By Ezeakukwu Emmanuel Nsoedo
It is the general belief that the Edo goddess vowed to ensure that prosperity remains embedded in the Nnewi community. Beyond the wealth acquisition, there may have been an injunction that Nnewi people remain very close regardless of how embittered their problems may be. There has always been a great deal of cooperation among Nnewi people, which often come from opportunities to debate issues in a very robust manner. Those who, by the divine intervention, was arrogated the position of being the final arbiters of problems based on how Nnewi structure stands are keener to listen to the people’s perspectives; and they do not usually impose the harshest sanctions where punishment is very necessary. It is in line with the saying that “na obugho ka nne bulu aka, ka ona eti nwa ya.” It literally means that a mother does not bring the force of her hand on her child in anger.
The Nnewi community will do anything to protect its own but does not have to be foolish about such an endeavor. The community has always been measured in terms of the cost before an adversary. One would recall the very earliest encounter of Nnewi people with the British colonial masters.
Prior to the first contact between the natives and the colonial masters, Nnewi people have heard about the immense power of the colonial masters’ military regimen. Just as fate would dictate, the first encounter of Nnewi with the colonial administration was not a very smooth affair. Still, it was an opportunity for the Nnewi people to showcase their diplomatic skills to evade what would have perhaps amounted to a calamitous encounter. The British could have defeated Nnewi if the community leaders did not use tact to manage the crisis.
The Nnewi’s issue with the British was that one of the soldiers serving in the Majesty’s military deserted from his duty post. The British colonial government did not spare any deserters from the army because of the vital role they play in helping the colonial masters propagate their expansionist zeal into the hinterland of target countries to exploit resources. In reinforcing how valuables these soldiers were to their operations, the colonial government would usually do whatever was necessary to bring the deserter back, and when necessary, apply the ultimate punishment.
On the truncated occasion of war with the British government, the deserter from the Majesty’s army moved all the way from Asaba to Nnewi and took refuge in the house of Eze Ulum from Unudim quarter of Nnewi. The British government’s spies eventually traced the deserter to Nnewi. The colonial government gave the Nnewi people notice of their intention to invade the town because they perceived collusion with the deserter as undermining their interest.
When the British expeditionary force got to Oba, they camped there, perhaps to finalize their strategy on how to take Nnewi out and probably sack them as they had down to some of the kingdoms such as present-day Benin in Edo state that dared to challenge the British authority.
It is well known to the Nigerians today that the Benin people are still suffering the consequences of the British conquest, if not the physical aspect, but the psychological aspect. Even without the benefit of the history curriculum in schools, the recent news of the approved return of the seized or stolen artworks from the Benin Kingdom is among the trending stories.
The aspect of the return and storage that may have piqued the Benin people perhaps could have been the unsolicited claim by the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, that Nigeria will keep the artwork in their custody. Of course, the Benin people’s priority is to return the work to Nigeria, not the issue of whether they had the expertise to maintain them. If they could produce such magnificent work over a century ago, they certainly could keep them safe in modern Nigeria.
The fate that the Benin kingdom suffered in the hands of the British colonial army could have been the reality of the Nnewi community if not for their ability to evaluate the fact of events or not being able to sense the power of the foreboding danger. No one can really claim for sure that he knew the role Edo deity played in the whole saga.
When the Nnewi people realized that the British were determined to fight them, they sent a message of goodwill to them while they were camped at Oba, in Idemili South LGA, but the British were adamant. The Nnewi leaders asked Eze Ulum to surrender the deserter to the British; Eze Ulum refused to hand over the military deserter.
The British executed Eze Ulum and his seven brothers publicly. The impact of the execution was such that it became the ultimate way to describe a tragedy of an extreme proportion, “ulum na atu.”
Perhaps the diplomatic skills displayed when matter ensued between Nnewi and the British is not part of an attribute that people ascribe to Nnewi people. Nnewi, which was known as a warrior community, knew precisely when they faced a greater force in the British colonial military and found a way to have a win-win situation.
As a progressive modern community, Nnewi needs to appear in a medium where certain perceptions about it could be presented in a better perspective. Meanwhile, our newspaper will be exploring some of the attributes in the coming days that form the bedrock of Nnewi’s success story.