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THE TRAGEDY OF SOUTHERN NIGERIA

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– How The Igbo Unwittingly Facilitated The Islamic North’s Hegemony.

(a) Introduction.
My own observation led me to the conclusion that the pre-independence mainstream Igbo political leadership’s vision and actions did the most damage to the fortunes of Southern Nigeria and, ironically, the Igbo nation, too. Azikiwe [the architect of Igbo ambition], unlike Awolowo, set the Igbo off on a wrong path of unhealthy ethnic rivalry, instead of [like Awolowo] using Igbo talent and drive in the cause of the struggle for the attainment of universal social justice.
Positioning the Igbo in the vanguard of the struggle for social justice would have yielded far more dividends for Igbo shareholding in Nigeria Plc than the boorish struggle for ethnic supremacy that that generation of Igbo leaders, like the Hausa-Fulani leaders, enmeshed themselves in.
It is unfortunate, and quite ironic, because the Igbo do not possess, at least to the same degree, the same malicious and cynical spirit that animates many Yoruba or Eastern minority persons.
At the end of the day, the narrow-minded NCNC policies – advocating a centralised/unitary state; opposing the creation of states for the minorities; the bitter attempts to undermine the Yoruba progressives; the determination to corner for the Igbo most of the patronage that flowed from sharing federal power and controlling power in the East; etc. – worked to the disadvantage of the Igbo when, eventually, they clashed with the North as a result of the struggle for federal power and hegemony which first emerged during the census controversy of 1962 and 1963, when both the Hausa-Fulani and Igbo political leadership sought to supplant each other, after their joint swift demolition of the Action Group in 1962, in the central position of power and leadership in the Nigerian Federation.
Personally, I consider it a disaster for Southern Nigeria that a more astute leader like Sir Louis Mbanefo (his National Independence Party, included leaders like Alvan Ikoku, Marcus Ubani and O.O. Ita), instead of Azikiwe, had not prevailed in the East.
Whilst it is undoubtedly true that a Southern and Middle Belt political alliance is absolutely indispensable to containing the Islamic North’s hegemony which has recently taken on a deadly dimension, it is equally true that such an alliance is only possible if the Igbo – a vital part of that alliance – have learned from the bitter lessons of the past and are now willing to accept the principles of equality of partnership and mutual respect for one another’s interests and rights.
The purpose of this essay is to explain, through the eyewitness accounts of four individuals who had ringside seats in the unfolding tragedy, how the dominant Igbo political vision for post-colonial Nigeria emerged and unwittingly facilitated the imposition of the Islamic North’s hegemony over the Nigerian Federation.
The said four individuals are: (1) Professor Michael Crowder, who taught at the University of Ibadan from the earliest days (2) Sir Bryan Sharwood Smith, Governor of the Northern Region, 1952-1957 (3) Joseph Appiah, a distinguished Ghanaian statesman who knew all the principal Southern actors in the Nigerian drama (4) Walter Schwarz, the Nigerian and West African correspondent of the UK’s Guardian, Observer and Economist, who covered Nigeria during the 1960s.
