THE IGBO AND THE RISING WAVE OF CRIMINALITY
To think or to believe that the Igbo are synonymous with crimes, going by the recent press releases about some Nigerians who were suspected to have been engaged in one crime or the other in different parts of the world, where majority of those said to be indicted bear Igbo names, is quite disturbing and calls for soul searching and serious introspection.
Perhaps, the Igbo might not be the only people who are engaged in criminality, since crime does not wear an ethnic badge, nevertheless, we will still not play the ostrich, but to ask ourselves why is this so? Why is crime wave rising among the Igbo people of Nigeria?
From beginning, the Igbo were known to be hardworking and enterprising. They were not lazy people or layers about. They were never parasitic, but struggled on their own to eke out a living, to make ends meet, and never hoped or depended on other people to exist, or waited for the crumbs to fall from the master’s table. They carried out their businesses with utmost decency, honesty and sense of purpose.
Olaudah Equiano, a nineteenth century Igbo slave boy who later bought his freedom, described the Igbo society of his days as “happy clean people, without unemployment, without prostitution, without drunkards and without beggars”.
The Igbo were egalitarian. That is to say, the traditional Igbo society was communal in character, and placed high premium on moral behaviour and high ethical standards. The Igbo society was one where the growth and the general well being of the community counted more than the well being or growth of its individual members.
People in traditional Igbo society saw and appreciated themselves more in their collectivity, in their communal well being, rather than in individual and personal existence. They prized themselves more in moral values, in living and acting good name, good character, “ezi afa ka ego”, good name is better than gold.
The Igbo people believed that what affects one, equally affects every other member of his society. As such, they would not do anything that would disrupt the interconnectivity of this society, something that would disturb the ontological set up.
That was in those good old days. Now things have changed. The value system has equally changed. Good name alone no longer counts. It must be accompanied with heavy pockets, how much money one was able to showcase or to spray at occasions.
We are in the age of get rich quick, the age where only wealth counts, the age of personal aggrandisement, where only the end justifies the means. It is no longer how far the community has progressed that counts, but how far the individual members of that community has made it, how he has enriched himself from the system.
Unfortunately, the system supports and accords recognition to these people. It recognizes the stupendous display of wealth, people with heavy purse who are given chieftaincy titles and awarded honorary degrees. They are made to sit on front rows in churches and in mosques.
They are invited at every fund raising event, and at every big occasion, and they will dole out huge sums of money at each and every such occasions, to the admiration of all. They are the sponsors of our elections, and nobody will have the temerity, the courage, the boldness, to ask, or question the sources of their wealth, how they had made their money.
It is not the Igbo alone that are obsessed with this problem, that are caught up in this malaise. Individuals from each and every ethnic group in the country is involved, in making money through dubious and questionable means, and the unnecessary display of wealth. It is only that that of the Igbo is now pronounced, made to look big.
Since the end of the Nigeria civil war, the Igbo had been systematically kept out of the corridors of power. They have also been denied access to the commanding height of national economy. They are therefore left with nothing, but to pick the crumbs that fell from the master’s table, to enter into different type of businesses.
Because of their number, their numerical strength, the Igbo are everywhere doing all sorts of jobs. A little misdemeanor, a little crime committed by some bad eggs among them, will be blown out of proportion. Their names will be everywhere, ringing bell, standing out in the crowd.
This is not to justify crime in any way. It is only to stress the urgent need for value reorientation, to reverse the trend of worshipping money and according recognition to people who made their wealth through dubious or questionable means.
University administrators who dish out honorary degrees, traditional rulers who confer chieftaincy titles, pastors and other men of God who receive tithes, politicians who court the favour and friendship of money bags who sponsor their elections, etc., all these are in this business – sponsors of crimes. Let everybody use his tongue to count his teeth.