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 1985 Ahiajoku Lecture


1985 Ahiajoku Lecture

The Igbos in the Context of Modern Government and Politics in Nigeria:
A Call for Self-Examination and Self-Correction




Prof. Ben O. Nwabueze
 N.N.M.A., S.A.N., LL.M., LL.D. (Lond.)


Ọha na eze, ekene m ụnụ,


I would like to begin by expressing my profound thanks to the Government of Imo State and the Planning Committee of Ahiajoku Lectures for the singular honour of the invitation to deliver the 1985 lecture. I wish also to apologize to them and to everybody for the disappointment in my inability to deliver the lecture two years ago owing to ill-health. I had sworn not to allow another disappointment this year even if I have to be carried here on a stretcher!


My original choice of a topic for this lecture had a distinctly legal leaning, but I felt that a topic with a more immediate bearing on issues and problems in modern Igbo history might have more abiding interest and utility. I have therefore chosen to speak to you today on the position of the Igbos in the modern government and politics in Nigeria. And the message of my address is a call for self-examination and self-correction. The topic has the virtue that it makes a connected series with the first and third Ahiajoku Lectures. It is concerned indeed with what Adiele Afigbo calls in the third lecture "The Age of Innocence”. It seeks to examine the reasons and manifestations of this vehemence against the Igbos by their neighbours.


Incorporation of the Igbos in a larger Nigerian State


For the communities comprised in the geographical area now known as Nigeria, the establishment over them of a common government is perhaps the most momentous single event in their history. It is particularly so for the Igbos who until then had never experienced any political organization larger than the village-group or clan. No doubt, there had existed among the Igbos some common identity based on a common language and common cultural patterns, but they were never organized as one political entity or nation. The Nris or Arọs may have wielded some authority over a considerable part of Igboland, but their authority, such as it was, was purely spiritual, not political. In matters of government, each village-group or clan existed and functioned as an autonomous entity, in no way subject to control by its neighbours. Now they have been brought together, with other peoples, in one vast State, with a common system of government and laws.


The incorporation of the various distinct communities in one common government implies benefits as well as obligations for their people: the benefit of protection, peace and ordered existence, increased trade and economic activity and the benefits of modernity generally; the obligation of allegiance, the duty of the inhabitants to be loyal and faithful to the Nigerian State and to obey its law. It has also brought in its wake profound changes in the social, cultural and religious conditions of the component communities.


For the Igbos, it has meant that, as Adiele Afigbo points out in his Ahiajoku Lecture in 1981, they have the rest of Nigeria as their neighbours. It is the position of the Igbos in the context of the new relationships so created – relations to the Nigerian State and with other Nigerian peoples – that this lecture is concerned to discuss.


How the Igbos are Organized in Nigeria


The core of the Igbos is located in two states of the Nigerian Federation – Anambra and Imo. In these two states dwell some ten million people who give the Igbos their distinctive character and culture. But the boundaries of Igboland extend beyond Anambra and Imo States to Kwale and Agbor in Bendel State, to Port Harcourt in Rivers State and to some border communities in Benue State.


The state boundaries in Nigeria have been largely manipulated. After the 1914 amalgamation of Southern and Northern Nigeria, the boundary of Northern Nigeria was in 1918 extended south-eastwards to include a good part of the territory that previously lay in the Eastern Province of Southern Nigeria. This has rightly been described as “one of the greatest acts of gerrymandering in history.”[1] And by the boundary adjustment exercises of recent years, the mineral-rich areas in Imo State have been excised therefrom and merged to other states.


Outside their traditional habitats in Anambra and Imo States and parts of Rivers, Bendel and Benue States, the Igbos are now scattered over the whole length and breadth of Nigeria where they have settled in quite large numbers in pursuit of gainful occupation in trade and commerce, industry, agriculture and the public service. The total Igbo population throughout the country is unknown but may be put at roughly fifteen million.


With only two states as against five each for the Yorubas and Hausa/Fulanis, the distribution of states in the Nigerian Federation is clearly unbalanced against the Igbos, given that the population of the three groups is roughly comparable. (The demand for a third Igbo State was rejected during the 1976 states creation exercise.) The effect of this imbalance is particularly unwholesome since a state, rather than a recognized social grouping, such as the tribe, is now used as the unit for the application of the federal character principle in top civil service appointments, appointment of ministers, revenue allocation, representation in the Senate, and in the distribution of various kinds of government amenities. A situation in which the Igbos have two shares as against five each for the Hausa/Fulanis and Yorubas cannot make for harmony in the country, nor can it nurture in the Igbos the feeling that they belong and have equal rights with the others. This anomaly needs to be corrected. As Dr. Obi Wali said in the Constituent Assembly in 1978, the creation of states has ceased to be solely a response to minority problem, and has become “a means of the majority groups trying to adjust again in order to square up.”[2]


The use of the state rather than the ethnic group as the unit for the application of the federal character principle in the distribution of government benefits is of course a distortion of its underlying objective. The tribes are the groups for whom participation and protection against domination are sought to be provided through the federal character principle. States are not part of our indigenous social organization, but rather artificial political creation. Moreover, distribution according to states in no way reflects the numerical strengths of the four social groups – Hausa/Fulanis, Yorubas, Igbos and the Minorities. It is either the Igbos are given at least two more states or the application of the federal character principle is based on the ethnic group and not on the state.


It is as well to note that some of the Igbo border communities in Benue State as well as those in and around Port Harcourt now strenuously disclaim their Igbo identity. The disclaimer is manifested in practical terms by the latter changing the names of their villages by prefixing them with an “R”, so that Ụmụokoro becomes Rụmụokoro, Umuigbo becomes Rụmụigbo, Ụmụmasi becomes Rụmụmasi, Ụmụkoroshe becomes Rụmụkoroshe, and so on. The intention is to make them not look or sound like Igbo names.


The politics of modern Nigeria had produced a pan-Igbo organization – the Igbo State Union. In the heady days of nascent ethnic nationalism, the birth of the Igbo State Union was a logical development. It had its counterpart in the Yoruba State Union (there were also other pan- Yoruba organizations like Egbe Omo Oduduwa and Egbe Omo Yoruba), Ibibio State Union, Idoma Tribal Union, Igbirra Tribal Union, Ijaw Progressive Union and Bornu State Union. All of these have, lamentably, suffered demise in 1966 along with the First Nigerian Republic. A decree of the Federal Military Government (FMG) in 1966 has dissolved and proscribed them specifically by name.[3] Altogether twenty-six named tribal or cultural unions were so dissolved and proscribed.


A new pan-Igbo organization, by the name of Ohaneze, formed after the 1979 restoration, was high jacked by the politicians of the Second Republic, and thereby prevented from serving as a pan-Igbo platform. It too is now also proscribed by a 1984 Decree of the Federal Military Government which, without specifically mentioning particular tribal or cultural associations by name, as did the 1966 Decree, dissolves “all movements and organizations (howsoever known or designated) established for the creation of more states or local governments in Nigeria or for boundary adjustments or otherwise meant to promote ethnic differences or likely to destroy or disrupt the unity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.[4]


The method of the 1984 Decree is rather insidious. Whereas the 1966 Decree left no doubt as to the identity of the associations affected, under the 1984 Decree dissolution hangs over practically every tribal or cultural association of which it could be said by any one, however ill-motivated, that it is "meant to promote ethnic differences or likely to destroy or disrupt the unity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” With the risk of imprisonment for not less than five years, a tribal or cultural association can continue to function only at its peril.


