Traders, Thieves and Trailblazers: Give It Up For Nd’igbo/ Olugu Olugu Orji

The term ‘Igbo trader’ was coined to convey the condescending impression that trading is the default vocation of Nd’Igbo. And this dovetails into the oft-rehearsed mythical narrative of their incurable addiction to lucre. In the beginning, it was not so. Before 1967 and the Biafra debacle, Nd’Igbo could be president and could aspire to becoming just about anything of significance in the places they were resident.

The war changed all that; to the unbridled ecstasy of those who had always considered them as domineering. By the time of cessation of hostilities in 1970, a new, fitting mantra had been inaugurated: ‘No victor, no vanquished.’ In reality, what was intended was ‘Know victor, know vanquished.’ Nd’Igbo not only knew vanquished, they became thoroughly acquainted with famished and diminished. Dishevelled and dehumanized, they crawled out of hell-holes to find mediocrity finally promoted to prominence and nonentity usurping dignity.

At this point, the only vocation available to them was trading: buy something, sell something. Anything. Those of the ‘know victor’ camp who had harboured hopes, expectations and dreams were suddenly catapulted to positions of unimaginable privilege by the ouster of Nd’Igbo. The whole landscape became littered with hopes, expectations and dreams by people who no longer needed them.

When you’ve been to hell and survived, you know a few things that others don’t. Armed with that edge, Nd’Igbo dutifully picked up the discarded gems, cleaned them up and warehoused them. A few years down the line, the giddy horde had collided with reality. The bubble had burst and they were suddenly on the trail once more desperately seeking hope. Trust the Igbo trader who now threw the warehouse doors wide open and made brisk business selling refurbished hope at a hefty premium. With newly acquired leverage, the Igbo trader has since been renegotiating his way back to relevance.

Nemo dat non quod hebat is an extant legal axiom that defines stealing in the widest possible sense. You can’t give what you don’t have. If you do, you’re a thief. In the course of engaging in legitimate trading, a few Nd’Igbo strayed into illegal territory. Predictably, it is those few bad eggs that are used to define a people that roundly epitomize illustrious and industrious.

Emmanuel Nwude, a one-time director of Union Bank is undoubtedly Nigeria’s most accomplished scam artist. In cahoots with five accomplices equally of Igbo stock, he sold a fake Abuja airport project to a Brazilian bank. Between 1995 and 1998, he had successfully duped Nelson Sakaguchi of Sao Paolo based Banco Noroeste of $242 million. By impersonating the then Central Bank of Nigeria governor Paul Ogwuma, he managed to convince Sakaguchi to invest in a non-existent project in exchange for a $10 million commission.

It remains the biggest heist in Nigeria’s tainted annals and the third ranked in the world of deceit-enabled sleaze. That singular event helped secure a permanent place for ‘419’ – a euphemism for advance fee fraud – in Nigeria’s lexicon. Nwude and his co-conspirators were thieves; but certainly of the cerebral sort. No lily-livered nit-wit could have pulled that off. To have so successfully posed as the CBN helmsman for three long years means Nwude would have made an excellent governor were he to have been so appointed. That he elected to channel his genius to nefarious ends takes nothing away from the stellar stuff he and his misguided cohorts are made of.

Sadly, Nigeria’s dubious culture of allocation that snubs merit and excellence has continued to create a burgeoning tribe of Nwude wannabes. We are gradually becoming hemmed in by self-crafted challenges threatening the very foundation of our being.

Sometime in 1975, three gaunt boys – surviving inmates of the inglorious Biafra refugee camps – wormed their way to Federal Government College, Malali Kaduna where they had been offered admission on meritorious grounds. Jonathan Okpara, Michael Nwafor and Charles Amaefule spent the next five years establishing an indubitable reputation for academic excellence. It was only natural that they cast their ambitious gazes towards Ahmadu Bello University Zaria when the next level beckoned. 396, 392 and 390 were their scores out of a possible 400 in the entrance exams of the famed ABU School of Basic Studies.

Many freely referred to them as prodigies but judging from their blighted backgrounds, I prefer to call them trailblazers. They had made a way where it had been decreed none should be. Curiously, ABU denied them admission but that’s a telling tale fit for another day.

I should narrate the adventures of Chukwudi the patent medicine hustler and Emeka the motor parts dealer who in their desperate bid to survive rediscovered that there are still 24 hours in a normal day. Or the incontrovertible fact of how the entrance of Nd’Igbo into the home movie industry hastened its classification as a money spinner and significant contributor to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. But I do not have the luxury of space because I have been warned not to allow my ramblings exceed 1000 words.

They say if you arrive a destination and find no Igbo, the safe and sane thing to do is take the next available transport out. It seems there is a positive, progressive element Nd’Igbo always bring to any situation or something infinitely powerful affords them unrelenting drive. Either way, they are certainly a great people worthy of emulation; and maybe even a little adulation.

Please don’t get mad: get a pen and pad. Write an honest account of any great people you’re acquainted with – warts and all. If we all do that, we can then compile an authentic history for our children and generations unborn. That way, they can be enabled to run confidently towards the future knowing precisely where they are coming from.

We would have saved them from the current curse of having to stagger blind towards oblivion because of our desperation to obfuscate and obliterate our sordid unresolved past. 


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