Igbo: To Be Or Not To Be?

Some weeks ago, an old video of former Super Eagles player and coach, Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh circulated on Social media. It trended for obvious reasons as many Nigerian upcoming blogs and gossip sites copied the same information from each other.

He was speaking at a TedxEuston event in January 2015.

It’s been eight years since this statement was made but someone pulled it out again at this time, obviously to make a statement. Against the backdrop of the recent ethically charged atmosphere that attended the last election, especially in the South West, this video was simply aimed at creating something mischievous.

It was obviously a clear case of ethnic–baiting, and it worked for the promoters and their target audience.

As a part of making his presentation, he introduced himself by his name: Sunday Ogochukwu Olise, a name that most Nigerians would immediately recognize as Igbo.

A very loud cheer erupted from the crowd immediately he announced his full name which made me to guess that the hall could have been populated by Ndi-Igbo substantially, who were proud to claim him as one of their own. They were excited to have their “Nwanne” (brother) standing in front of them and itched to hear what he had to say. Almost instantly, before the cheers died down, he put forth a rather embarrassing and demoralizing disclaimer thus:  “I’m sorry, but I am not Igbo. I am from a little village called Abuvu in Delta State’’

Here is the video:

The video clip was circulated widely on the social media with the sharers mostly from two angles.

The first angle was one of mockery, often from people from other tribes who thought the Igbos were too loud, and deserved to be served this type of embarrassment and denial. One of such claimed that Sunday Olise was not interested in associating himself with a people who were very insulting/ rude (I wondered if he thought his own statement was nice and polite).

The mockers interestingly were largely not Anioma or South South people, but more of South Westerners – most of whom feel that 2023 created an unforgiveable chasm in whatever remained of the relationship between the East and the West.

In fact somebody said something like: “Now they would come for Sunday Olise”.

The second category of folks were the embittered ones. These ones, fully Igbo, believe in claiming all their brethren from other regions in Nigeria. They are the proponents of the Igbo bu Igbo belief that considers all variants of Igbos to be true Igbos and brothers.

This category was largely enraged by the audacity of Sunday Olise to attempt to dissociate himself from “his people” in such an embarrassing manner.

And then there was the middle category of people, silent, on-looking, and believing that people have a right to pick where they belong, or did not feel that the matter was worth fighting for or commenting about, for various reasons – they may understand later, or they have a right to choose their identity and should not be forced, or whatever else they believed. This category consisted mostly of South-South people and South-East people.

I belong to this third category. And I’ll provide my reasons shortly.

First, let me say this. I completely disliked Sunday Olise’s opening declaration or ‘disclaimer’: “I’m sorry. I am not Igbo” for two reasons. Firstly, nobody asked him. Nobody in that crowd bothered about his ethnicity until he brought it up (which seems to indicate a person struggling with a severe identity crisis because many people in that crowd, including non-Igbos, who were Nigerians knew that he was Igbo).

Mr. Ogo Chukwu Olise sensitized some of his audience to the question of identity. Secondly, I feel it was dumb to offend a huge swathe of people, by just throwing stones at people’s egos with rocks of rude flippant statements.


The comment was unnecessary and avoidable. Some people do not forget insults.

That aside, I feel Sunday Olise has a right to choose where he belongs, and the language, tribe, or region of the country he wishes to identify with.

Do I agree with him?

No, I believe that Igbo bu Igbo and I welcome people of Igbo origin whether they are from Rivers, Delta, Edo, Kogi, Benue – even Kano if those exist. If you speak my language, you are my brother. Period.

Would I refer to him as Igbo, especially as I know he doesn’t want to identify with the tribe?

No, I won’t.

I’d respect his choice and address him as an Anioma man or whatever he prefers to be identified as and there would be no problem whatsoever, or grudges.

That Anioma people are my brothers and sisters is a known truth, and what one person suddenly thinks does not change it.

I feel that people should respect other people’s identities and not attempt to force and pin them on those who reject them. It is not even dignifying to do so but some of us appear unnecessarily desperate about claiming people who do not want us.

Do I want all people of Igbo origin to identify proudly as Igbo?

Again, yes. Would I walk about with a baseball bat or a begging plate asking them to identify as Igbo?

Hell no.

I’ve seen quite some of our South-South brethren identify proudly as Igbo.

I am also very happy when I see people from Delta and Rivers States proudly identify as Igbo. I learned some notable sons of the South-South, like Tony Elumelu and Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, identify as Igbo and I am very glad about this.

I’m very proud of the achievement of our South-South brothers who also seem to be wildly successful in their diverse areas of endeavors are the second most successful set of people of Igbo origin, and anytime I see people like Tony Elumelu, Jim Ovia, and others, I beam with smiles.

Some of my Igbo brothers hate that some of the Igbos of the South South would rather label themselves as something else and want to dissociate themselves from the tribe.

Some even go so far as passively wishing them evil: when Nigeria will happen to them, or when the time comes Nigeria would remind them that they are Igbo. Others remind them that the war that set the whole Igbo race behind was largely triggered by Nzeogwu who was from a town called Okpanam near Asaba, in the South South (as they are called today).

This second part sounds like emotional blackmail to me though.

