Igbo Republicanism And The Political Ascendency Of The S'East

In the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War, the political fortunes of the Igbos of South-East Nigeria appear to have been steadily deteriorating. The decline at the political front seems to have been replicated at the economic front culminating in an atmosphere of hopelessness and frenzy among the Igbos, with attendant lack of visible progress in the 5 states of South-East Nigeria. In spite of these challenges, the Igbo search for political direction appears to have remained haphazard with no meaningful adjustments particularly at the ideological level. Accordingly, this article reviews the “Igbo-enwe-eze” concept of Igbo primitive republicanism highlighting the shortfalls that emphasize its anachronism to the political and economic ascendancy of South-East Nigeria. Additionally, it insists that the desire for political relevance and economic uplifting among the Igbos of South-East Nigeria must first begin with the search for a more appropriate ideology that best serves such interests within a united Nigeria. Consequently, it makes recommendations for peaceful Nigeria-Igbo relations.

At independence, the Igbos of the defunct Eastern Nigeria were considered as one of the legs of the Nigerian tripod which comprised of the 3 major ethnic groups in the country to wit, the Hausa-Fulani, the Yorubas and the Igbos. These ethnic groups were considered “major” only in terms of their numbers and not necessarily because they were superior to the nearly 400 ethnic nationalities that dotted the Nigerian landscape. Historically, there was mutual respect between these ethnic groups which lived relatively peacefully in the few years after independence until the Nigerian Civil War of 1966 – 1970. Unfortunately, the sectionalist tendencies of the leading politicians of Nigeria’s First Republic amplified the fault lines of ethnic rivalry, confirming the fears of the ethnic minorities about their potential emasculation in what could become the dictatorship of the ethnic majorities. As these tendencies grew, trust began to diminish between the major ethnicities on the one hand, and on the other hand, between ethnic minorities and ethnic majorities which seemed to dominate the political space in many of the regions. Real trouble started with the rigging of the 1962 Census which was repeated in 1963 but still ended up with controversial results. Furthermore, internal schisms within the Action Group (AG) had precipitated several clashes between the Awolowo and Akintola factions resulting in wanton violence. This attracted the Federal declaration of state of emergency in the Western region which was the base of the Party. However, with Awolowo’s arrest in 1963 and his subsequent award of a 10-year prison sentence, the AG was officially set on the path of decline. Meanwhile, the creation of the Mid-West region to assuage the fears of certain minorities was seen by the Western region as a federal attempt to weaken the West – especially as regards its status as the power base of the opposition Action Group. Incidentally, the 1964 General Elections that followed the census of 1962 – 63 also witnessed massive rigging resulting in a lot of contestations and riots across the country – and in all of these, the military was watching in the background. Thus, on 15 January 1966, Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and his band of coup plotters struck the First Republic out of existence in a series of operations beginning with “DAMISA” but the Nzeogwu intervention was later to be tagged an Igbo coup in view of the collateral damage on the Northern and Western “fronts” which saw the demise of the premiers of these regions as well as many senior military officers of Northern and Western extraction. The outcome of the coup was largely responsible for the extrajudicial killings of Igbos in the pogrom that followed, culminating in the counter coup of 28 July 1966. Accordingly, the Igbo suffering and depravity in the aftermath of the “July Rematch” compounded by the carnage of the Civil War was to herald an era of consistent political and socioeconomic decline for the ethnic nationality. Sadly, the long years of decline appear not to have been confronted with reasonable intellectual vigour on the part of the Igbos to reverse the trend, except for periodic lamentations of marginalisation often laced with discordant and incoherent strategies for the revival of the defunct sovereign state of Biafra. Accordingly, the aim of this effort is to assess the Igbo strategy of survival within the post-Civil War Nigerian federation with a view to making recommendations.

