Friday, August 17, 2012

Igbo Cultural Day holds in Ghana Sept 15

‘Our culture is under threat, we must preserve it’

Chief Chukwudi Jude Ihenetu, CEO of Chi-Bert Group of Companies.

The Igbo race has suffered several setbacks over the centuries. Perhaps, the earliest of these was the ravage caused by the slave trade during which Igbo youth were particularly sought after because of their virtues, such as strength, irrepressible spirit, industry and creativity.

In the beginning, Igbo villages were ravaged by slave raiders, who took countless able-bodied youth away, thus depriving such communities of the contribution to progress that victims of slave traders would have made; left in situ. But, like the proverbial silver-lining to every cloud, the despicable slave trade threw up enviable proofs of the avaerage Igbo’s attributes.

Some of these can be gleaned from the lore of Olaudah Equino, who rose from slave boy into a free man and morphed into a learned and respected figure in the Western world.

Such is the importance of the Igbo to the world that the Frontier Culture Museum in Virginia (FCMV), United States; decided to build a model Igbo village in that New World country. Reason: Studies revealed that a countless number of slaves that helped to develop that corner of America were Igbos.

The Rt. Hon Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first indigenous Governor General; Reverend Fr. Emmanuel Tansi, the only Nigerian to be beatified by the Catholic Church; Sir Louis Ojukwu, businessman extraordinaire; Maths genius Prof. Chike Obi, Dr. Ben Enwonwu, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a former Secretary General of the Commonwealth; literary guru of world renown Prof. Chinua Achebe; Dr. Alex Ekwueme, a former Vice President of Nigeria, renowned architect, businessman and accomplished politician; and Dr. Kingsley Ozumba (KO) Mbadiwe, born in today’s Imo and fondly remembered for his use of English, such as A man of timbre and calibre as well as When the come comes to become.

And, who could forget Mrs. Margaret Ekpo or the galantry of the ladies involved in the 1929 revolt that came to be more popularly dubbed Aba Women’s Riot? I decidedly recalled the correction by Dr. Chike Dike, a former Director General of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) that the word Riot derogates the brave action of the women, whose conduct should be seen as revolt, instead of a riot, which connotes uncoordinated mob action.

Ostensibly, Igbo lands have produced great men and women, whose lives are worthy of emulation. To date, the Igbo cosmos continues to spawn great minds; and, the historic academic feat recorded by any black student ever at US Ivy-League Harvard University was achieved by an Igbo-born alumnus; attests to this.

Unfortunately, however, Igbo lands have also virtually become stigmatised for kidnappers, armed robbers, fake drug dealers et cetera. Where did it all go wrong? As if this degeneration was not bad enough, Igbo culture is also facing the threat of extinction.

It is worth noting that unlike the Yoruba or Hausa speaking community, which boast Alaroye or Gaskiya repectively, there is no popular newspaper, even periodical, for Igbo readers written in their mother-tongue.

The growing decline of Igbo language was vividly brought to light by Onya sunna Engli-Igbo, a hybrid of English and Igbo languages, which is what most Igbo youth of today speak; having lost touch with their culture. If such is the situation of Igbo culture at home, the predicament of countless Igbo youth born not only outside Igbo land in Nigeria but in foreign lands; is best left to a conjecture.

Interestingly, almost every offspring of Igbo-born parents living in Accra speak the local lingua franca, Ga or Twi as well as speak, read and write English; since they attend schools in Anglophone Ghana. However, the comprehension of such children of their mother tongue is far from satisfactory. Any polyglot knows that listening is easier than speaking.

Therefore, if Igbo children born in Ghana have poor comprehension of their mother tongue; then their ability to express themselves in that language must be dismal. This is the reason the likes of Chief Chukwudi Jude Ihenetu has entered the fray. They want to teach every Igbo, including those in Nigeria and world-wide; that one can make money, while concurrently preserving one’s identity.

Speaking with mauricearchibongtravels in the Ghanaian capital recently, Chief Ihenetu said Igbo community in Ghana launched a celebration of Iwa ji in the former Gold Coast last year (2011). He said it was an excellent start, but a lot more needs to be done. He believes much would be achieved if Igbo people in Ghana had Obi ndi Igbo. Hear him: Our people need an Obi ndi Igbo.

