CONFEDERATION OR FEDERATION?: Understanding the Igbo Agenda

 Monday, March 20, 2000

 Emmanuel Uzo Obi



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The controversy generated by the position of South East Governors on the demand for a confederation within government circles is not unexpected.. This could probably be due to the different meanings attached to the word 'confederation' by different people. To the Americans for instance, it means not just an 'alliance, but conspiracy. The Americans play down the fact that it is a form of federation and it is understandable in the light of the US historical experience. To Nigerians, the perception is mixed depending on which side of the aisle one is. On the part of the Federal Government of Nigeria, one expects Government to be a little bit cautious and guarded in its utterances especially since the perception of Nigerians is mixed. It is not my intention to consider exhaustively the various definitions of Confederation and federation, but I shall try to lay a foundation for anyone that cares, to understand what in my opinion is the Igbo position.


The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines CONFEDERATION as;

"a union or alliance of states; the act or an instance of confederating; the state of being confederated and etc.

CONFEDERACY; "a league or alliance, especially of confederate states; a league for an unlawful or evil purpose; a conspiracy and etc".

CONFEDERATE STATES," states which seceded from the US in 1860"

FEDERATION;" a federal group of states; the act of federating."

FEDERAL; " a system of government in which several states form a unity but remain independent in internal affairs.

From the definitions given above, it seems to me confederation is a form of federal system of government except that the American experience gives it a negative outlook. On the other hand, the definitions of federation and federal are clear and a good example is the system that operates in the US today. The Nigerian set up is a fraud and cannot be regarded as a true federation. This is the bone of contention,this is one of the reasons the various ethnicity's that make up Nigeria are dissatisfied and are calling for a national conference.

Nigerian State Structure:

The present 36 states structure has an in built mechanism for the worst kind of inequities that affect the various nationalities that make up Nigeria. The 1963 constitution, which was federal in nature, was subverted by the military and the motive behind the state structure was largely ill conceived. It is clear that the change from regional to state structure was mainly aimed at subduing the Biafran dream. Today, most of the states have no economic, or industrial potential and are largely dependent on the central government. However, the present six geo-political zones seem to have addressed most of the problems of inequities as it affects the various ethnic nationalities. There is an inherent problem with these geo-political zones as some of the groups are dispersed across zonal boundaries, thus making them minorities in the other zone. One good example is the Ndokis that are largely in the south east with some of them in the southsouth, or other examples that exist in the northern zones. The Igbos are also in the southeast and southsouth and some of these things are matters that ought to be ironed out at the level of a national conference.

Igbos and Confederation.

The recent calls for a confederate structure may unfortunately be misinterpreted as a continuation of the demands of the Igbos at the inception of the war. I think it would be very mischievous of any fair-minded person to consider such a call without reference to the experiences of Igbos in post civil war Nigeria. The calls for a confederate structure ought to be seen as a manifestation of the frustrations and disappointments of Nigerian Igbos within the so-called Nigerian Federation. Today, and since the post war era,the Igbos have been deprived of their strategic economic interests in the country and have been sidelined in all facets of life in Nigeria.

The basic difference between a confederation and federation is that with confederation,the central government is very weak and the states could possibly have an option to quit the alliance. With regard to the federal structure, the Igbos need autonomy such as was guaranteed under the 1963 constitution. The successive military governments have continuously and fraudulently claimed to operate a federal system of Government. What the Igbos,Yorubas,the southsouth and middle belt want, is a true federation;the kind that operates in the United States. Since the "Federal" Government still claims it is federal, then the Igbos want Confederation which in reality is true federalism as practiced in the US. The Igbos have moved away from the term 'federal' since the military establishment uses the term 'federal' to cover up it's mischief .

According to Senator Abraham Adesanya, confederation is the same as true federalism. Perhaps,some one should tell Obasanjo to lecture the nation on these concepts

Those misguided Igbos who have spoken against the stand of Ohaneze or the SouthEast Governors are merely seeking presidential notice and will deny their heritage for some political patronage.These Igbos belong to the group known as' Sabos' during the short existence of Biafra. In this last struggle,the collective will of the Igbos will prevail.

Igbo marginalisation is a deliberate State Policy.

