Ojukwu’s Philosophy Of Detribalism: The Panacea To The Nigerian Political Problems

Ojukwu’s Philosophy Of Detribalism: The Panacea To The Nigerian Political Problems



  • Tribalism And Nigerian Political Development

Ever since the marriage between the Northern and Southern Nigeria became a reality, Nigerians have made several attempts to preserve this marriage; but constantly, it has nearly broken up. No doubt Ojukwu said that;




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Since Nigerians took their own destiny into their own hands, every national intercourse has borne the sterile aspect of a coitus interruptus-a primitive method but very effective in preventing the birth of a new nation.[1]

For a strong political, economic, and infrastructural development, the various ‘nations’ that make up Nigeria should be united to achieve these. Several efforts have been made, albeit some are pseudo-efforts, to see that Nigeria is united. However, tribalism has constantly threatened the road to Nigerian unity.

At independence, and subsequent first republic, Nigerians had expected that the political actors then would have used that period as a time for laying a solid foundation for a united Nigeria. This never was; rather the so-called father founders considered it paramount to play tribal politics that stunted the growth of the nation. Nigeria is basically below the waters today because wonderful opportunities that would have fostered national development were dashed at the early days of her life as an independent nation.

A good number of politicians in these early days of this nation did not consider Nigeria a reality, let alone, work for her unity. This was evident in their utterances then. Some of them are Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Yakubu Gowon, to mention a few. Commenting on these differences, Gowon said,

Suffice it to say that putting all consideration to test, political, economic, as well as social, the base for unity is not there[2].

On his own part, Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto and a tribalist par excellence said,

Nigeria is so large and the people so varied that no person with any real intellectual integrity would be so foolish as to pretend that he speaks for the county as a whole.[3]

Still skeptical about this word unity, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, the first prime minister said “ since the amalgamation of the southern and northern provinces in 1914, Nigeria has existed as one country on paper”[4]

One cannot forget so easily the ignoble statement of Awolowo that “Nigeria is a mere geographical expression”[5]. These are not the only ones; they have a lot of disciples, however, their positions made them outstanding. In fact, they made these statements when they have the opportunity to retreat into tribe in order to check their more successful rivals from other parts of the country.

Tribalism retards development especially political development, and since other developments hinge on that, all other aspects of development will also be grounded. A lot of instances from the first republic up until the present third republic show how tribalism has left Nigeria in a comatose. First, it is generally believed that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe won the premiership of the then Western region, but could not occupy the position because he was of the “wrong” tribe, albeit he showed a bad legacy by rushing to the East and manipulating himself into power by edging out Chief Udoma. In 1964, a group of young Nigerian officer cadets mainly Northerners, were declared academically unfit and repatriated by the Canadian military authorities. These cadets were declared commissioned by the Nigerian Federal Government no sooner than they had arrived at the Ikeja Airport[6]. In 1961, the premier of the North and Sarduana of Sokoto paid a visit to the Royal military Academy, Sand Hurst and wanted to meet with the Nigerian cadets. When he eventually appeared to see his fellow Nigerians, he asked an embarrassing tribal question to one of them: where do you come from? From Nigeria, was the answer. But the premier was not satisfied, so he went on, where exactly in Nigerian?[7]. In 1962, the then Federal Minister of State for the Army, Alhaji Tanko Galadima, officially visited the Nigerian Military Training College [NMTC] Kaduna.  As he was about to leave, he presented both pocket money and kola nuts to only the Northern officer cadets[8]. As expected, this caused great ripples in the army then. In 1960, shortly after independence, the then prime minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, directed the principal of Kings College, Lagos, Mr. P.H Davies, to secure available places annually, for at least fifteen boys from the North, whether or not they passed the required entrance examination[9].

Collaborating the existence of tribalism in the army, Janet Mba-Afolabi said:

records have shown that the army is one in which an officer’s ethnic origin determines the nature of strategic appointments he holds.[10]

The absence of Federal presence in certain areas of the country has no other reason but tribalism. The whole of South-east has up until this stage, no international airport or seaport irrespective of the fact that there is a big market they will serve. The federal roads in this same zone and other zones are death paths rather than high ways. It is even a “divine decree” that people from certain areas can never be among the service chiefs, inspector of police, defence and agriculture ministers to mention just a few. Many of the policies initiated by various governments had, in all intent and purposes, tribal undertones. A case in point is the indigenization policy.

