Re: Generals Ebitu Ukiwe, Azubuike Ihejirika et al

Opinion

By Jimanze Ego-Alowes

Ebitu Ukiwe is generally well known and in honor in Nigeria. Ukiwe is now retired. However, due to a history of a highly successful career, Ukiwe is currently in the big business of being a hero, if not a living sage. As matters stand today in Nigeria, hardly any conclave of significance may hold without Ukiwe adorning the high and mighty tables.

But Ukiwe is more than a retiree general leasing out his august presences and name. There are other things to him. And some of these things are, if the word is not too farfetched, externalities. These are things he has no hand in, but that impinge on him.

And one of those is that Ukiwe is generally referred to as Ochiagha. This appellation started as a beloved sobriquet by his fellow ethnics, the Igbo. And today even some non-Igbo address him as Ochiagha

The point in issue is that Ochiagha is supposed to be the Igbo equivalent of a General, but it is not. By the way, those who put up Ukiwe as Ochiagha mean no harm. They love their ”big brother” and even would want to honor him the more. It is just that they are not particularly very informed. Popular ignorance alas, has depreciated their goodwill into something unworthy of a great general, which Ukiwe is. By the way, Ukiwe is a Commodore, which is the Navy’s equivalent of a Brigadier General.

Now, the other points are as follows: The title of Ochiagha for Ukiwe is an inappropriate and an uninformed translation. The Igbo word for general is and was never Ochiagha. And this is the lore, the iron lore. And here are the details:

[1] War is tied up in strategy. In fact, the Greek word [from which the English is derived] for general is strategos. It is from it that that our word strategy or generalship is derived.

[2] General means a non-discriminating inclusion of the members of a given list or spectrum. For example, human beings generally, mean the tall, the short, the ugly, the handsome, the male, the female, etc persons. And cars generally, mean Rolls Royce, Toyota… Keke Marwa, if you will let it. This is just to give the idea of the generalness of a thing or set, being general.

[3] So generalship means the ability to command and control that full spectrum of assets or listings in a given description.

[4] One typical example will be the German soccer superstar, Franz Beckenbauer, who was nicknamed Kaiser. Kaiser is German for Caesar and Caesar is a synonym for a general, or master of the game, of high strategy.

[5] Kaiser Beckenbauer, like our own Christian Chukwu, was not just in control of the balls, but also of his ”troops” and the opponents. And achieved this, not once, not twice, but nearly every time it mattered. Chukwu, if you are old enough to remember, was called Chairman. Chairman, one believes is our civic pidgin for being a general, for being master of the game.

[6] In other words, being a general, a Chairman, a Caesar, is in the ability to enclose and command a full spectrum of patterns or assets and yet out-contend your competitors. And to be Kaiser or Chairman or Caesar or General also implies that you have seen battles in Kaduna, Ibadan, Enugu, Nkpo Junction, Abagana sector, Asaba, Pitakwa etc. Or like they say in boxing, you have been through the road show, seen it all and won it all.

[7] Thus, a General in war is a warrior who is so seasoned he has seen battles and commands over varying time and space. This is in contradistinction to a commander who has limited theatre experiences. He may be as sharp as the assassin’s dagger, but he has not seen it all. He remains Ochi-agha, not Di-orgu – if to preempt ourselves. [NB. Ogu is being spelt Orgu for ease of pronunciation].

[8] In other words, a [theatre] commander is an officer who has limited experiences in warfare and campaigns, however brilliant. And his highest rank in the British Military order is capped at being a Colonel. To be promoted beyond colonelship into a general is to have matured a master of the game, the game of war.

[9] If these are taken, then this. Ochi/commander/commanding of agha/war is by implied meaning, theatre specific assignments. What it means in English is a theatre commander, not supreme warrior, not a supreme commander, certainly not a General.

[10] More, Orgu/war is a more generic term than agha. And this much is indicated in the use of the two words. For example, the Igbo say ‘orgu na mgba’ and by this they mean all shades of wars and contentions. It is never ‘agha na mgba’.

