The Igbo question: What Ndigbo want In Nigeria
Of the more than 250 odd tribes in Nigeria, the Igbo, as an ethnic nationality in Nigeria, appears to excite and attract the negative sentiments of the other 249 tribes. Envy, and consequently hatred and contempt can be said to be the chief sentiments against the Igbo. The reasons for these negative sentiments may be difficult to explain, but a closer study of contemporary history of the Nigeria and literature on inter-ethnic relations between the constituent ethnic nationalities of Nigeria suggests that these negative sentiments were fear-induced and unenlightened subconscious defensive reactions to the character traits of the Igbo arising from their socio-economic and political interaction with the other tribes in Nigeria.
The major character traits of the Igbo, which come into play in their relationship with other tribes, can be summarized under three headings:
• The republican and egalitarian nature of the Igbo, which make them to be very assertive wherever they found themselves
•Their ubiquity, arising from social and occupational mobility, and;
• Their industry, which when rewarded with success can be channeled in self-improvements in the acquisition of real property and other forms of investments. The feeling of contentment arising from these personal achievements is celebrated with every amount of felicity. In turn, this feeling or sense of personal achievement or actualisation and contentment imbue in an Igbo a feeling of immense self-confidence and it is the outward expression of this state of social and spiritual well-being that is off-putting to some outsiders or strangers to Igbo sociological and psychological environment and personae as they misread this essential character traits as arrogance, pride and a feeling of superiority. This misunderstanding by others naturally attracts jealousy or hatred to the Igbo.
The second equally devastating blow to the Igbo was the Indigenization Policy, which started between 1972 and 1973, just immediately after the war, when the Igbo had not found their feet in the economic landscape of Nigeria. The acquisition of the blue-chip companies and corporations and the medium scale firms were mopped up by the Yorubas and members of other tribes who had the wherewithal to do so. The Igbo could hardly feed, let alone bid for acquisition of large businesses. With the successful implementation of this policy, the Igbo were effectively shut out from the economic mainstream of Nigeria. They were only left at the periphery to scrounge for whatever crumbs that fell from the table of the new economic and political masters. So, because the economic space was effectively shut against the Igbo, an average Igbo man became a ‘desperado’ ready and willing to do anything to survive. He virtually became in the words of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, “Man Must Wack”, a character in his civil war novella, Sozaboy, that is, a creature whose stomach rules his entire beingThe condition of the Igbo in Nigeria can only be compared to the Jewish predicament arising from their dispersion throughout the whole world prior to 1948. There is hardly any tribe in Nigeria that does not have one prejudice or the other against the Igbo – and that in some cases with a complementary derogatory name to go with it.
The condition of the Igbo in Nigeria can only be compared to the Jewish predicament arising from their dispersion throughout the whole world prior to 1948. There is hardly any tribe in Nigeria that does not have one prejudice or the other against the Igbo – and that in some cases with a complementary derogatory name to go with it.
The major problem of the Igbo in Nigeria is ‘land hunger’ and the limited economic space in their homeland, which has reduced them to itinerant traders and artisans, always on the move and ready to pitch their tents wherever there are greener pastures in Nigeria and elsewhere. This condition has rendered them ubiquitous in Nigeria. Thus, this ubiquity of the Igbo has tended to excite fear and apprehension of danger among the major tribes (especially the Hausa/Fulani) and minority tribes in neighbouring South-South Zone, who regard the industry and keen competitive spirit of the Igbo as a quest for domination. Thus, the ubiquity of the Igbo in every town and village in Nigeria invites suspicion and misunderstanding, which are translated by political charlatans and scoundrels to the common people of those areas as being a dangerous people, and therefore an enemy to watch.
This is an unfortunate ethnic profiling and stereotyping that targets the group. And in the event of any problem in the town or country the hand of the Igbo is readily pointed to as being responsible. So in this socio-cultural context, mischief-makers make them the readily available object of transferred hatred and aggression arising from religious bigotry and political upheaval in the North and the general socio-economic and political misgovernance of Nigeria.
