Being text of a lecture delivered on the occasion of the 20th anniversary celebration of Aro News by Chief Gregory Iyke Ibe (Ph.D, OFR), Enyi Abia, at Arochukwu Civic Centre, Oror, on December 29, 2017.
I feel very highly honored to be invited to make a speech on this auspicious 20th anniversary of the ‘Aro’ News. I also salute the organizers for their brilliance at taking up this topic. I have chosen to segment the title of this address into some essential components, in order to synthesize appropriately and portray the great essence of this topic.
Historically, Arochukwu ought to be a popular destination for justice and equity in the mainstream of the activisms of Ndigbo, but needs efforts from the state government and community to develop her.
Aro or Arochukwu is more than 1000 years whose deity represents a supreme court. If you committed an offence, you would be tried. If your offence was severe, you would not go free. If it was a minor offence, the Long Juju would set that person free. It depended on the offences.
The British military expedition to Arochukwu was led by a colonel. It was after the war that its influence started to drop. This was between 1901 and 1902. As the population grew, they started moving to different places to develop them. People started coming from these places with one request or the other. If something good happens to you, you will tell others. That was how the influence started. Arochukwu’s popularity increased because of the positive news from its people who inhabited other lands or nationalities.
The long juju acted as the appellate court, meaning that the decision of the deity was final. I believe that the practice of Court of Justice was inherited from that long juju. If you killed somebody, you will go in for it. There were offences that attracted imprisonment. There were others that attracted exile; it happens today. That was the work of the long juju—it secured lives.
Somehow, there was the belief that when the deity pronounced or associates anyone with fomenting crimes; the long juju may decide to spare lives and the person can be sold to slavery, depending on the level. As compared with the modern slavery, it sieves the grains from the chaff by sanitizing the society.
Years before the old and new Aro settled, history traces the movement of ‘Nnemchukwu’ that left Uturu caves to settle in Arochukwu. Arguably, this gave rise to the existential relationship with the Uturu kingdom till date. I give this historical perspective because I am from Uturu.
First, who are Ndigbo? – The Ndigbo are arguably widely acclaimed as one of the largest tribes in Africa. In 1931, decennial census, the strength of the Igbo speaking communities was approximately put at 4 million, though it was believed to be grossly underestimated. If this was so, they would outnumber all other tribes in Nigeria about now; excluding the Hausas who are generally regarded as the most numerous.
We as a tribe in the Nigerian conundrum now, are estimated to number over 60 million, in the south eastern part of the country, between latitude 5/7 degrees North of the equator and Longitude 6/8 degrees, East of the Greenwich Meridian. We can be located as a people with common behavioral pattern, culture and destiny.
The Igbo are not strictly homogenous. They may be described as a tribe because they speak a common language, occupy a common territory, and on the whole, share a common culture and a common outlook on life. But there are marked dialectical and cultural variations between the subdivisions. It may be said generally, that the most characteristics feature of the Igbo society is the spirit of occupational skills’ acquisition and usage, with almost complete absence of defined united ‘fronts’ and concise affinity for political or social holdings. Our identical units, whose groupings of contiguous villages, customs, oneness-in-beliefs and cults, (our stigma); rather than build a united holding of community association and interdependence, as was the case before, find succor on reliance to the dictations by the ‘powers-that-be’, in the Nigerian conundrums.
Ndigbo, who were hitherto known in the former times, as people who took common actions against an external enemy and whose sense of solidarity is so strong that they regard themselves as descendants of a common ancestor, are now on the prowl for second fiddles.
The Igbo man’s communes are surprisingly being manipulated. Cast on stones, the “powers-that-be” are using the tool of ‘divide and rule’ to thwart our oneness. For whatever reason(s), be it parochial acquisition of wealth, defeat in the war of attrition or disunited divisions, Ndigbo have foisted and fomented upon themselves, the stalemate or state of affairs in which we find ourselves, and this state remains uncomfortable until dissolved by our erstwhile common belief.
Continuing, words cannot deal adequately with what I wish to express here, rather I have decided to throw up a geographically concocted expression of the Igbo people’s territory and boundaries, as contained in the inserted map. A white man drew the map in 1937. Have we not expanded since then? The straight answer is simply, yes!
In brief, our future and those of our children shall remain bleak, as long as we are disoriented, and divided. This level of dissonance must not be allowed to resonate any further. We must define a workable mechanism by ourselves, with uprightness; in the Nigerian scheme of things.
Let me dwell a little on the possible known roots of the present Igbo-man’s spirit. The buoyant doggedness and indigenous culture, coupled with our national ‘intelligentsia’ purports in the early 70s, were the fruits and products of the great feats of social engineering of the 50s and pre-military 60s. During the period, three regional governments in Nigeria, in healthy and dynamic competitions, struggled to out do each other in a frantic march towards modernization and development of its human capitals and resources.
Different authors reveal that Ndigbo can go to heaven through education. This front admires the total paradigm shift to modernization. Education has been the war-cry throughout the length and breadth of Ndigbo, particularly in the East, which appeared to have bitten by the bug of westernization (religion and schools), and liberal democracy, even before the civil war. Again and later on, the East was debased and devastated by the war. There was no federal presence left whatsoever, on the Eastern terrains.
