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Futile search for a Good Igbo – by Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo

The voice and views of Rudolf Okonkwo from 14 years ago but still relevant

Between 250 CE and 1948, Jews were expelled from Europe over 80 times. That is, in 1,700 years, people in Europe expelled the Jews at the average rate of once every 21 years.

It happened in France, England, Spain, Portugal, Germany and dozens of other countries. These countries in their own characteristic ways rose up one day to declare that they were tired of hosting Jews and tolerating their behaviors and accepting their attitude that whatever land they lived in was no man’s land. These Europeans claimed they were more charitable, hospitable, accommodating and generous to the Jews than any other nationality, but the Jews abused it. They demanded that all Jews leave or be vanquished. They said they tried but they could not see any good Jew to make them change their minds.

Historians who have studied the phenomenon came up with the usual explanations given as the reason why Jews were expelled. Here are six typical reasons (from history books and online sources) as expressed in popular quotes used during each expulsion, massacre and persecution. 1.) “We hate Jews because they possess too much wealth and power.” 2.) “We hate Jews because they arrogantly claim that they are the chosen people.” 3.) “Jews are a convenient group to single out and blame for our troubles.” 4.) “We hate Jews because they killed Jesus.” 5.) “We hate Jews because they are different than us.” 6.) “We hate Jews because they are an inferior race.”

Historians have examined these reasons in order to see if they were causes of the hatred or the excuses for the hatred. Historians propound that if they are causes, once the cause is taken away, the hatred will vanish. But if the cause is taken away and the hatred remains, then, it is mere excuse.

On the economic reason which says that Jews possess too much wealth that causes envy and resentment, historians found out that the Polish and Russian Jews of the 17th -20th century were “dirty poor” yet, they were hated. When the Jews are doing well, the myth that they have a plan to rule the world by controlling governments and financial establishments took shape in the fictional work called, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Though it has been debunked as fiction, it remains a bestselling book in the world.

On the idea that the Jews were claiming to be the chosen ones, historians noted that the Jews of Germany in the 19th century denied the concept of being the chosen ones. Many of them assimilated with mainstream Germans, abandoning their language and culture and ways of life. Yet, when the holocaust started, it did not save them. And the Larry Kings of America, who changed their names to hide their identities and those who are not practicing Jews like Madam Albright, have not been spared as objects of hate. Surprisingly, in today’s world, it is the Christians and the Muslims who openly claim that they are the ones chosen by God and nobody can get to God except through their intermediaries- Jesus and Muhammad. But they don’t get the kind of hatred that the Jews get.

The scapegoating of the Jews, especially in difficult economic and political times, is not a cause but rather an excuse. To scapegoat, you must first of all hate. Hitler conveniently used Jews as scapegoat because the hatred was already there. It made it easy for Germans to believe that Jews were the reason they lost World War I and why the German economy was fluttering. The fifth reason, that the Jews killed Jesus, falls flat when the Christian Bible says that the Romans killed Jesus with the help of Jews but the hatred was reserved for Jews alone. The Roman Catholic Church, in its Second Vatican Council in 1963, had to officially exonerate the Jews, but the hatred continued.

The idea that the Jews were outsiders should have waned with the increase in Jewish assimilation over the years. But it didn’t. Instead, the complaint changed. In Germany, it turned into: “We hate you, not because you’re different, but because you’re trying to become like us! We cannot allow you to infect the Aryan race with your inferior genes.”

The final reason is that “we hate the Jews because they are an inferior race.” The Jews are not a race, to begin with.

This is how Rabbi Kalman Packouz put the dilemma of the Jews. “Every other hated group is hated for a relatively defined reason,” he wrote. “We Jews, however, are hated in paradoxes: Jews are hated for being a lazy and inferior race – but also for dominating the economy and taking over the world. We are hated for stubbornly maintaining our separateness – and, when we do assimilate – for posing a threat to racial purity through intermarriages. We are seen as pacifists and as warmongers; as capitalist exploiters and as revolutionary communists; possessed of a Chosen-People mentality, as well as of an inferiority complex. It seems that we just can’t win.”

