Nnamdi Kanu And Ohanaeze - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE



Friday, July 9, 2021

Nnamdi Kanu And Ohanaeze

By Vitus Ozoke

In the historical and sociocultural grand scheme, Ọhanaeze is both a nominal contradiction and a conceptual anomaly. But Ọhanaeze can also be  self-correcting and self-revalidating, if only its operators are self-aware and intentional. Unfortunately, they are not. To argue this claim, I propose to deconstruct Ọhanaeze on both philosophical, conceptual, and morphological levels. To do that, the concept of "Igbo enwe eze" requires a critical revisit.

Igbo enwe eze, an often contested aphorism, has been so commonly and casually tossed around that it has become a cliché. And like the fate of every cliché, that concept has become a subject of diverse interpretive distortions and abuse. It is one thing to have a different take on the epistemic integrity of a concept, but to flip and stand that concept on its head is not just a hermeneutical malpractice, it is pseudo-epistemology, which can have dangerous and devastating effect.

Igbo enwe eze is one of the cardinal founding and organizing ethos of the Igbo nation. In both connotative and denotative essences, Igbo enwe eze captures Igbo republicanism, which is a social grand bargain that reflects and reinforces the innate egalitarian spirit of the Igbo. In its most basic and direct interlingual translation, Igbo enwe eze means the Igbo have no king. Strange? No, because another civilization has made and memorialized a similar declaration. 

The second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence reads as follows: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness". Philosophically, this is America's  justification for rebelling against King George III of England in the Revolutionary War for American independence. Simply put, America doesn't do kings (or queens for that matter). America does "We the People". So, if you have ever wondered why the Igbo are the way they are, there you have it. Like America, we don't do kings and dynasties. It is we the people. King is an alien concept to the Igbo.

And there is a reason our grand founders sought to keep us away from kings and kingdoms. They knew in their ancient and sacred wisdom that kings are an anathema to that basic Igbo egalitarianism, and that kingdoms breach our basic republican compact. They recognized that for that natural Igbo entrepreneurial spirit to flow and flourish, it must not be contained or constrained by the dictates and diktats of kings and princes. Indigenous Igbo are innately, almost genetically, resistant to imposed norms, values, and mores. Which explains why Lord Lugard's indirect rule system, which worked in other parts of Nigeria, failed in Igbo land where it met stiff and principled opposition. The Abba Women's Riot of 1929 was Igbo women rising in war against the taxation of their men folk by British colonial authorities through their puppet warrant chiefs.

Now, if you have already assumed, but just now imagining the scope and level of chaos and confusion in an ungoverned kingless Igbo society, assume and imagine no more. The truth is that Igbo society was one of the best organized and governed societies in precolonial Africa. Rather than kings, our forefounders gave us elders and other coordinate, shared, and inclusive levels of authorities. Igbo communities were governed, never ruled, by these coordinate authorities.

The Igbo do not believe in absolute power residing in the hands of men and mortals. It is true that Lord Acton, a British historian of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, takes credit for the famed quote, "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men...", which he made in a letter to an Anglican bishop. In reality, however, the Igbo have always known and lived that truth. We have always believed that absolute power resides with only one Supreme Being, Chiukwu (Almighty God).

To keep absolute power from the hands of men, the Igbo distributed power, in shared governance, among coordinate levels of authorities, consisting of the deities (serving as mediators between Chiukwu Okike and humans), the ancestors, deified humans, priests, diviners, community elders, heroes and heroines, ndị Ichie, ndị Nze, ndị Ọzọ, initiates of masquerade groups, and various male and female age groups. Looking at the range of various power points in that power distribution, only children are not granted affirmative power in Igbo social governance, and for understandable reason.

So, nobody in Igbo society is a subordinate of another. We are all equals and coordinates; hence Igbo enwe eze. In a typical Igbo community, elders, not kings, are looked upon to provide true, trusted, and transparent leadership. The reason is that elders emerge uncontested, kings do not. God selects elders, but politics, influence, and affluence select kings. And between those two methods of selection, the Igbo stick with God (Chiukwu Okike). Bottomline: we don't do kings (Igbo enwe eze).

