Indispensible Agriculture and Unsustainable Raw-material Exporting and Luxury Importing Economy
(Paper presented at the 2011 Iriji-Ikeduru; Amaimo, 22 October)
CHIDI G. OSUAGWU, PhD
Department of Biomedical Technology
Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo State.
I’m glad to be here, in Amaimo, today. I’m glad to be in Ikeduru today. To be invited to Amaimo and to Ikeduru, to enjoy the New Yam festival and exchange pleasantries and ideas with my Isuama kinsmen from these parts gladdens my heart. But what really gets my spirit adancing is that this is coming exactly a hundred years; the centennial, of a historic event in which Amaimo is mentioned by name to have played a significant role, and in honour. By 1911 the final battles of the British invasion and colonial takeover of Nigeria was fought in the Isuama territories of the Igbo Heartland. In that war, the records show: “Obowu and its environs … for many months … had become the main battle-field in the resistance movement against the British … Captain Taylor struck into the heart of the area, by a night attack… , the main target of the attack was Obowu. Subsequently, a number of surrounding villages were attacked … Alike, Amaimo, Umuokirika, Orimozo and Ahiara”. What makes the role of Amaimo so remarkable in that struggle is that the severity of the British punitive military attack on her was for her principled refusal to hand over what to the British were ‘truculent Umuokirika rebels’, but to Amaimo, ‘brave Umuokirika freedom fighters’. On this centennial, Amaimo,I salute you! Ya Gazie! Other Ikeduru people fought, too… Avuvu, Umudim, etc, were also mentioned by name in the war records. Ikeduru I salute you! Ya Gazie! May the love of freedom by our Isuama ancestors remain our inheritance; as much as the New Yam festival.
The greatest of all Igbo festivals is Iriji; the Great Yam Festival. Iriji is a festival of Agriculture and of the patron spirit of Agriculture, Ohiajioku. After Ala, Mother-Nature (note: Earth Spirit is Ajala, not Ala), Ohiajioku, Spirit of the Wealth-yielding Forest, is next in importance. These are among the spirit-forces that organize the Igbo world and life, as agents of the Creator, Chukwu Okike. These spirits (note: Igbo never use the term chi, god, to address them) are, to the Igbo, enshrined knowledge systems. From her name, Nji-oku, Ohiajioku is not merely the Igbo spirit of Agriculture; she is the Igbo spirit of wealth. Hence Agriculture is equated to Wealth, Jiwuba! Infact, Ubaghaji; wealth that excludes agricultural produce is baseless. Those who mistake Igbo for traditional traders should, because of recent amakeme economic activities note that the Igbo are no such thing. There would have been an important patron-spirit of traders; like Agwu for medicinemen, Amadioha for judges and Ohiajioku for farmers. There is, also, no Ozo title, like Ezedibia or Ezeji, dedicated to traders. Ezeahia is market-warden, not trader.
Ubaghaji is a common Igbo surname. Surname because it is one of those Igbo core-value names that is no longer found as first name; displaced by the God-cajoling ‘chi-chi-chi’ names that carry little meaning. Nothing represents the intellectual decay of Igbo culture, with the coming of the Whiteman, as this name-switch. But the message of Ubaghaji remains pithy and efficient today, even more so, than when through the Great Yam Experiment, 5000 years ago, the Igbo established their great agriculture-based Scientific Civilization (Note: Civilization is Culture plus Cosmic Conscience. Igbo Cosmic Conscience is Ogu; Truth-Justice. Any culture without a cosmic conscience is just that; a culture, but not a civilization). Because Yam is foundational seed and the Great Yam Experiment is the foundational event of Igbo agriculture, Yam; Ji and Agriculture are synonymous. That is how Yam comes to lend its name to Igbo agriculture. That is how the Agriculture festival comes to be Yam festival in Igboland.