In 2005, Okey Ndibe wrote a piece he called, “Thou Shall Not Rent to Igbo.” In it he brought to the fore the discriminatory challenges Igbo tenants were facing in finding apartments to rent in Lagos. In a rejoinder titled, “Igboman can be a good Tenant,” Kola Akomolede’s argued that it was not only Yoruba landlords who do not want the Igbo tenant but landlords of other ethnicities, including some Igbo landlords. He suggested that the real problem was the nature of the Igbo man and not the discrimination against Igbo tenants which he made every effort to justify. He suggested that Ohanaeze should advice Igbo men to “change their attitude and behave like gentlemen.”

European intellectuals, including some Jews, made similar appeal to Diaspora Jews across Europe before Hitler came. Many Jews bought into it. They changed their names and many abandoned their religion all together. Some intermarried with Germans. But when Hitler came, it did not save them.

Instead of finding practical structures based on law and order to deal with universal issues between tenants and landlords, Akomolede made flimsy arguments like the one about the Igbo with “good background” being good tenants. Property consultants and owners, he suggested, should care about good background of tenants. He finally fell back on the popular refrain that the Yoruba are the most accommodating nation in Nigeria.

We have heard that line before. And we are hearing a lot of it today. Some have observed that beneath the issue of discrimination against Igbo tenants is the bigger and subtle issue – the battle for Lagos.

That battle for Lagos has actually come out in the open.

Common with all things Nigeria, Akomolede’s greatest failure was in subscribing to the predominant Igbo stereotype on the basis of which he demanded a change in the nature of the Igbo. “Stereotypes are not necessarily malicious,” once cautioned Chinua Achebe. “They may be well meaning and even friendly. But in every case they show a carelessness or laziness or indifference of attitude that implies that the object of your categorization is not worth the trouble of individual assessment.” That’s how the action of a man or a group of people in Nigeria is often ascribed to the action of an ethnic or religious group.

The old conventional wisdom was that of Samora Machel: ‘For the nation to live, the tribe must die.’ The new conventional wisdom is that, the tribe can live as long as it wants. But for the nation to live, impunity must die; citizens’ rights must be respected; law and order must be established and enforced, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or creed.

On the one hand, since 1914, the primary question of Nigeria has been the Igbo question. There are other important questions, but in the answer to the Igbo question comes the understanding of all the other questions. On the other hand, the primary tragedy of the Igbo is that they are living in a Nigeria that is yet to come, if it ever comes.

The innocence of the Igbo ended long time ago. It ended before 1945 when some Northern elements in Jos first rose up and massacred Igbo people. When it was repeated in 1953 in Kano, the British inquiry reported that, “No amount of provocation, short-term or long term, can in any way justify their (Northern Nigerians) behavior.” The British report went further to warn that “the seeds of the trouble which broke out in Kano on May 16 (1953) have their counterparts still in the ground. It could happen again, and only a realization and acceptance of the underlying causes can remove the danger.”

Of course, it happened again. It happened in all of northern Nigeria in 1966, Kano in 1980, Maiduguri in 1982, Jimeta in 1984, Gombe in 1985, Kaduna & Kafanchan in 1991, Bauchi, Kastina, & Kano in 1991, Zango-Kataf in 1992, Funtua in 1993, Kano in 1994. Since 1999, over 10,000 people have been killed in more than a dozen incidents of religious/ethnic conflicts. And since 2009, over 4000 people have died in Boko Haram attacks. The dispossession and displacement of Igbo people once desired by the leaders of the Northern House of Assembly in the 60s have now been achieved by Boko Haram in the 2010s. In places like Maiduguri only death-defying Igbo stayed put. Even those types have sent their wives and children home.

Usually, before Igbo bloods were spilled, it was customarily preceded by arguments in several quarters, official and unofficial, in the media and in secrecy, about the disdain of the very nature of the Igbo and the need for Igbo to change. In Northern Nigeria of 1964, there were calls in the Northern House of Assembly to revoke forthwith all Certificates of Occupancy from the hands of the Igbo residents in the region. Lawmakers stood up in the assembly and promised to find ways to do away with the Igbo. Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gashash, O.B.E and Minister of Land and Survey, told the assembly in March of 1964 the following:

“Having heard their demand about Ibos holding land in Northern Nigeria, my ministry will do all it can to see that the demands of members are met. How to do this, when to do it, all this should not be disclosed. In due course, you will all see what will happen. (Applause)”.