In the various states of the federation, there is rancour everywhere because a particular part of the state will like to take all. People tend to forget that “we cannot dominate; all we can do is to accommodate”.[11] These instances show the extent we have allowed tribalism to take us. It is against these that Gbulie observed that:

… the most dreadful of our county’s insuperable monsters was tribalism, Nigeria’s number one killer disease, a canker worm as old as the hills, the fundamental factor of the problems of Nigerian unity.[12]

  • The Meaning of Tribalism

Etymologically, the term tribalism has its root and origin from the Latin “tribus” (tribe) meaning “one third” which originally referred to one of the three peoples that united to found Rome. The Encyclopedia Americana defines tribe as ‘a group of families who have a feeling of community through occupying a common territory and following similar customs.’ In the same vein, the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary defines tribe ‘as a group of people, families, clans or communities who share social, economic, political ties, and often a common ancestor and who usually have a common culture, dialect and leader.’ More recently, the term tribe has been applied to any people having a common territory and customs who are not part of a state society. One thing that is basic with tribe is that the members of a tribe are usually held together by common dialect, customs, social, economic, political sameness as well as observing major religious ceremonies. Tribe and tribal have been observed as convenient terms for indicating that a people still follows customs rather than state law.

In view of the relatedness of tribe with ethnicity, it is pertinent to define ethnicity as well. According to the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary ‘ethnicity means relating to or having a common race or cultural tradition, seen from the point of view of race, rather than nationality.’ In other words an ethnic group consists of a people who share the same culture, and we know, culture comprises the whole gamut of what the people do. This being the case, tribe and ethnicity are interwoven. This perhaps explains the reason why Ojukwu used both of them interchangeably. In this write up therefore, the two terms will be used to express the same idea.

Tribalism is the extreme and obsessive protection of one’s tribe to the detriment of the whole nation. The chambers 21st century dictionary defines it ‘as the system of tribes as a way of organizing society, the feeling of belonging to a tribe.’ It is a political attitude guided by tribal customs. While tribe sets out to define a people, tribalism is mainly that negative political attitude that tends to favour only persons from one’s tribe. But this usually retards national growth.  Tribalism promotes such evils as social injustice, inefficiency, moral decadence, unproductivity, and mediocrity. Tribalism thwarts every effort towards unity and integration in any multi-ethnic/tribal nation.

In an attempt to explain tribalism, Achebe has it that “tribalism is discrimination against a citizen because of his place of birth”.[13] This for me is a practical definition of tribalism, but something appears to be missing in it. One’s place of birth may not be his tribe. A Yoruba may be born in Onitsha. This does not make him an Igbo. Tribalism applies more to one’s tribe of origin. A lot of southerners are born in the North, but they greatly feel the pains of discrimination irrespective of the fact that that is their place of birth. Likewise, a lot of Northerners have various places in the south as their places of birth, yet they are seen as strangers. For Achebe,

tribalism manifests itself in acts such as preventing a citizen from living or working anywhere in his country, or from participating in the social, political, economic life of the community he chooses to live.[14]

In what seems to be the most insightful explanation of tribalism, Ojukwu has it that

tribalism is nothing other than ethnic nationalism i.e. a limited, constricted nationalism, a stunted growth. It means a nationalism that has become fixated in adolescence. Tribalism is a consciousness, which emerged as the broadest viewpoint in a society organized on personalities. Tribalism, as a social philosophy, is based on the construction of a series of imaginary boundaries which establish the “us” and the “them” dichotomy.[15]

These explanations show that tribalism is such a negative force. It divides a nation more than it builds it together. One factor that encourages tribalism, I think, is the fear for the truth about how the various components of Nigeria are; we are afraid to come together.  Many Nigerians, no matter the intellectual heights, are afraid of coming together as a united entity. Hence, tribalism has become the proper avenue of dealing with this fear.

