Recently, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, asserted that the Igbo actually originated from Ile-Ife. And since then, the controversy stirred by the statement has continued to rage.
But a prominent leader of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural group, seems to be fully at home with the analogy by the Ooni, the foremost royal father in Yorubaland.
President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Lagos State chapter, Chief Solomon Ogbonna, said recently that the account given by the Ooni of Ife was quite plausible.
Chief Ogbonna, who was present in Ile-Ife when the Ooni made the controversial statement, said rather than dissipate energy disputing what the royal father said, Igbo should work towards a more robust socio-cultural affinity with their Yoruba neighbours.
While explaining the purpose of the visit of the Ohanaeze team to Ile-Ife and the Ooni to the reporter, Chief Ogbonna said it was part of Ohanaeze’s strategy of reaching across to other ethnic groups in the country. He described the Ooni as a young king who wants peace and cooperation between Yoruba people and their neighbours.
On the claim by the Ooni that the Igbo originated from Ife and that there was evidence to prove the assertion, Chief Ogbonna said the monarch was right. He explained that, in Ile-Ife, there is a building known as Ile Igbo, where the first Igboman stayed and planted kolanuts.
Buttressing the point further, the Ohanaeze leader said: “If Igbo claim they are Jews from Israel, which is thousands of kilometres away from us, why then can’t we agree with other narratives, which traced our origin to our immediate Yoruba neighbours?
Look at some similarities in Yoruba and Igbo language. Stone is ‘okuta’ in Yoruba. It is ‘okute’ in Igbo. The ear is ‘eti’ in Yoruba. It is ‘nti’ in Igbo. There are several words pointing to the fact that both tribes share similarities in languages. If we claim to be Jews, mention any word in Hebrew or Aramaic that is similar to the Igbo language and you would find none. Why are we trying to claim what we are not? To me, the tale that we originated from Israel sounds more like a fable than reality.
“From my artefacts collection, which spans from 16th to 18th centuries, I haven’t traced any link between Igbo and Israel. So, I beg to ask: where did this people get the story of Igbo origin from Israel? How many Igbo men were married to Jewish women in the last five years? The Francophone countries can claim that they are from France because of their political affinities in terms of colonisation, but can you say that in the case of Igbo? The answer is no.”
He also agreed with the Ooni that kolanut originated from Ife and the largest consumers of kolanuts are Igbo: “So, this is also another evidence to prove that we share similar origins with the Yoruba. I have over 3,000 arts collection with which I can justify my position. Those disputing it can come forward with their claims and let us see who is right.”
On the similarities between ‘Odundunwa’ and Oduduwa, as explained by Ohanaeze’s deputy president, Ogbonna said the similarity in language indicates that both tribes once coexisted: “Besides, for centuries, the Yoruba and Igbo occupied the Lower Niger, where they traded in palm oil, palm nuts, kolanuts, pepper and, later, slaves. So, in the course of this bilateral interaction, it was possible that affinities in the area of languages occurred. I think the Ooni’s account is more reliable than the Jewish narratives of Igbo origin.”
He said he was not surprised about the controversy over Igbo identity, adding that the Igbo were very mobile.
“They move from their homeland to other communities, settle down and, in time, cross-populate with them. For instance, in Lagos, the Igbo have invested heavily and, with the rate of intermarriage and cultural assimilation, I won’t be surprised if in a century the Igbo man would trace his origins to any of the South West states and would be welcomed home.
“So, rather than waste energy arguing about origin, the Igbo should struggle to make socio-political marks in the country and that could only be possible through cultural cooperation with other tribes, while retaining our own identity,” he said.
He also spoke on what he has achieved within his short stint as Ohanaeze president in Lagos State. Ogbonna said the organisation now operates from its own secretariat. He said, besides saving cost, Igbo now have a place they can call their own.
“They now have a rallying point from where they can operate,” he noted, adding that the recent visits by Ohanaeze Ndigbo to victims of the building collapse on Lagos Island and the families of a lady shot dead in Ajegunle by policemen were an indication that Ohanaeze Lagos is now in touch with the grassroots.