(b) The Story Of Nigeria (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1978)
by Professor Michael Crowder
“…When the British occupied Nigeria they had almost no contact with the large Igbo and Ibibio population of the east, whilst already many Yoruba had received English education and provided a small intellectual elite in Lagos. Population pressures and land hunger forced many Igbo and Ibibio to migrate to the cities of the west and north, where they proved remarkably successful as clerks, railway workers and storekeepers. Nearly always they settled in discrete communities, realizing that the key to success under the new administration was Western education, and seeing how far behind the Yoruba they were in this respect, they formed mutual benefit associations in order to give some of their number the advantages of higher education….In 1944, following on the Ibibio State Union, the Pan-Igbo Federal Union was formed. In 1948 Azikiwe, who had already protested against the Yoruba domination of Lagos politics, became President of this Union. Naturally his opponents retaliated by accusing him of being a tribal politician. Later he even made statements that seemed to confirm this view : ‘It would appear that the God of Africa has created the Igbo nation to lead the children of Africa from the bondage of ages…’ (The West African Pilot of 8th July 1949)
“Tribal feeling had first come to the fore in the quarrel between Zik and the older members of the Nigerian Youth Movement over the candidature of Samuel Akinsanya for a seat on the Legislative Council. This quarrel resulted in Zik leaving the NYM with all his Eastern followers, so that the party became effectively a Yoruba-controlled organization….(page 228)
“…Rivalry between Ernest Ikoli and Dr Azikiwe in 1941 over who should stand for the vacant Legislative Council seat led to the effective demise of the party. Partly this was the result of press rivalry, for Ikoli edited the Daily Service which rivalled Zik’s West African Pilot; partly it was the result of the character of Zik himself who had never been a man to play second fiddle in a political organization. The occasion for the break-up came when Ikoli was put forward for the seat by the party, and Zik counter-proposed Samuel Akinsanya, an Ijebu. Unfortunately for the future of Nigerian nationalism this introduced an element of tribalism that had been largely subdued until then. Ijebu Yoruba were on the whole disliked by other Yoruba, and Zik said this was the reason Akinsanya’s candidature had not been accepted. Since Zik had all the Igbo solidly behind him this led to a tribal rift in the party, and despite efforts by Obafemi Awolowo to revive the party between 1941 and 1944, it never again rose above petty quarrels. (page 223)
“…In 1948, the intense feelings between Yoruba and Igbo, particularly in Lagos where there was severe danger of communal disorders from July to September ….” (page 229)
My Personal Comments:
Awolowo, an Ijebu Yoruba, supported [unlike many other Ijebu Yoruba who supported their kinsman, Akinsanya] Ikoli – a long-time Ijaw resident of Lagos who was held in very high regard by the Lagos elite – like the rest of the Yoruba party elders – Dr Akinola Maja, Dr JC Vaughan, Dr [later Sir Kofo] Abayomi, etc. – on the principle that Ikoli, as party president, had an automatic right to the vacant Legislative Council seat that Abayomi had had to give up to pursue his post-graduate medical studies.
The author failed to mention that many Ijebu joined the Igbo in bolting the party. Awolowo did not, and stood solidly behind Ikoli, who subsequently became his mentor.
These Igbo and Ijebu dissenters later joined Herbert Macaulay’s rival NNDP – which had its base among the illiterate masses of Lagos – that, in 1944, transformed into the NCNC, which came to win the December 1946 Legislative Council elections in Lagos, and dominate Lagos politics.
It was elements from the NYM, with the support of the Yoruba middle classes and obas, that later formed the Action Group.
(c) Nnamdi Azikiwe And Obafemi Awolowo: Contrasting Visions During The Evolution Of Modern Nigeria.
“Our safety is not in our blindness, but in our facing our dangers.” – Schiller, “The Sublime” (1793?)
A former British prime minister, Harold Macmillan, writing in the 5th volume of his memoirs, Pointing the Way, at page125, made the following statements: “…Nigeria, like many parts of Africa, has suffered from the careless, some might even say criminal, methods by which the different portions of the newly discovered parts of Africa were divided during the grab for colonies by rival European powers. One has only to look at the map to see how little account was taken of natural features or tribal groupings. There was thus imposed upon a large part of the continent an artificial system for which there was no basis of national loyalty….When the troubles began involving assassination and attempted secession, one could not be surprised.”
Similarly, Peter Baxter, in Biafra: The Nigerian Civil War (London: Helion and Company, 2015) stated that “…One of the signature failures of imperial strategists at the turn of the 19th century was to take little if any account of the traditional demographics of the territories and societies that were subdivided, and often joined together, into spheres of foreign influence, later evolving into colonies, and finally into nation states. Many of the signature crises in postcolonial Africa have owed their origins to this very phenomenon: incompatible and mutually antagonistic tribal and ethnic groupings forced to cohabit within the indivisible precincts of political geography. Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan and many others have suffered ongoing attrition within their borders as historic enmities surge and boil in restless and ongoing violence…”
Many praise Obafemi Awolowo for the example that he set by his serious, purposeful and statesmanlike approach to governance and public affairs as premier of Western Nigeria and the wartime federal finance minister. Important as this undoubtedly is, I, however, think that his greatest legacy were his contributions to creating a sound foundation for a country that is really just an ill-assorted ragbag of mutually hostile ethnic groups and conflicting ideologies.
