Ohaneze please rise to the challenge

In this essay which has to be brief I will try to illustrate how Omenana (Igbo culture) has been negated, and supplanted even when it is not a threat to the Nigerian state, because since colonization of Igbos by the British we have been orphaned. The British supplanted our traditional institutions of leadership as it subverted our culture. Wiping out ours, it placed in authority over us institutions which are at best adversarial.

As orphans, traditions which are opposite, contrary, to ours, and even injurious, have been imposed on us via the Nigerian constitution, and court judgments. This has led to avoidable hardships and conflicts afflicting us at every turn. I was moved to write this article after waiting in vain for the Ohaneze leadership, to reject a Supreme Court decision, which if implemented would shatter whatever remaining stability the already troubled Igbo people have. Threatened, I felt that it is necessary to alert our people, and get everyone and especially those in authority to know that agwo no na akirika (that there is danger), so that everyone would sit up.

Hopefully, members of Ohaneze; a socio-cultural organization which presents itself, and is widely accepted, as the apex socio-cultural association of Igbos will read this, and take more germane interest in Omenana.   Other individuals who also present themselves as custodians of Omenana, such as traditional rulers should also earnestly begin to study Omenana. With all hands on deck we can nip dangers in the bud.

Nigeria’s Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that Igbo daughters would henceforth have the same rights to inheritance of their fathers properties as their brothers. In some newspaper reports I read that this right extends to inheritance of property which their fathers only hold in trust, i.e, what is called ana obi in Ozubulu, my community, and viewed as ancestral lands in English language. This judgment is a spear aimed at the heart of Igbos. If it is implemented, it will intensify Igbo loss of control over their own lands, further reduce fraternal feelings among Igbos, and increase the rupturing of bonds between Igbos. Even more ominously it will weaken the institution of marriage in the already troubled ethnic group. There are customs which protect Igbos that forebears of Igbos want to safeguard and they tied them around exclusive transfer of ancestral lands to only the male issues. There was a time when people lived off the land, almost exclusively. You plant on it, and live in it. Don’t we still do? Why did Iraq invade Kuwait? Why is Nigeria still so violent? People want to control the land, and the resources on, and in it! Omenana figured out that a family would only retain its lands if its males possess them, but would lose them if their females who get married get portions of them, because their husbands who were/are not members of the family, may not even be Igbos, would get control of the lands bequeathed to their wives. Igbo families together make up the Igbo people! The lands of the various Igbo families are what we regard as Igboland! Let us look at why I asserted that we would lose Igboland…….. through the following illustration. A daughter of a family marries a man who is an adversary of her family, an adversary of Igbos, and she inherits a portion of the ancestral land, going by the Supreme Court decision. She is free to dwell on it with her adversarial husband. Her husband is free to import more of his kind to dwell on the land of his wife which has become his own too. As you can see the family has been sundered apart, and has lost part of its land, to an enemy, who can at best sell it to people who may be even more adversarial than himself. Meanwhile, if this enemy has another culture, which its customs are at variance with those of the family, there will be conflicts. He has rights to dwell on his land and practice his culture, even though his culture is at variance with that of the family. Imagine the conflicts that would arise if the Hausa and Fulani did not create the sabon garis, strangers quarters, where strangers could live, and practice their own cultures!

Moreover with the presence of this foreign person, the son in law, who may be a friend or an adversary the unity and cohesiveness of the family is weakened, and this impacts on the marriage of the daughter in more than one way. To Igbo people, a daughter marries to join a man in building a homestead, her own homestead. Her family wants her to give this assignment full concentration, and will do much to help her to make a success of it. If she is ill-treated by her husband her family will run to her aid. If she becomes impoverished her family would rush to aid her. As far as we know, the only portion of inheritance that Igbo culture rules that females may not get is the ancestral lands. Every Igbo family is mandated by Omenana, to give daughters shares of the family wealth through the custom of idu uno.  The family would be able to do all these, if it is strong, united, functional, and has excellent relations with her. But if there is a son in law, who is adversarial in the middle of the family, physically, with the daughter who must of necessity decide to side with the husband in order for her marriage to have quietness, will the family be strong, united, functional, and have excellent relations with her? If she is embroiled in disputes over land with her brothers would fraternal relations be cordial? If she retains a stake in family ancestral land would she do her best to build up her own homestead? Among the Igbo people if the brothers begin to fight over the inherited property, the daughters would step in, and settle disputes. As one of the disputants wouldn’t the family lose a trusted and neutral arbiter? Meanwhile would a husband fear to mistreat a wife who is at odds with her siblings? Would a son in law who resides with his wife’s family be treated with utmost respect which is demanded by Omenana? Igbos believe in uto na aka mma na ntowajelu (too much familiarity breeds contempt). Too many questions. If Igbos, Ohaneze, traditional rulers, were alive to their responsibilities, the case should not have even gone to any court. Igbos should have written down everything that I just wrote 100 years ago, and every Igbo child should have learned in school that while only male children would inherit ana obi, that both male and female children must benefit equally from all the wealth acquired by parents. The judges of the Supreme Court who ruled that the Igbo tradition violated the Constitution by discriminating against females should have known better. Those who wrote the Constitution would as well have known that Igbos existed as a nation before Nigeria came into existence, and that Nigerian laws have to be framed to accommodate Igbo interests. Unless we are told otherwise, the Nigerian Constitution is not supposed to destroy Igbo people-hood.  In the recent past, for the well-being of their people, the leadership of the Hausa and Fulani and Kanuri decided to elevate Sharia law to cover offenses that are not just civil in nature. Confronted by the Nigerian state, they emphasized that their culture, and religious laws supersede the Constitution. Nigeria backed down.

We have not defended our treasures, as others have, largely because most of us do not know much again about our culture, and are wrongly of the view that what ‘culture is dynamic’ means is that Igbos can abandon Omenana, still remain Igbos, and have a healthy society. Of course this cannot happen. The needful must be done, and urgently too. With Ohaneze, Igbo governors, in the lead, Igbos must begin to pay serious attention to who Igbos are, viz, what is Igbo culture, and what does it say in this age and time?

I will write next about how the Land Use Act should not apply in Igboland, simply because an Igbo governor should not be given a right to take over a land that an Igbo got from his ancestors, and which he actually only holds in trust, for unborn Igbos. And after that I’ll write about the Osu institution, which I published a book about recently.

About the Author
Remy Ilona, is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside, where he also functions as a teaching assistant. He is also the secretary-general of Hebrew-Igbo people, an Igbo socio-cultural organization. He is also an author of 10 books. He is of Ibo or Igbo extraction, and a lawyer by training, as well as a historian of the Ibo. He is among the leaders shepherding the Ibos re-emerging Judaism.