I believe that tribal or cultural associations fulfill a useful societal role. They are not really a danger to the unity of the country. On the contrary, they do provide strong support for the Nigerian unity. They may have exerted pressures on government on behalf of their respective groups, but such pressures would be there and have indeed continued without the tribal unions. It seems rather ironical that the military rulers who proscribed tribal unions for their role in sponsoring and promoting ethnic interests and conflicts in the political days should, without: the prompting of the tribal unions, have fallen easy victims to the pressures of the very same ethnic interests. We should certainly eschew tribalism, but we cannot abolish the tribe any more than we can abolish our individual existence. “Any idea,'" writes Arthur Lewis, “that one can make different peoples into a nation by suppressing the religious or tribal or regional or other affiliations to which they themselves attach the highest political significance is simply a non-starter. National loyalty cannot immediately supplant tribal loyalty; it has to be built on top of tribal loyalty by creating a system in which all the tribes feel that there is room for self-expression."[5]


The Igbos are among the most adversely affected by the proscriptions. The tribal unions of some of the other groups have continued to function, not openly, of course. The Igbos cannot take such chances without running the risk of being branded as subversives. There is a Leader of the Yorubas publicly so styled and acknowledged. The Hausa/Fulanis acknowledge the leadership and authority of the Sultan of Sokoto, at any rate in matters of religion, but religion happens indisputably to be the most critical single factor in Nigerian government and politics. The Igbos have no leader of any kind, religious or otherwise. They are left to drift without proper direction and guidance. Chinua Achebe is right when he says that “the real problem with the Igbo since Independence is precisely the absence of the kind of central leadership which their competitors presume for them. This lack has left them open to self-seeking, opportunistic leaders who offered them no help at all in coping with a new Nigeria in which individual progress would no longer depend on the rules set by a fairly impartial colonial umpire.”[6] We need a Leader of the Igbos, preferably a non-politician, to direct and guide our people in the context of the government and politics of contemporary Nigeria.


Why the Igbos are feared, resented and hated in Nigeria


It is indeed remarkable that some Igbo communities have repudiated their Igbo identity. I know of no other group in Nigeria so repudiated by some of' its members. What this indicates is that being Igbo carries in Nigeria a certain stigma, even disability. It behooves the Igbos to reflect deeply on why this is so. We must admit to ourselves that, as a people, we excite fear, resentment and hatred in other Nigerians. In a multi-ethnic society such as Nigeria is, that is a terrible position for any of its groups to be in.


So intense indeed is the fear, resentment and hatred of the Igbos in Nigeria that no Igboman, however good his credentials, not even Zik, the widely acknowledged father of Nigerian nationalism, can today expect to command nationwide acceptance as a leader in the government and politics of the country. His every action and utterance will be misunderstood and misrepresented. He will be hounded from pillar to post, until he is got rid of, which will be sooner than later. In present-day Nigeria, no Igboman can last as head of the federal government. That was the fate of General Ironsi, the first military head of the federal government, although he was personally responsible to a large extent for his own undoing.


The question, then, is: Why are the Igbos feared, resented and hated in Nigeria? I think the basic explanation is that the establishment of the Nigerian State with its power politics and its competitive economic system, has brought out the best and the worst in the Igbo, and exposed the other peoples of Nigeria to it. The best in the Igbo character excites fear in others while the worst in him excites resentment and hatred. And he is endowed by nature with rather liberal measure of both. His best is singularly good, his worst singularly bad.


Perhaps the most outstanding quality of the Igbo is his innate receptivity to new ideas and adaptability to change which, under the stimulus of Christianity and western education imported into Nigeria by the modern government, readily triggered in him an obsessive desire for self-improvement and modernity through education. Western education was the stepping stone to employment and political power. It opened a whole new vista of opportunities for the acquisition of wealth in commerce and industry. The Igbos were quick in grasping the value of western education. The drive for education thus became the driving force in the Igbo society. A whole community would team up to build a community school and finance its courses, to institute a scholarship scheme for its sons and daughters, and even to establish a secondary school or college. A parent would slave and deny himself all comforts in life in order to send his child to school; his ambition was to make good in his child what he himself lacked. He might be a peasant farmer, a poor illiterate or semi-literate carpenter or blacksmith, but his dream was to live to see his son become a clerk or even a lawyer, doctor or engineer. And once successfully trained, the child accepted it as a family obligation to train his brothers and sisters. (All this co-operative effort and sense of family obligation have now virtually been sup-planted by excessive individualism and self-centeredness.)


By this “fantastic burst of energy”, the Igbos were able, in the twenty years between 1930 and 1950, to challenge the lead which the Yorubas had enjoyed in the field of education by reason of being the first to come under western modernizing influence, and to threaten to neutralize the dominance which this had given them in the public service, commercial firms and in business. Igbos had become a menace to the Yorubas, and a danger to the other Nigerians, exciting in all the fear of domination.


Next to the Igboman’s zeal for self-improvement and modernity through education comes his economic individualism and his spirit of enterprise and competition which have found ample expression and encouragement in the individualistic and libertarian ethos of the modern government. His individualism is apparently a product of his social and political system in which the village-group was the largest political unit, and in which within the village-group authority was diffused among the heads of the numerous families, lineages and villages. The society was an egalitarian one in which everyone counted equally and was entitled to a say in public affairs. The Igbo was therefore very little inhibited by authority or by any stratification of society based on birth. “Unlike the Hausa/Fulani”, writes Chinua Achebe, “he was unhindered by a wary religion and unlike the Yoruba, unhampered by traditional hierarchies. This kind of creature, fearing no God nor man, was custom-made to grasp the opportunities, such as they were, of the white man’s dispensation.”[7] They saw therefore in the larger Nigerian community a welcome outlet for their spirit of enterprise and adventure. Taking advantage of the free mobility of people, the free enterprise system and the peace and security afforded by the modern government, they moved out of their “forest home”, and soon established themselves in various kinds of business a]l over the country – shops, hotels, garages, market stalls and even schools and hospitals.


Their competitive energy being such as only few, if any, other groups in the country can match, they soon “virtually seized the floor” from the people among whom they settled, buying them out of their lands and shops, and again exciting in them fear of domination. Only few other groups in Nigeria can really compete with the Igbos on equal terms, and be able to stand their ground. The rival competitor finds himself often enough forced to the rear or to the side; such indeed is the competitive drive and resourcefulness of the Igbos. “Lagos women sell their wares in the gutters: the UPGA Igbos sell in shops” – so runs a caption under photographs showing prosperous Igbo shops in Lagos in 1964. Competing with Igbos on equal terms is indeed like fighting a battle in which one is doomed from the start to lose!


In their enterprising spirit and aggressive individualism, the Igbos may appear to be exploitative, grasping and greedy, but these are attributes which characterize all aggressively enterprising people everywhere. They are not therefore proper grounds on which resentment can justifiably be nursed against the Igbos by other Nigerians. Fear may be justifiable, but certainly not resentment. Resentment based on these grounds simply tantamounts to envy and jealousy. I believe also the Igbos are democratic and fair-minded people, always prepared more than any other group to concede to others the right to share equitably in what belongs to all. Accusation of nepotism often leveled against them seems to me therefore unjustified.


However, his success in education and trade has inclined the Igbo toward a “noisy exhibitionism”, over-assertiveness, over-confident and too-know air, an over-weening pride and to a patronizing and condescending attitude towards the less successful communities among whom he settled. The latter are despised and mocked to their face for not being as successful. For all this I think the Igbos are justifiably resented.


