The Tragedy of the Igbo Intellectual

Wake up everybody
No more sleeping in bed
No more backward thinking
Time for thinking ahead
The world’s change so very much
For what it use to be
There is so much hatred
War and poverty

----Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

If you fast-forward the Kenneth Gamble-Leon Huff production on The Sound of Philadelphia Records label released by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes with that powerful voice of Theodore Pendergrass way back in 1973 now, there will be a whole lot to tell the world has not gotten any better based on if one should ask me coming that afar thirty-something years ago when technology had just begun in making life better from every aspect of society.

We haven’t seen much change over the years because the entire world is still compounded by the same old problems; problems now worse than ever seen before. Thirty-something years ago when the Blue Notes envisioned a fragile world if I still remember, was after the pogrom in a fast pace took place in Nigeria when pregnant women were eviscerated and disemboweled and the world looking the other way as if nothing happened which is reason enough the Igbo intellectual is seen as lacking a sense of belonging in taking the lead putting into perspective all that happened during the pogrom and the ominous consequences that followed. On the other hand, it had been presumed what happened over forty years ago should be forgotten by moving on and I will be coming to that in a minute.

Perhaps I may not have a problem with such gruesome acts of unnatural taste committed against humankind for the fact Igbo people as one observer noted are just “stupid” because if you walk into any bookstore today some Armenian who wasn’t born during the Armenian genocide of 1915 has written a book provoking greater popular outrage around the globe; one Jew born about twenty-seven years ago and has learned from the Synagogue that to forget is to proclaim Hitler innocent has compiled a book on a witness to the truth – the Holocaust; a South African who found his way escaping Apartheid to the woods around Mississippi has jotted down his experience of injustice; a teenager somewhere in the Lebanese community in Michigan is writing about the Beirut massacre of 1982; a Brit having no clue of 17th Century England has written a detailed account on the Gunpowder Plot orchestrated to bring the British empire to its knees during the Elizabethan era; a Chinese immigrant whose forebears were demolished and plundered writes about the Naijing massacre; a Cambodian puts into perspective the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s; a Balkan writes about the Bosnian massacres of the 1990s; a then seven-year-old is reflecting and piecing together the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and a curious minded being documents on the death of Anne Frank and the Concentrations Camps, and construction of the Holocaust museums as the list goes on and on.

But nowadays, encounter an Igbo anywhere especially at a beer parlor, isi-ewu joints and places like that, the theme of such forums would sound much normal as in any regular bar – hanging out in those Armani suits and spewing out nonsense on the grounds of alcohol and loose women being involved. The irony though is that none comes out with something of substance, some kind of brilliant and meaningful stuff even though altered minds in an environment alcohol and women are involved can still have decent debates and argue intellectually.

My point here is precisely about we who have embedded ourselves into the American social system which is unlike any other in the world, a nation that has emerged from nations all over the world, and a nation pragmatically created, never seen before to have not taken advantage like other immigrants in building community and being concretely part of a system where collectivity ultimately leads to utopia.

My attempt here is a studied survey based on different accounts regarding the Igbo guardian, the so-called “intellectual” and how it is today a tragedy.

Is there an instance where some thought has been put in place how we explored the shores of America over forty years ago like our other immigrant counterparts and yet have nothing, absolutely nothing to show for it? Has anyone thought about what would be the position of our children fifteen years from now in a faster changing environment resourced through community, put it this way, a historic problem that absorbed so much effort to resolve and finally brought about change by electing a second generation immigrant Barack Obama president of the United States? And did anyone think about how we could have established ourselves here in Diaspora as a powerhouse in every aspect, in such a way we could influence the “power brokers” in our native land permanently putting to a stop riff raffs running the show? Has anyone reflected, studied and investigated the most blood soaked event in its era where our women were raped by Islamic hoodlums who were also nihilists, killed en-masse infants and children; and then murdered our men in the most brutal of circumstances in an attempt to wipe out a specific ethnic group which amounts to genocide by any accepted definition?

