In the prologue of this series, “Igbo Unpopular Opinion”, I challenged Ndigbo to recalibrate their agenda in 2020 and beyond. I completely understand that the call for Igbos to recalibrate our approach in dealing with the complexity of living in a multicultural Nigeria is a big challenge. But, the truth is that there is no challenge more challenging than the challenge of defining who we are as Igbos.
The question at the heart of this second installment of “Igbo Unpopular Opinion is; who is Igbo in the context of cultural, political and social disposition in contemporary Nigeria? In this piece, therefore, I will discuss the misguided concept of a homogenous Igbo political identity in an ever-increasing multicultural Nigeria.
Politics-wise, there is no consensus on what it means to be Igbo and never has been. The fierce political rivalry in the second republic between Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Odimegwu Ojukwu in the then Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) and National Party of Nigeria (NPN) respectively, is a good example. My take as a kid, observing the intense politicking between the two greatest icons in Igboland was that the possibility of authentic Igbo identity is boundless.
There is, therefore, no incorrect answer to the question of which party Igbos should join and support. Just like Igbos were free to join the Ikemba Front or Zik Movement in the early 1980s, Ndigbo today, should be free to align with any political party without being reprimanded.
For instance, one cannot, honestly claim that an Igbo man committed a “crime” against the Igbo tribe, for supporting Buhari over Atiku. Yet, hundreds of thousands of Igbos have had the authenticity of their Igbo identity questioned by Igbo nationalists for making a choice between two non-Igbos in the 2015 and 2019 Presidential elections.
These merchants of ethnic nationalism that are attempting to redefine Igbo authenticity have failed to, again and again, grapple with the way that geopolitics and multiculturalism have changed and is continuing to change in Nigeria. The mere thought that an Igbo man that supports Buhari over Atiku is an out-of-date kind of Igbo is retrogressive. It is exactly this kind of intellectual hypocrisy that should be dropped with the past decade.
Ndigbo cannot excel in Nigeria by clinging to a warped mindset and political views anchored on prior Igboness, that is, an Igboness that is given and remains steady despite the ebb and flow of multiculturalism. We must give ourselves permission to divide into political groups organized around what we like and dislike and none of us should be less or more Igbo for doing so.
If there are 20 million Igbos in Nigeria, then there are 20 million ways of being Igbo. That’s 20 million hymn sheets. What a vibrant chorus we make up. The number of ways of being Igbo is infinite. …and Igbo people that marry from Ijaw of Isekiri should not be less Igbo to Igbo men that marry only from their village.
If you are overly agitated or worried about the increasing number of Igbos contributing to the infrastructural development of their domains in Lagos, or Abuja, then, Igbo Unpopular Opinion is for you. If it has crossed your mind that any Igbo man that objects to the reckless agitation for an independent State of Biafra as currently being pursued by IPOB is not authentic, then, you will constantly be reminded of the need to recalibrate the Igbo agenda in 2020.
Every piece in this series, therefore, will raise some uncomfortable questions for Ndigbo. Every piece, though provocative, is not meant to be condescending. I say this because I have realized that, majority of Igbos see my unpopular opinions as designed to communicate a sense of their ignorance.
Of course, this is clearly not my intention. Nonetheless, I will still be blunt, where necessary.
Responsibility demands that someone should offer Ndigbo, a way to engage in a deeper political debate on who we are and how we can navigate the Nigerian political jungle. Igbos need someone to constantly whisper into our ears, “Authentic Igbo Identity Is Boundless.”
My hope is that as we discuss the issues raised in “Igbo Unpopular Opinion”, such as multiculturalism, inter and intra ethnic relationships, religion, development of Igbo states, Biafra, wealth acquisition and the place of Ndigbo in Nigeria, we will agree, at least, that for us to be stronger together, authentic Igbo political identity should be boundless.
I want to remind every Igbo person that has a minority opinion that what is important to them as Igbos must be spoken, made verbal and shared in 2020 and beyond, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. For me, I am motivated and undaunted because the views in “Igbo Unpopular Opinion” are inspired and directed by the Spirit of God and our forefathers.
As with inspirations that emanate from the Spirit World which makes mortals uncomfortable, my audience will find my opinions intentionally provocative. Views expressed in “Igbo Unpopular Opinion” will, as the name implies, be unhinged. The clear intent is to frequently offend my readers to an informed debate on critical issues within the Igbo community.
Finally, in a bowl of isi ewu, you put in different things. You want every part of the goat’s head blended with utazi leaves, akanwu, onions, some spicy peppers, and red oil – to maintain a broad, yet, unique taste. Similarly, authentic Igbo identity should not be monotonous.
We don’t need a predictable Igbo political identity in 2020, folks. The only requirement in Igbo authenticity is the exhibition of characteristics that don’t veer from our key identity – outgoing, resourcefulness, and fearlessness (and I MUST add, with traits of integrity).
We are all Igbos, together, we will all win. So, I urge every Igbo person to keep reading every piece in this series. It will challenge us to embrace a radically different, but more mature way to see and relate with ourselves, and ultimately liberate ourselves. Igbo identity is boundless.
Together, we can remain rooted in but not constrained by our Igboness.
Together, we can.
Churchill Okonkwo, Ph.D.
On Twitter @Churchillnnobi