The Northern People’s Congress, NPC, followed Alhaji Gashash’s promise by issuing a booklet called SALAMA: Facts must be faced. This booklet portrayed the Igbo in a very bad light and gave the masses in the North the sense that the Igbo were the source of all their problems. At the same time, the government of Western Nigeria also issued their own booklet called UPCAISM in which the Igbo, called “strangers,” were depicted as land grabbers who must be removed from Western lands and government positions. The booklets also displayed pictures of shops and stores owned by the Igbo and indulged in undue character assassination.

The military coup of 1966 presented a pretext to carry out a plan that had been laid out years before. It was a plan that aimed at a total extermination of the Igbo or, at least, their containment. The pogrom and the brutal war that followed was the final solution to the perceived Igbo problems in Nigeria. When Anthony Enahoro traveled round the globe arguing that starvation was a weapon of war, he was following the script for the total extermination of the Igbo. When Benjamin Adekunle boasted to foreign reporters, “I want to see no Red Cross, no Caritas, no World Council of Churches, no Pope, no missionary and no UN delegation. I want to prevent even one Ibo from having even one piece to eat before their capitulation. We shoot at everything that moves and when our troops march into the centre of Ibo territory, we shoot at everything even at things that do not move…,” he was following the same script.

Just like the once accommodating and charitable and hospitable and generous Germany became a graveyard of Jews when Hitler came, Nigeria became a graveyard of Igbo when Gowon came. And, equally, like Germany, Nigeria failed to accomplish the final solution plan. The only difference was that the Jews learnt from that horrible Holocaust experience and formed their own country while the Igbo failed in that struggle for Biafra and returned to embrace Nigeria as if nothing had happened. Thomas Sowell, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University and a renowned scholar on Races and World Economies wrote that, “Most of the great mindless slaughters of the 20th century — whether of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, the kulaks in the Soviet Union, the Jews in Germany, the I[g]bo in Nigeria or the Tamils in Sri Lanka — have been slaughters of those who dramatically eclipsed the accomplishments of others.”

The kulaks were liquidated. The Armenians, the Jews and the Tamils are struggling and still fighting to keep the memories alive and stop it from ever happening again. The Igbo on their part, forgot what happened and why. But the Nigerian elements, disappointed in their unfinished job, have not forgotten. Instead, they are busy preparing for the final battle. Those in doubt should listen when they remind the Igbo openly that “history will repeat itself.” In ways subtle and covetous, they are laying the ground work for what we all know must come. They are making public and closed door speeches in which they are promising that “how to do this, when to do this, will not be disclosed.” The seed of the trouble, as far as these Nigerian elements see it, is in the nature of the Igbo. As long as Igbo will not denounce their Igboness, it will happen again. And this time, it may be a total annihilation, from Port Harcourt to Lagos on to Gusau via Abuja.

Acknowledged, it has been difficult, and will always be difficult, for the rest of Nigeria to interpret the Igbo life and worldview. There is a big difference between what the Igbo think and what others think the Igbo think. This misunderstanding, in many quarters, has continued to be transformed into inert hatred. The myth of the Igbo constantly in the face of Nigerians everywhere, has proved very difficult for many to decipher.

In a 2005 Igbo Day keynote speech titled, The Primacy of Political or Economic power: The Igbo Dilemma, Professor Anya O. Anya noted that:

“There is an inherent paradox and contradiction in the lgboman’s place in Nigeria. On the one hand given his industry, his intelligence and his enterprise, the Igboman is a desirable gift to Nigeria and the stuff of which great nations and great civilizations can be built. On the other hand, given his presumptive confidence in his abilities and his unabashed hunger to succeed at whatever cost, he engenders fear and unwelcome visibility amongst his compatriots. His lack of subtlety, his drive to overcome and his insatiable “greed” for material progress engenders resentment and often inexplicable, and perhaps, undeserved hostility in the host communities. His “loud” style of Life and the facility with which he can adapt to and adopt new ways can also be unsettling to foreign cultural formations that have come in contact with the lgbo including the colonial masters. There is thus an underlying sense of conflict in the lgbo presence in Nigeria.”

