Igbos protesting against lack of security in Awka, Nigeria

Anti-Igbo sentiment (also known as Igbophobia) encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards the Igbo people. The Igbo people make up all of south-eastern Nigeria and a part of south-south Nigeria's geopolitical zones. Igbophobia[1] is observable in critical and hostile behaviour such as political and religious discrimination and violence towards Igbos.[2][3][4]


Pre-civil war sentiments

During the early years of Nigeria's colonial independence, the Igbo people increasingly came to be perceived as a disproportionately-favoured ethnic group with affluence and multi-regionalistic opportunities due to the employment of the Igbo within colonial Nigeria by the colonial authorities and the prominence of them in the public sector in regions throughout the country. This situation aroused the ire of others toward the Igbo.[5] Igbo peoples accustomation to travelling all over the country which helped in leading them to success in business and commerce also aroused anti-Igbo sentiments in southern Cameroon and played a part in southern Cameroon joining Cameroon:[6]

The natives competed with the immigrants from Nigeria, especially the Ibos, whose resilience and ingenuity in trade, combined with their lack of modesty in success, provoked envy. Cameroonian politicians contributed to ethnic stereotypes by inciting fanciful rumours. Of course, other rivalries also mattered, but in the elections of 1954, 1957 and 1959 discontent with connections in Nigeria was clearly associated with anti-Ibo sentiments.

— Victor Bong Amaazee, The 'Igbo Scare' in the British Cameroons, c. 1945-61[7]

This situation was exacerbated by the short-lived government of General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, who abolished the federated regions, because most of the members of his military junta were Igbo; this event led to his assassination in a counter-coup which was primarily led by Northerners. It was followed by the massacre of thousands of Igbo in pogroms which occurred in the Northern region, an event which drove millions of Igbos back to their homeland in Eastern Nigeria; ethnic relations rapidly deteriorated, and a separate republic of Biafra was declared in 1967, leading to the Biafran War.[5]

Anti-Igbo pogrom

Main article: 1966 anti-Igbo pogrom

The 1966 anti-Igbo pogrom was a series of massacres which were directed at Igbo and other people of southern Nigerian origin who were living in northern Nigeria. The massacres started in May 1966 and they reached a peak after 29 September 1966.[8] During this period, 800,000-850,000 Igbo civilians were murdered throughout northern Nigeria by Hausa–Fulani soldiers and civilians who sought revenge for the 1966 Nigerian coup d'état, which was carried out by six Majors and three Captains of Southern Nigerian extraction, and resulted in the deaths of 11 Nigerian politicians and army officers of Hausa, Fula, Itsekiri and Yoruba origin.[9] These events led to the Nigerian counter coup and they eventually lead to the secession of the eastern Nigerian region and the declaration of the Republic of Biafra, which ultimately led to the Nigeria-Biafra war.[8] The 1966 massacres of southern Nigerians have been described as a holocaust by some authors[10] and they have variously been described as riots, pogroms or genocide.[11][12]

The frequent theme of hatred and the lack of trust towards the Igbos by certain Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba people has parts of its origins in the January 1966 coup d'état, led by a majority Igbo military, under the command of officers (Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna).[13] The coup killed many prominent Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba leaders, including the Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Northern Region Premier, Ahmadu Bello, and the Western Region Premier, Ladoke Akintola. The coup also resulted in the killing of the most senior Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba military leaders, including Brig. Samuel Ademulegun, Brig. Zakariya Maimalari, Col. Ralph Shodeinde, Col. Kur Mohammed, Lt. Col. Abogo Largema, and Lt. Col. James Pam.[14][15][16] Though the coup might have originally been a plan to put Awolowo in power the coup was seen by Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba leaders as an Igbo attempt to take control of Nigeria, and the violence that followed was seen as a justification for the cleansing of the country which would be accomplished when the perceived Igbo influence was eliminated.[17] The coup also didn't result in the death of prominent Igbo political leaders. The coup was met with widespread anger and resentment, particularly in the north, where it was seen as an Igbo attempt to dominate the country. This anger and resentment led to the violence that followed the coup.

The violence that followed the January 1966 coup led to the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War in 1967. The war lasted for three years after which the Biafria region was rejoined into the federation. The Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba-led Nigerian governments regained control of the country, but the conflict left a legacy of bitterness and resentment (often either for Nigeria by Igbos or against Igbos by non-Igbos) that continues on to this day.