But this is only a manifestation of a more basic strand in the Igbo character – his lack of diplomatic sense in dealing with others. In his relationship with others, especially people in authority, the Igbo is incapable of displaying anything of the fawning obsequiousness of the Yoruba or the submissive humility of the Hausa/Fulani, which is all part of the techniques of social diplomacy that has enabled them to get along so well in Nigeria. This lack of diplomacy in the social relations of the Igbo may often appear to others as a mark of disrespect and discourtesy. In so far as this may be considered a defect, I confess to being a typical Igbo, for I am quite incapable of fawning on any one, however highly placed, even as a matter of social diplomacy.


The social relations of the Igbos are characterized further by a certain amount of thoughtlessness and lack of tact. That seems clearly to be exemplified in the rather idiotic killings during the first coup in January, 1966. An undertaking, nobly nationalistic in conception, was thus needlessly given a tribal colouration on account of the fact that, with one exception, all the people, civilian and military, killed in the course of it were non-Ibos. It should have occurred to a more thoughtful group of people that in a military coup led almost entirely by Igbo officers, killing involving only non-Igbos would be open to this kind of interpretation. In any case, most of the killings, especially those of the military personnel, were both unnecessary and senseless.


I am not sure whether the killings could be explained simply in terms of thoughtlessness. I think they also suggest something, of a headstrong disposition. Was it mere thoughtlessness that propelled us into rebellion knowing, as we did, that the inevitable outcome would be war for which we were thoroughly ill-prepared? It must be something more than thoughtlessness that made us insist on fighting the war over every inch of Igboland, instead of negotiating an honourable termination of it at an appropriate time earlier. I think that rebellion and continuation of the war in those circumstances betray both thoughtlessness and a headstrong disposition.


The Igbos are undeniably a headstrong people, stubborn and violently self-willed. “A certain stubbornness seems to be built into our psyche; an instinctive preference to break when perhaps it is possible only to bend."[8] This headstrong disposition is well depicted in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart when the principal character, Okonkwo, in true Igbo character, “took his matchet oft its sheath, chopped off the court messenger’s head and walked home, proud that he had acted like a man but disillusioned to know that his people had allowed the other messengers to escape.”[9] But, as Mike Echeruo remarked in his brilliant Ahiajoku Lecture in 1979, the headstrong disposition in Igbo character is both a source of strength and of disaster.[10] Rebeliion and the civil war are the worst disaster it has brought to the Igbos.


Again we read from Elizabeth Isichei's A History of the Igbo People, that resistance to colonialism was fiercest and longest in Igboland. It took the British “over twenty years of constant military action” to subdue the Igbos. With only capguns, Dane guns, machetes and the occasional rifle, they flung themselves, heedless, against the British, heavily armed with rifles, machine guns and unlimited supplies of ammunition and were slaughtered in their thousands. In this, they were mindless of the simple truth that discretion is the better part of valour.


As late as 1905 when the British had smashed almost every resistance to their colonial penetration, the Ezza of Abakiliki were reported to have told an emissary of the colonial government that they “recognized no superior authority except the Heavens above and the Earth beneath”, and that between these two awe-inspiring super human potentates they constituted a third force.[11] What a defiant spirit, but it also betrayed a certain pig-headedness and self-delusion.


The worst in the Igbo seems perhaps to be his lack of political sense, his tendency to look at issues in Nigerian government and politics in a purely idealistic context and to apply to them purely idealistic solutions often based on acquired book knowledge but without sufficient regard to the realities of the Nigerian situation. Politics being simply the art of the possible, the Igbos may truly be described as poor actors, utterly devoid of a political sense. With their background of a diffused traditional political system, they have no traditional familiarity with the techniques and tactics which the government and politics of a large and complex political community like Nigeria calls for.


The Igbo political naivete is perhaps best exemplified by Ironsi’s abolition of the federal system in favour of a unitary system in the belief that that offered a short cut to Nigerian unity. In the circum-stances of Nigeria at the time, it was naive of him to have thought that unity could be secured through a unitary system imposed by military fiat. His solution was much too idealistic. It ignored the reality that a country the size of Nigeria and comprising a wide diversity of tribes separated by fundamental differences of language, culture and out-look, can live together at peace only under a framework in which its component units are allowed to manage their own internal affairs. It ought reasonably to have been foreseen that a unitary scheme would arouse the age-old fear of Igbo domination, as it in fact did among the Hausa/Fulanis.


We all know the cost to the Igbos of the thoughtlessness of the killings in the January, 1966 coup and of Ironsi’s unitary scheme. It was in order to settle scores with the Igbos for th6se killings and to counter the threat of Igbo domination implicit in the unitary scheme that thousands of Igbos resident in the North were massacred in May, July and September, 1966. The massacres were certainly too genocidal in their extent and too savage in their methods to have been warranted by the provocation, but we did give some occasion for it.


There is so much in the present political situation in the country that makes it necessary that the Igbos should be extremely circumspect and cautious so as not to become scapegoats for whatever might go wrong, and thereby invite yet another massacre on themselves. Those Igbos in sensitive or critical public positions should carefully weigh their actions and utterances in the light of this. It is perhaps wiser for them not to express themselves too soon on explosive public issues.


Igbo propensity for self-hate, self-destruction and intra-group discord


The Igbo society is really a plural one comprising various sub-groups between whom there is little common identity beyond that based on a common language and broad cultural patterns. There is, for example, the division between the riverine Igbos and the upland Igbos (Olu and Igbo) and, in Anambra State, between Anambra North and Anambra South. The sub-groups are marked apart from each there by differences of dialect, customs, political organization, occupation and outlook. The division between the riverine and upland Igbos is that between “slave-dealing, kingdom – associated peoples” and “slave-providing, kingship lacking populations.”[12] “The Olu, with their well-watered farms and protein rich diet”, writes Elizabeth Isichei, “despised the Igbo for their food and water shortages, and their role as slave suppliers."[13] “The people of Owerri felt superior, as warriors, to the neighbouring Isu, who were Traders. The smiths of Agulu-Umana looked down on the neighbouring Oheke who did not share their skills. The people of Arochukwu called themselves the children of God.”[14] Even within the sub-group, the sense of attachment grew “weaker as the unit grew larger – the family, the lineage, the village, the village group”, the clan and so on.


The relations between the members of a village or village-group, and between one village-group or clan and another are marked by social discord. They are always disputing over one issue or the other – land, water, ceremonial rites, traditional offices and titles, etc. None is prepared to accept the leadership or authority of the other. Everyone is king unto himself. The quarrels are embittered by the poverty of the traditional Igbo society.


The Igbos thus come to the politics of modern Nigeria with some inbred propensity for intra-group quarrelsomeness. Within the group, unless you are able to get them all in one political party, partisan politics of the modern Nigerian state is, in the tradition of that of the traditional community, approached in the spirit of a feud, which is fought with vehemence, with no quarters given on either side.


And so we find, as l think everybody acknowledges, that the political feud of the Second Republic was more vehement and bitter in Imo and Anambra than in any other state. Igbos in different political camps were at each other's throats, with frequent clashes between their organized armed gangs which left in their trail considerable casualties in human lives and property. There was in particular the sad case of the Igbo Governor of Anambra State locked in hateful political feud with the Igbo Vice-President of the country, also from the same state. And when the Second Republic was eventually overthrown by the military, every Igbo turned informer against his brother, writing endless petitions to the authorities.


