THE ROLE OF IGBO YOUTHS IN NATION BUILDING.
A speech presented by Obumneme Osuchukwu on the occasion of the annual convention of the students of English and literary studies Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria.
May 7, 2021.
I always find a way to smuggle my "igboness" into almost every conversation I am having ranging from friendly chit chats to intellectual discourses like this. My love for my culture is deeply rooted in an eternal adoration for Ukwa and the wisdom of my ancestors.
It was my ancestors that argued that a man who doesn't know where the rain began to beat him cannot tell where it dried up.
The rain that beat the igbo people began as far back as the amalgamation. Then it was just drizzles that had potentials of becoming a torrential downpour. 1966 came and the actual rain began. Every tom, dick and harry in the Eastern part of Nigeria was subject to total annihilation but because Uche mmadu aburo uche chukwu it was impossible to erase an entire region inhabited by people who were loyal to the igbotic ideology of Eziokwu bu ndu and a phrase deeply rooted in humanity "Onye agahana nwanne ya"
1970 the war ended physically but the mental war began. The people who survived didn't have any form of therapy. They had to move on with their lives as though nothing had happened to their minds. The same year the war ended, the Nigerian government banned World Igbo Congress, banned Igbo Town Union, banned every form of Igbo gathering.
It became a taboo to speak Igbo in public places.
You'd lose your job or get transferred if you dare communicate in Igbo in public offices.
It was a deliberate de-Igbonization. Some of our parents grew up with such trauma and became hostile to the language and transferred the disease to some of us.
I think about this in retrospect and i feel like crying because I was flogged in primary school for speaking my language. Boys who spoke English with their native accent were taunted. Little girls preferred their English names to their native names. There was a popular practice in eastern Nigeria where pupils who spoke Igbo were demanded to pay 10 naira for expressing themselves in their native tongue. Funny how the custodians of this babarism were still igbos. They didn't know where the rain began to beat them that is why they agreed to police kids to ditch their language for the language of the colonizer.
51 years after the war the Igbo people are struggling with their esteem. The ones who wear their patriotism like shields are seen to be so loud but i promise you there is nothing wrong in screaming your identity especially when that said identity survived something as brutal as a civil war.
If you suppress a language you do the same to the owners of the language.
There are 4 things the igbo youth should insist on doing.
1: Speak your language. There is something absolutely deep in your native tongue. It is who you are, it is the language of your soul. When you become parents speak this language to your kids, let it be their L1. Let their school teach them English. Don't use the language only when you want to be hostile. There are other times to speak Igbo other than when you want kitikpa to gba mmadu. Don't turn this language into a cuss language. It is beyond that. The igbo language has strong emotions that is the difference between telling your wife "Honey, I am sorry for what i did" and "Obi di ya, Iwe gi adina oku. Iga ata azu?"
2: Trash individualism: After the war, the philosophy of Igwebuike was ruined. The igbos believe that anyuko mmamiri onu ogba ufufu but overtime that idea has fizziled into thin air. It has been about self lately. That should stop in our generation. It didn't land our parents anywhere good.
I happen to be part of a non-profit organization called Teta which is an instruction for young Igbos to wake up and know their history before they can imagine a better future. It is a carefully select group of young igbo intellectuals with unbridled passion for ala igbo and its progress. We fix all our meetings in the Obi of any member who it is his turn to host. We went from Oraifite to Nnobi, To Nnewi. This was the group that caused the first ripple that began the endsars movement in Anambra. .
We understand the strength that is hidden in unity and we've seen the magic of synergy and I am here with that gospel. We are all we have and it is pertinent to note that we can achieve more as a unit than keeping to ourselves. A single tree cannot be referred to as a forest.
3: The balance of Gender. I see young igbo girls running around with their halfbaked knowledge of feminism and i cringe. Most of them do not know the power igbo women wielded in the past. The strongest deities in Igbo land are feminine but because there is a historical lacuna it is easy to believe that Igbo women were maltreated in the past. Before 2020 ebbed, i received an email from Rev Fr Angelo who is currently completing a Phd in Germany. It was a request to be part of a research team that will travel the length of igbo land to scamper for the remains of our dying culture and practices that predated colonialism. In every Local government we spent at least one week hunting for aged people Who were willing to tell us what they remembered from their childhood. Our findings about pre colonial Igbo women was in fact shocking because western infiltration watered down the role of the igbo woman.
Funny how women who were playing vital roles in the community were made to believe all of a sudden that they should be subservient to a man even when he's clueless.
Our ancestors didn't leave it that way. The Bible convinced Queens that they are pawns and they believed. 🥺
It was in Imo state that we found out that Our ancestors made a provision for women who didn't want to continue their marriages to leave!
For better for worse is just an ideology formed to mess the woman's psyche up. Because why will you continue in an adventure that can take your life?
I remember talking to this old man who had something like Parkinson. His body quaked at intervals but he was happy to tell me that If a woman walks out of her husbands house on an Nkwo market day, it means finality. She has weighed her options and leaving was the best.
The husband no matter his title cannot even dare beg her to stay. No elder can have a different opinion. No alusi can intervene! That is the power women had!
Today I stand before all of you to let women know and understand that your powers are beyond physical. A woman is the gateway of every lineage. I beg you people to act like it. Life comes from you. carry yourself with that consciousness. You dont need to be a feminist to tap into this truth. Do not settle.
There are few men who can stimulate your mind as much as they stimulate your body. Remember it is your mind first. Your body will surrender to age and the travails of motherhood will many times make you forget your body but your mind is you. It is your office, don't let men without substance into your office.
4: Embrace the media. When people like me complain about the unfairness of Nigeria, some cretins will think that I am overreacting. 51 years after the biafra war, there is no TV station owned by an igbo man or woman. It is a deliberate denial. Igbo billionaires have spent millions trying to get a license permit to float an independent Igbo TV station but the Nigerian establishment will rather die than let an Igbo man tell his stories without euphemisms. I implore us to embrace new media. Social media platforms like Youtube is the future. Find a way to tell your own stories the way they come to you.
This is a department that is littered with people whose dreams are to write great books and I am rooting for you all but you have to stand up from dreaming and move with intent. Achebe opined that until the lion learns to write, the story of the hunt will constantly glorify the hunter.
History is written by victors and the Igbo people suffered the worse thing after the war. Which was a deliberate removal of history from the school curriculum and thats why we have many young Igbo gallivanting the streets of Nigeria without a knowledge of self, a knowledge of where they come from.
As students of Literature, we have an edge. We are exposed to books that explicitly arms us with the very rare knowledge that is the impossibility of Nation building. The Igbo man and woman should be keen on developing the Igbo Nation and not the Nigerian contraption.
My dictionary argues that a nation is
A historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, ethnicity and/or psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.
This definition is a proof that every effort to build Nigeria is not only a futile adventure but a ridiculous way of expressing ones ignorance.
Charity begins at home. My mother says that if everyone in the world swept the front of their houses, the whole world will be clean.
Let us build all we lost before building the establishment that almost wiped us off the earths surface.
I am not very sorry if this speech didn't make you feel good. Facts don't care about feelings and true intellectualism is the ability to choose logic over emotions.
Mark Anthony Obumneme Osuchukwu. (Anyafulugo)