distinction since his elevation to the high office of President General. 
It takes courage for one to speak up at a time when the stakes are as high as they are and the risk to one’s name and person are equally very real. But even at that, on this occasion, Chief Nwodo did not shy away from the thorny and uncomfortable issues of the day, some of which were reactions to the Hon. Minister’s penetrating and thought-provoking piece. I salute Chief Nwodo for his usual courage. 
But there were comments which the President General made in his preamble which caught my attention and grieved my heart. And I believe that I’m not the only one so touched and grieved. I would not have responded had those comments not been made by Chief Nnia Nwodo, a man for whom I have immense respect. More importantly, I probably would have ignored them if he had not spoken in his capacity as the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo. 
I have always believed that those who find themselves in leadership positions must endeavour to not lead others astray. They have a responsibility to be mindful of their utterances because of the potential to misinform. Mark Twain admonished Christians to always be mindful of their behaviour because, ‘You may be the only Bible that some people read’.  
Moreover, at a time when we are all under attack in what he characterised as ‘a war no one has declared’, it is imperative that we stick together, that allies who have historically gotten along endeavour to continue doing so. Against this background, it is, therefore, counter-productive if we knowingly behave in a manner that suggests some degree of in-fighting. Having said that, I promise to be measured in what I am going to say even though I have every reason to be otherwise. And I will not hold Ndigbo responsible for the ‘sins’ of one man.
When the President General took the stand to address the audience, the first thing he did was to address eleikwerre through the Minister of Transport, Hon Rotimi Amaechi. I do not know if the President General was merely grandstanding but I have every reason to assume that he genuinely believed in the denigrating comments he made about eleikwerre, who he did not for once call by name, choosing instead to refer to them as people from the Hon. Minister’s area. It is incredibly insulting to eleikwerre to be referred to merely as ‘people from your area’ much in the same way as I would imagine it would offend Ndigbo if anybody were to refer to them as ‘people from Nwodo’s area.  
For the avoidance of doubt and before anyone slams me as an Igbo-hater, let me clarify from the outset that I do not dislike Ndigbo. They a great people (and I mean it) Chief Nwodo himself highlighted some of their virtues in his lecture. Some of the most enduring friendships I have struck in my life are Ibos and I am eternally happy to associate with them. I am proud to say that my wonderful wife who means the world to me is Ibo. I cannot love her as much as I do and still denigrate her people – my in-laws. God forbid.  Besides, my father in his time married an Ibo woman and two of my siblings have Ibo wives. Needless to say that it is hard to find an Ikwerre family without an Ibo wife, mother grandmother or even great grandmother. That is how far back we go. 
But my wife, being Ibo, nevertheless agrees with me that no people deserve to be derided, or spoken to as a people who don’t know who they are or what is good for them – which was what Chief Nwodo did to the my people in his speech. 
Over the years, I have read, especially on social media, extremely disparaging comments by an insignificant minority of Ndigbo about Ikwerre people. This tiny group of Ndigbo are mainly young without proper grounding in the history of their people. Such class of people are likely to recycle untruths among their social media group without making any effort to check out the facts before spewing them out. But as I said, these are a tiny minority. Eleikwerre are spoken down to for denying their Igboness after the Civil War and derided for not knowing who they are and are literally being ordered to return to the Igbo fold immediately if they know what is good for them. But I have largely ignored them, treating them as views espoused by only a handful of people because I know that the vast majority of Ndigbo are well-meaning and respectful towards other people, including the Ikwerres.. I make bold to add that whenever the opportunity has arisen to speak to some of these people on a one to one basis, I have challenged their views about the Eleikwerre and have always persuaded them to ‘think’ their views through before expressing them because they could be causing offence without meaning to do so. 
Chief Nwodo does not by any stretch of the imagination fall into the demographic subset described above. That was why I was taken aback, as an Ikwerre man, when I heard him as the current President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo regurgitate such offensive views about the my people as he did on that occasion. It immediately reminded me of the famous war of words between Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (after whom the institution where they were gathered was named) and Dr Ukpabi Asika (then Administrator of East Central State). Both of them were eminent Igbo sons. Dr Asika had used uncouth language in addressing Zik, referring to him derogatorily as ‘ex-this and ex-that’. Zik promptly fired back with a well-reasoned admonition, reminding Dr Asika how it did not befit him (Ukpabi Asika) to descend from his Olympian height to deploy the kind of base language which was the hallmark of mere gutter snipes. 
Addressing the Hon Minister, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, (himself an Ikwerre man) Chief Nwodo said, ‘During the war, people from your area, Hon Minister, disavowed their Igboness. People who were Nwanodi, began to answer Wonodi, people who were Nwike, began to answer Wike and people who were Umuokoro began to answer Rumuokoro … Tell your people that the war is over’. Chief Nwodo also touched on the issue of Abandoned Properties which I have neither the stomach nor inclination to dwell on here except to suggest to the President General to seek Audience with a certain Gen David Mark (rtd), currently a Senator of the Federal Republic, one time Senate President. 
