By Okike Ezugwu
This topic has become difficult to ignore – despite great personal efforts. It is the discussion provoked by Mikel Obi in his podcast where he spoke carelessly on a range of issues. I am coming very late, I confess. It fed social media to a stupor, filling the time of its army of pseudo intellectuals.
Never mind, Mikel might well become a respectable opinion leader. That has been the way of the world for a long time. Think about Donkin, the villain of Joseph Conrad’s Nigger of Narcissus. He was an appalling shipmate. He did not do a decent day’s job; shammed sickness whenever duty called; spoke brazen racism against Dutchmen; and even robbed a shipmate who was just about to die. But after the ship anchored, Donkin was the man of them who went into the world, as Conrad memorably phrased it; “to discuss with filthy eloquence upon the rights of labor.”
This comparison is not strikingly accurate but wait. On a personal level, that is if you overlook team achievements, Mikel figures prominently among the most lackluster players of his generation. He played in the defensive midfield for seven years, scoring only one goal. With time he became an expansive liability for Chelsea. Towards the end of his stint there, he merely warmed the bench, as the expression goes. With the national team it was the same workaday performance. He was not notable for many individual display of footballing brilliance for most of his career. Despite that, one must agree, he played in teams that won notable trophies. Never mind again, Mikel is now an outspoken pundit.
Everybody would be better off if he limits his punditry to football. Mikel is dangerously dabbling into other important topics, causing quite a stir. Facebook intellectuals helped spread his latest ill-informed harangue of the Igbo extended family system. They call it “black tax.” For those who have paid some attention to Igbo history, even very recent Igbo history, it is hard to fathom anything more annoying. He spoke about some gold-digging and baby-booming men who married his sisters because of the “Obi family.” I will leave the in-laws to feel indignation over that public ridicule.
It is funny how Mikel cherry-picks the story of his family. With the way he shrugged his shoulders, you would think that the Obi family is like that of Ojukwu or any other family with long-running wealth. This is not true. If a common man stumbles on wealth, if he is not immediately permitted, by the right etiquette, to talk about family the way Obi did in his podcast. Before luck and football found Mikel, his father was a vulcanizer. The unfortunate African in Chuma Okolo’s Diaries of a Dead African was not just angry because somebody stole his wife. He was especially vexed because the stealing was done by a vulcanizer. You should get the drift.
That is for that. I had recommended that people look at some academic work on the Igbo extended family system. It was a marvel to the West before greater inroad by capitalism and the individualism it naturally fosters. What survives from it now as extant cultural practice has been the only welfare and subsidy available to thousands of less fortunate Igbo people. It was this system which ensured that the Nigerian civil war, the most tragic armed conflict in the history of the African continent, did not produce any post-war refugees in the South-East. Frederick Forsyth wrote glowingly and admiringly about it. The moment the war ended, the Igbo network of communal families took every survivor in. Those who waited on the international scene to come and grandstand with humanitarian interventions were left wondering at this mysterious people.
People should be careful with what they attack. The Nigerian state is not welfarist by any measure. It is the man against a wilderness of an ever negatively tumbling economy; with a stroke of one ill-considered or graft-inspired policy occasionally sweeping thousands down the abyss of multidimensional poverty. As at today, even the subsidies that once existed are being yanked off by politicians.
It is very appropriate to preach economic individualism in Sweden and Norway or any other welfare state. In these places, the state is your brother. To the intellectuals, for want of how else to describe energetic pontificators on social issues, it is not great to copy everything from the West, hook and sinker, including your thinking, without looking at your own environment. That is bad plagiarism.
Okike Ezugwu, a lawyer and writer, can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org