It is very difficult to be an Igbo man in Nigeria. It becomes even more excruciating outside Nigeria. The farther one travels the more the pull and lure of the homeland. It is difficult to find a home outside the homeland. That’s why the Igbo man always longs to go home in life or in death.
Despite the attraction of the homeland, the Igbo man exhibits a magnificent sense of place. He sees place as a place to place his hopes and aspiration. In so doing, he tries to establish himself wherever he finds himself. He is truly a being in the world; and the world is everywhere. He is always a landlord in the true sense of it.
Ownership is a quintessential characteristic of Igbo entrepreneurship and the enterprising self. It is both a show of hard work and wisdom. For example, there is no point paying rents. It doesn’t make sense. It’s folly. That’s why an average Igbo man goes about investing wherever he finds himself.
His investments are littered all over the place. From Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Maiduguri, to New York, London, and Jerusalem, the story is the same. He acts and behaves in the same way. Through ownership and landlordship, the Igbo man entrenches and extends himself in and through a place.
In entrenching himself in place outside his homeland, he is literally caught between home abroad and home at home. This sense of dualism of identity often plunges the average Igbo person into a deep abyss of confusion, tension, and unrealised fantasies.
In addition to his self-inflicted confusion and tension, he easily draws negative attention to himself. His hosts now begin to see him as a threat. He is perceived as someone who has come to dominate a place he was not originally part of. It is not surprising that he suffers this fate in either Lagos or Kano. The story tends to be similar. By the way, who wouldn’t resist such encumbrances and encroachment by perceived outsiders?
“One day, I shall retire and return to the homeland”, he often says to himself. Even if he is not doing well outside the homeland, he prefers to remain there and irk out a living from poverty and penury to returning home from his uzo-ije (i.e. his voyage) with nothing. When it works out well for him, his children continue to grow, glow, and flourish in this foreign land. He tries his best to educate them in his native ways. The language of the homeland is fast slipping off his fingers. The children seem not interested. But he keeps singing the same song: “one day I shall retire and return to the homeland”. The sad bit is that that one day continually gets pushed further into the future that it sometimes remains unattainable beyond the reality of its mental construction. It becomes a true fiction; an effigy of the mind.
Nonetheless, mansions are built in the homeland. They are rarely used, except in the odd occasional ceremonies. You can never tell. It is embarrassing not to have a property in the homeland, even if it lies fallow. However, it is a symbol of aku ruo ulo (i.e. wherever wealth is created, it must be felt in the homeland). This symbolism means a lot, as no one is wealthy outside his homeland.
Wealth must be brandished and recognised. He sprays any currency (naira, dollars, pounds, et cetera) at the slightest provocative opportunity despite the law banning the spraying of currencies. This flamboyance and flaunting of wealth is also another source of misunderstanding the Igbo man.
The recognition of wealth in Igboland is a deep issue, worth some philosophical exploration. First and foremost, wealth is not a solitary affair. Although the act of creating wealth could be a private endeavour, the existential appropriation and consumption of it are often assumed to be publicly enacted. It must be seen and felt. Hence the need to display this wealth amongst those who can appreciate and applaud it.
In this regard, wealth becomes an identity marker and an expression of power. It tells others who we are and attracts valued attention. It commands respect. In most instances, and contrary to the epistemological musings of Aristotle, it tends to give more joy to the soul than the acquisition of new knowledge. The average Igbo man, therefore, does not hide this excitement of wealth acquisition and public display of wealth. Hence the odd but unfortunate stereotyping of the average Igbo man as avaricious. Those who propagate this stereotype often fail to understand the cultural context upon which the meaning of wealth is constructed and enacted amongst the Igbos. That’s another dilemma of the average Igbo man. Whether he works hard or not, he is damned!
In this dilemma, he becomes in equal measures an Igbo and a Nigerian. The two identities often confront each other from time to time, depending on the circumstances. The Igboman is a true Nigerian. He is everywhere in the country and tries to do his best in that regard. Unlike many other ethnic groups, they tend to make every part of Nigeria their home. No wonder the thought of Biafra remains a nightmare to many who have entrenched themselves outside the homeland.
Nonetheless, the thought of the homeland, in itself, is a thing of joy. It connects one to his root. And in this rootedness, life becomes more meaningful amongst the familiar and those with shared experiences. That’s why the lure of the homeland always remains very strong for the average Igboman. Despite the attractiveness of the homeland, the Igboman is also attracted by opportunities farther afield. As such, the Igboman looks as if he would be perpetually caught in a dilemma between life in the homeland and life abroad. Unfortunately, this identity is not very much understood and or appreciated amongst his fellow Nigerians.
However, it behoves the average Igbo man to critically revisit his cultural inheritances and reflectively evaluate their reasonableness and suitability in today’s world. It is not in the interest of the Igboman to be perpetually misunderstood by friends and foes alike. The Igboman needs to pragmatically rethink his cultural and historical antecedents and redirect his future. Otherwise, the romanticisation of these instead, which appears very attractive, can only plunge him into further dilemma and dismay.
As they say: okwu bu odu (i.e. words are pieces of advice).
By Kenneth Amaeshi and Bongo Adi
Amaeshi is a public philosopher and professor of business and sustainable development at the University of Edinburgh.
Bongo Adi is a political economist and faculty member at the Lagos Business School.
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