Besides a very notable few like scholar Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe whose extensive and exhaustive writings on the pogrom and Biafra is out there; Oguchi Nkwocha as a vivid witness who consistently maintained his ground on the status quo in evaluating and studying the ominous consequences of the pogrom; Emeka Amanze whose movement is quite revealing on a sorry state of the Igbo nation and lessons learned during the pogrom; M. O. Ene’s unrelenting effort and the book Jaundiced Justice, and most recently an inspiring novel Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who wasn’t yet born during the said conflict, no Diaspora Igbo has emerged to author an analysis regarding the atrocious nature of what the Islamic Jihadists deliberately did to the Igbo people in a “premeditated and diabolical act” programmed to wipe out the Igbo nation from the face of this planet.

The Diaspora Igbo intellectual’s inability to deal solidly with home-abroad realities is characteristic of the peculiar failure of the Igbo intellectual and so also is a failed leadership back home resulting to being compelled to give up and quieted in exchange for cash and other treasures by gangsters who overnight hijacked and destroyed every aspect of Igbo ideals. Since the Igbo intellectual has been flattened and cannot deal adequately with a hijack of Igbo ideals on moral grounds by a group of imbeciles and thuggish elements who are now thriving on a confused and chaotic Igbo nation, the option left for the Igbo intellectual becomes obvious which is ultimately succumbing on the basis of being vulnerable and gullible.

A situation like that is a dangerous one especially in a society that is still on its path for a structure required to make the availability of social programs a basic as in all civil and organized societies. It is only in banana republics checks and balances are negated to track the records of public office holders; and the trouble of the Igbo intellectual, in this case, is abandonment of responsibilities because the Igbo intellectual is no longer interested on the welfare of the people supposedly to be guided, thus relying heavily on individualism and bent on a selfish gain based on what his surroundings are feeding him.

The following statements are typical confessions one hears constantly from supposedly Diaspora Igbo intellectual: “Look, our mates are now running the show in Igbo land and they are chopping. I have no choice than to join the bandwagon.” “Did you hear he has been appointed as assistant to the local government chairman? I just spoke to him on the phone not too long ago and he was full of life because he is now chopping, talking big and things like that.” Or “I have been dreading in this country for too long with nothing to show for it but bills and all kinds of troubles including my marriage which seemingly is heading to Splitville. This country has been a nightmare. I have to go so I can join the chopping class… Naija money still dey nyafunyafu… make I go join them before the scramble and grab is over. Make you dey there now.” Even, “In Nigeria you are served like a king with the women kowtowing and you can have as many women as you wish, and as long as your pocket is loaded you’ve got it all, and that’s the way it goes.” And listen to this, “I am building a castle.”

Yes, of course, the castles on dusty alleys with no street numberings, serfdom, servitude, coercion and prostitution and all that amoral in this modernity for a people who once were top notch in utopia and republican ideals in an about face paved way for ndi gburu ozu, the money bags who destroyed every aspect of Igbo values and cultural relativism. It is hard to believe running into an Igbo intellectual is like meeting a generation of airheads who have no clue the importance of determining their contribution to creation and why they are in this universe, in the first place. It is also disturbing that the Igbo intellectual from every scope rejected Igbo values for materials not necessary in establishing a profound leadership based on the concept of how it all began when our forebears had the vision of what the Igbo should be in today’s society.

The pragmatic and egalitarian Igbo envisioned by Michael I. Opara, Mazi Mbonu Ojike, Francis Akanu Ibiam and other great Igbo visionaries of the time which was drawn from the Igbo guardian and the days of the Igbo Union, and its principles of making the Igbo nation the best it could be to parallel the Western Hemisphere in all standards of social programs and infrastructures distressingly vanished overnight because the Igbo intellectual succumbed to the ways and means of Omemgbeoji 1 of Igbo land, the societal nouveau riche whose elevation to prominence is questionable and whose socio-economic status shouldn’t have arrived had the Igbo intellectual been firm keeping his composure and principles been respected for the fact the social programs are all out there for all and sundry to see as evidence of good leadership; and as beneficiaries of a sound socio-cultural and political order, no question, the sudden eruption of empire and an ensuing anarchy wouldn’t have also arrived.

