This Week With Aniedobe:
Cry beloved NwaIgbo cry (Part 1 of 2)
Call, in distress, call Igbo,
Call and you shall fall!
This is the story of Anya, a small Igbo boy then and how he got his start in Lagos circa 1950.
Chinweze and Anya were the two sons of their pagan Dad who did not much believe in Western education. Incidentally, both were academically gifted with Anya distinguishing himself by being first or second in class throughout his primary school days and gaining entrance to the covered Government College, Umuahia. But their Dad had other plans. He sent Chinweze to Onitsha to learn a trade in the mechanical arts – namely mechanic and driving, and sent Anya to Mba mmili (Port Harcourt) to learn how to become a Carpenter.
A year into his apprenticeship, Anya’s Uncle, Ikeugo came for an NCNC political rally in Mbamili where Anya went to introduce himself. Ikeugo was impressed by Anya’s budding handsome looks and diligence in his craft and how he still wished he could go to Secondary School. Ikeugo promised Anya that he would secure admission for him at Kings College, Lagos, and asked Anya to wrap up his apprenticeship and join him in Lagos pronto.
With all of his one Pound then and a few rags for clothing and a worn sandal, Anya found his way to Lagos in search of Ikeugo who housed him in a small bedroom with three other boys that lived in his household. Ikeugo at that time was a high ranking NCNC Chieftain and strategist whose epistolary powers and strong oratorical skills pushed him up the ladder both as a politician and a distinguished trade unionist. At night Ikeugo wrote letters and in the morning he marshaled out the boys in his household to go and deliver those letters by foot all over Lagos. Breakfast was one penny for akara and akamu. There was no lunch. Dinner was fried yam and a dash of stew always. Anya was hungry but dreams of Kings College soothed his hunger. He was one hell of a scrawny looking kid, leaned out by hunger and privation.
Every time Anya brought the topic, Ikeugo would assure him that as soon as the new class begins, Anya would be one of them. Asked if they do not do entrance examination at Kings College, Ikeugo assured Anya that his political influence was all he needed.
At that time, NCNC rivalry with Action Congress for the heart and soul of Lagos was fierce, with NCNC getting the better of Action Congress. In those days, every tool of politics was on the table, including intimidation. Ikeugo was also using his boys as political thugs. He would teach them derogatory Yoruba songs and dispatch them to AC rallies to heckle AC speakers.
One day, Ikeugo came back dejected and unhappy and told his boys that the next day, they must head to Ebute Meta area of Lagos and stone the house of one AC Chieftain. The boys were to make sure that they broke all the windows but should not aim at anybody directly.
Anya, meanwhile had gotten used to easy life in Lagos. Between delivering errands and waiting for Kings College, he whiled away with Yoruba boys and soon learnt how to speak flawless Yoruba. Anya, however, did not feel comfortable with his new assignment. He asked Ikeugo:
“What if Ndi Yoruba come after us?”
“Anya, don’t worry, it won’t happen. Lagos is Igbo town. If anybody comes after you, just cry, Igbo anokwa yia eh and watch Ndigbo swarm to your defense.”
Anya wasn’t sure he liked his new assignment but was reluctant to do anything that could jeopardize his chances of getting to King’s College.
Come that fateful morning, Anya and the other houseboys went to throw stones as directed. Their briefing was to get there around 6:30 am when Ndigbo were beginning to head to their shops just in case.
The boys began to lob stones at their target. Parked Car was hit. Windows were aimed at. Cries of Oloshi rang out. Several Yoruba boys stormed out of the house in hot pursuit of Anya and his colleagues.
“Oloshi, Oloshi,” the Yoruba pursuers were shouting.
“Igbo anokwa yia eh, Igbo anokwa yia eh,” Anya cried as he ran desperately for his life.
Sure enough, Ndigbo who were on their way to their shops gave hot chase after the Yoruba boys.
“File, file Oh! She kosi, file, O” they shouted, asking the Yoruba pursuers to leave Igbo boys alone or deal with the consequences.
Anya, not at all familiar with the terrain and not being a speed merchant himself was caught. He cried. Igbo unu anokwa ya eh as Igbo boys surrounded him ready to do battle on his behalf.
A small crowd of Ndigbo and NdiYoruba soon gathered around Anya who was immediately engulfed in tribal tension. The Yorubas pressed their case. He was stoning our house and broke our windows. The Igbo boys demanded release. Anya, they demanded, tell us that they are lying. Anya replied:
“Okwa nnam ukwu simu bia tua okwute! Chei, Ikeugo alaputagomu O! Okwa nwa Nimo, abialum abia na Lagos O!”
It so happened that one young man in his late twenties or early thirties then, Eyiagu Okoye, from Enugwu Ukwu, a neighboring town to Nimo was among those who gave hot chase as well and he took charge of the situation. He decided that the best thing to do was to follow Anya back to the home of the AC Chieftain to make sure that they won’t kill him.
Anya wept along, seized on both hands by Yoruba boys, remorse covering his entire body. Eyiagu followed asking them to take it easy, after all, he did not kill anybody.
When they got to the home of the AC Chieftain, Anya fell on the ground and spoke to him in flawless Yoruba how he had come to Lagos to go to King’s College and how he had become a houseboy and a political thug and how he wished to go back home to his father. “Kpele Sir,” he wept. “Kpele Sir,” he continued crying. Enyiagu joined in begging the Chieftain. “Oga, kpele,” he too cried. The Igbo boys were truly overcome with grief.