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1.3          Dangers of Tribalism

Tribalism breeds a lot of dangers impeding the overall development of a country. In Nigeria, for instance, tribalism performs the function of a political tool. According to Ojukwu  “tribalism manifests itself more as a function of politics than as an innate xenophobia amongst the various groups in Nigeria”[16]. Achebe adds that

a word will stay around as long as there is work for it to do, in Nigeria, in spite of our protestations, there is plenty of work for tribe, our threatening gestures against it have been premature, half hearted, or plain deceitful[17].

There is some work for tribe in Nigeria, and as it does its work, there are bound to be many effects on those who use it and those on whom it is used. Hence, below are some of the dangers of tribalism in Nigeria.

  • Tribalism Leads To Disunity

Since the independence, every regime sets out to achieve the unity of the country. But these regimes fail regrettably in this project. Most Nigerians have intense desire for this unity, but at forty-five years of existence, we have lived more disunited than we had expected. It is the desire for this unity that has taken Nigeria through various experiments namely: the North-South dichotomy of early colonization, federalism or rather pseudo-federalism, the famous three regions structure and later four, the unitary system of government, the imposition of a twelve state structure, nineteen state structure, a twenty-one state structure, a thirty state structure, and at present, a thirty-six state structure, constitutional conferences particularly the 1995 constitutional conferences, and the just concluded national political reform conference. All these efforts have been to ensure unity, but we have always had pseudo-unity. Disunity comes in when people are attached to their tribes. As Ojukwu said,

the biggest obstacle to unity is that which is commonly known and referred to as tribalism.[18]

Commenting on the dangers of disunity, he noted that

disunity is a danger that the people of this country can no longer endure. Disunity has laid to waste all the noble dreams of our founding fathers. Disunity has nullified all our efforts at national reconstruction and disunity has led us into war. Disunity has also destroyed our peace. The consequences of disunity are too terrible to contemplate and too obvious to require any further demonstration. The legalized barbarism of the contemporary Nigerian situation is the fruit of disunity.[19]

The first danger posits by tribalism is disunity. This is not a mere ideological disagreement, but the type that constantly makes us stand “on a soil soaked in fratricidal blood”.[20]

  • Tribalism Enthrones Mediocrity

Tribalism favours mediocrity. However, this advantage is the type that destroys not only the persons involved, but also the nation. Mediocrity reigns where tribe of origin is placed over and beyond merit and competence. Tribalism encourages mediocrity mainly in the award of contracts and in employment and promotions. Two contractors may be campaigning for a particular contract, and most often the less qualified “contractor” wins the job, while the one with better qualifications goes home a loser. The amateur contractor wins because he is of the “right” tribe while the other is not. As expected, the so-called contractor eventually messes up the job. In all these,

the greatest sufferer is the nation itself which has to contain the legitimate grievance of a wronged citizen, accommodate the incompetence of a favoured citizen, and more important and of greater scope, endure a general decline of morale and subversion of efficiency caused by an erratic system of performance and reward.[21]

The same thing is experienced in employments. These days, certificates worth nothing once you know somebody in a higher position, your area of specialization not withstanding. It is still a living memory that Bola Ige was appointed a minister to man a sensitive power and steel ministry, despite the fact that he never specialized in that. At the early stage of our nationhood, the effects of tribalism with regard to mediocrity were so evident. Lamenting about the existence then Gbulie observed that

the terms ‘long legs’ and ‘as man knows man’ had been injected into the vocabulary of the Nigerian public. Thus, double standards had been created which, in turn led to frustration among millions of Nigerians. Mediocrity now sat unchallenged on the throne—mediocrity that was sustained by blind leadership. For merit meant nothing. Nor did talent and industry mean anything.[22]

Against these backdrops, Ojukwu maintained that:

no amount of sanctimonious injunctions and no amount of erudite constitution-writing, can lift Nigeria from her mediocrity, to the greatest she deserves.[23]

  • Tribalism Creates Social Injustice

Tribalism goes with a great deal of social injustice.  A lot of injustices have been perpetrated in Nigeria, as a result of our myopic comprehension of the term tribe. Some Nigerians, because of their tribe, can never rise to he position of permanent secretaries in their ministries, some can never become the inspector general of police, defense and agriculture ministers. Certain industries must not be sited in certain places, and if they were put in place, a substandard firm would be assigned to handle it. This kind of situation does not help for any development.