Under normal circumstances, such titles as Eze Igbo Gburugburu should be done by merit based on community service – building of schools, offering free education, equipping the libraries, providing basic amenities (water and light), providing healthcare by way of dispensary facilities, abundant food by helping farmers through some kind of subsidies and creating many other provisional social programs including parks and recreation. And as a result of failed leadership, the young intellectuals have been asked to take over the mantle of Igbo leadership. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu at the 2000 World Igbo Congress Convention held in Dallas, Texas, speaks:

I am now an old man. I have done mine. I have not seen who will take that baton from me. I was 33 years when I did it. That the old did not agree to hand over power is not true. Come and take the baton. If we refuse to give it to you, grab it by force. You Igbos abroad are the window of the world to us. Don't turn your back on anything Igbo. Come and join. Our time is gone... My people, I will not lie to you. We came from home, we laugh and embrace, but I can tell you that big rain is falling. Our land is not good. Our condition is like a war. Nobody loves Igbos. The person who is scared of you will not love you. But we are not loved is Nigeria's problem not ours. If they love you, it is good. But the greatest is to be feared. We want to be feared.

But what can be expected of the young intellectuals when the old intellectuals such as Okenwa Nwosu who runs the Physician Omni Health Group in Maryland write articles that do not reveal the issues of their own political and cultural history? What can be expected of the young intellectuals when Kevin Osondu, the first black man, I repeat, first black man to earn a PhD from the State University of New York at Buffalo way back and nobody knows much about him? What can be expected of the young intellectuals when the old ones have lost every sense of purpose in keeping the Igbo ideal intact for generations to come? What really can be expected of the young intellectuals when a confused bunch of old intellectuals parleys with demonic gangsters in the likes of Orji Uzor Kalu who in broad day light took Igbo assets hostage and courageously on the humbleness of a paralyzed Igbo intellectual, got away with it? And what can be expected of the young Igbo intellectual when the old Igbo intellectual has shown nothing other than have outsiders in the likes of Nowamgbe Omoigui write its history while Appalachian State University political science professor Emmanuel Ike Udogu is writing on Nigeria fiscal economy and political compromise in Nigeria in the Twenty-First Century: Strategies for Political Stability and Peaceful Coexistence and photo journalist Ike Ude writes on Style File: The World’s Most Elegantly Dressed?

For some reason, while combing through Ude’s new book, I decided to give him a call to find out what drove him into writing a book on style and furthermore to find out a little bit about him. Ude was born in Okigwe and grew up in several Northern cities before the Civil War. After the war his parents relocated to Enugu where his father worked for the Nigeria Railway Corporation. He sojourned to the shores of America in the 70s and began what would be a long journey. In Style File: The World’s Most Elegantly Dressed, Ude, without a doubt, displayed a symbol of excellence on style of which he eloquently illustrated the fifty-five people in this world he mostly admired and considers to be stylists in their respective rights. Ude’s work, an impressive list which includes a handful of designers like Oscar de la Renta, Christian Louboulin, Carolina Herrera, John Galliano, Barnaba Fornasetti; journalists in the likes of Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley and Hamish Bowles; and photographers such as Coreen Simpson, Francesco Scavullo and a touch to the Motown look. Ude’s work also includes celebrities and the creative types ranging from perfumer Frederic Malle and actress Isabella Ferrari to burtesque dancer Dita von Teese. Malian-born photographer during the colonial era, Seydou Keita, made the list, too. Sculptor Andrea Logan, vintage couture dealer Didier Lindot, and London-based fashion designer Amechi Ihenacho whose 18th Century outfit graced the pages with biographical datas.

In all the occasions I spoke with Ude and in my attempt to pick up some understanding regarding his awareness toward a failed Igbo leadership, his interest in anything Igbo seemed to have waned and for the record he never talked back to me in Igbo despite my approach in many instances where I spoke Igbo fluently. As the case has been, Ude’s taste for style and perhaps neglect of his cultural heritage may be two different things and as a matter of choice, but a society whose cultural background is lost definitely has no place in history.