Ubaghaji means; wealth cannot be properly wealth without agricultural component; economy not based on agriculture is baseless. To the Igbo, Jiwuba, agriculture is affluence; Jiwuaku, agriculture is wealth; Jiwueze, agricultural sufficiency is sovereignty; Jiwunze, agricultural prowress is nobility! Agriculture is everything honorable and desirable. Of course, this Igbo superlative characterization of agriculture, and its place in society, is not empty boastfulness. One recalls that the lust for the remarkable products of Igbo agriculture, particularly palm-produce, was a factor in British colonial adventures in Africa; and the foundation of Nigeria. Palm oil from the Lower Niger was used as lubricant to oil the wheels of the machines of the industrial revolution in Britain. Surplus money from palm-produce (and the southern ports) made Britain to amalgamate the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria, in 1914, so as to offset the chronic budgetary deficit generated by the non-productive feudalist economy of northern Nigeria. Agriculture is the ultimate enterprise! Iriji, the agriculture festival, is, therefore, the greatest of festivals. Ubaghaji! Emume aghaghi iriji!
Some years ago, I went to Ohaji with my friend, and Ikeduru son, Chief Dave Amonu; professional pharmacist and vocational farmer, to visit some of his acquaintances. Our hosts went over to invite the elder of their family to come present kola to us. As the distinguished looking elderly man arrived, he was hailed by his ozo-title name; ‘Onye ghara ubi!’ to which he responded joyously ‘O ghara ihe okpu!’ He that abandons agriculture abandons something ancient; he that abandons agriculture abandons something eternal. Our Chief-host had taken the Ezeji title of “Onye ghara ubi; o hara ihe okpu”. He did this when he had harvested enough yams to feast the clan for days; and still have more to plant during the next farming season, as well as offer yam seedlings to aspiring young farmers to start their own farms.
Ohiajioku or Iriji is therefore an ancient Igbo festival. The roasted yam and its consumption and festival has been with the Igbo for at least five thousand years as scholars inform us. So long ago that when an Igbo child is born, and his arrival is being celebrated by women with ululations they ask two questions 1. Amuru nwa gini; what sex is the child? The answer to which is either boy or girl 2. ‘Eji gini azu ya?’ … what food would he be raised on? The answer to this ‘Ji na ede o!’ … Yam and Cocoyam! So, the yam culture is so ancient in Igbo land that it is the Igbo idea of food. Ubaghaji!
The Igbo child is not raised on Naira and dollar; but on agricultural produce. The Igbo staple was yam and cocoyam; not beans and rice. Not even cassava, the impostor alien that came to help out the husband and wife of yam and cocoyam, in the service of the Igbo people; and like the Whiteman that brought her, quickly colonized their land.
Oro is the moonlight play that makes Igbo children dream of the dry seasons. When children engage in ‘oro’, it is a happy and desirable thing. When adults engage in ‘oro’, it is a comic tragedy. An adult life that mimics oro is, therefore, also called oro; a misguided life; a wasted life. The oro-lifer, Dioro, is a wastrel!
Jamjam timjam is the Igbo song that encapsulates, and critiques, the oro life-style. It is the song of Di-oro. An essential stanza of Jamjam-timjam goes:
“Jamjam-timjam, jamjam-timjam , jamjam-timjam; oro e; jamjam-timjam!
Kporo akpuru aku m, gama ogwumabiri; ga zuru ihe rie; zuru okporoko m!
M rileghi ihe nwuo; ufo ihe fodu, ndi di ndu erie!
Jamjam-timjam, jamjam-timjam , jamjam-timjam; oro e; jamjam-timjam!”
The study of a people’s worldview, a mass-mind, is a fascinating subject. The mass-mind represents a far more complex and superior mental machine mind than any one individual mind, which the Igbo, correctly, hold is subject to illusion (agwo otu onye huru n’agho eke!). Ubagahji encapsulates Igbo perception of pre-colonial Igbo economic values. Jamjam-timjam encapsulates Igbo criticism of colonial-times aberration from Igbo economic value and life-style.
