The Igbo Crime Culture

In the sweltering heat of a serial lynching and killing of Igbo citizens in Asia in 2013, I wrote an article entitled, ‘The Igbo fallacy’. In it, I appealed to the Igbo to de-emphasise the culture of profligacy, decadent opulence, debauchery and vanity which fuels the pursuit of crime by their own.

I am compelled to revivify the article here, but with a few adjustments. I say it again; the Igbo take the inglorious front row in certain crimes – drug peddling, armed robbery and kidnapping – at home and abroad.

In August 2016, an Igbo drug dealer was guillotined in Indonesia. But his funeral in Anambra was a shin-dig of celebrations. He was even described as a “hero” by his kinsmen.

Once again, an Igbo kidnapping lord, who unleashed barbarity and savagery on many Nigerians, has steadied attention on the “special” crime proclivities of the ethnic group. I will not dwell on this; I will zero in on Igbo criminality abroad, and take a slight detour home.

As a matter of fact, a good number of Igbo youth in Asia are into crime. It was reported sometime in the year that the India police said all Nigerians – Igbo, of course – in their country were drug dealers. Although this is questionable, it cannot be entirely repudiated.

Arguably, the reason for Igbo sojourning – to even the remotest of places in the world – has been attributed to their much-vaunted entrepreneurial spirit. The truth is that this claim is enclosed in heavy, meaty layers of fallacy like the entrails of burger.

Inasmuch as the “entrepreneurial sojourning” thread cannot be utterly pooh-poohed, it is judicious to explore other reasons why the Igbo are peripatetic. First, in Igbo ethology, it is a cringing evil for a native, man or woman, to commit a “stigmatised” crime (Alu) such as armed robbery, drug-dealing, etc at home.

This is not an obviation of abhorrent crimes committed at home by some unabashed Igbo criminals. The truth is, the “home” Igbo criminals are a hopeless and shameless horde whose self-esteem and sense of shame are terribly at their nadir, and as a result purvey crimes at home.

Inter alia, for any stigmatised crime committed at home (Igbo land) there is a stern reprimand implicit in the cleansing of the crime. The sacerdotal process of cleansing the land of a crime or an abomination is called “Ikpu Alu”.

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However, “Ikpu Alu” (cleansing of abominations) does not extend to crimes committed by Igbo sons and daughters in places outside the native dome.  It is therefore not surprising if some Igbo persons commit heinous crimes in obverse places, and come back home to take chieftaincy titles.

As a matter of fact, in some morally weak Igbo communities it is a brave thing to traffic in drugs abroad. Drug barons are gleefully celebrated as Ndi kara Obi (lion-hearted people). Such is the pantomime of the Igbo and crimes.

It is, therefore, indubitable to posit that an unenviable number of Igbo persons with innate criminal manuals travel outside the Igbo enclave to pursue crimes. This confutes the general idea that the sojourning of the Igbo is driven solely by entrepreneurial inclinations and motives.

To a large extent, the sojourning of some Igbo is driven by a morbid aim of shielding their evil trades from the peering eyes of their kinsmen.

Their names are protected as long as they do not traffic in crimes at home. The important thing is to be successful in crimes abroad; successful enough to build vulgar mansions at home and throw lazy cash about.

To animate my argument further, what is the entrepreneurial inclination or motive of the Igbo in India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, South Africa, and other countries peddling drugs? Is the entrepreneurial spirit of the Igbo only awakened abroad?

Why should the Igbo entrepreneurial spirit find its host cosily and lopsidedly outside Igbo land? Is there a marriage between Igbo criminality across the world and Igbo entrepreneurial genome? These are questions that defeat the long, tired argument of Igbo entrepreneurial “peripateticism.”

The fact is the “entrepreneurial” beat-up logic and reason for Igbo sojourning is a boring excuse.

Analogously, Igbo sojourning atavism is also effectuated by pride, ego and vanity. A typical Igbo person will want to prove he is successful in any way. It is wickedly mortifying to be seen as struggling in Igbo land.

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This underscores the reason many Igbo persons smuggle themselves out of Nigeria, and because it is thought that any person in Obodo Oyibo (white man’s country) or even anywhere outside Igbo land is “doing well”.

Those Igbo persons who are “cursed” to be in Igbo land are seen as struggling and as such do not deserve the courtesy of admiration and respect. It is a proud thing for an Igbo father to say, “All my children are in the abroad”; even though “the abroad” in Gabon.

Such a father courts the respect, envy and admiration of other fathers in Igbo land. This is the awful linkage between Igbo sojourning and base vanity.

In all, there are Igbo persons in the scrawny good number whose sojourn in foreign countries is not tainted by any evil intent or base vanity, but it is a bleeding fact that the singular Igbo entrepreneurial logic for sojourning is one big smorgasbord of fallacy.

Really, it is enervating for me that my kinsmen are taking the inglorious front row in “money crimes’’ – drug peddling and internet fraud – abroad. In August 2016, an Igbo drug dealer was guillotined in Indonesia.

But his funeral in Anambra was a rambunctious shin-dig. He was even described as a “hero” by his people.

I have skimmed through the list of alleged online fraudsters indicted by the FBI, in what is regarded as the biggest scam bust in US history, and I could see familiar names. It is heartbreaking for me.

The refrain that criticising your own people for shortcomings is an act of sanctimony is obtuse. Crime has no ethnic face, but does that imply condoning or rationalising a persistent ill?

I have said it before, we have a problem. The Igbo have a problem. Out of the 21 Nigerians on death-row for drug peddling in Indonesia, 20 are Igbo – from my state – Anambra. Personally, I feel violated by this.

A few months ago, some armed robbers of Igbo origin launched an attack on a bureau de change in Dubai, but they were arrested. It is painful, instead of exporting the durable products of Aba, we are exporting crime and violence.

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That Nigerians are a pariah in South Africa is partly due to the activities of some Igbo drug cartel. But what happens when these drug gangs return to the south-east? A bazaar of bloodshed.

A few years ago, there was a massacre at a church in Ozubulu, Anambra. The killings were linked to a drug war between rival gangs in South Africa. The gangs took their battle out of the turf to native soil. Really, we are baiting the hurricane.

And now, out of the 77 names listed for online fraud in the US, 74 are Igbo. We have a problem; we cannot solve this problem by living in denial.

I agree, there are millions of us doing great things in our fields, but we must condemn the activities of these criminals among us. They do not represent us, but their actions are capable of making an execrable impression of all us.

One drop of dirt is enough to make a basin of water impure. We must have serious conversations on this atypical criminality.

The argument that the Igbo are marginalised and that they are deprived because of the civil war, so very few among them are forced into crime is puerile. This is a terrible way to rationalise a problem that dents the entire group. There is no excuse for crime.

We have a culture that glorifies “money” crime – “ego mbute’’ – the culture of money-grubbing and worship, as the be-all and end-all of everything. It is a pervasive culture, not limited to the Igbo though.

We need value re-orientation, and this should be actuated by all groups – age grades and traditional institutions. We must stop celebrating people of unknown fortune.

We must name and shame those with illicit wealth in our communities.  We should upbraid them instead of giving them chieftaincy titles and front-row seats in the church.

What exactly do we discuss at annual August meetings and town-union meetings? Enough should be enough. We cannot keep ignoring this filth.

We have a problem. A crime culture.

By Fredrick Nwabufo (@FredrickNwabufo)

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