In the 1930s and 1940s when he was an active member – he rose to become its secretary for the Western Province – of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), “he came to bemoan the ethnic divisions within the nationalist movement and the growing political inequalities between some of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities and regions. During that period Awolowo wrote the influential Path to Nigerian Freedom (1947), in which he made his case for a federal form of government in an independent Nigeria to safeguard the interests of each ethnic nationality and region, and to create a sustainable basis for Nigerian unity” (Encyclopaedia Britannica). In contrast, the mainstream Igbo political leadership led by Azikiwe (concentrated in Macaulay’s NNDP – it later evolved into NCNC – after Easterners bolted the NYM because of the rift between Azikiwe and some Yoruba leaders) favoured a unitary state. According to Professor Michael Crowder in his book, The Story of Nigeria (London: Faber and Faber, 1978), at p.229 : “…The NCNC…always looked to a unitary Nigeria, partly because of the fact that Igbo migration to other parts of the country would be served by a unitary constitution….”
Awolowo’s championing, in the face of the vigorous opposition of both the NPC and the NCNC, of the creation of regions for the minority ethnic nationalities in the 1950s would have allowed the various ethnic groups to retain control over their destinies, whilst still enjoying all the advantages that an agglomeration of various ethnic and religious groupings brings.
The late Justice Fatai Williams, a former chief justice of Nigeria, recounted his experience before the Minorities Commission (headed by Sir Henry Willink, a distinguished British politician and Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, the 1957 Constitutional Conference had referred the knotty question about the creation of more regions to a special commission) in his memoirs (Faces, Cases and Places, pages 50-51): “…The Commission was ‘to ascertain the facts about the fears of minorities in any part of Nigeria and propose means of allaying those fears whether well or ill-founded.’…Chief Rotimi Williams, T. A. Bankole Oki and I appeared for the Government of Western Nigeria during its hearings in Lagos, Ibadan, Oyo, Benin City, Ilorin, Enugu and Calabar. In accordance with our briefs, we pressed hard for the creation of more regions in the country, pointing out, with supporting evidence, that the Federation as it was then was too lopsided. All our pleas fell on deaf ears. At one of the sittings, I think it was in Benin City, we got fed up at being so blatantly ignored and ridiculed by the members of the Commission, that we decided, with the approval of the Premier [Chief Awolowo], to withdraw from further proceedings of the Commission. It took some time before we were persuaded to go back….Even though we returned, we had no doubt in our minds, partly because of the subtle caveat entered by the British Government in the Commission’s terms of reference, and partly because of the impatient attitude of the members of the Commission to our case, that they would make no recommendations for the creation of any more regions in the Federation. We were, therefore, not surprised at the Commission’s Report which came out later in the year. Although the members of the Commission did say in their report that they found the existence of genuine fears on the part of the minorities, they, nevertheless, did not think that the creation of more regions in the Federation the best means of allaying those fears. Instead, they recommended a series of ineffective palliatives. One wonders whether, if the Minorities Commission had recommended the creation of more regions in the country, the stress which the Federation later found unbearable and resulted first in rigged elections, later in the final collapse of the First Republic, and finally the military takeover and the Civil War would have appeared at all.”
Similarly, Awolowo’s attempt to incorporate a secession clause in the 1954 Constitution, which was opposed by Azikiwe and the NCNC, where informed by his more realistic judgement that the traditions and practices of the Islamic North and the Christian/animist South, and even within the multiplicity of ethnic divisions in the South itself, may prove to be impossible to reconcile. It was nothing more than a diligent lawyer’s caution in including a safeguard against the possible future breakdown of an agreement: it provided the means for a peaceful and constitutional dissolution of the Federation in the event that it proved unworkable. It would, also, have been a useful device in restraining irresponsible action by any region or ethnic group, thereby ensuring mutual respect, justice and equity, and greater sensitivity to the interests and feelings of others.
