Repositioning Ndigbo

The 2009 Ahiajoku Lecture, which held in Owerri in Imo State, on Friday, 23 January, has come and gone, yet memories of it linger on. Though an annual ritual, this year’s lecture was significant because aside being a platform for the repositioning of the Igbo in the 21st Century, it coincided with the 50th anniversary of Things Fall Apart, the seminal novel by Professor Chinua Achebe, whose publication in 1958 put Nigeria on the world’s literacy map. It was also a veritable homecoming for Achebe, who delivered the lecture titled, Igbo: Intellectualism and Development

The Ahiajoku Lecture,which was part of a string of activities lined up to celebrate Igbo culture, featured cultural display and speeches by notable Igbo indigenes; and it was preceded by an Internatonal Conference on Igbo Civilisation which held between 19-22 January. In that conference, Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State, who is at the forefront of repositioning the Igbo in the 21st Century, gave a foretaste of what to expect at the lecture. In a robust speech, he admonished the Igbo people not only to get a firm grip of their destiny but to also be proud of their identity. “It worries me that we are fast losing or compromising the greatest attributes that made us Igbo,” he said.

Yet, the festival reached its climax on the day of the lecture. And it was attended by distinguished Igbo indigenes from different streams of endeavour, including the clergy, politicians, traditional rulers and academics. The Chairman of the occasion, the Asagba of Asaba, Professor Chike Edozien, set the ball rolling with a speech that stressed the need for Igbo unity. “It was easy to laugh few years ago at the determination of the Igbo people to have the next President of Nigeria as an Igbo man. The inability of the leaders of Ohaneze to contribute fiscally to that effort underlines the need to strengthen the mechanism of Igbo unity and, if necessary, to create new ones,” Edozien said.The traditional ruler also used the occasion to appeal that two more states – Anioma and that of the Igbo-speaking people in Rivers State – be created. He also recommended that the proposed seven eastern states be under the same political zone.

In a citation titled, Nothing Puzzles God, Prof. Pat Utomi emphasised that cultural renewal is imperative for the rehabilitation of the Igbo people. “I am very quick to turn to the American sage Daniel Patrick Moynihan and his two truths. The first truth is that it is culture, not politics, that is responsible for the progress of a society. And the central liberal truth is that politics can change the culture and save it from itself. The duty of those in politics is to change culture and save the culture from itself,” Utomi intoned.

Still, the highpoint of the lecture was when Achebe, clad in a deep ash-coloured Igbo traditional dress and a red cap handled the microphone. In a speech spiced with anecdotes and proverbs, the literary icon harped on the need for Igbo unity. He urged Ndigbo to disregard the seeming differences between them and emphasise those things that unite them. According to Achebe, things such as differences in dialect are not enough reasons to cause disunity among the Ndigbo, adding that Ndigbo have spoken their language for centuries without going to war. “Every Igbo is Igbo… We are not entitled or even allowed in my view to say to anybody who is speaking the Igbo language in his or her own way that what they are speaking is not Igbo,” he said.

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