The Greatest Heist in Modern History by Awolowo and the Yorubas, Known as Indigenization of Foreign Companies in Nigeria, by FREDERICK ONWUMBIKO


This piece was prompted by what I saw as benign ignorance amongst some of our Igbo folks and because such ignorance is music to the ears of some other people and Yoruba in particular. In more than one occasion, my friends and other Igbo have advanced the argument that if Igbo was that smart, how come Yorubas dominated the commerce industry in Nigeria? What they meant were the domination of Yoruba in the banking, insurance industries, Coco Cola and some other surviving industries. In one particular occasion a friend revealed to me that he recently discovered that the reason why some Yoruba are so wealthy is because they were smart enough to invest their money in corporate stocks and bonds (not realizing that Yoruba actually stole those corporations) while Igbo was busy engaging in buying and selling. The Yoruba will like people to continue to believe that story, that it was because they were smart that they were able to do all these great investments in the commerce industry.
One relevant question that I always managed to ask my interlocutors is whether they were aware of the indigenization decree of 1972, master minded by Awolowo and the Yoruba and the ramifications of that policy. As will be expected, the answer ranged from, I have heard of it but does not understand what it actually meant to I have not heard of the policy. Listening to this ignorance induced perspective from my friends made my heart to skip a beat, realizing that the task of bridging this information gap is not going to be a child’s play. What is disconcerting is that some in their benign induced ignorance believe that the effect of indigenization is inconsequential at this time because it happened about forty years ago. This piece is therefore for those that are educable and for those that have the capacity to appreciate the magnitude and most importantly for those that can relate that gigantic economic event that reshaped the economic foundation on which Nigerian economy settled on after the British/Biafran war and as well as relate our present economic malaise to that economic foundation engendered by indigenization.
There is no doubt that most people, particularly those that do not have either basic or international economics background are overwhelmed by the subject of INDIGENIZATION OF FOREIGN COMPANIES IN NIGERIA because of their inability to understand the economics of it and the efficacies to make the necessary connections and relate it to the present economic doldrums, some simply brush it aside or worse, simple minimize its far reaching implications particularly on the Igbo. In so doing, majority of us dabble into analysis of how terrible Igbo has managed their affairs since after the civil war, while leaving out a huge chunk of the elements that need to be factored into their analysis. The unspeakable effect of the policy of indigenization on the Igbo was wicked and dastardly. The economic damage on the Igbo is impossible to calculate. The psychological toll on the Igbo is still reverberating amongst the Igbo today and creating identity crisis.


Some folks will argue that we should drop the subject because it happened forty years ago, which is equivalent to saying that because slavery, Jim Crow and the holocaust happened years ago, and for that reason, they have no relevance in today’s analysis. How can any credible analysis of American history not include slavery and its implications, or how can any Jewish history not include the Holocaust and its implications and effects, but that is what some folks want us to do, to avoid or forget one of the most devastating economic policies that changed the economic landmark of Nigeria, second to the genocide of more than three million Igbo committed by the same man, Awo, and still arrive at any meaningful analysis. I believe that the incredulity that any ethnic group is capable of visiting such devastation on another is still an obstacle that the subject is struggling against and must overcome. It is not that most people do not know what happened, it is simply that they do not want to believe that it happened because it is mind-bending. I also believe that if we do not tell the story over and over, the Yorubas will not tell and neither will the Hausa tell it, as a matter of fact they always wish that it will go away. So whether they like it or not, we must continue to broadcast what happened until people start to understand the effect of the policy not only on the Igbo but on the nation as a whole. Suffice to say that after Awo and the Yoruba succeeded in executing the indigenization decree and became overnight millionaires, many Igbo packed their bags and left Lagos to the East –ala Igbo, where they shortly died out of heart break because some of them also suffered the deprivation of their properties due to Abandon Property Policy in Lagos and Port Harcourt.

It is no more news worthy to point out that before the civil war that Igbo out of their capacity for honesty, to work hard, to produce, to innovate, to manage, create and persevere were able to penetrate all facets of Nigerian endeavor, when the British used merit as a yard stick. It is an irrefragable fact that even Yoruba would not dare challenge that fact, if not, what started the Yoruba hate, envy and jealousy against the Ibo in the first place, Yoruba and Hausa claimed that Ibo was dominating everything in the country but what they will not acknowledge publicly was the fact that the British were making the decisions about who to hire by their own standard and not by Igbo standard and that Igbo was good at what they did and better than them. The Yoruba and Hausa wanted not only equal opportunity they also wanted equal outcome regardless of effort and everyone knows that that is impossible.
There is one very important fact in my analysis that I want everyone to get, and that is that before the civil war, Nigeria as a nation did not have an economy of its own. Let me say it again, that Nigeria as a nation before the British/Biafran civil war did not have an economy of its own. I emphasized that point in other to say that whatever seemed like Nigerian economy were British owned. Put differently, if you excluded few of the regional cooperatives and some joint ventures businesses which were mostly British engineered to make buying raw materials easy for the British, every other aspect of the economy were owned majorly by the British, even the military, given the fact that almost every military supply came from Britain. It is then safe to say that British investment in Nigeria amounted to a great totality of Nigerian economy or that Nigerian economy was at that time synonymous to the total investment of the British.
Below, courtesy of Africa Today are the list of some of the companies that constituted Nigerian economy before the war that the Yoruba stole in one swoop, spanning the insurance companies like Lloyd’s of London and all the banks in Nigeria owned one way or the other by the British. This is but a partial list of what constituted the British investment in Nigerian economy.