UBAGHAJI AND 2011 IGBO AGRICULTURE AND ECONOMY
Now, we know the agricultural and economic values that the traditional Igbo society celebrated in Iriji, the Great Agriculture Festival. Ubaghaji is of the time of Chinua Achebe’s Okonkwo Unoka and such other great farmers that displayed their prowess in the farms and celebrated it in the market-squares. We also now know the new economic values that contradict the ubaghaji principle.We now live in times when men buy yams to celebrate their ‘yam harvest’, taking part of the bought yam to ‘God’ for church harvest. God, of course, does not eat roasted yam, with peppered fresh palm oil. Now is the time of men whose yam barns are seaports and Government Treasuries. What would our ancestors of a hundred years ago think of us, if they saw our economic ways of today? Would they call us Di-ji, distinguished farmers, like Okonkwo or Di-oro, great wastrels, like Unoka, the musician and chronic debtor?
Exporting Petroleum, Importing Petrol and Jamjam-timjam
The evidence is that our ancestors would be embarrassed with us, who import our food and forget that “onye ji afo mmadu ji onu ya”; one that is fed by another losses his freedom. Agricultural self-sufficiency is a necessity for political freedom. Nobody can be economically dependent and be politically free. This is why the Japanese would rather depend on, very costly, rice grown in Japan, than depend on very cheap imported rice. Japan imports raw materials and exports finished goods. We tragically do the opposite. Loss of war is no justification for a dependency psychology. War usually teaches serious people of the capital need to be self-reliant. Japan lost war; and so did Germany. They are the most self-reliant and efficient, economies in Asia and Europe; why must our case be different? We are singing and dancing jamjam-timjam around the world; picking and importing ‘tokunbo’ materials from alien refuse dumps. We fail to keep in mind that Abraham Adesanya’s daughter, Dupe Adelaja, who was minister in the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency, informed us that otherwise marginal men; some from traditional mercenary soldiering tribes and clans, who think they have defeated the Igbo in his centuries old struggle to free the Blackman from the bondage of ages had schemed to turn Eastern Nigeria into resources farm for others’ industries; and industrious Igbo into petty-traders. And here we are; adancing jamjam-timjam!
Nothing represents the new Jamjam-timjam economy in which the Igbo have found ourselves than the situation with the petroleum that is abundant in our land. To understand how our ancestors would see our situation, let us understand the key theses of the song Jamjam-timjam. The singer, Dioro, inform us that he was going to the market to sell unshelled palm kernel; that the purpose of his trip is to buy food, a perishable consumer item; buy his beloved imported stock-fish; and that his present pleasure mattered more than the future of the community, after he was dead.
Igbo children born after the Nigeria-Biafra war, have no way of understanding how shameful it is, by Igbo culture, to depend on the market for one’s food or to take unshelled palm kernel to the market for sell. It is a sign of extreme laziness, irresponsibility and poverty. It is like selling fruits on top of trees before proper ripening and harvest; ‘ire n’osi’. These are acts associated with ‘onye uwa n’atu n’onu’; ‘onyeuwa; the irredeemably poor; the spiritually and materially poor. The industrious Igbo would not sell raw materials; without processing to add value before sale. Our people were industrialists, who invented the idea of centers of excellence in technology, the technopolis; Oka (Awka, as the Whiteman would write to pronounce it).
And for ‘onyeuwa’ to spend the little money from sale of unprocessed raw-material on imported luxury, like stockfish? Again Igbo born after 1970 cannot fathom the foolishness. ‘Ngwanri’; the basic ingredient for Igbo soup was crayfish and some local dried-fish, like ‘uripiriti’ and ‘okpokwa’; not meat, which was occasionally available (Igbo are basically vegetarian) , and imported stockfish that were luxuries (meat and stockfish were in the class of optional ‘ihe-nri’; as against the essential fish ‘ngwa-nri’ of the Igbo soup ingredient). And Dioro calls this import ‘my stockfish’; the way a ‘tokumbo’ four-wheel car owner would ‘proudly’ display his ‘fifth-hand’ car in the Igbo village-square today; strutting and gleaming.