The Igbo capacity for self-destruction was again well demonstrated in what has been referred to as the “saboteur mania", which had seriously undermined the ability of their new state of Biafra in prosecuting the civil war. Almost every person of consequence in the society came under suspicion and harassment as a saboteur by the Biafran public, ever “vigilant”, and ever ready to discover evidence of sabotage in every act, document and every utterance. A commander who lost a battle for whatever reason, which often had to do with inadequate resources in men and ammunition, was branded a saboteur and harassed. Even the Biafran Inspector-General of Police was so branded, and his son was nearly killed at school by his mates for being the son of his father. In his admirable book, No place to Hide, Bernard Odogwu has provided us with a telling account of how close the Biafran state came to destroying itself on account of this saboteur mania. “The onus”, he writes, “was more or less on anyone to prove that he was no saboteur and there were no exceptions, as most vigilante groups, notably the Civil Defense, took to the streets in their searches for saboteurs. It was with that kind of confusion and chaos reigning supreme that Enugu fell into the federal hands.”[15] All this is somewhat reminiscent of the “massed administration” of the traditional Igbo society which is, in a loose sense, rather akin to mob rule.


The Igbo propensity for intra-group discord has been further aggravated by the modern government in two other respects. At the time of the advent of the modern government in Igboland, slaves and their descendants formed a large element of the societies of most Igbo communities. They even outnumbered (and still do) the free-borns in some of the riverine communities, notably those in Ogbaru district where I come from. This had resulted from the stoppage of export trade in slaves from the 1830s (the last slave ship left the Delta in 1854) which meant that, since the internal trade did not thereby cease, the slaves had then to be absorbed within the communities. In the result “slaves became cheaper, and their number increased vastly."[16] They were accumulated “partly as a status symbol."


As a result of the large increase in the number of slaves, the societies of the affected communities had become polarized. For, slaves were without any legal rights whatever, being the absolute property of their masters and as such subject to their power of control and disposition. They were subjected to oppressive disabilities and debasing treatment, like being used for sacrifices or for the burial rites of titled masters, the denial of the right to become the head of a family or village, the right to take titles or to intermarry with free-borns. They acquiesced in the system, although slave revolts did erupt from time to time. Over a period of time, the slaves and their descendants began to be assimilated into the lineage structure of the communities. The assimilation proceeded upon a social fiction where-by slaves and their descendants were regarded as having originated from the same ancestral stock as the free-borns, so that terms implying kinship, such as “brother” and “sister”, were used between them and the free-borns. But the disabilities remained in actual social life. There was thus in the system the seed of social discord which eventually germinated and grew under the stimulus of certain measures of the modern government implementing its democratic ethos of freedom and equality.


There was, first, the proclamation of 1901 which abolished slave dealing in all its various forms.[17] Another proclamation of the same year, as amended in 1912, enabled a salve to buy his freedom.[18] And in 1916, the status of slavery itself was finally abolished.[19] (The Slavery Act of 1833 enacted by British Parliament applied only in the colony of Lagos, but not in the rest of the country which was a protectorate). In Eastern Nigeria, the Abolition of Osu System Law, 1956 completed the process of emancipation by abolishing, not only the status of slavery or osu, but also all their attendant disabilities, and by making it an offence for any one to enforce against any person any disability based on his previous status as a slave or osu.


Slaves and their descendants were naturally encouraged by these measures to challenge the privileged position of the free-borns, and to demand to be admitted to the kingship of the village-group or clan and the headship of families or villages, to the wealth title societies and to the other rights and privileges previously denied to them. Where their demands were not conceded, as was the case in many of the communities, they organized separate kingships, head-ships, title societies, festivals and other traditional ceremonial rites for themselves. Many Igbo communities have thus become thoroughly dichotomized into two antagonistic groups feuding among themselves over practically every issue. Social and economic development in the communities has inevitably suffered, as the energy and resources that would otherwise have been channeled into development projects are wasted on feuds.


Feuds over chieftainships instituted by the modern governments are yet another factor that has exacerbated social discord in Igboland. The modern government’s conception of authority as something requiring, subject to checks and balances, to be more or less concentrated in a single person, as opposed to the diffused or “massed” character it assumed in Igbo traditional society, led the British colonial government in Nigeria to appoint so-called "warrant chiefs" to assist the colonial district officer in superintending the affairs of the village communities of Igboland. Those so appointed were, for the most part, upstarts, people smart or bold enough to come forward to meet the white colonial district officer. They quickly established a regime of incredible corruption, rapacity and oppression,[20] which created widespread resentment among the people, culminating in the famed Women’s Riot of 1929, which at last forced the colonial government to abolish the system, and to recognize in its place the traditional system of administration by family, lineage and village heads and other elders.


The conflict of authority created by the warrant chief system between the government-appointed chiefs and the traditional authorities was rekindled in 1950 when the government of Eastern Nigeria established a new system of local government based on elected councils empowered by law to conduct the affairs of local government in the various local communities. Since the people still identified the source of legitimate authority in the lineage, village and clan heads, the new elected councils found themselves more or less obstructed in asserting their statutory authority against that of the traditional authorities.[21] In the ensuing conflict, not much development could take place. Instead, the councilors devoted themselves to corrupt enrichment just like the warrant chiefs before them.[22] The conciliar system had again to be abandoned, and was replaced with a system of direct administration by the state government through its own civil servants, the so-called system of deve1opment administration, which in turn was abolished under the Local Government Reforms of 1976.


Chieftainship continued to be a thorn in the flesh of the government of Eastern Nigeria which eventually yielded to pressure for conformance with the practice in the two other Regions of the Federation. Following the report of an inquiry on the position, status and influence of chiefs and natural rulers in the Eastern Region,[23] a law was passed in 1959 empowering the government to grant recognition as a chief to persons selected in a manner prescribed by the law.[24] Chiefs so recognized were classified as either first or second chiefs.[25] (The 1959 laws have since been replaced by new ones.)


Thus was unleashed on Igboland the struggle for recognition as a chief. Rival contenders or rather pretenders to chieftainships which either never existed before or originated in the discredited warrant chief system, or which have been in abeyance for more than half a century mushroomed overnight, splitting the communities into feuding factions. Few, if any, communities in Igboland have been spared the embittering social discord of chieftaincy feuds. And even after the contest was supposed to have been resolved by the government recognition of one of the contenders, the losing factions have remained unreconciled, so that the feuds have continued almost unabated.


Chinua Achebe’s remarks on the present situation regarding chieftainship in Igboland seem to me most apt and worthy of our attention:


“The bankrupt state of Igbo leadership”, he says, “is best illustrated in the alacrity with which they have jettisoned their traditional republicanism in favour of mushroom kingships. From having no kings in their recent past the Igbo swung round to set an all-time record of four hundred “kings” in Imo and four hundred in Anambra! And most of them are traders in their stalls by day and monarchs at night; city dwellers five days a week and traditional village rulers on Saturdays and Sundays! They adopt “traditional" robes from every land, including, I am told, the ceremonial regalia of the Lord Mayor of London!”[26]


The Igbos in rebellion against Nigeria


It is an irony of history that the Igbos who had been the most ardent champions of Nigerian unity should also be the people to sponsor secession. Until 1966, Nigerian unity had indeed been an article of faith with them. As Stanley Diamond has rightly remarked, “the Ibos had nurtured the idea of common citizenship with all people among whom they lived. To inquire into the precise identity of an Ibo was to insult his sense of fraternity with other Africans in Nigeria, Being an Ibo was a private affair, perhaps a source of pride; but the public image was Nigerian.”[27]


Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo, is acknowledged by the generality of Nigerians as the founder of Nigerian nationalism. His able lieutenants were of course drawn from all over Nigeria, but the most outstanding among them included many Igbos – Mazi Mbonu Ojike, Dr K. O. Mbadiwe, Dr. Nwafor Orizu, Mokwugo Okoye, Osita Agwuna, Dr. M. I. Okpara, Ikenna Nzimiro, to mention only a few.


