“Igbo” is another manufactured colonial identity. Prior to invasion, the people from the South-Eastern section of Nigritia varied widely and spoke several languages and dialects. Their cultures were fiercely federal and they valued independence and co-existence over singularity and conformity. There was never an “Igbo” people before colonial religion and colonial occupation. What was present was a large number of Igbo language-speaking people spread out across the area from Iguocha through Asaba up to Owerri and Enugu.
As the people began to realise that they were losing their culture and English culture was being imposed on them, they needed to push back as one entity to have any chance of surviving as a group and thus the “Igbo” identity was born. This introduction of dog-whistle identity politics by the British is what necessitated the emergence of one singular umbrella called “Igbo” to protect the interests of the people of that area, lest they be completely erased and forgotten.
In fact to this very day, some parts of the so-called “Igbo land” remain very suspicious and fearful of other parts, accusing them of trying to dominate and erase them. And they are completely correct. That is exactly what the colonial “Igbo” identity was designed to do. Like the “Yoruba” identity, it was designed to erase all its constituent cultures and take up a role of fighting its perceived external “enemies” who happen to be other fake ethnic groups in the same country.
When you create three massive false identities to assimilate more than 100 million people in a country with arbitrary borders, you also ensure that they will forever be at each other’s throats and their country will never make enough sustained progress to become a threat to you.
After Uthman Dan Fodio’s violent Jihad, the vibrant cultures of the seven Hausa States were all but extinguished and replaced by foreign Islamic ideology. With this foreign ideology came a catastrophic drop in trade, living standards and social indices. Today, those erstwhile world-leading places are now home to some of the very worst human development indices in all of Africa. The North of Nigeria is now one of the few places on earth where Polio still existed as recently as 2014. It is home to several million uneducated street children with no realistic hope of a better life known as the Al-Majirin. Did this concept of Al-Majirin exist prior to Arab colonial invasion?
Meeting this disaster on ground, the British then deliberately compounded the problem by importing thousands of “Igbo” people to the North to serve as colonial administrators and subalterns, instead of permitting the people of that area to gain education and economic opportunities. They were happy to use the wicked colonial structures of Uthman Dan Fodio to further their own goals of resource expropriation at the expense of the Hausa people, and in so doing they sowed the seeds of extreme distrust and hatred between the Hausa people and the “Igbo” people who would someday be contemporaries within one country.
It was never going to end well was it?
A proper historical grounding will open Nigeria’s consciousness to the basic fact that colonial invasion was the single worst thing to ever happen to Nigeria and to Africa. A historical knowledge of who we were prior to being invaded will open our eyes to the fact that we were economically vibrant, spiritually aware and technologically advanced people before our societies were conquered and destroyed in a war that was waged on us by outsiders who simply wanted to steal everything we had in our land – including people.
It will also alert us to the fact that before our dog-whistle ethnic identities were given to us, we lived together, married each other, traded with each other, spoke each other’s languages and travelled freely – the idea that we “hate” each other is in fact a colonial conquest strategy implanted into our minds to make us permanently distrustful of each other and unable to work together for a common purpose.
The idea that a man from Aba marrying a woman from Abeokuta is somehow a “big deal” is a fake idea given to us by thieves who wanted us to fight each other while robbing us blind. In reality we have been living and doing business with each other several centuries before Europeans figured out how to construct a ship. Cultural artifacts from Ile-Ife and Benin have been discovered as far afield as California and China, indicating that we had a robust system of trade across our various languages and ethnic groups long before a white man set foot here.
TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW
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