Nigeria: Pursuing nationhood for the wrong reasons
by M. Joe Omeokwe, Ph.D.
I have come to love Nigeria. I was born a Nigerian, grew up a Nigerian and later became a Biafran even serving the new nation as a soldier in the 2nd Battalion of the ‘S’ Brigade of the Biafran Army almost all the duration of the Biafra-Nigerian civil war. Now, I am forced back to being a Nigerian and it seems I have no other choice. The
warmth of the Ibo spirit in me wonderfully complements the Nigeiran perfect temperatures that I now savor. Moreover, for me, a unique blend of nationalities forced into one nation and languages have created some of the most beautiful nation on the globe.
Yet, at the very early stage of my life, much of my love for Nigeria was a choice. I didn’t always have the notion that I was an Ibo having been born and breed in Port Harcourt. I received my early education and early experiences of life in Port Harcourt. But it was a love for the nation and her people that compelled most of us of Ibo descent to travel to all the nooks and corners of Nigeria with the assumption that it was our nation. And no matter where on this earth we travel to settle down for livelihood, that love has never left. Many non-Ibo Nigerians ridicule us (the nation of Ibo) as if we are driven to all these nooks and corners purely for only economic reasons. What a grave false notion. Our enterprise is to secure a future and a hope for our children and for the people we dwell in their midst.
Love for people, even love for an area of the country, is mandatory for an Ibo man or woman to succeed. We learn the language of others with ease and take on the culture of other nations within and without Nigeria without hesitation. The reason the people of Ibo extract of Nigeria do prosper wherever they are in the world is simple – God loves to bless anyone that loves the people in the community where they are strangers as well as being willing to be a blessing to building up that community’s infrastructures and commercial life.
Have you considered what a powerfully motivating force love is? I am now a Pastor in New York City and I can refer you to Second Corinthians 5:14 that states, “the love of Christ compels us” (emphasis added). When we love someone or a community deeply we serve or live within that community with glad hearts. Our actions are characterized by a sustainable passion—one that does not flare up nor die down quickly.
What do you do if the other members of this amalgamated nation of Nigeria don’t have this type of love for their calling, their community as a habitation for those who are not of their tribal nation? I’ll answer with a personal story:
“I served as a Youth Corper with Radio OYO in Ibadan – the capital of Oyo State of Nigeria in the early 70’s and lived in Bodeja among fun-loving people. As God would have it, I had an uncle who lived at Oke-Ado. This uncle was willing to invest a considerable amount of money to get his furniture manufacturing business expanded and had asked me to stay on in Ibadan after my NYSC service and lead it. What do you think, he asked me?”
Before I could answer him, he retorted, “Let me ask you a question,” he continued. “Do you love Ibadan as a City and the Yorubas as a people?”
“Oh, you can’t beat the City of Ibadan! And I love the everything about the Yoruba culture and people,” was my answer.
“I agree wholeheartedly!” he said, then repeated, “But do you love the people?”
“Yes, I just love the way they gather in families on the weekends to party.”
He was sure I was not understanding what he was truly asking, so he again repeated: “But do you love the people here?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The people here deserve to be loved deeply,” he said. “Do you know their customs? Do you know the history of the Yorubas?”
I stared at him as if he was speaking a foreign language.
He smiled, then said: “Here’s my take, for what it’s worth: Don’t seek to join my business as a staff just yet even as I expand my business. First, put up a map of the Yourba nation on your wall and pray over the towns; walk down the avenues and learn how to pronounce street names. Take some time to get to know the people. Learn to love them for who they are. Love the foods they eat, the customs they practice and the way they live. The only reason to come to the Yorubaland must be to love the people for who God has made them to be, not for the wealth you can accumulate here.” “Wealth follows love,” he asserted.
I did my best to comply humbly with his instructions, directives and request. This re-education changed me forever teaching me the secret of the success of the Ibo businessmen and women all across Nigeria till this present day.
My uncle had expanded his business all across the then Western Region of Nigeria. What more did I learn from my Uncle? Before he would plant a business or expand one, he would put a huge map on his office wall. Every day for six months before the start-up, he stood in front of this map. In his mind, he’d walk down every street, see the people and say positive prayers over the people. In time, God gave him an empathy for what the people of that area were going through and how he can meet them at the point of their need. He will then devise how to target his business to satisfy the needs of each segment of the people of the land. He will either develop a social club or a transportation business or another type of ancillary business to meet the need to the people of the land. Now tell me, how can anyone in their right mind suggest or even think that the sole motive of this man is to make money or to dominate this people he has come to dwell in their midst? How come he could bring in changes and make such contributions to the well being of the people with amenities that were either lacking or absent or neglected by the government.
Let’s ask ourselves a few difficult questions: How would you gauge the Ibo people’s love for the non-Ibo Nigerian communities where they have sojourned? Don’t the Ibos at best not living in the non-Ibo areas of Nigeria where they have sojourned from a deep love for the land and for the people who are served by their business? Why don’t they invest in the Iboland or bring their business back to the East of Nigeria assuming they are out to exploit other non-Ibo people. Are they seeking to get something out of these other regions of Nigeria while abandoning and even forsaking their own hometowns and people? Are not their businesses for the community of their sojourn based on their labor of love? You cannot truly labor in something that does not truly command your love and zeal.
Genuine love monitors our hearts and checks our motives. It transforms what we believe into how we live it. This I believe is the Ibo philosophy of life.
M. Joe Omeokwe, Ph.D.
The Harvest Center
Vineyard International Christian Ministries
1140 Teller Avenue
Bronx, NY 10456, USA.