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Ahiajoku Lecture Series: An Enduring Heritage


Nkem Ekeopara

When on Nkwo, Friday, November 30, 1979, the Ajiajoku Lecture was inaugurated with Professor M.J.C. Echeruo’s Lecture: A matter of identity- Ahamefule, every Onye Igbo of age and reason, knew the pod of knowledge on all facets of the Igbo world has been exploded. Therefore, it was a matter of time for its dispersal to impact the listening world and become an important scholarly reference for future generations of Ndiigbo scattered around the globe and indeed for other nationalities genuinely interested in understanding Igbo Culture and Civilization.

The Igbo icon and Elder Statesman, Sam Onunaka Mbakwe, former Executive Governor of old Imo State who ordered that the ikoro be sounded in this respect to reawaken Ndiigbo’s consciousness to their proud heritage, deserve an eternal place of honor for his vision and courage to pursue same. Late Mazi Dr. Ray Ofoegbu, his Commissioner for Information, Culture, Youths and Sports at the time, and the inaugural Planning Committee led by the late Ambassador G.M.K. Anoka who worked tirelessly to drum and trumpet reality into the vision, deserve no less. Indeed, all those who have ensured that the annual harvest of thought endured in spite of all odds deserve our praise.

Since, Professur Echeruo’s landmark lecture in 1979, some of the best scholars of Igbo ancestry have taken turns using their diverse disciplines and professions and very apt titles to clearly signpost Igbo Culture and Civilization. One only need to take a look a the profiles of past ‘performers’ and the titles they used to explore the Igbo world to appreciate the pedestal we should place The Ahiajoku Lecture in the ongoing and attainable Igbo Renaissance.

Past lecturers after Professor Echeruo and the titles they used to do their ‘dance’ to the admiration of those present on such occasions include:

Professor B. N. Okigbo, Plants and Food in Igbo Culture, 1980

Professor A. E. Afigbo,
The Age of Innocence: The Igbo and their neighbors in pre-colonial times, 1981

Professor A. O. Anya,
The Environment of Isolation or the Ecology and Socio-Biology of Igbo Culture and Political Development, 1982

Professor Donatus Nwoga,
Nka na Nzere: The Focus of Igbo World View, 1984

Professor Ben O. Nwabueze, The Igbos in the Context of Modern Government and Politics in Nigeria: A Call for Self-Examination and Self-Correction, 1985.

Dr. P.N.C. Okigbo,
Towards a Reconstruction of the Political Economy of Igbo Civilisation, 1986

Professor M. A. Onwuejeogwu,
Evolutionary Trends in the History of the Igbo Civilization in Culture Theatre of Igboland in Southern Nigeria, 1987

Professor A.N. Okoro,
Chukwu ka Dibia, 1988

Professor M. O. Chijioke,
Ugwumba: The Greatness of a people, 1989

Professor A. O. Animalu,
Ucheakonam (A Way of life in the Modern Scientific Age), 1990

Professor R. O. Ohuche,
Ibu Anyi Ndanda (The Centrality of Education in Igbo Culture) 1991

Professor G. M. Umuzurike,
The Hub of Igbo Culture Renaissance in the scientific age, 1992

Professor Emmanuel Obiechina,
Nchetaka (The Memory, Story and Continuity of Igbo Culture), 1994

Professor V.C. Uchendu,
Ezi Na Ulo (The Extended Family in Igbo Civilization), 1995

Professor C. A. Onwumechili, Igbo Enwe Eze (The Igbo have No Kings), 2000

Professor E. N. Emenanjo,
Igbo or Igboid: Asusu N’Agburu Ndi Igbo (Language in Igbo Civilization), 2001

To date there had been 18 lectures in the series. There were no lectures in 1983 and 1993, perhaps due to the charged political atmosphere at those times. Also, between 1996-1999, there were no lectures. During this period, either by his alleged theocratic inclination or a veiled containment effort banned the lecture with a military fiat.

In 2000, the current government of Achike Udenwa in keeping with the resilience spirit of Ndiigbo creditably re-inaugurated the lecture. The re-inaugural lecture titled Igbo Enwe Eze? (The Igbo have no king?), was delivered by Professor C.A. Onwumechili, who like others before him does not really need an introduction, having attained a world-class status in his calling, Physics.

Professor Onwumechili’s lecture attracted some sharp reactions from certain quarters. One of these reactions considered not very palatable came from Professor Onwuejeogwu, a former Laureate. An Igbo group, Front for the Defence of Igbo Heritage based in Anambra State was so irked probably by the conclusive part of Professor Onwumechili’s lecture that they organized an inaugural lecture that offered Professor Onwuejeogwu the podium to issue his counter.