For those who care but do not know and those who know but do not care, the Igbo are not perfect. Like so many other groups, the Igbo have those uncommon human frailties and foibles as well as unique virtues and wisdoms. When their sense of vanity is heightened, their sense of modesty is diminished. When their sense of belonging is enhanced, their sense of variance is lessened. The Igbo know that things others did to them were many but the things they did to themselves were more. (Apologies Prof. Chieka Ifemesia). But the Igbo history warrants that the Igbo must keep eternal vigilance – chasing away the prey while scolding the chick.

In trying to find an answer many observers of negativity in Igbo life seek, I stumbled on “The Focus of Igbo Worldview,” a paper presented by Prof. Donatus I. Nwoga. In it he wrote:

“The opportunity which the present times have given for the predominant attributes of the Igbo to blossom into the ugliness of materialistic indiscipline, and lack of grace and finesse, must not be taken to represent the all-time behavior of the Igbo. A characteristic which could have been favorable and positive in one phase of the history of a people, which could again be positive and beneficial in another phase, could present the greatest negative consequences in a transitional phase. In practical terms, the attributes which make the Igbo appear vulgar and materialistic at this phase, could be the same attributes that made them achieving and titled people in the past. The present could merely be revealing the impact of new, uncharted times to the chaotic instinct in those who had been restrained by the limiting structures and facilities of the ordered past. And it is important to retain then the diachronic consciousness that transitional people have the handicap of having lost the grace and poetry of their past, without yet acquiring the grace and poetry, or at least the discipline and sanctions of the modern.”

The duty those who believe in Nigeria owe to this transitioning Nigeria is to give her a structure. In a structured Nigeria where there is law and order, people will be treated as individuals according to the laws of the land. Those who currently take advantage of the disorder in Nigeria would have to get in line or face the letters of the law. In a just and equitable society, those who are industrious, honest and creative will soar. Until then, those who dream of changing the nature of the Igbo or any ethnic group for that matter are confounded with many paradoxes.

The fundamental truth is that the Igbo, as part of humanity, have the right to live anywhere – with or without Nigeria. Let it be known that the original sin of the Igbo has not changed and will never change – it is the sin of being Igbo. It is from it that all other sins emerge and get magnified. The Igbo have nothing to prove and must not begin a defense of that right or a discussion of their Igboness on the terms of others. It is a matter of expediency for the Igbo to know this and for the Igbo to understand its implication in their final battle for survival.

If the Igbo had not embraced western education in the mid-1930s and overtaken the rest of Nigeria thirty years after; if the Igbo had not accepted Nigeria and emigrated from their tropical rain forest of the east to all corners of Nigeria; maybe, the pogrom would not have happened.

For many, a good Igbo is one who is only Igbo in his home; who is not Igbo everyday and everywhere; who is apologetic for being Igbo, and who wears the following expression on his forehead: “how dare you assume I am Igbo?”

Though my last name is as Igbo as they come, I’m sure that I’m not a good Igbo man. I do not conform to every man’s definition of an Igbo, including definition by the Igbo themselves. But that should not be a problem, unless you are Femi Fani-Kayode and his like.

There are serious people vigorously dedicated to the search for a good Igbo man or woman. I enthusiastically applaud them. And I must add, with all honesty, “Bros, Good luck with that!”

(This is an updated version of my 2005 article, Igbo: The Final Battle)

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Things Fall Apart: Chinua Achebe and the languages of African literature

At the BookShelf

File 20181128 32185 4x4d69.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Christian missionaries in Congo in 1911. From the biography of Gwen Elen Lewis.
Princeton Theological Seminary

Sarah Jilani, University of Cambridge

“One of the most infuriating habits of these people was their love of superfluous words,” thinks the colonial district commissioner to himself in the final chapter of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It is from the only section of this groundbreaking novel that is not written from the perspective of Africans. Telling of the colonisation of the Igbo from their point of view, the line foreshadows much: how colonisation will attempt to write African perspectives, deemed “superfluous”, out of their own histories, but also that, “infuriatingly” enough for an oppressor, the colonised Africans wield words of their own.

