Part E. Elders of the Igbo Homeland: Skilled but Wanting
He who killed a spotted dog on the pretext that it resembled a leopard, for what reason did he kill the one that resembled an eagle? So goes a popular Igbo proverb. The destruction of the Igbo homeland is one of the unfortunate legacies of the post-war leaders of the Igbo Nation; however, we cannot attribute all the problems of the Igbo homeland to them, exclusively. Because our post-war elders are not entirely blameless in that regard, I will not mask or overlook their faults and shortcomings lest there be any doubt about their complicity in the aggravation of the Igbo homeland situation.
Traditionally, our elders are the guardians of the Igbo ancestral homeland. In every community, they quietly monitor the acquisition of wealth by their sons and daughters. The elders interrogate members of the community they suspect of involvement in illegal or criminal activities like drug abuse, stealing, armed robbery, killing, etc. that will tarnish the image of their families and bring the name of the community into disrepute. In addition, the elders impose sanctions on any member of the community who commits a crime against the homeland and, in extreme cases, ostracize and banish criminals from the community. The elders guard the purity of the Igbo homeland against contamination. Their word is their bond, the word of our ancestors.
Like the French philosophes of the 18th century (= the Age of Enlightenment), Igbo elders have the ability to sense the pulse of their communities. They recognize truth as truth, falsehood as falsehood, and abomination as abomination. In short, they are men and women of calibre and integrity, the salt of the Igbo homeland and, above all, old souls that reincarnated and carried the Igbo homeland forward over the years. Such was the reputation and role of the elders of the Igbo homeland until the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War.
Much to the consternation of ndi Igbo at home and abroad, the sense of responsibility of Igbo elders today is a far cry from that of their astute predecessors. The Igbo elders of today have degenerated to the point that under their watchful eyes, an animal (a goat, for example) is left on a leash while delivering its young one – an abomination in the Igbo culture.
Before the watchful eyes of the elders, too, evil is laying eggs everywhere on the Igbo soil today, eggs it never had the slightest chance to lay at the time of our fathers and forefathers. The current generation of Igbo elders bury their heads in the sand and pretend not to see the evil that imposes a burden on the conscience of men and women of goodwill. I should, perhaps, remind them here that “the hottest places in hell,” according to Dante, “are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”
Instead of questioning and sanctioning the youth who suddenly becomes filthy rich overnight with no verifiable jobs or legitimate sources of income to justify the opulence, the community elders, today, are implicitly aiding and abetting illegal acquisition of wealth by decorating shady characters with traditional chieftaincy titles. In some cases, the chieftaincy title is conferred on the highest bidder.
These aberrations do not comport with the position of elder in the Igbo culture, and for good reason. The decorations, for example, put undue pressure on other members of the Igbo society to enrich themselves by fair means or foul and be similarly decorated. The vicious cycle thus continues ad infinitum.
The repugnant practices are, therefore, detrimental to the Igbo society. We are witnessing them more and more because of transformations that took place in the psyche of the Igbo youth during the war, causing them to be prematurely propelled to the position of elder far beyond their level of maturity and sober thought after the war. As a result, they are not only wanting in leadership and imagination; they lack the wisdom and depth of knowledge that enabled our ancestors to assume (= wear) the mantle of leadership of the Igbo society over the years and held the homeland together until they handed the leadership over to the youth after the war. The Igbo society started to fall apart thereafter as open corruption became fashionable amongst the youth.
On the women side, the elders of today are as wanting in many respects as their male counterparts. The pre-war women elders of the Igbo society were well organized and tough-minded women who knew the type of society they wanted for themselves and their families and worked together to build and maintain it uniformly across the Igbo homeland until the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War.
Best known worldwide for the Aba Women’s Riot of November-December 1929 that predates the Women’s Liberation Movement (= Feminist Movement) of Simone de Beauvoir and Women’s Suffrage (= the right of women to vote), the pre-war generation of women elders retired from active service in the Igbo homeland at the end of the war and handed the leadership of Igbo women affairs to the new breed or younger generation.
Shortly thereafter, some of the local markets (amongst other things) started to collapse. And the celebration of the market days began to fade. The decay of the sense of responsibility for the local markets amongst the new breed of women elders finally enabled western ideas to creep into our value system and destroy the market-day cultural festivals we inherited from our ancestors and other observances relative thereto that remind us of our oneness as a people and our belonging to a community.
It is interesting to note that the pre-war women elders of the Igbo society would have rebelled against the leadership of the Igbo homeland and mobilized as they did in 1929 to stop the destruction of the Umuahia and Owere markets they guarded jealously over the years.
Like the elders, the autonomous communities and villages that accept bags of rice, cows, millions of Naira, and other gifts from politicians in exchange for support, authorize the acceptance thereof on their behalf, condone and encourage such practices, partake in sharing such gifts, or allow themselves to be suborned in these or other ways – all are enablers and spoilers of the Igbo homeland. So, where do we go from here?
Despite the stark realities of life in the Igbo homeland today that make our mission seemingly hopeless, it’s not all doom and gloom. We are undaunted by the enormity of the task and confident of eventual success. We did not undertake the journey to document the Igbo language and culture, clean up the societal mess, and sanitize the Igbo homeland for the highest good of the greatest number of Igbo speakers because it is easy and painless; we undertook the journey because it is difficult and tortuous.