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Igbo leadership and the urban immigrant

It is on record that many Igbo urban immigrants trying to eke out a living like other urban poor had lived peacefully with their host communities on the streets of Lagos and Kano long before the return of Zik, the most influential Igbo in the 20th century in 1934, Akanu Ibiam, the first Igbo medical doctor in 1935, and Louis Mbanefo, the first Igbo lawyer, 1937 and their involvement in politics. And following the false sense of security the new spokes persons promised, the Igbo urban immigrants  started saying ‘any attack on Zik is an attack on Igbo nation’ and the radicals among them even went further  buying off all the cutlasses in Lagos market in preparation for war against their Lagos hosts. But unfortunately, to the power seeking Igbo elite, the Igbo urban immigrants are only tools for political bargaining in whose name they swear when confronted by their own demons. Whether it was a Fulter Sutton Commission of Inquiry into the activities of ACB then owned by Zik, his children and his friend Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu, or Ozumba Mbadiwe’s Ijora land deal, or in recent times, the evasion of payment for land rent on choice properties in Lagos or involvement in fuel subsidy scam, it has always been because they are Igbo leaders fighting the cause of urban immigrants.

Attempts at using Igbo urban dwellers for political leverage started back in 1938 during the crisis in Nigerian Youth Movement, a party formed  by Yoruba and Yoruba repatriates  many of whom were alumni of Kings College and  according to Richard Sclar, ‘ men of substance engaged in business, law medicine or journalism’. The crisis started with the resignation of its chairman, Dr  Kofoworola Abayomi from the Legislative Council and in line with the constitution of the party, Ernest Ikoli, supported by Awolowo, the Ibadan branch Secretary General, put himself forward . But Akinsanya, a founding member, supported by Zik also showed interest. This led to an election in which Akinsanya was roundly defeated. In 1939 Zik pulled out of NYM with Akinsanya and the Igbo members accusing Awo who had supported an Ijaw man against his Ijebu kinsman a tribalist. The Lagos Ibo state Union which had taken over NCNC since 1944 believed Zik. Richard Sclar hazarded a guess as to Zik’s motive. He narrowed it down to two self-serving possibilities:  ‘He may have resented the commercial competition of the Daily Service, the official journal of NYM, or that he discovered ‘his impetuously , dramatic, highly personalized type of leadership was not palatable to the Lagos elite group of  professionals and intellectual luminaries of Lagos’ at the period.

The intra party feuds that engulfed NCNC after the return of its delegation to London was also blamed on Yoruba by Zik and his Igbo colleagues. Prince Adeleke Adedoyin and Dr Olorun –Nimbe, members of the delegation had accused the leadership of NCNC of mismanagement of funds and Zik of being the sole author of the Memorandum and Constitutional Proposal submitted to the colonial secretary. The two were consequently expelled but the expulsion was ineffective because they constituted the soul of NCNC in Lagos. And later when attempt by the party to prevail on Dr Olorun-Nimbe who had won an election to the central legislature to step down to pave way for Zik failed, Zik claimed he was being marginalized  as an Igbo man by Yoruba tribalists .The Lagos Igbo state Union believed him. Ozumba Mbadiwe thereafter embarked on a crusade to separate Lagos from the West.

Although the pan tribal group by the Ibibio first appeared in Calabar in 1928, followed in 1930, by Igbo Unions in Lagos and Port Harcourt, it wasn’t until 1945 that a parallel movement for the unity of Yoruba  led by  Obafemi  Awolowo, Dr Oni Akerele, and others started in far away  London. And the aim among others was to reform the alien authoritarian system of government imposed on Yoruba by the British following the 1914 amalgamation. Action Group that emerged from the egbe was therefore a party anchored on Yoruba nationalism.

But Zik dismissed Awo who had by 1945, around the time he was celebrating the virtues of the Igbo as a people ordained by God to lead Africa, written his first critical book on British Administration in Nigeria where he advocated ‘federalism, the right of ethnic nationalities for self rule’ and called for the ‘barriers of tribalism, clannishness to be broken with ethnical units totally destroyed”. Zik devoted his daily column in his West African Pilot to fighting Awo, and the AG. He exploited his popularity in the major towns of the west and Lagos where he could do no wrong because the Lagos white cap chiefs and Imams saw him as the grandson of Herbert Macaulay.

But this was not enough to stop the victory of Awo and AG In the 1951 regional election, a victory that   sealed Zik’s hope of becoming the premier of the West. Once again Zik ran back to his Lagos Ibo State Union alleging he was robbed by Awo and Yoruba tribal irredentists. Turning logic on its head, Zik and his supporters insisted that AG won the 1951 western regional election by 45 to NCNC’s 35 seats because of tribal politics. But they had  had little to say about eastern region where in the same election, the dominant NCNC won by 65 to the opposition’s (United National Party) 4,   Similarly  in the 1954, federal election in the west, AG won by 23 to NCNC’s 18  while in the same federal election in the east, NCNC won by 32 to AG 3.  But ask Igbo youths who have been fed with falsehood by Igbo political elite as to the origin of tribal politics in Nigeria, they will not hesitate to point at Western House Ibadan where the late Professor Chinua Achebe falsely claimed he witnessed cross carpeting on the floor in  1952, when in truth the list of AG candidates was submitted and published by the colonial government before the election and a list of successful AG candidates  as  released by government was published by the Daily Times about two days before the sitting.

Igbo political elite will not even accept responsibility for the civil war. Many Igbo youths believe Ojukwu’s declaration of independence of Biafra and the ensuing civil war was the making of Awo who reneged on ‘if East by any act of omission or commission is forced out of the federation, the west will follow”. I am sure Ojukwu who lived among the Yoruba in Lagos and Achebe who schooled in Ibadan ought to have known the Yoruba who by their culture are at liberty to ask their leaders uncomfortable questions would not have hesitated to demand Awo, their powerful and highly respected leader first bring his children from abroad if he had insisted on fighting a war with Hausa Fulani soldiers in firm control of Abeokuta and Ibadan. (There were very few Yoruba foot soldiers in the military).

But Awo knew he was leading a highly critical followership who read meanings even to ordinary greetings. He ran down to Enugu with Professor Samuel Aluko a few days later to plead with Ojukwu to delay his declaration of independence. In spite of the assurances, Ojukwu declared the independence of the Republic of Biafra, according to him, ‘with only 19 rifles’, a day after Gowon had turned the dream republic into a landlocked enclave having carved out states for the minorities that had always wanted liberation from the Igbo hegemony. And as recently observed by Theophilus Danjuma while praising President Jonathan for conceding defeat, Ojukwu prolonged the nightmare of his people for another one year after the fall of Enugu.

Igbo political elite hardly get sanctioned for failure of leadership. They falsely proclaim Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba as Igbo haters. With the former, they have according to General Alabi jointly ruled the country since independence while the latter provides a safe haven for Igbo fortune seekers.

Many of our youths have been fed with too many falsehoods.  Part of the immediate challenges of the incoming administration must include bringing back the study of history in our schools. Our tomorrow is nothing but the sum total of our yesterday and today.

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