In any society and as in the case of Diaspora, it is the intellectuals who come to the fore as the molders and shapers of what is now vital and relevant in terms of social, cultural and political opinion. It is the intellectuals who give form and content to mass liberation movements that change society. It is the intellectuals who, because of their déclassé position, can see objectivity and clearly which way class forces are actually moving or aspiring to move, and which classes are advancing or retarding that advance. It is the intellectuals who detect and resolve conflicts in its community by recommending patterns from around which such problems would not be repeated again.

To be Continued.


Anonymous said…
Excellent piece. You nailed it like it is and kudos for a job well done.
Anonymous said…
Ambrose nwanaa, na abamba! What a great piece. You delivered!
Anonymous said…
You write a lot about the obvious. The main issue is what are we going to do about it? What are you and I going to do about it? Action speaks louder than words. You are preaching to the choir.

We Igbos talk too much. What do you want us - including yourself- to do, to make things more productive and save our Igbo culture and identity? What strategic plans do you offer to wake us up?

The beat goes on....

Comb & Razor said…
Nice piece, Ambrose... This is a subject I have been thinking quite a lot about lately.

I wasn't born during the war or the events that preceded it and my understanding of these things were largely shaped by the "victor's history" fed to me in school. My parents and older relations didn't speak in too much detail about it; they seemed to want to shield us from the horrors they witnessed.

In the past few years, though, I've suddenly found that I really need to develop a more accurate picture of this period in our history.

In many ways, I'm similar to someone like Ike Ude (whose work I admire)--culturally transcendent, largely apolitical, committed to aesthetics and style--but I feel the need to say something more more culturally and historically specific.

So thanks for the references to the writers who are expressing insightful views on the subject... I will definitely be looking them up.

One thing, though: a subject that I have encountered a lot lately is the effective use of propaganda to solicit sympathy and support for the Igbo cause... Many critics view the use of words like "pogrom" and "genocide" as being slightly overstating the situation... What is your take on this?

Anonymous said…
Thanks for the rich info you provided gratis. May God continue to guide you.
Anonymous said…

I think the anonymous writer made a valid point asking what you intend to do about the ongoing problems in Alaigbo. Your lamentation is good but what are you going to do about it?
Anonymous said…
Thanks all, but first my thanks to Kalu and Uche for their generous response and above all for Kalu's inquiry on what I intend to do about the problems in Igbo land, and I must freely confess that the Igbo problem is such a big one that requires a collective effort of all and sundry. My write-ups is part of a medium through which such problems can be resolved by raising the awareness. Some don't even know the theme of the piece which is why I laid more emphasis on the Diaspora Igbo intellectual.

Uche, let me thank you once again for the continuous desire you have in reading from my blog. I'm always at the neck of your hood and what a brilliant stuff you keep displaying out there. As usual, keep up the good work.

on your querry about the pogrom, there is no such thing as overstatement or propaganda in a situation where an ethnic group were singled out and murdered as I inferred in my article. What happened in 1966 was genocide by any acceptable definition as I wrote in the article. The reason why more people should be writing about what happened in that era is to stop it from reccuring again and that has been the effective machinery used in the past, and believe me, it worked. Don't drop the pen, it's mightier than the sword.
Comb & Razor said…
Thanks a lot, Ambrose... I already looked up some articles by Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe and I'll be reading up a lot more!
Anonymous said…
Dear Ambrose

Happy New Year you and your family! Odogwu, congratulations on this excellent essay. This is a major intervention that our people will come to recognise as a turning point in probing the seemingly inexplicable inaction of our intellectuals to confront the Igbo genocide and its aftermath. The essay surely ends this very depressing lethargy. The Igbo nation will triumph. Let no one ever doubt this outcome. All we need is to be unwavering and eternally focused.

Looking forward to reading the concluding piece.

