Zik, Ndi-Igbo and their southern neighbours: Charting a new political direction for Nigeria

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PREFACE: Sometime in the middle of 2012, a certain Igbo group published an advertorial in a national daily newspaper in which it inter alia made snide remarks on the person of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, accusing him of actions and inaction that compromised inter-ethnic relationships between Ndi-Igbo and the eastern minorities.

The write-up also contained presentations on Zik’s political exploits in the western part of the country that have had far-reaching effects on Igbo-Yoruba relationships. Most of the claims were of course false and un-researched; a malicious conjecture.

Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello - founding fathers of Nigeria

Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello – founding fathers of Nigeria

The offending part of the advertorial ran thus: “••having been ousted by Awolowo from becoming the first Premier of the Western Region in the famous carpet-crossing saga [of 1952], Azikiwe went to the East and ousted Eyo Ita, an Eastern minority element who led the party to victory and who ought to have been the first premier of Eastern Region.

The bitterness generated by that single stroke of political injustice was at the root of the attitude of the Eastern minorities in the bloody disputes of 1966-7 which became war. This bad blood became the biggest undoing of Biafra when it mattered most but the first blame must rest squarely on Azikiwe and his henchmen of that time who triggered it all. We still live with the relationship to date at great costs in blood and material.”

The group went further to apologise ‘on behalf of our fathers to the people of the Niger-Delta for that wrongdoing that ruined the brotherly relationship we had from time immemorial . . .’

In my short rejoinder, published shortly afterwards, I noted and appreciated the obvious burning desire of the group to establish or nurture cordial relationships between Ndi-Igbo and the South-South peoples of Nigeria, but went further to opine that such cordiality should not be founded on falsehood, outright misrepresentation and misinterpretation of history. I disapproved of the group’s mindless and unwarranted castigation of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and other implied misrepresentations, and strove to set the record aright.

Of course being a concise newspaper article, the rejoinder failed to cover all aspects of the issues raised in the offending lines of the advertorial. Consequently, I have been inundated with calls from close friends and associates to provide further details and insight on the central theme of that rejoinder.

This book is therefore provoked by these calls and inquiry, and of course the need to reach other Nigerians who are not privileged or near enough to make personal contact with me and hence to have their curiosity satiated individually. It is hoped that this effort will help reshape opinions and attitudes and therefore help ameliorate existing cleavages across the country. The Igbo say: ‘onye amaghi ebe mmiri bidolu mawa ya, adighi ama ebe ono wee kwusi’; literally, one who does not know at what point the rain caught up with him would hardly remember where and when the pounding stopped. In other words, we must understand the nature of a problem before we can transcend it.

There may be people who would feel that this work is a raking up of muck, an attempt at bringing to the fore matters that people want to forget about; issues that ought to be swept under the carpet for the sake of societal wellbeing and cordial inter-ethnic relationships. But the question is: To what extent has 70 years of silence over these matters helped to douse inter-ethnic tension or helped to bring the groups involved any closer, politically at least? I can understand that many may wish that these details were never written, or even retold, so as not to agitate consciences. But conscience, according to Uthman Dan Fodio, is an open wound that can only be healed by truth.

I happened to have read on-line the newspaper reports of the resolutions of the recently held meeting in Ibadan of the Yoruba National Assembly. I also took time to go through the comments from readers that appeared at the bottom of the newspaper stories. To say the least, I was shocked to the marrow by what I saw. The comments were chilling. The commentaries and brickbat from Igbo and Yoruba commentators to the Yoruba Assembly’s call for true federalism and regional autonomy actually set me wondering whether the situation, the animosity between the two groups, is redeemable.

All the age-old hurts, real and imagined, between the two groups were on display. The bitterness that poured forth is unforgettable. They hurt, and can disillusion even the greatest optimists who hope and earnestly believe that these differences will soon be forgotten and that the attendant cleavages associated with them will soon abate. One notable fellow, an Igbo I think, put a little humour into his own commentary when he wrote that the moment he heard of the then impending Yoruba National Assembly Conference, he knew that there was no way the conference would not talk about the Igbo; meaning that the old Igbo-Yoruba conflict, face-off or rivalry would somehow be re-visited or featured at the meeting. And he added with remarkable aplomb that he was not disappointed.

Remarkableaplomb

Of course he was referring to a contribution by a certain Yoruba chief who charged at the conference that since Enugu has become a State, the Yoruba must insist that Ibadan must be made a State as well, or words to that effect. Apparently, the poor chief imagines that Enugu State is a city-state!

But more importantly, I noted that the commentators, whoever they were and whatever their ages, do not or did not quite understand what actually happened or what caused the subsisting Igbo-Yoruba political conflict. They practically all spoke from bias and half-truths they have been fed with from the rumour mills and from sheer falsehood transmitted over the decades by rote.