“Pharmaceutical Nigeria Plc ,May and Baker Nigeria Plc, Vitafoam Nigeria Plc, Wahum Nigeria Limited ,CAP Nigeria Plc , International Paints of West Africa [IPWA], Berger Paints Nigeria Plc, Berec Nigeria Limited, Kabelmetal, Nigeria Bottling Company Plc, Leventis Nigeria Plc ,West African Portland Cement Company,[Lafarge ],Wema Bank Nigeria Plc, Scoa Nigeria Plc ,CFAO Nigeria Plc, Cadbury Nigeria Plc, Wemaboard Estates, Odua Group, Livestock Feeds Nigeria Plc , Nigerian Breweries Plc, new Nigerian Bank, Batta, Kingsway Stores, Crittal Hope (Nigeria) Limited, Mushin, Lagos State. Dunlop (Nig.) Industries Plc, Ikeja, Lagos State. Galvanising Industries Limited, Ikeja, Lagos State. Nigeria Construction & Water Resources Development Company Limited, Ibadan, Oyo State Nigerian Wire & Cable Plc, Ibadan, Oyo State Nigerite PLC, Ikeja, Lagos State Nipol Limited, Ibadan, Oyo State Odu’a Textile Industries Limited, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State Soleh Boneh Overseas (Nigeria) Limited, Ibadan, Oyo State Vono Products Plc, Mushin, Lagos State Wema Bank Plc, Marina, Lagos West African Portland Cement Plc, Ikeja, Lagos State Great Nigeria Insurance PLC, Ikoyi, Lagos State Glanvill Enthoven & Company Limited ◦Guinness (Nig.) Plc, Ikeja, Lagos State. ◦International Breweries Plc, Ilesa, Osun State. ◦Macmillian Publishers (Nig) Limited, Ilupeju, Lagos ◦Nestle Food (Nig) Plc, Ikeja, Lagos State ◦Nidogas Company Limited, Lagos State ◦Niger Mills Company Limited, Calabar, Cross River State ◦Nigerian Aluminium Extrusions Limited, Lagos ◦SKG-Pharma (Nig.) Limited, Lagos ◦Tower Aluminium (Nig.) Plc, Lagos ◦U. A. C. of Nigeria Plc., Lagos etc.
The necessity of inserting this partial list of the companies/assets that existed before the war was to give the reader a sense of the extent of what the issue is all about and who owned what and when. The Yoruba hardly owned much of anything or any of these assets listed above except in some regional joint cooperative ventures with the British.

The story went like this, before the war the Igbo dominated the economic work force followed by the Yoruba, when British/Biafran war started, Igbo, for their safety left their jobs in different parts of the country to return to the East, the Igbo land. After the end of the war, the Igbo went back to seek for their jobs that they left for security reasons, the Yoruba who took advantage and occupied the positions that Igbo left decided that they will not relinquish those position because according to the Yoruba, Igbo abandoned their positions and do not deserve their position back, reminiscent of the abandon property thievery in Port Harcourt River State and Lagos. However, a dynamic developed as Igbo every morning dressed up and went and occupied the lobbies of their different offices that they used to work in. Tell me, if this is not manifest bravery of the highest order ever exhibited by any group in Nigeria and we are talking about days and weeks immediately after the war was declared over. But the final say as to whether or not the positions that Ibo left for dire life was going to be declared abandoned rested on the British that owned these companies. As the back and forth went on, the British started angling to make an economic decision because they understood the difference between the Ibo worker and the Yoruba worker and the three years of the civil war made that difference even more crystal clear to the British, if not, why would the British bother to accommodate the Igbo after such a long time? What became clear to the Yoruba was that the British were willing to make extra provision to re-absorb the Igbo any way possible. Yoruba was not ready to tolerate any of that because they knew that it was a matter of time before the wheat will be separated from the shaft that Igbo will assume their prominent positions. In order to prevent the British from re-absorbing the Igbo into these British owned companies, the corporate Yoruba decided to solicit the help of Awolowo who was then the finance minister and chairman of the federal military council.
This is where a plan was hashed to wrest the control of these companies, consisting of banks, insurance companies, corporations of different kinds and types from the British. The best way Awo and his cabal found fit was to convince Gowon and the military leadership who in all probability have never had the word indigenization in their lives to promulgate the INDIGENIZATION DECREE in 1972 that stipulated that every foreign owned venture must transfer majority ownership to Nigerian indigenes within a year of the promulgation of the decree or they will forfeit the assets of the company to the Nigerian government. (Emphasis within a year) As expected, the British were caught off guard, not understanding the motive behind the policy, the British thought it was a dream or a joke that will go away, particularly given the fact that they just won the war against the Igbo for the Yoruba and Hausa. After exhausting six months out of the one year in their bid to reverse the decree, the British became frantic and concluded that they could not reverse the decree and went about trying to salvage whatever they could. What was worse was that the British did not even have enough time to evaluate the worth of their ventures because of the limited time the decree allowed, courtesy of Awo and cabal. The situation gave chaos a new name because the British were in chaos. So the first problem the British ran into was limited time that they couldn’t figure what the value of majority of their ventures were, they could not tell how much to sell them for. Mind you that this was happening within a year after the end of the civil war. At this time the Yoruba was running every conceivable federal ministries, departments and agencies plus all the corporations listed above and more that the British owned. It is important to point out that the North had little or no presence in the commerce economy of the country before the war and after the war except in the military leadership and infantry. The economy of the country was dominated by Igbo first and Yoruba second before the war. In order to solidify the economic dominance that the Yoruba attained during and after the war and to make their position even more potent in acquiring the British spoils, Awo as the finance minister and chairman of the federal military council and his Yoruba cabal decided to economically emasculate the Igbo understanding

