Stephen Ukandu, Umuahia
Nigeria’s former Minister for Information, Chief Nnia Nwodo, has traced the origin and ancestry of the Igbo tribe to Israel.
According to the former President General of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, who was the Keynote Speaker at the Ikengaonline Town Hall meeting, Ndigbo migrated from Gad the seventh tribe of Israel.
The Ohanaeze chieftain maintained that apart from historical evidence, the Igbo tribe share a lot of similarities with the Jews.
He said: “Available history indicate that the Igbos of Nigeria hailed from Gad, the seventh son of Jacob (Genesis 46vs 15-18). Eri, the forebear of Igbos was the son of Gad, Eri lived in Egypt as high priest during the reign of Joseph. When he foresaw the intending slavery of his people, he fled Egypt through the river Nile crossed the Benue River, traversed across the River Niger and settled in Aguleri.
“The Igbos are cosmopolitan, urbane, adventurous, indefatigable and a highly enterprising people. Two examples of these characteristics of Igbos were portrayed in history.”
Chief Nwodo further went down memory lane on how some courageous Igbo slaves enroute America resisted their captors.
“In 1803 one of the largest mass suicides of enslaved people took place when Igbo captives from what is now Nigeria were taken to the Georgia Coast. In May 1803, the Igbo and other West African captives arrived in Savannah, Georgia, on slave ship, the Wanderer.
“They were purchased for an average of $100 each by slave merchants, John Couper and Thomas Spalding to be resold to plantations on nearby St Simons Island. The chained slaves were packed under deck of a coastal vessel, the York, which would take them to St Simons.
“During the voyage approximately 75 Igbo slaves rose in rebellion, took control of the ship, drowned their captors and in the process caused the grounding of the ship in Dumber Creek.
“The sequence of events that occurred next remains unclear. It is however, known only that the Igbos marched ashore, singing, led by their high chief. Then at his direction, they walked into the marshy waters of Dumber Creek committing mass suicide.
“These deaths squalled a powerful story of resistance as these captives overwhelmed their captors in strange land and many took their own lives rather than remain enslaved in the new world.
“Equally revealing of the resilience of the Igbos is the story of Ola Udah Equino, an Igbo Nigerian slave who was enslaved as Gustavo Vassa at the age of eleven, taken across the Atlantic and lived as a slave in America, the West Indies and Great Britain. He eventually purchased his freedom by saving his earnings, hearing English language, becoming a Christian and making friends. He finally married an English lady, settled in England, had two daughters and founded a literary movement known as Slave Narratives. His work was published under his birth name, Olaudah.”
Nwodo further chronicled the instrumentality of an Igbo illustrious son, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in obtaining Nigeria’s independence.
“In pre-independence Nigeria another Igbo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904-1996), emerged as one of the foremost Nigerian and West African nationalists who fought assiduously for the independence of Nigeria from colonial rule. Zik is often described as so patriotic that he was prepared to sacrifice the personal reward of his efforts at obtaining independence in order to preserve a united Nigeria.
“Zik in his career won election into the Lagos City Council, the Western House of Assembly and lost a bid for the Premiership of Western Nigeria and eventually ended up as ceremonial President and Head of State.”
Chief Nwodo recounted the resilience of Ndigbo in the face of daunting challenges.
“In 1967 the Igbos were forced into a battle between them (including other parts of former Eastern Nigeria and Midwestern Nigeria) and the rest of Nigeria. That war lasted for three years. The war brought out the resilience of the Igbos.
“They faced a well-coordinated economic blockade from Nigeria whereby importation of foreign goods, food and arms into Biafra was severely limited leading to acute shortage of arms and ammunition, food and medicine.”
Nwodo noted that the civil war would have been averted if the Nigerian Authorities had abide by the terms of the Aburi accord.
“The war ended in 1970 and Igbo returned to Nigeria severely decapitated in liquid cash, physical estate investments, (a lot of which were bombed confiscated or destroyed,) and three years of intensive loss of lives, absence from schools, malnutrition and wanton pillage, rape and extortion from Federal troops. Our educational system was confiscated by government following the state take over of schools.
“Voluntary agency schools in the hands of the Christian missions and privately owned schools were expropriated from their owners without adequate compensation in order to control and retard the educational advancement of Igbos. When this appeared not to be working enough, we were reduced to two states amongst a total of twelve states. Progressively we ended up as five states out of thirty six states thereby reducing our representation nationally in all the legislative, Judiciary and administrative organs of the Country.
“As if this was not enough, our access to federally controlled Secondary Schools, Polytechnics and Universities were considerably reduced by a quota system which virtually dethroned merit and industry.”