The very difficult circumstances that recently bedevilled Oyingbo/Obigbo in Rivers State has largely been contained. At least, this is so in the eyes of politicians. However, whatever the state of the matter, one issue was reignited all over again. It is the issue of the ethnic identity of the Ikwerre. Are they Igbo or a distinct ethnic group?
There are basically two sides to the Ikwerre identity contention. There are the Ikwerre public figures and politicians on one hand, and their Igbo counterparts on the other.
Having said this much, one issue sticks out. It is that, in all these verbal identity firefights, it is politicians and public figures that are making claims and counterclaims. Of course, as is indicated with Nigerian politicians and so-called public personae, their claims are just ‘verbal,’ largely without content or logic. The fact of this afflicts both sides. Perhaps, in street language the belligerents may be said to be ‘wracking’ sense.
To all this there is one unseen implication. It is that it is yet another proof of the failure of scholarship and the lack of the scientific spirit. Simply put, it is not within the domain knowledge of the typical politician to know who he is, which ethnic group he belongs to.
In other words, a Nyesom Wike, a lawyer and current Governor of Rivers State, is not in a position to scientifically state he is Igbo or otherwise. The same holds true for Chief Nnia Nwodo in the fact of Ikwerre being Igbo or not. That my father told me is not truth, the scientific truth. Of course, as Chinua Achebe says, the lore of the land is beyond the knowledge of many fathers.
The following is worthy of note. Before the coming of modern science, aka the invention of DNA sequencing and other tools, determining the ethnicity of a people was the province of historians, linguists sociologists and anthropologists. It was essentially a scholarly enterprise, not the calling of street or popular jingoists.
Today, questions of ethnic certifications are easily resolved by science. That’s to say, sociologists, linguists, etc, have largely been retired out of the job of determining the ethnicity of a people. DNA sequencing and thus fixing the genetic relatedness of two parties or groups is a matter as scientific as doing a selfie.
But what is astonishing in all these verbal altercations is that none of the parties in issue is calling for the final and irrevocable resolution of the matter, DNA testing. One is thus tempted to ask: are there things these men know that they are keeping behind the curtains?
Some historical examples may help. In the beginning, Ethiopian Falashas were crying out they were Jews, but nobody cared. Later, Israelis sent in their scholars, historians, linguists, DNA experts, etc, and immediately the matter was resolved. And the rest is history. Readers, may find this link interesting: https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/06/16/evidence-mounts-of-ancient-jewish-roots-of-beta-israel-ethiopian-jewry/.
What are we saying? It is that it is not outside the realm of the possible for the Ikwerre not to be Igbo. However, the proof or otherwise of that state of being is outside the remits of the politician, no matter how powerful. The affirming or disaffirming of that state of being is in the turfs of scientists, historians, biologists, etc.
To conclude, can any Ikwerre denier or affirmer of his or her Igboness volunteer a sample? A DNA-carrying sample, say a sputum of saliva? That is the end of the discussion.
End of discussion? Not quite. It may be time now to bring this to notice. Actually, I have written on the matter. It forms a chapter in my book, Nigeria’s University Media Complex… Well, it is safe to bet that Nigerians, including Ohanaeze chieftains, are not readers. One and all, from Aso Rock to the least Mayoralty, they want to run Nigeria or parts of it by reading at best Sunday newspaper supplements. That’s in part why Nigeria is not developable. She is run whole and in parts on the wisdom or otherwise of newspaper bylines.
Anyway, below are excerpts/bullet points from Nigeria’s University Media Complex…:
Nothing illustrates this rule by ignorance – this leadership by protoplasm as it were – than the present leadership of Ohaneze….
One was scandalised to be sent clips of Nwodo berating Amaechi. [… the Minister of Transport and former governor of Rivers State. Amaechi is Igbo of Ikwerre extraction.]
The issue was Nwodo’s largely outlandish… claim that Port Harcourt/Rivers Igbo peoples – who by the way are Igbo we repeat – were de-Igbonising their personal and place names. Nwodo gave the examples of “rumu” replacing “umu”.
On the face of it, it looks true; but is it? The charge is false and unmerited. It is a question of dialectal difference and nothing more, and this is nothing exotic or peculiar to the [Rivers] Igbo. Let us illustrate with one or two examples. Ogbaru, an official Igbo orthography, is [written and] pronounced by the natives as Ogbahu…. It says the same thing, with another lisp. The fact of it is as harmless as a babe’s smiles.
More importantly, the name of the Igbo paterfamilias is dialectally Eshi, Eri, and Ehi [and possibly Nri] across Igbo land sub-regions. Please see our book: Nigeria The Unreported Genocide Against the Igbo from The Stone Press. Is Eshi then not the same guy as Eri and Ehi?
Admittedly, the Rivers issue is not that simple. The details are there. Before the war, the Igbo were a fairly dominant group, and this was especially so in the East. And official Igbo orthography was a mishmash or an “unnatural” compromise…. As historians and philologists, we confirm the “unnatural” cut that Igbo orthography is.
If we came back to Port Harcourt/Rivers State, it is true that these names were officially umu rather than rumu. After the war, the Ikwerre and other Rivers peoples wanted out of being Igbo, after being so stigmatised, plus the Igbo lost the genocidal war Gowon exacted on them. This was a key part of Gowon’s evil genius to stigmatise being Igbo and he largely succeeded. [Sometimes Nigerians look to Babangida as the evil genius. That is fake news. Compared to Gowon, Babangida is a naïve saint].
If we returned to Ikwerre and other Rivers peoples not wanting the stigma of being Igbo, that is a one-sided reading of that history. The larger truth must include that the Ikwerre and other Igbo communities in Rivers were largely marginal players in the Igbo/Nigeria of the pre-1967 era.
However, they were not the only such peoples. Post the civil war and perhaps before, the present-day Ebonyi State indigenes and even Enugu State peoples were or considered themselves to be marginalised, but attempts were made in various disguises to correct this. The transformation and adoption of Wawa, first a derisive catcall, as an identity of pride is justly famous.
So, the issue of a separate orthodoxy cannot constitute a hint or pointer to being non-Igbo. Being Igbo is a sociological and very lately a scientific fact. That is, Amaechi being Igbo is something he cannot assert or repudiate. It is largely now a technical matter, like determining if a child is having fever.
The Brace Institute can now reveal that, rather than work on anecdotes or petty gossips, we have at great costs conducted, surreptitiously, DNA sequencing and profiles of Igbo groups from Agbor to Ahoada. We shall soon extend same to regions in Cross River, Benue, etc., and we used the near relations of prominent split personalities, the Amaechis, Wikes, Odilis, Obaigbenas, etc. And the records are available. But why the scientific issue of DNA sequencing never occurred to our people is really amazing. It is the supreme court of such matters and is easily available.
Perhaps, if our leaders were seized of historical examples, what happened to Germans and Austrians would be lesson enough. “After World War II, some Austrians declared they were not Germans.”
Antony Beevor further states: “Then came another shock…Our Austrian comrades suddenly ceased to be Germans. They called themselves ‘Austritsy.’”
The point in it all is that it is human, all too human, to want out when comrades are beaten to it. That is, our historical education should have prepared us for this, so much so that we do not need to shock or be shocked. The Igbo insightfully teach owu okeny na eri ariri/it is the greater one who sacrifices to save the whole. It is even most importantly strategic that the most powerful make the most sacrifices for the good of all. And it is all imbedded in Ofo na Ogu, only if we cared to unbundle it. The point is our fathers have written the scriptures. Why do we behave like pagans or convert to lower religions?