Now, the market-type for Di-oro’s transaction, ogwumabiri, is an alien ‘emergency, make-shift’ market that came with the Whiteman, from the coast. I’m informed the term is of ijaw-origin. As marine-nomads, the ijaw would have some make-shift markets, at the river-sides, to sell their everyday, and occasional, fish catches. Ogwumabiri is, therefore, a nomadic-market; neither the scheduled eke, orie, afo or nkwo of the super-settled Igbo (Ugwele/Uturu archeological artifacts show the Igbo have been settled where they are since the stone age). This is the kind of market that attracted men whose barns were at the market-squares, like Dioro. The vogue now, in Nigeria and perhaps other parts of Africa, is for other insightful ethnic groups to use Igbo as development slaves who would rush to open up one ogwumabiri ‘international market’ from one swamp land to another; as their clever hosts shut down earlier ones and take over, offering them new empty land to develope; jamjam-timjam.
And finally, ‘m rileghi ihe nwuo!” provided I eat; nothing, not the future, matters more. This is Igbo value upside down. This is negating what nnekwu okuko, the Hen, has taught the Igbo since the world began; Nkiruka! The future is more important than the present, which is the foundation of the Oganihu paradigm of Igbo socio-economic developementalism .We should live a diligent and austere life so that our children can live better. ‘Ka umu ka m!’ may my children be greater than I is the good Igbo’s daily prayer. Not so, Dioro! ‘M rileghi ihe nwuo!’
There is no need looking farther than the dominant petroleum industry, to show that the life-style lived by the Igbo, and other Nigerians today is a jamjam-timjam life; an oro life. We export petroleum; unrefined, crude, oil and import petrol, from refined crude petroleum (we must keep in mind that what is lacking is not the technology, as Biafra built and ran petroleum refineries; it is those that want us down or dead, Dioro’s men, who oppose local refining as they get commission from imports). The imported petrol is mainly for driving our imported luxury cars. Economists, in their habitual way of creating interesting-sounding terms would call the economics that governs this kind of oro-driven life ‘Oronomics’; wastrel economics. Our ancestors who fought the Whiteman a hundred years ago to stop the ascendancy of oronomics, will observe, with deep regret, that our generation is worse than Dioro, of their time. At least Dioro climbed the palm tree, cut down the bunch; came down and partially processed the palm-nut to separate the oil and the kernel. In our case, we issue license to aliens to find the oil, drill for it, carry it away to process in their country, and ‘find us something’; ‘ihe-nri’; ‘food thing’. Dioro would love the term ‘ihenri’. In our ancestors time, we are excellent candidates for the slave market. But like our ancestors observed, in their encounter with the Whiteman, ‘ugha ka mma na bekee!”; lies are best told in English. As we now speak so much English, we can keep lying to ourselves. But we cannot continue, and survive, this way. What we need to survive is Ubaghajionomics.
UDEBIUWA: WHAT DO IGBO DO TO ESCAPE ORONOMIC TIMES?
The issue, though, is not to continue to lament. As our ancestors observed, Udebiuwa; moaning solves nothing! Akwaebiheuwa; wailing solves nothing! What do we do? “Dibia n’agba afa, ya n’agba akwukwa aja!” The competent doctor not only diaognize the disease; he prescribes the proper treatment. Criticism that does not proffer an alternative solution is a distractive noise. The reasonable answer, we think, is to go back to the principle of Ubaghaji; go back to our agriculturally based economy; abandon glittering oronomics. Go back to ‘iko-ji’, before ‘iriji’. Luckily, the strong framework built by our ancestors is still there to rely upon. The Osunjioku’s (Osujis and Njokus) are still the dominant personalities in our agriculture, like the ancestors designed it. They must lead us back to ‘ubi; to ‘ihe-okpu’. They must teach us again how exhausted land is nurtured, by ‘Izuala’; inye ala nri-ala.
At different fora, I keep repeating one interesting question “how come when an Osuji (Gabriel Osuji) was Rector of Michael Okpara College of Agriculture, Umuagwo, an Njoku and son of Amaimo (Placide Njoku) was at the same time Vice-chancellor of Michael of Michael Okpara university of Agriculture, Umudike? If we answer this question correctly, a big part of our problem with agriculture would have been solved. It is true that Jizurumba; Agriculture is universal, as the Igbo name goes, but there are still culturally designated people who are at the helm of it.
