It is no longer news that the George Ezumah-led exco of Nzuko Arochukwu rode to power on a crest of very popular support and avowed commitment to make a difference in the lives of the citizens. This was evident from the events that ushered it into office, beginning with the election itself and how it was lost and won. So when the first CEC meeting held at Lagos and Ikeji 2016 committee inaugurated, a common focus was to support the vision of a new order. What template exists for reinventing the kingdom in the shortest time possible? The committee did not search for a long time before it located the answer in our culture. And what is the best reference for our culture outside the Ekekpe Aro-Okeigbo? The committee therefore, set out on the plan to use the institution to reconnect Aro in various abodes as a prelude to harnessing their common identity and using same as a developmental platform. No doubt, the committee was conscious of the fact that development occurs primarily in the mind of man (generic man I mean). The understanding was clear that for the mind to be properly harnessed, there must be a good balance between nature and nurture. The account of Ikeji 2016, as told by locals and visitors, testifies that it was a huge success. To gain better understanding of the nexus between this issue and the subject matter of this essay, let’s reconstruct the past a little.
From written and unwritten accounts, we have heard that for so many years, Aro exercised a great influence on the various Ibibio and Igbo societies of Eastern Nigeria. As traders, they penetrated the interior and led the transatlantic trade, first in slaves and later in commodities and oil produce. As itinerant traders, they traveled far and wide, collecting articles of trade from the interior which they sold to the Europeans at the coast, thus acting as middlemen in the great trade. As they traveled, they also acted as mediators in disputes between villages and individuals, the powers of the much revered Arochukwu oracle – Long Juju – provided sanction on adjudications by the Aro. Thus, the Aro were respected among the many communities they interacted with. However, the intervention of the British changed the scenario, by the early days of 1902, the conquest was over. The Aro power had collapsed, the long Juju shrine was blown up and several villages deserted. Aro hegemony across Igbo and Ibibio hinterland was destroyed. One lasting evidence of this historical fact is the presence of Aro settlements, including Ndi Izuogu and Ndi Eni Asaa, in communities across eastern Nigeria and part of the middle belt in the North. Much has been said about how the Aro, often dubbed the Israelis of our time, could manage this experience and turn it into an opportunity but no meaningful action has been taken or, where it was taken, sustained towards achieving this goal.
Herein lies the strategic move by the current Nzuko Aro exco to start the process of reconnecting Aro in diaspora with their kith and kin in the ancestral homeland. Thus, when the Dr Orji Ogbonnaya Orji-led Ikeji 2016 committee was put together, a subcommittee led by Hon Chijioke Okoro and myself was charged with the responsibility of ensuring the participation of some umu-aro outside Arochukwu. We had a common understanding that in order to meaningfully galvanize our relations in diaspora to become veritable agents of development at home, we needed to, first and foremost, rejig their psyche. Reason being that, as was argued above, development occurs primarily in the mind of man. By implication, unless the mind is tidy and prepared, it will lack the ability to harness other resources for developmental purposes. In essence, what we did was to apply a socio-cultural solution to a problem that is culture specific. And it was in sync with the Ikeji 2016 theme “Our culture! Our Pride! Our Identity” The invitation that was extended to the two communities, Ndi Izuogu and Ndi Eni Asaa, was therefore, basically a change management process, talk about resolving a culture clash challenge, a delicate process that would remove the toga of “identity crisis” thus, unleash their potentials towards building a common heritage in their ancestral abode. Why is this process of re-acculturation important? Let’s we forget, a ‘marginal man’ is somebody who is neither an indigene nor a foreigner. In Aro homestead, a marginal man is not a full native i.e. he is not wholly part and parcel of the Aro culture and environment in its widest sense. He is not organically related to the traditions, norms and mores of Aro people. At the same time, such a person is not entirely a foreigner given his partial identification with the society. Conceptually speaking, such as person is said to be suffering from identity crisis or marginal personality. The life and times of a ‘sojourner’ typifies the true meaning of identity crisis. A sojourner is a visitor and at the same time a member of the host community. He is continuously caught in between two cultures – the culture of his host community and his original culture. To say the least, someone with this kind of personality requires major shift in psyche to truly become an agent of development. It is only through sustained processes of socialization, acculturation and re-acculturation, such that could be achieved via continuous interaction of Aro in the homestead, Arochukwu, and those in diaspora, that this could be achieved. Until such a time when we start seeing ourselves as one people, with a common identity and mission, irrespective of wherever we are domiciled, a common action towards developing our ancestral abode, Arochukwu, shall remain an illusion.
How much success was recorded? We are not bothered by the excellent planning that went into ensuring the success of Ekekpe 2016 and the visit by the two Aro communities and their active participation in the ceremony for which they won cash gifts and other prizes. Also, we are not interested in the team spirit exhibited by various groups, notwithstanding many challenges, that led to the excellent execution of the project. Neither are we interested in praising individuals and collectives that worked in concert with the committee and ensured that Aro was reinvented to a large extent. However, we shall not fail to credit the great effort by persons such as Mazi Uche Iroha Okoli, who effectively coordinated the troupe from Ndi Eni Asaa and ensured that they arrived timely and in good number. The provisions that were made by the 2016 Ikeji organizing committee was not sufficient, so they incurred sacrifices, individually and collectively, to produce the success we had. Most critical to us though, is the impact of the visit on the psyche of the people which is its clearest connection with the theme of this essay and Ikeji 2016. Many amongst them, some well over 60 years of age, who set their foot on the Arochukwu soil for the first time as a result of that visit, visibly betrayed emotion as they recounted stories they heard from their parents about their ancestral abode. Indeed, there is no further evidence of the impact of the visit in the psyche of the people beyond how they were readily and immediately accommodated by their relations at home. One instance shall suffice. At the Ekekpe arena, Ujari village absorbed the Ndi Eni Asaa in their own canopy, shared things commonly with them, and after the event, took them to their ancestral village and showed them important traditional and cultural landmarks that shall remain memorable in the minds of the younger ones, in particular. To say that they were over joyed is an understatement, not to mention the young men among them to whom, before that trip, Arochukwu sounded like an unreal story. A team of Nzuko Aro exco and the organizing committee had earlier received the guests at Nenetels hotel on arrival. Most of them told stories about what Arochukwu meant to them, before that day and at that material time, some visibly in tears of joy. When you see an old man who, as a result of introspection and reflection, came to a new realization of his personality, the deep understanding of what rebirth truly meant, you cannot but come to the conclusion that Ikeji 2016 started successfully the mission of reconnecting Aro in various abodes with their kith and kin at Arochukwu and that its sustenance shall be a threshold for a greater kingdom in the years ahead. The value of this kind of achievement, with its obvious latent and manifest functions, has no monetary equivalent thus, beyond the bottom-line impact inquiry of accountants. If you wish, ask sociologists and social anthropologists.