By Eugo Nwafor
Since Nigeria was founded, a century years ago, in 1914, the Igbo nation has been at the fore- front of that project. The Igbo have actively and consistently been involved in building bridges across the country with their resources, both human and service. These can be seen in the quantum of not only their men residing outside Igboland and developing other lands but in their daughters marrying non-Igbo.
Thus their contributions have been whole- hearted and with a passion never surpassed by any ethnic grouping. In doing this, Ndigbo have defied all dangers, leaving their traditional homes to fan out into the nooks and crannies of the country doing mostly distributive businesses to keep body and soul together. Unfortunately, because of their industry and hard work and de- spite their enormous contributions, they are most often targeted for destruction and extermination by the same people they had tried to empower and develop.
Naturally hardworking and unselfish, the Igbo man is an enigma with a very strong survival instinct. This makes him go into unbelievably inaccessible areas to turn them into gold mines, within a short time, to the envy of others, including natives. As a result, the Igbo man is therefore at home anywhere he finds himself.
Despite these, non-Igbo still call him names like “selfish”, “I before others (IBO)” and many more. Host state governments use their overwhelming population to grab anything from the central government, but come back to deny them of due considerations, calling them non-indigenes. Thus the Igbo suffer in plenty, yet their hosts will not leave them to do their normal businesses. Most often, indigenes orchestrate problems to loot their wares, maim or even kill them; yet as the beetle that one cannot kill, and to their disappointment, they begin rebuilding and surpass their previous heights. One then wonders what enigma the Igbo are.
Aim and scope
This discourse is about the myth of the Igbo people. Here, it is necessary to understand the Igbo man.
History of the Igbo
The Igbo inhabit the whole of South East Zone, and the peripheral areas of Delta and Rivers states of the South South Zone of Nigeria. They settled in Nigeria between 1100 BC and 948 BC? The difficulty of not knowing the specific time they arrived was their late contact with the out- side world, particularly the Europeans. The Igbo only gained prominence during the Slave Trade.
Mythology and the Bible have respective versions of tracing the history of the Igbo which are based on the Eri legend.
Ndigbo came through Eri, a Jew who arrived Nigeria from Egypt with his two younger broth- ers. They initially settled around the confluence of the Omambala (Anambra) and Ezu rivers. Eri and his brothers later became the tripod on which the Igbo nation, today, stands. Eri, Arod and Areli were ancestors to the Eri clan, Umuchukwus (Ndi Aro) and Ndi Owerri, respectively.
Igbo are resilient with easy adaptation, togetherness and enduring struggles wherever they find themselves. One of the characteristics of the Igbo is that yearly they travel home in great numbers to celebrate their common feasts particularly Christmas, New Year, and for the August meeting. These general ‘annual home-coming’ mainly signify new beginnings, when new resolutions are made. They have since assumed a ‘spring’ or the ‘Passover Festival’ status.
In mythology, a Google search claimed that “Eri descended as a ‘Sky king’ sent by Chukwu or God, as a patriarchal King Figure of the Eri clan,” but accepts that this origin was unclear. This god- like founder of Nri, settled in the area now known as Igboland around 948? Again, Google, classified the Eze Nri and Eze Aro as priest kings.
Igbbi writers accept the Bible’s account of the Eri legend. Genessi 46:16 recorded Eri, Arod and Areli as the fifth, sixth and seventh sons of Gad. Gad was Jacob’s seventh son, his mother was Zilpah, the Egyptian maid to Leah, Jacob’s first wife. Eri led his brothers and other Hebrew people into Nigeria.
Although some reported that they called the people they met on arrival ‘igbo’, a Sudanese word meaning bush; ‘Igbo’ was, actually, a corruption or wrong pronunciation of the word He- brew. One very striking similarity between the Igbo and Hebrew people is the circumcision of the male child on eight days after birth.
Although they unanimously accepted the Bib- lical accounts, our historians were not united on how and when Eri came into Nigeria. To some, he secretly left Egypt with about 70 young men, including Arod and Areli, after foreseeing the persecution of the Israelites there, and settled in Aguleri in about 1305 BC. Others claimed that he led about 500 men and their families into Nigeria during the Exodus (1250 BC) and reached Agul- eri around 300 AD. These suggest two waves of migration.
Igbo historians accepted that Jews and non- Jews participated in the exodus, as confirmed in Exodus 12:38. Some listed Efik as being from the tribe of Judah, and called others like Edo, Ijaw, Yoruba, etc simply Jews.
