Nigeria @ 54: Igbo lessons for the State of Nigeria

Arguably, Our national anthem still holds hope for a nation which many consider as a failing state. "To build a nation where peace and justice shall reign", may seem very elusive with the present state of things. But eventually, there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

How then can the hope of light, the hope of a 'nation where peace and justice shall reign' be made manifest? Especially bearing in mind that Nigeria is bedevilled by a democratic structure that is timidly nascent due to weak institutions. This structure of a Sovereign state left behind by the colonial masters and adopted today is in many ways an accomplice to corruption. In fact it should be indicted because it helps corruption to thrive.

In diagnosing Nigeria, some have, like Achebe, argued that the problem of Nigeria is leadership. However upon inspection,the problem of Nigeria is more of structural than leadership. Like Uzochukwu J Njoku observed, "socio-political corruption indicates more of a structural problem than a 'moral depravity' among individual persons". The system is bigger than the leaders and until we go back to a system that truly defines our democratic values and not a system that seeks to satisfy the Western powers and a few greedy public officers, no matter how hard we try and even change political parties, we would still remain where we are.

What then is the way forward in our argument for functional institutions? There is no where else to go other than look inwards to our African/indigenous values and systems. Using the ancient Igbo ultra democratic/republican political structure as an example it's evident that there were customary ways to checkmate the excesses of public figures.

The Igbos (Ndi Igbo), are known historically for their republicanism and the absence of monarchical or central political structures. Ndi-Igbo believes in the possibility of individual success and contribution to societal development hence their contempt for monarchies conspicuously embedded in the popular saying and common name, Igboamaeze; the Igbo recognize no kings.

This is so because the Igbo believes that there is a king in every man, in other words that each person is a king unto themselves and master of their own affairs which is a vital part of a true democratic institution as preached and practiced today. Each Igbo community or clan is organized around age groups, social organizations, the revered and accomplished and family heads with a special place for the priest. Deference is paid to the eldest man in the clan, but each grown man has a say in the affairs of the community.

Issues that affect the clan are publicly tabled and discussed and the opinion of each grown man is taken into consideration in order to reach consensus. Affairs that particularly affect women are discussed in women groups and accordingly decided and settled. In every community, the daughters of the clan or Umuada (also known as Umumgboto) occupy a particularly powerful place and could return from their different places of marriage to exercise the breaking vote in matters of grave consequence to the community.

Highly accomplished men and women are admitted into orders for people of title such as Ndi Ozo or Ndi Nze. Such individuals receive certain insignia to show their stature.

Membership in these orders is highly exclusive, and to qualify an individual needs more than mere material accomplishment or gallantry. They need to be highly regarded and well-spoken of in the community, and most importantly, they must be a person of the greatest integrity, truthfulness, and sanity. The slightest impeachment of character is enough to disqualify an individual from becoming a person of title and once admitted into the order, a person of title is forbidden to lie, cheat, climb a tree, covet or divest a neighbour of their belongings, or commit an abomination or crime.

In pre-colonial Igboland, politics and the development of the society was everybody's business. Simply put, the Igbo people had a remarkable system of government, which involved wide devolution of powers.

Onwumechili captured it better, "Government was the affair of every person and the whole community"

Decisions were reached through a series of consultations among the elders of the community. When a decision affecting an Igbo community is to be made, several groups and organisations concern themselves with the issue and within each organization near unanimity must be reached before discussion can be closed. A decision reached by one organisation within a community that is not acceptable to another organisation can usually not be implemented.

This system could be described as power to the people which allowed every individual to contribute to the decision that affects his or her well being.

The British saw that this system will not serve their purpose and so decided to introduce Warrant Chiefs, selecting only those who can dance to their tune to lead the people. By this, they took the power from the people and gave it to a few only they could control, the warrant chiefs amassed ill gotten wealth and only worked to please the colonial masters.

Nigeria still operates this system today, where election results are manipulated to favour an anointed few without a system to checkmate the excesses of political leaders hence the high rate of corruption in both government and public offices. We have to create a system that cannot be manipulated, a system that will give room to wider participation from every Nigerian. A system where we can actually vote the right people into office and monitor their policies. We need a system where those in office won't only work for their political god fathers because of the existence of the people's power.

The Igboland and her Democratic, Egalitarian Institutions is just one of the purposeful indigenous systems that Nigeria can benefit from.Until we rebuild Nigeria looking inwards to our indigenous institutions I'm afraid it would be hard to 'build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.' Like someone jokingly said, "if there's no light at the end of the tunnel that means you are in Nigeria". This is sadly truthful.

Onyeka 'Kerous' Ibeanusi is a Nigerian musician, motivational/entertainment writer and a social commentator. He is the founder of, a contributor to Businessday and He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University Of Benin. You can follow him on twitter @onyeckerous

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Articles by Onyeka Ibeanusi