Obafemi Awolowo: The Lessons the Igbo Refuse to Learn from the Yoruba
By Nwankwo Tony Nwaezeigwe, PhD, DD
One major characteristic of the Southeast Igbo is their habitual distaste for the truth about their history. Whenever one speaks the truth about the dishonorable acts of the Igbo leadership both past and present, such a person is automatically branded an Igbo hater. Yet no other group describes the Igbo as their hater when it turns out to be the Igbo criticizing them. The Yoruba have never described the Igbo as Yoruba-hater in spite of the barrage of accusations leveled against Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the author of Igbo civil war predicament.
The Igbo won the Nigerian civil war but only on propaganda and in this propaganda victory, Chief Obafemi Awolowo more than the Fulani who were the authors of Igbo pogrom in the North and subsequent massacre in the course of the war. The Igbo have always accused Chief Obafemi Awolowo of stealing Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s 1951 Western Nigeria Regional elections. They also accuse him of introducing starvation as a weapon of war against the Igbo during the 1967-70 Nigerian civil war.
Chief Awolowo was also accused of attempted economic strangulation of the Igbo after the Nigerian civil war by imposing a policy of exchange of any amount of Biafran and old Nigerian currencies to twenty Nigerian pounds. However, our concern at the present stage is on the 1951 Western Regional elections in which the Nnamdi Azikiwe-led NCNC was believed to have won before Chief Obafemi Awolowo impressed some members of the NCNC to cross over to his Action Group to make up the majority.
What I discovered in the course of my historical scholarship is that it is only among the Igbo, especially the Igbo of Southeast that a stark ignoramus on a subject of history will be ready to argue to the depth of his ignorance with his sweat and blood and in doing so refuses to advance further in knowledge from that point of his ignorance. Indeed from my further research the only intervening factor which could easily lead such an Igbo ignoramus to change his mind and become a bit objective is when he notices that the pendulum of the argument is shifting towards money.
During my last Zoom program on Nigeria’s first military coup I noticed my colleague Dr. Law Mefor absurdly raising the issue of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe being betrayed by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in Western Region by stealing his mandate; and that it was for that reason the same Dr. Azikiwe decided to move to the East and did the same to Professor Eyo Ita. I call it absurd because that was not the subject matter of our discourse on that program and shouldn’t have come in given its implication to the much needed unity of Southern Nigeria at this point of Nigeria’s history. But like a typical Igbo quisling haggling for urgent public attention, emergency political appointment and uncanny appreciation from his Fulani oppressors, and having the full backing of his moderator-kinsman, he felt that to mudsling the Sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the shortest way to political stardom.
One commanding fact of Nigerian history which most Igbo do not accept is that the succeeding Nigerian political conflicts that led to the January 15, 1966 Coup and consequently the 1966 Igbo pogrom were the consequences of the joint-political conspiracy between Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello against Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
It is also important to point out that it was not the killing of Sir Ahmadu Bello that caused the Igbo pogrom and subsequently led to secession and civil war but the brazen betrayal of Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu by his Igbo co-conspirators which led to the scenario of selective killings of non-Igbo politicians and senior military officers while leaving their kinsmen untouched. This was later compounded by the ethnic-driven policies of Major General J. T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi. The only reason for this betrayal being to abort the planned hand-over of power to Chief Obafemi Awolowo by the January 15, 1966 coup conspirators.
Let me make it known once again as I have previously stated, that if the Igbo had a quarter of Chief Obafemi Awolowo placed in the position of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, with their enormous brain-power they would have excelled even more than South Korea. But while Obafemi applied his brain to reconstruct the Yoruba mind, body and spirit in political and economic terms, Dr. Azikiwe was busy telling his Igbo kinsmen that his towering image and name were enough for them. This is predicament the Igbo have consistently refused to accept and for that reason unity of ethnic identity, political focus and spiritual force has always eluded them.