When I visited Ghana in 2002, a senior Ghanaian diplomat told me that the Igbo were truly descendants of those Jews who arrived late to Rameses, where the exodus started. According to him, that was after the main body had left for Sukkoth. When they failed to also meet them at Sukkoth, they wandered into Nigeria. It was at Sukkoth that God redirected the main body northwards to where they crossed the Red Sea, in Exodus 12:37. In Exodus 13:17-20, they first camped near Baal Zephon before crossing the Red Sea into the Middle East in Exodus 14:1.
Considering that God in Genesis 6:3 reduced man’s life span to 120 years, it is doubtful that these three brothers took part in the exodus. Egypt enslaved the Israelites for 430 years, before the exodus.
In my view, Igbo migration could have been intwo phases. Gad’s childrencould have led the 70 menin the first phase to secretlyleave Egypt. Because of how they left, it was possible that they still continued to visit and leave their kith and kin in Egypt, even with others over the years. Thus many would have known the route to Nigeria. Three of such people could have led the 500 in the second phase when they could not meet the bulk in Sukkoth. Rather than return to slavery in Egypt or elsewhere, they joined those in Nigeria. Maybe, this second group were ancestors to other Igbo not strictly accounted for in the tripod forefathers of Eri clan, Aros or Owerris. Perhaps, this could further define the concept of Oru na Igbo. I greatly regret the Igbo’s late contact with the outside world until the Slave Trade because it robbed us of a vital fact of our origin now lost to history. Aguleri is an area resembling Goshen in Genesis 46: 31-34. It is a confluence town.
Eri’s six sons and one daughter with his Igala wife were: Agulu, Memre, Igala (Onoja), Onogu, Nteje, Adamgbo, Ogbuodudu. Adamgbo, his daughter, was not married out, but had five children (umu ulu Eri or gain children of Eri) namely Umueri, Awkuzu, Ogbunike, Nando and Aroli. Two sons, Memre and Agulu, were most promi- nent in Igbo history.
Ofo na Ogu
The Igbo, as Jews, are very religious and have a direct way of contacting their God. Israelites use the Urim and Thummim instruments known as ‘Revelation and Truth’ in 1 Esdras 5:40. In Igbo- land, they are Ofo na Ogu (symbols of innocence and righteousness).
Ofo na Ogu or Urim and Thummim are those divine instruments or means through which God reveals his wills and decisions and gives counsel to his people through his priests. Israelite priests used them to find out God’s will as in Exodus 28:30 and Deuteronomy 33:8-10. When God chose the Levites permanently as his priests, he instructed that these two objects be transferred from their existing states and be sewn into the ephods worn by priests in Exodus 28:30.
No one is sure if the Star of David is still in the Museum, but there is no Igbo town or even village that do not have Ofo. Ofo na Ogu are very important instruments in Igbo life and culture. Before Christianity came, the Igbo people hold and work with them for customs, tradition and religion. They are also used for divination among others.
If Christianity has taken prominence in Igbo- land, what do we think of these unique instruments? To me, they are not fetish because, as earlier said, God instructed that they be transferred and sewn into the ephods worn by priests during the exodus. Unfortunately, however, today these insignias are separated in Igboland. It could have perhaps led to our God – the God of Abraham and Eri – stopping to give us directions and counsel. We separated and left the use of Ofo na Ogu. This separation of our Urim from Thummim and failure to, effectively, use them have adversely affected Ndigbo who have since lost their relevance in Nigeria and now call themselves marginalised.
The Nigerian Civil War
Due to the killing of many Igbo by fellow Nigerians after the January 15, 1966 military coupd’état, they declared the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967. This led to a 30-month civil war from July 6, 1967 to January 15, 1970. Unfortunately, Biafrans lost and were not allowed to live worthy and respectable lives in Nigeria. The entire people caught up in the Biafran enclave who ought to be integrated in Federal Government’s 3Rs policy of Reunification, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation were not.
The licence of the African Continental Bank (ACB), which acted as the Central Bank of Biafra, was suspended for its role in that war. It was cruel and devastating. As if this was not enough and not minding the FG’s political pardon, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) further imposed a crushing fiscal punishment. All monies deposited into ACB and other banks were forfeited. The banks told Biafrans that they would neither withdraw from nor operate such accounts again because they op- erated them during the war. Many, therefore, lost all their life’s savings as a result. Thus since it was impossible for people to access their accounts, ev- erybody began life afresh.