Nigerian Civil War

Main article: Nigerian Civil War

A starving Biafran girl during the Nigerian Civil War

The Republic of Biafra was a secessionist state in eastern Nigeria that existed from 30 May 1967 to January 1970. It took its name from the Bight of Biafra, the Atlantic bay to its south. The inhabitants were mostly the Igbo people who led the secession due to economic, ethnic,[18] cultural and religious tensions among the various peoples of Nigeria. Other ethnic groups that constituted the republic were the Efik, Ibibio, Annang, Ejagham, Eket, Ibeno and the Ijaw, among others.

Anti-Igbo sentiments also proliferated during the Nigerian Civil War with an almost intentional extermination of Igbos during the war. Talks of killing the Igbos were common a Lagos policeman quoted in New York Review on 21 December 1967 stating that "The Igbo must be considerably reduced in number".[19] The Nigerian federal government also announced the authorization of identity cards on people who have Igbo origin:[20]

They were to carry their identity cards on their persons whenever they were outside their homes. The announcement led to a rumor that the Nigerian government, through that medium, intended to find out the exact population of the Igbo in Lagos, with the plan of eventually exterminating them. Every Igbo man and woman was issued with an identity card.

— Egodi Uchendu, Women and Conflict in the Nigerian Civil War[20]

Ethnic profiling was also used in finding out who was Igbo in order for them to be killed. In Lagos for example public and private buses were often stopped and searched with passengers in a queue with the intention of collecting names and ethnic origins of the passengers.[21] Any Igbo or persons suspected of being Igbo found in buses were executed this was the case for the Igbos who were publicly executed in Tinubu Square in June 1968.[20] Because of the maltreatment and brutality Igbos faced Igbo people had to devise different ways of survival. Igbo women in Lagos for example dropped their double wrapper attire which they often wore and adopted the Yoruba attire (iro and buba).[20] Igbos also stopped having conversations in public in Igbo and Igbos who could speak other languages identified as other ethnic groups to escape death or brutality. During this time businesses that advertised their products on billboards also made sure to take out Igbo-sounding names.[20] Many Igbo individuals during the war changed their names for survival, the actress Stella Damasus is an example of this.[22] In a 2021 interview with Ebuka Obi-Uchendu Stella whose surname "Damasus" often sparks discussions and internet memes,[23] highlighted in the interview that her family felt compelled to change their Igbo name to safeguard against potential harm or violence.[24][22] Igbo traditional rulers in Delta state would also claim not to be Igbo to avoid the killing of their people, claiming to be Bini to the federal troops though this didn't stop the troops from killing their people.[21] Igbos who found themselves remaining in Nigeria during the war faced torment and brutality from police, soldiers and civilians who were most often neighbors and friends but were often used by the Nigerian government as a token to showcase and prove that Igbos were welcomed in Nigeria.[20] Although Igbos faced hateful sentiments and brutality because of their identity the severity rose and fell depending on how the war was going.[20] The severity also rose at the mere suspicion of military advancements by the Biafrian military.[21] During the war, Anioma people and other Igbos who remained in Benin faced what can be described as genocide. Before the federal army came to Benin City, the Edo, and the Urhobo/Isoko people attacked their Anioma/Ika neighbors.[20] This time law enforcement didn't help the people who were being hunted, unlike a similar situation in 1966 in the city.[20] In some cases, the Anioma/Ika people were not entirely killed off and were being reserved by the Urhobo/Isoko rioters for the federal soldiers.[20] Workers of Igbo origins who weren't aware of the situation in the outskirts of Benin City were stoned or clubbed to death by the local youths of Edo and Urhobo/Isoko origin.[20] Some Igbos who ran away were thrown into the river Ikpoba by these rioters who intercepted them as they made their escape.[20] When the federal soldiers came to the Midwest, there were joys of celebration which caused chaos, and violence.[20] The crowds, with the army's help, went to places like government institutes such as NIFOR and other places such as hospitals, prisons, and other places within the city killing the Igbo people there.[20] Place of origin within Igboland and gender or even job occupation (like in the case of the senior doctors who were killed in the hospitals) were also not considered during this rampage as anyone of Igbo origins were being looted, slaughtered, and or abused.[20] This prerogative aimed to wipe out Anioma/Ika people and other Igbos.[20] The people who died, in their state thought their good relationships with their non-Igbo friends would protect them.[20] In Lagos the igbos recounted one of their greatest discomforts stemmed from taunting by Yoruba individuals, urging them to leave Lagos and return to Igboland.[21] It was during this period that the Igbo word "Okoro" became derogatory with Instances of Yoruba individuals publicly addressing an Igbo acquaintance using the term "Okoro," an Igbo name meaning "young man" especially within earshot of authorities.[21] Such provocations often led to the harsh treatment of Igbos resulting in unjust brutality.[21] For example, Mr. Nzeribe the late husband to Flora Nwapa was a victim of this hostility, enduring not only physical assault but also imprisonment due to his Igbo identity during the tumultuous period.[20]