The great African novel?
Paull Young via Flickr, CC BY-SA

Published 60 years ago this year by Heinemann in London, Things Fall Apart has sold more than 10m…

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Was Achebe completely right to write off Heart of Darkness as a racist text by Noel Ihebuzor

In an essay titled “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” Chinua Achebe calls out Conrad for racism and spends time showing examples of racism, stereotyping, otherness and infantilzation of Africans in the novella. Whilst such a reading and reaction have their merits, they have the danger of also obscuring and downplaying Conrad’s strong critique and condemnation of colonialism and the then popular rationalisation of the invasion and despoiling of Africa by appeals to the theory of the white man’s burden. So, heart of darkness whilst it may have traces of racism is a good primer and introduction to any serious critique of colonialism. A fair appraisal would thus require putting its observed defects side by side with its shattering critique and dismantling of the false claims that were used to rationalise colonialism.

Heart of Darkness thus deserves a second trial by jury with a little bit more of emotional distance from the setting and characters than Chinua Achebe. I think that the great novelist Achebe overreacted in his response to Conrad. Such an overreaction is understandable in an African smarting from the sting of insults to Africa by white scholars such as the Regius professor of history Trevor Roper who had argued that Africa had no history before the coming of the white beyond the gyrations of tribes in the wilds of the dark continent.

So I understand why CA reacted the way he did . I have read and re-read the paper where CA calls Conrad out and some of the claims against Conrad there are justified.

But CA should also have recognized that Conrad, talking through Marlow, was very savage and scathing in his demolition of the justifications of the colonial enterprise. Nearly every white man in that novella is presented as grossly ignorant, lacking in depth and driven by greed. Conrad is particularly critical of the methods of the white colonizer and even the pilgrims going up the river with Marlow come across as a bunch of poorly camouflaged mercenaries in search of loot and plunder. Kurtz is the archetype of evil, of cruelty and unspeakable savagery. Indeed the heart of Darkness refers to the heart of Kurtz and not to the Congo. It describes the depravity in the heart of Kurtz. It refers to that twisted heart ruined by its obsession with ivory, an obsession that pushes Kurtz to carry out ivory raids and to put the heads of all who opposed him on stakes!

Conrad indicts colonialism and lays bare its false justifications. Yes, I agree that some of Conrad’s explanations for the origins of Kurtz’s lunacy, such as the one that the jungle had invaded Kurtz’s mind in retaliation for his invasion of its space, is deficient. Such an explanation belongs to an era of premature speculative animism masquerading as science but we must be careful not to mistake such dabbling into pseudoscience as an apologia for racism. I see Heart of Darkness as one of the earliest examples of anti-colonial literature.

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Was Achebe fair to Ezeulu in Arrow of God? By Noel Ihebuzor

Was Achebe fair to Ezeulu? Could he not have gone into his creative and artistic forge and found another denouement, just as powerful and intense and gripping which would have allowed the chief priest of Ulu to walk away from the enveloping unravelling of culture and tradition, from this creeping and almost irreversible dissolution and destruction of authority and institutions in Igbo land with his head high instead of knocking him down and covering him in the mud of disgrace associated with dementia? In the end, it would appear that Achebe surrenders his protagonist, a man of wit and intellect, a clear thinker, a pragmatist, pater familias, and chief of Ulu to his enemies and there are quite a few…. Winterbottom, Clarke, Nwaka etc! Is this a good price to pay for a tragic ending and did Ezeulu truly deserve this treatment? My whole being screams No! Is the death of Obika fair? No! Was it necessary? What happens to his new bride? Was this tragic end sufficiently justified? Was the reader sufficiently prepared for it?

