By Prof. Chidi T. Maduka
I: Ihechukwu Madubuike’s memoir calls to mind the discerning aphorism that life is art and human beings are characters in the drama of life. In it Madubuike the poet, the literary critic, the social critic, the politician, the educationist, the philanthropist, the print media practitioner and the patriot fervently reveals himself as a participant narrator rather than a mere observer of events.
But in order to fully understand the gripping narrative, it is important to reflect a little on the significance of the National Pledge and The National Anthem. The two songs nobly elevate the spirit of every citizen to great heights by evoking in him/her sentiments of honour and self-pride. They lyrically chime the importance of love, peace, equity and social justice in the nation and notably that of hope for the citizen savagely bruised by the forces of slavery and colonialism. Through the prism of this national consciousness, we perceive the country struggling to gain respect- able political, economic and cultural presence in the global village but sadly notice that it is significantly marginalized in the scheme of things because it is not as industrialized, productive and self-reliant as many other nations in Europe, Asia and Latin America (Brazil).
Of significance is the betrayal of the spirit of the National Pledge and the National Anthem. The picture is disconcerting, especially as the country feels incapable of delving into its cultural roots to discover the form of democracy suitable for its needs, as was done in Tanzania under the leadership of Julius Nyerere who discovered Ujamaa for the country even though it was later sabotaged by imperialistic forces outside the country. Lacking initiative and the spirit of innovation, Nigeria dances around with the British and the American models which are far from being ideal for the country. This failure of political leadership generates disconcerting misfortunes in the sectors of economy, health, security, education and other areas of social life. The question of brain drain, for example, is unsettling: thousands of professionals emigrate to other countries to practise their skills because of the decay of the facilities in their areas of specialization and the poor welfare system. They are celebrated as Nigerians in diaspora, a euphemism concealing the fact that they are compatriots in exile. Ministries and Agencies are set up to cater for their needs instead of the Government using the resources to replenish the facilities and improve their welfare system so that they may be attracted back home to help lay the foundation for the country’s future. In fact, the term diaspora in our historical situation refers to the descendants of our ancestors disgracefully sold into slavery to work in the cotton plantations and mines of the white predators in America and the West Indies. Accordingly, “The first non-white American governor Lawrence Douglas of Virginia” (p.331) who “has an Igbo ancestry” (p 331), is an African/Nigerian/Igbo in diaspora. So also are the over 70 million people of African/Nigerian/Igbo descent living permanently in North America, West Indies and Latin America. The extended meaning of the term denoting Africans/Nigerians living outside their homelands in Africa/Nigeria/Igboland as emigrants (often with strong cultural ties with their homelands) in North America/West Indies/Latin America/ Europe/Asia or even other parts of Africa/Nigeria because of intolerable political, economic and cultural problems at home should be handled with care. Frequently, they have abandoned their citizenship and accepted foreign ones.
In spite of the shortcomings, Nigeria has the resources to still become the citadel of African presence in the world by living up to the ideals of the National Pledge and National Anthem. The fallacy propagated by J.A. Froude (a famous English historian) in his work The English in the West Indies that Blacks cannot rule themselves unless supervised by Whites will ever remain a senseless propaganda, as argued by the schoolmaster, J.J. Thomas of Trinidad, who wrote a book with the neologism Froudacity in order to prove that Froude was bastardizing history with fiction. Among the proofs across the epochs of history contradicting the affirmation are the exploits of such great empires in the past as Mali, Ashanti, Dahomey and Benin, as well as the administrative accomplishments of Nelson Mandela and of course, the civilization accounting for the wonders in Mathematics and Physics that produced the Egyptian pyramids built by Blacks but often deceitfully denied by some Whites.
II: Madubuike’s autobiography is an inspirational text which fully touches on the absurdity of such racist proclamations against Blacks and, as previously asserted, evokes in the reader the great impulse of national pride embodied in the National Pledge and National Anthem. The book gracefully wades through the intricacies of his life across generations and amply embraces his childhood, adolescence and adulthood experiences. In the process, we see him as an antelope whose speed, as asserted in an Igbo proverb, is foremost on the hill – Oso mgbada bu n’ugwu. He tenaciously absorbs shocks and sails through difficulties with an admirable resilience. His family life, his struggles to get education, his challenges in health, his roles as artist and critic, his activities in print journalism and his political career (especially his sojourn in prison) are all strewn with thorns. But he has triumphantly emerged victorious over them because of his fear of God.
I specifically interacted intimately with him as a classmate during his quest for higher education at Alvan Ikoku College of Education (then known as Advanced Teacher Training College), Owerri and Laval University, Quebec, Canada. Later we continued to relate fully as friends and peers in literature, arts and culture. And these relations have continued till today.