Again the Igbo were directed to deposit all their Biafran currencies into banks designated by CBN. They did not suspect anything and, in good faith, put their entire wealth into those banks in one single deposit. Unfortunately, when the CBN approved a rate of exchange, it was not on proration. Every depositor was paid a flat rate of 10 Nigerian pounds for each single deposit. This exchange rate converted Biafra’s entire wealth to heaps of worth- less leaves or vegetables worth just 10 Nigerian pounds.
Truly and unbelievably, this rate of redistribution became the only legacy that launched returnee Biafrans into Nigeria as citizens. It also became the financial weapon with which the Igbo challenged and competed with other Nigerians when the Ministry of Finance came out with its Companies Indigenisation Decree much later. Thus, Biafrans integrated into a Nigeria where they were made to begin life anew as Nigerians, many even with no money. Unfortunately again, when they accepted their fate and rejoined Nigeria, they were rated and treated as truly defeated. Indeed, they were worse than third class citizens.
Yes, it was that bad: even with the Federal Government’s 3Rs in place. Rather than be seen as genuine, the 3Rs did not make appreciable impact on the targeted populace. Maybe the insincerity of its operators or lack of its proper supervision by the federal government led to its derailment. In short, the Federal Ministry of Finance and its organs made a supposedly laudable policy intended to heal the wounds of that war a mockery. Many, therefore, viewed the 3Rs as a political jingle box: a lip service, it was a mere window dressing and, at best, a painted sepulchre merely erected to deceive the world into believing that Ndigbo were actually integrated.
Igbo contributions to Nigeria
Apart from their distributive efforts, the Igbo have contributed in politics and government, scoring first everywhere. The only Governor-General and first President of this country was Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who was also in the forefront of the struggle for Independence. The first military ruler was Maj. Gen. Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi. In the field of Sports, Maj. Emmanuel Ifeajuna won the first gold medal for Nigeria in the Empire Games, now the Commonwealth Games. Chioma Ajunwa won Nigeria’s first Olympic Games gold medal. Michael Okpala (Power Mike) won the first World Wrestling championship and Christian Chukwu captained the Eagles to win Nigeria’s first Africa Nations Cup. Nduka Ug- bade captained the first Under-17 team that won a world cup for Africa and Nwankwo Kanu led the team that won the first Olympic gold medal in Football for Africa, just as Stephen Keshi became the first Nigerian coach to win the Nations Cup – in fact, he is the only Nigerian to win that cup as captain and coach. Earlier in 1970, the Mkpokiti Dance of Umunze won the Golden Gong in a World Festival of Arts and Culture in New York.
Problems of the Igbo
The first problem of Ndigbo is in the seniority of their ancestors. Because they are republicans, they have not even given it a thought. As republicans, leadership is situational; where the strongest leads in fight, the richest is respected where spending money is the order of the day etc. Yet we will ask the usual question: “Esi be ya aga be onye?”
Most writers rate Agulu as the first son and Menri as either second or the last son. An Agul- eri man, pleading anonymity to me in June 2012, confessed that his father told him that “Memre (Menri) was Eri’s first son”. According to him, Menri left his father to found Nri town. When Eri died, he promised his people to return after his fu- neral. Truly, after that, he left Obu Gad, the ancestral home, in the care of Agulu and returned to Nri.
Inheritance in Igboland is by the di okpara (first son), or eldest surviving male in the case of a group of families or a homogenous community. In the case of royalty, it could also be by divination or popular choice. It will not have been different in the case of Eri. It is accepted that Agulu land is the ancestral home to the Igbo because that was where Eri and his brothers first settled and built the Obu Gad.
Collaborating with my interviewee, the following are proofs for accepting that Memre was Eri’s first son. The two symbols or evidence to prove that Igbo originated from the Israelites are the Star of David, and Ofo na Ogu. The Star of David was discovered in Oraeri, an Nri town, in what is to- day known as the Igboukwu archaeological find- ings. This is perhaps evidence that Memre evacu- ated his father’s valuable property from Obu Gad, which only the diokpara can do.
