What does it mean that an elder like Gov Chukwuma Soludo pulled his ears in conversation with Mazi Nnamdi Kanu?

We may never know why the Anambra governor pulled his ears in front of separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu last week. The Governor did not address what he discussed with Kanu at the DSS detention facility in Abuja. He was more interested in passing a message that assists his fight to restore normalcy to his beleaguered state. And no guessing why; Anambra State is undergoing torture through mindless violence.

Why is Anambra being singled out?

We may also never know the reason. But we can take a guess. However, before we do, let us exhaust the ear-pulling gesture captured in the photo-op at the meeting.

It does not matter that the governor did not talk about what he said to Kanu himself. Or indeed why, at a point in their conversation, he began to pull his ears. A picture, they say, speaks more than a million words. Here, we have the image of a “sitting governor” at the edge of his seat, pulling both ears while facing his “host.” And the host, totally relaxed on his chair, replied with an indulgent smile. That smile says it all.

When Soludo pulled his ears

Among the Igbo, there are two broad ways of pulling one’s ears. If one is addressing an elder or a peer on a matter of grave importance, pulling the ear becomes a grave admonition. The speaker admonishes the hearer to not do something or to stop doing something. But it goes deeper than this. It is also that the ear puller has had enough and is washing his hands of whatever his hearer has done or want to do.

“If you do that again, my hand no dey there!”

“I’m telling you now that enough is enough!”

“Better listen to me and listen good; this thing that you are doing is not good.”

“I heard something very bad, and it is my duty to warn you about it. So, I am telling you to stop this thing that you are doing. I am telling you now and you are laughing. Hmm. Ok”

“I know what you are doing but note that I will not be part of it. Let me warn you that this will lead nowhere safe and know also that I will not follow you to that place.”

No matter how we view the gesture, it ends up as an admonition when the speaker pulls his ears in front of another adult. If two ears are pulled at the same time, as Soludo was captured doing in this photo, it becomes a very serious admonition and a serious call for caution.

If Kanu were a child, and the Governor a father figure, the gesture would have been different. When an adult addresses an unruly or irredeemable child, this can lead to pulling the child’s ears. The adult clamps the thumb and index finger on the child’s earlobes, pinches hard and pulls forwards. The legs of most children wobble from the pull while wincing from the pain. The message is the same but delivered more forcibly.

How one wishes there is currently someone of the stature of late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe to give the same ear-pulling message to Ndigbo. The rest of Nigeria have their ears open, listening to the things Ndigbo are saying about the challenges they are facing today. And the challenges are multifaceted. There is the presidency project that is going badly. There is the undeclared and cowardly war against the people of the Southeast. No one, except one lunatic in Finland, is taking responsibility for this war. And there are the other little wars that all disadvantaged people suffer in Nigeria, the war of survival. How will Ndigbo win these multiple wars?

Our current strategy is precisely the sort of undertaking that the Great Zik would have abhorred. At the middle of the Civil War when it looked like the generals were not ready to follow his “Fabian tactics,” Zik stylishly pulled out to let them get on with it. And from the time he left the war, everything inexorably went downhill, until the generals either ran for dear life or wisely surrendered to superior forces.

No one wins a war through direct confrontation with a preponderant adversary. It is true of every battle one can think of, including sports battles, and yes, even the battle of the sexes! On the face of it, it appears like misguided Igbo youths are prosecuting a Fabian Strategy by striking repeatedly at the “enemy” to wear him down. But the enemy happens to be the family members, us.

We are exhausted and frightened. And this is happening without a formal declaration of a war that requires guerrilla tactics to prosecute. Additionally, even if the youths have the weaponry, which they do not, is it not so pointless and silly to fight in their father’s compound? The Fabian Strategy that works – and which Ndigbo currently needs the most – is more subtle and non-violent. It involves actions that enable Ndigbo win over their traducers through an extended and planned campaign.

I am not a prophet of doom, but it is difficult to see the presidency project progressing further than it has done. Unless, of course, the General of Aso Rock experiences an epiphanic encounter and blesses Nwajiuba of the Southeast or Amechi of the South-South. Who will pull his ears, Soludo like, to get Ndigbo to listen to the voice of reason? And to tone down on the fiery rhetoric?

When Soludo pulled his ears