Why then, did the Igbos turn round to sponsor secession? The explanation seems to be that secession was forced upon them by a combination of tragic events. The planned massacre in 1966 of thousands of Igbos resident in the North, the unwillingness or inability of the federal government to protect them and their properties against such acts of wanton destruction, the constant state of fear and insecurity in which they had to live, the possibility that the pogrom might be re-enacted following the cyclic pattern it had taken in May, July and September, 1966, the consequent mass exodus of Igbos (numbering some one to two millions) from the rest of Nigeria back to the safety of their homes in Eastern Nigeria, the failure to keep faith over the agreement reached among the military leaders at Aburi, Ghana on the form of association for Nigeria – these and other acts of oppression combined to produce in the Igbos a feeling that they were no longer wanted in the Federation. Federalism in government is the aggregation of different communities for the purpose of pooling together their resources, human, economic, etc., for the common benefit of all. Of these resources, the human is the most important. Once, therefore, the human element has been torn apart, the Federation is like a disembodied object. While a desire for the exclusive control of the oil wealth located in Eastern Nigeria might have been an operative factor in the secession, the masses who demonstrated, demanding secession, were moved by the bitter emotion of their relatives killed or maimed in the North, and by the agonizing spectacle of the wretched condition of those who managed to escape the slaughter to return home.


It is generally conceded both by political theorists and constitutional lawyers that a people may be morally justified in resisting by force a government which has persistently abandoned its responsibility to protect them or to cater for their material well-being.[28] This view of the matter is predicated upon the rationalization that since the purpose of government is the protection and well-being of the people, a government which has become destructive or careless of that purpose forfeits its claim to the allegiance of the people. Discussing the question whether a constitution, by virtue of being the supreme law, is binding morally upon all citizens in all circumstances, Sir Kenneth Wheare, the celebrated English constitutional lawyer, has said:


“There are circumstances in which it is morally right to rebel, to refuse to obey the Constitution, to upset it. A Constitution may be the foundation of law and order in a community, but mere law and order is not enough. It must be good law and good order. It is conceivable surely that a minority may be right in saying that it lives under a Constitution which established bad government and that, if all else is tried and fails, rebellion is right. No doubt it is difficult to say just when rebellion is right and how much rebellion is right, but that it may be legitimate is surely true.”[29]


The right of the people to throw off their allegiance to an oppressive government or one that fails to protect them is nowhere mere eloquently stated or more forcibly asserted than in the American Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. “When”, declared the American revolutionaries, “a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them (i.e., the people) under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future society.”


We must hasten to emphasize that the legitimacy of rebellion in appropriate circumstances is only a moral one. It cannot justify rebellion as a matter of law. To concede that it can, would involve the absurd proposition that the constitution can legalize its own destruction by force, that there can be resistance to government under the authority of government itself, and that the law sanctions violent opposition to itself.


Consequence of rebellion for the Igbos


The primary consequence of rebellion for the Igbos is that, with its eventual failure after a thirty-month civil war, they have, like a conquered people which of course they are, been reduced almost to the status of second-class citizens in their own country. That is the bitter truth of the present position of the Igbos in Nigeria today.


One must, however, acknowledge the magnanimity of' the Federal Military Government towards the Igbos after the civil war, as manifested in the grant of general amnesty, the guarantee of personal safety and security for property, and of the right to reside and work anywhere in Nigeria, the re-absorption of public servants and the restoration of properties and businesses abandoned in other parts of the country. The amnesty has been honoured to the letter, as no prosecutions for the rebellion have ever taken place against any one. Never before in history has an armed conflict, fought with so much brutality and unbridled vituperation, ended with no reprisals, no trials and no shootings. When one reflects upon the history of reconstruction in the United States after the civil war in 1865, one cannot but be impressed by the magnanimity displayed by General Gowon and his government towards the rebellious Igbos.


Despite all this magnanimity, however, it seems that, fifteen years after the end of the civil war, the Igbos are still begrudged equality of treatment along with the other tribes. Or how else explain the imbalance in the distribution of states with the consequent discrimination in matters of public appointments, revenue allocation, the distribution of federal government investments, financial aids and other amenities? How explain the neglect of Anambra a and Imo States in the siting of industries, both publicly and privately owned, a neglect that has left the economy of the two states much mote depressed than that of any other state in the Federation? How in particular explain the non-inclusion of even a single Igbo in the original membership of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) announced at the advent of the Buhari military administration on December 21, 1983, apart from the Igbo civilian Attorney-General? (The omission was subsequently made good by the appointment of one Igbo military member but only after it had been taken up in the foreign press.) It is not an excuse that there are not enough Igbo military officers of sufficient seniority to have been so appointed. The Supreme Military Council was not a council for the government of the armed forces. It was a council for the government of the country.


Furthermore, there were two measures of the military government which constituted a sad blot on its otherwise singular magnanimity. One is the abandoned property saga in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where for a ridiculously low price, bearing no relation whatever to the value of the properties concerned, the Igbos were divested of hundreds of so-called abandoned properties, in favour of the indigenes of the state who claimed to have “captured” them as war booty. The initial “capture" was subsequently legalized by a formal transfer to the captors under instruments of “sale” executed, without the consent of the real owners, by Federal Military Government-appointed Abandoned Properties Implementation Committee.


And by the Abandoned Properties Decree, 1979, every such sale or disposition “shall be deemed to have been lawful and properly made and any instrument issued by the Committee which purports to convey any estate or interest in land shall be deemed to have been validly issued and shall have effect according to its tenor or intendment." The sale operates to vest in the "purchaser" the abandoned property in question "free of all encumbrances." The registrar of lands is directed, upon presentation to him of the instrument of sale duly signed by or on behalf of the Committee, to expunge from the register the name of the registered owner and to substitute therefor that of the “purchaser”. Failure by any one to comply with these stipulations is made a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for one year without the option of a fine. Finally, members of the Committee and any one acting on its behalf are indemnified of all liability in respect of the sale of an abandoned property or of anything else done by them in compliance with the directives of the FMG on the matter, and no suit shall lie at the instance of any person aggrieved by any such action, notwithstanding that such action is a violation of a light guaranteed by the Constitution. The military government's handling of the abandoned property issue is a rather distasteful chapter in the history of Nigeria.


The other measure was that enacted by the Banking Obligation (Eastern States) Decree, 1970 which, while giving full effect to withdrawals, refused to recognize deposits made into hank accounts within the former Eastern Region after the date of secession. By the Decree, a bank's repayment obligation was limited to the deposit balance as at 30 May, 1967 (the date of secession) less the aggregate of withdrawals between 31 May, 1967 and January 12, 1970, all deposits made between those dates being completely disregarded. Thus, a withdrawal from an existing account of, say N5,000 on 31 May, 1967 counted against the customer, but a payment-in of the same amount on the same day was disregarded. Needless to say, an account newly opened after 30 May, 1967 created no obligation whatever against the bank in favour of the customer.


