NNEWI, A TOWN WHERE HABITUAL BEGGING IS A SACRILEGE

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Chief Umunnakwe, a clan head in Ọkpụnọ Otolo, initially treated the information as a rumour when he received the first report, but he could no longer ignore subsequent factual reports from eyewitnesses that Mazi Ayezuba his subject, was seen at various locations at Upper Iweka, Onitsha begging for alms.

The Chief’s initial doubt was reinforced by his knowledge that Ayezuba’s junior brother took care of the school fees of Ayezuba’s children, supported the wife’s petty trading and had ensured that foodstuff was not lacking in his brother’s home.

“How could it be said that we have a beggar in our midst?” Chief Umunnakwe asked rhetorically.

“Not in my own time! Chineke ekwekwana ngwere gbaa ajị (meaning ‘may God never allow lizards grow hairs’) I will never be a laughing stock at meetings of clan heads or market squares”, the Chief exclaimed.

Begging as a habit, is a taboo in Nnewi.

Up till today, townsmen who have learnt the bad habit of begging from other tribes, travel to far away towns to practice their trade and would disappear into thin air whenever they sight someone from Nnewi who would immediately pick a quarrel with or harass them and thereafter proceed to report the shameless beggar to his kinsmen.

What on earth would make an Nnewi man become a beggar? Not even the Nigeria-Biafra civil war could.

So many cultural safety nets in the town from time immemorial have made professional begging unattractive of ndi Nnewi.

For instance, no man and his family can kill a goat, ram or cow and eat alone in Nnewi. He must share with his kinsmen.

An Nnewi man could be said to be stingy for economic and investment reasons but not when a relation is sick, bereaved or suffers a misfortune.

The wealthy in Nnewi ensure that no family members lacked food and meat during festive periods spread over quarters.

Ogbuefi (i.e the man that donates a cow to his kinsmen) is no longer a cherished title in Nnewi as many young men, not only would kill cows for relatives during festive seasons, but also donate rice, beans and salt to their kinsmen.

How would you be regarded a wealthy man in the community if you have not awarded scholarships, supported young boys in their trade, built roads, sunk boreholes or have not put widows and less privileged in your payroll?

An Nnewi rich man is only but a treasurer to his people. He would be taunted, cajoled and pilloried if his kinsmen feel that he is not spreading his wealth to the needy.

Also, the apprenticeship system or trade mentorship in Nnewi continuously migrates the hardworking children of the poor to become mega rich men.

Even beggars from other tribes don’t find Nnewi town a good business environment. They would come as beggars and would soon leave or engage in menial jobs even with their disability.

That was why Chief Umunnakwe felt very justified when he dispatched four able-bodied young men to Onitsha to do the needful.

The team led by Agumbu, a seven-foot tall head of the village vigilante, knew what to do in a swift operation like this.

It was very easy to locate Mazi Ayezuba as an advance party had trailed him along his begging routes at Ama Hausa or a place populated by beggars from the northern part of Nigeria.

Upon sighting Agumbu, Mazi Ayezuba attempted to run but his disabled legs betrayed him as he only stepped not more than ten yards before the vigilante head and his boys parceled him into a waiting Mitsubishi L300 bus hired for the purpose.

The fugitive beggar was astonished that anybody could recognize him after all he did to disguise his identity.

He knew that his kinsmen would come after him if recognized.

In the ensuing melee following the pursuit and eventual capture of their fellow beggars, other Igbo beggars within eyeshot, except those from the north, ran away as Ayezuba was being pursued.

It appeared as if it was a daily occurrence for relations of various Igbo towns to come to Onitsha to catch and take home their own kinsmen who dared come to the township to beg.

It is demeaning to be called a relation of a beggar in Igbo land.

The beating in the bus was not enough.

Mazi Ayezuba was made to tell the whole assembly of the umunna or kinsmen why he took to begging thereby disgracing the entire kindred.

His pleas to be forgiven was not tenable as he was given 12 strokes of the cane and a fine of a he-goat.

That Mazi Ayezuba was disabled in the legs was not enough excuse to warrant taking to begging even though he had himself to blame for his bad legs.

He brought it upon himself.

Mazi Ayezuba, against all wise counsels, continued philandering with the wife of Agwọtụlụmbe, a powerful native doctor who also doubled as a village rainmaker.

Not every young woman could marry a native doctor without committing adultery.

Wives of rain making doctors are worse.

Due to the nature of their job that requires long abstinence from sex, the wives of native doctors are not wood and would naturally look elsewhere for sexual satisfaction but at a greater risk to the unthinking male sex partner.

Dr. Agwọtụlụmbe was convinced that he was not responsible for his wife’s pregnancy as he had abstained from sex for 3 months to enable him to spiritually prepare for the annual all Igbo native doctors’ competition on who could successfully untie an invisible rope strapped on the neck of a ram at Arondizogu.

The wife confessed that Mazi Ayezuba was responsible for her pregnancy only after Dr. Agwotulumbe threatened to inflict her with “ebube agụ” that’s a serious itchy skin disease. She also confessed to the frequency, where and when the sexual acts took place.

The fact that Mazi Ayezuba did the act without a modicum of fear in the house of the great Agwọtụlụmbe while the dibịa was away, was humiliating and annoying making the native doctor feel murderous.

The interloper needed to be taught a lesson of his life.

It was a judgement long awaited, when one day, Mazi Ayezuba woke up in the morning to find his two legs swollen like the tube of the tyre of a big lorry.

The swelling continued until the fourth day when some sores on the legs erupted and started oozing out very foul smelling liquid.

The legs had become gangrenous or what the locals call “enyiule”.

The relatives must do something.

In Nnewi, an illness of a fetish source like Ayezuba’s is never referred to an orthodox medical doctor. The patient would simply die.

All the native doctors engaged to cure Ayezuba upon divination or “ịgba afa” said that the person who inflicted the sickness on him “was holding an ọfọ” or was justified; and that the patient could respond to treatment only after the “disease inflicter” was appeased.

Native Dr. Agwọtụlụmbe demanded a cow, a ram and a white cock as a compensation before he would undue the affliction on Ayezuba. The new born baby would remain his.

The sores on the legs healed but the legs were never the same again as Ayezuba could not walk normally.

The legs were three times their original sizes hence dwarfing his once monstrously big brokus. He moved around as an ice hockey player would.

But his tailor made him bogus trousers to hide his disability from prying eyes.

After receiving the lashes of cane as a punishment for venturing into begging, therefore disgracing his kinsmen, Ayezuba was made to swear that he would never engage in such trade again.

This was followed by a discussion on how to rehabilitate him and keep him busy.

One of the relations offered him employment as a day watchman in his house, a job that attracted a monthly pay but particularly ensured that Ayezuba’s whereabouts was known to all.

Federal government of Nigeria and the Vice President Osinbajo seem to know this as Nnewi must have been excluded from Tradermoni programme.

A real Nnewi man would rather die than to become a professional beggar. But his kinsmen will never allow him to die.

Nnewi has its own people’s issues as a town but our motto of “onye aghana nwanne ya” meaning “nobody should forsake a relation in need” has remained in our DNA.

By Anayo M. Nwosu

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