The development of modern government and politics in Aba cannot be divorced in time and space from the general constitutional and political development in Nigeria. This what not until 1921 that the Governor of Nigeria, Sir Hugh Clifford, created a Central Administration for Nigeria, even though Lord Fredrick Lugard set up his Nigerian Council in 1916, with three representatives from North and four from South. Lord Lugard`s Council was abolished in 1922, in place of a Legislative Council for the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. The Northern provinces were not represented.
Up to 1922, there were no established political parties in Nigeria, though `ad hoc` pressure groups had been formed from time to time to express opinions on certain matters. The Eastern Regional Headquarters of the National Anti-slavery Union, had been established at Aba in the Colonial Consulate in the 1890s, to work for the stoppage of the illegal slave trade still going on then.The Aba Headquarters supervised operations in the Bonny, Opobo, Akwette, Calabar, Arochukwu, Uzuakoli, Enugu and Akwa slave marketing centers.
But more germane to the development of political activity in Aba, was the establishment of the Aba Township Advisory Board in 1922, by such `ad hoc` pressure groups. This Board had people like Chief Green Orinji, Chief Gbohare Brown from Bonny, and some other local personalities and operators of legitimate trade in Aba.
The official modern or 'foreign' government in Aba from the 1890s to 1922, was the British Consulate sited in the Compound of National Museum of History, NEPA Headquaters, and Aba South local government premises. The Aba Township Advisory Board, can be said to be the first political party established in the town, in line with the re-awakening of national political sentiments. For it was not by accident, that Herbert Macaulay, a revered Nigerian hero, and a foremost nationalist fighter of his time, established the first well-known political party in Nigeria, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), following the 1922 Clifford Constitution, which lasted for 24 years in Nigeria.
The promulgation of the Hugh Clifford Constitution, regarded as the oldest and most workable constitution, led to the granting of Aba, the status of second class Township in 1922. This is the basis of contemporary cosmopolitanism of the Aba Metropolis. All this while, and the years to come, the British Colonial Government of Nigeria, repreented by the British Consulate at Aba, used Lugard's Theory of Dual Mndate or Indirect Rule System, to handle the affairs of Aba-Ukwu Amano, other Ngwa natives, Igbos and Ndonis living in Aba.
According to Chief John Osuala (2000:37), the national and international events in Aba, proved the British colonial policy of indirect Rule a disastrous failure. In fact, British administration in Igboland, in general, has been described, by Professor J. B. Webster, as 'a series of failures followed by attempted reorganization'. While the Indirect Rule worked slightly because of the autocrratic tradition of the House Heads in the Niger Delta City States it failed woefully with the Aba and other Igbo lineage elders. So British political officers then on the spot, improvised a system of direct administration, among the people, for ease of governance.
But when Lugard, a former agent of the Royal Niger Company took over the rulership of Nigeria in 1914, he was palpably disturbed by this system of direct rule in Aba, and other parts of Igbo Culture areas. Lugard therefore, sent a British Indirect Rule loyalist from the Northern Cliphate, Mr Palmer, to find the Ibo Chiefly system, over the bitter protests of other British officials' who had been working for years in Aba, and in the entire Igbo land.
Mr. Palmer reportedly found the chiefs, who were given warrants to increase their authority. In finding them, especially in Aba the lineage elders felt it was just those who would be menial servants of the white government, and so they sent or recommended other persons and not their own able sons to serve foreigners in their land. This was how they reasoned, without knowing or appreciating the future implications of their actions. In Aba, Ogbonna Urakpa, and Enwereji Ugwuzor were so recommended, and appointed Warrant Chiefs by the British colonial officials.
Before long, the activities of these Warrant Chiefs in Aba, and Igboland, with their unrestrained authority and control of the alien or foreign courts, were seen by Aba and other Igbo people in general, as tyrants in the mold of modern day Idi Amin, Jean Beddel Bokassa, Samuel Doe and Mobutu Seseseko etc.
This was the setting of the stage for the 1929 Aba Women Riots, that reverberated in the then British Commonwealth of nations, and in all continents of the world. This patriotic riot by courageous women, and its terrible consequences in human death toll, was exactly seven years after the creation of the Aba Township in 1922. Earlier riots of similar causes, were the Iseyin Riot of 1916, and Abeokuta Riot of 1918, in other parts of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Aba Women Riot of 1929, broke out apparently because of the British colonial agents' ignorance about the cultural traditions of the people, or perhaps what some historical authorities, consider their arrogant unwillingness to respect such culture and traditions.
Motivated earlier by the spectacular success of the Indirect Rule System in Muslim Northern Protectorate, and facilitated by the open expediency of feeding the north from the wealth of the relatively rich south, which has continued up till today, Lord Fredrick Lugard as the Governor General of the amalgamated Nigeria, decided to extend his system of Dual Mandate into the south.
The Great Lugard, then failed to realize that while there were Emirs with absolute, abachaistic powers, and submissive talakawas or the masses in the north, there were Ezes, Igwes, Obis and Obas with limited or no powers at all in the South. And regardless of the attempts to adjust the system of indirect rule based on the Sokotoistic Caliphate, such a system could never successfully work with the more egalitarian, republic Igbos.
In Igboland of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were basically few Traditional Rulers, whom Lugardian officials could control. In addition, even if the British colonial administration officials, could control the Ana-ala Institution, the elders themselves could not control the village meeting.
The British did not know, or failed to do find out, that the village meetings was the basic institution of Igbo government, and of what the elders were little more than spokesmen and not autocrats.
Research evidence, shows that British and Igbo democracy were not the same thing. But at the same time, experts posit, that they had the common quality that authority came directly from the people, indeed far more directly in Igbo than in British democracy.
It is common opinion in contemporary times, that a system of elected representatives from this important village meeting, instead of imposing a lineage elder or some people of unknown quality, as artificially created Warrant chief with quantum powers never before known in traditional Igbo society, would have been better by any stretch of the imagination.
...to be continued. Keep in touch as we approach the exact historical epoch of the government and political developments in the ENYINMBA CITY OF ABA.