With very best wishes

Anonymous said…
Greetings, in the name of Love, Peace and Wellness, This is my first blog comment. Ever! Why do I feel so nervous? Anywho? Mr. Ehirim. You appear to be a Gentlemen that writes likes he talks; Straight no chaser. that's How I love it. in all areas of my life. In regards to your blog and guest comments. Igbo intellect has and continues to deteriate especially here in the circle of young sucessful Americanized Nigerians who appear to dispise Home( Nijia, Igbo Land) in addition to their own people. (some older nigerians as well). I am truly insulted beings that I am an African American women who in spirit lives a Igbo/Nollywood Lifestlye(smile). I love being African by way of the East coast. I love that I identify with my people. (Ananmbra State) and they identify with me. My concern is great. You people talk a great talk however refuse to educate the youth and even some old ass Nigerians who refuse to take responsibilty and truly invest in The culture,the language as well as the state of which Nigeria is in. When I finally do travel abroad. I will bring good tidings to Nijia, and I expect good things back. I want you people to to get militant with this thing.You want a Plan here it is: Seek ye first the Lord. 2nd. Pray Earnestly and Heartfelt. 3.BIAFRA NIGERIAN WAR" for life. You people get your Money together and go Home and save Mamma Africa from itself. YOU PEOPLE with these great minds and ideas need to invest in life. You are the Problem as well as the Solution. Its a new day I need you. Barack Obama needs you, Nigeria needs you. I am waiting. I love You. Blessings, Blessings and more Blessings to you all. Your a Brillant writer Ambrose with great wisdom in the conscience of your people. Peace
Anonymous said…

You have started the new year with one of the best write-ups I have ever seen and I hope you will continue to keep us informed with your great mind. May God continue to bless you.

Anonymous said…
When are you going to start writing a book? The world is waiting.
Anonymous said…
I am looking forward to the second part. I think there is a lot more to learn from this piece.
Anonymous said…
As Diamond recalled "The Biafrans were struggling to protect a nation in which the culture of the primitive past made itself felt and yet had become part of the modern experience."

But an appeal was made Henry Kissinger to urge the Richard Nixon administration to take vigorous steps in alleviating hunger in Biafra, nothing was done even when Nigeria Air Force acquired a night fighting ability and planned to shoot down relief flights as well as Biafran planes and suppliers of Biafran arms.

And who wouldn't be angry and moved by a tragedy in which some two million people --mostly childred--starved and perished?
Anonymous said…
I beg to disagree with all the logistics. History is not made in a day. The issues which appear at a given moment to be matters of life and death are seen in perspective to be ones which time itself heals. Had the Biafrans remained quiet they could have recovered their strength and, through self-improvement could have increased their influence again within a few years. Perhaps on a second try they could have achieved their objective by diplomacy instead of force.
Anonymous said…
I think all should bear in mind that within the Eastern part of Nigeria, prior to secession and afterwards, there was no free expression of opinion by the minority groups, and Biafra was created without any democratic consultation of the minorities. Handpicked representatives voted for secession or were locked up in Enugu. After the Biafran army had taken hundreds of hostages to its shrinking enclave it dared to call for a plebiscite in the victimized areas.
Anonymous said…
Stanley, Morgan and Malik

I will make it brief since the conclusion has not yet arrived.I do not think I emphasized much on Biafra and what you guys have done here is to take me to task for not doing what I did not propose to do. My intent was the problem of the Igbo intellectual and how it failed in carrying out its objectives even though I am well aware of the Civil War and which I have written extensively in the past to a point of being weary of keeping up with the analysis. It's a lot of work, my friends.

I can reason much more with Stanley in pointing out the lack of diplomatic follow-ups by Washington. Thus far, I have not much to say since the Aburi Accord made it patently clear that war could have been avoided had the decisions at Aburi been respected. Take a look at the Aburi Accord.

In the upcoming follow-up essay, I do not think Biafra would be the vital issue in my analysis.
Anonymous said…
I couldn't resist making a comment here but point out the article was straight to the point and thought provoking.