A sort of Cultural Centre, which would serve as a Counselling Point, Research Centre, and a rallying point for all Igbos. That way, it will help to preserve our language and other aspects of culture as well as protect Igbo social and economic interests by ensuring that data are gathered concerning the population of Igbos in Ghana and how to guide each of them to respect the laws of the host country in order not to create problems for Ghanaians or the Government of Ghana, thus jeopardising the social and economic interests of law-abiding Nigerians engaged purely in legitimate enterprises.

Igbos are noted for their mercantilist spirit, and; to Chief Chukwudi Jude Ihenetu, a Nigerian living in Accra, Ghana since 1995; “There is nothing wrong with that”. To foster their wealth, Igbo people have dispersed. In every nook and cranny of the world, you’d find an Igbo. This prompted the maxim that, any stranger that arrived in some foreign land or remote village should flee immediately, should she/he discover that no Igbo was resident there.

Hear this chief: “Various social pressures forced us to leave Nigeria. We are living in peace here. Infrastructure is good and we are doing well cooperating with authorities of the host country. However, some of us do not want to lose our identity. We are fast losing our culture. Very few of our children who were born in Ghana can sustain a conversation in Igbo. Sometimes, you see two or three children, all of Igbo parents, speaking to one another in Twi or English”.

This cosmopolitan disposition is good and helps in today’s Global Village, he admits; but, it is also good for the world that every culture is protected and preserved. “This is why I want to make sure that our way of life is preserved”, Chief Ihenetu said.

Ihenetu was already 24 years old, when he emigrated from home in 1995. At this age, one’s knowledge of “ethnosyncracy” should have coalesced. However, unlike Ihenetu, tens of thousands of Igbo children in the formative age have been taken outside their homelands to work as apprenctices. And, with Nigerian businessmen increasing in their numbers in virtually every country of this world; one could say that the dispersal is likely to stop any time soon.

Now, if Nigerian-born Igbo youth that went to live in Ghana as youngsters encounter difficulty, when it comes to speaking Igbo; then knowledge of their mother tongue must be poorer still for children of Igbo parents living abroad.

Apart from the tongue itself, there is the issue of etiquette and mannerism. There is also the Age Grade arrangement that somehow fosters good citizenship thus discouraging irresponsibility and deliquency or deviance. Evidently, the absence of Obi ndi Igbo means there is no point of gravity. And, by interpretation, the people wander and are often confounded.

Chief Chukwudi Jude Ihenetu was born in Umuduroha, Amaigbo Town, which lies within Nwanghele Local Government Area of Imo State in South-eastern Nigeria. He promised that as Obi ndi Igbo in Ghana, he would ensure the establishment of a school of Igbo language in Ghana to help preserve the tongue and popularise it in the Diaspora.

“Igbo people are active participants in the economic activites of many nations of this world. And, believe me, a diplomat working in a foreign embassy in Ghana but interested in cultural studies will enroll for lessons in Igbo language. I know this. Some foreigners, whether Europeans, Koreans, Chinese are very curious and sometimes embark on studies to enrich their lives or as past-time.

So, may be we start with our Igbo children coming to learn their mother tongue during weekends and from there it will grow. We also plan to hold forums at intervals to inform and entertain Igbo people in Ghana and members of the host nation, who are interested”, Ihenetu revealed.

Ihenetu again: “At some of these forums, Igbo children would meet more and interact more. As things are now, our children are scattered across countless institutions; but, with an Ama Obi Igbo on ground; everyone will come together, even if it is purely for entertainment.

“Such interaction will give these children more opportunities to exercise their knowledge of our language. That way, it will be easier for them to acquire the tongue. They will also be regularly tutored to be law-abiding, dilligent and industrous because these are virtues for which Igbos prided themselves”.  

There’s a joke within political circles that, Nigerians would suddenly find themselves acephalous, were every other ethnic group to agree that the Igbo should produce the country’s next president. Those that throw up this cruel parody are ever quick to remind us of the Igbo phrase: Igbo amaghi Eze (The Igbo know no king).

“If the party asks the Igbo to ‘Give us a flagbearer’, over one million Igbos will come forth”, was the cynical remark of a non-Igbo during a private roundtable about the fate of our country.

However, it must be realised that; whereas some Igbo communities, such as Ibuzo (believed to have derived from Ndi Igbo bi n’zo) in Delta State operated a sort of confedracy; the people of nearby Onitsha across the River Nigeria, had a highly revered and powerful central authority, a sovereign in their Obi.

