The Ideal Igbo Persona: A Tribute To Ekweremadu @55

By Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia

The human societies are organized in distinct groups. In Nigeria for instance, there were over 520 tribes far before the arrival of colonial masters. With the forces of modernity, imperialism and acculturation processes, some tribes have been assimilated and their languages have gone extinct. As at today, about 371 ethnic groups are discernible in Nigeria with the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani as the dominant groups. The Igbo ethnic group is found mostly in the present South East and South-South geopolitical zones of Nigeria. The core Igbo states are Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states. The states of Delta and Rivers also have a large number of indigenous Igbo populations.

Each ethnic group has a set of characteristics for which it is known. However, with the high rate of urbanization, cultural imperialism and global dynamics, the sharp boundaries between languages and culture are fast dissolving. On the other hand, the endless battle between nature and nurture is on the ascendancy. However, in spite of the contemporary forces, the several Nigerian ethnic groups still retain the major characteristics for which they are known.

Of all the Igbo qualities, the most irrepressible of them are dignity, self- esteem, courage, hard work, tenacity, high achievement motivation, forthrightness, frontier spirit and adaptability. As much as these qualities are in themselves noble, they are invariably the sources of conflict between the Igbo and some other ethnic groups in Nigeria.

For instance, as a secondary school graduate from the South-East of Nigeria, I went to Kano and was taken to a Sarki, an Hausa King for a courtesy visit. It was so strange to me that people were prostrating, genuflecting and bowing down before theSarki. Some were greeting with their faces down and eye contact between the king and his subjects were sufficiently avoided. I was so overwhelmed with culture shock that I failed to, at least, imitate my uncle. The eye messages among the Hausas passed a sentence of opprobrium on me- a characterization that would easily stereotype the average Igbo.

The Igbo do not bow down in greetings, neither do they prostrate before the elders or Kings. Greetings; yes, they must; but it must be magisterial with a warm handshake and delightful eye contact. To the Igbo, greeting is very engaging. It is a cheerful source of cultivating friendship. To the Igbo, condescending paternalism is as revolting as it very absurd and unwarranted. From the foregoing, one can see that beginning from exchange of greetings, a cultural conflict, ethnic prejudice and stereotype have set in and perhaps may define the pattern of further relationship.

The Igbo believe that dignity is the soul force that drives the human activities. Every Igbo, therefore, strives to the best of his ability to uphold the essential core values that promote human dignity. The Igbo are focused, determined and are not whimsical or easily carried away by the fantasies of the moment. Added to the Igbo identity is an obsession for efficient performance and excellence. Embedded in the inherent dignity-identity paradigm is the Igbo pragmatic socialism, a concept that underscores the need to be our brother’s keeper and that the stronger should protect the weaker brethren. Among the Igbo, a man’s wealth is assessed by the level of assistance, financial supports or upliftment to his poor relatives.

The Igbo are proud, egalitarian, aggressive and republican in character. But underlying the individualistic ethos in the Igbo persona is an abiding faith in group identity and communal solidarity. This explains why the Igbo are in hock with town unions or Igbo associations wherever they live. Their unity as a group is derived from the several persecutions and relative deprivations they experience on a daily basis, especially from the various Nigerian authorities.

The operative philosophy of the Igbo is embedded in truth, fairness, equity, live and let live- egbe belu ugo belu; truth is life- eziokwu bu ndu. In Igbo cosmology, each person has a chi or a personal god or chim, the harbinger of fortunes. And every effort is made to venerate the personal chi with good and ethical conducts in order to appropriate the earthly and heavenly fortunes. The ideal Igbo are God-fearing and they strive to promote religious activities with passion.

The Igbo are allergic to indignities. Eminent writers, such as Lovejoy Paul, Elizabeth Isichei, Rucker Walter, Philips John Edward, Josephat Holloway, etc narrated that among the tribes of Africa, the Igbo were highly uppity among other blacks, during the slave trade. The Igbo at various times revolted against the slave masters and preferred suicide option to extreme inhuman treatment. The Igbo slaves were, thus, considered bad goods and mostly avoided at the slave markets.

