On identity

Cheta Nwanze
3 min readDec 17, 2023

I have been off social media for a while, but there have been several DMs regarding

’s crusade about the Ijaw identity. For the record, I'm afraid I have to disagree with his approach. And for two simple reasons: a) you can’t force an identity on a people who don’t want it; and b) challenging long held historical assumptions requires a lot more rigour than is being displayed.

It is crucial to start by saying that identity is fluid. For clarity, like the Yoruba, the Igbo identity as we know it today is a recent invention. I identify as Igbo today. A century ago, my great-grandfather, Obi Nwanze, the man my surname came from, did not identify as Igbo; he identified as Onye Umuda. Further back, Obi Nwanze’s ancestor, six generations behind, Ikolomon, identified as Igala! I gave a hypothetical here.

The same thing happened with the man who was born Ozurumba Mbanaso. When he was born in Amaigbo, he would have identified as an Mbano, not an Igbo man. In his later life, in tandem with the realities of what happened to him along the way, he would have identified as Ijaw, not as Igbo, which is why he signed his letters as Jubo Jubogha (Jaja of Opobo), not as Ozurumba Mbanaso. Trying to wipe off these historical facts without the rigour of challenging contemporary and later accounts only creates a wave of anger that is both unnecessary and harmful to the cause of the Lower Niger (SE/SS Nigeria) as it feeds into the fears that other groups in the region have of “Igbo domination”, and creates an opening for our adversaries within the Nigeria project to exploit.

For the record, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, who walked the earth at the same time as Jaja of Opobo, would have identified at the start of his life as an Oyo man, not as a Yoruba man. The Yoruba identity as we know it today began to coalesce during his lifetime.

Again, identity is fluid.

Ultimately, all men get to a point in their lives and begin to ask themselves a vital question: who am I?

The answer to this question for an individual encapsulates his entire reason for having walked this earth, and trying to impose an identity from a man, or removing the one he has accepted from his father and fathers before him, is akin to telling him that his entire life is nonsense. Pretty much everyone will resist it and, in most cases, resist it violently if they deem it necessary.

In my view, the right approach will be to do the rigorous thing and condense the various scattered sources into a book which properly critiques them or solidifies them, giving a more holistic view that can then be debated without sentiment. It matters not if the book is fiction, such as Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” and its associated books, or fact-based, as Elizabeth Isichei did in her books. Once proper academic rigour is put into the work. It would be less abrasive and more likely to shift the needle. Anything less is simply building on the mistrust between our peoples that was kicked off when Nnamdi Azikiwe did his thing to Eyo Ita…

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Cheta Nwanze

Using big data to understand West Africa one country (or is it region?) at a time.