Back to Africa Update

Vol.XXVII.ISSUE 4. FALL 2020 Governance in Ibibioland, Nigeria; Notes on Steve Biko

 Vol. XXVII. Issue 4. (Fall 2020)

Governance of Ibibioland, Nigeria  1900 -87;  Steve Biko , 1947 -1977


Table of Contents


Nkereuwem D. Edemekong & Blessing J. Edet: “Continuity and Change: Indigenous Governmental System in Ibibioland, 1900 – 1987”


Gloria Emeagwali: “Notes on Steve Biko”





In this issue of Africa Update the focus is on Nigeria and South Africa. Edemekong and Edet reflect on the Indigenous patterns of governance with respect to Ibibioland before colonial rule and after. They point out that  during the colonial era, the Warrant  Chieftaincy System, Native Administration System and the  Local Government System prevailed,  and that between 1967 and 1987, the Development Administration System and the Unified Local Government were operational. The authors inform us of the workings of these political models over time.


Steve Biko is the focus of the second article. What were his political views, and his perspectives on democracy, religion and  culture?  What did he think of  United States foreign policy towards apartheid South Africa? He is recognized for his formidable impact on student activism through  student organizations such as the South African Student Organization,  SASO, along with his organizational capabilities through Black empowerment models such as Black Consciousness. What were his ultimate goals and  overall legacy? These are some of the issues discussed in  

“Notes on Steve Biko.”



Professor Gloria Emeagwali

Chief Editor

Africa Update





“Continuity and Change: Indigenous Governmental System in Ibibioland, 1900 – 1987”

Nkereuwem D. Edemekong, Ph.D

Department of History and International Studies

University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom  State




Blessing J. Edet

Department of History and International Studies

University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom  State




This study examines the changing patterns of the Indigenous structure of political power in Ibibioland up to 1987. The original system consisted of what Anene (1966, 38),  rightly described as “indigenous authority” which the people were familiar with. It was not until the middle of the 19th century with the so-called legitimate trade and the establishment of Courts of Equity from 1856,  that the British began to meddle into the political affairs of the area through dubious treaties of “protection” (Anene, 1966; Ikime, 1977; Udo, 1983; Edemekong, 2008). 

            The formal establishment of colonial rule over the eastern provinces of Nigeria is traceable to  June 5, 1885 following the imposition of  the British Consular and protectorate system over the Oil Rivers,  and the appointment of Sir Claude Macdonald as the High Commissioner and Consul General,  in 1891. As Uya (1984, p. 88) rightly pointed out, accountable, more than anything else for the initial encroachment of alien political systems in the area of our study was

 “the decidedly blood and iron approach of his (Macdonald’s) successor Sir Ralph Moor under whose tenure the hinterland communities were subdued by a combination of almost unbroken wars and foxlike cunning.”

            Therefore beginning from 1891 to the third decade of the twentieth century, the British continued to employ different forms of subterfuge, diplomacy, cajolery and punitive expeditions in order to subdue the people. The Native Court Proclamation of 1901 and 1903 instituted courts in Ibibioland and its Eastern Nigerian neighbourhood, for the ‘orderly governance’ of the area. Thus, with the courts, the indirect rule or warrant chieftaincy system was inaugurated. However, following the collapse of the warrant chieftaincy system in 1929, the successive patterns became the Native Administration System (1930-1950); the Local Government System (1951-1966), the Development Administration System (1967-1975); and the unified Local Government System (1976-1987). All these developments affected the traditional regular machinery or structure of government in Ibibioland throughout the period under review and even beyond.


British Consular and Protectorate System, 1849-1900

            Ibibioland, to borrow the apt description of Uya, “was drawn into the colonial web as a result of activities designed to consolidate consular influence and authority over old Calabar in the second half the nineteenth century”(1984, p. 87).  These activities were spearheaded by the traders, missionaries and colonial administrators. Consequently, consuls were brought into the area and this marked the beginning of a series of changes in the logical outlook, configuration, model, or perceptual structuring of government or indigenous power in Ibibioland and her eastern Nigerian neighbours.

            As human trafficking (the  slave trade) was replaced by the so-called legitimate trade in British goods, African agricultural products and natural resources, the area required some form of order and this gave impetus to further modification of the prevailing traditional political system. Jones (1970, p. 316) rightly asserted that “the need to establish and maintain a system of law and order under which the European merchants could trade securely for their trade was based almost entirely on credit” and the establishment of Courts of Equity.

