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Trends of Migrant Political Organization in Nigeria

Eghosa E. Osaghae

V. Conclusion

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1This study set out to investigate what can be regarded as unique, as far as popular knowledge on ethnicity goes. When Cohen undertook the study of a similar phenomenon amongst the Hausa in Sabo, Ibadan in the 1960s, the circumstances of the kola trade, the need to protect trading advantages, the family closeness of fellow Muslims quartered apart from others, the abiding legacy of centralized, even feudalists, socio-political formations, all seemed to explain the Hausa migrant empire as a variant of associational ethnicity. For a people who, almost as a rule, do not organize ethnic associations, except in so far as ethnic interests coincide with Islamic interests, it can be argued that the Hausa migrant empire at Sabo, Ibadan, was fitting and appropriate, especially as this was consistent with the indigenous system of political organization in Ibadan. Indeed, all over southern Nigeria, the Sabo situation has been recreated in places where there are Hausa settlements.

2It is difficult to situate the Igbo migrant empire in Kano within these same categories. For one, the Igbo are ardent apostles of associational ethnicity and this is evidenced at every level of identity — ward, village, town, district and state, as well as at the all-embracing pan-group level. For another, the Igbo are not traditionally kingdom people, though the introduction of warrant chiefs in the colonial period seems to have exaggerated the emergent importance of chieftaincy. But, even so, the fact that the Igbo do not have a strong kingdom history reinforces Cohen’s point that political associational ethnicity is not simply a cultural matter; it is, as he says, a matter of political strategy. Given these antecedents, how is the emergence of migrant political association ethnicity amongst the Igbo to be explained? Is it a consequence of perceived inadequacies in the popular model of associational ethnicity, i.e., ethnic unions, which the ICA has done very well with in Kano? Is it necessitated by economic interests and, specifically, as in the Ibadan case, by a desire to protect economic advantages? Is it simply to be understood as a means by which the Igbo in Kano seek to become properly adapted to the Kano system, which is basically highly centralized? If this is the reason, why did the empire take so long in coming? Why did it not emerge in the 1950s when the Igbo overtook the Yoruba as the preponderant group in Sabon Gari, or even earlier, when the practice of having quarter heads was extended to Sabon Gari?

3What our study shows is that the emergence of Igbo political associational ethnicity in Kano cannot be explained by any one single factor. It is at once a matter of adapting to the Kano environment of centralized political organization and sectional heads; a matter of adopting a strategy which the Yoruba in Kano adopted a long time ago, and which seems to confer greater weight than the union strategy in articulating ethnic interests; as well as a matter of giving the Igbo their ‘rightful place’ in Kano and, in particular, Sabon Gari. But these still do not tell us why the migrant empire evolved at the time it did. This study found that the explanation for this lies in the changing status of Igbo migrants in Kano. For a long time, no matter what length of time a migrant spent in Kano, he still regarded himself as a temporary sojourner, who only made a living in (or out of) Kano. But, since the late 1970s, the average Igbo in Kano has come to see Kano as his home, a place where he has as much stake in as his original home. There are several manifestations of this changing status. Most Igbo are now more actively interested in the affairs of Sabon Gari and its development (one of them was a local government councillor in the early 1990s); unlike previously, when they would flee Kano at the slightest attack from the Hausa/Muslim fanatics, the Igbo have now organized to defend their ‘territorial’ interests. Most of the customary practices and observances which normally took people home in the past now take place in Kano, including the new yam festival — which most Igbo take very seriously — funerals and marriage ceremonies. The Igbo have stepped up the volume of their investments in Kano which, according to Eze Igbo Nnadi, run into several billions of naira — in fact, they virtually monopolize the spare parts trade, and other trading businesses.