  • Tribalism Retards Individual /National Development

A nation cannot exist without the citizens. In the same way, Nigeria cannot exist without the concerted mental and physical efforts of Nigerians. Because tribalism is separatist in nature, it retards the development of the nation. Tribalism retards development because in such a situation like Nigeria, due process is thrown to the winds and as such the people who are qualified for certain positions to keep the nation moving will not be given the opportunity. This being the case, the individual’s potentialities are left undeveloped, which in turn affects the entire nation.

  • Tribalism Promotes Cultural Underdevelopment

Variety, they say, is the spice of life. One major advantage that accrues from the existence of many tribes is the capacity of producing a variety of cultures that will eventually add more beauty to the national life. The languages and cultures of the various peoples that make up Nigeria have in different ways something to offer for national integration and development. Every culture ought to be open to other cultures, and through that way grows. But when people are too attached to their tribes as well as cultures to the exclusion of others, the cultures will hardly experience any growth.  The silent adherence to tribe has made this possible, and as such, the various cultures remain dormant and underdeveloped.

  • Tribalism Leads To Disintegration

In a tribalism-infested society, there is always uneven distribution of the available resources, denial of equal opportunities, double standard,  the born-to-rule mentality, and neglect of persons from other tribes. In such a scenario, some people tend to be marginalized. As expected, they will seek to defend themselves. And one way of defending themselves is to assert their autonomy and work towards secession. In this way, the things that hold the country together will start to fall apart. This is exactly what is happening in Nigeria.

  • The Positive Aspect of Tribalism

Tribalism is a word every individual who believes in Nigeria as a united country abhores.  It would be very difficult for any Nigerian to envisage something good in it. The general understanding of this word has been and still remains in the negative.

On the contrary, the term tribalism is not entirely bad, if anything, it is the way people use it that is bad. “Tribe is very natural and normal; no one is without a tribe.”[24]  According to Azikiwe, the fact of tribe is not specific to Africa alone, it is a universal fact. However, irrespective of tribal differences, the common identity in the association with one another as a nation should uphold and endure.

Discussing tribalism as a pragmatic instrument for national unity, Azikiwe maintained that tribe has a positive meaning, the positive meaning of community. This means that tribalism could then become a pragmatic instrument for national unity not disunity. Thus Azikiwe said:

if the concept and practice of tribalism would be a mode of adaptation to reality, then tribalism is an instrument for national unity.[25]

Still for Azikiwe, tribe is an anthropological fact. A tribe is made up of race, language and culture, and these, as it were, are the major anthropological factors that determine the level of integrability and assimilability among the tribes. Countries such as Switzerland, United States of America, U.S.S.R are examples of countries that are made up of less integrated tribes. Yet, they maintain their identities as single nations. This goes to show that over two hundred and fifty tribes that make up Nigeria are not disasters but great assets.

In this line of thinking, Achebe notes also that

everyone agrees that there are manifestations of tribal culture, which we cannot condemn such as peculiar habits of dress, food, language, and music[26].

These and many other manifestations are positive and desirable and confer richness on our national culture. They add to the beauty richly embedded in African culture.

Tribalism has some positive benefits, and for Nigeria to achieve the desired positive aspect in tribalism, Azikiwe was of the view that loyalty to tribe must be transferred to loyalty to Nigeria as a nation. This will be well achieved when, according to him, “permanent guarantees of a constitutional, political, and economic nature are met”[27].

Our differences are therefore assets rather than tools for destruction. The practice of tribalism, I will maintain, is a defective attitude of the mind that eventually manifests itself in the utterances and actions of men.



