It is not new in Nigeria for people to call on their villages and communities to rise, adapt and survive. It is also not new for individuals with opportunity and position, namely popular people to make history following the calls on their ethnic communities to assert themselves in a developing polity to build and expand. Nnamdi Azikiwe did such a call. Emeka Ojukwu did that in a given turbulent situation as well as people like Obafemi Awolowo for the west of Nigeria. For the Igbo, what of today after Ojukwu? It is important to ask this straightforward question: why are community people’s calls by their own persons stand to be historic in the Nigerian dispensation? Human rights struggle begin with community calls to rise to any occasion that will make change for a felt need important and valued. In 1949, Dr. Azikiwe addressed the Igbo in Aba in Abia State and the article culled in here presents what he said to the Igbo of the time as a public leader.
In the following address given eleven years before Nigerian independence, Nnamdi Azikiwe calls for self-determination for the Ibo as they along with other ethnic groups march toward an inevitably free Nigeria. This address was delivered at the Ibo State Assembly held at Aba, Nigeria, on Saturday, June 25, 1949.
Harbingers of a new day for the Ibo nation, having selected me to preside over the deliberations of this assembly of the Ibo nation, I am conscious of the fact that you have not done so because of any extraordinary attributes in me. I realize that I am not the oldest among you, nor the wisest, nor the wealthiest, nor the most experienced, nor the most learned. I am therefore grateful to you for elevating me to this high pedestal.
The Ibo people have reached a cross-road and it is for us to decide which is the right course to follow. We are confronted with routes leading to diverse goals, but as I see it, there is only one road that I can safely recommend for us to tread, and it is the road to self-determination for the Ibo within the framework of a federated commonwealth of Nigeria and the Cameroons, leading to a United States of Africa. Other roads, in my opinion, are calculated to lead us astray from the path of national self-realization.
It would appear that God has specially created the Ibo people to suffer persecution and be victimized because of their resolute will to live. Since suffering is the label of our tribe, we can afford to be sacrificed for the ultimate redemption of the children of Africa. Is it not fortunate that the Ibo are among the few remnants of indigenous African nations who are still not spoliated by the artificial niceties of Western materialism? Is it not historically significant that throughout the glorious history of Africa, the Ibo is one of the select few to have escaped the humiliation of a conqueror’s sword or to be a victim of a Carthaginian treaty? Search through the records of African history and you will fail to find an occasion when, in any pitched battle, any African nation has either marched across Ibo territory or subjected the Ibo nation to a humiliating conquest. Instead, there is record to show that the martial prowess of the Ibo, at all stages of human history, has rivaled them not only to survive persecution, but also to adapt themselves to the role thus thrust upon them by history, of preserving all that is best and most noble in African culture and tradition. Placed in this high estate, the Ibo cannot shirk the responsibility conferred on it by its manifest destiny. Having undergone a course of suffering the Ibo must therefore enter into its heritage by asserting its birthright, without apologies.
Follow me in a kaleidoscopic study of the Ibo. Four million strong in man-power! Our agricultural resources include economic and food crops which are the bases of modern civilization, not to mention fruits and vegetables which flourish in the tropics! Our mineral resources include coal, lignite, lead, antimony, iron, diatomite, clay, oil, and tin! Our forest products include timber of economic value, including iroko and mahogany! Our fauna and flora are marvels of the world! Our land is blessed by waterways of world renown, including the River Niger, Imo River, and Cross River! Our ports are among the best known in the continent of Africa. Yet in spite of these natural advantages, which illustrate without doubt the potential wealth of the Ibo, we are among the least developed in Nigeria, economically, and we are so ostracized socially, that we have become extraneous in the political institutions of Nigeria.
I have not come here today in order to catalogue the disabilities which the Ibo suffer, in spite of our potential wealth, in spite of our teeming man-power, in spite of our vitality as an indigenous African people; suffice it to say that it would enable you to appreciate the manifest destiny of the Ibo if I enumerated some of the acts of discrimination against us as a people. Socially, the British Press has not been sparing in describing us as ‘the most hated in Nigeria’. In this unholy crusade, the Daily Mirror, The Times, The Economist, News Review and the Daily Mail have been in the forefront. In the Nigerian Press, you are living witnesses of what has happened in the last eighteen months, when Lagos, Zaria and Calabar sections of the Nigerian Press were virtually encouraged to provoke us to tendentious propaganda. It is needless for me to tell you that today, both in England and in West Africa, the expression ‘Ibo’ has become a word of opprobrium.