            Accordingly, Umo (1991, p. 190) observed that these Courts of Equity were established “to litigate controversies among European merchants and also between the European merchants and the indigenous traders”. Ayandele (1966, p. 17) wrote that these Courts of Equity “were composed of chiefs, white and black traders in the area, and the presidency of the courts passed in strict rotation from one to another”. This pattern was designed to prevent anyone from wielding or obtaining undue influence, thereby incurring the displeasure of the chiefs who were now the trading partners and middlemen for the Europeans (Brooks, 1958). The court was established in Calabar on July 28, 1856 (Udo, 1983). This was the first time a foreign court with a foreign legal system was introduced to the area. On the orders of the British Foreign Office, these courts were reorganized in 1872. This reorganization affected Itu and Eket in Ibibioland and consuls were empowered to exercise powers, hitherto exercised by chiefs. These powers included execution and enforcement of fines. Imprisonment was introduced and the strict observance of the stipulations of any treaty, convention or agreement made or to be made between Great Britain and the local chiefs in these areas became enforced progressively. The consuls were further charged to keep peace, order and good governance of Her Majesty’s subjects within the protected territories (Udom, 2008). With these legal weapons, the consuls became more aggressive towards African potentates and began to meddle into the internal affairs of the area to the extent of usurping the political control and functions of chiefs in Ibibioland and elsewhere (Udo, 1983; Bassey, 2005; Udom, 2008).

            It is pertinent to note that this consular intervention was primarily orchestrated in order to promote British trade and prepare the ground for eventual British colonial control through subtle diplomacy and missionary activities. For instance, Mary Slessor had arrived in  Ibibioland, from Calabar where she worked as a missionary of the Church of Scotland Mission (CSM) since 1876, to prepare the grounds for colonialism. She was a spy of the British government. As could be observed, no one can succeed as a spy better than a woman. Hence, she was able to subdue the chiefs, even to the point of submission. Thereafter, she continued to rely on the backing and support of the British government using subtle diplomacy and consular control. Mary Slessor was also a Vice Consul.

            Samuel Bill was a counterpart of Mary Slessor. He had arrived  at Ibuno in 1887 and like Mary Slessor, he was also a colonial spy and penetrated beyond the coast into the hinterland. Slessor and Bill were strong critics of the political and social life of Ibibio people. Their incursion therefore marked the beginning of the breakdown of security in Ibibioland. By the term security is meant the sharing of the values of well-being, wealth and community amongst its component population.

            The breakdown of security was spearheaded by the Christian missionaries who arrived and undertook the study of the political and social life of Ibibio people and were able to advise the new comers occupying power on how to deal with the chiefs and people. This was the way to impose obedience and make them law abiding (Etteyit, 2008).

            Some of these missionaries were compensated as colonial officials for their activities which led to the successful establishment of British colonial enterprise in Ibibioland. For instance, in 1892 Mary Slessor was appointed Vice-Consul of the Niger Coast Protectorate (NCP) by Claude Macdonald, the High Commissioner and Consul – General of the Protectorate, who was himself appointed the previous year. As Vice-Consul, Miss Slessor was responsible for cultivating and maintaining friendly relations with adjacent areas, opening up roads and markets and generally preserving peace and order in her area of jurisdiction. She was also responsible for the proper working of the customs, postal and treasury department throughout the rivers. In carrying out these functions, she did much to advance not only Christian religion but  the political and economic interests of the Protectorate as well (Burn, 1958; Udo, 1983; Ina, 2005). As Abasiattai (1991) had rightly pointed out’:


… the imposition of British colonial rule began as from 1885, with its base at Calabar; and the extensive use of Efik political agent, clerks, interpreters and teachers in the colonial and missionary services (p. 59).           


This marked the genesis of indirect rule in the area and it resulted in the obviously insolent challenge to the authority of the chiefs (Uya, 1984) in their domain. The

 people were terribly dumbfounded. However, the new political configurations were accepted and tolerated by Ibibio people. The indigenous pattern  of existence continued to progressively decline with time, but not altogether obliterated. As Etuk (1991, p. iv) had rightly postulated, “it adapted to changing circumstances, yet, still had elements of continuity made possible by the internal and external dynamics operative within Ibibio society and without”.

However, the inauguration of the Native Court System as from 1891 up to 1899, and the consolidation of same as from 1900, when Southern and Northern Nigeria were declared protectorates and placed under the control of the Colonial Office, in London, marked the end of the consular government in the history of Nigeria.  