The fact of Igbo culture and history is that the agricultural institution was so well developed; and specialized that the aptitude prescribed for the successful practitioners is still found in their descendants, who still dominate the Schools of Agriculture in Igboland today. That is why the Osujis and Njokus still dominant the study and practice of Agriculture in Igboland. We must turn to them consciously to lead the way back to Ubaghaji.
Tips on Road from Oronomics back to Ubaghaji
As we await the agriculture specialist Osunjioku’s to awaken and lead us back from the enslaving grain-markets of aliens places back to our freedom and yam-filled barns, I, an Osuagwu commissioned by the ancestors with the custodianship of Knowledge and medicine must shuffle some ‘okwe seeds’ for the lives of umunnadi.
As I shuffle the seeds of divination, ‘nkpuru okwe’, the oracle asks Ndiigbo:
1. ‘Gini kpatara onye riama oria tansip, asi ya gaa riwe nri vilej?’ Why are those who suffer from city (modernization) diseases advised to revert to traditional (village) food? Foods like aki, unere-nwiko, onugbu, utazi, ukwa, ji, ede, ugu, uha, okoro, etc? Some of our people still suffer from indigestion from beans and pile symptoms from rice that have displaced ‘ji na ede’ as staples in our diet. A good number of our people taken away to America hundreds of years ago still suffer from lactose intolerance when they drink milk; while Usain Bolt’s father explains his great speed at 100 meter races in terms of yam meals. The fact is that over millennia, people adapt genetically, more perfectly, to their main foods. To leave off their native food and adopt some alien type is to court some kind of dietary problem. Our native foods are best suited to us. They are cheaper for our economy; and better for our health. ‘Nku di na mba n’eghere mba nri’.
2. How come Igbo are letting little erosion points expand into gully erosion that carries away their soil to the Atlantic Ocean and houses into canyons, while crying to deaf Governments for help? Is that what our ancestors would have done? Ubaghaji would do nothing like that, but Dioro; the patron of our oronomic times would do just that. My opinion; any Igbo people ‘damara anyi’ while sheet erosion washes away their chief inheritance, soil, while they chase naira in alien places, in the name of ‘biznes’ deserve little sympathy. Let them organize their new yam festivals in township Hotels. But I suggest we revive the culture of planting fruit trees, like Nkwu-alo, in native Igbo villages to commemorate the birth of every Igbo child anywhere in the world. We can plant four fruit trees for each Igbo child (nkwu, ube, ugba, ukwa, etc). Over time we repopulate Igbo communities with economic fruit trees, which also help control sheet erosion. From now on each Igbo town Union should have an officer for Environmental Protection.
3. Why do some Governments in Igboland re-export the fertilizer allocated to their people to Northern Nigeria? ‘Onye ruru ala ruo onwe ya; o marala aru?’; is one that tricks himself a competent trickster? This is one of the drawbacks of the new instinct to trade by those who are not culturally traders; they don’t know where the boundaries are. They don’t know that the most important commodity of the natural trader is trust, which sustains the long-term loyalty of a clientele. Today Igbo ogwumabiri cheat people, thinking they will be foolish enough to come back the next today. Ogwmabiri-politicians do the same; thinking they can always buy votes. Let’s hope some careless people who find themselves in Governments, one way or other, are beginning to learn from events here and around the world that people are more intelligent and informed than they think; and might react adversely to jamjam-timjam someday.
4. What kind of woman bears children so that others can feed and take care of them for her? This is the kind of woman Igboland has become. Igbo bear children and expect them to go away to Lagos, to Abuja, to Cameroun, to Gabon, to China, to America; to anywhere, but Igboland for survival. Any Igbo who knows what our children are going through in alien lands would be ashamed. It is time for Ikeduru to bear children with plans to educate and employ them in Ikeduru; it is time for Obowu, Mbaise, Akaeze, Nnewi, Ngwa, Abriba to do the same. The project of sending out expanding Igbo population to a contracting world has become counter-productive; and culturally corrosive. The kindest of women will take care of their own children before taking care of other’s. Look at what’s happening to our children in Libya, and one Chibuzor complaining of the helplessness of their situation. No Government or organization to speak out for our children facing the barrels of Arab guns. How can our children become like the children of Hen in a village of Hawks. Sheep without shepherded in a forest of wolves? And one day as the economic pain spreads around the World, they might be driven out of everywhere, at the same time. They will be forced to come home, all at once. It sounds like Armageddon. But that is the reality of a jamjam-timjam people, led by Dioro; 2011 Igbo.