This explains why the Igbo of the South-South especially the Igbo of the present Edo and Delta States would opt to be part of future Oduduwa Republic with the Yoruba even as an ignominious minority if given the option of choosing between Biafra and Oduduwa. This is because the Yoruba are by far the most liberal of all Nigerian ethnic groups both to themselves and members of other ethnic groups. A closer comparative study of the political vibrations of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo will reveal an Awolowo who was liberal-minded, more humble, more creative, and more visionary than the Zik of Africa. And so it was not surprising that both Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello would skip all their ideological differences and forge a common front to do away with Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
And as I have previously stated and I am still repeating, the West Niger Igbo are not one hundred percent Igbo in origin. The present Igbo group of Delta State in particular is a melting-pot of several ethnic and sub-ethnic groups namely: Igbo, Igala, Bini, Esan, Ijaw, Yoruba, Isoko, and Urhobo. Indeed the Igbo of Delta State as at the present day have six Yoruba-speaking communities whose indigenes could not easily be recognized outside their respective communities because they bear Igbo personal names. I made this fact known during the last 4th Chinua Achebe International Conference held on March 8-11, 2021, at the Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka in a paper titled: “LANGUAGE AND THE POLITICS OF ETHNIC IDENTITY AMONG THE WEST NIGER IGBO.”
Professional historians with strong research tradition in ethnic conflicts and competition have always seen the many allegations of anti-Igbo stances of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as a concocted Fulani political therapy designed to keep the Igbo and Yoruba divided in order to prevent them from forging a common front against their jihad schemes in the South. As a professional historian I have had the privilege of reading the views of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. K. O. Mbadiwe, Chief Matthew Mbu, and Alhaji Ganiyu Dawodu, among other writers and commentators, and I came to the conclusion that the claim that NCNC as a political party led by Dr. Nnamdi Azik;iwe won the 1951 Regional election in Western Nigeria was not only spurious but calculated attempt to denigrate the political carriage of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as a devious tribalist and ethnic chauvinist. A few instances will suffice to prove me right.
Even Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was not sure of the electoral victory he claimed and which has become a recurring decimal in the question of a united front between the Igbo and Yoruba. First, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s opinion on the matter of his electoral victory was as cloudy as it was evasive in taking a definite position on his acclaimed victory. In his autobiography My Odyssey he wrote:
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe stated: The NCNC was under the impression that it had won 43 seats out of 80 but 20 of the legislators whom they “regarded as members, supporters or sympathisers” aligned themselves with the Action Group.”
This was Dr. Azikiwe’s personal position on the well orchestrated victory of his Party NCNC. Bearing in mind that My Odyssey was published in 1971, it means that it took Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe a record twenty years to formulate his final opinion on the matter of his victory. Suffice it also to state that it it took the NCNC the first eight years after the election before they could question the authenticity of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s victory through a series of libelous cartoons in the West African Pilot against Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo, Samuel Akintola, and Rotimi Williams in 1959. This action resulted to a libel suit instituted against the West African Pilot by the three Action Group leaders claiming thirty thousand pounds cost of damages respectively in Ibadan Suits Nos. 1/58/59, 1/50/59, 1/60/59 under His Lordship Justice J. Somolu.
In his preamble to the judgment delivered on December 22, 1961 which was delivered in favor of Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo, Samuel Ladoke Akintola and Rotimi Williams in which the sum of £3, 500 with additional administrative cost of £250 were awarded to each of them, Justice Somolu stated in part:
“The plaintiffs brought separate actions against the defendants; each claiming the sum of £30,000 as damages for libel alleged to have been contained in the series of cartoons. The three actions were later consolidated for trial purposes. The three characters depicted were described in the Cartoons as the Fuehrer, the Propagandist and the Brain, respectively. The plaintiffs alleged that these cartoons suggested that the N.C.N.C. and not the A.G. actually won the 1951 election but was deprived of its success by illegal activities on the part of the plaintiffs; that the persons described as the Propagandist, the Fuehrer and the Brain, were intended to be and were understood by the readers of the defendant newspaper to be Chief the Hon. Akintola, Chief the Hon. Awolowo who was the leader of the Action Group, and Chief the Hon. Rotimi Williams respectively.”
In the concluding part Justice Somolu declared:
“Having given very careful consideration to all relevant factors in the case, having made all allowances in favour of the defendants as I possibly can, and having regard to the amount of injury which the character and reputation of the plaintiffs must have or are likely to have suffered as a result of these libels, I hereby award a total of £10,500 in their favour, i.e. £3,500 each, with costs which I shall now proceed to assess.”
