We’re Igbo, not Ibo

Think you know Eastern Nigeria?

Here’s some sort of a sequel to Mark Amaza’s piece on Northern Nigeria, written to southerners who hold the wrong impression of the region.

Initially, I thought of writing a response on behalf of the entire southern Nigeria but I did not feel qualified enough considering that the south is made up of two “major” ethnic groups and numerous other ethnicities (some are even called nations). And then, I am not sure the north holds the same homogeneous view of the entire south that we down south are guilty of towards them.

So this write up is primarily addressing opinions most people hold about the south eastern part of Nigeria. If I missed any opinions, kindly bring them to my notice.

Caveat: It’s a read of considerable length aka a lengthy read.

At least 95% people from the south eastern part of Nigeria are Igbo. The Igbos make up at least 18% of Nigeria’s population according to census figures and 30% of people from Delta and Rivers state are either Igbo or Igbo speaking. Legend has it that any country you go to that does not have an Igbo person living there is not safe for habitation. I’ll leave out all the other points about the history of Igbos in relation to other parts of the south to prevent a digression from the soul of this article. We can argue about that later over cappuccino…or something stronger.

So let’s get to it.

The curse of money: I had to address this first. The general perception is that we (Igbos) value money over anything else, especially education. That is of course, far from the truth. Like every sane human being who has fantasies and loves the beauties of life, we love money too. However, never at the expense of education. Anambra and Abia states have swapped positions as first and second on the list of states with the best statewide WAEC results since 2013, Imo state has led the number of JAMB applicants in the last 4 years while Anambra, Imo and Enugu in that order, have the highest cut-off marks for admission by merit into unity secondary schools. Anambra, Imo and Enugu according to the NUC and naij.com have the highest number of professors and PhD holders at the last count. For an estimated population of 32 million people, significantly less than that of the other leading tribes, these statistics do not by any means show a lack of interest in getting educated.

Let me attempt to present a case for our misunderstood efforts to make money at almost any cost.

Way before the civil war, Igbos had been known to be an industrious lot with an extensive reward system for hardwork and bravery. This can still be reflected in the way most Igbo societies give their chieftancy titles; success by efforts over inherited success. Then came the civil war between 1967–70 and the massive devastation and impoverishment it brought to the south eastern region. When the war came to an end, all Igbos who had money in the bank, no matter the amount, were entitled only to £20, including an uncle of mine who says he had £150,000 in the bank before the war. All their properties in Port-Harcourt were handed over to the Ikwerres, Ijaws and other ethnicities, finding jobs was nearly impossible as they were discriminated against on a national scale and they were not even allowed a chief of army staff or international airport until the last political dispensation; we all know about the story of the second Niger bridge. At the end of the civil war, we were at square one and there was very little hope for our future.

46 years later, the Igbos have risen to occupy nearly every position of political, military and economic power, produced renown academics, businessmen of repute (Igbos have arguably the highest millionaire ratio in Nigeria), celebrated entertainers and sportsmen through determination, sheer hardwork and extreme discipline. The Igbos have literally rebuilt the ruins of the war themselves. Having to start afresh from nothing has taught the Igbos the practical importance of money and my guess is they fight for and guard it so jealously because they never again want to suffer so much lack and deprivation. Classical example of once bitten twice shy.

I just wanted to give a historical context to our seeming obsession with making money. So the next time you hear gist about Igbo men being portrayed as the ultimate money grabbers, take it with a pinch of salt.

We all want to leave Nigeria: I support the idea behind biafra but among educated Igbos (who are definitely a lot), I’m in the minority. And even within that minority, very few support the modus operandi of those who currently champion that cause; MASSOB especially. Many Igbos actually believe in Nigeria which is why you’re more likely to find more Igbos speak the languages of other ethnic groups than those ethnic groups are likely to speak ours (one out of every seven Igbo people above 23 speaks at least one major Nigerian languages besides Igbo). Igbos also invest way more in other non-eastern states than all other ethnicities invest in the south east. However, the reasons for the clamour for Biafra are simple.

We want to feel as equal as everyone else; we want to have the same number of states with every other region, we want to produce the first post civil war Igbo president, we want to produce a defence chief, we want the second Niger bridge, we want more representation in the national government and civil service, amongst others. While these might not have any direct impact on our state of livelihood as a people, they will definitely have a positive psychological effect on the Igbo people.

Now to the less politically charged points.

Not every Igbo person has the L/R factor: You all have probably met that guy who calls rainbow lainbow (or however it’s spelled) and lice rice. It’s not a birth defect and it sure as heaven is not an Igbo factor. It’s mostly a result of the effect the Anambra dialect of Igbo has on its native speaker, more like the Yoruba “H factor” or the Hausa F/P interchange.