The Native Court (Indirect Rule or Warrant Chieftaincy) System

            The warrant chieftaincy system was synonymous with the Native Court System in the Eastern Provinces in the period 1891-1929. Whatever position of influence, responsibility and power which warrant chiefs enjoyed in this era,  derived from what Afigbo (1972, p. 37) described a “their possession of the warrant which made them members of the Native Court”. It should be noted that the British administrators misunderstood the traditional political system of Ibibio people. They, the British, were convinced that the system could cope with the problem of maintaining law and order in their newfound territory for the consolidation of British colonialism and the entrenchment of economic exploitation of the territory. The warrant chieftaincy system was fathered by the Court of Equity (Afigbo, 1972; Grier, 1922). Hence, there is reason to agree with Afigbo (1972, p. 50) that “warrant chieftaincy was fashioned out to serve as an instrument of “political pacification” and “consolidation” to give stability and permanence to what was considered pacificatory.

            Native Courts were established at suitable centres throughout the whole of Ibibioland and other parts of Eastern Nigeria as espoused by Afigbo (1972, p. 51) “in order that there may be an immediate means provided for the natives to settle their disputes and difficulties”, peacefully. The courts were granted thee statutory powers to resolve disputes between parties, upon the reference of one or all parties to the dispute. This included the ability to act as a mediator or arbitrator and make decisions that were binding on parties. The parties to the conflict at the early stage of the Native Courts were still allowed to swear on Mbiam to determine their innocence or guilt on matters of the courts. Even some of the colonial officials and missionaries who presided over these earlier courts subjected litigants to swear on Mbiam. This was done to cultivate confidence in the “natives” and encourage them to patronize the courts. It is reported that Mary Slessor and John Kirk adopted this method in Itu and Etinan areas respectively.

            The pattern was intended to perpetuate and consolidate the availability of opportunities to even the impecunious members of the society in these areas to ventilate their disputes before these courts at minimal expense. It was expected that the courts would not only facilitate easier justice delivery and reduce the cost of administering justice, but would also help the economic development of the area. In other words, it was seen as critical to harnessing the abundant human and economic resources of the area for development. As regards the courts, Afigbo (1972) said:


The colonial government was guided in the main by considerations of administrative expediency. Many courts, like many district headquarters, were situated among people who were considered troublesome and therefore in the greatest need for constant government observation (p. 58).


However, other practical considerations such as the geographical centrality of the villages and clans they served and the district headquarters possessing  a healthy environment and good water supply accounted for the location of the courts. It should be noted that the inauguration of the warrant chieftaincy system in the area followed the Native Court Proclamations of 1901 and 1903 which established courts for the “orderly governance” of the area (Anene, 1966; Ikime, 1977; Uya, 1984; Ina, 2005).

            From oral information, some of these courts were located at Itu, Otoro in Ikot Ekpene, Ukpata in Oron Town, Eket, Mbioto Obio in Etinan and Opobo (Enwenge) now Ikot Abasi. Sometimes these courts were relocated to other centres to serve the convenience of colonial officials. James Bunchan (1980) averred that the Native Court established at Itu in 1901 was moved to Ikot Obong (now in Ibiono Ibom) in 1902. Mary Slessor is reported to have presided over this court at Ikot Obong and was invested with the power of a magistrate with the right to inflict punishmen - t up to one month’s imprisonment (Phimer, 1956; Ina, 2005).

            Under this system however, the warrant chiefs were appointed by the colonial government to preside over cases and perform such functions as collection of taxes, reporting criminals and helping the colonial government to stamp out opposition. The colonial masters did not harbor opposition. The interesting thing is that some of the village heads were appointed warrant chiefs. In most cases, the warrant chiefs were not the traditional leaders and chiefs. Where the village heads were appointed, they continued to function as indigenous rulers. They were also serving as political agents of the colonial government – Mbang Mbakada. Under this system, the warrant chiefs held sway in the Native Courts and for some time, the real traditional rulers were driven underground and forbidden to hold courts. This disrupted and radically destabilized the people’s traditional practices. But the real chiefs still had their powers and authority. They were very highly respected and their courts, Afeidung, continued to be patronized by the people, largely underground. The British colonialists resented this type of scenario and responded inappropriately. This negative response set Essien (1991), to lament that:


The British administrators misunderstood the people, their culture and set up and did all they could by their impositions to belittle our chiefs (p. 137).