One can now judge from both the declarations of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and the judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction if the claim of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s victory in the 1951 Western Nigeria Regional elections is legally bound by the law.
The truth of the matter is that both the NCNC and AG went into the election in alliance with other smaller political parties of which the Benin-base Otu Edo, Ibadan People’s Party and Ondo Improvement League were the major ones. There were also independent candidates who contested the election without political party affiliation. So the election was not a direct contest between the NCNC and Action Group as most people tend to assume.
The Otu Edo which had the Iyase of Benin Chief Humphrey Omo-Osagie as its arrow-head was driven by the desire of the pro-Oba group to curtail the rising influence of Chiefs Anthony Enahoro and Gaius Obaseki-led Action Group. On the other hand the Ibadan People’s Party was led by such prominent Yoruba leaders as Chief Augustus Akinloye as its founding Chairman, Chiefs Adeniran Ogunsanya, Adegoke Adelabu, T. O. S. Benson, H. O. Davies, and Kola Balogun among others. Strikingly both Otu Edo and Ibadan People’s Party went into the election as allies of the NCNC and not as official members of the Party.
The Western House of Assembly which was then made up of the present Delta, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Ogun, Oyo, and Lagos States, was made up of eighty House of Assembly Constituencies. At the end of the election, neither the NCNC nor Action Group was able to cross the forty-member baseline to constitute a majority. It was like the present situation in the State of Israel in which even though the Prime Minister’s Likud Party won more seats than the other Parties but cannot form a Government without meeting the majority benchmark of sixty-one out of the total 120 seats.
The first election was held on September 24, 1951 in which both Lagos and Benin were not involved because of the threat of violence. Thus out of the eighty seats, seventy-two were contested on that day. In line with the instruction of the Public Relations Officer of the Colonial Government Mr. Harold Cooper for all the political parties to publish the names of all their candidates, the Action Group published a total of sixty-eight names, while the NCNC failed to do so.
However, at the end of the election of September 24, out of the seventy-two seats the Action Group won thirty-eight, NCNC won twenty-four with one allied Independent candidate, Ibadan People’s Party won all the six seats in Ibadan, Ondo Improvement League had two seats, while there were three successful independent candidates. On November 20, Lagos organized its own election and the NCNC cleared all the five seats with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as one of the candidates. Similarly, on December 6, Benin Division held its postponed election with Otu Edo clearing all the three seats.
The thirty-eight candidates of the Action Group who won September 24, 1951 included:
Obafemi Awolowo— Ijebu Remo
M.S. Sowole— Ijebu Remo
Rev. SA Banjo— Ijebu Ode
S.O. Awokoya— Ijebu Ode
Alhaji AT Ahmed—Egba
Rev. S.A. Daramola—Egba
J.A.O. Odebiyi— Egbado (Yewa)
D.A. Fafunmi— Egbado (Yewa)
A. Akin Illo— Egbado (Yewa)
Rev. J. Ade-Ajayi—Ekiti
Chief CD Akran—Badagry
Rev. G.M. Fisher—Badagry
Rev. SA Adeyefa—Ife
Safi Lawal Edu—Edu
M.F. Agidee—Western Ijaw
It is therefore clear that without alliance with members none of the two major political parties would be able to form a Government, which was billed to be inaugurated on January 7th, 1952. It was at that point the Action Group moved into the field to engage on political horse-trading. The first group of elected candidates to join the above thirty-eight Action Group members were the three Action Group Secretaries who contested and won as independent candidates. These included Alhaji D. S. Adegbenro, J.O. Osuntokun, and S.O. Hassan, thus bringing the total number of Action Group members to forty-one. They were later joined by five of the six candidates elected on the platform of Ibadan People’s Party. They included Augustus M. Akinloye, Chief D. T Akinbiyi (the future Olubadan of Ibadan), Chief S. O Lanlehin, Moyosore Aboderin and S. A. Akinyemi. Only Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu opted to remain in alliance with the NCNC.