The experience steeled my resolve, in fact suppressed my doubts, about the need to write this book and to tell the truth as I know it, for I believe that education is the enemy of prejudice, narrow-mindedness and hate. If hiding the facts could not diminish the intensity of emotion on the subject over a period of seven decades; if it couldn’t bring the two groups any closer politically, or have indeed deepened the animosity people feel over the past, perhaps exposing the truth and talking about our sore collective past will have the opposite effect, I hope.

Inter-ethnicanimosities

There is no gainsaying the fact of widespread and persistent tribal or inter-ethnic animosities both at Nigeria’s country-wide level and more deeply among Southern ethnicities in Nigeria. The roots of these divisiveness and disunity can be traced to a wide variety of factors that have been at play right from the time the different groups began to have contact with one another from pre-colonial times. These factors include social and cultural disparities among the groups, economic intercourse and developmental attainments, education, religion, temperament and influences from the emergent political elite.

Tensions arising from cultural disparities were bound to have exerted very strong influences in the olden days when these groups were first coming into contact with one another.

But one imagines that over the centuries, the groups must have been understudying and adjusting to one another’s cultural peculiarities, temperament and even mannerisms, and should therefore be coping with their different strands by now.

On the economic front, it is obvious that economic intercourse have contributed immensely to the growth of integration and interdependence among the groups. However, economic factors could also be a source of tension as culturally induced disparities in levels of economic acquisitiveness and pursuits, even at individualistic level, may pose difficulties based on enviousness and feelings of or charges of mitigated or undue scruples. More importantly, at the collective level, areas of differentials in modern economic development also stimulate separatist tendencies of even greater political significance.

Also the characteristic attitude of the educated and prosperous groups and subgroups who had earlier contact with Europeans was one of contempt, amusement, condescension, or veiled hostility, depending upon the individual relationship. This impacted negatively not only on inter-ethnic relationships, but also at the intra-ethnic levels.

Trans-tribalbond

At the religious level, one can say that Christianity and its missionaries have played very integrative role in that they provided the initial trans-tribal bond uniting individuals of different and formerly hostile traditional societies in Southern Nigeria. However, with the Nigerianisation of the Christian missions especially in post-independence and post-war

Nigeria, the contest for leadership and office in the orthodox churches have produced squabbles and bad blood among inter-ethnic groups in heterogeneous cities especially in the Southwest and the South-south. But I think that the one single and overriding factor that have influenced matters for the worse in terms of poor interethnic relationships among Nigeria’s southern ethnicities has been the role of the emergent political elite whose duty it was/is to organise the chaotic public will or to synthesize and forge sometimes isolated and festering differences into concrete blueprints and grounds for collective attitudinal responses and political action.

To this extent, given the overriding role of politics in the shaping of human affairs, we are going to concentrate effort at highlighting and explaining some of the evolving relational differences between the Igbo and their Southern neighbours primarily on the impact of politics and the roles played by leading political actors of yesteryears. The matter will be discussed under the different periods of Nigeria’s political developments, starting with the colonial era.

The 1951 Western Regional Election and Its Aftermath

Until the emergence of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (also known as Zik of Africa or simply as Zik) on the Nigerian political scene, Igbo contact with their neighbours was more or less limited to interpersonal contacts and exchanges among borderline communities. Although Zik was a Nigerian nationalist to the core and always tried to mobilise and act from the standpoint of national interest and consensus, his actions and inaction, by the nature of things, still rubbed off on his native Igbo people.

The Igbo, even at interpersonal levels, paid a price for Azikiwe’s leadership of Nigeria’s independence struggle especially at the hands of our British colonial masters. In fact, different sections of the Nigerian society tended, in part, to reward or punish the man and by extension, even if inadvertently, the Igbo according to their respective perception of Zik’s mission in Nigerian politics.

Those who believed or thought that Zik was out to effect or work for “Igbo domination” in the Nigerian polity took steps to stop him and in the process caused the Igbo to pay a price for that perceived ambition.

On the other hand, those who sided with Zik and saw him as a genuine liberator, consciously or unconsciously extended those positive attitudes to the Igbo people in general.

Of course there were people who knew that Zik was genuine but because of class interest and inter-personal differences with the man chose to oppose and call him names as a means of establishing a niche for themselves in the Nigerian political firmament. In the final analysis, the aggregations of these personal and organised collective attitudes began to influence and define the levels of relationships between the Igbo and their neighbours.

Of course this is not to say that the social, economic and political behaviours of other Igbos in their different walks of life did not nor do not play vital roles in this regard.

In Lagos (and Western Nigeria) which became Zik’s political base from the thirties to the early fifties, his activities did generate a counter reaction which in the end pitted the Igbo against the Yoruba politically. Those who did not like his person or brand of politics or did not, for one reason or another, want to work with the man hastily raised counter-groups or parties to challenge the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), originally Nigeria National Council, a national party which was inaugurated on 26 August 1944 with Herbert Macaulay as President and Nnamdi Azikiwe as Secretary.