Sometime ago, I had written to suggest very strongly that one of the causes of Igbo marginalization,was the bad choices made by Igbos. At that time,my intention was to get the Igbo political leadership to reorganize by highlighting their mistakes. At this time however, I move a step further to assert that the marginalisation of Igbos is a deliberate state policy. I am carrying this assertion directly to the doorstep of President Obasanjo who has demonstrated without tact, his disdain for the guts of Igbos. President Obasanjo's recent categorization of the demands of Igbos as 'unpatriotic and mischievous' is a very reckless and inconsiderate assertion. Whatever demands the Igbos make, ought to be viewed against the background of the post war experiences. In Obasanjo's first outing as Military President, only one Igbo officer was a member of the ruling Supreme Military Council. The Igbo officer, then Lt. Commander Ndubuisi Kanu was a very junior officer (equivalent of army major)sitting with one star generals and above.

Next time around,another Igbo officer,Ebitu Oko Ukiwe was the only Igbo officer in the SMC.

Suffice it to say, that since the post war era only one Igbo has attained the status of a service chief in the person of Rear Admiral A.A Madueke (CNS).The tenure of this officer ironically was during the Abacha era,but was very short lived because he urged the return to democracy. Commodore Ebitu Oko Ukiwe who attained the status of a military Vice President of Nigeria was retired unceremoniously in the middle of a power game. Another northern officer(Domkat Bali) who was so mistreated ,was promoted to a four star general retroactively. Why was Ebitu Ukiwe not so treated? Simply because he is Igbo. His successor Augustus Aikhomo,was promoted three star general and then four star general (Admiral)before retirement. Others in that line namely Diya and Akhigbe were all promoted three star generals and infact, no Igbo officer has ever gone beyond two star general since the end of the war thirty years ago.

In furtherance of this state policy, which was largely implemented by the military, President Obasanjo did not deem it fit to appoint any Igbo as part of the national security outfit. Was it Senator Waku that complained that the middlebelters were hired as presidential maiguards? The Igbos would want to be maiguards too.Maiguards of the present economic status of the likes of Jerry Useni and co. Apart from the non-inclusion of Igbos in the security outfit, the Igbos were excluded from strategic or key positions in the executive. The so-called number three position is just a bait to sooth the psychological needs of the Igbos. President Obasanjo cannot claim ignorance of this deliberate state policy and it is guilty conscience that propels him to always hint at his friendship with Chukwuma Nzeogwu and 'his visit to mama'.That's an old song and Igbos can't be fooled.Obasanjo hates the Igbos pure and simple and to him they must continue to pay for the civil war even after millions of Igbo lives were lost. He lied when he said God ordained his Government. The politics of the moment is very intricate and complex and that is why the Igbos continue to side with Obasanjo against his northern opponents. Obasanjo cannot arrogate to himself knowledge of what is in the best interest of Igbos. Igbos know what they need and should not be treated as outcasts. Let's take the Supreme Court appointments and look closely at what is happening. Though Igbos are appointed, the appointment is programmed in such a way that before the Igbo judge gets to the position of CJN, such Igbo Judge is due for retirement. Some Igbo JSCs have had very short tenures at the Supreme Court.

Obasanjo's disposition should not be misconstrued as a Yoruba position,for under Abiola,the Igbos would have faired better. Obasanjo is merely a willing collaborator with the core north who insist an Igbo will never be President.

Characteristics of a true federal structure.

There are certain characteristics of a true federal structure and it is against these that the defects in our system should be considered.

Separation of powers within the federal level on one hand and within the state. democratically elected bicameral legislatures at federal and state levels. democratically elected bicameral legislatures at federal and state levels. Division of powers between the federal and state legislatures namely exclusive, concurrent and residual. . Duality in the legal system for the administration of federal and state laws such that the hierarchy of courts in the state progress up to state supreme court and the federal progress up to Supreme Court of the country Decentralization of the Police such that each level of government participates in law enforcement and Public safety.(for details ,

Federation based on ethnic nationalities or residence?

What option would safeguard the strategic economic interests of Igbos? What option would place Nigeria above ethnic components? It seems to me that a federation based on residence would address some of the concerns. However, some valid points have been raised in relation to the distinct names that reveal one's ethnic group. This factor could affect the smooth working of the residence option. In my opinion, Nigeria should work out a hybrid of both options and this can be done at the level of the national conference. The work presented by the group called 'Patriots' is untidy and full of flaws especially as it relates to the Police.

Structure of Government.

The present 30-state structure should be abolished and the geo political zones reworked to prevent future agitation. It seems to me that four levels of government would be desirable namely;






Emmanuel Obi
Raleigh, North Carolina

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