With each show of remorse and contrition, the Chieftain’s heart melted and he began to reach out to the boys. He asked for the boys to be giving food and to be welcomed into his household and the next day, wrote recommendation letters for Anya to go and get his Labor Card. He loned Anya five pounds for the Labor Card application which Anya promised to pay back once he finds a job. Eyiagu declined a labor card, preferring instead to continue his trade. Eyiagu also offered to fix everything which the boys damaged. The AC Chieftain thanked him but declined the offer. He and Eyiagu also became friends as of that day and for the rest of their lives. The Chieftain was the guest of honor at Eyiagu’s wedding.
Meanwhile, Enyiagu Okoye became Anya’s mentor and offered him to share his room as well. With the Chieftain’s connection, Anya got his first job as a labor mate laying underground electrical cables for the Electrical Corporation of Nigeria. From there, Anya rose through the ranks and went on to have a distinguished career as an Electrical Engineer.
Meanwhile, Ikeugo had gotten really mad at how Ndi Yoruba rejected Zik as their Representative and in his first opportunity as a trade union delegate representing Nigeria in a trade union congress in East Germany, Ikeugo emigrated out of Nigeria for good.
Such were the fortuitous turn of events that made Anya who he is. Anya went on to beget Gwongwolo.
Now you know the rest of the story.
The point however is if you hear an Igbo man in distress crying Igbo anokwa yia, would your hearken to his voice or would you let his cries fall silent to a hard and cold heart? Would you be stirred? Would you be Eyiagu or would you be pressed with your thousand cares?
Igbo akabu Igbo? That is the Million Naira question.
Tomorrow, in part two, I will tell you the story of another Eyiagu, a Professor of Mathematics here in the United States.
Nwa nnam, long have I waited for your coming home back to me and living deeply our new life.
This Week With Aniedobe: Cry, Beloved NwaIgbo, Cry (Part 2 of 2)
Yesterday, you heard the story of how in the early 1950s, Anya got his start in Lagos, aided by Eyiagu, in an unscriptable twist of events that saw Anya, in distress, calling out for Ndigbo who swarmed immediately to his defense. But it was not a blind defense. When Ndigbo ascertained that Anya had broken the law, they left him to his fate. Not Eyiagu, though, who formed a strong brotherly attachment to Anya, whom he had never met, and shepherded Anya through the ordeal, which as fate would have it turned out to be a life changing encounter for both kids.
That was in the fifties. Contrast that with this actual event. In 2010, at Nawgu in Anambra State, Ndigbo stood by as a Fulani herdsman descended upon an Igbo barrow pusher with his koboko for failing to yield to his cattle. How about the cattle yielding to the barrow pusher in a public market square where the cattle had no business to be in the first place? Right there in the heart of Ala Igbo, the Fulani herdsman made a very eloquent statement – there is nothing to fear about the Igbo collective anymore, not even in Igbo land. Prove him wrong, was his defiant conduct.
Night by night, Uche’s disconsolate voice cries out from the prison in Vancouver, Washington DC. Igbo anokwia eh! he would cry all night long. Day by day, his voice re-echoes through the void of a vast desert of broken brotherhood. Ndigbo can no longer be hailed. Igbo anwugo! Every once in a while, Uche hears a dismembered ghostly voice from Igbo’s long dead past. Igbo anorozi, comes back the faint ghostly voice. Uche despairs.
Uche, a UNN graduate came to America, like most displaced Igbos, trying to find his feet. Uche, being old school Igbo by more than a full measure got himself in trouble. He blew the whistle in the face of injustice. In retaliation, he was framed for raping three women his mother’s age. Uche is now languishing in jail in Vancouver, Washington, awaiting trial with bail set at $300,000.00. Without a committed defense by a local criminal defense Attorney, this young Igbo boy will rot in jail.
Like Anya who had his Eyiagu, Uche has his Muoneke, Nik Ekwunife Muoneke, a Professor of Mathematics at Prairie View A and M University, crying with Uche – Igbo anokwia nu eh! Igbo anozikwia nu eh, their disconsolate voices cry. Silence. Void. Kpim. Igbo anwugo. Nik hears only ghostly dismembered voices from Igbo’s long dead past. Nik who knew how the Igbos were in the fifties is mystified. Ebe ka Igbo nozi, he keeps wondering… and crying… and searching for Igbos of his pre-war youth.
In the fifties, Igbos were God’s elect, a people set apart, a chosen people. Ndigbo would not let a fellow elect fall through the cracks of injustice. Hail them in distress and they will swarm to your rescue. Post war, till today, the Igbos are a defeated people, the swagger is gone, our once proud wings are no longer hanging out like the alpha cockrel in the chicken pen. It is all tucked in ready to take flight in the face of the slightest threat. Every Igbo man to himself; the bonds of brotherhood appearing to have been shattered in many places… for ever.
How long should Uche and Nik cry before you hail them back? Show that Uche is more than Case, Number 111-1-,01891-1, Clark County Jail, Vancouver, Washington State. Show that he is Igbo, an elect, a person set apart, a chosen person, a royal Priesthood. Send your charitable contribution to UNAAFA-TX, with, Memo: Uche's Defense to Professor Nik Muoneke, C/O University of Nigeria Alumni Association, 12831 Auburn Groove Lane, Houston, TX 77041.
Life is funny, you see. Sometimes it serves a low tide and sometimes a high tide. Some ride the high tide to fortunes in other lands. Some ride same tide to perils at sea. Some ride the low tide to no where in particular. Some ride the low tide to low hanging fortunes. Some find fortunes where they are, needing no tides at all. Such is life that someday, you and I, or our children may find peril and rend the night with that distress call: Igbo anokwia.
When that distress call goes out, should it be said, Nwa nnam, that Ndigbo have passed on or will you and your children come back again to the table of brotherhood so that we will begin to live deeply our new life?