Overview Of Ndigbo’s Past Dominance Through Historical Perspective



One supposed Yoruba writer, (from his name), posted an article in the form of a letter to a supposed Igbo man whom he addressed as “EGBON”. Egbon in the Yoruba language is “elder brother”. In the said letter, he delved into history and narrated how the Igbos too dominated before, and therefore should not be heard to complain of non-inclusion in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. I felt compelled to reply to it as an elder and a northerner, (the core north normally use that to include somebody like me).

Nigeria is in a very difficult situation now and could disintegrate if wisdom is not applied and quick reconciliatory action not taken. That is why I am worried, especially as to the quality of advice the president is getting. With what I read from the northern side on social media, the president has to apply wisdom in distilling the kind of information and advice he gets. He has to widen his sources in order to get a balanced view and what should be done in the circumstances.

Buhari has to listen and do what the country wants, and not what a few bigoted individuals want. This is more so as the president will have to account, both to history and to God. This is more so as he swore on the glorious Qur’an to uphold the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and to do justice to all manner of persons. It was in this vein that in his first speech at his swearing in, he made the famous statement: “I BELONG TO EVERYBODY, AND I BELONG TO NOBODY” I advise that he should “walk the talk”, and should not be carried away by any section because he belongs to all and to nobody.

In my response, (since it was published in the SHOBASSA Forum on Facebook:  “I am not responding on your so-called “Egbon”, the Igbo man. But I just want to make one or two comments, based on what I read. I must confess that I did not read all as I was put-off when you began to recount history for a very good part of your write-up. But this is not to ignore history. History is very important and it should serve to inform us about the past, its mistakes and how to avoid them now, and in the future.  Any society that dwells on history alone, (I emphasise, ALONE), without paying attention to the PRESENT and the future is  bound to retrogress further than that past it is gleefully recounting.

There is no doubt that the Igbos in pre-independent Nigeria and post independent Nigeria dominated both the public and the private sectors.  That dominance was the foundation for the later hatred for the Igbos that have tended to exacerbate with the current Buhari regime. What more, their struggle for secession.  It was not a one-day affair. But that is not to say that because of that supposed “hatred” there is no Igbo man at all in Buhari’s government. There are.  The major point being made is not just that Nigeria is a diverse country. That is a correct statement of fact. It has more than 300 ethnic nationalities, with the Igbos (in the east); the Yorubas (in the west) and  the Hausas (in the north). Amongst them are very many other tribes occupying varying land masses and different population sizes, all with varying exploited, unexploited, explored and unexplored natural resources.

It is in recognition of this diversity that our early independence fathers adopted the Federal structure so that, as much as possible, these diversities will be reflected at the Federal center  and some room created for breathing in order to avoid any suffocating embrace. Regions were created to provide for the independence and the breathing space needed. It worked fairly well as from 1958, when the regions had internal self-government, and up to 1960, although the issue of minority fears of and actual discrimination had cropped up, leading to the Willinks Commission on these fears.

Unfortunately, our early fathers were concerned mainly with grabbing independence from the British and consolidating power in their various domains or enclaves. A semblance of acting on the minorities’ agitations later led to the creation of the Mid-west region. The minorities’ agitations could have been solved incrementally thereafter, but the military truncated this evolutionary natural process by 1966 when they staged the first coup de tat and took over the reins of government.

Bear in mind that the fact of Igbo dominance in all sectors of the polity was already there even before independence and was only reversed when the civil war commenced in 1967. Since then, the other regions – north and west – took over the dominance in politics and governance, with the north dominating the political space, while the west dominated the financial sector and the press which was seen as the “fourth estate of the realm”.

From 1967 up to the civilian democracies in the late seventies and nineties, governance, in terms of representation of the diverse groups, was seen as fair, including the issue of inclusion at the center. In fact the federal character provision was made in the various constitutions right from that of the First Republic up to that of the present 9th Republic. Each subsequent regime had tried to implement the constitutional provision on federal character, even including past military regimes. As a provision in our various constitutions to the PRESENT, it was made for the stability of the country as diverse as it is.

