The fortuitous circumstances surrounding the formation and development of Nigeria have so shaped Nigeria that the Igbo seem to appear at the vortex of these events as the driving force to turn the story of Nigeria into largely an Igbo story, much against the will of the Igbo.
This essay would ordinarily be entitled, ‘Nigeria Died that Azikiwe Might Live’ but Nigeria did not die despite the abortion of its dreams largely by Azikiwe, and consequent dysfunctionality.
Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe adopted Nigeria as his baby, and father and son managed to survive the vicissitudes of life that assailed them between 1938 and 1970. Nigeria became a country of variegated troubles and Azikiwe, a man of the people much at the expense, and to the peril of the Igbo.
Much about the history of Nigeria is about the relation between Nigeria and the Igbo on one hand and between Nigeria and Azikiwe and the Igbo on the other hand. Azikiwe is an ethnic Igbo, but until 1951 when he was displaced by British mischief carefully planned and executed using identity politics in the Western Region, he regarded himself first, as a Nigerian, or even an African preferring that identity to his ethnic identity.
The emergence of Azikiwe in Nigeria’s politics exposed the Igbo to serious threats and danger which manifested as Azikiwe recklessly played his politics without serious thought and consideration and hedging it with constitutional safeguards regarding the safety and well-being of the Igbo that identified with him and his goals, for the Igbo regarded him as their own and leader.
Until his displacement in Western Region, Azikiwe did not requite Igbo ethnic sentiments by having them in contemplation as being so related otherwise he would have played his politics with greater degree of prudence and circumspection. And by the time Azikiwe’s politics unraveled, the victims majorly the Igbo who paid dearly for his errors, recklessness, lack of foresight and vision. In deed, the consequences of Azikiwe’s politics was that while Nigeria got injured and deformed, the Igbo died that Azikiwe might live to enjoy unreserved honours by his beloved Nigeria much to the chagrin of the Igbo-survivors of the pogroms and holocaust who are still groping and scrounging to find their footing in Azikiwe’s Nigeria. In counterpoise, his compatriots, Sardauna Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa and Obafemi Awolowo sacrificed themselves by subjecting; ordering and directing their personal ambitions to the ultimate goals of securing the safety and well-being of their peoples so that their peoples might live to inherit Azikiwe’s Nigeria.
The lot of the Igbo in Nigeria today is the price a people pays when it is saddled with rudderless and visionless leadership and that rudderless, unprincipled and visionless leadership is still with the Igbo without anybody appearing to have learnt their lessons.
The Igbo, as we have them today in Nigeria did not develop into any large political community or communities in the form of kingdoms and empires in the vast areas straddling the Southeastern and Western flanks of Southern Nigeria and wedged by the Niger Delta communities. But what they lacked, and still lack in ‘state’ formation they more than gained, and still gain in strong family ties and values and socio-cultural cohesion and solidarity of their village democratic republics formed into network of confederations based on economic principle of ‘Onye-ruo-orie’ (meaning, ‘who works, eats’), social principle of ‘onye-aghana-nwanneya’ (meaning communal precept of love your neighbour or never abandon your neighbour-in-need) and jurisprudential postulate of ‘bilikambili’, that is live-and-let-live or ‘egbe-bere-ugo-bere nke si ibe ya ebena nku kwaa ya (which Achebe interpreted as ‘let the eagle perch and the hawk perch, if any refuses the other a position, let its wing break’).
These features have stood the Igbo in good stead as a very strong political unit, and a people defined by strong family values encapsulated in ethos of industry, honesty, discipline, perseverance and tenacity of purpose in their individual and group ambitions. The law and order system is essentially theocratic and based on ‘nso-ala’ and ‘omenala’ which are generally self-enforcing against breaches as they are rules ingrained in the hearts and soul of persons and only rare cases require interpretation by priests. Essentially, this governance structure and the ethos governing it make the Igbo, a group open to reception to new ideas and perpetually enamoured to change while conserving imperishable values of their socio-cultural foundation. The Igbo’s social framework is egalitarian as every individual stands as a god unto himself beholding to none but to his inner judgments of which he remains the best judge and it is this spiritual energy and material condition that define the Igbo persona that tends to render him an anathema to his fellow compatriots during the formation and comingling of populations and social interaction everywhere in the new country called Nigeria, especially in the North, where he is the stark opposite of the ruling worldview.
The formation of Nigeria and consequent constitutional organisation and structuring meet the Igbo at the wrong side of British colonial policy. The British Imperial Office and officials on ground never bothered to understand the Igbo. This lack of understanding was largely due to our earlier submission that the Igbo did not establish large states such as the Yoruba Kingdoms of Lagos, Oyo, Egba Confederation, the Benin Empire, the Sokoto Caliphate, Kanem Borno Empire or even the Niger Delta City States. There was none, except if you take the Aro whose organisational acumen was rather economic-driven having focused on establishing trading posts rather than conquests and expansion of political and administrative controls over the vast Igbo territories. But the existence of those Yoruba, Bini, Niger Delta City states and Kanuri pre-colonial states in counterpoise to Sokoto Caliphate were good references if Britain had overcome its selfishness to bother about creating a balanced governance structure beneficial to the pre-colonial ethnic nationalities and their respective communities.
So, due to this lack of knowledge about the Igbo and mischief, Britain unfurled its colonial policies which devastated the Igbo as they became major victims of the British colonial policy of Indirect Rule and taxation. In its relationships with the Hausa/Fulani, British colonial officials led by Captain Frederick Lugard had encountered the Sokoto Caliphate that straddles much of the Sahel predominantly peopled by the Hausa and their overlords, the Fulani and was obviously impressed with the governance structure and institutional setup that showed up a well defined ruler with well-organised taxation and law and order system with a caste of rulers enforcing rules over a population subjugated under a culture of habitual obedience. In Yoruba land and Benin Kingdom there were similar governance structures but they were radically different from the Hausa/Fulani or Kanem Bornu autocratic variants.
In Igbo land, there is nothing to compare to it as the Igbo village republics with metewand of democratic structure and institutions did not seem to register in British colonial officials’ idea of government and Britain did not know of any other except to apply the Hausa/Fulani autocratic feudal governance framework and subject the Igbo to it. This imposition of autocratic governance framework on the Igbo was the first tragic blunder the Igbo suffered in Nigeria. Britain created chiefdoms in Igbo land and imposed rulers they appointed on the imperial authority of an instrument hence the rulers were called ‘warrant chiefs’.
These rulers neither had the mandate of their people nor were the people consulted before their appointments. The rulers just happened upon the people and were enforcing alien policies especially the tax policies which the people detested. By 1929, when the people reacted violently against Britain and its autocratic rulers, the relationship between Britain and the Igbo had broken down irretrievably and that culture of protest against autocracy became the badge by which Britain officially judged the Igbo. In many official correspondences, the British colonial officials presented the Igbo as being unruly and ungovernable quite like according to them, the Irish who never submitted to political tutelage or social conditioning that makes them amenable to social control. It was after the Aba Women Riots of 1929 that Britain cared to commission a study on the Igbo and it was not until 1950 that a local government reforms was carried out in Eastern Region.