2.1 Tribalism: The Precursor To The Philosophy Of Detribalism

Ojukwu could be regarded as the protagonist of the best philosophy of life for this country – the philosophy of detribalism. Necessity they say is the mother of invention; it is the same necessity that brought about the philosophy of detribalism. Like every man, Ojukwu wanted to transcend the present conditions, defined by tribal identities. He wrote, he granted interviews; he talked whenever he has the opportunity, and above all, he discussed ideas. In all these, he was developing a philosophy, the philosophy of long life for Nigeria and Nigerians, the philosophy of detribalism. He may not be aware of that, but that was exactly what he has done, in a bid to save our country Nigeria. Tribalism is the precursor to detribalism in the sense that without the existence of tribalism the philosophy of detribalism may not have emanated. Ojukwu collaborated this idea when he said:

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if there were no misgovernment; if there were no mismanagement of our national resources, and if Nigeria had no problems, and every citizen were happy, then, I might be tempted to accept that there was no need to go into politics.[28]

This means that the presence of many ills including tribalism paved the way for the search for the best method for Nigeria, hence the philosophy of detribalism scattered in Ojukwu’s thoughts.

2.2        Detribalism In Ojukwu’s Thought

It is necessary to note from the start that Ojukwu did not describe his philosophy as ”detribalism”. But the principles of detribalism could be sifted from the body of his thoughts. In this way, he may be likened to those philosophers whose thoughts have been organized according to certain principles and given names perhaps post humously. This essay is an attempt to organize Ojukwu’s thought. And I find them expressing the tenets of detribalism. Ojukwu was aware of the conscupious differences in Nigeria emanating from the fact that there are many tribes that make up Nigeria. These differences account for the disunity that is the basic mark of Nigeria. Instead of working healthily in the midst of our differences, many Nigerians see these differences as a means of achieving whatever they want to achieve in the society. In doing this, the national course is retarded.

We have exploited our differences to the detriment of national unity when we should have been working for the removal of   those differences. In making an unhealthy capital of our diversity, we failed to turn our diversity into a national advantage and a source of strength.[29]

Ojukwu believes in unity achieved through proper integration of the various tribes that make up Nigeria. This for him could have been achieved if Nigerians had started early enough to work towards that. He dwelt much on the need for unity, which can only be achieved when loyalty to tribes has been transferred to Nigeria. One easily sees in him the ardent desire for national integration.

Prior to independence, I had supported the call for national integration-indeed my enlistment into the Nigerian army had been partially because the army remained at the time, the only respectable pan-Nigerian service available to a Nigerian patriot.[30]

This desire perhaps made him attend the Nigeria independence celebrations as a highborn young man from the Northern part of the country. He believes strongly in a Nigeria that is really united. To achieve this, he urged Nigerians to borrow a leaf from countries that have the same divergence like Nigeria.

Let us look at the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, the peoples Republic of China, the United States of America, Canada, C’ote d’Ivoire, Cameron, Kenya, Belgium, and Switzerland. In each instance, various ethnic and religious groups have come together to form a strong political unit which seems destined to last till the end of time.[31]

In Nigeria we have not only ethnic/tribal differences, but also religious differences. Therefore Ojukwu seems to be saying that all of them could be dealt with as in the countries mentioned above. There are so many dichotomies in Nigeria, and Ojukwu listed some of them as the North/south dichotomy and the East/West dichotomy. There is therefore a kind of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Thus Ojukwu maintained that “based on this dichotomy, each ethnic group assumes then an appropriate aggressive posture towards “them” beyond the so conceived boundary”[32]. He equally opines that the issue of tribalism is somewhat encouraged by these boundaries.

It is the persistence of this boundary in our actions and in our reflexes that fosters tribalism in Nigeria.[33]

There is no doubt that tribalism and its attendant disunity has almost halted every attempt towards development. Ojukwu was aware of this when he said:

Tribalism is perhaps the one single factor that has   nullified all our efforts at evolving a national leadership capable of fulfilling our national aspirations.[34]

And for its effect, which is disunity, he said:

This disunity has distorted, complicated and to a large extent stultified every development effort undertaken by government.[35]

The major concern of Ojukwu as we can see is to evolve a united Nigeria. However, it is very appropriate here to understand what he meant by unity.