It seems blatantly illogical to recognize withdrawals and refuse to give a customer credit for payments-in. There is no rational basis for so discriminating between them. The illogicality exposes the punitive design of the Decree. The basis of obligation, as between the bank and the customer, should have been whether withdrawals or payments-in were made in lawful Nigerian currency. The Nigerian currency had remained in use as the only legal tender in Biafra after secession. The existing currency was, however, changed and its use prohibited as from 31 December, 1967,[30] although there was an allowance of nineteen days within which the old notes had to be returned to the Central Bank in exchange for new notes. Also prohibited as from the same date was the use of the Biafran currency issued in January, 1968 in consequence of the change of currency by Nigeria.[31]


The cut-off date for the legal effectiveness of withdrawals equally as of payments-in should therefore have been 30 December, 1967. Deposit balances as at 30 May, 1967 should not be affected by withdrawals or payments-in made in Biafran rebel currency after its issue in January, 1968. It was a manifest contradiction to make binding on a customer withdrawals made in an illegal and worthless rebel currency from a deposit account which originated before 30 May, 1967 and which remained in credit up to 30 December, 1967. The rebel currency being illegal could not be valid and binding for purposes of withdrawals unless deposits made in it also bound the bank.


The punitive design of the Decree is also exposed by the fact that the non-recognition of payments-in made before 31 December, 1967 operated only to limit a bank’s obligation to its customers. The bank had still to account for them to the Federal Military Government. It was required, after repaying the amounts allowed by the Decree, to pay over to the Federal Military Government for use in post-war reconstruction the residue of money which would other-wise have been due to its customers in the former Eastern Region.


The Decree, unquestionably punitive though it was meant to be, has to be viewed in the light of whether it is harsher than what was necessary to punish secession and to deter its future occurrence. It seems more crushing and ruinous in its effect than the secessionists perhaps deserved. So ruinous was its effect indeed that many Igbos never recovered financially from it, some even dying of heartbreak.


Lessons of the civil war


The rebellion of the Igbos and the ensuing civil war to crush it have an important lesson for the country. It is this – that a country composed of disparate social groups should not so conduct its affairs as to disaffect large sections of the community to the point where they are no longer willing to be part of the system or to have their affairs regulated under it.[32] In particular, the headship of the federal government should be allowed to move round. It must be borne in mind that, under the presidential system of the Second Republic, the President, as head of government, was not just primus inter pares. He was, to all intents and purposes, the executive government. So is the Head of the Federal Military Government in the military administration. Indeed, not only the executive authority of the government but its legislative authority as well is reposed in the President under the military regime. It becomes imperative therefore that the headship of the government should not be monopolized by one group in the country.


The federal character principle enshrined in the 1979 Constitution is predicated upon the view of Nigeria as a house on four pillars, the four pillars being the Hausa/Fulanis, Igbos, Yorubas and the Minorities, and that the edifice will begin to wobble and its stability imperiled if the headship of the federal government is not made to move round these four groups. Nigerian unity demands an acceptance and commitment by all to the principle of rotation, i.e., that ordinarily no two persons from the same group should hold the headship of the federal government in succession. Unless the federal character principle is applied in order to rotate the headship of the federal government among the four groups, its application at the lower levels will not be effective to secure national unity. The danger of disintegration and of demands for a confederal arrangement will continue to stare us in the face.


The civil war underscores, in the second place, the overriding relevance and importance of justice in the administration of the government of any human society. Justice, it has been aptly said, is the “bond of society”,[33] the “cornerstone of human togetherness.”[34] Implying as it does an acceptance by all of “each other’s existence, respect for each other’s rights, and rendering to one another his or her dues”,[35] justice is the condition in which the individual can feel able to "identify with society, feel at one with it, and accept its rulings.”[36] An unjust society cannot maintain its unity and cohesion because it cannot arouse in its members a strong enough feeling of loyalty and allegiance. Injustice not only alienates the individual's loyalty, what is worse, it also arouses him to intense indignation and disaffection. It is a denial of the individual’s worth as a human person, a manifestation by society of an uncaring attitude towards him. An individual or group denied recognition by society cannot but feel alienated and disaffected.


Thirdly, it serves to emphasize the point that the conduct of public affairs should not be allowed to be unduly conditioned by the leaders’ selfish ambition for power or by a propensity for an easy resort to violence for the settlement of disputed issues. The civil war would have been avoided but selfishness, intransigence and lack of good faith and of an accommodating spirit on the part of the military leaders on both sides of the dispute. I hold the view that the war was needlessly forced upon the country by these leaders.


With the reintegration of the Igbos into Nigeria through the federal victory in the civil war, the territorial integrity of the country has been preserved, yet the sad experiences of the war, the incalculable Josses in human lives and property, and the bitter feelings generated on both sides of the conflict have considerably weakened the bonds of unity. It is gratifying that, in his National Day Broadcast on October 1, 1985, President Babangida should have affirmed his government’s determination to "leave behind us the legacy of bitterness”, and “the negation of our sense of justice.”[37] Yet it might be expected that the bitter memories of the civil war and the desire to penalize the Igbos for it would take still more time to wear themselves off completely.




This lecture is designed as a kind of self-examination with a view to self-correction. It is a call on the Igbos to re-examine themselves, and to try to correct some of the defects and shortcomings in their character and manner of behaviour, particularly as they affect their relations with other Nigerians. The Igbos need Nigeria just as Nigeria needs them. They need Nigeria for the wider scope it affords for the Igboman’s boundless industry, resourcefulness and competitive energy. They need it for the better conceptualization and perhaps realization of their vision of Africa and the world. The Igbos perceive themselves as citizens of the world, and are imbued with a sense of fraternity with all other Africans. There is need therefore for us to rethink our tactics for co-existing with other Nigerians. There is need in particular to abandon the inclination to despise or look down on others not as successful or clever as our-selves. We must “learn less abrasiveness, more shrewdness and tact and a willingness to grant the validity of less boisterous values.”[38]


In the context of Nigeria, the Igbos cannot afford to act in the same headstrong way as was exhibited by Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart. The civil war should be a lesson to us, and we must strive hard to imbibe its lesson, namely, that undue stubbornness, temerity and impetuosity are not the mark of a wise and mature people.


Our sense of common identity as Igbos is too fragile, and must be strengthened. Igbos must learn to restrain the propensity for intra-group feuds. It is a tragedy of Igbo historical development in Nigeria that, in their pursuit of excessive individualism and self-centredness, the Igbos have lost the co-operative spirit and the sense of obligation to the family, village and clan which characterized them during the period 1930-50 and enabled them to achieve an almost revolutionary breakthrough in the educational field. That spirit needs to be revived.


The creation of executive chieftainships in Igboland is probably not a bad thing in itself. For the lack of them has had an unsalutory effect on the Igbo character by predisposing him towards unbridled individualism and lack of due respect in his attitude towards authority. By the creation of executive chieftainships, a start may now be made in the evolution amongst us of the traditions of respect, obedience and submissiveness demanded by the institution. But the propensity to feud over chieftaincy titles and the desire to invent ridiculous-looking dresses for the office must be restrained. The significance of the office lies, not so much in the flamboyance of the regalia, as in the authority it bestows on the holder to enable him to shape the character, behaviour and lives of his people. Form and ceremony are, of course, important in the life of a people. I am a firm believer in ceremony. For it is, in Mike Echeruo’s words, “at the very heart of culture.” Yet it must not be allowed to become so absurdly elaborate and expensive, as the ofala of many of the new Igbo kings tends to be.


Finally, the immense complexities of life in Nigeria demand a Leader to guide and direct the Igbos.


Ọha na eze, ekene m ụnụ.





