Igbo enwe eze (Igbo people lack a common leader) is a phrase so common the Igbo that it has formed the fabrics of Igbo people. It is no more secret than the quest and agitation for Igbo independence from Nigeria. The question shouldn’t be “who is the leader of Igbo people” rather it should be “why are the Igbo people without a leader?”.
In a discussion with a friend last time, I have tried to lend some light on this. The idea of Igbo as an ethnic group is a myth. The Igbo nation is made of smaller clans that came together and defended the Igbo land, what is today known as old Nigeria Eastern region, from foreign invasion. These clans might have links but they probably are not all connected biologically more than their neighbours. Every clan had its own leadership system. It was very very unusual to see somebody identifying as an Igbo man/woman before 1900 instead, an Nsukka man would say ” I am from Nsukka”. The leadership crisis in Igbo land started the moment some group wanted to mimic what is obtainable in the neighbouring countries where an ethnic group is under one leadership umbrella. This move quickly triggered a high level of suspicion among the clans. Some believed the other clans wanted to dominate them while other simply resisted it thinking it as an attempt to colonize and enslave them by another clan. And so, this triggered the leadership crisis among the Igbo people.
I have this thing for finding out what people mean when they say “Igbo enwe eze”. Maybe they are referring to their Igbo clan but when they refer to the entire Igbo nation, I see it that the person is suffering severe ignorance. Somebody once suggested that the Igbo should unit and adopt one leader as their leader, he suggested the Obi of Onitsha. I asked what of the leader of Okigwe, well, our unity advocate suddenly lost his onions. He doesn’t want to hear Okigwe but to him, it is all a beautiful settings if his Onitsha monarch presides of the entire Igbo affair.
The best Igbo can get is the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo. Unfortunately, this group have undermined Igbo agenda more than anybody in the history of Igbo people. Most of them are political jobbers.
Most Igbo clans, before the European invasion, operated a Democratic government. Each clan has a unique method of choosing their own leaders. In some places, it is in the place of the eldest man to appoint while in some places, the clans depend on the leadership of each kindred or communities within the clan. A good example is the Nkanu people of Enugu state. They are never led by the eldest man nor by any monarch nor a democratically elected person. But the entire Nkanu is bound by their tie and bond that bonded the ancestors of Nkanu. That is, every community within Nkanu is completely autonomous from any other government the only thing is that, as an Nkanu person, there is reverence for the supposed eldest son of Nkanu which is the present day Nike.
Looking at it, leadership is not a problem to Igbo people, it has never been. They didn’t see the need for such unified umbrella, they believe in the autonomy of people. This brings me to the idea of Igbo people hating themselves. I was confronted by a man, who strongly believed that Igbo people hate themselves. Such fallacy holds water for little minds and not for someone who has some understanding of the roots of Igbo people and their culture. He questioned, with so much audacity, why will Igbo people be clamouring for independence from the Nigeria state, whether an Anambra man would allow an Imo man to rule his state if Igbo people eventually get their independence. Such skewed and unintelligent argument! The Anambra state itself is a disaster. Anambra is made of autonomous ethnic groups or rather, autonomous clans, and the leadership of Anambra is still a problem but this young man wants Anambra people to recognize and Imo man as their leader. First of all, there is nothing like an Anambra man in the context of Igbo culture nor anything like Imo man. But I asked this gentleman whether Ife people would allow Oba of Lagos to rule of them, this gentleman saw it as an insult to Ife people. That’s a story for another. But the falsehood of Igbo people hating themselves can only be alive in the mind of a self-hating and little minded Igbo people and some Igbo neighbours who do not understand the culture and heritage of Igbo people.
As much as it hurts, I must admit that politics is one thing that outsmarts Igbo people but the image you create in your head whenever you think of Igbo people not having a common a leader must be revisited. I don’t even know why this is giving people some headache. Mostly non-Igbo who have been using that to blackmail little minded Igbo people. For an Igbo person who is armed with the truth about Igbo people, such trap and blackmail are not for you. Like I said earlier, a sociocultural group like Ohaneze Ndigbo is the closest to what Ndi Igbo can get for the unification of Igbo people. But creating the idea of an ethnic group called Igbo has been disastrous. Because, to adopt such idea, the historical story of other clans will be destroyed and the story of a single clan will be favoured for the entire Igbo clans. Such move would trigger a giant suspicion among Igbo people; some worrying and contesting the attack on their historical heritage. Take for example, the Nsukka man would tell you the history of Nkanu down to the first man on earth, who was the ancestor of Nsukka people, the same with another clan of Igbo, but somehow, somebody would want all these people, to choose a consensus historical story and others would dump their, there is nothing as embarrassing as such mindset.
Next time you are met with that phrase “Igbo enwe Eze“, please ask them which part of Igbo. Every clan of Igbo must be treated as an autonomous ethnic group under the Igbo Nation umbrella. Don’t get swept off your feet again by such morbid and false argument.