Outside Nigeria

In August 2019, a Yoruba supremacist and secessionist who immigrated to the United Kingdom from Nigeria was arrested by British police for making YouTube videos that contained violent hate speech towards the Igbo people, and in April 2022, he was sent to prison.[25]

Anti-Igbo Sentiments on the internet

Igbophobia on the Internet manifests as a form of prejudice and discriminatory rhetoric targeting individuals of Igbo descent, often characterized by hateful speeches, stereotypes, and attitudes.[26] This prejudice can also surface in various ways, from derogatory comments, social media posts, Internet memes, and other hateful images that seek to the marginalization of Igbo culture, and people.[27] Anti Igbo sentiments can be seen on different social media platforms and forums such as Nairaland,Twitter, Facebook including news articles or blogs. An instance illustrating Igbophobia within news articles on the internet is found in an opinion piece authored by a professor named Rasheed Ojikutu.[28] In the article he contends that Lagos belongs to the Yoruba people rather than being a "no man's land."[28] The phrase "Lagos is a no man's land" sparks heated debates regarding the city's identity, with some, often of Igbo descent, interpreting it as celebrating the area's diversity, while others, often Yoruba, view it as an erasure of indigenous heritage.[29] While arguing against Lagos being labeled a no man's land, although subtle Ojikutu inadvertently perpetuates a stereotypical notion that suggests that the Igbos lack an older substantial historical legacy of a civilization.[28] During the 2023 general and gubernatorial election period, a surge in anti-Igbo sentiment surfaced on social media, constituting a noteworthy instance of Igbophobia online. Given Nigeria's historical ethnic complexities, political circles often harbor such sentiments.[30] However, what distinguished this election cycle was the utilization of Igbophobia in a campaign advertisement on Nairaland, an online platform.[31] Its appearance implied approval for advert publication on the site. Netizens strongly opposed this act, prompting calls for the ad's removal due to its potential and dangerous risk to people's lives.[32] Eventually, the ad was taken down, and the site's founder Seun Osewa issued an apology.[33] Nonetheless, some social media users remained skeptical, questioning the timing, sincerity, or deliberate acceptance of ethnic bigotry as a recurring theme on the platform.[33][34]

Igbophobia and APC

Following the transition of power from the PDP-led rule to APC in Nigeria in 2015, noticeable cases of Igbophobia emerged within the Nigerian government. While instances of discrimination against Igbos recognized as institutional discrimination were already observable in areas such as employment opportunities and housing searches, etc., the trend towards discrimination against Igbos took on a more systemic nature with the advent of the APC's governance. Since the APC political party assumed leadership, there has been heightened visibility of explicit discrimination and the dissemination of hateful rhetoric by government officials, further intensifying discussions about biases or Igbophobia within the APC-led Nigerian government.[35] Allegations of marginalization and perceptions of inadequate representation of the Igbo people in specific political roles or significant decision-making capacities have amplified concerns about potential bias or discriminatory practices within the administration.[36]

Anti-Igbo Sentiments today

End SARS movement

The End SARS movement while mainly being a movement to call to end of police brutality in Nigeria was also used as an opportunity by people who showed negative attitudes and feelings against Igbo people to spread anti-Igbo sentiments. After it came out that there were some Igbos amongst the hoodlums that partook in the violence that occurred after the Lekki massacre, coupled with an Inciteful broadcast by Ipob which is a separatist organization strongly associated with Igbos were quickly blamed for the violence that occurred during End SARS.[37][38][39][40] Netizens who spread this theory often did not differentiate between Ipob the organization and Igbo people, as a result, anti-Igbo sentiments were mainly directed at Igbo people. This incident was also cited by people who didn't want Igbo people in governmental positions outside of the southeast during the 2023 Nigerian general/gubernatorial elections.[41][42]

