Even though I am Igbo, I must confess that I still don’t understand Igbo fully. If I don’t understand Igbo fully, imagine how wrong most non-Igbo would be when they make conclusions about the Igbo.
The natural trend is that people migrate from poorer and less-developed areas to richer and more-developed areas. That is why when non-Igbo see the huge number of Igbo outside Igboland, they naturally conclude that the Igbo “run away” from “their jungles filled with mud houses and thatched roofs” to “better” places. You cannot blame them, because just like I said, the Igbo are difficult to understand even by fellow Igbo.
In Nigeria, there is no generally accepted means of determining a richer and more developed area, but there are some parameters that may give us an idea how the states stand. One is the amount of cash that circulates within a state. The second is the cost of property in a state or city.
In May 2013, when the Central Bank of Nigeria was planning to introduce the cashless policy, the then deputy governor of the CBN, Mr Tunde Lemo, disclosed that 90 per cent cash transactions in Nigeria occurred in six states and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. He listed them in this order: Lagos, Rivers, Anambra, Abia, Kano, Ogun plus Abuja.
We know why Lagos will always be tops: the nation’s former capital and current commercial capital. Rivers is the oil capital. Ogun is the gateway state which has benefited from the expansion of Lagos. Kano is the heartbeat of the North. But why should Anambra and Abia be among the top six? They have no major Federal Government projects to attract people. They were never capitals of Nigeria. In fact, they are new states created in 1991 with new capitals in Awka and Umuahia respectively.
The reason why Anambra and Abia are among the states that control the highest amount of cash is simple: Anambra has Onitsha (which has expanded into Obosi, Ogbaru, Nkpor and Ogidi) and Nnewi, while Abia has Aba. These are big commercial cities built, developed and sustained by the Igbo without external help or the Federal Government support. Note that Onitsha and Aba were destroyed by the federal forces during the 1967-70 Biafran War and were only rebuilt after the war. Nnewi became a commercial city during the 1970s after the pogrom and Civil War when returnee Nnewi indigenes decided to start doing business in their hometown.
The second point is property price. If you need a duplex on a plot of land of less than 600 square metres (120 by 60 feet) in the Central Business Districts of Onitsha, Aba, and Nnewi, you should be ready to part with as much as N200m. Outside Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, there is no other Nigerian city where property is more expensive than in Nnewi, Onitsha, and Aba.
There is no way an area with such cities and cash-flow and high cost of property can be less developed than other towns and cities in Nigeria. Surprisingly, you see hordes of people from Onitsha, Aba, Nnewi and other Igbo towns leaving the same cities to settle in remote towns and villages in Nigeria which are far less developed than theirs. That is one of the reasons I say that I don’t understand the Igbo. Unlike most human beings, the Igbo don’t settle in certain places because such places are better than theirs; rather they seek out virgin lands. An Igbo believes that a fellow Igbo knows what he knows; so he needs to go to uncharted territories so that he can meet a need.
Some years ago, I heard that the Igbo were trooping to South Sudan. I was surprised and enquired into it. What I found out was that with the war that had ravaged South Sudan, there was no electricity, no water, and other essential commodities. So, there was a need to satisfy. And the Igbo trooped into the country to fill that need, taking the risk but making the money.
Another reason why it is hard to understand the Igbo is their attitude to risk. How many times have the Igbo property been destroyed, especially in the North? How many times have they been killed? Yet, the Igbo return to the North regularly to live and build. I doubt if I have seen any ethnic group that will return to a place where they have been killed repeatedly and their property destroyed. It simply makes no sense.
What about the abandoned property policy in Rivers State after the Civil War that made Igbo lose their property? One would think that the Igbo would never buy an inch of land in Rivers State. If you go to Port Harcourt today and check the ownership of property from street to street, the Igbo are in the majority. When reminded that the abandoned property issue may happen again, their argument is usually: “When we get to that bridge, we will cross it.”
Among my family and close friends who have bought property in Lagos, many have lost their money to either fraud or omonile family squabbles. They would lick their wounds for a while and still save money again to buy land.
Why do the Igbo like to buy lands? Many non-Igbo assume it is because they want to “take over other people’s towns.” That is far from the truth. The Igbo are a proud people. They don’t like “serving” others forever; so they strive to have their own house and be their own landlords.
Secondly, the Igbo are investment-driven. They have discovered that the most reliable investment that appreciates continuously in Nigeria is property. During recession in other countries, property prices fall, but in Nigeria, they continued to soar. So, the Igbo go for it wherever they live, especially when it is cheap, so that in their old age, they will have assets to take care of themselves and bequeath their children.
There is also a third point. The Igbo believe that only a leech gets nourishment from a place without contributing to the development of the source of that nourishment. The Igbo say: Ebe onye bi ka o na-awachi (One must develop and protect where one lives.)
Although there is too much fear from most Nigerians about the safety of their investments outside their region, the Igbo seem to discountenance that. That is why many think the Igbo are foolish. Can you blame them for thinking so? The Igbo, most times, act contrary to the law of self-preservation.
The Igbo believe that the home front is always saturated. One needs to move to other lands. The movement does not need to be out of Igboland. It can be from Nnewi to Aba or from Aba to Nnewi.
Those who have not lived in Igboland find it difficult to believe, but the Igbo treat strangers better than they treat their kinsmen. The visitors get favours and waivers the indigenes cannot get. And if a stranger, especially one that is from another ethnic group, settles in any Igbo town, starts a business that employs people, builds his residence in Igboland, embarks on any form of community development, he is seen as a great brother and he will most likely be given a chieftaincy title.
The Igbo are aggressive, highly competitive, proud, impatient, brash and noisy. Many find these traits irritating. But human beings are different, so also are ethnic groups.
We can only strive to understand each other in this country. Our deepest problem is that we don’t even attempt to study and understand each other, so as to see why we all act the way we do as a people. Yet, we stay hundreds of miles away from one other and make conclusions about one other. We create stereotypes and spread them about others. We judge others by our standards, seeing everything done differently from our way as bad.
We assume that our ethnic group is the best, our ways the best, and our land the best. But no ethnic group is better than the other. Each ethnic group simply has its own ways and standards. Those standards are not the standards of any other ethnic group.
That is the way life is. Sadly, only very few people know this. The vast majority believe in ethnic superiority, which has been the bane of Nigeria.
– Twitter @BrandAzuka