Letter To Chimamanda Adichie On The Oba Of Lagos’s Statement To The Ibos By Ijeoma Ozichi Omotade
I was scrolling through twitter to see what was trending especially with regard to Lagos elections, and stumbled upon your write-up on the Oba of Lagos’s disrespectful remarks to the Igbos and their right to exercise their civic rights. Of course being an ardent admirer of your work and also a fellow Igbo girl, I clicked on the link and hungrily lapped up each word you poured out, eager to hear your opinion and ready to carry emotional placards with you by clicking “share” on my Facebook page. But the more I read, the more my excitement waned. Because just as I could feel you word for word, I also disagreed with you, and at a point I had to put down myopic glasses that beheld Lagos through your admirable eyes and wear one that showed me our stark reality.
You see, I AGREE that the Igbo community was unjustifiably grieved. However, as I wave my solidarity flag with my fellow Igbos, I can’t help but also bite my tongue when I remember unpleasant comments many Igbos regularly make toward other tribesmen. For example, the disrespectful way some Igbos address Hausas as “abokis”, dumbheads, and “nama” meaning cow! As you may know, “aboki” means friend but watch an Hausa man when an Igbo calls him that in a disrespectful tone. He stiffens and looks annoyed because he knows the tone he is called with is one of disrespect and insult. (some Yorubas call northerners “mulla”; I dunno what that means but that’s for another day *sigh*)
Chimamanda, every tribe is guilty of tribalism; it’s by default. It’s not right. It should be fiercely fought against but shamefully this is the current reality. HOWEVER not every tribe is guilty of “PEACEMAKER-ISM”, and I would love the Igbos to be known more for the guilt of MAKING PEACE.
So we go on and on about the Oba’s comment and what happens? Fights, fracas, and some fathers and sons on both sides lose their lives and people lose property and investments.
As you may have noticed from my name Ijeoma Omotade, I am Igbo married to Yoruba and happily married too. I went into the Yoruba culture and CONSCIOUSLY took time to learn about it. It was when I decided to marry that I knew how deep tribalism has eaten even into our so called Igbo and Yoruba elite. *Sigh* Having also schooled in the north during my secondary school days, and as much as I greatly admire the peaceful and simple nature of the average northerner, sadly they are not left out of the “tribalism” card-carrying.
As an Igbo woman, I may not agree with all the Yoruba do but I live in their culture and I’m in their land, so I respect them and in turn they sense my aura of respect and willingness to understand them and they treat me well. And when I get an opportunity to talk about MY CULTURE and correct some misconceptions they have about Igbos, I do so with GREAT PRIDE because there are so many great things about us they don’t know! And BECAUSE I respect them, THEY LISTEN and LEARN, even through jokes and laughter.
Even the few who were antagonistic toward me, embrace me now, or are at least civil toward me. It didn’t make me any less dignified to understand better another man’s culture; it made me wiser, and stronger and more appreciative of the richness of our country. The flagrant disregard for other’s culture exhibited by many Nigerians is really bad! How do you expect to reason with someone unless you understand their worldview?
Truly, we wouldn’t tolerate half the things we expect from Lagos in Aba or Onitsha or Enugu. Igbos want to be part of the House of Assembly and be among the decision makers for Lagos state. That in itself is not bad because a state stakeholder HAS A RIGHT to be among those making decisions for the state. But historically and by default, people kick against non-tribesman being at the decision-making level and our flippant comments about “taking over the land” is not helping matters either! Why do we want to “take over” another man’s land? It wasn’t bare land before people came and developed it. It’s people’s ancestral homes, and even in a democracy where many are working tirelessly to water the progressive idea of ONE NIGERIA, it is still important we recognize and help preserve each other’s heritage. For only then can we truly build the foundation for lasting synergy and proudly BECOME ONE, for the greater good of OUR LAND.
Personally I’m deeply hurt hearing some Yoruba leaders telling my people that we should be “grateful” living in Lagos; that is utterly unfair, point blank. Any Yoruba person saying that is very shallow minded. We Igbos work HARD for our living, and add IMMENSELY to the growth and development of the city. Try shutting down major trade markets dominated by Igbos for just one week and watch Lagos economy go haywire! But so does the Hausa community in the east that bring in food and supply our markets; they work hard too! Let them stop the lorries from bringing in food to the south and watch what happens. So I plead with EVERYONE, my IGBO KINSMEN inclusive. And this is my plea, that we PLEASE speak as we would like to be spoken to; “do as you would be done by”, RESPECT AND LOVE your fellow man…ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL BY GOD!
I also share a bit of the Lagos indigene sentiment. I wouldn’t want my hometown to be “cosmopoliticized” and my ancestral homes snatched away and turned into highways and hotels, and be told my home town is “no man’s land”. That’s highly disrespectful. History has deep roots in this land.
I don’t support the Oba, he is not my relative, nor did he “settle” my family. In his heart he is just like many other Igbos, Hausas and Yorubas; TRIBALISTIC! The only difference is that he is an influential public figure and so we can all tweet and Facebook his bad communication skills; a public figure who didn’t think about the implications of his words before he spoke. However, that statement would have been made by even an angry IGBO king or Hausa Emir because I don’t see anyone of them doing any better!
In a quest for peace, there are two parties; the one making amends and the one accepting the apology. Let us the grieved accept, and move on. Let us all learn to APPRECIATE and LOVE one another. The other alternative is not better. No one wants tribal clashes; people will die, women will be widowed, children will be orphaned, on both sides…and Chimamanda, you will probably write a book about it, far away from all the madness, on your creative desk; the one that IS NOT IN LAGOS!
…I still remain an ardent admirer…