a) That Yoruba was fully running every conceivable federal parastatal
b) That Yoruba was running every conceivable corporation that the British owned or had majority ownership as listed above.
c) That Yoruba was managing all the Nigerian banks, insurance corporations, National shipping line, Nigerian airways, Nigerian’s Ports authority, Nigerian Railways and all the ministries, Departments and Agencies conceivable.
Decided to destroy whatever was left of the Igbo and putting a finishing touch to it by
a) Stealing through confiscating all the millions of pounds that Igbo had in all the Nigerian banks
b) Offering every Igbo person £20 pounds regardless of how many millions they had in the Nigerian banks before the war.
 c) Militarizing every part of Igbo land.
d) Rendering every Igbo without exception a pauper.
e) Banning every importation of stock fish and used clothes to deprive the Igbo of any economic ability to compete with the Yoruba in buying into the British assets.

When that day of infamy arrived for the British to start selling their assets, Igbo having been disenfranchised and emasculated in any and every way stood on the sideline watching the Yoruba in their glee as they scrambled to obtain loans from their Yoruba dominated banks to make the most minimal of offers to the British as there were no competitions. The British had no choice but to accept any offer as the alternative was losing everything to the federal government. The British lost pretty much all their investment to the Yoruba whose stock in trade is robbing and stealing any and everything they can get their hands on. Thousands of Yoruba became millionaires overnight and there was jubilation and owanbe all over Yoruba land. Yoruba had parties day and night and weekends. They closed streets to display their new found wealth as they partied. That day marked the economic death of Nigeria, that day marked the death of Nigerian’s aspiration to join the civilized world. The implication was enormous and it sent a shock wave throughout the Igbo land, It was a dark history day, it was a day of manifest wickedness and viciousness, Igbo was dumbfounded, the days that followed were days of economic , social and psychological morose and confusion that are still lingering today within the Igbo. It might be hard to accept but Awo got the Igbo good and the country as well, he brought the Igbo to his knees economically at least temporarily and Igbo has never recovered from that one blow seven akpus in any appreciable way but Nigeria as whole is worse off for it. I believe that what was more devastating was that Ibo had no place or body to turn to. To be blunt, Awo decapitated the Igbo leadership and threw Igbo into great confusion.
It is important to note that by this singular act of INDIGENIZATION DECREE engineered by the Yoruba, the Yoruba de facto constituted the new economic foundation, the sole owner and manager of Nigerian economy without any rivals. So, for those that have wondered why Igbo became traders, this is the why. The Yoruba will not let any Igbo near the management of any of these stolen corporations, will not let Igbo buy any shares of these corporations for decades following the heist. Now, some people without the capacity to comprehend the full seismic implication of this economic shift and restructuring will want us to believe that this does not matter and I will beg to disagree because it is like everything else, the foundation of everything matters and determines the success or failure, be it a house or business. As time has revealed, Yoruba stealing and forming the economic foundation for Nigeria was a bad idea and a monumental disaster. For the ignorants, all things being equal (in a fair fight) the Yoruba knew it, the British knew it, the Igbo knew it and the world knew it that the Yoruba did not possess the capacity, creativity, drive, perseverance, hard work and the competence to do what some are crediting to it if they did not conspire to steal not only from the British and Igbo but from everybody else that had any assets in Nigeria. The apparent dominant control the Yoruba has on the economy since after the war was not out of great honest smartness or creativity or innovation or hard work or competence but out of share robbery of the British and Igbo sweat and hard work. I believe that the question that the benign ignorant should be asking going forward is what did Yoruba do with all these assets and corporations that they stole. How did the country fair under the Yoruba management of the Nigerian economy? How did the Yoruba managed economy relate to today’s economic malaise? Hope they can make the connections.

My next piece will try to capture the mind blowing implications of that great heist as it relates to Nigerians and Igbo in particular and the flight of international investment from Nigerian for decades.


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