The only authentic identity for the African is the tribe…I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came. ~ Chimamanda Adichie
Let me start by congratulating Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi on their massive FA Cup win over Chelsea, it was a historic and proud moment for Nigerians especially those of Igbo origin. Iheanacho particularly has been in the news because of exploits in front of goal with football pundits even talking him up alongside Riyad Mahrez of Man City for the coveted African Footballer Of The Years Award. We wish Iheanacho and Leicester the best of the season.
Recently I came across Iheanacho trending on Twitter and discovered that the in-form Leicester forward had tweeted “for the Igbo culture” with a picture of his jersey where his name was spelt with dots. While so many (mostly Igbos) on the bird app proudly and happily reacted to his tweet a few others (unworthy Nigerians) felt he should have repped Nigeria instead of his tribe.
And so what ordinarily was an innocent tweet turned into a tribal tug of war with silly unsavoury utterances and ethnopolitical comments flying around the thread. But trust my often implacable Igbo people, they returned brimstone for fire and went ahead to create a thread that eventually had #IgboCulture trending as number 1 in TwitterNg.
For the records, Iheanacho had explained the significance of the dots in a 2019 interview and had this to say back then: “For me, it is a way to express where I come from and for people to know I have this tradition and tribe back home….it is my family’s name and for me to carry it on. But also I would like to share my culture with the people in this country. I would like everyone to know we have a culture, a way to write, a way to speak, and everything. That is the excitement for me.”
However, reading the negative comments elicited by his tweet I began to wonder when it became a sin to celebrate one’s culture? Have we not seen the same from other Nigerian-born athletes like Anthony Joshua and Israel Adesanya to mention just a few. The thing is that being proud of your tribe, culture, and tradition doesn’t necessarily mean that you are not a proud Nigerian. Having travelled widely, I can say that Nigerians are among the proudest people on earth. We are rarely intimidated in or by our new environment and this why we excel in many endeavours across different nations.
But you see the Igbo man, he is the proudest of the black race. The average Igbo person has this belief and mentality that they are by far more intelligent than others including the white man.
And there are many reasons behind this but let me just drop these few here.
Firstly, the Igbos are naturally endowed with the spirit of independence, industry, dedication, and ambition. They are found in every nook and cranny of the earth hence the popular saying that “you should do a U-turn if you visit any place that doesn’t have an Igbo resident”. The Igbo man loathes mediocrity. He rarely feels entitled, he believes that nobody should feed him and therefore usually works hard to achieve his goals. After which he receives his dopamine by showing off and basking in the euphoria of the attendant adulation.
The foregoing is illustrated in many texts and literature with perhaps the most popular exemplification in Okonkwo of Things Fall Apart whom Achebe presented as the living embodiment of how Igbo men think, act, and behave. Indeed the first chapter of the bestseller started with, “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements”.
This is undoubtedly an eccentric and achievement-oriented man who commanded respect through his courageous accomplishments. Thus achievements form the crucible of that personal sense of pride you find in every Igbo man because truth be told, the Igbos are great achievers. And even if success is not achieved, the feeling that you are doing your best is equally a great confidence booster.
Secondly, the Igbo man doesn’t bow to anybody except his Chi (Creator) if I may borrow the famous words of Senator Enyinaya Abaribe. The Igbos are strong-willed, defiant, and yet very democratic. This became manifest in the fierce Igbo resistance to British colonialists who for reasons of easy governance often relegated meritocracy in preference to the aristocratic class structure common with some other Nigerian tribes.
I am reminded of a story I heard recently about a California-based family who after a long pandemic-induced delay managed to ferry down the remains of their patriarch to Warri and fixed the funeral date only to be told that it must be postponed for no less than three months. Reason; The traditional ruler had died suddenly and there will be no other social function till he is buried after 90 days!
The family bowed in allegiance to this ‘superior’ cultural demand, redeposited their father’s corpse in the mortuary, and flew back to return after three months.
Isn’t that preposterous?
In Igbo land, that tradition will surely be revised and adjusted to suit the prevailing circumstance because, in Igbo tradition, the hierarchy of authority is neither thematically carved in stone nor presented in any kind of discernible rigid pattern to effectuate such ultimate edicts. Perhaps having seen that the limitless powers of a king could oftentimes be harmful, Igbos long expressed an unambiguous aversion to monarchy and kingship. Thus it became a popular adage in Igbo land that even the most influential Igbo traditional ruler can be publicly chided by the least of his subjects, albeit with a mask on.
Again Achebe succinctly captured this concept in “There was a country” when he wrote that, “unlike the Hausa/Fulani he — the Igbo man — was unhindered by a wary religion and unlike the Yoruba, he was unhampered by traditional hierarchies. It is this flexibility that in part permits the republican and progressive nature of Igbos to thrive.
And then finally, the circumstances surrounding Biafra especially the bravery in withstanding the British-backed Nigerian military and rising from the ashes of that brutal civil war to become once again the most successful African tribe are feats to be very proud of. I will never forget how driving through Onitsha in the early 80s, my late dad boisterously narrated about the commercial city’s renaissance from the rubbles of 1970. Now you cannot find a city of a similar size with more storey buildings.
So you see, coming from a tribe that is generally respected for their ingenuity and doggedness, it is quite proper for Kelechi Iheanacho and indeed every Igbo man to be proud of their culture. This shouldn’t be offensive even if we must admit that it can sometimes be. And while Nigerians are urged to ditch obnoxious ego to accommodate our differences, I cannot rightly fault those Igbos who have felt less Nigerian in the last few years.
This is simply down to political alienation under the Buhari administration. Whether it is self-inflicted or government orchestrated it still leaves a sour taste on the mouth. The Igbos understandably felt bruised with Jonathan’s defeat because they practically invested all their political eggs in the Ijaw man. But Buhari’s unfortunate and thinly veiled 97% and 5% statement added an overdose of salt to the injuries of a tribe with the most investments in the country. Yet, the Igbos could have moved on just like their south-south neighbours but the persistent assault and deliberate exclusion agenda over six years left them with little choice.
You cannot beat a child and tell her not to cry. So, much as pride is part of ‘Igboness’, it became even more obligatory for Igbos to be exuberant about their culture under the most clannish president in our history. And there is no spinning it, the Buhari years awakened a new wave of consciousness among Igbos. Whether this wave will be sustained and utilised beyond cultural heritage and agitation for better political cohesion remains to be seen. But for now and always let it be known that pride is in Igbo DNA.