Politically, you have seen with your own eyes how four million people were disenfranchized by the British, for decades, because of our alleged backwardness. We have never been represented on the Executive Council, and not one Ibo town has had the franchise, despite the fact that our native political institutions are essentially democratic—in fact, more democratic than any other nation in Africa, in spite of our extreme individualism.
Economically, we have laboured under onerous taxation measures, without receiving sufficient social amenities to justify them. We have been taxed without representation, and our contributions in taxes have been used to develop other areas, Out of proportion to the incidence of taxation in those areas. It would seem that we are becoming a victim of economic annihilation through a gradual but studied process. What are my reasons for cataloguing these disabilities and interpreting them as calculated to emasculate us, and so render us impotent to assert our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
I shall now state the facts which should be well known to any honest student of Nigerian history. On the social plane, it will be found that outside of Government College at Umauhia, there is no other secondary school run by the British Government in Nigeria in Ibo-land. There is not one secondary school for girls run by the British Government in our part of the country. In the Northern and Western Provinces, the contrary is the case. If a survey of the hospital facilities in Ibo-land were made, embarrassing results might show some sort of discrimination. Outside of Port Harcourt, fire protection is not provided in any Ibo town. And yet we have been under the protection of Great Britain for many decades!
On the economic plane, I cannot sufficiently impress you because you are too familiar with the victimization which is our fate. Look at our roads; how many of them are tarred, compared, for example, with the roads in other parts of the country? Those of you who have travelled to this assembly by road are witnesses of the corrugated and utterly unworthy state of the roads which traverse Ibo-land, in spite of the fact that four million Ibo people pay taxes in order, among others, to have good roads. With roads must be considered the system of communications, water and electricity supplies. How many of our towns, for example, have complete postal, telegraph, telephone and wireless services, compared to towns in other areas of Nigeria? How many have pipe-borne water supplies? How many have electricity undertakings? Does not the Ibo tax-payer fulfill his civic duty? Why, then, must he be a victim of studied official victimization?
Today, these disabilities have been intensified. There is a movement to disregard traditional organization in the Ibo nation by the introduction of a specious system of a form of local government. The placing of the Ibo nation in an artificial regionalization scheme has left an unfair impression of attempted domination by minorities of the Ibo people. In the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council the Electoral College system has aided in the complete disenfranchisement of the Ibo. As a climax, spurious leadership is being foisted upon us—a mis-leadership which receives official recognition, thus stultifying the legitimate aspirations of the Ibo. This leadership shows a palpable disloyalty to the Ibo and loyalty to an alien protecting power.
The only worthwhile stand we can make as a nation is to assert our right to self-determination, as a unit of a prospective Federal Commonwealth of Nigeria and the Cameroons, where our rights will be respected and safeguarded. Roughly speaking, there are twenty main dialectal regions in the Ibo nation, which can be conveniently departmentalized as Provinces of an Ibo State, to wit: Mbamili in the northwest, Aniocha in the west, Anidinma and Ukwuani in the southeast, Nsukka and Udi in the north, Awgu, Awka and Onitsha in the centre, Ogbaru in the south, Abakaliki and Afikpo in the northwest, Okigwi, Orlu, Owerri and Mbaise in the east, Ngwa, Bende, Abiriba Ohafia and Etche in the southwest. These Provinces can have their territorial boundaries delimited, they can select their capitals, and then can conveniently develop their resources both for their common benefit and for those of the other nationalities who make up this great country called Nigeria and the Cameroons.
The keynote in this address is self-determination for the Ibo. Let us establish an Ibo State, based on linguistic and ethnic factors, enabling us to take our place side by side with the other linguistic and ethnic groups which make up Nigeria and the Cameroons. With the Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, Yoruba, Ibibio (Iboku), Angus (Bi-Rom), Tiv, Ijaw, Edo, Urhobo, ltsekiri, Nupe, Igalla, Ogaja, Gwari, Duala, Bali and other nationalities asserting their right to self-determination each as separate as the fingers, but united with others as a part of the same hand, we can reclaim Nigeria and the Cameroons from this degradation which it has pleased the forces of European imperialism to impose upon us. Therefore, our meeting today is of momentous importance in the history of the Ibo, in that opportunity has been presented to us to heed the call of a despoiled race, to answer the summons to redeem a ravished continent, to rally forces to the defence of a humiliated country, and to arouse national consciousness in a demoralized but dynamic nation.
Culled from: Nnamdi Azikiwe, Zik: A Selection from the Speeches of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Governor-General of the Federation of Nigeria formerly President of the Nigerian Senate formerly Premier of the Eastern Region of Nigeria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961).