In Etinan, John Kirk, the Qua Iboe Mission pastor, is reported to have worked in close contact with the British District Commissioner (formerly known as the Consul), who was resident in Eket. Kirk was authorized to carry out some of the judicial functions of the District Commissioner. He taught the people to seek redress for wrongs not by violence and vengeance but by judicial process (Ekere, 1998). The point to note here is that John Kirk’s intervention and advice saved Etinan from destruction by the punitive expedition of the colonial government in the early years of the twentieth century. In Itu and Ibiono Ibom areas where his counterpart, Mary Slessor held sway, she even presided over the Native Court there. As recorded by Ina (2005):


Some of the cases brought to her court for trial were trivial but some involved floggings and others, assaults, poisoning, a general ill-treatment of wives, widows and slaves. To summon a person to her court a man needed just a cock and corn as summons fees. And recognizing that African law and African customs were sometimes best for solving desperate African problems, Mary used Mbiam as an Oath in her court (p. 24).


From the foregoing, it is possible to see that the social structures and institutions were not totally abandoned by the emerging colonial  pattern. The new political system was still traditional because the new operatives were still performing the functions of traditional governments though largely serving the colonial masters and enforcing what were at time new laws.

            The Oron area was administered in the words of Uya (1984, p. 91) “as a sub-district in Eket District of what was variously described as the Calabar Division or Calabar Province” throughout the colonial epoch. In the pre-1929 period, the author contended that the basic unit of administration was the Native Court which exercised judicial, administrative and legislative powers. For instance, it is reported that the 1903 court sessions were held in Chief Enyenihi’s house at Oyubia and a court house was subsequently built at Oyubia and Okpedi Okobo. Chief Enyenihi was a renowned indigenous political figure who also doubled as a warrant chief. The court is known to have met once a month and it served the Ebughu, Enwang and Effiat groups.

            Throughout the six colonial administrative districts or provinces of Uyo, Itu, Eket, Ikot Ekpene, Abak and Opobo (now Ikot Abasi) the warrant chiefs with their Native Courts had a common distinctive feature. The District Commissioner exercised legal and ministerial powers over these courts. Wherever he was present, these courts functioned as District Commissioner’s court and had three kinds of jurisdiction. As Uya (1984) observed:

Firstly, it had jurisdiction over criminal matters such as theft, larceny, affray, loitering with intent, behaving in a manner likely to cause the breach of the peace, attempt to commit a crime and wounding offences under the Arms Prohibition Proclamation. The court was competent to impose prison sentence not exceeding ₤50. The court also had prison sentence not civil cases involving debt, damage or demand on which the value of property in question did not exceed ₤100. The court could also hear cases involving non-Africans (p. 91).


In other words, the colonial administration did not just make the political officer a member of the Native Court; he was also its president. Therefore, it became practically impossible for the political officers to preside over all the Native Court which political necessity forced the government to create outside of the district headquarters. Consequently, it was decided that they (the political officers) should be presidents of only a few Native Courts which would then serve an example to the many others which were largely on their own. What emerged thereafter were two categories of Native Courts. The first which was presided over by the political officers and which were situated at District headquarters were called Native Councils. The second category were the lower ones - presided over by a “native authority” or an indigenous ruler (Obong Isong), the real chief or village head (Obong Idung/Obio or Offong Udung). These lower categories of courts were known as Minor Courts (Afigbo, 1972).

            It is important to note, as Afigbo (1972) has clearly shown, the benches of both grades of courts consisted of people holding judicial warrant from the high commissioner or his representative and who could not be deprived of their membership without his expressed sanction. For any session, a Native Court bench was to comprise the president, the vice president, three other members and one member specially summoned to represent the village or district in which the dispute arose. Accordingly, the president of the Minor Court was to be elected quarterly by the members. These two categories of courts were to be guided as far as possible by what (Afigbo, 1972, p. 84) described as “native law and custom not opposed to natural morality and humanity”.

            Thus, the Native Courts came to institutionalize the pattern of village groupings. What the new court system failed to appreciate was that hitherto, it was the founding or parent village of the village groups that served as the indigenous headquarters of such groups of villages in the pre-colonial times. Such headquarters were named Obio (Town or City) signifying its socio-economic, political and religious status and importance. Such villages would not have Ikot (followers, descendants, children, people or men of) as a prefix to their names or attached after their names. There are many such examples all over Ibibioland, viz; Obio Offot, Uyo Obio, Obio Etoi, Idoro Obio and Mbierebe Obio in Uyo LGA; Mbioto Obio, Obio Etinan in Etinan LGA; Obio Ibiono, Utit Obio, Afaha Obio Eno in Ibiono Ibom LGA; Obio Nsit, Mbiokporo Obio in Nsit Ibom LGA; Obio Ubium in Nsit Ubium LGA, etc. In the emerging dispensation, it was rather the villages hosting the Native Courts that now stole the show and thus became popular as the headquarters of the respective Court Areas.