The Igbo trader has nothing to do with the socio-economic and political problems of Nigeria, even in the 1930s to the early 1960s, when his kinsmen were active and equal participants in the Nigerian enterprise, as his lot was no better than that of his proletariat-compatriots from other tribes. But then the frustrations, disenchantment and grievances of the people of other tribes against the system must be ventilated somehow – sometimes through riots, arson and looting. And the easy target for these civil commotions and religious upheavals is the ubiquitous Igbo trader, whose life was sometimes taken, and his goods and other property became booty if not totally destroyed.
IN most cases, the Igbo trader would be condemned to suffer for an offence or act he did not commit or even know about. In the Jos riots of 1945, the Igbo suffered most even when they were not the cause or reason for the riots. Nothing makes this point more poignant than the Kano riots of 1953. In 1953, the Action Group (the political party predominantly based in the then Western Region) had made an elaborate campaign arrangement for the ancient city of Kano. The Northern People’s Congress (the dominant party in the then Northern Region) did not want the AG’s campaign arrangement to hold and so it stated its opposition to the arrangement clearly and openly. One of its officials (Innua Wada) had warned of severe consequences should the AG carry on with the campaign as scheduled. Expectedly, the AG quietly cancelled the campaign but the NPC operatives, failing to see the AG Yoruba leaders, nevertheless visited mayhem on the Igbo in Kano. A report by a colonial administrator tagged the 1953 Kano riots as being “universally unexpected degree of violence.” In his autobiography, Sir Ahmadu Bello recalled that “here in Kano, as things fell out the fighting took place between the Hausas…and the Igbo; the Yorubas were, oddly enough, out of it.”
What do the Igbo want in Nigeria? General Buhari’s question presupposes that the Igbo as a group sent Kanu to be doing what is doing and that he represents them. If that presidential reasoning be logically stretched, it then means that the Boko Haram activity in the North is the commissioned actions by the Hausa/Fulani and Kanuri. It is always easy to fall into ethnic profiling wherever an Igbo is concerned by simplistically resorting to ‘Igbonize’ whatever individual crimes or misfeasance of an Igbo as the group’s collective guilt, as happened with the Nzeogwu coup but the July 29, 1966, July 29, 1975, February 13, 1976, December 31, 1983, August 26, 1985, April 21, 1990 coups, etc., were never maliciously and mischievously labeled after their respective leaders’ ethnic group
These patterns of killings and destruction or looting of the property of the Igbo have been replicated in the far northern states and elsewhere in Nigeria, especially in May 1966 (the Unification Decree riots) and in the July and September, 1966 pogroms visited on the Igbo consequent upon the Revenge Coup of July 29, 1966. Since after the civil war, the religious and political riots usually engineered by religious bigots and political charlatans have had the Igbo at the receiving end. To cap the atrocities visited on the Igbo, one Mr. Gideon Akaluka sometime in the 1990s was ‘forcibly taken from police custody’ and beheaded by religious bigots on the unproven allegations of blasphemy or desecration of the Koran. His decapitated head was hoisted on a pole at the city centre of Kano for several days as a trophy for the triumph of religious bigotry in a nation governed under a secular Constitution.
The other character trait that tends to draw a lot of hatred and misunderstanding to the Igbo personae is their industry and entrepreneurial spirit. This is one major positive trait that even the unkindest enemy of the Igbo has not denied them. But instead of attracting respect, honour and adoration, the industry of the Igbo has rather elicited jealousy (or do you say hatred) and misunderstanding for them. The industry of the Igbo has been reduced to one of its negative stereotypes of ‘money grabbers’.
Accepted that the reward for industry and enterprise is profit, how then would the quest for profit by an Igbo trader be reduced to the uncomplimentary portrayal of the Igbo as an unconscionable businessman ever ready to employ chicanery and rough measures against his host community and patrons. His locally produced goods are condemned as “Igbo made” while perspicacity for ideas and knowledge is dismissed as “Igbo sense.” The Igbo is simply and mischievously mistrusted.
But how can the industry of the Igbo be a ground for anti-Igboism? That cannot be the real reason for the hatred for the Igbo because in every business environment rough measures are routinely employed by some dishonest businessmen to succeed. Moreover, the dishonest traders are usually in the minority in any given place. The real reason for the opprobrium, hatred and contempt attracted to the person of an average Igbo is his tenacity of purpose and his ability to survive where others failed. His boisterousness and gaiety, his garrulousness and vigour belong only to a man who is amply confident of his ability to compete on equal terms with anybody anywhere. And when he succeeds, he celebrates.