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Professor MarkAnthony Nze’s Value-Oriented System Theory in Contemporary Times (VOST) is a framework of strategic management and leadership conceptualized along 3 main drivers namely – a value-oriented thinking process, knowledge creation/management and social change strategies for developmental growth/transformation through innovation and entrepreneurship. It is built on the 1+19=VOST (1=speed, 19=accuracy) doctrine and aimed at applying speed and accuracy to fabricate innovative solutions to concrete problems in rapidly-changing political and socio-economic environments. The VOST Theory is distinguishable by its emphasis on providing solutions for real problems instead of academic ones, as well as mainstreaming environments in which problems have occurred to find appropriate solutions. Accordingly, we shall rely on this framework to show that the inability of the Igbos to speedily comprehend and accurately respond to the emerging anti-Igbo sentiment in the years immediately sequel to the Civil War was largely responsible for the political and socio-economic dilapidation which they currently face in Nigeria.

According to the Harvard Reviews, the defunct Eastern Nigeria (between 1954 and 1964) was the fastest growing economy in the world. It was growing faster than countries like China and Singapore, and this was evident in the number of businesses registered in Nigeria at the time, which amounted to more than 68,000 in the East compared to a little over 5,000 in the West and about 2,000 in the North. The Igbo resourceful spirit was palpable even during the war when Igbos locally refined petroleum, manufactured their own weapons and practically withstood a better equipped Nigerian side for a gruelling 3 years. According to Anele (2021), “Igbo people also dominated the officer corps of the Nigerian army whereas northerners populated the junior ranks and Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) cadres. Similarly, Siollun (2009) cited in Anele (2021) opines that “in the ethnic stratification of the officer corps, between 65 – 70% of the army majors were Igbo.” These were some of the glorious heights that Igbos attained in Nigeria until the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970. Incidentally, the Igbos lost the war and like any other conquered belligerent, the Igbo position in the Nigerian political and socio-economic firmament became precarious. The crux of the problem was the inability of the Igbos to quickly align their thinking with their rapidly changing environment by first understanding that regardless of whatever is said after any war – whether placatory or perfunctory – the fate of the vanquished is always in the hands of the victor. It therefore amounted to sheer delusion for a vanquished people to begin to expect an easy return to pre-war privileges and positions regardless of the preliminary gestures of forgiveness and acceptability that their conquerors made pretensions to offer. Thus, by promising reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation, the Gowon regime handed out a façade to the Igbos which they immediately fell for, paving the way for an era of perennial Igbo expectations of equity from a government that appeared not to be too enthusiastic to accommodate a people that fought a war against it. Unfortunately, the first sign of Gowon’s volte face came with the promulgation of The Public Officers (Special Provisions) Decree No 46 of 1970 which summarily dismissed or compulsorily retired Igbo officers who participated in the war, despite an earlier promise by the regime to reabsorb them. The second sign sufficed when Igbos returned to Port Harcourt only to discover that much of their property have been taken over by the people they left behind vis-à-vis the Abandoned Property Policy of the Rivers State Government. The third sign was the flat award of 20 pounds to every “ex-Biafran” irrespective of how much he had in the bank before the War, which was the aim of The Banking Obligation (Eastern States) Decree No 56 of 1970. The exclusion of Calabar from the operability of this Decree testified to its desperate specificity in targeting the core economies of the Igbo heartland. The fourth sign was the promulgation of the Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Decree of 1972 which ensured the economic empowerment of Nigerians who had enough money to invest in some of the country’s critical enterprises thereby alienating the Igbos whose 20 pounds were useless in the face of such huge acquisitions. While the Igbos were still expecting reconstruction, the fifth sign came in the form of the current deliberate policy of continuous infrastructural degradation of Igbo land, conducing to the reckless abandonment of virtually all seaports and river ports in the region, coupled with the continuous “localization” of airports in strategic Igbo cities that ought to possess international airports. This is in addition to the effects of a quasi-federal constitution which placed the resources of the South East at the control of the Federal Government. These policies were clearly intended to subjugate a people that had been promised rehabilitation after a devastating 30-month civil war. Unfortunately, rather than quickly appreciate the times and retreat to articulate the way forward, the Igbos continued with the illusory sense of pre-war entitlement and privileges. To worsen matters, the Igbo political concept of “Igbo-enwe-eze” (the Igbos have no king) proved to be highly injurious to any prospect of forging a common front in the effort to repel the emerging anti-Igbo political and socio-economic onslaught. “Igbo-enwe-eze” meant that the Igbos could not queue behind any leader to speak for the people. It also meant the gradual erosion of the values of respect for the elders and leaders of thought owing to the emerging assumption by many Igbo youths that anyone who was not responsible for their material sustenance was not worth their respect or loyalty. This is often understood from the expression: “I na-enye m nri?!” (Do you feed me?!), which is the usual retort of some of these youths anytime they are confronted with the questions of obedience to elders or loyalty to a cause. Unfortunately, the few illustrious Igbo sons who managed to quickly carve a niche for themselves after the war despite the 20 pounds policy appeared to be more interested in bickering and battling for local supremacy and recognition while their house burned. In the ensuing maelstrom, the Igbo society commenced a journey of gradual but steady loss of relevance. With time, Igbo youths began to loathe the leadership lacuna in Igbo land as well as the political elite whom they felt were too uninterested in saving them from a situation in which it appeared that their future was slipping away. As the seeming elite disinterestedness to solve the Igbo problem continued, allegations of elite collusion and complicity in the prevailing problems emerged to reinforce the youths’ tendency to deride their leaders. The elders and the traditional institution were not spared of the vilifications because their conspicuous inability to advise the erring elite was construed by the irate youths as a sign of acquiescence. The end result was that the average Igbo youth seemed to have totally lost regard for his elder or political leader such that in recent times, these leaders have become the subject of dastardly attacks. In view of these lapses, it was not surprising that agitations for the resurrection of the sovereign state of Biafra emerged to compound the already existing confusion. More so, the attitude of the Igbo elite towards the resurgent Biafran ideology complicated their relationship with the rest of the people mainly because they appeared to neither make spirited efforts to dissuade the angry youths against Biafra nor did they show considerable empathy for the cause. Thus, by continuing to adopt a policy of neutrality to the Biafran cause, the Igbo elite further alienated themselves from their home base while striving to endear themselves to the Nigerian centre. Unfortunately, their efforts to curry the favours of the centre appeared not to have materialized except for an insignificant few but back home, popular resentment against Igbo politicians was now more palpable than ever. Thus, when Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and his Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) appeared on stage, there was no force to contend the political space with him because the socio-political support base politicians would ordinarily require to challenge IPOB was virtually non-existent. Incidentally, the helplessness of these politicians was exposed by their shameful inability to end “sit-at-home,” and was compounded by constant Federal accusations of complicity in the IPOB melee, so that with the coming of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) and the arrival of the “unknown” gunmen, the future became gloomy for the average Igbo politician.

