The Man Who Fought Mental Slavery

OBITUARY: Tribute to Nze Ezeoforkire Cyril Ezenwa (Obinyelugo)

By Dulue Mbachu

Growing up in Achina during the Civil War and immediately after, I knew Obinyelugo (Cyril as we knew him then) as an older member of the agbataobu (the neighborhood). He was one of the very few who never said a hostile word, cast an evil eye, demeaned or ridiculed others in any way. In a world of bullies, he was always the gentle one.

That was the much I knew of him until we dispersed in different directions. He to Onitsha to learn a trade and become a businessman, while the likes of his brothers Cletus, Earnest and I, towed the educational line and followed the way of the books. We saw occasionally, but it was always superficial – handshakes, greetings – until the next time.

My subsequent deep engagement with Obinyelugo began about 10 years ago after I read an article he wrote in defence of Igbo traditions, pointing out the damage Western European Christianity had done to our psyche and culture. I was not only struck by the depth of his thinking but also the eloquence of his words and the elegance of his writing. But Obinyelugo didn’t go to the university, didn’t even have secondary school education, I told myself. Yet he was showing more learning than even university professors. Where did he learn to speak with such depth of knowledge and eloquence?

I decided to seek him out. And I discovered that Obinyelugo was a miracle. He was an example of what happens to a human being who has drunk deep from knowledge: it sets you free, your fears disappear, your mind opens up to the true knowledge that is God. You become transformed and you manifest the truth.

I sought him out because he raised issues that had been of concern to me for a long time, about what it means to be a black person and have a white God. He had reached the same conclusion I reached separately that the whitening of God was a deliberate fraud designed to wrong-foot the African. And that until we as Igbos (Africans, black people) abandon the current white-supremacist Christianity imposed with the colonial gunboat and rediscover our ancestral essence, for that long shall we be lost.

My engagement with Obinyelugo was quite rewarding for me spiritually as I learned so much I wouldn’t have known. He told me so many things I didn’t know about my own grandfather, Mbachu, and his practice as a medicine man and healer. Those skills, now abandoned by his descendants on the dictates of so-called Christianity, were founded on science, Obinyelugo often explained to me.

“Every of the practices of our people were founded on science, on empirical science, which is the oldest form of science,” he told me on one occasion.

Obinyelugo was the first person to draw my attention to the fact that the same name we use for God is also what is used to describe the universe. Therefore, in Chi efo, the universe wakes up, in Chi ejie, the universe sleeps, indicating an awareness by our ancestors that the Almighty manifests in every aspect of the universe. He also explained to me the mathematics of the Igbo four-day week and the genius behind it, and how it ties up with the movement of the solar system. Those four days of Eke, Orie, Afor and Nkwo also correspond to the four key elements of nature, namely fire, water, wind and earth.

Fortunately, our collaboration resulted in the publication of his book, The Plan of Creation in African Tradition: the Igbo Example.’As it turned out, it is his only book. He had many plans, and there was a lot we wanted to do together. Of course, it is for human beings to plan but left to the Maker to decide what gets done or not.

Obinyelugo passed on on 21 September 2020 and his funeral was held on January 13, 2022, a delay occasioned by the ravages of the coronavirus. What was supposed to be a funeral became a festival as Igbo cultural performances took over, lasting all of three days in celebration of a remarkable man.

However, the most important fact is that the seed Obinyelugo planted had germinated. It has dug deep tap roots, spawned many branches and taken hold. It’s an idea its time has come, a time to find out where the rain began to beat us. There’s now a chance that we can tell when the rain stopped. That’s the legacy of Obinyelugo toward building a self-redeeming consciousness for the black man.

Obinyelugo, I salute you!

Click to buy The Plan of Creation in African Tradition: The Igbo Example