The Igbo Marginal – Identity crisis leaves many questions unanswered

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As a young first year student I attended a public lecture at University of Nigeria, the speaker then, a well know professor talked about the concept of a marginal man. His illustration of a marginal man left me very angry.

The professor illustrated the meaning of a marginal man, with an Igbo man who traveled to America, spent a lot of time, then came back to Nigeria and found that he cannot integrate into the society he left a long time ago. The eloquent professor added that the “Americana” as these groups of Nigerians are called, is self-destruct and is a lost human being since he neither belongs to America nor Nigeria. The “Americana” is suffering from identity crisis he opined. Angry, because then, 4 direct brothers of mine were in the USA, I fired back with multiple questions (packaged as one).

1. I asked the professor why he does not consider himself “lost”, since he came back from the USA and speaks with typical American accent,

 2.if our VC and almost all UNN professors are marginal men (since almost all of them were trained in the US),

 3. whether people who live in Nigeria in cities like Lagos, Kaduna, Jos and so on , are better, since they try so hard to be different from the typical villagers.

Inspired by students who were then hailing me and chanting fire-on, I moved with two additional questions relating to the subject of discussion and pointed out some of the contradictions. By the end of my questions, students were already screaming at the top of their voices and still chanting the “fire-on” battle cry, as done on one of the very rare occasions when a student “challenges” a professor. I became an instant hero (with a fringe benefit – mmmm let’s skip private matters).

Answers by the now thoroughly-surprised professor were drowned by students’ voice. From the little I gathered from his response, there is a concept called cross-culture, a process of acculturation. Some people gain from the process, others get carried away. Those who get carried away are the marginal men.

The noise was too much, by then I was already giddy with a feeling of fulfillment at what I wrong assumed was a mini victory over insult. After the lecture an older student from my village called me aside, and told me that I will never graduate from UNN, if I don’t stop this kind of confrontation. He wisely cautioned that you never challenge a Nigerian professor in class or anywhere, and still expect to graduate. Visibly shaking, I asked whether I should go and apologize to the Professor (as cowardly as it may sound, nobody wants to be kicked out after working hard to pass the notoriously difficult JAMB).

My village brother cum moral-adviser, counseled me to simply run and dock when I see the powerful professor, until he forgets me and the incident. Additionally he stated, the Prof. likely know that you are an “IYC” and a “JJC” he concluded. Too surprised to ask more questions, I left thanking him profusely for his kind and generous advice.

Later on, from my senior student roommate, I found out the meaning of IYC (International Year of The Child) was a derogatory terms for students who looked too young in appearance to be in the famed UNN (you maybe older than 16 years, the age required for admission to universities, but to them you are just an IYC). The other term, JJC (Johnny Just Come) I learnt was used to scheme out Ist year students from the hustle for female students during the famous “October rush” (fresh students were then admitted in October). You are a JJC my senior roommate lectured, never show up in female hostel in your first year even if your sister is there. Older students don’t want to see “toads” during October rush. Just stay off for the first term, after that then you may visit the prized female hoste he concluded.

Thanks goodness I became wiser, and never made the same “mistakes” again. You will be a full-blown knuckle head to risk annoying powerful people in Nigeria. But the issue remains that my question was never answered.

Taking Personal Inventory & Finding Validation In Little Things.

Years latter, a much older man, with kids and having spent years in the US, I sometimes wonder about the merits of the marginal man discussion. Surprisingly I often wonder whether too much of western influence creates a hybrid-man or as the sophisticated sociologists will say a marginal man. Often I secretly rationalize that I am a typical Onye-Igbo. Whenever close friends talk about my too many town meetings, too much of Nigerian news, too much of Nigeria discussion, too many trips to ala-Igbo, I often internally, rationalize that yes!!, I am not deviating too much at the expense of my Igbo root.

When my very good friend, jokingly say things like you call people by traditional title names nobody else calls them, my response is often, we have to stay in touch with Igbo culture here in USA. The truth is that, in all honesty, I love these high sounding Nigerian title names:

  • Oke Osisi Ojebe Ogene 1 of Enugu State,
  •  Ichie Okwuluora Ogalagidi Gburu Gburu Dim 1 of Umuoji ,
  • Ogbuefi Nzeaku Na Obi 1 of Nimo ,
  • Dakawsenyi 1 of Awka Etiti,
  • Dike Anagbulu Izu 1 of Nkpor,
  • Ofo-aka na agwu aju 1of …,
  • Afu Egwu Atuba 1 of Ojoto,
  • Odogwu Igaliga 1 Of Oba,
  • Ebeku Dike Na Agba Ogu 1 Of Nnewi,
  • Aka na Akpu Uzu 1 Of Awka,
  • Ogbuefi Ike 1 of Osile Ogbunike,
  • Ozo Diegwu na kpaghiri 1 of Abagana,
  • Odogwu Igaliga 1 of Ogidi,
  • Lolo di egwu 1 of Mbaitolu Ikeduru,
  • Ozo Nwanyi 1 of Ideato,
  • Mazi Okaka 1 of Arondizuogu,
  • Ichie Iyasele I of  Onitsha Ado etc) I most sincerely apologize for other equally powerful names omitted.