Awolowo’s deep thinking spawned seminal ideas that were anchored in a realistic and shrewd appreciation of the challenges confronting this complex country that is yet to truly emerge as a nation state. His ideas could significantly have ensured the irreducible minimum imperatives for political stability in our early years of independence and spared us the chaos and bloodshed that Nigeria never really recovered from.
(d) Nigeria (London : Pall Mall Press, 1968)
pages 95 – 98
by Walter Schwarz
“Chapter 4: From Colony to Nation .
“The Rise of Azikiwe
“A new chapter in nationalist history began in 1937, with the return of Azikiwe…Even before his return he had become a legend : that an Ibo boy (at a time when Yoruba were in the vanguard of development), the son of a clerk, should be the author of a book (Liberia in World Affairs), a graduate in political science, religion and philosophy, and editor of a nationalist newspaper, was enough to make him one….
“The West African Pilot’s nationalism was, as the paper’s name suggests, African rather than Nigerian….It was also the first paper to appeal specifically to the Ibo, hitherto a neglected and ‘backward’ tribe in relation to the Yoruba. In this Ibo appeal lay the germs of later conflicts. For all Zik’s universality of spirit, he was self-consciously Ibo, complete with the characteristic chip on the shoulder of a member of an underprivileged group who had ‘made good.’ Chief Awolowo, who was to become the champion of the Yoruba in face of the ‘challenge,’ complained on one occasion that the Pilot even distorted its football reporting to favour the Ibo….
“As if banished from the Garden of Eden, Nigerian nationalism was now steadily losing its innocence of tribal consciousness, and Ibo-Yoruba rivalry began to assume political proportions. In the year after Azikiwe’s return, the Nigerian Youth Movement, of which he immediately took the lead, defeated Herbert Macaulay’s Nigerian National Democratic Party in the legislative council elections, gaining all three Lagos seats. However, Azikiwe’s leadership soon came to be resented by a section of the Yoruba as being aggressively tribal. ‘It seemed clear to me that Azikiwe’s policy was to corrode the self-respect of the Yoruba people as a group ; to build up the Ibo as a “master race,” ‘ thought Awolowo in 1940. So the Pilot of Azikiwe and the Daily Service of Ernest Ikoli began a press war which was a microcosm of the coming struggle between the Ibo and the Yoruba.”
(e) But Always As Friends: Northern Nigeria And The Cameroons, 1921-1957 (London : George Allen & Unwin, 1969).
[Excerpt from the memoirs of Sir Bryan Sharwood Smith, Governor of Northern Nigeria, 1952-57; administrative officer, Northern Nigeria, 1921-52] On the emergence of ethnic rivalry and discord :
“…It was not until 1934 that a rival organization [to Macaulay’s Nigerian Democratic Party] took the field. In that year the Lagos Youth Movement, later to be renamed the Nigerian Youth Movement, was established….One of the leading members…was Dr Azikiwe…From its inception the N.Y.M. had been largely dominated by the Yoruba intelligentsia of Lagos and the Western Provinces….It was possibly this fact that led Dr Azikiwe to urge his fellow Ibos…who had hitherto remained aloof from national politics, to enter the arena…To achieve this purpose he had first to imbue them with a pride of race and a sense of destiny. This he proceeded to do by lauding their individual triumphs and their achievements in the field of sports, social service, and economic enterprise in the pages of the West African Pilot….
“…These tactics at first irritated and, when they began to succeed, then alarmed the Yoruba leaders of the N.Y.M. While they admitted that there could be no united Nigeria without Ibo participation, when they read in the Pilot, leaders such as one which was headed ‘The Ibos are coming,’ they began to suspect that their hitherto unchallenged supremacy in the political field was about to be threatened. The Ibo, on the other hand, enterprising by nature and already driven by land hunger to seek their fortunes far afield in large numbers, responded at once to this call for unity. For the first time in their history they found a champion and a leader, and they gratefully took him to their hearts….