            In most cases, these court areas were amalgams of more group of villages than one. That is to say, villages from different groups or clans were constituted into a court area. For instance Okoko (1988, p. 91) rightly observed “the Ubium area of jurisdiction of a Native court became very wide, in some cases embracing different clans or tribes”. The said Ubium Native Court at Ikot Ubo, catered for the whole of Ubium and Eastern Nsit (now Nsit Atai LGA) which was then Eket District. The original warrant of Ubium Native court which brought in Eastern Nsit was dated 1st June, 1917 (Okoko, 1988).

            Apparently, as a result of enormous powers inherent in the new system, its operatives, particularly the clerks, interpreters and Warrant Chiefs as Uya (1984, p. 94) postulated, “exploited their position and soon became notorious for bribery and corruption”. The potentates of the Native court system owed their allegiance to the colonial authority and not to the people and the sanctity of the laws and customs of the land as was the case in the pre-colonial era when the original political system was in vogue. Abasiattai (1991) also observed that:


Not surprisingly, they became corrupt and disliked by thee people as symbols of colonial oppression, thus the Ibibio watched helplessly as the warrant chiefs and Native Courts usurped the traditional functions of government previously performed by the village and lineage heads and elders and secret societies like Ekpo, Ekpe, Idiong and Ekong (p. 73)     


Apart from the autocracy and corruption of the “warranted chiefs”, many villages and clans which were not adequately represented in the Native Court system were alienated from the new government. This led to frustration, discontent and disenchantment. The general consensus of the people was that such political system which executive, legislative and judicial powers in the some body was largely responsible for the abuse by some of the chiefs and needed to be more in consonance with the traditional system of government they were used to. In other words, there was a pressing need to develop a more acceptable system by carrying out a wide range of reforms (Uya, 1984).

There had been some earlier attempts to reform the system between 1914 and 1924. First, after the amalgamation of Southern and Northern Provinces of Nigeria in 1914, Lord Lugard wanted to introduce “Native Authorities” into the Eastern Provinces of the South (Owerri, Ogoja, Calabar and Onitsha). This was aimed at equating the Native Authority with powers equivalent to what was exercised by the emirs in Northern Nigeria. The Native Authority was to exercise power over the whole district. This was to pave the way for the eventual extension of indirect rule system in the Eastern Provinces. Consequently the Native Authorities Ordinance was promulgated in 1916. The following year, Lugard called on the Residents to submit lists of those to be considered for appointment as Native Authorities. The Resident for Calabar Province recommended some individuals as “Sole Native Authorities” for certain court areas. For example, some noted Efik political agents who had earlier served as presidents of Native Courts like Chief Mkpanam Koko Bassey and Chief Daniel Henshaw (also known as) Nyong Effanga in Itu and Oron respectively were recommended. However, in most other places in Ibibioland, Native Courts were made Native Authorities. It is worthy to note here that this Lugardian proposal was widely opposed by some of the Southern Residents (Cadist, 1931; Okoko, 1988; Ina, 2005).

These Native Authorities exercised full executive, legislative and judicial functions over their respective Court Areas. In the words of Abasiattai (1991):

Besides making laws and executing them through the court clerks and court messengers, the Native Courts carried out minor development projects like building and maintaining schools, roads, bridges, demonstration farms, dispensaries and health clinics which supplemented the central government’s efforts in those areas (pp. 72-73).



Between 1924 and 1925, some futile attempts were made to reorganize the Native Courts on a clan basis. In 1925, there was a proposal to change the names of the courts in Oyubia and Oron court and Okpo Eket court respectively, the latter to serve the villages in Idua and the Afaha Okpo villages of Eyo Abasi, Udung Uko and Edikor principally (Okoko, 1998; Uya, 1984). These changes were not effected though. M. D. W. Jeffreys, the District Officer for Eket, in his own recommendations dated May 20, 1925 as cited in Okoko (1988) however, said inter-alia:


Turning now to thee Ibibios (sic), the Eastern Nsits (sic) should be removed from the Eket jurisdiction and handed over to Uyo and given a court of their own (p. 91).


