It wasn’t because of the Igbos, of southeast Nigeria, that the great author imagined a suitable title of a book: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger, from the colonial master’s perspective. Nay! Not at all.Another world class author, Ngozi Achebe, the author of ‘‘Onaedo – the Goldsmith’s Daughter’’, told us some wonderful tales about how Igbos regard authority, on the one hand, and industry, on the other. ‘‘Our people did not want Eze. Eventually a compromise was reached.’’
In her fictional book, partly set in the 16th century, the community town crier roams the entire villages every night and announces to everyone, to the hearing of the King, that Abonani town accepts king but with limitations. He would have no power of life and death over anyone. He would rule by consensus. So the town crier reminds the king every night of his contract with Abonani that ‘‘their king did not have more powers than the people he ruled. The king’s power comes from the people and can be revoked at any time.”
That is, Abonani people do not tolerate nonsense from the King. If care is not taken, today is the last day of the king. We made him what he is; we, too, can unmake him. Our King, have you heard?
Abonani town crier carries metal gong to sound his warning diligently until an authoritarian Eze asks himself, ‘‘what sort of kingship is this. Would it not be better I relinquish’’.
The King of Abonani never has respite.
It is an error to say Igbo people know no king. Igbos, as represented by the people of Abonani, know King. Eze or Igwe is their name for King, but they despise his authority. From the Igbo titles of Nze, Ozo, Ichie, Oba and finally Eze/Igwe, Igbos ‘‘lay ambush’’ for their recipients with too much requirements.
These titles cost the earth. Recipients spend fortunes in order to acquire them. At the end, a recipient only has prestige and respect, but no authority. Igbos despise authority. They like a decentralised authority of Ndi-Ichie. Any time an Igbo boy-child is born, a king is born. His kingdom is that his small household, which he aspires to build and fend with all his might. Igboman wants freedom; he wants to acquire wealth and touch the sky. Part One!
The prevalent ‘‘push’’ and quest for breakthrough in establishing oneself amongst the Igbos are owed to this worldview of having no limitations and authority over oneself. So long as there is life, there is hope. And so they painstakingly grow their businesses, establishing a chain of apprentices. And wherever they go, where no one else dares, they re-establish themselves. They see opportunity in virtually everything. He is a shrewd entrepreneur. He is a survivor.
Instead of working for a King and an expansion of imperialism, they work for themselves.
In the form of Eneda – a skilled blacksmith and Onaedo’s father, we are privy to the entrepreneurship that the Igbo people are known for today. Eneda is wealthy and known throughout Olu na Igbo – their small world. He is a man who gains respect using his God-given talent or; to be more precise, talent from his Chi. Onaedo’s mother has a soap making business.
As you read this, welcome to Ibo made – also known as: Aba made! Welcome to Part Two – the peril of Nigeria.
No one can be too sure if it is due to hatred – an attempt to suppress a people, or shear folly. Nigerians deliberately shunned Ibo made goods, which would have helped transport Nigeria wholesomely from consumer to producer nation. China, which we once despised for sub-standard products, is a good example.
The best way to lead you on to read this part of article is to peripherally review Professor Pius Adesanmi’s article of October 17, 2014. He described his childhood world of 1970’s and 80’s in Isanlu, an Okun town in the old Kwara State, and also criticised severely the Nigerian state. In that town, there were the Hausa/Fulanis, who lived in Sabo area, from where they sold suya and fura da nono (only).
Then there was this ‘‘ambulant’’ Ghanaian, Kwaku or Mensah, who was a roaming cobbler in the neighbourhood. His wife, Akosua, sold rice and beans during recreation (break period) at school. But there was this Okoro – whatever his real name was, from Igbo land. Unlike others, he spoke the local dialect and standard Yoruba.
Of the three ‘‘settlerist migrant’’ personalities, Prof Adesanmi said of Okoro, ‘‘he was a quintessence of integration other Nigerians hardly ever achieve.’’ On top of that, ‘‘Okoro owned the only trading store in town.’’
In order to provide insight into Igboman’s strong grip of the middle class economy in Nigeria, the same way Asians mostly hold it in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, Prof Adesanmi brought comic relief to his childhood description.