“…From this point onward, disagreement within the upper hierarchy of the N.Y.M. grew …. The parent body in Lagos, thus split asunder, began to lose heart. The main centre of activity now moved to Ibadan, where a Mr Obafemi Awolowo had begun to make a name for himself in political circles …
“…They (i.e. the Ibos) were particularly adroit at furthering their own interests both corporately and as individuals, an aptitude which did little to endear them to the more easygoing communities among whom they had settled and at whose expense they largely made their livelihood….Dr Azikiwe’s next step was to launch a new political party on a national basis, and in August, 1944, the N.C.N.C. was born, with the perennially ebullient Herbert Macaulay as President and Zik himself as General Secretary…In the meantime, Mr Awolowo, now on his way to London to read for the Bar, was wondering how he could create among the Yoruba the same sense of ‘ethnic solidarity’ that had been achieved among the Ibo so as to ensure ‘a strong and harmonious federal union among the peoples of Nigeria.’ A year later he, together with a group of friends, founded in London the Egbe Omo Oduduwa…By so doing he hoped to raise the morale of his fellow Yoruba, weakened by disunity and by a creeping sense of inferiority in the face of the growing challenge of the more dynamic Ibo…
“…Far away to the south, Zik’s efforts to arouse in his fellow Ibo a sense of pride in their origins, and an intention to make the future their own, had lit a fire the smoke of which was being observed with growing trepidation in other parts of Nigeria. In speeches to the Ibo State Assembly he had proclaimed that ‘…the martial prowess of the Ibo, at all stages of human history, has enabled them…to adapt themselves to the role thus thrust upon them by history, of preserving all that is best and most noble in African culture and tradition.’ ‘The Ibo giant,’ he said, ‘is waking from his stupor…’ ‘A mighty nation shall arise again in the west of the Sudan…[and] the Ibo shall emerge…to rewrite the history written by their ancestors…The God of Africa has willed it.’…
“…Heady stuff like this made disturbing reading to Yoruba leaders, however scornful they might maintain that literacy in Iboland was something of an innovation, and that these glimpses into the past bore little relation to known facts….
“…Obafemi Awolowo had recently returned to Nigeria and, almost simultaneously, flourishing branches of his Egbe Omo Oduduwa took root in Lagos and Ibadan, and in other towns.”
(f) The Need For Igbo-Yoruba Detente.
by Chinweizu
“…By the way, there is historical evidence, from a well-placed non-Nigerian source, that the Igbo-Yoruba cold war was needlessly unleashed by Zik in 1948, and not, as Igbo mythology has it, by Awo through the carpet crossing in 1951. Here is the story of how Zik declared war on the Yoruba in 1948 :
‘It was in this year [1945] that a group of Yorubas, led by Chief Awolowo, Dr Oni Akerele, Chief Abiodun Akerele, Akintola Williams, Chief Rosiji and others, founded a Yoruba organization in London called Egbe Omo Oduduwa, meaning “a society of the descendants of Oduduwa.” …Our friends from the Eastern Region and some from the Western Region of that vast country showed their hostility to the formation of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa of the Yorubas.
‘Those of us who did not hail from Nigeria were highly disturbed by the threat to our unity as West Africans under the banner of W.A.S.U., which was itself predominantly Nigerian. Although there had been in existence an Ibo Union for some twenty months or so before the birth of Egbe Omo Oduduwa, not much notice had been taken of it at W.A.S.U. In any case, for obvious reasons, this new association looked formidable enough to merit our attention. All attempts to persuade the founders to squelch the new-born association proved futile.
