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The Igbo People Of Nigeria – JEWS OF AFRICA? by Dr. Leonard Madu

In commerce, the Igbos are a mobile, vividly industrious people who have spread all over Nigeria and Africa as traders and small merchants. In countries like Gabon, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Gambia, Igbo traders predominate in retail trade. Most Igbos are clannish, despite their individualism and hold closely together in non Igbo communities. They are often very unpopular in the communities they live in, because they push very hard to make money and often dominate the retail business in alien communities. In his book, the Brutality of Nations, Dan Jacobs describes the Igbos “as ambitious, dynamic and progressive people whose education and abilities did not endear them to those among whom they lived. Even during British rule, there were massacres of Igbos in Northern Nigeria-in Jos in 1945 and in Kano in 1953. The Igbos have acquired the sobriquet, Jews of Africa”.

igbo-studies-18Education is highly emphasized and given priority in Igboland. Converted to Christianity by Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian missionaries, they took up self-improvement with such enthusiasm, that by the 1960’s, the Igbos had the highest percentage of doctors, lawyers, engineers, physicists, and teachers than any other ethnic group in Africa. Because of the abundant educational talent in Igboland many newly independent African nations recruited them to fill vacancies in their civil service. The first American style university built-in Africa was in Igboland-the University of Nigeria at Nsukka. Its founder, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was a graduate of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. The Igbos and the Yorubas are the most educated ethnic group in Africa.

Politically, the Igbos are very effervescent and volatile. According to author Dan Jacobs “for Britain and for the British civil servants who continued to work in the Northern Region, the Igbos have always been a troublesome element in the federation, a people with a democratic tradition who are not easily controlled. Many British were glad to see them out of a central position in the federation, as were those who had driven them back to their homeland and those who now held the civil service and other jobs they had left”. The Igbos had been the most ardent advocates of a united Nigeria. Upon independence in 1960, an Igbo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe-American educated became the first President and Governor General, while another Igbo, Aguiyi Ironsi became the first indigenous military chief. Leadership of most of the elite universities in Nigeria were also occupied by the Igbos.

 1966 Nigerian coup d'étatFollowing the military coup of January 1966, which the Igbos were accused of initiating, Aguiyi Ironsi, an Igbo, became President and Supreme Commander of the armed forces. Tensions rose very high in the country resulting in the massacre of Igbos in May 1966. In July 1966, a Hausa/Fulani/Tiv inspired military coup overthrew Ironsi’s regime and a terrible massacre of the Igbos began in earnest. This led to the secession of the former Eastern Nigeria and the declaration of the Republic of Biafra. This eventually led to the civil war. According to George Orick, an American businessman and consultant to UNICEF who was in Nigeria at the time, one million Igbos were to be killed in order to avenge the death of a man called Ahmadu Bello, who was the Sardauna of Sokoto-Prince of the Islamic Sokoto Caliphate. He reported that “one could hear on Northern Nigerian radio the reading of long lists of Igbos who were targeted for extinction”.-see Goddell team report, congressional Record of February 15, 1969, pp51976-7. The Igbos believe, and rightfully so, that had they not fought back, their fate would have been worse than that of the Tutsis in Rwanda. The same way Northern Nigerian radio was exhorting the Hausa/Fulanis to kill the Igbos, was the same way Radio Milles Collines was exhorting the Hutus to slaughter the Tutsis in Rwanda.

Similarly, Heinrich Jiggs, a Swiss businessman in Nigeria who later became the chief Red Cross delegate in Biafra, reports seeing one of the circular letters in Northern Nigeria which stated that every Igbo down to the age of six would be killed. A Canadian Journalist, Alan Grossman, who had been West African Bureau Chief of Time Life News Service in Lagos from May 1966 to June 1968, testified before the External Affairs Committee of the Canadian House of Commons on what he saw. He told the committee “many thousands of Igbos were slaughtered in towns and villages across the north, and hundreds of thousands of others were blinded, crippled or maimed or in majority of cases, simply left destitute as they attempted to flee to the Igbo homeland in Eastern Nigeria. Some of the fleeing refugees did not make it home. On one train that arrived in the East, there was the corpse of a male passenger whose head had been chopped off somewhere along the line. Another group of Igbo refugees men, women and children whom I happened to see-I would say 100 or more of them-were waiting in the railway station in the city of Kano, the largest city in Northern Nigeria, for about three days, with no security guards, for the arrival of a refugee train, and a land rover full of government soldiers came and mowed them down with automatic weapons. Igbo shops and Igbo hotels were ransacked and looted, while blocks of non Igbo businesses were carefully left untouched”. (see minutes of Canadian House of Commons proceeding, external Affairs Ref. 7 pp. 239-40).

In the final analysis, Dan Jacobs, in the Brutality of Nations, summarizes the plight of the Igbos in the following way, “to the other Nigerians, the Igbos were not only leaving Nigeria, they were departing with the oil under the lands with which they are seceding. Here lay the explanation of the paradox that the Nigerians had driven the Biafrans out, yet seemed to be fighting to keep them in the federation. What they actually wanted was the land the Igbos were on and what lay under it-without the Igbos”.

Some internationally recognized Igbo personalities include former president Nnamdi Azikiwe, former military ruler Aguiyi Ironsi, writer Chinua Achebe, former Biafran leader Odumegwu Ojukwu, former justice at the World Court Daddy Onyeama, former commonwealth secretary-general Emeka Anyoku, former middleweight and light heavyweight champion of the world Dick Tiger and Cardinal Francis Arinze-Pope in waiting. Some African-Americans of Igbo ancestry include evangelist T.D. Jakes, actor, scholar and athlete Paul Robeson, actors Forrest Whitaker and Blair Underwood.

Dr. Leonard Madu is President of the African Caribbean Institute and African Chamber of Commerce in Nashville, Tennessee. Article reprinted with permission by Catherine Biempka

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1 Comment on The Igbo People Of Nigeria – JEWS OF AFRICA? by Dr. Leonard Madu

  1. Adam Turnage // April 30, 2016 at 2:05 PM //

    When African peoples seem to be so thoroughly divided along religious, tribal, and economic lines, where do you see their solution and how do you see us assisting them in a remedy to the turmoil we see in Africa- in countries like Nigeria and Kenya and other places-at the hands of Islamist terrorism and corrupt government. The unifying experience I was taught growing up was fueled by the desire of Jesus in John chapter 17 to make us one-signified in the rending of the veil in two from top to bottom when He was crucified, and as our peace tore down the middle wall of partition between peoples-making equal access to the father and making us one in Christ-but this is the very though that fuels acts of violence. How does sincere desire for solutions get through this gauntlet?

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