Who in his or her right mind will not love these names. If you for a minute think that these names does not exist, please attend one event in the Baltimore, a city filled with powerful Nigerians. The Mee Cees are well paid to praise people. Strange as it may sound it helps me to keep in touch with ala-Igbo. For one, I am in total awe of these powerful men with triple names. One have to be near super human to work around with such powerful names ….. my obeisance sirs. However, all my personal escape mentality has not truly cured my insatiable desire for real answers. Who is the typical Igbo Marginal Man?
Searching For Answers

To find answers, I decided to venture into the esoteric theories of Sociology. I found that the concept was invented by a great sociologist Everett Stonequist, who used the term marginal man to explain the situation, where a person caught up in the tussle between two distinctive cultural systems. His theory suggests that threats to identity may lead to higher levels of deviance, excessive anxiety and psychiatric instability. The marginal man is the person who straddles two cultures in society.

The marginal person may be rejected, and feels alienated, by one or both culture, by home or by school another sociologist added.

Too much of high phrases I lamented, and then sought refuge in and found a simpler answer, “a person who participates only slightly in the life of two cultural groups without feeling identified with either group.”


The underlying problem of a marginal man, was attributed to self alienation, leading to an identity crisis. Simply said, people who alienate themselves from a culture will eventually become alienated and then are called this inauspicious name, “Marginal Man”. Searching For Answers Among Ideological Peers

To bring it home, I tactfully introduced the topic in mixed gathering of Ndi-Igbo, where I truly belong.

It was a nice social event with lots of green bottles (dark bottles for the brave), people were a little light headed. It started gradually and soon developed into a full-blown discussion. Yours truly here, listened attentively, knowing that here lies a possible solution to a difficult puzzle. The answers by the “Group” were a varied as the many names in attendance.

Compilation of the responses:

People who do not want to remember their home. Thundered one man, a Chief on a read cap with expensive beads. He has to be a powerful Chief, I thought inwardly. Every politician, no matter who they are, except Ngige. All Igbo politicians are thieves, they pretend and impoverish Igbo states. They cry of marginalization, but they are hypocrites, added an attorney. How do you go home, when there is so many thieves. They have killed so many US based Nigerians. The place is not safe, he added. The looters and abuses of poor people are the marginal man, he concluded.

 People who will deny that they come from their own town and claim another. Responded another man.

 People who do not want anything to do with their culture, whether their names, town association, not marrying Igbo daughters, selling out to politicians. Added a quiet but highly introspective man in his late fifties or early sixties dressed in a simple traditional kaftan, in a room filled with flamboyantly dressed people.

The answers rolled one: People who call their kids English names only. People who have never visited their hometown, or attended town meetings, conventions and other town association. I later found out that this respondent is the president of a town association. People who get upset if you speak Igbo to their children. Added a newly married professor, with his brand new wife by his side.

 People who disrespect elders.

Women who will never live with any man, because they are too Americanized. Wives who will not respect their husband, because this is America! This male response ignited a firestorm of response from a well “ornamented” woman. Decked in a full blown traditional gear, with very colorful headgear and lots of gold chains. The woman first stated the problem is stupid Nigerian men!. They cheat on their wives, beat her, and divorce her in a world where she has not too many options. The men do this because they can marry anytime and at any age even when they are very old. And because women in Nigeria chase them because they are from US………she kept on. With her dazzling gold chains and about 6 bangles in one arm she let the man who blamed women know that she will not take nonsense (she is very tough I inwardly told myself).

The man she challenged could only say ” C…..nyere only you know why your husband left you. I told you to respect you husband, so do not think that I cannot speak my mind because you are a divorcee…heeey! (I was becoming very uncomfortable at the exchange). The quiet but highly introspective man, a seasoned and well-accomplished individual, rapped

up the discussion.

We need to teach our kids how to be Igbos, take them home as often as we can, learn to exist together as a community so that our kids can inter-marry. Look at Asians, Indians, Chinese and other groups. No other group is as dysfunctional as Igbos, he added. Always fighting, stealing public funds and looting. Talk about culture, the Igbos in Lagos and other big cities are the biggest fools. They never speak Igbo to their children, the act so foreign while living in slums. Here in the USA people are making efforts. The Igbos in Nigeria are the real problem. We really have a long way to go as a tribe, concluded the introspective gentleman. This quiet, simply dressed, seasoned, accomplished and highly introspective man provided lots of answers to a question that had been elusive for years.

With comic relief, I left, entered my car. On my way home, I listened to a nice music by Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe. Who said music is not food for the soul?

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