So, if Igbo don't do kings, why then Ọhanaeze? Ọhanaeze simply means the people and the king, thereby prompting the question, which king? Well, therein lies the paradox of Ọhanaeze. Ọhanaeze's etymology is also its etiology. As a concept and a philosophy, Ọhanaeze is a departure from the Igbo grundnorm, that underlying foundational norm that anathemized the idea of kings (Igbo enwe eze). Perhaps, the only thing more problematic than Ọhanaeze as a cosmological deviance is the arrogation and appropriation of central authority by the Ọhanaeze elite. Who is the ọha (the people) and who is the eze (the king) in the conception of Ọhanaeze (the people and the king)? The ọha (the people) we understand. It is the Igbo people. But who is the eze (the king)? Whatever happened to Igbo enwe eze? Did Ọhanaeze not get the memo?

Okay, arguendo, let's agree that a decade-old taboo becomes a norm. On that basis, let's assume that the Igbo now have a king. The question then becomes, in the conception and constitution of Ọhanaeze, who is eze (the king)? Is it the president and the leadership of Ọhanaeze as a sociocultural organization? If ọha remains the Igbo people, and the eze remains the king in respective Igbo communities, what is the place and role of Ọhanaeze elite in the overall Igbo equation? What is Ọhanaeze's role in intra- and interethnic representation of the Igbo and Igbo national interests?

Look, I don't have any problem with any well-intentioned Igbo group rising to champion Igbo cause. There are many such groups, too numerous to list. But Ọhanaeze has a unique problem. Ọhanaeze has an identity problem of nominal, essential, and functional dimensions, which has seriously affected its legitimacy. It's not just that Ọhanaeze is a nominal anomaly, its essence and character are deeply flawed, causing it internal weakness and dysfunction, and external ineffectiveness. The overall result is that, to the vast Igbo, Ọhanaeze does not speak for the Igbo. How can Ọhanaeze speak for the Igbo when Ọhanaeze takes as many positions on any national issue as there are Igbo politicians and parties? The hard truth is that there is no ọha (the people) and there is no eze (the king) in Ọhanaeze. What you have is a political ecumenism of Igbo politicians.

This is where I bring in Maazị Nnamdi Kanu. Kanu capitalized on the identified flaws and deficiencies in Ọhaneze to capture both the imagination of the yearning Igbo and the vacant Igbo central space. When Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (Ikemba Nnewi) died in 2011, the Igbo buried him with his portfolio of charismatic authority, but left behind and unburied a ginormous pair of shoes. Since 2011 to date, the politics of Igbo land has essentially been the search for feet big enough to fill Ojukwu's shoes. Chief Ralph Ụwazuruike of Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), formed in 2009, has had a go at it, but without much success. There has also been Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM) which rose to the spotlight in 2012. Ọhanaeze, in the mix, offered a platform for power jostling to Igbo political elite. There was also the original Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which emerged in 2012 with Late Justice Eze Ozobu as leader.

For the record, Nnamdi Kanu did not form IPOB. Kanu rebelled against Ụwazuruike and fell out with MASSOB, joined IPOB, later rebelled against IPOB and upstaged its founders in a hostile takeover, perhaps because he believed, rightly in my view, that the search for the big feet was still ongoing. He was a man with a cause and on a mission. In forming his own faction of IPOB, and holding himself out as the voice and hero of the Igbo, Kanu bucked and mocked Ọhanaeze, which had hitherto staked that claim. And he had tremendous success with that. Ọhanaeze was not just poorly conceived, it is also poorly perceived. Ọhaneze is not grounded on any core, non-negotiable, deal-breaking ideology. With Ọhanaeze, it is not the interest of the Igbo any more than it is the interest of the Igbo political and contract elite and their prevailing and shifting alliances with Abuja. Kanu read that and took not just the big shoes, he also grabbed the mic and megaphone. The shoes fit his feet until they stopped fitting, and the megaphone was loud and clear until it was not. Nnamdi Kanu became the same thing he fought. Like the political elites in Ọhanaeze, Kanu made it about himself. He became a king. Problem with that is that Igbo enwe eze. We don't do kings. We still don't! 

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