Ihechukwu Madubuike is a cultural nationalist whose defence of African traditional values is phenomenal. The picture at the cover page of the book reveals a lot. He adorns himself in a dress code meant for people in tropical Africa where the scorching heat of the sun prevails and not in a tie and suit or a three-piece suit brought by the colonialists living in the temperate regions of the world tortured with deadening cold. It is fast becoming a national embarrassment to see pupils and scholars wearing European outfits in schools, or many of our women absurdly wearing wigs for brown-, or blond-haired European women. The necessity of our hearkening to the calls of the National Pledge and National Anthem for cultural identity in our land demands that the practice be stopped. It is imperative to de-Europeanize our habits and ideas as Madubuike has been advocating.
It is no longer necessary that we prefer European names to ours loaded with cultural meaning. Ihechukwu Madubuike dropped the first name “Godson” and replaced it with “Ihechukwu”. Other African political figures or writers with a similar cast of mind have done likewise: Nnamdi Azikiwe (Benjamin), Obafemi Awolowo (Jeremiah), Chinua Achebe (Albert), Elechi Amadi (Emmanuel), Ngugi wa Thiong’o (James), Kofi Awoonor (George) and Ama Ata Aidoo (Christiana). He has even done more by writing the book A Handbook of African Names (Washington: Three Continents Press, 1994) in order to dramatize the phenomenon in the minds of Africans or Africans in the diaspora , especially as the latter were in a dire need of African names to use for the purpose, as we can see, for example, in the cases of Mohammed Ali (Cassius Clay) and Imamu Baraka (Leroi Jones).
In religion, he believes that Christianity should not be used to deny the integrity of African traditional values, as the early missionaries in Igbo society tended to do. To the latter, virtually everything in Igbo culture was devilish, pagan and barbaric –music, dance, belief systems and especially masquerades. Madubuike, a devoted Christian, cautions against such an attitude in the evangelizing mission of Christianity in Igboland. Fortunately, the situation is gradually changing, as can be seen, for example, in the Catholic Church where it has become customary to use the practice of inculturation to properly locate the Christ already embodied in Igbo culture before the coming of missionaries.
African traditional values are solid enough to provide the foundation for transforming the status quo into desirable forms for the future. The changes should not be imposed from without. This is the major thrust of the well-known and combative book Toward the Decolonalization of African Literature written by the troika Chinweizu, Jemie and Madubuike which was targeted at the early African novelists, poets and critics, and the European critical establishment. A good African poet, novelist and even critic should be a public voice resonating with the values preferably rooted in the African oral tradition and not the one informed by values deriving their force from the European sensibility of artistic individualism which frequently celebrates the technical finesse of works rooted in the European aesthetic ideals. “The bottom line is to promote a consciousness that is pro-African”, Madubuike tells us in the memoir (p77). He then continues:
The Decolonization process is not limited to the literary field; it is part of the African liberation struggles by other means. It is the nurturing of sensibilities that are in favour of African freedom and against the shackles of total dependence. The cultivation of the right cultural consciousness in the African populace could lead to a change in our political behaviour and create a community that is more tolerant and more inclusive (pp. 77-78).
The big shortcoming of the book is its erroneous belief that the fight for the integrity of the African languages and the literatures in them was not as crucial at that time as the one dealing with the appropriate values informing the writing and assessing of the works in European languages.
Madubuike reiterates the importance of fighting hard for the survival of African languages many of which currently face immediate extinction. It is regrettable that virtually no kobo from the trillions of naira realized from oil has been budgeted for developing the Nigerian languages in spite of the cries of the Banjos and Emenanjos of the Nigerian Linguistic Association, and the frequent recommendations from the Nigerian Literary Society and The Nigerian Academy of Letters. It is important for our political leaders to play the Julius Nyerere who proved the racist colonialists wrong by translating Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar into Ki-Swahili, thereby reminding his fellow African leaders that they should do the same thing for the languages in their various domains. Unlike what the imperialists believe and say, African languages, as has been proved by linguists, have the capacity to operate as efficiently as any other European language if given the opportunity to thrive. Our political leaders should have the vision to develop them as most leaders in other parts of the world have been doing with theirs. In Europe languages are cultivated like little gardens. A tough fight was put up by the English, French and Portuguese, for example, to build up the status of their various languages even when they were doomed for extinction. It is culturally demeaning for the Nigerian political leaders to be seen solely focusing on elevating English and French, and possibly Chinese to the status of national languages in Nigeria. Ihechukwu Madubuike merits commendation for fighting hard for the survival of the Igbo language by writing a book in Igbo on the understanding of Igbo poetry (Ighota Abu Igbo) and engineering the setting up of the Igbo Language Academy (he forgot to mention this in the memoir) which Igbo political leaders/opinion moulders do not seem to be interested in building up. This is tragic for the Igbo culture because a similar body/institution, L’Academie Francaise (French Academy), served as the prop for developing the French language (Leopold Senghor was a member of the Academy).
To be continued.