Anti-Igbo sentiments in Nigerian general and gubernatorial elections

During the lead-up to the gubernatorial elections of the year 2015 the Oba of Lagos stated that if Igbos do not vote for Akinwunmi Ambode will perish in the lagoon within seven days.[43] As the recording of the video of the Oba's statements circulated within all forms of media in Nigeria the controversy sparked by Oba Rilwan Akiolu's anti-Igbo statement led to numerous opinions being voiced by Nollywood actors, politicians, commentators, and celebrities.[44] Don Jazzy a popular music mogul was challenged by a fan over the statement Don Jazzy went on to state "I am a Nigerian first and an Igbo man second...As a wise/civilized/respectful Igbo man, I will not desecrate the stool of royalty, even tho I totally frown at that recording. But I will tell you for free that we all have the freedom to choose whom to vote for & no one can force you or me to vote as he/she pleases."[44]

The 2019 gubernatorial elections also presented another opportunity for the usage of anti-Igbo sentiment as a campaign strategy, senator Oluremi Tinubu, wife of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu said, "We will invoke all the deities of Lagos to chase Igbo people out. Igbos who refuse to learn our language. Igbos who didn't marry Yoruba, we will inherit them."[45] During this same election cycle having an Igbo identity was almost a political suicide, for example Jimi agbaje who had no relations to Igbo people and doesn't speak Igbo was accused of being Igbo and correspondingly anti-Igbo sentiments was used against him during the election cycle. The most prominent word used against him was Jimichukwu which is a name blending of Jimi's name and an Igbo word Chukwu, which is a very common Igbo word often used in Igbo names.[46] This specific word which was used against him meant that he was not a true Yoruba but a foreigner from the east and as such shouldn't be a governor in the west.

Peter Obi's emergence as the Labour party candidate prompted Igbophobic sentiments and hatred against the Igbo people. During his campaign in 2022, there were discriminatory comments made implying that Igbos are trying to take over Nigeria and divide the country in order to create Biafra. Even after his multiple interviews/debates, which was uncommon for very popular presidential candidates in recent times within Nigerian politics, his candidacy was at times dismissed as Igbo people yearning for an Igbo presidency.[47] During this election the singer, Brymo made hateful comments against the Igbo people, at first he insinuated that Igbo people are not ready for the presidency and that Peter Obi should stick to organizing the eastern region from which he hails.[47] A few days after this hateful comment he released another Igbophobic comment while replying to a now-deleted tweet saying "Fuck The Ndi Igbo !! .. To Hell With It!!".[48] This prompted an online petition on change.org to the All Africa Music Awards against his nomination for Song Writer of the Year.[49] He released an apology but then left the same hateful comments on his social media account. These hateful comments by Brymo got a lot of support from ethnic nationalists who were often APC supporters. After the elections months later on the second of August 2023 Brymo took his apology back in a tweet while replying to another tweet asking to explain the hateful tweet he made during the height of the elections he reiterated saying "Yes .. fuck-'em" considering the hype of the election had died down this time there were no repercussions for this.

