Let me be clear: the Igbo are the makers of modern Nigeria. Let no one quibble about this. But the Igbo project of nation-building stalled in 1966 when the republic was overthrown, and a violent civil war levied against the Eastern Region, where the Igbo were dominant.
The massacre of mostly the Igbo, including the Western Igbo across Nigeria leading to that war however made it very clear that the Nigerian civil war was not a war simply against the Eastern region; it was a war mostly against the ethnic Igbo, whose insurgent rise in the new nation constituted a great challenge, and a source of great fear to their neighbors and adversaries for power in the contested space called modern Nigeria.
Very few people recollect today that the Igbo were not only the main group in Eastern Nigeria, but that they were also a very prominent group, and part of Western Nigeria. Aside from their huge presence in Lagos, the boundary between the West and the East was at Asaba, by the lordly Niger.
That is why the Igbo could play prominent political roles in the Western region because the Igbo were part of the Western Region.
They were the largest minority group in the Western region, capable of competing, and contesting for power in alliance with other minority groups against the majority Yoruba in the Western region. That fact on the ground has not changed. The Igbo were the dominant ethnic group in the Midwest thus, when that region was created out of the western region.
Very many Igbo communities were ceded to the Northern region too. But what makes the Igbo a formidable national political force is their potential dominance of urban cities – the epicenters of political action in Nigeria. Igbo presence in great numbers in key urban epicenters in Nigeria is a source of great unused political power.
Let me extrapolate a bit, and highlight this fact. T.Adogbeji. Salubi records in his essay, “The Origins of Sapele Township” published in the Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria of December 1960 that the African population of Sapele Township in 1952 was 33, 638, comprising 14 “Tribes.” Of this number, the Igbo constituted the largest inhabitants of Sapele with 11, 974, accounting for 35.6% of the total population of Sapele as far back as 1952.
Following the Igbo in an “order magnitude” were the Urhobo (7,657), the Itshekiri (4,825), the Edo (3,335), the Yoruba (2,428), Isoko (831), Ijaw (685), Hausa (615), Ibibio (333), Nupe (78), Tiv (38), Fulani (20). Salubi’s source was the 1953 census figures. Sapele was clearly long an Igbo town.
If a scientific count is taken today, it will still clearly show that the Igbo constitute at least 47% of the population in the Sapele/Warri urban corridor. Port Harcourt is of course an Igbo city, to the effect that if the mainland Igbo decide that nobody else will be governor in Rivers state, they have both the resources and the numbers to effect it.
The Igbo constitute half of Yenegoa. The density of the Igbo population in Benin City is an open secret. The population growth of the Aba-Ikot Ekpene-Uyo conurbation with the Igbo constituting an effective majority is one the most interesting demographic developments, of the last twenty-five years.
This number is an amalgam of new settlers, some from those displaced in the North, and those from Aba spilling into Uyo as it assumes a new urban status and possibilities. Going Westwards, it has often been said that the Igbo constitute 45% of Lagos.
This is a very conservative estimate. Any scientific census will show that the Igbo, who grew from 291 from the Lagos enumerations of 1911 to 31, 887 by 1953, by today’s count is nearly half, if not slightly more than half of the population of Lagos, depending on who is counting.
The more unrevealed truth is the number of the Igbo in places like Abeokuta, Ondo/Akure, or Ekiti. The Igbo presence in Ilorin is massive and culture-shifting. It is a mind-boggling number. A huge demographic network, that is in political terms, a sleeping cell of voters.
The great city of Ibadan has always had a good, active Igbo population – active in all things, except in politics since 1966. But of all these, the key is in the Igbo population in the North.
The Igbos of Northern Nigeria fully activated are a great political force. Let us take the city of Kano as an example – the great population cauldron of Northern politics.
In his Trends of Migrant Political Organizations in Nigeria published by IFRA, the Ibadan political Scientist, Eghosa Osagie notes: “(T)he the number of Igbo in Kano was estimated at 2.5 million at the end of 1993, making it the preponderant migrant ethnic group in the state.”
This number is important, and we must keep an eye on it. The estimated population of Kano state as of 2021 is 4.13 million people. The largest area of the modern city of Kano is the Sabon Gari – the Settlers quarters. It is by far larger than the old walled city of Kano.
And the Igbo are the dominant forces in Sabon Gari. If Osagie’s population figure holds true, it means that the Igbo constitute more than half of the population of Kano. This city has been a great gathering zone of the Igbo, and the Igbo alliance with Aminu Kano from the ‘50s always ensured Igbo political influence in Kano. Whoever the Igbo votes carries Kano.
