Igbo adventurism in the world context
ADVENTURISM in the context used here refers to the tendency of the Igbo to migrate to other lands and consciously decide to settle, build homes and develop those lands while their homeland is abandoned in pathetic and undeveloped state. Some assume traditional titles and begin to command influence in the Diaspora. The Igbo proclivity is different from what obtains with other migratory peoples around the world.
Normally, people migrate far and wide to other lands, acquire wealth and repatriate the wealth to develop their homeland. The British, Indians and Japanese are typical examples. The Igbo deviation from the grand norm of global migration philosophy has created a strange culture that raises fundamental questions about the Igbo.
It is often said that east, west, home is the best. What manner of people are these that feel more comfortable outside their home? If all the Igbo investments outside home were done in Igbo land, the region would be like Japan! My aim is not to discourage migration but to encourage repatriation of wealth to the homeland as is done by other migratory cultures around the world.
From time immemorial, people migrate to other lands in search of the Golden Fleece. The goodies, after they are acquired, are repatriated back home and used to develop the homeland. That way, the adventurous migrants leverage their societies. Historically, migrant populations have often been antagonised by their host communities, especially, when they became more prosperous than their host.
For instance, the Bible records that the children of Israel migrated to Egypt and lived there from around 2000 BC. Biblical accounts indicate that the Israelites multiplied and became prosperous and powerful to the extent that the Egyptians saw them as a threat. In order to curtail their rising dominance, drastic measures were introduced, including instruction from Pharaoh, the King, to midwives to kill at birth any male child born to a Hebrew woman. The aim was to reduce their population.
History has it that the new Egyptian rulers embarked on major construction projects to garrison their borders in order to prevent foreigners from entry. The building projects involved heavy taxation of the people. Expectedly, the heaviest taxes and labour fell on the foreigners, the Israelites, living in Egypt. The building projects formed the substance of the oppression of the Hebrews, which led to their outcry and anguish and eventual deliverance out of Egypt. They left behind all that they built over the decades of sojourning in a foreign land.
There are other examples of migrants who prospered in foreign lands but were later antagonised and subjected to untold persecution aimed at curtailing their growth and domination. The slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazi regime under Hitler stemmed from the fact that the Jews were prosperous and dominating almost in every field of human endeavour.
The Igbo, who inhabit southeastern Nigeria, east of the River Niger, are undoubtedly, the most migratory ethnic group in Nigeria. They are very industrious. From time immemorial, they have been in the vanguard of migration and trading. This identity, coupled with land scarcity, amidst high population density, propelled them to always look outside their homeland for what to do. That is the root of Igbo adventurism. But that is not the problem. The problem is the penchant to settle in other lands while forgetting their homeland.
Traditionally, the Igbo work as craftsmen, farmers and traders. The trading aspect, perhaps, is the greatest single most driving factor in migration. Prior to the advent of the Europeans, the Igbo were already engaged in intra-ethnic slave trade. People who committed what society viewed as offence were sold into slavery to neighbouring communities.
Jubo Jubogha (1821–1891), who later became Jaja of Opobo, was born in Umuduruoha, Amaigbo, Orlu, in present Imo State, was sold as a slave in Bonny when he was about 12 years old. Migration and slave trade is responsible for populations of Igbo descent in the Cameroons and Equatorial Guinea (Fernando Po). Liberian historians hold that the 5th president of Liberia, Edward James Roye, was of Igbo descent. Also, many believe that the first president of Gabon, elected in 1961, Leon M’ba was of Igbo descent. All this shows how the Igbo, by accident or design, have over time, migrated and settled in other lands.
When the European slave merchants came to West Africa, arguably, the Igbo were very much in the fore-front of the booming business. Prominent Igbo chiefs, who served as slave dealers prospered in those days. As I said earlier, the people sold were mainly societal delinquents. Something as mundane as a child stealing one piece of meat from the soup pot would earn him being sold into slavery. Stubborn children were automatically good articles of trade.
Whereas, the slave trade was not concentrated in Igbo land alone, somehow, the Europeans learnt that Igbo slaves were very strong and hard working and, and therefore, were in high demand in the plantations in the Americas. That explains why there is high concentration of African Americans and Afro Caribbean of Igbo descent.
Unlike the Igbo, the migration style of the British, Indians and Japanese, among others, conform to the ideal migration norm. The British and the Japanese, in particular, have certain things in common. For example, both countries are islands, surrounded by water, with little or no resources. The two peoples are adventurous. They ventured into other lands in search of resources and wealth to build their countries.
Since their homeland cannot support them, they have to explore other lands to look for resources to bring home. Thus, while the British were combing the western hemisphere, the Japanese were combing the eastern hemisphere in aggressive confrontation, domination and exploitation of resources in those lands. The imprints of the British are manifest in Africa, among others, while Japan dominated the Koreans and Chinese, among others. Whatever they acquired from the conquered territories were repatriated home to develop their homeland.
Against this backdrop, it presents a subject of serious academic study as to why the Igbo are different from the rest of migratory peoples around the world. Why do the Igbo acquire wealth in foreign lands, rather than repatriate it, they settle comfortably there with the wealth, while leaving Igbo land in decrepit condition? Why have the Igbo not learnt any lesson from the experience of the Nigerian civil war, which robbed them of the properties they acquired in different parts of Nigeria? What are the governors, Igbo leaders of thought, Igbo think tank doing about this important existential issue?
For instance, reports say about 70 per cent of the properties in Abuja FCT belongs to the Igbo. The same percentage of buildings is in Lagos and other cities across the country. Some prominent Igbo people have sarcastically stated that “Lagos is a no-man’s land,” which is totally wrong. There is no time in Nigeria that Lagos would be counted as no-man’s land or belonging to the Igbo even if they own all the properties in the State. Geographically, Lagos is situated in Yoruba land. There is no contention about that.
It is high time that the Igbo used their tongue to count their teeth. They should retrace their steps, think strategically and stop mocking themselves. Unfortunately, many property owners don’t even know that the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) issued by government anywhere expires after ninety-nine years and has to be renewed, otherwise, it turns to the government that issued it!