THE Igbo homeland hypothesis also attracts many disciples to its fold and Ijoma seems to belong to this group. In his modest office at the University of Nigeria, Ijoma made reference to his published manuscripts, in particular, Igboland: A historical perspective. The homeland theory suggests an early Igbo homeland in the northern plateau. The areas in question include Nri/Awka, Orlu/Owerri and parts of Okigwe. It was from this hearthend that the people migrated to the present day Igbo locations. Ijoma believes that there are reasons put forward to show that these areas appear to have been human habitats.
Nrienwelani II confirms this when he says the children of Eri on arrival at their present location met some local people whom they called Igbo bush people. The children of Eri came with their culture including language and monarchy and imposed it on the people and assimilated them to their extent”. Nrienwelani II also seems to confirm the Niger/ Benue confluence theory because during the great exodus mentioned in the old testament, “Eri and his group arrived at the confluence of the River Niger and Benue and from there they moved down and finally settled at a river junction referred to as Mamu/Anambra and named it Aguleri”. He further adds that Erites met some inhabitants whom they called Igbo which in Sudanese language means bush or people in the bush.
The name Igbo was, among the Yoruba speaking people of Kwa language, a popular one. Ijoma points to the tradition which says “the indigenous people whom their cultural hero, Oduduwa, and his followers met at Ife were the Igbo”.
J.A Ademakinwa an Ife historian added that it was possible the Igbo have retained the name of the original population of southern Nigeria. Ijoma adds, “we find among the Yoruba place names like Oke-Igbo and Ijebu-Igbo as well as the word Igbo attached to other place names while Igbo the bird reflects the forest environment to support the homeland theory which also has various archeologhical finds at Ezi-Ukwu and Isi-Ugwu dating back to 4,500 years. Nrienwelani II also says the IgboUkwu excautions which showed signs of kingship in Igboland still form part of his royal insignia. Ijoma rejects the Niger/Benue confluence theory endorsed by notable scholars at various levels because he says “it lacks convincing evidence”. He observes that “the migration from the core areas took many directions southwards to the coast, south, south east into Ngwaland. And from here to Ikwere, east into the Umuahia area and then to Ohafia/Arochukwu ridges. On getting to Arochukwu the expedition would appear to have been blunted with a recoil to the north eastern Igbo and Izil from the Nri/Awka/Orlu area, movements westwards across the Niger to found the west Niger Igbo communities”.
Whereas the average Nri citizen traces his genealogy to Egypt and Israel, Onitsha indigenes trace a geneology that reveals that her first king was one Eze Chima, a rebel prince from the Benin royal dynasty. In Aboh it is Essumai Ukwu while Agbor must have been founded by a Benin warrior named Agban. Eze Chima is reputed to be the founder of Obior. Onicha Ukwu, Onicha Ugbo, Onicha Olona, Issele Ukwu, Issele Mkpima, Issele Azagba, Ezi, Obamkpa and Abeh.
The monarchy institution in these places have been traced by some scholars to the influence of Benin kingdom on these Igbo settlements. But Ijoma argues that it is not true that the Igbo are kingless as the Igbo Ukwu excavations suggest an established kingship institution. He also wonders why a monarchical institution should be considered a superior set up to a democratic culture as practised in Igboland. Says he regarding Eze Chima and his likes, “the names of these founding fathers, the basic customs and the language are Igbo and yet the chiefdoms, apart from Onitsha, are neighbours of the Edo and are separated from the rest of the Igbo by the Niger. It is not unlikely that some kingship emblems may have been borrowed from Benin. This is not unusual to neighbouring communities. A distinction must be made between the origin of the people and the origin of some political institutions.
Afigbo on his part notes in his book “Ropes of Sand” that of the neighbours of the Igbo, the Edo kingdom of Benin and the Igala state at Idah would appear to have had the most far reaching impact on the evolution of the Igbo culture. According to him, “The influence of Benin was most felt in the western areas, the riverine region around Aboh and Onitsha. Benin influence was largely political and could be seen in the institution of village monarchies which exist all through the area. It is also seen in the character of the title system as in the names of some of the titles”. Ultimately these areas were original Igbo settlements which were infiltrated through political manouverings and culture assimilation”. Ijoma a former head of department of history, at the UNN along with Onwuejeogwu, Afigbo, Nzimiro, Dike Ekejuba and Shaw have gone a long way to give the Igbo identity yet the question of who the Igbo are keeps coming. Ijeoma replies by noting that in trying to sketch the history of the Igbo before the European invasion of Igboland “we cannot employ purely western models of historical investigation. Nor does one have to bother oneself with the exploits of kings and emperor”.
Ijoma says what is important is how the Igbo have lived their lives over the centuries from a multidisciplinary approach. He says, “from archeological discoveries and linguistic evidence we find that the Igbo have lived in their present environment for several millennia”. They practiced gainful agriculture to sustain their apparently dense population, engaged in trade, crafts and industries.
They have been found to be in relationship with non-Igbo speaking neighbours through the exchange of goods and ideas and inter-group marriages. They had the Niger and Cross River as important outlets for communication and intercourse.
Like Ijoma, many believe the coming of the Europeans widened the Igbo horizon and increased the people’s volume of trade and agricultural output. But it brought with it some economic and socio-cultural disorientation which the Igbo are yet to recover from.
Certainly the new millennium is set to re-address these distortions about the Igbo nation.