The Webster dictionary defines tragedy thus – Tragedy is a serious play or drama typically dealing with the problems of a central character, leading to an unhappy or disastrous ending brought on, as in ancient drama, by fate and a tragic flaw in this character, or, in modern drama, usually by moral weakness, psychological maladjustment, or social pressures.” Tragedy however is typically associated with a flaw in the main character, some hubris, described as hamartia which leads this character to making wrong choices and faulty decisions. Okonkwo in TFA had that hamartia, his intense fear of being seen to be afraid, Jim in Conrad’s Lord Jim also suffered from a fundamental hubris which brought his ruin in the end, the principal characters in Adichie’s purple hibiscus were also flawed and one could go on and on. But where was the flaw in Ezeulu’s character? True, Achebe had hinted at the possibility of some flaw in the opening chapter, precisely in the paragraph that starts
“Whenever Ezeulu considered the immensity of his power over the year and the crops and, therefore over the people, he wondered if it was real” How good was power if it could never be used? In physics, there is this distinction between potential and kinetic energy. Potential energy exists only in the realm of possibilities and probability. Real energy is kinetics. Was this temptation to test to what extent he could impose his awesome power of choosing the season of harvesting that Ezeulu yields to at the end of the tale what ruins him? I do not find this ending, the way Achebe attempts to sketch it out to be very convincing but perhaps, this is because I am a unsophisticated reader. But even allowing for this aesthetic immaturity on my part, why was it necessary to bring in the sudden death of Obika in this final denouement of this gripping tale and allowing it so a powerful role in the ensuing destruction of Ezeulu and by implication of the god Ulu? Is this this sudden fall of Ezeulu justified? Should Ulu have suffered this irreversible demise? Has Ulu been godly? Does Ulu deserve our pity? For a god that looks on when its chief priest is being destroyed should not complain if its followers abandon its shrine for the altars of a new religion.

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Good intentions and bad outcomes in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God. By Noel Ihebuzor

Arrow of God contains a central crisis from which other crisis and tensions in the novel arise. This crisis is the arrival of the white man with his guns and his religion. If one were carrying out a causality analysis of the crisis in this novel, one would then be right to call this crisis the underlying cause of the tragedy that enfolds the novel. But when the causality analysis is carried one step further, one then comes upon the immediate cause of the tragedy. This immediate cause is the botched invitation by Captain Winterbottom to Ezeulu sent through Mr. Clarke. The invitation was for Ezeulu to become the traditional ruler of Umuaro. This botched invitation is central to the rest of the tragedy that engulfs Umuaro, that is when one makes allowances for the flaws in some of the characters in the novel such as Nwaka – (Ezeidemili), Ezeulu and Obika.
This immediate cause has its origins in the knowledge gaps and faulty assumptions that informed the choices and decisions made by the principal actors in the unfolding tragedy. Tools and concepts from sociology can help us understand these gaps and assumptions. The first of these concepts from sociology is that of stereotyping. Colonial administration was rife with a number of assumptions about the colonized. The colonized is simplified, presented as childlike and a creature lacking in depth but drawn to flamboyance and the easy life. This tendency to simplify the colonized has been noted to be almost universal in its manifestation and described by Said as orientalism. It is this type of mindset by the agents of colonial administration which makes both Clarke and Wiñterbottom to assume that Ezeulu would be excited to learn that he had been nominated as the Eze, the chief of Umuaro. Their assumption proved to be wrong. Stung by Ezeulu’s refusal to accept their offer, the colonial administration decide to detain Ezeulu thereby making it impossible for him to carry out certain priestly functions around which the farming calender of the community depends. His inability to do these contributes to the gradually enlarging crisis.
Another concept from sociology which has some explanatory power in this crisis is that of otherness.

Otherness is important for any deep understanding of discrimination in relations between groups of people in which one group, usually the dominant, attempts to simplify and stigmatise the other as being unworthy, deficient and lacking in certain core capacities, affects, sensibilities and competencies. Otherness finds expression in such phrases as “those people”, “those natives” and in the marked use of N words to refer to people of the discriminated races. Hand in hand with this discrimination was an orchestration of negative stereotypes of the group deemed inferior. A close examination of the middle sections of Arrow of God reveals that it is littered with words and phrases that betray such damaging and unhelpful stereotyping, otherness and discrimination. They poison relationships, prevent proper communication between protagonists each caught within the prison of the prism of their narrow world views. In the end, failures of communication ultimately lead to a crisis whose end point is the emotional destruction of the chief priest of Ulu and the further penetration of the Christian faith in Igbo land.