The Igbo adore personal success. An Igbo man pays scant regard to inherited wealth or rights and privileges resulting from one’s ancestry. Anybody belonging in this latter category need not, or indeed, dare not make noise where his peers are or he would be scorned and dismissed as a nonentity. So it is in this cultural milieu that an average Igbo man when he makes a personal success of his life celebrates and this tends to attract jealousy to him. It is not uncommon for the host community and the non-Igbo neighbours to dismiss the successful Igbo and associate his apparent success or prosperity with diabolical and rough business tactics.
On the other hand, the Igbo trader represents to the host community and the non-Igbo patrons the readily available symbol of economic oppression in the system. The patrons and the host community would be hard put to understand that if there be any economic oppression in the society, it is rather the Yoruba corporate executives and bureaucrats comfortably ensconced, cloaked, and anonymously shielded from the public with the fiction of corporate legal personality that control every lever of economic and bureaucratic powers in Nigeria, and therefore, are singularly better placed to either sabotage the economy or alleviate their economic problems or hardship. And what about his Hausa/Fulani counterpart that controls political power and therefore stands in good stead to determine the direction of socio-economic and political policies? No this group is simply unreachable by the rabble. But then it is the Igbo trader that the masses of the host community and patrons of the Igbo businesses and services see and visit their frustrations and anger upon and not the faceless Yoruba industrialist, banker/financier and insurance chief executive officer or the Hausa-Fulani political rulers of Nigeria.
Ever since after the civil war in 1970, the Igbo have been schemed out of the commanding heights of the nation’s economy. It started with a kind of war reparation, which required every Igbo man no matter his economic status in Nigeria to start life afresh in the ‘new Nigeria’ with just twenty Nigerian Pounds, while the balance of his savings were forfeited to the Federal Republic. It was an economic masterstroke and it effectively reduced every Igbo man to the status of a pauper.
The second equally devastating blow to the Igbo was the Indigenization Policy, which started between 1972 and 1973, just immediately after the war, when the Igbo had not found their feet in the economic landscape of Nigeria. The acquisition of the blue-chip companies and corporations and the medium scale firms were mopped up by the Yorubas and members of other tribes who had the wherewithal to do so. The Igbo could hardly feed, let alone bid for acquisition of large businesses. With the successful implementation of this policy, the Igbo were effectively shut out from the economic mainstream of Nigeria. They were only left at the periphery to scrounge for whatever crumbs that fell from the table of the new economic and political masters. So, because the economic space was effectively shut against the Igbo, an average Igbo man became a ‘desperado’ ready and willing to do anything to survive. He virtually became in the words of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, “Man Must Wack”, a character in his civil war novella, Sozaboy, that is, a creature whose stomach rules his entire being.
To wrap up the economic strangulation policies arising from the defeat of Biafra, the then governments of Rivers State and South Eastern States, were goaded by the civil war victors and conquerors of Nigeria to unleash the Abandoned Property Policy on the Igbo. This war reparation policy etched in various edicts of the concerned states and the Decree of the Federal Government legitimizing it was embedded in the 1979 and 1999 Constitution and was only struck down in 2004, in the case of Ndoma-Egba v. Chukwuogor (2004) Vol. 117 LRCN 3741 with a sharp rebuke by Pats-Acholonu, JSC, who called the initiators of the vile policy “hypocrites and destroyers of a nation.” This policy in one fell swoop confiscated the real property of the Igbo in Rivers State and the defunct South Eastern State (now comprised in Cross River and Akwa Ibom States), but most especially in Port Harcourt City.
It is instructive to note that the phenomenal growth of the city was mainly due to the economic activities of the Igbo who developed the city and made it the economic capital of the then Eastern Region. The action of the Rivers State Government set the Igbo against their erstwhile compatriots – the Kalabaris, the Ijaws, the Ogonis and most particularly the Ikwerre/Etchie, who belong to the same ethnic stock as the Igbo, but who, due to the force of propaganda and political intrigues engineered by the custodians of the ‘new Nigeria’, not only supported that policy and sustained the negative sentiments against the Igbo, but also started repudiating everything Igbo about them, except their personal names.
