The Igbos: A Race So Hospitable
The National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, established by decree No.24 of 22nd May 1973, due to the ethnic tension inflamed by the gory years of the Nigerian Civil War, is one of the most significant schemes in present day Nigeria.
The NYSC scheme, quite unarguably, has, over the years, fostered national unity by creating a platform for graduate youths to live in different parts of the country for a period of one year. During this period, corps members, as these graduate youths are formally called, learn the culture of the host communities, including language, world view, and other pecularities which distinguish the host communities as a people.
These priceless lessons, to a large extent, have helped corps members to become dispassionate in their relationship with members of other ethnic groups, thereby promoting national unity. I, a Youruba by descent, was in March 2013 posted to Ebonyi, an Igbo-speaking state, to serve my dear country Nigeria. And, as it will be quite expected, I accepted the call-up letter with mixed feelings, the arch reason being that, as I have misleadingly learnt through prejudicial articles published in national newspapers and on the internet, the Igbo race are money-lovers, hostile, and Yoruba-haters. Another discouraging reason was the fact that, Ebonyi, as I have gathered from reliable sources, is predominantly rural.
Having these disheartening opinions in mind, I reluctantly carried my holdall, went to the Ojota park at Lagos, and embarked on a journey, for the first time in my life, to Eastern-Nigeria.
The Niger Bridge, a long, narrow, concrete enclosure, guarded by series of veering, aluminium rods, suspended by ginormous queue of iron reinforcements, and flying over the historic River Niger, was an awe-inspiring sight to behold. On the Niger Bridge, from an angle of depression, I saw, on the glassy river, to my amusement, little canoes, that were paddled by standing lads attired in mangy boxer shorts, casting dragnets at intervals, and waiting for a minute or two, to harvest tiny things, which from the distance appear to be tilapia.
Shortly after our bus conquered the Niger, marking our arrival at the commercial town of Onitsha, a stern-looking, soaring statue, fully dressed in military regalia, stood before us. This great statue, which on getting close I later discovered to be the immortalization of General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu aka Ikemba Nnewi, the Biafran warlord, rekindled my respect for the armed forces.
The buzz of Onitsha, like it did to Chike in Achebe's children novel: Chike and The River, suggested to me that I would experience several amazing things, which would, most likely, be worthy of documentation. These instictive thoughts, which sprang up in my heart many months ago on my way to Ebonyi State, have become a reality, a reality which has forced me to write this ethnographic article, about some amazing things I have witnessed among the Igbos--hospitality being the foremost.
As I have mentioned earlier, Ebonyi, the state I was posted to serve my fatherland is predominantly rural. So, it was not surprising, when on the last day of the NYSC orientation camp, Afikpo, my posting
letter requested me to report at Ohaozara Local Government. Ohaozara, a name which means 'heart of the desert' in Igbo tongue, is an epitome of rurality.
However, perhaps due to the wakefulness of my chi, Okposi, the small town where my place of primary assignment is located, is an oasis. Unlike some parts of Ohaozara, Okposi has several motor parks, network masts, filling stations, beer parlours, markets, restaurants, and beautiful damsels. Nevertheless, constant power supply, like eclipse, is scarce. So, corps members, in the rareness of electricity, face great difficulty in the quest of charging phones and ironing clothes.
On the former challenge, the Igbos, being a very hospitable race, allow corps members to charge phones free of charge in shops, homes, hotels, and filling stations, where generators are available. This kindness have really struck me because indigenes, the sons and daughters of the soil, are deprived the privilege of charging their phones free of charge.
This warm kindness shown to corps members, most of whom are Yorubas, have clearly portrayed the Igbos as a hospitable race, who displease their own people to please strangers. It also affirm the view that the Igbos are neither Yoruba haters nor haters of other ethnic groups.
Another way the Igbos have shown hospitality to strangers, and particularly to corps members, is through polite greetings. In the past few months, if greetings were to be bricks, the frequent greetings I have received from members of the host community would have been enough to build skyscrappers. On a daily basis, whether I walk on the street, sit solitarily at the verandah of the corpers' lodge, visit the market, or attend church services, greetings come in baskets, from the lips of smiling faces, lips of the young and of the old.
"Copa Shun!" they would say in bright voices, "Kedu?" "Fine," I would answer in English, for fear of mispronouncing the quite complicated Igbo response: "Nne o dinma so o. They, knowing my fears, would laugh, and reply in pidgin English, "Copa Shun, wen you go start to dey speak Igbo sef?"
i would smile broadly, utter no word, while I take the risk of swallowing the gathering saliva in my mouth. Although greetings are no money, yet, I feel quite loved when I exchange greetings with anyone I come in contact with.
Hospitality, no matter how freely distributed, is incomplete without peace. The Igbos, I will say, based on the number of months I have spent among them, are peace lovers, as well as peace makers. Ohaozara Local Government, where I was posted, has no single functioning ATM machine, let alone a bank. So, in most cases, I make bank transactions at Afikpo, the second largest town in the state. The road which link Ohaozara to Afikpo, as I have written elsewhere, must not be travelled by a truck conveying crates of egg, because of the unmotorable state of the road.
Consequently, I make, on regular basis, several journeys to Afikpo, employing the services of commercial motorcyclists, who sprint like lightening on the pitted road, bringing to my memory
Timothy Wangusa's momentous poem "A Taxi Driver on His Death." During my frequent visit to Afikpo, amidst my fears and the desolateness of the road, I think of being attacked, of being killed, and of being kidnapped. But no such thing has ever happened. I consider the safety on that bleak road as the height of hospitality. Had it not been for hospitality culture of the Igbos, without police barricades, that road should have been a den of robbers.
About a month ago, I got a preferential treatment which further established the Igbos as a hospitable race. It was a cloudy Sunday evening, having so many friends and family to call, without airtime, I
defiled the gloomy sky, to get a recharge card some streets away from my lodge. Shortly after I had purchased the recharge card, on my way back to the corper's lodge, it started to rain heavily. To avoid being drenched, I ran to a nearby beer parlour, where I meant several refuge seekers, who were standing uncomfortably, at corners where they were lashed by the clueless whip of the rain. But to my surprise, as soon as I had stepped into the beer parlour, the proprietor, whom I had
never met, knowing I was a corp member, brought out a white plastic chair, dusted it, handed it to me, and told me to have my seat.
The rain continued violently for over thirty minutes; and while it lasted, I observed that almost ten men, without seats, crowded me. The kingly treatment given to me by the proprietor of the beer parlour was highly unmerired because I had never stopped at his bar, to drink beer nor pepper soup. The most interesting point was the fact that the proprietor displeased his own people to please me, a mere stranger.
Despite the hospitality of the Igbos, it saddens me that prominent Yorubas, like the former aviation minister, Chief Fani-Kayode, still write gratuitous articles about the Igbo race, about the selfishness
of the Igbos, about how he had had 'intimate' relationship with Igbo women, and about the domineering nature of the Igbos. Though I am a Yoruba, yet, truth, no matter how unpleasant it seems, must be told at all times.
The Igbos are a race so hospitable in their dispositions toward strangers; so the Fani-Kayodes of this world must know that their parochial views do not represent the voice of the Yorubas as a
whole, but of themselves. They must know that the Yoruba youth of my generation cannot be blinded by frivolous ethnocentric egos. We shall always be objective and dispassionate in our relationship with members of other ethnic groups.
Ademule David Oluwashina,
a social critic, wrote from Ebonyi State