 As an Ikwerre man, I find it objectionable and absolutely distasteful for Chief Nwodo to suggest that we do not know who we are or that we have to be told that a war which ended almost fifty years ago was over or indeed that unless reminded by Chief Nwodo, we are incapable of realising that we have made a terrible mistake by disavowing our Igboness. Nobody deserves to be spoken to the way Chief Nwodo did to us.  
‘People from Your Area’?
It is also demeaning to refer to a people with a name and distinct identity as a people from someone’s area. Honestly, it was not until Chief Nwodo started mentioning the Rumuokoros, the Wikes and the Wonodis that I knew who these people from Amaechi’s area were. It is either the President General did not know the name of the ethnic nationality he was referring to or he could not even bring himself to call them by name. Either way, it smirks of outright contempt for a people he wants to return to the Igbo fold. I say to Chief Nwodo, eleikwerre are not people from Amaechi’s area. We are eleikwerre 
The War Is Over. Really?
Asking the Hon Minister to tell ‘people from his area’ that the war was over implied that eleikwerre were collectively brain dead and therefore incapable of knowing, until they were reminded by the President General, that the war had ended. This is indicative of what the President General thinks of the Eleikwerre he was talking about. 
Ikwerre Names 
Nothing sounds more discourteous coming from the mouth of such a highly-placed Igbo personality as the insinuation that there ever was an Ikwerre town previously called Umuokoro which later changed to become Rumuokoro after the war. The question the President General has got to answer is, ‘Was there ever a time when the eleikwerre spoke ‘Umu’ as against ‘Rumu’ (to mean children of). If there was, then the President General would be right in his comment about Rumuokor. But as there has never been any such time, Chief Nwodo must take responsibility for misinforming himself (unless of course he has convinced himself that the Ikwerres had no language until after the war). This assertion is offensive because it is preposterous. 
It cannot be denied that, owing to geographical proximity, centuries of commercial interactions, linguistic affinity as well as intermarriages, Eleikwerre have taken Ibo names. I am called Emeka for a start. No doubt, some parents have deliberately given their children Igbo names for the very reason outlined above, but there were countless others who gave their children typical Ikwerre names which somehow got translated into Igbo and have stuck. I am talking of a time when in Ikwerreland, all the Pastors, the Catechists, the Reverend Fathers, the teachers, the policemen, were Igbo. The Pastor wrote your name on the baptism certificate, the teacher wrote your name in the school register and called you what he pleased etc. Thus a name like Chinyeru was written as Chinyere, Menuchiso became Munachiso, Nkasiobu was written as Nkasiobi and so on. 
One case will illustrate my point. One Sunday in the early sixties, a man from my town Isiokpo, presented his young son at the Anglican Church for baptism. Before a crowded church, the Pastor (an Igbo man) asked what the child should be named. The father stepped forward and called his son ‘Womgboni’ – (literally, the son of a poor man) with connotations of humility and poverty. Admittedly, not a great name for a little boy just coming into the world to be christened with and for him to be stuck with for the rest of his life. The Pastor, not knowing what the Ikwerre name meant, asked for its translation. When it was translated to him, he refused to name the boy Womgboni but rather chose to give him an Igbo name Nwaeze – which is the Igbo opposite of Womgboni. The man’s certificate of baptism has him as Nwaeze till this day even though we still call him Womgboni. Although no Christian who understands the impact of names on children can impugn the Pastor’s decision to refuse to name the boy Womgboni, yet the matter-of-course manner in which it was done, goes to the heart of the matter as regards Igbo names in Ikwerreland. The boy’s father must have felt that his feeling did not matter. But who was he to challenge ‘Nna anyi’ as the Pastors loved to be addressed in those days or indeed the ‘Sir’ as we called the teachers. This is just one of the many ways by which some Eleikwerre came to bear Ibo names. 
Ikwerre Place Names.
It was even worse when it came to place names. The Ibos conveniently renamed most Ikwerre place names to sound Igbo. Thus Omagwa became to them Umuagwa, Ogbudioga became to them Umudioga, Igwuruta became to them Igirinta, Rumuokuruisi became to them Umukurushi, Rumuigbo become to them Umuigbo, Rumuapara became to them Umuopara etc. The classic one was that Rumuokwuta became Ama- Nweke because there was an Ibo man called Nweke who had settled there. The first thing to note is that whereas a name like Umukurushi means absolutely nothing in Igbo, the Rumuokuruisi people know themselves to be descendants of a man known as Okuruisi. The second thing to note is that although the difference between Umuigbo and Rumuigbo, may appear slight, they remain the significant bone of contention. Whereas the Igbos would say ‘Umu’ to mean ‘children of’ the Ikwerres would say Omu or Rumu but never Umu. It smirks of indescribable arrogance for a person living as a stranger in my community to change or modify the name of his host community for his convenience and then also expect me to call myself what he has chosen to rename me and when I refuse, it attracts insults and insinuations.  