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Miscommunication and conflict in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God By Noel Ihebuzor

Some basic truths – There is a strong explanatory power in a framework that holds that tragedies arise when uncomprehending humans are caught up by an issue in time and space for which they are ill-equipped to successfully negotiate happy outcomes. The war between Okperi and Umuaro is explainable using such a framework. Conflict literature identifies a number of other elements in situations of interaction that are either conflict provoking or conflict enhancing. These include unfounded assumptions, sinister projections of unfounded intentions, cultural differences, miscues, misreads of the others’ actions, communication failures, arrogance, equivocation, fear of being perceived as weak, ambiguity, idees recues and hazy bargaining.

Most of these played out in the Okperi-Umuaro conflict.
Whether arising from poor communication, or different value systems, including cultural differences or diametrically opposed interests or competition over scarce resources or personality clashes, conflicts can be severely damaging if they are not nipped in the bud as each next step in the conflict has a tendency to escalate and magnify and worsen the situation.

The Okperi – Umuofia conflict adequately illustrates this tendency towards ever widening and damaging escalations in conflict when a conflict is not resolved in its early phases. The story line is simple. The story is told in a manner that is racy but has all the qualities of “vraisemblance” and realism. A piece of land is in dispute between two communities, each community claiming legitimate ownership. Umuaro sends an emissary led by Akukalia to Okperi. Akukalia, whose mother comes from Okperi, has already a poor conception of the typical Okperi person. This choice of an emotionally and cognitively ill-equipped person to lead such an important peace delegation is a first, critical and enabling condition for conflict enlargement.

Secondly, Akukalia assumes that because his mother comes from Okperi, he can get away with certain offenses which someone else without such an ancestry could be punished for. A second seed of conflict, this faulty assumption, is thus sown. Third, the delegation chooses a wrong market day to carry out the assignment. Most Igbo communities do not hold peace or war or marriage talks on Eke days. This wrong choice of day plus Akukalia’s insensitivity and brashness create further tensions, especially after they refuse the traditional white chalk and kola nuts, the ultimate symbols for peace in Igbo society that the Okperi community offers to Akukalia and his delegation. Then a series of miscommunications set in with insensitive language accentuating the ever expanding misunderstanding till an exchange between Ebo and Akukalia, which touches on the sensitive issue of Akukalia’s impotence, literally throws petrol into the now smouldering conundrum. Hurt, Akukalia does the unthinkable, the unpardonable, the ultimate desecration of a man in Igbo land! He breaks Ebo’s IKENGA. Ebo shoots him with his dane gun. Ultimately war breaks out and it required the intervention of Captain Winterbottom to quell it. Winterbottom goes one step further and breaks every gun in Okperi and Umuaro.

The story is told with the right level of diction, economy and pace. No words are wasted and suspense is maintained through gradual exposure and unlayering and unpeeling.

Could the war have been avoided? I think so. With the right level of scan and risk analysis, yes and herein lies one major value of this tale of war and peace told by a master craftsman.

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Ofo na Ogu, lekwanu-o

The oil mill igbo mmiri split and spat out four units

one for Eke, Afo, Orie na Nkwo

Iyiafo weeps

Over invoked Ofor laments the kwashiorkor
that now afflicts Ogu

since fast tongued twisters took our state and sold us ash as salt

Ogu, not ofor, is the abused, when the aggressor claims and seizes it. Truth freezes, his empires ceases,

he is nwanyi ukwu aru
her steps and gait
always dancing and prancing even when oppression and falsehood wear her down, trap her soul
her steps dance any other stories but her sadness,

your affliction is your possession
if you possess, package and exploit it –
Uwa wu so packaging

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Owerri town on 31/10/2019

The craters in Owerri,
coated in mechanics greasy rags
dishivelled plastic, bits and odd ends, brimming with thick dirty mud sauce
drink cars, swallows trucks

Wet baking ovens,
Owerri craters paint tyres, lubricate, wrestle. rusticate and retire ball joints

Their gaping yawning jaws
jeer at and jab away
at the rust mud maligned,
dirt and murk soaked
undercarriages of tired cars and weeping SUVs, groaning and creaking as they creep and crawl in this sea dirt and misery, born from the greed of big men with undersized minds……

Otamiri, please rescue us
from the rot and rust
leftovers of looters who came garbed as our rescuers.