Unity, he said, is a state of affairs when the entire polity is completely reconciled with itself: a state of affairs where fear, reasonable or unreasonable, is diminished or reduced to manageable proportions; a state of affairs where the entire society maintains confidence in the institutions that bind, a state of affairs where man can confidently seek and find his due place in society. Unity does not mean uniformity…unity does not mean that differences cease to exist. Rather, it means that differences are recognized and accommodated to the satisfaction of all concerned.[36]

This is exactly what is needed in Nigeria. He is not searching for a faulty Nigeria, but a Nigeria where differences in whatever form are maturely handled. Ojukwu also developed two kinds of unity when he said:

Whenever we consider the word, unity, we must always bear in mind that there are two forms of unity: unity of Jonah inside the belly of the whale and the unity of marriage.[37]

The unity of Jonah inside the belly of the whale might be the type that exists between the strong and the weak. While the unity of marriage is the one in which each person is accepted as he is. He opted for the latter, “the unity we seek is the latter, the unity of marriage, when differences come together to bring forth increase.”[38]

As a believer in the principle of cause and effect, Ojukwu identified some causes of tribalism and its attendant disunity. First is the colonial powers who for their economic interests deemed it to keep the various ‘nations’ of Nigeria polarized. Thus Ojukwu said

As if to underline the separateness of the various communities, the colonial powers did not attempt to impose a uniform system of administration. As Nigeria approached independence, deliberate efforts were made to keep the country polarized. An impossible federation was created in which all cards were stacked in favor of one component.[39]

The second cause according to him is the national elite group. This group he believes has a vocation.

The vocation of every elite group is to give leadership to the organization within which it is a group.[40]

The problem with Nigeria, he believes is that the elite group died at its formation. Whatever remained was an inept one. Thus he said, “What I have been trying to point out is that Nigeria is a country of many differences, randomly put together and handed over to a nationally inept elite at independence”.[41]

The early death of this elite group as Ojukwu would want us believe, somehow accounts for our inability to put aside our differences and move forward as one people. This is because the elite group has degenerated into an obstacle for such national development.

In its stead, and deriving from its death, has sprung the hydra-headed monster, which now roams the realms seeking whom it may devour. This is the monster of parochial and sectional elitism.[42]

This parochial and sectional elitism is no other thing but tribalism and disunity. Since this group has failed at their national responsibility, parochialism and sectionalism (tribalism) became then their means of transcendence.

Among this elite group are some politicians who believe that they can make it only when they go through tribal leanings.

The elite uses ethnicity as a ladder and as a weapon in their struggle for power…..Politicians find it much easier to raise a tribal war cry instead of the rigid discipline and strict accountability which a well articulated ideology imposes both on the leader and the led. Politicians find ethnic scapegoating a useful way of easing pressure when assaulted by superior ideas.[43]

To show the type of Nigeria he is proposing, Ojukwu made references to the Lagos of old where every body was an indigene.

I remember the Lagos of old which every Nigerian was a citizen and the sully strangers, the expatriate white. I remember Lagos, which was the melting- pot of the nation. I remember Lagos which was the crucible inside which the Nigerian citizen was purified and made excellent for leadership. A Lagos within which we all, with equal pride, can claim to be Omo-Eko.[44]

This is the idea of Nigeria, which Ojukwu is working for. A Nigeria in which every Nigerian will be able to say I am a Nigerian no matter where in Nigeria he or she finds him/herself. He believes that Nigerians, irrespective of so many years of existing in Nigeria, still do not understand properly the meaning of home. Nigeria should be home to Nigerians in which case the issue of state of origin should be abolished.

Nigerians today, still have no clear concept and definition of home. Is Nigeria home to all Nigerians, or is it the state of origin that is our home? For as long as Nigerians already in Nigeria intend eventually to return home the problem of tribalism will persist.[45]

From what Ojukwu is saying all we need to achieve something is to embrace unity. It is only when we move as a united people that we make great achievements.

