I write you all with great humility. I forgot how much I missed you all and missed engaging in the all-important conversation we need to have within our “mkpuke” (inner chamber) and the ones we need to have in the square.
As a kid, I was once marveled by the sight of a large cart kept in the church premises on which it was written, “Ọ bụ m, ka ọ bụ gị?” I asked my parents what it meant. They explained that the cart was used to push coffins into the church for funeral mass and was simply asking the question, ”Would it be me or you?” In other words, for whom does the bell toll?
I know we are angry. I know because I have been angry, too - for a long time. I have been angry at what Nigeria did to me and to us and to all of its citizens. Nigeria stifled me and I believe it stifled you, too.
I have been expressing my anger in different ways. I have called some people fools, idiots, goats and other unmentionable names. I did it for a long time, waiting for them to start dancing naked at Ogbete market. It did not happen.
As I grow older, I have learned to find more creative and productive ways to channel that anger. And I am sure you will get there one day.
Without meaning to blow my own trumpet, I have been involved in our struggle for a long time. I have been doing my little bit. I have the scars to prove it. And I will continue to do so in the best possible way that I know.
What is as stake for us is complex. If it were simple, the generations before us would have solved it. It requires from us a sophisticated response to everything we are seeing and dealing with. That sophistication entails thinking things through and looking at every challenge from more than one dimension. As Prof. Chieka Ifemesia often says, “the things that others did to the Igbo are many, but the things we did to ourselves are more.”
I love that we always fancy ourselves as the Jews of Africa. It would help if we studied the Jewish society to see how they have survived in the face of global disdain. Israel survives today not because of its arms or its God; Israel survives today because it is a pluralistic society where the best solution to any challenge ultimately filters to the top.
During the Civil Rights Movement in America, the Jews backed the Blacks. They provided funds and legal support to the Civil Rights struggle. They did so knowing that many blacks dislike the Jews. The Jews did it because they could empathize with those whose fundamental human rights are denied.
The Igbo, going by what we have gone through in the past, should be the first to identify with people who are at the receiving end of injustice. We should be the ones screaming and kicking for fair treatment, equality and rights. No matter how jaded we may feel, we must lead the charge because we are the ones who have survived it and who have the moral authority to demand a just society.
I know the temptation. The temptation is to follow the easy path. It is to surrender to the lower element in us. It is this lower angel that makes us say, “Yes, we told you.” “Yep, let them see what we saw.” “Please, when it was our turn, what did they do?” One of the greatest Jews that ever lived, Albert Einstein, once said that, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
It has been said, that when we look too deep into the abyss we become the abyss. The ancient Igbo spiritual act of “ Ijidelu mmadụ ọfọ” has no room for derision, resentment, and shortsighted gestures. It is the basis for a covenant with our God – our ark of covenant, if you like.
In the matter of Nigeria, especially what is happening in the Northeast, it is important to put it in the widest of contexts possible. Simply put, the political space in the Northeast shrank until there was no other room except for the extremists. It was a gradual process and happened over a long time. Even the people who orchestrated it now have no space to stand and roll it back.
My fear is that we Igbo are on a similar path. We are gradually closing down the political space such that opposing views are squeezed out. I’ve never seen our society ever like this. It should be of concern to us all.
The Igbo people that I know do well when they maintain their republican tradition and allow ideas to flow and the best of ideas to be adopted by the generality of people. Even when the people go wrong, the open political space allows for a retreat and a reversal. But in a closed political space, the worst of ideas are often forced on people and they don’t usually embrace them or fight them with all their might.
Ala di nma, o bata onyeobuna ofuma.
I will stop here because some of you complained that a 750-word piece was too long to read. But before I go, let me remind you all that a hearse carrying the corpse of a stranger is just another vehicle on the road. But sooner or later, it will carry us.
For my Biafran brothers and sisters, I repeat the same things I say to you all, again and again-I am the Biafra you are fighting for. If that is clear and acceptable to you, then, I invoke the audacity to present to you what the real assignment in Biafra is.
Assignment in Biafra
Imagine if they stopped fighting to hoist the flag on government houses
And hire a truck
And hit the streets of Aba market and beyond
With shovels and rakes in hand
Sweeping and scooping one street after another,
Imagine the flag they will plant in the hearts of the dispossessed.
Imagine if they stopped struggling to seize radio stations
And dig the ground with manure on hand
And plant a tree, again and again
All along the path of that rascal of a flood
Causing erosion uptown, downtown and places in-between,
Imagine how it’ll calm down the nerves of the uprooted children of Biafra.
Imagine if they stopped demanding the worship of their manmade gods
And pause to look at the children
And wipe away the tears
Dripping down their cheeks
Not with handkerchiefs but with the palms of their hands,
Imagine the goodwill they will attract in the garden of their fathers.
Every need demands true leadership
True leadership comes through service
True service comes through sacrifice
And in the end needs bow not to curses
But to the sight of unwavering commitment
Imagine if they stopped cursing out unbelievers in high and low places
And draw a wider circle where they’ll show how it should be done
The day after the referendum
Haste will jump onto triumph
When the people will stand up and all affirm,
Imagine how glorious the stars will shine in the face of the dark.
Imagine if they dropped the gun every Asari and Shekau possesses
And crafted a Scotland song
With duty and dignity,
Doing and defending,
Chasing the wolf while cuddling the hen,
Imagine how their countenance will bring forth conscience regained.