While I understand and I’m pleased about the love and the need to include our SS brothers, I also feel that we should give them a little breathing space. If we were on the empathy discussion, they have had their experiences too, some of them extremely negative.

They bore the brunt of the Asaba massacre, one of the worst bloodshed executed during that genocide that Nigeria executed against the Igbos from 1967 – 1970. They might be acting due to external actions to divide and brew hatred between segments of Igbo people, just to limit the strength of the race.

But you should also ask yourself if you make the race stronger by reacting badly to their choices. Aren’t you playing directly the scripts of the people who want to plant hate and division among us?

There has also been the fear of domination that most of them have about the larger Igbo subset. A dread that as smaller segments that “look like” Igbo they would be annexed and dominated.

While I believe that those are part of the seeds of falsehood, forcing your identity on them would do nothing to diminish that fear.

We must also remember that during and after the war, it was almost life-threatening to identify as Igbo.

Unfortunately, this situation exists until today. Some of these choices are made out of the need to preserve one’s life.

We all know the story of how Stella Damasus’s family changed their surname to Damasus to shield themselves from persecution.

The popular Nollywood actress, Sella Damasus is Igbo, from Delta state. His father’s family name is “Ojukwu” but, to preserve their lives, save the family from extermination, and also grant access to opportunities in the larger Nigerian space after the Biafra war, they dropped their Igbo surname and today, are known as Damasus, the first name of their grandfather – Damasus Ojukwu.

Today, no one identifies that family as Igbo unless they told you and, perhaps, it helps open doors for them too.

And most importantly, helped them to become safe from the Nigerian killer system.

There have been accounts of South-Eastern Igbos treating them with disdain once or twice.

I believe that you don’t treat your brother with disdain and expect him to hug you warmly when you throw your hands open.

And again, forcing your identity on them with forced love is almost as bad as treating them with disdain.

Now Let Us Talk About Love- Ohaneze

Now lets talk about love, and I would demonstrate my thoughts and ideas with a few verses of the bible, mixed with some lyrics from love songs.

The first story I’ll remind us of is the story of the two harlots in the book of 1 Kings 3:16-18.If you remember correctly, the harlot with the dead baby wanted to claim the living baby of the other woman.

When it prove not to be successful, she chose that the living baby be killed? Remember?

It wasn’t her baby.

Pay attention to the response of the mother, she said: let her (the lying woman) take the child (Love and preservation of what you want, even if it means releasing it.) Secondly, she expressed a hope that is so true: “When he grows older, he will ask about his mother, and he’ll get to know me.”

First point is, love meant that the mother was willing to release the child and not impose herself on the child if that would mean his death.

In the same way, love for our brothers from other regions would mean that we would let go and not impose. Does this mean that we forget or are glad to be rid of them?

Of course not, the woman expressed hope that over time the child would grow enough to ask questions about his real mother.

Truth is that once a child grows older he begins to ask questions and enquire about his true origins. And if these people truly originated from us, or are one with us, the lies and division can only last for a while.

But it must begin with unconditionally loving, and accepting, while letting go and allowing them to form their identities without any form of coercion.

A huge part of love is letting go and surrendering to the will of the beloved. 1 Cor 13. Not seeking your own.

Truth is we will be stronger as a race together, but that can only happen when they come to realize it for themselves without any form of coercion from the larger South East population.

Let them breathe.

With trade and manufacturing partnerships, access to water for commerce, banking and flows of finance especially as the Deltans have great potentials to sustain a South South-South East based economy and other great things.

Let’s not force ourselves on them – we are not Tinubu. Secondly, let us not call them Omo-ale for not identifying with us, we are not APC members.

Finally let us be more introspective. If your people don’t want to identify with you for fear of persecution or domination, perhaps we should look inwards and check if there are any traits of dominating them.

I don’t think this is the case, but still look, who knows what you would find? If the issue is fear of persecution, it means that you need to focus on yourself and make yourself stronger to be more attractive and considered for your strength and ability to protect.

If they run away from being Igbo, ask yourself if there is anything perceived undesirable about being Igbo and ask yourself what you can do to deal with it or improve it.

As in all cases, self betterment should be the goal. What if we, in the next 10 – 15 years doubled our output and contribution to the Nigerian economy?

What if we selected aggressively only sound leaders to lead us and we held them to account. If we retired representatives who do not properly represent us?

What if we invested our wealth back home and attracted foreign investors.

What if we strengthen our education and our health sector such that our kids performed in flying colors and our parents lived long and healthy?

What if we invested in entertainment and telling our own stories? What if we invested so hard in tech that the rest of Africa struggles to see our back.

What if we expanded our wonderful apprenticeship system, only this time we ensure that we extending into areas like entertainment, movies, technology and other industries apart from trade, exportation of electronics.

There is a beautiful future for the Igbo man that would attract any body and make them interested in associating with us, but first we would have to know and understand ourselves and the value we offer, consciously and intentionally build up the tribe, and make the tribe more attractive and marketable to all and sundry(we don’t need to market anything.

We just need to be who we are and improve to betterment, not for approval but for our own good) That way, when nobody would dare say: Go back to the South East, but rather they would look to the South East with the same awe which they regard London or other advanced.

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