Sprinklings of public and private schools, apart from little cultural holdings became a part of our gluing instruments and the way to go, in the reorganisation of our structures. Schools were remodeled from nothing. It was so dramatic that it began to transform our thinking. It was then no surprise that when the products of our great and fresh inclinations and ferments arrived in the universities, at the end of the seventies, they found themselves at the vanguard of reintegrating the Igbo society into the mainstream. The few so endowed, went in to the government to ‘support’ by the wide-dimensioned voices; fortunately directed to the needs of a people whowere virtually denied everything.
And I quote that: “any society that has abandoned the organisation of its globally inclined socio-cultural and economical chemistry or indices shall loose out from what today holds on its future; and in totality, the future of its people. They will be headed for doom”.
At subsistence were contented with ourselves. This spirit was dropped, until we were caught up with globalization; meaning that global affections strolled in at its time, with wings of evolving technology. For instance, Mongo Park’s discovery team spent ages on the seas, in tracks; amidst struggle against mosquito bites and deaths. Today, the same trips are taken though hours on flights and vehicles.
I wish to advice that the critical issues and trends to be spoken off, through the ‘Aro News’ are the long trace of Aro people, as it affects Ndigbo via emphasis in their strides into our information age; for change, in our immediate community and global econometric.
Strategies for Community Mobilization
The Western world runs a borrowed system. We have a fascinating system where certain innate circumstances can pull us together through the instrumentation of a long-term defining strategy.
Annual Homecoming Meetings
The revival of a pivotal home grown technique for collective home-coming showcases another strategy. It was there in the past and worked effectively.
Village square meetings and congregations was there to pick out infiltrators and troublemakers. When people flock together, they discuss commonalities that affect them, in a congenial manner. Now, rich people are isolated to their whims and caprices and contributing very little to the hitherto known inner circuits. Money cannot be it all. It is pleasant to transfer energy and knowledge in the most amiable and pleasant means through togetherness.
Our community board agreements should be divorced from political sentiments or goals. Rather it should serve as catalyst of communism. This system can be escalated through the creation of lobbyist groupings that now restore the “Ogwe Ama” shanties for activisms. It is normally full of vigorous and sometimes aggressive action in the pursuit of political or social ends. This later structure, if agreeable can be shut into the Igbo land for necessary adoptions.
The road to Arochukwu as a vehicle of development
In the social media, Mr. Okorie Uguru posited that: “Getting to Arochukwu town is like a trip to the land of the spirits where one has to pass through the proverbial seven rivers and seven hills”. Although less than 100kms from Abia state capital, getting to Arochukwu from Umuahia can take between three to four hours. This is simply as a result of bad road.
From the perspective of tourism, Ibini Ukpabi, better known as the Arochukwu Long Juju, is spectacular. It is a deity that transformed Arochukwu to a place where major issues and conflicts were adjudicated at its shrine. Ibini Ukpabi, at the height of its power, during the transatlantic slave trade was the most powerful deity in Igbo land.
I may not be overstating the fact that it was a kind of Supreme Court whose judgment was final. There was appeal. The guilty paid with their lives while victims of the crime returned back to their communities with the sense of getting justice. No community would oppose the judgment of Ibini Ukpabi for the fear of being invaded by either Ohafia or Abam warriors.
Ibini Ukpabi, coupled with the strategic location of Arochukwu town, made the Aros serve as a kind of middlemen in the trading, between the white man and the Igbos in hinterland. The Aros travelled to virtually every part of the Igbo land to buy goods they sold to the White men, including slaves.
The Aros operate a kind of triumvirate royalty with three paramount kings all with their areas of jurisdiction. I was told that Ibini Ukpabi falls under the Eze Ibom isii, Eze Kanu Okereke. Regrettably, the oracle was destroyed during the military expedition to Arochukwu in 1901 and 1902. It was after the punitive expedition that historical figures like Mary Slessor, and the Scottish missionary, moved into Arochukwu to stop the killing of twins. The critical value is that there was peace almost everywhere.
The poor crowd reaction in Nigeria should be judgmental. The culture of Ndigbo must not be bastardized. In a peaceful nature, placard-carrying individuals should be drafted to the state.
A short, medium and long-term goal should be vigorously pursued in order to build cautious awareness into our children who can be gradually infected by its mandate for self-help and collectivism.
Robust 5-year rolling plan shall identify areas for incidental personal help from public spirited individuals, apart from those to be undertaken by communities. An enduring plan identifies sectors of involvement by age groups and cooperatives. Town meetings and more like it should not be left out. That could be styled, unionism for cohesion. The planned ‘bible’ of activities can now be transported from generations to generations to become the true instrument for all-comers participation through ages.
As a Chancellor/Founder of Gregory University, the opportunity came in a dream, which was sustained. Due to the existential nature of the industry, an Aro man, Dr. Sam Ohuabunwa was made the first Chairman to its Board of Trustees, signifying our readiness to identify with the best. This is a bold statement of the commonality of the Aro people and Uturu, where I come from. This distinguished scholar and industrialist was a part of the instrumentation to rise from three colleges to eight (8) in a short space of time. Should anyone come up with intelligent works, to add to the ones that have existed before now, which can help to bind the Igbo nation together, my university boasts of the best printing press, east of the Niger with five color works’ capacity.
Thank you, great men and women of the Aros. I wish you a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
I thank you all immensely, for listening, attention and necessary actions!!!