Okonkwo Kano was elected to the Northern House of Assembly from Kano. The Igbo, according to Kate Meagher’s study, had become substantial minorities in Jos, Lafia, Gusau, Kafanchan, Zaria, Markurdi, Kaduna, etc, as far back as 1953, and this remains even more so today with contemporary Igbo migrations.
Igbo have a substantial population presence between Abuja and Minna, enough to cause political upsets should they choose to organize it. Indeed, Abuja today is a city dominated by an Igbo presence; a fact which any simple demographic test can verify.
It is a fact of Igbo history today that 65% of the Igbo ethnic population in Nigeria live outside of traditional Igbo land. In other words, the Igbo network is, properly mobilized, a national political force. Should the Igbo choose, they have the capacity, and the numbers to elect at least one Igbo into the House of Representatives from every state of the federation outside of the traditional Igbo states.
The Igbo have the capacity to elect at least a senator from Lagos; indeed should the Igbo organize, they have both the resources and numbers, given proper alliances, to the field and elect an Igbo as the governor of Lagos. These are clear facts on the ground.
In fact, it can justifiably be said that today, all of Nigeria is “Ala-Igbo.” But with these facts at hand, why is Igbo political fortune in the doldrums? Fact one: the Igbo became very cynical about Nigeria at the end of the war.
Their alienation following the war was exacerbated during the military era when the Igbo felt silenced and marginalized.
The 4-year interregnum 1979-83 nearly re-awakened them, but they were swathed down by a relay of proconsuls under military rule from 1984 to 1999. Since 1999, the political leadership that has emerged in Igbo land has been the second rate.
There are no Igbo politicians today of the sagacity and political training and acumen of Azikiwe and his generation of Igbo political leadership. The new leadership of the Igbo, many of whom saw war, entered the current political fray still frightened of war. They forgot that politics is war by other means.
These new Igbo politicians have been pussy-footing on the national stage, and their lack of political consequence has further alienated a vast Igbo people who have seen Nigeria adrift; feel unrepresented; denied the benefits of citizenship, and are political targets in the places where they live in quiet desperation.
It is this desperation that has given rise to the Igbo revanchist insurgence and hardened the separatist call. Increasingly a new generation of the Igbo feels that they have nothing in common with the current state of Nigeria. Many seek to escape from Nigeria. Many have de-identified with Nigeria.
This is the consequence of Igbo political isolation. To this day, Igbo do not vote in their actual numbers, even in Igbo land. They do not trust the electoral process. Secondly, the Igbo do not vote in the cities where they live in their actual numbers, nor do they participate in the real politics of these cities because they fear political reprisals and violence.
A very recent example is the attacks against the Igbo in the last two political cycles in Lagos, by forces who fear the implications of Igbo electoral votes in Lagos. Igbo, therefore, have self-disenfranchised and are therefore victims of their own cynicism and inaction.
A nationally mobilized Igbo would cause a radical shift in the politics of Nigeria. The Igbo are therefore right in thinking that the first call today for the Igbo is to force a restructuring of Nigeria. But that restructuring must include a fundamental shift in the ways that political power is delivered. The Igbo must, therefore, as a matter of self-interest fight and pressure with everything in their arsenal for electoral reforms that would make elections transparent; that will safeguard the right to vote and be voted for and secure the sanctity of the ballots once cast.
The Igbo must defend the sanctity of their votes cast anywhere they live. The Igbo must now fully begin to organize and participate actively in the politics of the cities wherever they live and insist on effective representation. There should be no taxation without representation.
The Igbo must be willing to use both legal and extra-legal means to secure their rights to political participation. Basically, the Igbo must no longer be intimidated or bullied into ceding the political space. They must strike back viciously when struck, and deploy bulldozers, if anybody deploys caterpillars against them.
They must organize their own active counter forces, political and administrative; visible and invisible, in any cities where they dwell in good numbers. Indeed, of any Nigerian group, the Igbo are the only ones that can raise a division strength militia, should they choose, in every major city in Nigeria.
That is political power that even the Igbo themselves take for granted. Nigeria must be repaired. It will take active Igbo action and participation.
The Igbo must no longer stand aside and merely lament the destruction of Nigeria by forces intent on overwhelming it, even if it be by mediocrity.
The Igbo must study the Zika template; build useful national political alliances; and align with the principle that the rights of every Nigerian are equal and must be equally protected not only by the constitution, but by the courts, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, or gender. Enough of the Monday morning quarterbacking. It is weak and ineffective.