We are peace-loving and will go extra mile to avoid injustice and trouble. But when an Igbo is provoked to an attack, he would first invoke his chi….chimoo; he will then fight like a bull and so decisively to the shame of his victim. The Igbo often revolt against injustice and would express displeasure in strongest terms any time their spheres of dignity are debauched. The Aba women riot of 1929; the Enugu coal mine revolt of 1949; the Udi women riot of 1946; and the Nigerian-Biafran War of 1967-1970.These were obvious cases of reaction against the Igbo repression.

In the Igbo society of Nigeria, poverty is not a crime but nobody likes to embrace it. The Igbo prefer the dignity in labour to the indignity in servitude or begging. We believe in the elastic power of human beings to shape their destinies; that God has created us with the innate abilities to shape our future and transform our environments; that God helps those that help themselves; and that we must encounter and overcome obstacles in the pilgrimage of life. We are taught from the cradle that with courage, power of positive thinking, resilience and total belief in God, we can ride on the crest of the waves, reach the strength of our amplitudes and subsequently attain a life full of accomplishment and fulfillment. It is such an adventurous spirit to transform our lives that accounts for the spread of Igbos in all parts of the world. Among the tribes of Africa, the Igbo are the most travelled with high rate of adaptability within the local populations. In addition, the Igbo are the economic catalyst of any society in which they are found. In today Nigeria, Igbos are the second in population to every indigenous community. In other words, Igbos are at home in every community they are found.

Perhaps, the most remarkable of the Igbo mystique is the spirit of heroism, stoicism and the uncommon ability to persevere and achieve success in spite of obvious odds This defines the trajectory of Senator Ike Ekweremadu, PhD, CFR,(Ikeoha-Ndigbo).

Ekweremadu was the former Chairman of Aninri Local Government, Chief of Staff to the Government House, Enugu; Secretary to the Engu State Government; four times senator, three times Deputy President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; Speaker of the Parliament of the Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS), among others. He is one of such Igbo who transformed the audacity of history to the audacity of hope. Ekweremadu fits into our ideal Igbo in several ways.

One of the most endearing in the Ikeoha phenomenon is the sustained scholarship and bursary awards to indigent students in Enugu West Senatorial District, Enugu North and Igbo Eze North LGA of Enugu State since 1997 through the Ikeoha Foundation; and today, the scholarship programme has been extended to the entire Enugu State. Ikeoha Foundation lifts people including widows from the abyss of poverty to life of fulfillment.

Those who knew his home town, Mpu and Aninri local government area and the environs would recall with sadness the odious neglect of the area by the various administrations since Nigeria gained independence in 1960. Ikeoha with a distinctive legislative prowess embarked on an aggressive transformation agenda, not only of his community and local government area but extended infrastructural development to the remotest of human habitations in Enugu West and beyond.

The third and perhaps the most irrepressible characteristic of the Igbo in Ikeoha is the uncommon ability to squeeze water from stone. He was to display the most applauded political sagacity in 2015 when the Igbo experienced their worst political nadir and despondency in Nigerian politics. In the debacle of callous conspiracy and triumphalism against the Igbo, Ikeoha was unflappable. With a remarkable cross-over appeal, an inspiring force of presence, disarming charisma and patriotism, Ikeoha has built faithful friendships across all political parties, ethnic groups, religious divides and ideological persuasions. He was to harvest this unique disposition by beating all the known political permutations to become the three times Deputy President of the Senate in an All Peoples Congress (APC)-led government. It was Publius Syrus who stated that anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm. But one who holds the helm in moments of turbulence is the master. Ikeoha is an ideal Igbo and a true Nigerian.

Those who have worked with Ike Ekweremadu can attest that he is an exceptional, humble, hardworking, trustworthy, patriotic visionary and a passionate team player. His courage, brilliance, moral stamina and strong ethical persuasion epitomize the Igbo persona. As a presiding officer in the senate, his mastery of the gavel is nonpareil.

Born on May 12, 1962, Ike Ekweremadu attended the prestigious University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Nigerian Law School, Lagos; University of Abuja; The Harvard and Oxford Universities. He holds the following degrees with honours, LLB, BL, LLM and a PhD. He also has doctorate degrees, LLD, Honoris Causa from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; University of Uyo, Etc. He is happily married to Nwanneka Ekweremadu, PhD and they are blessed with four promising children.