Eziomume Solomon, Nnewi
Igwe Emmanuel Chukwudi Nnabife is the traditional ruler of Isseke Ancient Kingdom, in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State. He is also the chairman of Anambra South Traditional Rulers’ Forum. In this interview, he speaks on Igbo culture, tradition and practices.
Many traditional practices of Igbo people are fast fading away. What do you think is responsible for this?
No Igbo traditional practice is fading away. I am aware that some of the practices have been modernised to be in line with the current trend. The Constitution gives freedom of religious practice to everybody. In the past, churches destroyed shrines belonging to people, but now, nobody does that because it would mean infringing on the freedom of the other person. In the past, a traditional ruler can act unilaterally in taking decisions for his community; but toda the traditional ruler consults his cabinet and stakeholders in the community before taking decisions. That falls in line with practices in other organisations all over the world. There were places where twins were killed. There were places where if a woman died while giving birth, the new born child would be buried with the mother, because, it is believed that the child is the cause of the mother’s death. There were times when, if a man dies, the corpse is bathed and the wife of the deceased is made to drink the water to show her innocence in the death of the husband. That means that if the dead had contagious disease, it may infect the wife, who may also die. Those practices were not in tandem with modernity. When you stop such practices, it does not mean that the people’s tradition is fading away. Traditions that are not consistent with modernity, such as female genital mutilation and child marriage, which are considered to be obnoxious, are fading away; but they used to be parts of Igbo traditional practices. So, it is not that our traditional practices are fading away, they are only being modernised.
Do you think that mass drift of rural dwellers to urban centres contributes to the woes of Igbo culture and tradition?
To some extent, it does; because, those people, who at their young ages leave their villages to the city, who are not anymore close to their families and their homestead where they are born, often do not imbibe the full cultural practices and norms of their people. So, for such people, drift to the city will always affect their knowledge as regards their cultural practices and norms.
Could you recall any Igbo cultural practice that is no more in vogue today?
Most of the Igbo cultural practices are maintained. Many, however, are modernised to be in tune with acceptable norms. That dialects differ from place to place does not mean that they have been tampered. The way we conduct marriage ceremonies, the way we cook, the way we dress, etc, are all parts of our culture, and they are still maintained.
In what areas do you promote Igbo cultural practices in your community?
We promote Igbo cultural practices in our community through the observance of traditions like the New Yam festival. Before now, individuals observed the New Yam festival in their various homes; but today, we are bringing it to the community level. Our community, just like many others, now use the opportunity of the New Yam festival to come together as a people to promote culture. During the 2019 New Yam festival, we went a step further to organise the festival at the zonal level. The 70 communities that make up Anambra South came together at Ekwulobia to observe the festival. During the event, we showcased different aspects of the new yam festival and other aspects of Igbo cultural practices. There were also entertainments like cultural dances. In these and other ways, we promote Igbo cultural practices.
Do you think educational authorities and the church have roles to play in promoting Igbo traditional practices?
Educational authorities have roles to play in the sense that there is need for research into Igbo traditional practices; their meanings and implications; the good sides and the bad sides, so that they could be improved upon.
The church also contributes in the promotion of Igbo tradition. In the past, New Yam festival was considered un-Christian; but today, Christians and traditionalists have found several meeting points.
How does suspension of history as a school subject affect the culture and tradition of the people?
Suspension of history in schools is the greatest injustice done to our people by Nigerian government. This is because, if you don’t know where you are coming from, you will hardly know where you are going to. It is the combination of the past and present that gives birth to the future. If you did not have the history of what your father or forefather did, you wouldn’t know where to begin and where to end. You cannot tell your own children what to do when they become adults. The only way you can have these practices sustained is through education and reading of history. Again, through history, the cleavages of division are broken; because, it is through history that somebody in one area is told that somebody in another place has a relationship with him. Again, development of individuals comes through the knowledge of history of some great men, who lived in the past. History of the past is necessary for us to understand what they did and, where necessary, improve upon what they did.
As a traditional ruler, do you think that the planned absorption of ‘repentant’ Boko Haram fighters will go down well for Nigeria?
For me, and for most of us within the Anambra State traditional rulers’ council, the plan to integrate Boko Haram suspects into the Nigerian Army is unacceptable. Soldiers are trained to capture prisoners of war and enemies; so, it is risky and does not make sense when you bring your enemies to fight on the same side with you. These are people who wanted to kill you; you now want to bring them to stay with you. That is very risky for the Nigerian society.
If government wanted to reintegrate repentant persons, they should find a way of resettling them. Some of these people can pretend to be repentant, but will turn out to become wolves in the wider society, because, you have not properly de-radicalized them. They may pretend to have been de-radicalized, but will secretly do dangerous things. It is very risky to recycle criminals into the society in that manner. In developed societies, before a criminal is fully reintegrated into the larger society, he will first make a parole to make sure he has completely left his behaviour.
How does the traditional institution in Anambra, Anambra South in particular, grapple with internal security?
In our society, from time immemorial, we have ways of protecting ourselves. Most crimes are local. Every criminal has a birthplace, and if you come to any community, everybody knows the behavioural disposition of the other person. So, if the traditional institution is properly equipped, it can effectively curb crimes at the infantile stage within the community. This is because, when a child is known to be of deviant behaviour, his activities could be monitored and corrected. In my community, for instance, we have succeeded in curbing our young people of the menace of trading in Indian hemp. All those still indulging in the practice go to neighbouring communities to do so. Fighting crime is something that has to start from the community. There are able bodied men in our communities, who were demobilised, but who are still active. These people have a lot of experience. If such people could be re-engaged into the community policing, they would help improve the quality of our neighbourhood watch. The traditional institution has a lot to contribute in the maintenance of law and order in the community.