Gov. Obiano’s Wife: A Charitable Defense

By Ikenga Chronicles December 31, 2019

Gov. Obiano’s Wife: A Charitable Defense

— Dr. Vitus Ozoke

The critical story of Anambra state governor’s wife, Mrs. Obiano, giving out charitable gifts to the homeless population in Downtown Houston, Texas, has caught my attention. Her critics just can’t stomach the foolishness in a Nigerian governor’s wife coming to the United States to do charity work.

There may be some face validity to that criticism. For a country where a critical mass of its population lives below the poverty level, it will seem completely tone deaf to move resources from that same country to do charity in the richest and most prosperous country in the world. I get it. But I’m going to play some bit of devil’s advocacy here.

What if the first lady’s passion is with the homeless population? What if what boils her blood and keeps her awake at night is the plight of the vagrant population? We must recognize that as a perfectly legitimate passion. Question now is: where is the homeless population in Anambra state? Is there a downtown skid row in Anambra state where you can locate vagrants? I don’t know that one exists in Anambra state or any of the Igbo states. Lagos underbridges, yes.

You see, there is a bigger picture that zooms out of this. Recall my yesterday’s reaction to a comment, more like a gratuitous admonition, credited to an Hausa youth group, insisting that until the Igbo put their house in order, they cannot be president of Nigeria. In that reaction, I zeroed in on the metaphor of house and home, using it to highlight a key Igbo sociocultural value.

The Igbo are not homeless. Home is central to being Igbo. According to an Igbo proverb, “ana eburu uzo zota ani tupu azoba ute” (literally translated to you first secure the land before you go fighting for the sleep mat). More liberally and figuratively translated, it captures the centrality and priority of a homestead in the Igbo hierarchy of human needs.

The Igbo will first secure land (in this case bare unfurnished space, with a roof to protect from the natural elements, and doors and locks to protect from human elements). That is his home. That is his obi (homestead). If that is all he can afford, he can never be mocked as homeless. If he can afford the ‘ute’ (sleep mat), that’s also good, even better, but he has already escaped homelessness.

The Igbo have these values embodied in many of her timeless proverbs. “A na-esi n’uno amara mma puo ezi” (beauty begins from home). The more popular figurative translation is charity begins at home, but I reckon that figurative route will hit a road bump in a conversation about offshore charity. The Igbo also say that “aku luo uno, amara onye kpara ya” (when wealth gets home, the wealth maker is identified). All these highlight the normative essence of home to the Igbo.

There is a common notion among non-Igbo, perhaps, among the Igbo too, that an Igbo man will defer marriage until he has built his own house. I’m not sure that is completely true. More Igbo men have got married before building their own homes, the key phrase being ‘building their own homes’. What is true about that notion, however, is that no Igbo man, who is an Igbo man, takes a wife without having a space the lock to which he has the key. No Igbo man takes a wife while sheltering on the charity of others.

I have seen Igbo men (and women) commute on busses and other public transportation systems, yet come home to tastefully furnished homes. Why? Because home is priority to the Igbo. I have also seen people drive expensive cars in Lagos, yet wait at the gate because they are waiting for the homeowner to kindly and graciously let them in for the night. Those people are not Igbo.

The Igbo are not homeless. Homelessness is a taboo among the Igbo. We are a collectively proud people. The failure of one of our kith and kin is our collective embarrassment. “Onuru ube nwanne agbala oso” (we don’t flee from the anguish of our kith and kin). And it is the case because even the Igbo recognize that “ihere na-eme nwanne onye isi ebe onye isi gaara ibiri nni biri ana (it’s the relatives of the blind who flinch in embarrassment when the blind misses the food bowl and grabs the floor).

Small unit apartments and flats are known to contain scores of young Igbo men and women in Lagos and other major cities in Nigeria and Europe who are yet to find their own footings. Shelter over your head is what the original owner of that unit owes you. How you feed and survive day-to-day is your business. He will shelter you and your empty stomach; after all, the stomach is the best secret keeper. His neighbors don’t know that you are hungry, but they will know that you sleep under the bridge. He doesn’t want that because your real failure is his reputational failure. Homelessness is a taboo among the Igbo.

Gov. Obiano’s wife? What about her? Oh, I see. I began these rambling thoughts from her reported homeless charity in Downtown Houston, Texas, USA. What was she thinking? But kudos to her for providing the lunching pad. Who says we can’t squeeze some lemonade of wisdom out of elite lemons of foolishness? Thanks to the governor’s wife for unwittingly leading us into the empty homeless alley in Awka and AlaIgbo.

Igbo amaka!

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