The Sardauna, Britain, Nigeria and the Igbo
SATURDAY, 17 DECEMBER 2011
Igbo tenacity, drive and relentless optimism to pursue and overcome life's challenges were acutely an affront to both the sardauna of Sokoto and British occupation sensibilities in Nigeria. This sardauna interview (video below) must have been recorded in the late 1950s/early 1960s - definitely after both the 1945 and 1953 north Nigeria-organised pogroms against Igbo immigrant populations in Jos and Kano respectively. Hundreds of Igbo were murdered during the pogroms and tens of thousands of pounds sterling worth of their property were looted and destroyed at the time. Each pogrom was carried out because of the Igbo vanguard role in the restoration-of-independence movement to free Nigeria from the British conquest and occupation. North Nigeria's sociopolitical leaderships, effectively British regional clients, were opposed to the restoration of African freedom. They, indeed, were disposed to the continuing British occupation of Nigeria.
As a result, the occupation regime did not apprehend or prosecute anyone for either the 1945 or 1953 pogroms and the outrages became the "dress rehearsals" for the 29 May 1966-12 January 1970 Igbo genocide when the Nigeria state (as a whole) with full Britain involvement, and others, murdered 3.1 million Igbo or one-quarter of this nation's population. Britain, nor indeed any of the other pan-European conquerors of Africa (France, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Germany), did not create a Nigeria, or whatever names these "Berlin states" in Africa are called, as precursor for African emancipation. On the contrary, the Nigerias of Africa are more of replicas of the enslaved plantations of the Americas (in the previous epoch of nearly 300 years) to perpetuate European control and exploitation of Africa and Africans in perpetuity.
The enslaved Igbo encountered this with unrelenting courage and defiance in the enslaved estates in the Americas (north, south and the Caribbean), as history shows, and wouldn't have it either at home! The sardauna interview should be part of History/Politics 101 course on Africa because it does tell one, in a nutshell, the "fate" of the Igbo in Nigeria that north Nigeria, with firm support of Britain, had, carefully, contrived right back in the 1950s. Except the Igbo people have signed up for a concerted suicide, they surely cannot see their destiny emplaced in this space of certain death.
This has been the cardinal lesson of the Igbo genocide. Thankfully, some Igbo who were still not sure of the long term implications of the continuing Nigerian occupation of their homeland (since 12 January 1970) have had a baptism of enlightenment since the video of the sardauna interview went viral just recently! Suddenly, historical records become opportunities for rare streams of conscientisation...
“In view of all this, the truth of what Sarduana of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, said many years ago remains irrefutable: the amalgamation by Britain of the North and South of that part of West Africa into one country called Nigeria is a grave mistake of 1914. Awolowo had earlier, in 1947, for example, hinted about the likely result of the union of the South and the North. This is what he wrote:
All these incompatibilities among the various peoples in the country militate against unification. For one thing they are bound to slow down progress in certain sections, and on the other hand they tend to engender unfriendly feelings among the diverse elements thus forced together. The more alert and ambitious groups, like the Yorubas, Ibos (sic), and Ibibios, are impatient, and want an increase in the pace of political, educational, and economic advancement; while the Hausas are indifferent. The Yorubas, in particular, have suffered feelings of frustration for years (Awolowo, 1947: 49).
It is interesting to note that Awolowo made the above exposition in 1947 and believed that the 1914 “amalgamation will EVER remain the most painful injury a British Government inflicted on Southern Nigeria.” The Yoruba, as Awolowo has noted, have suffered frustration as a result of the dog-in-a-manger relationship between the Muslim part of the North and the South, but as things have been going, it seems it is the people in the East whose advancement has been very much hampered by such a relationship. There seem to be undeclared norm: ‘We cannot develop and we will not allow you to develop either.’ This may explain the manifestations of frustration and waste of abundant human talents in different parts of the Nigerian polity.
Figure 2 above shows the North and the South. The South is further divided into Western and Eastern Regions. In the above chart, while the South is 17% of the country, the North is 83%. Prevalent is the view that this antidemocratic and immoral measure was deliberately taken to favour and unduly over-empower the Hausa-Fulani in the North against the rest of the country. Awolowo (1947) states, “We could cite other instances, some of them in fact unprintable. But enough has been said to show that there is a big rift between North and South which the Government itself is sedulously widening” (:52). Ifeajuna (1966) considers the period between 1960 and 1966 as the darkest in the history of Nigeria attributable to the imbalance in the political structure of the country together with rigged census figures in favour of the sparsely populated North against the densely populated South – all “a deliberate imperial act” (:29). For Osaghae (2002), the Colonial Government “pursued policies of uneven development among ethnic groups and regions, and entrenched a system of ethnic ranking, stratification, and discrimination that virtually guaranteed the Fulani aristocracy and the northern system it controlled, political domination of the country …” (: 221f).
Unity is dependent on equal relations. Equal relations are difficult when one region of a state is so large or so powerful to override the wishes of the other regions put together. The British Government was aware of this basic fact of life. So why did the British Government not only make the North so large but also so politically and militarily powerful as almost all military installations were concentrated in one area of the country in the North? (Madiebo, 1980: 9).
“Another example of pre-colonial democracy was the Igbo people of West Africa. The Igbo people’s concept of Ọha-na-Eze (literally, the people and their king) is a theoretical acknowledgement of a democratic system. This is further reinforced by the notion of Ụmunna (Community) which the people believed to be the sovereignty. Like the Gikuyu, in Igbo political system, eligible adults constituted the legislative assembly. They also formed the executive government.
When a people gathered and discussed openly on political or social issues affecting them, were they not being democratic? In a polity where such discussions were not possible and where only the authority of one person or a few individuals determined what the rest must do, there was no democracy but autocracy or aristocracy. In his book, Things Fall Apart, Achebe (1967) paints a dramatic picture of the Igbo system of democracy in action: “There must have been about ten thousand men there, all talking in low voices” (:192f), deliberating on what was the appropriate line of action to take against the people of Mbaino. The Igbo had a unique system of democracy that even among them, the Nri people operated a monarchical system as Nri was a kingdom within the Igbo polity.
Decentralised or stateless republic (e.g. the Igbo) is sometimes equated to absence of institutions of governance. Although the government structure in a stateless polity was localised, it was most often very effective and efficient. For example, though politically the pre-colonial Igbo society may be rightly designated as a decentralised or stateless society, they in their micro-political units manifested high democratic values.”