4It is this transformation from being migrants or temporary sojourners to settlers that made the idea of having a ‘king’ popular. Some of the Igbo leaders saw it as a matter of recreating the home environment in Kano, while others saw it as a way of ensuring that permanent settlers did not lose their cultural identity. The latter consideration was more important in the perception of the ICA leaders who decided to create the empire, and explains the emphasis placed on the cultural and traditional functions of the Eze Igbo. But the gains of empire ethnicity are enormous, as the Igbo have found in Kano. As many of those interviewed acknowledged, the status of the Igbo in Kano has been enhanced by the position of the Sarki Igbo. They now have a respected and esteemed ruler who is the symbol of their high cultural achievement. The coming of the Eze Igbo has also enhanced relations between the Igbo and other non-indigenous communities as well as the host Hausa community. This is due, in part, to the recognition of the Eze Igbo as a traditional authority by the Emir of Kano. With the coming of the Eze, the Igbo now have one voice, which makes the advancement of their interests easier, and provides the fulcrum of Igbo unity. For all these gains, however, we found an underlying tension and area of possible role conflict between the ICA which created the Eze and the Eze Igbo himself. So far, no such conflict has arisen because the Eze has managed to confine himself to the constitutional limits which give him authority only in matters of culture and tradition. Moreover, the Eze normally acts in consultation with the ICA executive and his cabinet. But, in the coming years, as more educated and assertive Eze like O. T. Nnadi ascend the throne, the Eze is likely to become more powerful and assertive, and this is likely to provoke resistance from the ICA. Already, such a tendency can be discerned through talking to the Eze’s chiefs who insist that the Eze is the final authority in all matters affecting the Igbo in Kano.

5In concluding this study, it should be pointed out that political associational ethnicity has since become the popular model of Igbo associational ethnicity in other northern cities where the Kano example has been followed. In Jos, Katsina, Kaduna, Zaria, Sokoto, Bauchi, etc., an Eze Igbo is now to be found. Remarkably, this model of associational ethnicity has not been adopted by Igbo migrants in southern cities, including traditional cities like Benin, Oyo, Ibadan and Abeokuta, where the systems of political organization are similar to that of Kano. The reasons for this are related to the fact that most Igbo in the south remain classical migrants — temporary sojourners. For one thing, the proximity of these southern cities to the Igbo homelands in the east, which makes it possible for them to remain permanently in touch, makes it unlikely that the need for the preservation of cultural identity would be felt as strongly as in Kano. The important point to be inferred from the northern location of Igbo political associational ethnicity is that it comes into being only in situations where it is found or adjudged to be expedient. Thus, although it is explained and justified as a cultural ‘necessity’, what sustains it and makes it continually relevant is the extent to which it is able to serve the interests — political, economic and social — of those setting it up. This means that there is no guarantee that it will continue to exist if Eze after Eze is found to be serving interests other than those, in the case of Kano, of the ICA, which is the representative body of the Igbo. It is to ensure that this remains the case that the constitution stipulates that ‘The Eze reigns, but does not rule’.

6Given the ascendancy and importance of traditional authorities in the legitimation and mobilization schemes of government at the federal, state and local levels, migrant political associational ethnicity is likely to survive. In particular, as the experience of the aftermath of the annulment of the 12 June election indicated, channels such as those provided by the Igbo empire in Kano, are required by government to penetrate non-indigenous groups. This penetration will definitely be successful if the channel of communication, such as the Eze Igbo in this case, is accepted by all as deserving of their loyalty and support. Apart from providing a channel of communication, migrant political associational ethnicity has the potential for helping to resolve the problems of discrimination suffered by non-indigenes in the state of their domicile. No matter for how long non-indigenes stay in states other than their own, and no matter what their contributions are to the development of the town/state, they are still discriminated against in matters like admission of their children into schools, employment and infrastructural development, particularly if they live in separate quarters such as Sabon Gari. Several factors are responsible for the system of discrimination. One is the insistence on state of origin, rather than domicile, as the basis for enjoying the services provided by state governments. Another is the prevalent notion which informs discrimination that most non-indigenes are temporary sojourners who are more committed to developing their home states than their states of domicile. In fact, non indigenes are in some cases regarded as exploiters and opportunists.

7The circumstances that led to the emergence of the Eze Igbo in Kano suggest that migrant empire building presents a way out of the discrimination problem. As migrants change their attitudes towards their states of domicile and concretize this by installing a ‘king’, so the perception and attitudes of the host community are likely to change positively. Empire building means that non-indigenes will be more willing to complement government’s efforts or, where these are slow in coming, to take responsibility for their own development. For example, the resolve of the Igbo community in Kano to develop Sabon Gari which has suffered neglect for a long time, or the community’s huge donation to the Kano State Foundation are positive indications that the days are over when migrants, like colonial exploiters, were only interested in what they could get out of their states of domicile to develop their own states. Moreover, as has been emphasized throughout this study, the creation of migrant ethnic empires provides a useful mechanism by which migrants can properly adjust to their ‘alien’ environments.

© IFRA-Nigeria, 1994

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