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[The Concourse] CULTURE CONTRAST: The Diary of an Igbo Man In Multicultural Nigeria


During my service year in Katsina, I had a proximate symbiotic relationship with the northern cultural system and traditional institutions. I was the leader of Corps members road safety club. We held sensitization exercises at Emir’s palace. According to him, he “loved my eloquence” each time I made presentation. He often host us to dinner as a show of appreciation. I was also the Corps Members Liaison Officer (CLO).

The positions offered me vantage spectra to see and know more about how monarchical and hegemonic leadership fared within that region.

Emirs wielded more power than state governors. They command superior respects from the citizenry than elected public officials.

They had a well organized monarchical regimes and hierarchical structure that is as old as man. No wonder the British colonialists found them primed to operate indirect rule system of governance.

The verdict of an emir holds more water than laws enacted by state assembly. This might sound ironical but it is true. Save for the unusual dethroning of Emir Sanusi recently, by and for Gov. Ganduje’s political convenience, their positions were untouchable.

Coming from Igbo tribe with pronounced republican approach to leadership, it was an eye-opener for me. I spent quality time trying to wrap my head around the concept that family men of my father’s age, donate their lives and worth to worshipping and serving the well-to-dos, in the name of preserving cultural heritage. Day and night, they mount guard under the weather as custodians of a Sarki or mere “Ranka dede” pliantly wearing indigent look. They subjugate themselves to Emir’s welfare.

Aside trouncing themselves to feed from the crumbs of Emir’s table, these class of people also do same to rich men in their towns. Billionaire moguls like Aliko Dangote, Alh. Mangal, Dantata, etc have thousands of cult followers whose life depends on the “zakats” (equivalent of christian alms-giving) that they give them. At Dangote’s gate, many littered the road with mats and chairs as his ‘praise-singers’ for daily bread.

I accosted a friend from that side with the question: “why do your people do this?”

His answer was jarring. “Our people, informed by certain religious belief, believe that God choose some (like Dangotes) to be rich so they can help them (the poor) with basics of life.” He said.

This explains why polygamy is a common sight in core north where a single man can have above eight children, abandon them to “babiari” and almajiri street begging, while he goes to a particular Big man’s house to do a higher almijiri begging as “mai guard.”

Emir Sanusi was outspoken in his condemnation of this practice. And it earned him his now sour fate.

These Big men do not help them become rich, rather they increase their dependence by giving them fish instead of teaching them fishing.

This is a sharp contrast to what obtains down south, in Igbo land.

So one day, after NYSC scheme, at a work station in Abuja, I placed a call across to His Royal Highness, Igwe Godwin Odo, Agu na-eche Ibe II of Ada Obollo Etiti. I needed a referee attestation letter, and it was mandatory it comes from my traditional ruler.

Pleasantries were exchanged, he enquired about my whereabouts, having tried without success to secure internship space for me at UNTH. At the end I said: “Sir, I had an offer in a private clinic and they required a referee attestation letter from you Sir.” And he responded in affirmative to the request. I thanked him and we ended the call.

As I lowered the phone into my pocket, my colleague, a core northener by birth and middle belter by ancestry, calmly asked: “Jude may I know whom you just spoke with?”

“Our traditional ruler,” I retorted.

He shuddered!

Jaw-dropped, he turned to our other colleagues (who are from Kaduna) and said: ” Hmmm, can you imagine, he just conversed with their Igwe on phone.”

He repeated it again in deep-sitted emphasis: “On phone ooo!”

“You no fit try am on any Hausa/Fulani sheriff.” He continued in pidgin English.

They all laughed and said imagine calling Emir of Zauzau or Emir of Kano or even a second class chief within their emirates on phone? We all laughed exhilaratingly.

But, having been there once, I knew the Igbos are laterally inverted hybrids to the Hausa/Fulanis when it comes to traditional system of reverencing title holders. Our republican nature mirrors effortlessly each time our self-esteem and respect for personal principles is challenged.

But while in Katsina, someone asked me, why do I keep telling them that we are detest hero-worshipping while Nollywood movies keep showing a different configuration of the reality we claim to represent. I told them to disregard what they see in movies. Even the Obi of Onitsha, who arguably may be the South Eastern equivalent of Emir of Kano or the Gbomgwom Jos does not have men who willow their ego and self worth as gatekeepers, unless they are being bountifully remunerated for it.

Like Senator Abaribe would say: “Igbo man bows only to his Chi (God) and never to any human being.”

Most Igbo traditional rulers don’t have palace guards as movies wants you to believe. Igbo enweghi Eze. Every man is a king unto himself and his own immediate family. Loyalty is earned and never commanded. We practice ohacracy (Igwe in council) not Aristocracy (Council in Igwe).

This is where I fault those who kept insisting that Igbos are offshoot of the Israelis — the missing tribe of one of the sons of Jacob.

Apart from circumcision, which is even a christian thing, and embalment of the dead which is more of a scientific mechanism, there is no other cultural practice of the Igbos that gets an inch closer to those of the Jews. Not even naming pattern. Israelites had Kings who Lorded it over them, we did not.

I am not so sure, but something is telling me many started being skeptical of Nnamdi Kanu’s tactics of Biafra struggle when he enthroned himself as “Supreme Leader” of Igbo race, in the yet to be obtained republic. That title alone got many agitated. What is this “boy” trying to prove? A king for the Igbos?

This sharp difference between the geo-cultural zones, could also explain the yawning gap in infrastructural and social developmemt between them too. To them western education and its civilization is a ‘haram’ (forbidden) while Islamic education and Arabic civilization is ‘halal’ (acceptable).

To Ndigbo, western education and christian civilization with its liberation theology and freedom of thought is a germane culture.

By and large, from cradle, an average Igbo man (enhanced by his inherent sociocultural orientation) was taught “how to think.” While up North, his Hausa/Fulani equivalent is taught what to think.”

The difference is clear! Or your guess is as good as mine.

✍Eze Jude O.

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