There is no better way to unity than endeavours jointly undertaken and achievements jointly won.[46]

The level of progress we have in politics, sports, economy, and all other aspects of development depict the level of unity we have. In Nigerian, there are perhaps little efforts towards unity.

Our inability to solve the problem of unity is a major obstacle to the progress of our society. It is this lack of unity that has turned Nigeria into a battlefield and which has unleashed all the primitive instincts that nurture war. In Nigeria, we have failed to evolve a society. Rather at every stage of our social intercourse there has been the Victor, the vanquished and the resistance.[47]

It is true that Ojukwu has a strong passion for unity and by extension a tribalism-free society, but he does not believe in unity achieved at all cost. He still gave room for alternatives when the unity in question proves very difficult for us to achieve.

But we can decide that our diversity is more precious to us than unity, in which case we do not really want to unite. If we do not want unity, logic demands that we face facts: tell each other the truth and proceed to consider very seriously the confederal option.[48]


By a confederal option, he does not mean that we become enemies, rather a situation in which every tribe exists as a separate unity and relates to the other tribes in a friendship manner. There will be a weak centre and so the struggle to be there at all cost will be minimized. He appears very optimistic with regard to this option.

Under this situation we shall have less friction, we shall have no wars within or without and we shall have less fear… we could be happy, well-fed, and even rich.[49]

The choice for unity or disunity, the choice for tribalism or detribalism is a difficult decision that Nigerians alone will make for themselves. As a matter of fact some decisions have been made. However, most often they are not made with the seriousness they deserve, hence we falter from time to time. We cannot boast of being truly united, we cannot equally say boldly that we are diverse.

The choice is there only Nigerians can decide. The problem today is that we are neither united nor diverse. We are in limbo.[50]

  • The Practical Elements In Ojukwu’s Detribalism
    • Detribalization Of Award Of Contract

So many years after independence, it is still the practice that Nigerians are granted contracts based mostly on tribal affiliations than competence. This is why Ojukwu maintained that:

…Nigerians are only granted contract appointments in certain areas of their fatherland. Foreigners are given preference over Nigerians for implement in parts of Nigeria.[51]

Although, he did not say which areas of Nigeria, Nigerians get this contract, it is certain that he meant that Nigerians get this contract only perhaps from their states of origin. Equally, I do not think that he is kicking against giving contracts to foreigners, rather I think he is kicking against giving foreigners this preference, when it is clear that there are some Nigerians who can handle these contracts like the foreigners, but are disqualified by their tribes of origin. This is also the case, he believes, in acquiring property especially land.

  • Broadening The Lines Of Political Parties

From the independence era to the post independence era, it is an open truth that the majority of political parties that have come into existence, existed mainly on tribal leanings. This singular factor was largely responsible for the failure of the first and second republics. Whenever political parties are formed with tribal undertones, what suffers is the over all interest of the whole nation. Ojukwu personally discouraged any party that existed on tribal leaning. He particularly discouraged the Igbos from opting for parties that are tribally based. In doing this he said:

It is constitutionally invalid to seek to found an Igbo political party. Politically, it is lunacy to do so. It is incomprehensible for any group of people to seek to project any political party as an Igbo party… I respect the right of anyone to belong to the political party of his choice.[52]

For him, it is reasonably better to work for the political unity of the entire country. Thus he again encouraged the Igbos to follow this route.

We should work for the political unity of all Nigerians. We should cultivate the friendship and understanding of all Nigerians.[53]

  • Exercise of Political Rights

Here, Ojukwu appears to be reiterating what the great Zik wanted to achieve when he ventured into the premiership position of the defunct Western region. For Ojukwu, Nigerians should fully exercise their political rights in any place of their choice.