He says, ‘‘Okoro was the villagers’ sole access to manufactured goods: clothes, maths set, exercise books, whot cards, ludo boards, kerosene stoves, sardines, geisha, glucose, Wembley 4 soccer balls, skull slip-on shoes for women, candles, asepso, tetramosol, nku cream, elephant blue detergent, tomapep, shelltox, knitting needles, name it! Okoro’s store was the world: miniature globalization in that little corner of Africa………’’.
You may wish to laugh out loud on this until you hear of Prof’s addendum to this. For instance, he adds, ‘‘Okoro’s customers always expected him to have two versions of every item he sold: the original and the fake.’’
According to him, based on local lore, original articles came from Europe and America then (and China now). But the fake was manufactured in Igboland by ‘‘ingenuous folks capable of reproducing any industrial good with the speed of lightening.’’ Gbam!
This was the same thing that China, India, Indonesia, Taiwan and even the western countries did to survive their bad economies but of which Nigeria ignored at its own peril. Gbam!
I can now join professor Adesanmi to welcome you to the legend of ‘‘Ibo made’’ – in Nigeria’s national imaginary, which came to represent all sorts of things, including inferior or cheap article – the type of good you ‘‘bought grudgingly because you couldn’t afford the real deal’’.
If something isn’t wrong in the head of Nigeria, at least on its present structure, then tell me something else. Today most of the goods consumed in the western world are manufactured in some Asian countries – the once-upon-a-time third world economy, where they create job and therefore quell social unrest. The reason is that, over time, their manufacturing capabilities – including supply chain management, quality, technical knowhow and skill transfer, firmed up to match the developed world’s specifications. In Nigeria, only the Igbos could have represented this virtue.
And so, Prof says, ‘‘Ibo made” is the most explicit metaphor for the Nigerian tragedy. It explains why we abandoned mal-development and underdevelopment for zero development. It is an unserious country that expects development by disparaging and killing the industry, inventiveness, and technological savvy of an entire segment of its population, socializing generation after generation of her people into a mental universe where every candle or pencil made in Aba is deemed inferior because it is “Ibo made”. Neither the obtuse rulers at the centre nor the Governors of the respective “Ibo made” states were ever imaginative enough to develop “Ibo made” into a full scale national asset.’’ Another gbam! In fact gbamer than before.
Igbos know why they are ‘‘tall’’ in Nigeria. In order to survive and stand tall in the comity of nations, Nigeria must come to terms with this ability of an Igboman. One of the many ways the ‘‘Ibo haters’’ orchestrated the killing of Igboman’s ingenuity is the deactivation of seaports in the south-south region and the seeming lack of interest in southeast. Those haters simply want a paradigm shift.
While Igbos relapsed with political anaesthetic, today the nut of manufacturing sector in Nigeria lies in Lagos-Agbara-Ogun axis, manned by the Chinese, Indians and Lebanese. Not any longer by an Igboman, not even a Nigerian of any type. And Nigeria is paying dearly for it. But if the seed of manufacturing still remains in Aba, and I believe it does, Igbos can still look inwards and recreate themselves. The time is now, as the momentum rages on. The momentum will continue to rage because Nigeria, as presently constituted with all the authority at the centre – over and above Igboman, does not work for the Igbos.
Perhaps this is why Professor Adesanmi called Nigeria a funny country. He says, ‘‘Nigeria is truly a funny country. Her ports are permanently congested because she imports everything from wooden tooth picks to wooden rulers. If air could be imported, Nigeria would import it. Yet, half the things clogging her ports used to be made in Aba and other places in the east. Nigeria killed rather than develop those manufacturing potentials.
What Nigeria rejected as “Ibo made”, our friends in China took to unimaginable levels. Now, foolish and ostentatious Nigerians who consider buying “Ibo made” an insult buy stuff that are even inferior to “Ibo made” from China! The Chinese, not being as foolish as we are, flood Nigeria with every imaginable fake and pirated product under the sun. Nigerians buy everything from fake Louis Vuitton products to fake tooth picks from China.’’ Of course it’s no longer news that Nigeria is now importing rubber rice.
Anyway, before I end this piece, Professor Adesanmi, whoever you are, wherever you are, I thank you for that article of October 17, 2014, where you showed your dauntless faith in Ibo made. I thank, too, your Igbo friend – the one who lives in France, who inspired that article. I don’t bother he even dismissed you impatiently by saying, ‘‘Pius, abeg, leave matter jare’’ to show his lack of trust in Ibo made.
Let’s leave Nigerian matter for now jare. Yours sincerely, Igbo man.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org