Since Professor M. J. C. Echeruo, in 1979, eloquently discussed the question of Igbo identity, very rewarding statements have been made on Igbo civilization in the areas of history, agriculture, science and Igbo cosmology.


In the 1985 Ahiajoku Lecture held on Friday, Afo, 29th November, at the Multi-Purpose Hall, Owerri, Professor Ben O. Nwabueze, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, made another great stride in his lecture titled “The Igbos in the Context of Modern Government and Politics in Nigeria: A call for Self-Examination and Self-Correction”. Like the legal luminary he is, the Professor delivered his lecture with great eloquence and analytical skill, letting the Igbos understand and face the socio-political reality of their peculiar situation in Nigeria.


Professor Nwabueze examines the new relationships of Igbo people both with the Nigerian state and with other Nigerian peoples; and unequivocally states that despite obvious capabilities of the Igboman, his shortcomings in diplomacy, thoughtfulness, tact and political sense, coupled with some heedlessness and truculent self-will, have earned him resentment by other Nigerians. He has also raised the question as to whether the degree of resentment is justified. On the whole, however, his lecture seeks to caution his kinsmen to make necessary readjustments for a meaningful accommodation in their environment.


One could say that this lecture is the first climax in the series of Ahiajoku Lectures, as it brings to a head the findings of previous lectures. Some may find it controversia1, and many may find it edifying, but all will certainly find it exciting.


My ministry is very grateful to Professor Ben O. Nwabueze, S.A.N., for this wonderful lecture which is not only thought-provoking but also very enlightening.


Dr. Linus U. Akunnakwe

Commissioner for Information, Culture Youth and Sports

Imo State






Innocent Diala Nwoga

Chairman, 1985 Ahiajoku Lecture Planning Committee


We return today to continue our search for an answer to the great question of our time. Over the years, since we have endeavoured as a people to run our own affairs, it has gradually become clear that we are not at one with the milieu in which we have had to operate. As one institution after another has turned to clay in our hands, and as the volatility of life becomes insupportable, the need has manifested itself for us to begin an inquiry into the requirements of our circumstance. And so, we find that to come to terms with ourselves, we must struggle through the thick fog of foreign influence and battle for order from the chaos which has been generated in our world by its violent collision with the 20th century.


As we look through the years and through the volume of research findings which have been aired in this hall, we recall that the proposal to start an Ahiajoku Lecture at first conjured, for many, the dreaded spectre of a retreat to “heathen” worship. To some others, there was the fear that the stage was being set for ethnic jingoism.


But when Professor M. J. C. Echeruo delivered the Ahiajoku maiden Lecture in 1979, he did not put on the cassock of a fetish priest or the eagle feathers of a tribal warrior, but the robe of a distinguished scholar. Under his considerable volume of scholarship and superb craftsmanship, the Ahiajoku Lecture project came to life. His subject, “A Matter of Identity”, at once defined and analyzed the objectives of this seemingly strange proposal of the Imo State Government.


In 1980, Professor B. N. Okigbo took us on a fascinating tour of discovery whose richness amply matched the luxuriance of our bushes, thickets and jungles, the mysteries of whose wealth he explored.


The third Ahiajoku Lecturer, Professor A. E. Afigbo, in 1981 invaded the dark reaches of Igbo history and emerged with a picture of a period when co-existence between the Igbos and their neighbours was characterized by healthy social and commercial intercourse and a near-idyllic blurring of boundaries which had its roots in a simple life, long before the harsh symbols of politics and the dominance of tribal and ethnic consciousness in its current virulent form. He spoke of the “age of innocence”.


In apparent agreement with the saying that one does not watch a masquerade from one spot, A. O. Anya, our distinguished Professor of Zoology, continued the search in 1982, this time from the scientific viewpoint. In a powerfully erudite survey that spanned the subjects of geography, zoology, archaeology and history, and, in a startling reach, casting as far back as 20,000 years, he brought back quite forcefully a message of the changing times and the injunction that only by developing a new consciousness of the nature of the world around us, as distinct from wearing western blinkers, would we develop the capability to mediate change in a meaningful way.


In 1983, the god of Ahiajoku Lecture was not sufficiently appeased and, so, there was no harvest. However, the Ministry of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports quickly performed the ritual of purification to appease the gods. I understand that the holocaust was cow-size instead of the usual chicken.


No wonder then that last year, as we sat spellbound, Professor D. I. Nwoga, the renowned Igbo scholar, delivered to us a prodigious harvest. In a copiously researched study, he took us on an intimate journey through the Igbo world view and ethos. A full and successful life is one that aims at Nka na Nzere, the attainment of mature old age, and the achievement of status and fullness of dignity.


At this point, may I recognize in our midst, the distinguished presence of Professors Echeruo, Okigbo, Afigbo, Anya and Nwoga, our past Ahiajoku lecturers.


Today at the age of seven, we are here for the 1985 Ahiajoku harvest. Our masquerade is the renowned jurist, Professor B. O. Nwabueze, Senior Advocate of Nigeria. His subject is: The Igbos in the Context of Modern Government and Politics in Nigeria: A Call for Self-Examination and Self-Corrections. There is, in this subject, the sound of movement which will necessarily advance the position of this festival from the great researched analytical works of the past to consequential practical prescription for an intelligent immersion of the Igboman in his contemporary environment. In other words, how, knowing what we know, do we cope with our virtues and turn our weaknesses into strength? How do we employ the 1essons of the past to cope successfully with the varied and complex problems of today?


I shall now cease this diversion and clear the stage for our flutist, Professor U. U. Uche, to usher in the great actor of today.










Professor U. U. Uche


It is with a lively sense of elation that I respond to the call to do a citation on Professor B. O. Nwabueze in this 1985 Ahiajoku Lecture.


I will rather not disclose for how long I have known Ben Nwabueze for fear of bullying the younger members of this distinguished audience. Suffice it to say that our familiarity spans several decades, though it started by remote control during the turbulent mid-sixties under the then Vice-Chancellorship of the badly mourned Professor Eni Njoku, then of the University of Lagos. Mention of the late Professor Njoku leaves one feeling sad and deprived.


No poor words of mine can add a cubit to the stature of the said Professor Eni Njoku who, though dead, is still and will ever be remembered whenever and wherever Igbo culture, identity and scholarship are nurtured. He was to many of us not only a mentor of inexhaustible wisdom but a friend of inexhaustible kindness. I should therefore be excused the digression, if today with piety, with reverence and with no little trepidation, I am specially conscious of his immortality.


Let me return to Professor Nwabueze and here in spite of my earlier stated elation at accepting the assignment to do the citation, l do have profound problems of knowing how and where to begin and even more so where to stop.


You see, my reading of the earlier lectures in these series has revealed that all the lecturers have hitherto been active university people commonly referred to as practicing academicians or, more naively, intellectuals. Let me quickly state here that the choice of Professor B. O. Nwabueze for the 1985 lecture is not in any way or any sense a departure from that respected and honoured tradition. Although with tongue in cheek, some may refer to him as a university deserter (which description hardly applies to me), yet Ben’s career, his writings and achievements have done both scholarship and the legal profession proud. He is such a pearl that any university would pay any price lo acquire and keep. Alas. how can any university compete with a giant bank?


After a star student career studded with several scholarships on academic merit at the London School of Economics and Politicai Science (that den of academic radicals of Harold Laski Stamp) University of London, Ben Nwabueze became one of the foundation lecturers of the newly-founded Faculty of Law of the University of Lagos. Having abandoned a Ph.D. programme and a Commonwealth Law Scholarship to accept the appointment as lecturer, Nwabueze rose to the challenge of the job by researching into and publishing his very first book – The Machinery of Justice in Nigeria, which to this day is a classic for every law student in any Nigerian university.