For centuries, Ibuzo was ruled by a conclave made of dozens of the oldest man in each clan, called Diokpa. Call it gerontocracy if you like, yet it worked for the indigenes for centuries. And, talking about Onitsha, their kith and kin in Asaba, on the other side of the Niger River, also boast a monarch; Asagba of Asaba. Interestingly, Asaba; capital of Delta state is a walking distance from Ibuzo and nearer than Onitsha.

Across Accra, we encountered numerous Igbo youth and countless elderly folks that spoke fondly about Ihenetu. But, this is not to say that every Igbo in Accra compulsorily wants him as their king; remember, after all, that Igbo amaghi Eze. Indeed, the man’s worst critic expressed his worry, thus:

“Look, the work of a king is different from running commercial ventures…Is it not Ihenetu you are talking about? My friend, I know him better than you. Ok, he works very hard and has plenty of money and often helps people. But, if you know the number of company that man runs, you would realise that he will not have time”.

When mauricearchibongtravels submitted: “Sir, could you give us some idea of Chief Ihenetu’s companies?” This is what the old man had to say: “I don’t know which town you come from in Nigeria, but; in my home-town, the king is supposed to stay inside his palace. If you doubt me, go and ask our people: Chief Ihenetu is owner of Chi-Bert Group of Companies Ghana. Chi-Bert is like an octopus. He get hand everywhere o, said the old man in pidgin.

Continuing on a more serious note, he added: “He is too young and his Chi-Bert has many subsidiaries: from construction company, caterpillar hiring company, Mothercare, Farms, Aluminium, Oil and Gas. Name it, Chi-Bert is there; now, can such a busy man play king?”

When we put these to Ihenetu, he countered that any such critic had forgotten that the world has moved on. “Chief Ihenetu is only 41 years old, whereas there are countless Igbos living across Ghana; who are much older than that.

Therefore, we couldn’t help but ask Chief Ihenetu; if older Igbos living in Ghana would not consider him too young to be their Eze? “Even the egg of a butterfly metamophoses into larva before pupa and eventually attains adulthood.

So, I want to create a second home for Igbo people in Ghana. The hosts are very civilised and law-abiding. We (Igbo) share a lot in common with Ghanaians but we still do not want to lose touch with our culture”, Ihenetu said.

He pledged to facilitate the identification of talented and young Igbo youth roaming the streets of Ghana in search of livelihood; and, contribute to helping those willing to return home to start a new life. Ihenetu also pointed out that a large number of Igbo living in Ghana could be described as wiz kids. He said he knows some of these ones and that they need to be formally identified and encouraged to return to Nigeria and help in developing their motherland.

“Today, many young leaders lead some of the great nations of this world. President Barack Obama of United States did not get into office in his old age, so; to me, age is not an issue. Hear him: “Leadership is not about age. Even the Bible teaches us about the wisdom of King Solomon, who ascended the throne as a young man. We also know that Methuselah lived to almost 1,000 years but he is not credited as the world’s wisest man.

“So, at 41; I believe I am neither too young nor too old to be Eze. I should remind that we have had a king in Nigeria that was crowned, when he was only six years old. Coronation is a divine thing, people gather but it is all from God working through human beings. This is why Igbo people in Ghana have been addressing me as Eze for more than 10 years, now.

“So, my installation on September 15 as part of Igbo Cultural Day is simply formal endorsement of the title”, he mused; adding that last year’s celebration of Iwa ji in Accra was a major turning point. “Now, we want to take things further”, he declared. “Igbo culture is not only about feasting, singing and dancing. There are more to engage our youth. We should keep them busy with language and craft-making for example”, he expatiated; adding, “This is why we have concluded plans to upgrade this year’s New Yam festival for Igbos in Ghana to Igbo Cultural Day.

“The celebration will take place on September 15 and will be attended by distinguished personalities both Nigerians and Ghanaians. From Nigeria, participants are coming from seven states in Nigeria, where Igbo is the mother tongue; some governors will join us in Ghana to celebrate with us and encourage Nigerians living abroad to remain good ambassadors of their race and home country”, he added.

To crown it up, Ihenetu declared enthusiastically: “A number of First Class traditional rulers from Igbo settlements have agreed to travel here to bless our noble intention”.

As to which of these sovereigns were being expected, Ihenetu said he would rather not reveal the identity of such monarch at this point. “But, a pleasant surprise awaits everyone that joins us on September 15 to celebrate Igbo Cultural Day in Ghana, I can assure you”, he concluded.


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