‘Happily, this did not break up our great W.A.S.U., although it did leave bitter feelings all over. In Nigeria itself, the new Association did not take root until 1948, when another powerful group of Yoruba leaders formed one in Lagos. The names of the founders were indeed names to conjure with among the Yorubas in the capital – Dr Akinola Maja and many others. It was after that great event in Lagos that Chief Awolowo himself plucked up courage to inaugurate a branch at Ibadan. An editorial in Nigeria’s West African Pilot of September 8, 1948, which reached us in London, warned of the battle ahead. Among many other things, the editorial carried these ominous words: “Henceforth, the cry must be one of battle against the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, its leaders at home and abroad, up hill and down dale, in the streets of Nigeria and in the streets of London and in the residence of its advocates.” The language was familiar enough. This was Nnamdi Azikiwe’s. Were our fears about the unity of Nigeria about to be justified? The parting knell had been tolled. It might in retrospect be said that the first salvoes of the civil war had been fired by these words….’
– Joseph Appiah, Joe Appiah: The Autobiography of an African Patriot (Accra: Assempa Publishers, 1996), pp. 160-161.
“This testimony from a Ghanaian who, for many years, was a member and President of W.A.S.U. in London, should give Igbos pause about the version of the Igbo-Yoruba cold war they have accepted. The key point is that the Ibo Union had been in existence before the Egbe Omo Oduduwa was founded. Yet Zik declared war on the Egbe Omo Oduduwa. Why? If it was because the Egbe Omo Oduduwa was not Pan-Nigerian, then what of the pre-existing Ibo Union? In other words, it wasn’t the Yoruba who introduced tribal unions and tribal politics into Nigeria, but the Igbos. But whatever his reason, Zik was the one who declared war on the Yorubas; he was the aggressor. With that aggression as background, the carpet crossing becomes an understandable response to Zik’s declaration of war. If somebody who declared war on your people arrives to govern your homeland, what should your leaders do? Welcome him and let him govern, or drive him out by any means necessary? The carpet crossing accomplished just that. And Igbos, following Zik, the instigator of the response, condemn the Yorubas for defending themselves from Zik’s aggression.
“Zik’s conduct is an example of how Igbos can act without thinking of how their action might look to those their proposed action might adversely affect. That is a weakness Igbos should be on guard against, and should work to eliminate by extra self-awareness and constant self-criticism.
“For seven decades, we have paid for Zik’s aggression against the Yorubas. The cold war which Zik started made it possible for the British to install the NPC in power in 1959, when Zik refused to join with Awo to form the federal government. He explained it away by alluding to his distrust of Awo that stemmed from the carpet crossing affair. In other words, Zik is ultimately responsible for our disasters and oppression under the Caliphate. But the pertinent issue at this time is that we, not the Yorubas, are responsible for the Yoruba-Igbo feud. We are not the innocent victims of Yoruba tribalism and hatred. That fact should inform our attitude in seeking rapprochement with the Yorubas, especially now that we need a Yoruba-Igbo alliance to help create conditions for us to exit our imprisonment…”
POSTSCRIPT
A very commendable compilation of Nigeria’s political history with references to books that can provide further in-depth study of the subject. I urge all who can buy the cited books to look for them and keep in their libraries. It should include Ikejiani and Ikejiani’s book (“Desirata …” or something like that, which unfortunately is now out of print). There is one error in the account of the author: Azikiwe’s NCNC did not have the largest number of seats in the 1959 elections. NPC did. However the combination of the NNNC’s and Action Group’s seats would have given them a majority in the House of Representatives.
Every Yoruba man must be taught this history to reverse decades of Hausa-Fulani and Igbo-inspired political history of Nigeria. The Igbos have since Chinweizu’s unearthing of Joe Appiah’s biography, which identified Zik and his Igbo State Union as the architects of tribal politics in Nigeria, subjected him to tremendous pressure to recant. He has, but like they say written and published words remain eternal. What is more, the reference in Joe Appiah’s book remains also eternal.
We also know that contrary to what Igbo propaganda would like to world to believe, there was no carpet crossing in the Western House of Assembly. The Igbos persists in telling this false story in spite of the personal accounts of the Ibadan Peoples Party members who were alleged to have crossed carpet. A good reference is Ganiyu Dawodu’s book on the subject available on Amazon Books.——-Tola M. (VOR)

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