According to James S. Coleman, membership of the NCNC in the first few months of its formation was organizational and included the following: 2 trade unions, 2 political parties (Nigerian National Democratic Party and Young Democrats), 4 literary societies (for example, the Youths’ Literary Improvement Circle), 8 professional associations (for example, the National Herbal Institute of Medicine and the Society of Native Therapeutics), 11 social clubs (for example, Zik’s Athletic Club and the Merry Rose Club), and 101 tribal unions (for example, the Ibo Union and the Ijebu National Union).

Because Cameroonian associations in Lagos desired to affiliate (that is, the Bamenda Improvement Association, the Bakweri Union, and the Cameroons Youth League), the name of the movement was changed to National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC).

In September 1951 the NCNC decided to have individual members, while organisations became non-voting members. Between 1944 and 1957 the NCNC was the leading all-Nigerian nationalist organisation. Its distinguishing features should therefore be noted. First, until 1952 when the decision to register individual members began to take organisational form membership was restricted to organizations.

In the early post-World War II period, all but a few of these were Lagos bodies. Moreover, the majority of the hundred-odd tribal unions were not tribal at all, but were town, clan, or linage unions; and even in some of the genuine tribal unions the leaders of the Lagos branch were the most active participants. Yet the affiliation of an organization with the NCNC was a subtle but powerful means of awakening political consciousness among individuals in the provinces by the filtration technique.

The election

The Action Group (AG), a political protrusion of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a Yoruba cultural organisation founded in 1947 by Chief Obafemi Awolowo (also known as Awo), and was inaugurated as a western regional political party in March 1951, eventually became the strongest and the most vociferous counterforce to the NCNC in Southern Nigeria.

By December 1951, the stage was set for a test of strength between these two and the other minor socio-cultural/political groupings which chose to field candidates in the 1951 regional elections in the Western Region. Many of these groupings, it must be pointed out, were allied to the NCNC before the birth of the Action Group. Indeed, the NCNC had established such alliances nationwide.

Groups like the Edo Union, Urhobo People’s Union, Tiv Union were part of this build-up, to mention but a few. However, nobody can say with any degree of certainty where the respective loyalties of the smaller political groupings or cultural unions in Western Nigeria lay after the birth of the Action Group and on the eve of the 1951 regional elections, given the ethnically charged atmosphere of the time and Action Group’s philosophy of Yoruba ethnic nationalism and exclusivity.

Actually, there were claims and counter-claims from both the AG and the NCNC as to which of them had working alliances with most of the fringe groups or individual candidates in the run up to the election.

But in reality, the 1951 regional elections were strictly held on party basis through direct voting only in Lagos and Calabar, the two ‘politically advanced’ areas in Nigeria of the time; in the hinterland, individuals contested as independents in indirect elections through the Electoral College system, though many leaned towards one party or another. Chief Obafemi Awolowo himself was elected as an independent from Ijebu, where he was nearly defeated in the second phase of the three-phased indirect election. Like Awolowo, many Action Groupers and NCNC stalwarts left the cities and went to their respective towns and villages to contest the elections in the different electoral colleges.

In Ibadan, the Ibadan People’s Party (IPP), a quasi-political group, held sway, winning the six Ibadan seats. Azikiwe, Prince Adeleke Adedoyin, Dr Olorun-Nimbe, H P Adebola and T O S Benson all of the NCNC, won the five Lagos seats in direct elections, beating the AG candidates by wide margins.

The horse-trading that gave AG majority

Given that some of the elected parliamentarians were undecided or could be persuaded to defect, the stage was set for horse-trading in which the two dominant parties, the NCNC and AG, had to struggle to obtain the support of majority of these ‘independents’ and ‘quasi parties’ in order to form the government of the Region. Each of the elected independents then had to choose what party to identify with. It is now history that in the mundane wheeling and dealing manoeuvre that followed, the NCNC lost woefully to the AG, paving the way for Awolowo, as leader of the AG—a Western Region based party at the time—to become Head of Government Business in the Region, in keeping with parliamentary traditions.

Of course, it was highly plausible that the NCNC lost out in the election or the said horse-trading largely because it was feared, indeed canvassed, openly and secretly, that support for the NCNC was tantamount to a support for Zik, a non-westerner, to head the Western Region Government.

Zik’s interest in Western Region

But unknown to most of the parties or individuals involved, Zik never wanted to assume the position of Head of Government Business in the Western Region in 1952 as alleged. Evidence abound that all that Zik wanted was to entrench his party, the NCNC, in the Western Region and then proceed to the central (national) Legislature in Lagos, as decided by the NCNC national executive committee, to lead his party in Parliament.

TOMORROW
Find out how Chief Awolowo successfully mobilised the support of majority of the minor ‘parties’ and the ‘undecided’ for the Action Group, how NCNC’s  electoral mistake and non-chalance aided the AG and the testimony of Dr Okechukwu Ikejiani, who observed proceedings at the Western House of Assembly. Don’t miss it!

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