I challenge the President General to enquire from among his numerous kinsmen who have ever resided or are currently residing in Port Harcourt or elsewhere in Ikwerreland to check and confirm if the Rumuokwuta man has ever called himself ‘Ama-Nweke man’ or someone from ‘Rumuokuruisi’ ever called his town ‘Umukurushi’. What sense would it make for someone who ordinarily speaks ‘Rumu’ to name his town Umu?  Or would Chief Nwodo be happy for his Ukehe town to be renamed ‘Sabon Gari’ just because an Hausa man settled there? 
The Onitsha man calls himself Onicha, the Owerri man calls himself Owere. The Asaba man calls himself Ahaba. These are all Igbo place names that were changed by the white man for rasons of convenience. If tomorrow the Igbo owners of these places choose to revert to their original names of Onicha, Owere and Ahaba, asking that all official references to them be changed to their original versions, would the white man be justified to cry ‘blue murder’ from England? Would he be right to deride them, claiming that they only changed their names after independence? The truth is that these people never changed their place names, despite the official documents bearing them as the white man had spelt them.    
We all have a responsibility to guide the younger generation properly, by resisting the temptation of feeding them with inaccuracies and outright falsehoods, even for the sake of a few cheap populist claps in a university auditorium. 
More importantly, I think it should call for some reflective thinking on the part of Chief Nwodo’s if someone he has always considered a ‘brother’ wakes up one day and disowns him, telling him they are no longer his brother. He would be wise not to straightaway blame everything on his brother’s immaturity or his legendry proclivity to self-destruct. Would it not be right for him to check if he had done or failed to do anything that could have caused his brother to suddenly ‘disavow’.  Also, would it not make sense for himself and his brother to sit down and talk things over, if only so he could understand the strength of his brother’s feeling and the underlying reasons for his behaviour? 
Even after his best efforts, if his brother still insists on leaving and swears never to come back, would it not be wise of him to allow his ‘errant’ brother his space, much like what the father of the Prodigal Son did in Luke 15? If in the fullness of time, his brother, like the Prodigal Son, overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of life in the far country, is compelled to return and to beg for forgiveness, then Chief Nwodo could clear his throat and say to him, ‘I told you so’? But until then, would it not make sense for him to sit, watch and pray? What would certainly not endear him to his brother is if he goes about looking for more and new ways to hurt, insult and castigate his brother and put him down as someone who doesn’t know what is good for him. What Chief Nwodo has done is to blame everything on his brother, castigating him all the way without reflecting on his own ways.  
This Pharisaic sanctimony which Chief Nwodo has demonstrated is one which seeks to externalise every problem as being the fault of someone else – never his. May be (just may be) if there had been a dialogue, fact-finding discourse, a meeting of minds between Chief Nwodo and Eleikwerre since the end of the war in 1970, things may have been ironed out. Then Eleikwerre may have answered in one of three ways (1) We are sorry for disavowing our Igboness, please take us back or (2) We are not Igbos and have never considered ourselves as such or (3) These are the reasons why we disavowed our igboness. Instead, what we have heard in the last forty-eight years has been mindless demonising and Ikwerre-bashing for denying their Igbo heritage, and how they have ‘foolishly’ sided with xyz instead of abc etc etc. Nothing will get resolved that way. I think that forty-eight years is long enough time for Eleikwerre to have come to grief and run back into the fold.
For these derogatory and careless remarks, Eleikwerre deserve an apology from Chief Nnia Nwodo. Unless and until he learns how to see the other man’s point of view, to listen to his ‘brother’, to treat him with respect, to check if anything could have been his and to recognise that even he is far from perfect, he will continue to lose friends and useful allies.
Why Can’t Eleikwerre be left Alone?
Some say that Eleikwerre are Igbos because they bear Igbo names and speak Igbo language. If we accept that to be so, which we do not,  let’s see who else bears Igbo names and speaks Igbo. The Idomas of Benue State do. They bear typical Igbo names like Ngozi, Ikwe, Adanma and even Ochigbo (which means the ruler of the Igbos). And yet no one has troubled them to get back into the fold. The Ogba of Rivers State, probably speak more Igbo and bear more Igbo names than the Eleikwerre. They have names like Chukwudi, Nnamdi, Chioma, Chinwa etc. In fact, it is an established historical fact that the Ogbas trace their origins back to the old Bini Kingdom (Edo State). They have been left alone with that history and Chief Nwodo is not even claiming them. The Ekpeye (Ahoada) of Rivers Sate bear Igbo names like Chima, Chibuike, Chimezie etc. Yet Chief Nwodo has probably never heard of them, talk less of including them in his greater Igbo project. If therefore, it is neither the name nor the language, I have a niggling feeling that there must be some other feature which makes Eleikwerre   fantastically attractive to the President General which he has not been bold enough to say. 
Please, President General, let us be. Eleikwerre are more than a people from someone’s area. We call ourselves Eleikwerre.  
Finally, it is not enough to hear draw your conclusion from one Ikwerre politician who tells you ‘I am an Igboman’ or indeed that the ‘Ikwerres are Igbo’. We have not given the mandate to anyone to speak for us on this matter.  
Thank you.
Credit: Emeka Obiandu
Mr. Emeka Obiandu culled from London, UK.He could be reached at eobiandu@yahoo.com

 

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