This may be the first time we witnessed such a reaction. One considers this not too an unhealthy development. Positively this has provoked another Ahiajoku Laureate, Professor Afigbo to issue a summary of Onwumechili’s argument. Also, it did not escape the attention of this year’s Laureate. In his prologue to 2001 lecture, Afigbo in reference to the ‘controversial’ Onwumechili’s lecture stated:

He said that some Igbo have Eze, but the general image presented of the Igbo in the books and by the Igbo in the way they talk about their individualism and republicanism is that of the people who have no Eze. This general culture and image of Ezelessness has left the Igbo with certain legacies, some good, and some bad. Top on the list of the good legacies is self-reliance, which goes with certain lack of slavish mentality towards authority. This is the character trait, which explains what Ndi Igbo achieved in the last one hundred years, especially in Biafra. It is the same attitude, which has brought modern science to where it is today. Because of this particular legacy of Igbo Enwe Eze and others going along with it, the fact that most of Ndi Igbo enweigh eze is not something to bemoan but to be proud of.

Apart from the above, Professor Afigbo did promise in that prologue to address this problem of Igbo Enwe Eze in a separate publication. It does appear that he has since done this in Igbo Enwe Eze: Beyond Onwumechili and Onwuejeogwu.

This year it was as though the Ahiajoku has run a full cycle. On Nkwo, Friday, November 29, (one day short of the inaugural date of November 30, 1979), the 2002 lecture was delivered at the Grasshopper International Handball Stadium, Owerri, our local Jerusalem, in the words of Professor Afigbo.

This year’s lecture titled
Uzo Ndu na Eziokwu: Towards an Understanding of Igbo Traditional Religious Life and Philosophy was delivered by Rev. Professor E.N. Onwu, a Professor of Religion and Biblical Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

In his opening statement, Professor Onwu decried what has become the lot of Ndiigbo in the crises-ridden State that is Nigeria when he stated thus:

Ndi Igbo have suffered the double misfortune of being misunderstood and having a bad press.
In spite of their stupendous achievement in every area of human endeavour, particularly in science
and technology, religion and education, the Igbo nation has been deliberately and systematically
marginalized…Ndi Igbo have suffered the loss of their human rights and dignity but have also shown
great courage and determination to survive as a people.

Professor Onwu rightly asserted that the capacity of Ndiigbo to prevail in the face of all odds is rooted in their traditional religious life and philosophy. He outlined the Igbo cosmology and proceeded to use what he termed Dominant Ideas in Igbo Religious Philosophy and what appears to be the most important part of the lecture to give a direct bearing to the Uzo Ndu na Eziokwu title.

The dominant ideas he stressed are Respect for Life: (Ndu), Respect for Morality, Truth as Igbo Principle, Achievement-Oriented Values, Igbo Republicanism, and ‘Chukwu’: The Ultimate in Igbo Thought.

The lecturer took a deep and passionate look at these dominant ideas. In the case of respect for life, the sanctity and dignity of it for instance, he stated thus:

Let me remind you that it is not mere coincidence when under the Igbo war commander Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, Biafra (the Igbo) fought a thirty months gruesome war from 1967 to 1970 to preserve the life of the Igbo people. Let me remind you that it was not a mere accident when the
great Zik of Africa along with other great notable Igbo leaders (Dr. Ojike, Dr. Mbadiwe, Dr. Okpara, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, etc.) of blessed memory unanimously agreed that “To Restore the Dignity of Man” was to be the motto of the first indigenous University, the University of Nigeria. That motto represents the finest Igbo minds, the collective affirmation of Igbo faith in the worth and dignity of man. It remains for the Igbo a vision a mission and a commitment.

Professor Onwu in treatment of the other dominant ideals provided a profound insight that left no one in doubt as to the orderliness and height a society could attain if these were to be the planks upon which individual and group consideration are based in pursuit of its interests. The dominant ideas in Igbo Religious Philosophy read like the laws of man fashioned with a recognition of the existence of God in order to exact the best out of man for the benefit of mankind. One wonders why the Igbo nation remains at crossroads.

As earlier observed, the 2002 Ahiajoku Laureate took a critical look at the Igbo enwe Eze expression when the delved into Igbo Republicanism. In his view, this and similar expressions served a colonial interest of destabilizing Igbo unity. He expressed worry over the fact that some Igbo intellectuals are accepting this as something inherent in our culture. He believed that the Igbo enwe Eze concept was deliberately introduced into the Igbo psychic. This he said was achieved in practice by installing warrant chiefs in order to destabilize the Igbo society and make it impossible for them to retain their ‘Igboness,’ their uniqueness, their industry, their confidence and their pride/identity as a people.