No one who has not read his The Machinery of Justice in Nigeria can fully appreciate and none who has read it can sincerely deny his depth of scholarship, his concern for detail, his elegant prose and his humour. The book was published in 1963, hotly followed in 1964 by his Constitutional Law of the Nigerian Republic, a detailed and critical analysis of the Independence and Republican Constitution of Nigeria. This second publication was another insight into Ben’s encyclopedic knowledge.


Even the war years (1967-1970) saw Ben labouring in-between air raids and taking cover in bunkers on his Nigerian Land 4aw later published by Nwamife Publishers in 1973. I understand that he clutched tenaciously on to the manuscripts as he ran from location to location, my own idea of a devoted scholar.


Again in 1973, he brought out his Constitutionalism in the Emergent States. This was followed in 1975 by Presidentialism in Commonwealth Africa, and in 1977 by his Judicialism in Commonwealth Africa. The sheer prolixity and courage of the output is worthy of salute.


Is it any wonder that in 1978, the University of' Loudon awarded him the unique degree of Doctor of Laws by examination as distinct from those awarded Honoris Causa. The award was based on the three latest publications mentioned above. It is significant that Professor Nwabueze is the second Nigerian, indeed African, to be accorded this academic honour by the University of London, the first being Dr. T. O. Elias, now of the World Court at the Hague.


Ben’s three “isms”, as the latest three publications have come to be called, placed him in a category all his own as one of the leading constitutional lawyers both nationally and internationally. But his pen is still very much charged, indeed somewhat overcharged, because in 1982, he brought out his Presidential Constitution of Nigeria and again sti11 in l982, his Constitutional History of Nigeria.


You will, I hope, forgive me for describing him at the launching of his latest book in July, 1983, Federalism in Nigeria under the Presidential Constitution, as an academic human factory. Let me warn you all that at that launching, Ben threatened to inflict three more books on us all in the next few years, the first of the series for publication by Longman’s Publishers will by now have been handed in for printing.


Having mentioned some of his several works, I will spare this distinguished audience the rather endless catalogue of his academic articles, conference papers and public lectures.


As if to atone for his long periods in the study poring over volumes in spite of a charming wife and warm-hearted children, Ben, in his latest book did admit that they have continued to put up with good humour, the long spells of silence and irritability which had become a constant feature of his life. Who would envy their lot?


You will by now have got some idea of the kind of lecturer whose citation I have been asked to attempt.


Professor Nwabueze has not only been an author, writing behind a silent desk in the tradition of William Blackstone and Kent of the English and American legal systems respectively. He has indeed occupied and performed in many roles both in Nigeria and beyond.


His public appointments include: Member, Constitutional Committee for Nigeria in 1966; Member, Constitution Drafting Committee for Zambia, 1973; Member, Constitution Drafting Committee for Nigeria and Chairman, Sub-Committee on Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, 1975 – 1976; Member, Constituent Assembly for Nigeria, 1977; Member, United Nations Study Group on Constitutional Processes for Namibia, 1977; Member, Organizing Committee for the Sixth Commonwealth Law Conference held in Lagos in 1980 and Chairman, Papers Committee of the same conference. Need one continue?


Oh, yes. Executive Committee Member, World Peace through Law. Is it then any surprise that in 1978, he was made Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) – a unique honour reserved for the very best of the legal profession. In l980, he received the National Merit Award from former President Shehu Shagari and in 1983, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. The man seems to attract honours like a magnet.


Even at the risk of converting this citation into a mini-lecture, let me say that Professor Nwabueze’s citation as an academician can never be complete without a brief, howbeit with nostalgia, of his academic appointments. Apart from a brief period at the London-Holborn Law College, he started off as a lecturer and later senior lecturer at the University of Lagos. He later functioned as the Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Zambia; Director, Law Practice Institute of Zambia (the Zambian equivalent of our own Law School in Lagos). He has also held several visiting professorships and functioned as external examiner in several universities all over Africa and beyond.


Professor Nwabueze is a sound Igbo son from Atani in Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State. Ha has ploughed and fertilized vast academic fields, he has sown varied academic seeds and has reaped rich academic harvest. The members of the Planning Committee of the Ahiajoku Lectures could not have made a better choice for the topic: “The Igbos in the Context of Modern Government and Politics in Nigeria: A Call for Self-Examination and Self-Corrections” for us to share in Ben Nwabueze's rich harvest today.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Behold Professor B. O. Nwabueze.

[1] Bretton, Power and Stability in Nigeria (1962), page 124.

[2] Constituent Assembly Debate, March 16, 1978, col. 6764.

[3] Public Order Decree, 1966 (as amended).

[4] Political Parties (Dissolution) Decree, 1984.

[5] Arthur Lewis, Politics in West Africa (1965), p. 68.

[6] Chinua Achebe, The Trouble with Nigeria (1983), pp. 47-48.

[7] Chinua Achebe, op. cit., p. 46.

[8] M. J. C. Echeruo, Matter of Identity, 1979 Ahiajoku Lecture, p. 22.

[9] M. J. C. Echeruo, loc. cit.

[10] M. J. C. Echeruo, loc. cit.

[11] Adiele Afigbo, The Age of Innocence, 1981 Ahiajoku Lecture, p. 16

[12] Quoted from E. Isichei, A History of the Igbo People (1976), p 19.

[13] Isichei, loc. cit.

[14] Isichei, loc. cit.

[15] B. Odogwu, No Place to Hide (1985), p. 97.

[16] E. Isichei, op. cit., p. 95.

[17] Slave Dealing Proclamation, 1901.

[18] Native House Rule Proclamations, 1901 and 1912, repealed by an Ordinance of 1914.

[19] Slavery Abolition Ordinance, 1916.

[20] See A. E. Afigbo, The Warrant Chiefs (1972); E. Isichei, op. Cit., pp. 143-155.

[21] Cowan, Local Government in West Africa (1958), p. 160.

[22] Isichei, op. Cit., pp. 234-236.

[23] The Jones Report, Government Printer, Enugu (1956).

[24] Recognition of Chiefs Law, 1959.

[25] Classification of Chiefs Law, 1959.

[26] Chinua Achebe, op. cit., p. 48.

[27] Stanley Diamond, The Biafran Possibility, Africa Report, Feb., 1969.

[28] See Carl Friedrich, Constitutional Government and Democracy, revised edition, Chapters VII and VIII.

[29] K. C. Wheare, Modern Constitutions (1966), p. 64.

[30] Central Bank (Currency Conversion) Decree, 1967; Central Bank (Currency Conversion) (Amendment) Decree, 1968; Currency Conversion Date Notice L.N. 137 of 1967.

[31] Central Rank (Currency Conversion) (Amendment) Decree, 1968.

[32] See S. O. Odegbemi, Military Leadership and Political Integration in Nigeriaunpublished Doctoral Thesis (1978), p. 17.

[33] J. R. Lucas, On Justice (1980), p. 18.

[34] C. A. Oputa, Towards Justice with a Human Face – Paper presented at the Law Week of the Nigerian Bar Association, 18 – 23 February, 1985.

[35] C. A. Oputa, op. cit.

[36] J. R. Lucas, op. cit., p. 1.

[37] National Day Broadcast, October 1, 1985, New Nigerian, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 1985, p. 17.

[38] Chinua Achebe, The Trouble with Nigeria (1983), p. 68.



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