We kill for land and property: I honestly can understand who to be blame for this now generalized viewpoint. Nollywood. However and as far as I am aware, neither I, my father, my uncles, my father’s father or his uncles have killed or been killed over land or property. I see it get depicted a lot on African magic as a common occurrence among Igbos but in reality, it’s something that happens all over Nigeria. It is in no way exclusive to us. To give you a better picture of the frequency, more Igbo men I know have died from simply wanting to die (obviously a rarity) than from being killed over land or property issues.

We are all christians: It would surprise you to know that there are considerable concentrations of Igbo muslims especially in parts of Ebonyi, Enugu and Anambra. There are large mosques in various parts of the east, renown Igbo muslim clerics like Sheik Ibrahim Nyass Nwaugi and even the reputable Jama-al-Nazral centre in Afikpo , Ebonyi state that is rumoured to be in the process of being converted to a muslim university. So the next time you hear a name like Okechukwu Junaid, don’t laugh it off.

Mbaise people are wicked: I used to have this impression until I serially found love in Mbaise (if you have never heard, it’s a place in Imo state). Even though I have met cunning people from this legendary part of eastern Nigeria, I have also met cunning people from everywhere else in Nigeria and from my visits to Mbaise and involvements with people from there, I can easily say that I have never had any really bad encounter with them. It’s more a case of few instances in the very distant past whose stories have outlived their lifetimes and have become legends by which all mbaise people are erroneously measured.

We treat women badly: Good Lord! Have you ever dated an Igbo guy or been married to one? If he didn’t treat you right and you’d be willing to give we Igbo guys another chance to disabuse your mind...you know what to do. I know that there are isolated cases of women being maltreated especially on the deaths of their husbands but most of those incidents are now things of the past in Igbo land. Believe me, there are so many good Igbo men out there. It’s instructive that Igbos have some of the lowest divorce rates in Nigeria. My mother raised my brother and I to open doors for women, never raise our hands to hit them , always defend vulnerable ladies, never say no to a lady genuinely needing help and to treat women with utmost respect and courtesy. We were brought up to know how to cook and clean. Those who know me can attest to the fact that I have lived out most of these ideals as much as is realistically possible. I am not alone. Most young Igbo guys I know can and will cook, clean and care for any lady they care about. One even gives a Swedish massage, does laundry and cooks Italian to serve bae in bed on saturday mornings. A true Igbo man always wants to make his “lolo” look as good as he can afford. The next time you are around an Igbo man (no matter his financial status), check out his wife or *fill in the relevant title*.

We might not always give you all the attention you want but when we come back home from the shop at 11pm with that neck piece you had been drooling on days back, just remember that you’ve just witnessed one of the greatest ways we show our love. Should we even talk about the good loving we give?

And there’s no greater way to offend an Igbo man’s pride that to offend his wife.

I have great Igbo men for hire, holler!

Our fashion sense is all lightning and rainbow: Kcee is possibly one of the reasons you have this impression and it’s not your fault. I will have to call E-money after this is published to talk to him about calling his shine shine brother to order and of course, to politely ask him to epp my ministry.

Joking apart, with fashion icons of Igbo heritage like Genevieve Nnaji, Rita Dominic, Ashley Madekwe, Tinie Tempah, Uti Nwachukwu and O.C. Ukeje, it would be unfair to think we have a lifelong feud with fashion. And just to add this, all our women are not laiskin biko! We have black beauries too. Since 1986, 12 of the Most Beautiful Girls in Nigeria have been Igbo and 9 of them have been dark skinned at that. Of course that’s a small number of Igbo ladies but it definitely gives you an idea.

It costs a limb and the sweat of an albino goat to marry an Igbo woman: Again, it’s not true my people. We are generally misunderstood on this issue.

The process of “iku aka n’uzo” (introduction) and “igbata ihe” (formally asking her family for the her hand in marriage) cost next to nothing. What usually costs that money we all complain about-and it varies from place to place-is buying things for the traditional wedding and the village “committees” who I admit, can be more in number than the entire hobbit nation.

Hack: You can now meet most of your traditional obligations to the girl’s family in her city home and bypass most of the “village” expenses.

As with every rule, there will be exceptions. Regardless, I confidently speak for the generality of Ndigbo. And for those who say Igbo men only marry Igbo women, you’re more likely to find an Igbo man marrying a Yoruba, Calabar, Igala or Fulani woman than the reverse happening. Which is one reason why Igbos are comfortably settled in literally all states across Nigeria.

I really hope this 10-minute read gives you a better understanding of Igbos and why we are the way we are. We are not struggling for relevance with or trying to outdo any tribe, our greatest competition lies between ourselves and our dark past. We know how to swim so lagoon drowning is out of it, we just can’t help our romance with mental and financial independence. Never feel threatened by our economic advancements, they will ultimately be for the good of Nigeria; if the anti-Igbo policies are dropped. We are hospitable, NOT STINGY, we love collaborations-ask Patoranking, we don’t eat humans, our women do not all have facial and body hair, we are not all about 419 and whenever you meet one of my ilk, drop assumptions. Trust me when I say closer is better.

Bonus: cha cha is also an Igbo word!

(@absolutelyjosh)

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