Anti-Igbo sentiments during the 2023 Nigerian elections were common from the disenfranchisement of Igbo people during the PVC collections to an alleged bigoted statement against Igbo people in Lagos by the State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Olusegun Agbaje.[50][51] These sentiments became violent and resulted in blockades and threats against Igbo people from accessing the businesses they owned.[52][53] The violence stretched into the reoccurring burning and attacks of Igbo businesses in Lagos during elections.[54][55] The sentiments peaked during the gubernatorial elections within the state of Lagos. Anti-Igbo sentiments in the 2023 elections reached such an extent that there was a belief that often came from election discourse that marrying an Igbo person would result in a tainted bloodline. Weeks leading up to the 2023 gubernatorial elections a candidate by the name of Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour who is part Yoruba (from his father's side) and part Igbo (from his mother's side) had anti-Igbo attacks directed at him. His identity came into question and these attacks weren't just personal in terms of the fact that he was part Igbo and had an Igbo wife. These attacks were directed at the broader Igbo ethnicity within Lagos and ethnic nationalists questioned why anybody who is Igbo should become a governor within the western states in Nigeria. A few days before the election there was almost an expectation that Igbos were not supposed to vote for who they wanted like any other people except for APC candidates. A good example of this is the threats made against Igbos 3 days before the election by an APC loyalist and political thug MC Oluomo, he made threats against Igbo People telling Igbos to stay home if they wouldn't vote for APC candidates.[56] He also went on to retort that the Yoruba people should get there first and should be the ones to vote first.[56] This rhetoric got a lot of social media attention with Labour party supporters calling on the Nigerian government to apprehend MC Oluomo while supporters who were APC ethnic nationalists gave it support.[57][58] After so many pressures put on the Nigerian government the Nigerian police eventually stepped in calling the anti-Igbo rhetoric made by MC Oluomo a mere joke effectively downplaying parts of the threats which helped to spread the anti-Igbo sentiments during the elections.[59] On the day of the election, Igbo people were threatened and beaten in order to prevent them from voting. These attacks weren't just relegated to Igbo people but to anyone presumed to look like an Igbo person.[60] So as a result, Igbo people and anybody presumed to look like an Igbo person were being pointed at both by people who knew them and people who did not know them in order for them to be attacked or prevented from voting.[61]

I was told to go back to Anambra! How does Bolarinwa sound like an Igbo name? I was rough handled, beaten and sent out because I look Igbo? Because I was not going to vote APC?...[26]

Sisi Yemmie a popular Nigerian YouTuber and her husband both of Yoruba ethnic origin were also a victim of this ethnic profiling as they were prevented from voting as a result of their appearance which was deemed igbo.[62] During the presidential elections, the Igbos who successfully got to their polling unit were also threatened right at the polling unit and were told not to vote at all, while during the governorship elections, they were also attacked for speaking the Igbo language:[63]

On the day of the governorship election, they attacked Igbos here, threatening us if we come out to vote that they would kill us. One man was stabbed during the fight that happened on that day. Three days ago, we heard the man died and the hoodlums caused trouble by attacking anyone they saw on the road, especially when you are not Yoruba.[64]

Anti-Igbo sentiments in comments, and adverts flooded different social media platforms during this gubernatorial election.[65] These sentiments lasted right into the next day (Sunday) which was also the day Igbos were attacked at Abule ado in Lagos state.[66]

Justifications for Hatred

Individuals propagating these hateful sentiments in the 2023 elections offer various reasons behind their hatred towards the Igbo people, which fuels their animosity. This hatred varies but includes:

The emergence of hostility during the 2023 elections is linked to the idea that Lagos lacks ownership by any particular group, nurturing Igbophobia directed at the Igbo community.[67] Those justifying these claims frequently fail to cite a credible source from a notable Igbo figure within the community declaring Lagos as no man's land in the past five years.

People who justify the attacks on Igbos during the elections also often claim that the political movement (Obi-dent movement) for the Labour Party candidate Peter Obi is an IPOB movement as such is not a genuine movement for Nigerians.[68]

After-effects and the aftermath of the 2023 elections

The aftermath of the 2023 elections worsened ethnic relations in Nigeria but most importantly it worsened Igbo inter-ethnic relations within the country:

Also recounting her experience, Ijeoma Uba, a nurse who resides in Ikotun, Alimosho Local Government Area, said the outcome of the general election had led to division between Igbos and some individuals in the locality, stressing that she now closes early from her shop because of fear of attack.[69]

There was no effort to improve ethnic relations and there were no repercussions by the Nigerian government on most people who expressed hateful sentiments which pushed the attacks and discriminations that Igbos faced during the elections. The aftermath of the 2023 elections resulted in the reclusiveness of different ethnic groups that were heavily involved in the elections. The Igbos called on their fellow Igbo men and women to move their properties to the east these calls persisted throughout the aftermath and came mostly after the destruction of properties that they owned in Lagos.[70] The Yorubas on the other hand through the Lagos government now publish information in the Yoruba language on its social media this act received pushback from people on social media who claimed that Lagos is a diverse and a cosmopolitan part of Nigeria as a result should consider others who live in it.[71] There were also Yoruba cultural groups who called on companies that have locations within the southwestern part of the country to allocate 90% of their job opportunities to Yoruba people.[72]

See also


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