To show that the policy of ‘abandoned property’ enjoyed the support of the then Federal Military Government, it received retroactive legal backing in form of a Decree, when the Igbo started subjecting the actions of the Rivers State government to judicial interpretation. That decree (Abandoned Property Decree) ousted the powers of the courts to inquire into the actions of the then South Eastern and Rivers State Governments regarding the dispossession of the Igbo of their legitimately acquired property in those two states.
Most importantly, the Nigerian State now taken control of, and ravaged by a narrow ethnic interest of the worst kind that ruled between July 29, 1966 and May 29, 1999, deliberately set out to gerrymander the Igbo political space to make them an ineffective minority; viciously rendered incapable to compete effectively in the political arena. It did this by first righting its mistake of 1967 state creation by creating 19 states in 1976 with the North having one state advantage over the South. In that 1976 states creation exercise, of all the three major tribes with virtually equal population the Igbo were pigeonholed in only two states; the Yoruba had four states, while the Hausa/Fulani had about six states.
Under the military regime (ran and controlled by the Hausa/Fulani), in conducting the states/local government creation exercises the Igbo were severely disadvantaged as these units are now the basis for the distribution of socio-political and economic desiderata, while the objective criteria like population and economic indices were jettisoned. What counted was the interest of the power-holders and their catchment areas. In any case, the population infrastructure had been so rigged that Lugard and his colonial successors would have died of shock if they were to behold the new population data between the defunct regions now comprised in 36 states and Abuja.
By the 1991 census, Lagos was more populous than Kano State. But in 2006 census after Jigawa had been created out of Kano and credited with over four million people, Kano is now more populous than Lagos. What a magic! The unitary state for which General Ironsi and the Igbo had to die was polished and re-promulgated with all the constituent states stripped of all powers. These sequestered powers are now concentrated in the central government thereby asphyxiating the states. Then the feudal structure of the far North was emplaced to cover the entire country complete with its accoutrement of land tenure system and the emirate (local government) system, first promulgated by Lugard in 1914 in the North.
The petroleum resources of the Southeast and South-south, being the chief reason why Gowon’s Federal Government had to wage the civil war was sequestrated and put solely in the hands of the Federal Government with the Head of State having the untrammeled power to allocate oil fields to whomsoever he desires. Without hiking on this feudal structure you will only be labouring miserably on the periphery of the Nigerian economy.
And the Igbo have remained in the periphery. It was a devastating internal-colonization system! And the struggle by, and between the other tribes ever since has been to be accommodated in that feudal patronage system. And the feudal patronage system being oligarchic and aristocratic it can only accommodate few cronies carefully selected and empowered to become nuisance to the Igbos. Being a cult of mediocrity, it benefits only a few at a time and those usually selected represent the worst elements of the society so as to ensure that the system is not challenged and consequently overthrown. It is a deliberately entrenched system of mass impoverishment of the society and it has succeeded in holding the nation down for over half a century.
Finally, the unbridled egalitarianism and lack of hierarchical organisation and political unity of the Igbo can be said to have contributed to their predicament in Nigeria. By their culture, the Igbo are egalitarian and republican, and they abhor anything that has to do with hereditary leadership, mediocrity, oligarchy and dictatorship. This behavioural trait can be seen in their meteoric growth in the colonial political economy then moderated by the British on fairly meritocratic standards, the resistance of tyranny as in the action of Aba Women Riots of 1929, the Coal Miners Strike of 1945 and the actions of Igbo nationalists such as, Mbazulike Amaechi, K. O. Mbadiwe, Muokwugo Okoye, Okpara, Ibiam, Ikoku, Nnamdi Azikiwe, M.C.K. Ajuluchukwu, Mbonu Ojike, etc.
The assertiveness of the Igbo issues from their socio-cultural milieu. The Igbo village constitutes a republic and the Village Assembly forms the fulcrum of governance, which is an epitome of democracy in principles and action and every Igbo man is supposed to have learned the basic tenets of democracy therefrom. Every Igbo adult has a say at the Village Assembly and in essence the person who moderates the village deliberations is just first amongst equals since he has no real power. Every decision is arrived at by consensus.
And because egalitarianism orders the Igbo society, a man is judged by his personal success and not his ancestry. At death all his successes, wealth and titles, (if any) honour and authority are interred with him. His offspring must join every other person to fend for themselves on the basis of equality.