Memre is Abraham’s burial place in the Bible. Naming his son after it could have been Eri’s emotional attachment to that ancestral resting home, which he was neither to see again nor have his corpse buried there. It could be nostalgic because Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives were all buried in the Machpela Cave, east of Mamre (Gen. 49:29-33). We also learnt that before Joseph died, he requested that he be re-buried in Mamre, in Gen 50: 24-26, this was fulfilled in Exodus 13:19, because his bones were taken out of Egypt during the Exodus. Eri could not even think of making such a wish. This name, Mamre, in Gen. 23:12-19 was corrupted to Menri and finally to Nri today.
From the above, can we say that the absence of Nri from the Igbo ancestral home has deprived Menri his right? Truly, if Agulu physically occupies Eri’s land and Obu Gad and Menri inherited Eri’s movable properties, who can be taken as di okpara? If Memre is second or last, as some writers had recorded, why is it that no study on Igbo people and culture end without a visit to Nri? Indeed, this, apart from confirming that Aguleri does not have all re- quired facts to support meaningful or comprehensive study about the Igbo, could prove that Memre was Eri’s first son.
Nri royalties, being aware of this controversy, answer names like Nri Enwelana, Nri Ji Ofor, Nri Anyama- ta, Nri Fenenu, and Nri Ewenetem. However, whether or not Memre is the first son of Eri, who is his own first son? My respondent also con- fessed that his father told him that, like he did, Menri’s first son also left Nri to found a town which location he did not know.
Slave trade and the Aro ascen-dency
Arod was clever, crafty and re- sourceful, with avid domineering instincts. In tracing his settlement, he perhaps travelled to Nri, Oraeri and maybe to one other town before finally moving on to found Aro- chukwu. Perhaps, Aros dream of dominating the entire Igbo people and the land finally became fulfilled with the opportunity presented by
the Slave Trade. Accepting to trade Ndigbo as slaves with the Portuguese, in pages 49 and 50 of Eyisi Victor’s Igbo History with Biblical References, Aros quickly set up a net- work of their people as emissaries of peace to most Igbo communities.
They lived as agents and con- vinced disputants to consult the Aro oracle, Chukwu Abiama, for settlement. The guilty were taken through the other route and sold into slavery. They also hired Oha- fia, Abriba and Item warriors to in- vade Igbo communities for steady supplies of people which they sold into slavery. This made many Igbo slaves in the Americas. When the Long Juju (Ibini Ukpabi) of Aro- chukwu was destroyed in 1903, Aro agents and people who later scattered as a result settled and re- mained in many Igbo communities either as villages or autonomous towns. They remained distinct from the land owners, but maintained contacts with their ancestral home, in Arochukwu. There is hardly an Igbo community without Aro pres- ence today.
The Aro are versatile and knowl- edgeable, more knitted together but secretive. I believe that they have keys to unlock most facts about the Igbo nation which they do not reveal or explain to non-Aros. This advantage is the heritage they had worked very hard to achieve and keep. Other Igbo stocks who believe that they can muzzle them are, indeed, denying the Aro domi- nance smelt, seen and heavily felt everywhere and in all walks of life. Ujah, an Aro man, claims that his people are today indigenous to 13 states of Nigeria. If Ndigbo need to clear their historical and ancestral doubts, I think that we must first ac- cept and recognise the myth of Ndi Aro. To begin, we must reconcile other Igbo with Aros, to end mutual suspicions.
Solving our problems
Having made individual con- tributions, the Igbo still find them- selves far from government at the centre and other scheme of things. I think that just two things can bring us back. The Ofo na Ogu and proper integration with the Aro wherever they are. These will finally unite the Igbo.
Admitting the Aro’s atrocities against Ndigbo during the Slave Trade, Ujah advocates an Aro apol- ogy to Ndigbo in pages 114 to 116. I believe that this will be accepted. I also wish that the Igbo truly accept the present status quo because exist- ing Aro communities throughout Igboland can never return to their original homes; they need to be re- spected and allowed to be. The Igbo must, therefore, accept and stop la- belling them because they worked
hard for what they are today. When we come together, Ndigbo will rede- fine terms for a healthier and all-in- clusive co-existence. This should be the thrust and priority of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, governments, royalties and Igbo leaders of thought now. Once a true reunion of the Igbo is achieved, Ndigbo will take their rightful place in Nigeria.
If these are done, we shall be able to not only know and understand ourselves better as one and indivis- ible people but re-write our history. If we also reinstate the sanctity of Ofo na Ogu, God will return and be- gin to speak to us as He still speaks to our people in Israel.
- Col. Nwafor (Rtd.) DSS, pSC, fwC .