The point being made is that the concept of “Igbo-enwe-eze” atomised the igbo society almost to the point that collective consciousness to tackle common problems became lacking. “Igbo-enwe-eze” was supposed to be the symbol of the Igbo affinity for democracy but the lack of value-oriented thinking among the Igbo lent this originally beautiful concept to more pejorative interpretations which now hinder the progress of the ethnic nationality. More importantly, the inability of the Igbos to think swiftly in line with their changing environment and fashion out intellectually innovative ways to address the post-Civil War betrayal which denied them the benefits of the 3Rs became a historical undoing which alone or in combination with the trauma of the war, had continued to plague the Igbos till date. Notwithstanding, the question as to Igbo marginalization in the Nigerian scheme of things is not in doubt and quite a number of anomalies underscore this point. First, the South East geopolitical zone which the Igbos are grouped into has the least number of states in the country and irrespective of this author’s disbelief in the continuous balkanization of the country as a basis for development, all the Igbo hue and cry in respect of disproportionality of states have not gotten the attention of the centre. Additionally, the Buhari civilian regime of 2015 – 2023 appeared too indisposed to the appointment of Igbos as heads of security agencies and as is if this was not enough, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe once declared in a TV interview that the only Igbo man who worked in Aso Rock at the time was “a photographer named Sunny.” Furthermore, the destruction of Igbo property and businesses without consequences anytime there is a little skirmish or political upheaval anywhere in the Country regardless of whether Igbos were party to the disputes or not, became the signpost of Igbo weakness in the Nigerian federation, such that during the recently concluded 2023 General Elections, political thugs and all manner of persons were seen threatening Igbos in Lagos and other cities to vote for certain candidates or return to their homes. This was after a first class chief in thesame Lagos had earlier threatened to throw Igbos into the lagoon if they chose not to vote his preferred candidate.