Umu nwoke ga cha orgu, umu nwanyi enwere akuko/a generic saw on women as raconteurs of wars while men are the fighters – generally. And orgu here means both actual war and other big ticket contentions. For agha, examples are agha mu huru kpu opu/an internecine war. Agha ulo/internal sabotage. And as is apparent, they are each specific. Agha has never been used as a full spectrum description of war. Also, Ichi and Ochi are used in more specific, less general, less total terms than di. Di is taken as total, to the extent of a supreme mastery. So while there could be Ochi-Oha – ruler/manager of the people, there has never been Di-Oha – master of the people.

[11] Thus if we have to look for the Igbo equivalent of supreme commander or general, the appropriate word is Di/master of Orgu/war. The point is that the master of war, generally, is superior to the commander of theatres. This is because he sends and guides these commanders. Yes, sometimes he visits the very theatres, but his brief is in the war rooms – thinking out strategy and rallying the standards and coordinating the many commanders.

[12] Furthermore, the Igbo have a living tradition on the matter. For instance, the Igbo for educational purposes crown the tortoise as the supreme warrior, in folklores. This explains why tortoise/Mbe alone is granted the praise name Di-Orgu/supreme strategist/master warrior, in the animal kingdom. What the folklore presumes is that Mbe has been a successful, various theatres commander, in his earlier incarnations, but has now matured into a general. That is, Mbe-Di-Orgu is a frontiersman worth his weight in gold in all departments of war maneuvers.

[13] It thus follows that the proper Igbo translation and title of Ebitu Ukiwe, Azubuike Ihejirika, etc is Diorgu Ukiwe, Ihejirika etc., not Ochiagha Ukiwe or Ihejirika.

[14] Tellingly, the term Diorgu is not zoonotic – that is borrowed from the animals/Mbe. It is anthropomorphic, that is given animals/Mbe by borrowing from men. The fact of this anthropomorphism is proof enough that in earlier times our forefathers called men like Ukiwe Diorgu, not Ochiagha.

[15] So generalship is in Di/mastery not in Ochi/management. Di/mastery includes ichi/ochi/management. 

[16] Anyway, the fact of this is not exotic. In Igbo all masteries/generalships, in farming, in marriage are termed Di, though sometimes Eze is also used as descriptive. The fact of this is indicated in [praise] names like Di Okpa[ra], Di Mkpa, Di Mgba, Di Ji, Di Ogru, Di nwe ulo, Eze Nmuo, Eze Ego, Eze Udu. However, it is meet to relate that Di/mastery is superior to Eze, which largely translates as excellent/excellence, and not king or monarch.

[17] And lest we forget, my interest is not just a matter of philology, semantics and translations. It is also deeply personal. Having served meritoriously in Biafra Army and retired, a Colonel, I am an ardent stakeholder in this matter. The point is simple. It is really men like us, the Colonels, who should be Ochiagha.

[18] That is to say, if Ukiwe is addressed in error as Ochiagha, then those of us who really are, are thus dismissed from our historical veracities. And it may thus follow that our contributions to founding of Biafra, the greatest state of modern Africa, would have been erased. And here, by gregarious errors of translation. And we shall resist it. And if it calls for a new war we shall be there. 

[19] To summarize, a diktat has to be issued as a matter of urgency: That the word for General in Igbo is Di-Orgu, not Ochi-Agha. Our radio personalities and public orators should take note.

[20] Lastly, we can also recall that it was also the intervention on The Turf Game that saved Onyeka Onwenu from well intentioned but ignominious misattribution. In popular ignorance, Onyeka’s admirers and media persons have been tagging her the ”elegant stallion”. And we weighed by reminding all of us that a stallion is actually a male horse. So no matter how elegant Onyeka is, she is not yet male. Yes, no doubt those who branded her Elegant Stallion meant well, but they did it with their bleeding hearts not thinking caps. Luckily, nobody calls Onyeka a stallion anymore. Thanks for reading. All else is in humor.

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