Two proverbs bequeathed us by ancestors help highlight the argument here: “Onwe nwe n’eri nti gbawaa!”; he that owns the food takes precedence when it is eating time. And, “Onye agu ji anaghi eru mgbambga”; the famished does not celebrate life; the hungry suspends claims to dignity. The resultant of these two interacting conditions is what is rendered in English ‘a hungry man is an angry man’; the famished is prone to violence. In these volcanic socio-economic times, of global meltdown, the evidence for these ancient truths are not far to find. The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement In America, and around the world, is about hungry, angry jobless, youth against ‘owners’ of the world economy. Those who follow global events, and trends, systematically, are aware of the link between the great forest fires that destroyed the huge grain farms of Russia, which fed the world, and uprisings elsewhere. Russia’s decision to ban grain export, so as to feed her own population, the global scarcity and rise in the cost of grains, and the revolutions in Egypt and other Arab nations that depended on Russian wheat for bread are chain-linked. Recently Thailand announced plans to prohibit rice export to protect her own population from hunger. What will happen to the Nigerian ‘ogwumabiri’ rice dependents and the Igbo Thai-rice vendors?
Oro-life and Igbo Future
To begin to do anything realistic, to go back to Ubaghaji’s Igbo times requires one commodity that is very short supply in Nigeria and Igboland today; Ogu, Truth-justice. Truth-justice is the soul of civilization; and social stability; ‘eziokwu bu ndu’; ‘emee onye ka emere ibe ya, udo adi!’ And the shortage of trust, chief commodity of the natural trader; as a market established by tricksters never lasts (“Ahia ndiaru hiwere anaghi araahu aru!”), is a great compounder of the dismal Igbo economic situation! One cannot easily hire Igbo workers today, in Igboland, and trust they will do a good job, at a fair price, as was Igbo tradition. Rather today’s Igbo youth would charge an impossibly high price for a job the Togolese standing next to him would charge an objective price for and win. Worse, many Igbo youth would abandon the work if paid in advance or do a shoddy work; and start a quarrel. The Igbo worker, contrary to culture, now looks for money in place of work. Yes, the present day Igbo is no better or worse than his Nigerian compatriots from other ethnic groups; but that is part of the problem. Problem because the Igbo had some intrinsic superior qualities that, as Olaudah Equiano and others wrote it down, made the Igbo the preferred worker in the slave plantations, inspite of his rebelliousness (whereas other slaves were bought for $180, Igbo slaves fetched $240). Those qualities have now degenerated into the ‘happy-go-lucky’, oro-life; imperialists prescribe for Africans; so as to be amenable to control. The dismal fate of black people in the recent crisis in Libya teaches that the emergent new world order cannot tolerate disoriented people; the choice is ours to reform ourselves or be destroyed by a harsh, unsentimental, world.
We have seen Diji; met Ubaghaji, great farmer-teacher. We have met Dioro and heared his jamjam-timjam song. We should now think again, like our ancestors, who build one of the world’s earliest and greatest civilizations. Who built the World’s first technopolises (Awka, Okigwe, etc) and go back to processing raw materials, from our land, to add value to make ourselves rich and them proud; instead of exporting it to remain poor and slave to others. We can remain the ogwumabiri traders, dioro that we have become and remain the laughing-stock of the world. The choice is ours; to salute Ubaghaji or hail Dioro! But we must keep in mind ‘he that abandons agriculture abandons something eternal’. Ya gazie!
My goodness great article men I love this. please keep writing this type of article because they are very rare these days. Nowadays you hardly see or ever read beautiful stories like this.
Am Adama from Ikeduru but live in far away United States.