Currently, 2 options exist for the Igbos in the management of their post-war predicament in Nigeria. The first option is the continued insistence on the actualization of the sovereign state of Biafra but the problem with this option is the lack of coherence and reliability of strategy, coupled with the tendency of some freedom fighters to commercialize the process resulting in increasing popular disaffection for the cause. The apparent commercialization of the Biafran struggle and the continuous factionalization of freedom fighters appear to have disorganized the Igbo society along the lines of unbridled insecurity occasioned by uncontrolled violence such that the prevailing atmosphere of violence has tended to discourage commerce, which is the live wire of the Igbos. This has resulted in massive poverty among the people. Additionally, factionalization appears to have created the opportunity for collusion with external forces accused of hijacking the struggle to inflict dastardly violence on the Igbo society so as to give IPOB a bad name (or justify its proscription as a terrorist organization) thereby worsening the travails of its detained leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. This is in contrast to the methodology of the “Ilana Omo Oodua” whose agitation for a separate Yoruba nation appears to be more cohesive and peaceful.

The second option for the Igbos is to remain in Nigeria and device a means to not only cohabit peacefully with their neighbours but also to reclaim the glorious heights they attained prior to the war. This option would involve a lot of bridge building and planning occasioned by value-reorientation arising from a critical appraisal of the prevailing issues, coupled with the innovative formulation of a dynamic ideology confluent with the constantly changing political and socio-economic milieu, and compatible with Igbo strategic interests. Accordingly, the Igbo concept of “Igbo-enwe-eze” must fall into desuetude because the reality of Igbo politics in Nigeria shows that it is time for Igbos to have a “king” through which their aspirations and yearnings would be projected to the world. There is no doubt that the “king” in question should be Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. Regardless of his personal flaws, Nnamdi Kanu is clearly the most influential Igbo leader since Odumegwu Ojukwu and therefore, the Igbos must queue behind him as a matter of urgency. However, to effectively harness the benefits of queuing behind a leader within a united Nigeria, certain adjustments in the milieu of Nigeria-Igbo relations would be imperative.

Consequently, it is recommended that:

  1. The Federal Government of Nigeria should release Mazi Nnamdi Kanu unconditionally.
  2. The Federal Government of Nigeria should replace the name “Nigeria” with any other indigenous name that best reflects the collective aboriginal fantasies of the diverse ethnic nationalities that constitute the Country.
  3. The Federal Government of Nigeria should commence the process of promulgating a new constitution for the Country.
  4. The Federal Government of Nigeria should implement the report of the 2014 National Conference.
  5. The Federal Government of Nigeria should immediately set up a South East Development Commission to fast track the development of the South East geopolitical zone.
  6. The Federal Government of Nigeria should adhere strictly to the federal character principle in the conduct of government business.
  7. All states’ houses of assembly in the South-East should collaborate to provide a legal framework for the incorporation of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) into the security architecture of the region.
  8. The “Ohaneze ndi Igbo” should discard its elitist regalia and show more interest in issues affecting the ordinary Igbo man.
  9. The “Aka Ikenga” should organize a global summit to articulate a holistic strategy for Igbo reintegration into the post-war Nigerian society.
  10. Leaders of Igbo-dominated markets in all parts of the country should design impeccable security infrastructures to protect their wares.
  11. All Igbo politicians vying for electoral positions in the country should recognize the need to build bridges across all geopolitical divides.


The ‘Alternative Viewpoint,’ penned by Flight Lieutenant Christopher Uchenna Obasi (Retired), is a sophisticated weekly column that delves into the complex dimensions of socio-political issues. While it concentrates primarily on the African context, the column also casts a wider analytical net to encompass global affairs. Through incisive commentary and in-depth analysis, it aims to offer alternative perspectives that challenge mainstream narratives and provoke thoughtful discourse on critical matters.

Africa Today News, New York

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