That the Igbos as a group dominated all sectors up until 1967, and this a fact of history. It is a fact also that nobody can change what had happened. It would amount to rewriting history. However, it is to serve as a guide to the PRESENT and to the future, that is, to avoid dominance by any group in order to promote stability. It is not a good example that anybody should aspire to copy. The lesson is that it does not only lead to instability, but to war and even break-up. If after 50 years the Igbos are still experiencing the repercussions of that war which lasted for only 30 months, then, it means that all groups should try to avoid the reoccurrence of domination. Should war unfortunately break out, it would not be fought in the manner of the 1967/ 1970 war. It would be more complicated and devastating, affecting every group and sector and certainly lead to disintegration of the country.  This is what all well-meaning Nigerians should avoid.

The very fact of the dominance of the Igbos in that era is not only a fact of history, but it was, as well, circumstantial. Even the writer experienced such dominance and discrimination, affecting the railways, hospitals, schools, police and their stations and other institutions of government. Do you then blame the Igbos? No.

Fears of this dominated the pre-independence talks where ever and whenever the northern delegations were involved. It was a matter that reared its head at the London Constitutional talks with effect of delaying the granting of independence. The northern delegation led by the Sardauna was insulted in Ibadan and pelted when they went for talks. It gave rise to the famous statement of the Sardauna when he was quoted as saying that “he regretted the mistake of 1914″, referring to the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates. Also, Chief Tony Enahoro had raised a motion in the House for the independence of Nigeria, but the motion was shot down by the north. Apparently, the north was not as ready as the south.

The fathers had adopted a federal structure with a center and the regions serving as federating units. While the south had enough manpower, it could man their regions. But the north did not have the manpower. Most of the manpower then had to come from the south. The north was also almost absent at the center. The Premier had to embark on emergency measures to train northerners to take up positions at both the center and in the region. Some of our elder statesmen are beneficiaries of this emergency training and employment. Even President Buhari benefited from this. The north under the Premier had to quickly train northerners to take up northern slots at both the center and at the north. This gave rise to the “quota system”, that is still on up to today. It was a deliberate policy to bring up northerners to fill up its quota in the Federal Civil Service and other federal institutions. To bridge the gap in education, northern boys were sent abroad to acquire education. The Nigerian College of Arts and Science was established in Zaria and it metamorphosed into the Ahmadu Bello University in 1962.  There were massive employments of foreign lecturers in the university to make up for the shortage.  Gradually, and by the 1970s, the north could boast of not only filling its quota in the Federal Civil Service, but in the northern states as well.

Prior to these, it was the south, particularly the Igbos that had excess manpower. So the North grudgingly employed them. The Igbos could not take over the west because the west had long emphasised education and so it had enough manpower of its own. Although the Igbos were very formidable in commerce in Lagos, it was only the north that was deficient in manpower and we could see the efforts of the then Premier to bridge that gap. I had argued earlier that the dominance of the Igbos was not only historical, but it was also circumstantial. Circumstantial in the sense that the north did not have enough manpower as the south and especially the Igbos who were and still are, were more itinerant than the Yorubas.  So you find Igbos all over the north.

Now, if it were so in the sixties and it is no longer so in this 21st century, why would anyone  want to visit the past on the Igbos, knowing fully well that they did not dominate by force, but by circumstances, which have since changed to the advantage of the north? Are you saying that we should go back to the 1960s so that as the northerners are dominating and excluding the Igbos and other tribes, even within the north, this country should inadvertently plunge into another civil war? If it does, I can assure you that it will not take the shape of the past civil war. That is the reason wise elders say, no country can survive two civil wars.

The issue of inclusiveness in governance is both a democratic issue as well as a constitutional issue. It is incumbent on any one as president who has sworn on the Holy Scriptures to ensure there is equality, equity, fairness, justice and the rule of law. Otherwise, it would be a breach of our ground norm, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (1999, as amended).

I am not making a case for the Igbos as they can make their own case. However, I am making a case for ALL NIGERIANS, that whoever is at the helms of affairs should as a matter of duty observe ALL CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS for the stability and development of Nigeria as a corporate entity. It is not about whether a group had been unfair or not in the past. It is a question of obeying what has been imposed by the Constitution and it is a matter of equal treatment, equity, fairness, justice and the rule of law.

Barr. Ephraim is a commentator on public issues and contributed this piece from Kaduna

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