Further, Professor Onwu opined that because this concept was introduced into our ‘Culture,’ it has engendered the culture of disrespect and greed as well as that of falsehood thereby destroying evidence of a well laid down functional leadership pattern prior to the advent of the white man. He used the acrimonious relationship that existed between Dr Alex Ekwueme, the former vice president in Shagari’s government and Jim Nwobodo, the former governor of old Anambra State, and the present conflicts between state governors and those in government at the unitary center to buttress his viewpoint. Promotion of Igbo cause is thus a near impossibility under such a climate he averred. He cautioned that indirect rule is not yet over in Igbo land where he posited that it is still being used as a basic instrument to destabilize the Igbo race, incapacitate and frustrate any plan of the Igbo to form a common force where together they can challenge the ills done them. Therefore, he advised that the Igbo enwu Eze concept be done away with for its destabilizing impact, noting that the Igbo people say: Igwe bu ike=unity/strength is power.

In addressing the Igbo Traditional Religion and Christianity, Professor Onwu called for the restoration of the broken link he said started with the advent of Christianity into Igbo land and urged all Igbo to be united with one another and be restored to “Chukwu” through Jesus Christ. These coupled with education that emphasized knowledge and character he counseled, will see our “Igboness” blossom. It was a harvest of food for thought!

Important dignitaries that attended the lecture included Achike Udenwa, the executive governor of Imo State, Dr Okechukwu Itanyi, the deputy governor of Enugu State, Agbai Eke Agbai, Abia State Commissioner of information. Also, in attendance was Honorable Justice Eze Ozobu, a retired Chief Judge of Enugu State and current Chairman of Ohaneze Ndiigbo who chaired the event. Retired Justice Ozobu used the occasion to advise Ndiigbo to proclaim their Igboness by speaking their language and dressing in Igbo attire, especially at Igbo events. His attire and captivating oratory in Igbo language in his opening and closing remarks showed him to be a doer of what he preaches. He not only reiterated the interest of the Ohaneze in the 2003 presidential election, but predicted victory for their candidate. He called on Ndiigbo to practice their age long Onye aghala nwanne ya (be your brother’s keeper) mantra for the advancement of the Igbo nation.

Other dignitaries at the lecture included Professor Aninze Okoro, a 1988 Laureate, Justice Kalu Uma, the Chief Judge of Abia State and a representative of Kalu Idika Kalu, a former Commissioner of Finance in the old Imo State and a presidential aspirant in the 2003 elections. Eze Emma Njemanze of Owere Nchi Ise and a few other traditional rulers were in attendance too. Curiously the place was devoid of Igbo political merchantilists that flocked and verbally fought themselves at the 8th World Igbo Congress (WIC) in Houston, USA in August this year.

In keeping with the tradition of the lecture series, a Colloquium (Onugaotu) was held on Thursday (Afor) November 28, 2002 at the Multipurpose Hall, Owerri, with Professor A. Anwuka the Vice Chancellor of Imo State as Chairman/Moderator. The theme was Igbo Traditional Religion with four sub themes.

1. Religious Language and Igbo Folks-Media, The Crisis Situation of Modern Trends of Evangelization, by Rev. Professor J.Okonkwo of Imo State University. Lead Discussant: Rev. Fr. Jude Uwalaka of Seat Wisdom Ulakwo.

2. The Place of Art in Igbo Traditional Religion, by Professor C.S. Okeke, Imo State University. Lead Discussant: Ichie Professor P.A.Ezikeojiaku, Imo State University

3. The Role of Woman in Igbo Traditional Religion, by Professor (Mrs.) Rose Acholonu, Imo State University. Lead Discussant: E.O. Inyama, Imo State University

4. Ofo Na Ogu: Igbo Concept of Perfection, by Rev. Fr. Izu Onyeocha, Imo State University. Lead Discussant: Cannon (Dr.) R. Maduka

The title of next lecture is Engineering and Technology in Igbo Civilization. Professor Michael Nwachukwu of Federal University of Technology, Owerri will deliver the lecture.

The Ahiajoku lecture and the Colloquium demand equal attention and respect. It is a pan- Igbo celebration and should rank as one the greatest celebrations in Igbo festive calendar. It should no longer be an Imo affair in terms of funding, publicity and celebration. Some people have suggested that a public holiday be declared for its celebration and that electronic media houses in all States with Igbo presence, especially core Igbo States be meant to transmit the lecture live. These are very good suggestions!

However, the greatest challenge facing the lecture considering that we now live in an information age is compiling these lectures and putting it on the World Wide Web. Further than that, posterity demands that the lectures be distilled and assembled in a form that it should become part of the curriculum in Schools in Igbo states and Igbo Schools in the Diaspora.

The New Igbo, especially those with IT resources are capable of taking the first task, working with the appropriate authority. They understand that the Ahiajoku lecture series issues the best of our heritage. And I believe they will not shy away from this challenge.

As for the latter, I believe that is a task for the Governments and Commissioners of Education in Igbo States. They have the yam. They have the knife. And we will see how they will cut to further enrich the harvest.






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