Igbo Political Culture, Political Socialization And Political Behavior And Leadership Recruitment

By Ikenga Chronicles March 29, 2020

Igbo Political Culture, Political Socialization And Political Behavior And Leadership Recruitment

— By Ozodi Osuji, PhD

 You can tell a lot about a people’s culture, social and political, by observing them at meetings. When Igbos gather at meetings you see most of them wanting to talk. Each of them is motivated to talk regardless of whether what he has to say is germane to the topic at hand or not. He feels compelled to just say something to make his existence and presence acknowledged.

 What they say about American Indians all wanting to be chiefs seem to apply to Igbos; most Igbos want to be chiefs; each wants to be the boss and does not like other people to boss him around. When they think that a particular person is dominating the discussion, is the boss, they feel particularly a need to tear him down, to bring him down so that he does not dominate them.

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For an overview of Igbos see Victor Uchendu, Igbos of Southeastern Nigeria, 1965.

This chaotic and anarchic behavior at meetings is probably rooted In Igbos past political culture. Igbos did not develop beyond village and town social organization (a few Igbos, those that adjoined groups with feudal social organizations and had kings, such as the Edo, Edos  had Obas,  learned to have kings of sorts, called Obi, but that notwithstanding it is appropriate to say that Igbos had no kings, Ezes).  See Njaka on Igbo political culture, 1974.

 The male members of the village gathered and talked about their village issues. They jointly solved their problems. Beyond this rudimentary village legislature, if they needed executive functions, they selected a man or a few men to implement their decisions. If judicial functions are required, they met and judged ensuing cases; in effect, every Igbo adult male was a legislator, executor and judge.  See Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, 1994.

The Igbo political culture was a kind of rudimentary participatory democracy, which was possible in the small social milieu that precolonial Igbos had but not feasible in larger social milieu. Larger social settings require delegation of authority to representatives.

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 Madison, Hamilton and Jay, in the Federalist Papers (1787), in making an argument for federation in the USA, presented an unsurpassed argument as to why representative democracy is what is needed in the large country called USA. In on Representative government and On Liberty, John Stuart Mill (1859) made the same argument.

Perhaps, it was because all Igbos participated in solving their village affairs that to the present, they all like to speak up at meetings? Their meetings can drive you up the wall, it is cacophony of folks jabbering noisy nothings. If you are the quiet type you feel an urge to walk right out of the bedlam.

Contrast this madhouse like situation to how folks from Confucian cultures (China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries) behave at meetings. At meetings people sit quietly and do not feel compelled to talk and only talk when it is absolutely necessary to do so.

 Speaking up is not act of leadership but can best be seen as bravado, talking to seem alive and present. Leadership inheres in having something to talk about, something to do that serves collective interests. The leader has a vision of what he believes is good for the group.

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In the Igbo world most people probably do what they do because of the Igbo concept of “Iwa Anya”; here, speaking up is designed for one to seem bold and recognized as powerful. Indeed, many Igbos would go out of their way to bring down the person who has an idea on what to do. How dare him tell them what to do! Thus, they destroy each other. See Njoku, 1990.

It is correct to say that there are not too many leaders in the contemporary Igbo world.

This obnoxious phenomenon is transferred to Igbo businesses. There are three forms of business organizations: sole proprietorship, partnership and corporation.

Most Igbo businesses are sole proprietorships; this is largely because the Igbo knows that if he tries to partner with other Igbos that they would devote most of their energy to trying to tear him down, destroy him and take over the business. If it is a corporation where many people are involved, invariably some egotistical Igbo wants to drive others out and take over the business, even though he may not have a clue on what the business is all about and does not understand that businesses run on vision and drive and passion of the founders.

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If you destroy the person with the vision, and do not have vision and passion for the business, by removing him you destroy the business.  Unless, of course you are so stupid to believe that the leader you removed would have the same enthusiasm to follow your visionless leadership?

Each type of business organization has its merits and demerits. Businesses run around sole proprietorship tend to die with the death of the proprietor; most Igbo businesses die when the owner dies. Where is today the far-flung businesses of Odumegwe Ojukwu? 

Corporate businesses tend to survive the death of the founders because they tend to recruit professional managers to run the businesses and their death makes no difference to the continuity of the businesses. Bill Gates and Paul Allen left Microsoft to professional managers. The same is true of Apple computers and Google; these high-tech businesses are likely to be around hundreds of years from today (unless what they produce are no longer demanded by the people).

The average Igbo is too egotistical and foolishly proud to accept that other people can do somethings better than he does them and, as such, he is not willing to relinquish authority to professional managers.

A more realistic aspect of the Igbo desire to run his business by his self is that he knows that his fellow Igbos are more likely to rip him off, to steal from his business and make it go broke.

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Igbos have serious issues in organizational and political leadership. Their self-centered individualism is a problem. Clearly, Igbos need to be re-socialized to work in groups and work with each other and accept the leadership of the person with the vision and not attempt to destroy him so that all live as mediocre, visionless clowns. The Igbo need to transit from self-centered behaviors to social interest serving behaviors.

 Igbos need to internalize a different political culture and social behavior patterns. Their present behavior pattern, a product of their village-based world, their lack of developing writing and lack of development of Igbo wide political organization must be corrected. 

The era of making corrupt African big men, thieves who are made chiefs of the village just because they have money, their leaders are not what modern Igbos need in political leadership positions. There needs to be different patterns of leadership recruitment in Alaigbo.

This time Igbos must recruit leaders who actually have dreams and visions of what to do to modernize Igbo land. Igbos no longer need folks without political and economic ideologies for their leaders. At present they mostly recruit “Ogaranya”, rich men, thieves, as their leaders regardless of the fact that such persons do not understand a thing about the modern economy.

 In the recent past, Igbos like other West Africans, engaged in the nefarious practice of capturing and selling their people into slavery. Those who made money from that iniquitous trade presented themselves as big men, See Olaudah Equiano, 1789.

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 Igbos now need to produce leaders who actually see it as their duty to develop their people instead of selling them or exploiting them. See Smock, 1971.

 Out of curiosity one may ask: can Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB, discuss the writings of John Maynard Keynes, micro and macroeconomics, capitalism, socialism, mercantilism, corporatism, fascism and other political economies?

Talking jazz is not what modern polities need. Igbos need persons with the equivalence of MBA and or law degree to lead them, not the noise making riff raffs that they have had in the past.

Post Script:

This is an excerpt from my paper, Leadership Training for Igbos.

Further Reading

Achebe, Chinua, Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor, 1994.

Njaka, Elechukwu Nnadibuagha,  Igbo political culture. Northwestern University Press, 1974.

Njoku, John Eberegbulam, The Igbos of Nigeria: Ancient Rites, Changes, and Survival. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press, 1990.

Olaudah, Equiano, The Interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano. Knapp, 1789.

Smock, Audrey C.  Ibo Politics: The Role of Ethnic Unions in Eastern Nigeria. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Uchendu, Victor, The Igbos of South Eastern Nigeria. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.