My service year purged me of tribal stereotype – Graduating corps member Peter Omoniyi

The news that I have been posted to Anambra State for the mandatory one-year national youth service greeted me with mixed feelings. For one reason, I was elated that I will be travelling very far from home for the first time having spent over two decades in my hometown, Ado Ekiti. I was delighted that I will be able to see other parts of my beloved country; learn a new language, and as a culture enthusiast, taste yet another sumptuous spread of Nigeria’s cultural heritage.

On the other hand, I was a bit worried that I will be leaving home to a place where some of my kinsmen, who are perhaps uninformed, said its inhabitants wear rudeness and unruliness like a flowing Agbada. Despite being torn between the two, I was resolute not to seek redeployment to another state. I wanted to confirm myself some of these allegations because I secretly believed they are mostly products of unfounded stereotypes and hearsay.

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I was eventually posted to the ancient town of Abagana for my primary assignment. In Abagana, I lived at Enugu Ukwu in Njikoka LG. I am thankful for my posting because it helped re-orientate and change my perception of the Igbos. I became a keen observer, then gradually a lover of the Igbo people. I fell in love with their way of life —food, language, mode of dressing and their industriousness

The Land of Beauties
One is immediately fascinated by the unrivaled beauties across Igboland. There, I saw independent women that glow more than the radiation of the sun and young ladies, and in fact, babies with stunning coverings. Yes, you might say pretty women are found in all societies and that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but I have my personal conviction and that I hold dear to myself.

Another endearment of the South East is the unrelenting business acumen of the Igbos. The Igbo men are fantastically industrious and business smart. The business sagacity of the Igbo people is second to none in the whole country, little wonder one of the busiest markets in West Africa is the Onitsha main market in Anambra State.

Most of the civil servants in the state also have other businesses that serve as a second, and perhaps a third source of income. This enterprising mindset is visibly transmitted to their young wards at an early age and this has not only helped to improve the living standard of the people but has also affected the economy of the state positively.

Catholicism Reigns Supreme
Catholicism is king in Igboland. The practice of Catholicism in Igboland seemed strange to me at first. Perhaps no phrase describes the Igbos religious leaning better than ‘more catholic-than-the-pope’. Once, I had thought I was in the heartbeat of Rome for I gasped Papacy in reverend fathers there. The unfettered regards for statues of Mother Mary, the Ave-maria girls with their long rosaries on hot Saturday afternoons, the pages boys zeal for service on holy Sundays and the profuse dedication of the catholic women and men to the church’s growth might be seen as fanatical to some extent to a newcomer, but later one is drawn in by the pervasiveness of it all that it becomes entrancing and enticing.

Annang Festival of Arts and Culture (AFAC) 2019

There are also countless Anglican churches with large edifice and the endearing zealousness of its parishioners. There are splattering of Pentecostal churches but their spiritual impacts are barely felt among the people.

Igbo Delicacies
How does one forget the mouthwatering Igbo delicacies? Although I am not a big fan of the oha soup, I find solace in the ever grinning Ofe akwu, the joyous nsala soup, the pale-looking bitter leaves soup and some other sumptuous meals I can’t stop gushing about. Street delicacies like Abacha and Okpa (somehow related to Yoruba’s moimoi) are always seen displayed by energetic hawkers. Akpu (foofoo), the staple in Igboland is paraded in every street corner and stall. Most times I wonder who buys the Akpu when almost everyone sells it. The matrimony of garden eggs and groundnuts in Igbo traditional events is superb but — hey! groundnut is profusely abused, and I am proposing a national referendum to tame it!

A People Steep in Culture
The Igbos have a steadfast admiration for their traditions and cultural heritage. The traditional breaking of kola nuts to connote peace is still held high in Igbo cosmology. The Igbo traditional wedding and burial ceremonies are events to behold despite their disregard for ‘Owanbe’ which is popular among Yorubas. The popularity of Christianity in the region has not deterred most of them from performing key cultural rites. Their rich traditions are also evident in the frequent outings of Masquerades and during the New yam festivals

Another impressive feature worthy of admiration is the profound positive imparts of community development associations in various towns and villages in the state. In Enugwu Ukwu, so many developmental strides were seen executed by the town union which includes the building of a town hall, assisting the government in the area of security of lives and properties, organising free jamb coaching for young school leavers and promoting a healthy lifestyle through monthly keep fit exercises.

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Such exemplary gestures by the town union were also noticeable in other neighbouring communities like Nawfia, Abagana, Nimo and other communities I visited. I prescribe this act of sportsmanship to all towns in Nigeria, for the progression of our society does not lie in the hands of our government alone.

My experience in Anambra has really afforded me the opportunity to see people differently from what I was brought up to believe. It has helped me in seeing the country in a new light and has certainly taught me not to view things or people from a stereotypical lens.

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