The Nigerian citizenship should suffer no diminution in any part of Nigeria. A citizen of Nigeria has the same right-political or otherwise; wherever he might find himself within the territorial confines of Nigeria.[54]

In choosing our political leaders, our views should not be blocked by our tribal affiliations. Our interest should always be to elect those who will accomplish the major object of government, the increasing happiness and well being of the citizen. This is the reason why he maintained that:

We must be prepared to negotiate the services of any capable persons, irrespective of ethnic origin, political affiliations and social status. The emphasis should be on competence and compatibility.[55]

We cannot make any headway in our political development, which to a greater extent is the major development any nation could make, if we do not distance ourselves from tribal politics, and seek the politics that is grounded on the interest of the nation. This is why he maintained that:

As a people, we cannot fulfill our national aspirations, aims and hopes until we move away from ethnocentric preoccupations at the national level and personality politics at the state level, to politics of issues. The task ahead is great and requires the involvement of all of us in the service of the n

It is a common knowledge that Nigeria has no real federal structure that takes care of appointments and promotions, instead, ethnic origin or tribe of origin are used especially in the various states of the federation. We are a country in search of unity, so Ojukwu believes that we do not need to be asking the question of ‘state of origin’. I agree with him that this is an onerous task, but the government has a serious job here, and could have achieved a lot if this had been taken into consideration.

I am aware that there is no formula which can change our diverse society overnight and transform us into a nation. Yet, I believe our government should do more to encourage unity. Governments should de-emphasize ethnic origin in all official documents.[56]

In an attempt to find a solution to the problem of ethnic/tribal origin, he proffered a solution in 1960 when Nigerians waited with every excitement, her independence.

…. I suggested that the birthday present which our then leaders could give to the people of Nigeria was to make membership of an ethnic group solely dependent on place of birth. We could also establish that children of mixed ethnic marriage should have full rights in each ethnic areas of their parents.[57]

Nigeria is a country of privileges. Many things are considered privileges or a means of getting one privilege or the other. The issue of ethnic origin is also a privilege. This will to some extent create some hurdles in the bid to diffuse every ethnic group properly into Nigeria. Ojukwu captures this idea when he said:

In Nigeria, the accident of birth is sacrosanct. So also are the accident of geography, the accident of language, the accident of religion, the accident of tribal marks and the accident of dress, just to mention a few. Each of these is regarded in Nigeria as immutable. Each can decide and does decide to a large extent the subject’s place in society.[58]

Many workers today suffer a lot of discrimination because they are not members of the ethnic group in which they reside. This also affects the future of their children. Yet, many of them pay their taxes in the states they reside. The students study in various universities scattered all over the country, during these years they are seen as Nigerian students, but are separated during employment and seen as students of the various states from which they came. To solve this big problem, Ojukwu believes that:

Government must conscientiously set about to diffuse ethnicity in our body politic; blur those imaginary boundaries that separate citizen from citizen, encourage all Nigerians to feel at home anywhere in Nigeria; banish every action of authority that could be termed arbitrary as it undermines people’s confidence in our institutions; device laws, enter them into our statute books; laws whose purpose is to enhance unity and to protect and secure the unity acquired.[59]

If these had been adopted, Ojukwu believes that “by now over thirty percent of Nigerians would have diffused their ethnic origin to the greater benefit of Nigerian unity”.[60]

  • Abolishing Ethnic Ghettos

This is a common phenomenon in Nigeria. We hear such names as sabongari, Hausa quarters, Igbo quarters, and so on in some of our cities. The idea behind such establishments does not in any way enhance unity.

If we believe in unity, we must be prepared to abolish ethnic ghettos in some of our cities.[61]

The existence of ethnic ghettos in some cities simply suggests exclusion. It means exclusion from the owners of the land, in other words, they are being reminded that they are visitors. To ensure unity, Ojukwu believes that we should beware of any practice that seems to encourage exclusion in any form.

We should, as a people beware of any policy founded upon exclusion of an area. Policies founded on exclusion look very much like AIDS. They invariably begin with self-indulgent sweetness and inevitably end in pain, distortion and self-destruction. Once the disease has set in, there is no cure.[62]

Therefore, we need the concerted efforts of the government and the people of Nigeria to discourage such policies of exclusion. Nigerians should be free anywhere in Nigeria with the corresponding human dignity practicalized in human rights. Thus Ojukwu asserts, “as citizens of Nigeria, we should be residents of any state of our choice”.[63]


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