Out of the three Otu Edo candidates elected, namely, Chief Humphrey Omo-Osagie, Chief SO Ighodaro, and Chief Chike Ekwuyasi, Chief Ighodaro joined the Action Group while the other two joined the NCNC. Additionally out of the two Ondo Improvement League elected candidates, Chief F.O. Awosika joined the Action Group, while Chief Timothy Adeola Odutola who won as an independent candidate for Ijebu Ode equally joined the Action Group. By the time the members gathered on January 7th, 1951 for inauguration and political division was announced, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe saw his NCNC members only increased to twenty-seven, thus automatically allotting him the position of Leader of Opposition; while Chief Obafemi Awolowo with fifty-three members emerged the Leader of Government Business as it was called then under Macpherson Constitution.
It should be noted that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe initially accepted his position as the Leader of Opposition, hoping to use the position as a spring-board to be elected to the Federal House of Representatives in order to escape from the humiliation of serving under Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Unfortunately his bid to be so elected failed because one of the NCNC members elected with him from Lagos refused to step down for him. It was indeed at that point that he began to plot how to return to Eastern Region. And to do this he had to generate an aura of sympathy around him of which Chief Obafemi Awolowo became the scapegoat.
Chief Sam Mbakwe, the former Governor of Imo State and a strong supporter of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe affirmed this plot when he stated during an exclusive interview that it was all about politics which was “a necessary ploy at that point in time.” He went further to state that “after Zik lost out in the bid to take over the West, they had hatched a plan to remove Chief Eyo Ita, a minority Easterner from Creek Town, from power”, an action which could only be achieved at that point in time through the demonization of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Debunking any claim of irregularity in the election which the Action Group emerged victorious in his post-election press conference, Mr. Harold Cooper stated:
“Of the winning candidates, the names of 38 were on the list sent to me by the Action Group. The six successful candidates at Ibadan were all among those who had been identified to me as representing the Ibadan People’s Party. No claim of any kind had reached us about the party affiliation of the remaining successful candidates.”
Thus there was no question of ethnicity in the over all victory of the Action Group. But even then, if ethnicity is taken as a factor, one does not see any reason why Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe should aspire in the first instance to become the Leader of Government Business in Western Region. A common sense of equity should have led him to nominate a Yoruba member of his party to aspire to the position.
This position is logical given the preceding circumstances of Igbo-Yoruba crisis in Lagos that more than any event presented Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as a “tribalist”, which resulted from Dr. Azikiwe’s overt hostility towards the formation of Egbe Omo Oduduwa by Sir Adeyemo Alakija and Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1948. Indeed the resulting crisis reached a pitch when both Igbo and Yoruba in Lagos bought up all the matchets in Lagos in preparation for confrontation. The situation was further compounded with Dr. Azikiwe’s ethnic carriage as the President of Igbo State Union.
I am therefore in full agreement with Chief Akinloye’s reason for joining Action Group when he stated that “the thinking among them [the IPP members] was if a Northerner was the Premier of the North and an Easterner Chief Eyo Ita was the Premier in the East, why couldn’t they have a Yoruba Premier?” He further stated that although NCNC was their choice political party but they were put off by Dr. Azikiwe’s refusal to name a Yoruba member of the party as the proposed Premier. As he put it in Yoruba language “Omo eni kò sè ‘dí bèbèrè ká f’ìlèkè s’ídî omo elòmíràn.”
The question here is when will Igbo leaders redefine their sense of moral judgment, political insensitivity and rudderless political alignment? For such people who define themselves as both educated and politically exposed as Dr. Law Mefor to condescend so low to the point of proudly asserting falsehood about Chief Obafemi in the public space shows the depth of political bankruptcy among the Igbo political elite and which by extension puts that it will take a millennium for the Igbo to learn from their history.
This was the same man in his infantile reasoning was advocating for a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction with one side of his mouth and with another side oozing out stinking spurious historical accounts about Chief Obafemi Awolowo. There is therefore no doubt that the Igbo of Southeast are really in a confused state of political regeneration. Just compare their leaders’ approach to the current intractable problem of killer-Fulani herdsmen with that of the Yoruba leaders.
Like the paranoiac hunter chasing rat while his house is on fire only selfish-minded, myopic and acculturated Igbo saboteurs would be engaging on the race of shame called Igbo Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Indeed as the equation of political struggles stands today, the worst that would happen to Nigeria is to see an Igbo, particularly the types that presently masquerade as political leaders and presidential aspirants, elected as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The already four known aspirants—Orji Uzor Kalu, Peter Obi, Dave Umahi, and Anyim Pius Anyim represent what is better described as iconic Igbo political fraudsters who are celebrated Fulani conspirators and quislings against their celebrated Igbo ethnic pride. The shameless role of Orji Uzor Kanu as both an Islamizing agent of the Fulani jihad scheme and financial backer of the Fulani Ruga conquest scheme need not be repeated here.
Peter Obi on the other hand, is not only a dangerous Christian bigot who chose to reap his political spoils of office by creating a devious Roman Catholic-Anglican denominational divide in Anambra State, but a subtle agent of Islamization who proposed the establishment of a World Islamic Center at his Agulu town through the gifting of large acres of land to the Jama’tul Nasri Islam of Nigeria in return for support for his Presidential bid.
Peter Obi also has crass unrepentant nepotism which has done more to restrict his effective political influence within his immediate Agulu community. For instance, as Governor of Anambra State he had his fellow Agulu clansman Senator Umeh as National Chairman of APGA, his cousin Senator Joy Emordi married to an Onitsha man as Senator, and at the same time wanted another Agulu indigene Professor Dora Akunyili to become a Senator.
Beyond the foregoing facts the trending allegation that Peter Obi even with his celebrated religiosity and accountability refused to render to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the PDP National Executive Committee the accounts of billions of naira given to him for the last Presidential election as the Party’s Vice Presidential candidate.
Governor Dave Umahi is another disgrace to the Igbo ethnic nationality in matters of political etiquette, ethnic patriotism and pride of identity. At the time the Fulani vicious act of murderous impunity raised its ugly head in the Southeast through the Nimbo Ukpabi massacre, he was boldly inviting the murderous Fulani herdsmen to Ebonyi State. He is also the only Governor from Southern Nigeria who took the Islamic Sukuk loan, thereby mortgaging his people’s conscience, religious freedom, and independent ownership of their land without their knowledge.
He was first promised that his brother would be appointed Chief of Army Staff if he caved into the Fulani scheme in Igboland. When that did not materialize after the untimely retirement of his brother, he was again promised their support for his Presidential ambition still on the condition that he joined the APC. However, since joining the APC nothing again is spoken of Igbo Presidency within the APC political circles. Like a vulture beaten by a heavy rain Governor Dave Umahi presently bears the carriage of a rejected political prodigal son from all angles of political contest in Nigeria. Indeed one is surprised that none of Dave Umahi’s kind was invited to the 11th Ahmadu Bello Lecture held at Arewa House in Kaduna on Saturday March 27, 2021.
The most laughable of all the Igbo presidential aspirants is Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, the worst colorless Secretary to the Government of the Federation ever to be produced. Known for his habitual sleeping-on-duty elephantine carriage, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim who had nothing to show as his positive contributions to collective Igbo interest and progress in his respective two tenures of Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation appears to present himself as the hatchet-man for exclusive Southeast Igbo Presidency and creator of authentic Igbo identity syndrome.
From the foregoing it is obvious that the Igbo under the present political circumstances should view those agitating for an Igbo President of the Nigerian nation as agents and co-conspirators of Fulani Jihad scheme and thus should not be taken serious. These are the class of Igbo people who believe in the political invincibility of the Fulani oligarchy and for that reason have already submitted themselves and their fellow Igbo kinsmen to Fulani political slaughter-slab. A class of leaders who are insensitive to the trending dangerous schemes of the Fulani jihad oligarchy will neither enjoy the support of other ethnic groups nor the overwhelming sympathy of the oppressed but indolent Southeast Igbo masses.
Nwaezigwe is of the Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka
Director, Nigerian Civil War & Genocide Research Network
Odogwu of Ibusa Clan, Delta State, Nigeria