Despite the overwhelming support enjoyed by these proposals, such as the one above, these changes were not made. However, it was not until 1933 (eight years after the recommendation) that the Jeffrey’s recommendation was fully implemented.

            The Lugardian reforms of the warrant chief system of indirect rule had also sought to introduce Native Treasuries into the Eastern Provinces, as they were in the North. This idea was synonymous with direct taxation which was alien to the people of this area. Direct taxation had worked successfully in the North owing principally to its feudal bureaucratic structure of local government. Its introduction in 1916 by Lugard in the Western Provinces (except Warri) had achieved a partial success because the traditional political system there was not as autocratic as the one in the North. But in the Eastern Provinces including Ibibioland and Warri, an attempt at its introduction in 1928 was the penultimate nail in the coffin of the Warrant Chieftaincy system and later culminated in its demise with the (Ekong ataks Iban) “Warrant Tax War” of 1929.

            On April 1, 1927, the Native Revenue Ordinance was passed and came into effect on April 1, 1928. The one year from the promulgation and implementation was to enable government to educate the people on the advantages of paying tax. In 1929, there were rumours that the tax would be extended to women. This  led to widespread women protests in Abak, Ikot Ekpene, Itu, and Opobo Divisions and  grievances against the notorious warrant chiefs and their colonial “super masters.” For their role in the introduction of direct taxation, “many warrant chiefs were attacked, several Native Courts were burnt down and European factories looted (Uya, 1984; Okoko, 1988; Abasiattai, 1991; Ina, 2005 and Calvocoressi, 2006).

            Thus, the Women Tax War torpedoed the warrant chieftaincy system in particular and endangered the indirect rule system, generally, in Ibibioland and its environs. The protests partly obliged Britain to embark on another attempt to refashion the indirect rule system particularly by ascertaining through anthropological and historical research on the Ibibio, the true traditional Ibibio political system. The new pattern that resulted from this reform is the main focus of the next section of our study.


The Native Administration System, 1930-1950

            The Native Court system failed with the 1929 Tax War of Ibibio women, and was followed by the 1930s reforms,  following the “Intelligence Reports” on the various Ibibio clans and the institution of the Native Administration System. The real chiefs were finally discovered and given their roles. The re-organization of Native Administration as from 1930 was aimed at reviving, refining and utilizing the pre-colonial traditional government structures. The “intelligence Reports” on the various Ibibio clans was the logical outcome of this anthropological and historical research which developed and recommended a more acceptable system of governance. That is, a relapse into the pre-colonial pattern of government.

            This meant that traditional system of governance particularly the village heads (Mbong Idung/Obio/Udung) and village councils (Esop Idung/Obio/Udung) and the village shed (Afe Idung) were restored to their original status with functions which were eroded by the imposition of alien rule, Ukara Mbakada. Additionally, under the Native Administration system, young educated members of Ibibio communities who were in most cases excluded from active participation in the previous pattern of local administration by the British administration, were now being accommodated in the new system. For instance, the Clan councils (Mme Esop Isong) that were established under the Native Authority system did encourage the participation of educated persons. These were the rising Ibibio elites who were products of the mission schools and were actually committed to assisting the colonial government in effectuating a truly democratic and indirect administration.

            Prior to this time, ambitious young men outside Nigerian towns like Lagos and Calabar found their way to public office barred, except through nominations into the Legislative Council. This council was established under the 1922 constitution and it was bitterly criticized and ridiculed by many Nigerian nationalists who referred to those Nigerians who served in the council as “yes-men”. In Ibibioland, these “illiterate” chiefs and “representatives” were reputed as Mme ayọñọ mkpo itie (bench warmers) and Mme nda ando (men who always concurred with the last speakers). This was because they enjoyed the special luck of  always having people express their minds on their behalf. (Okoko, 1988).

            Very importantly, the reforms sought to actually incorporate the broad based democracy of the traditional Ibibio political system which the warrant chief system of indirect rule and its Native Courts lacked. Therefore, the Native Authority provided for what Abasiattai (1991) aptly described below:


the village council, comprising traditional lineage and village heads and elders administered the village. The clan council, comprising representatives from all the villages of the clan became the Native Authority with legislative and executive powers over the clan, while the native Courts remained separate and concerned primarily with dispensation of justice (pp. 73-74).


By the creation of the village and clan assemblies, the scope of participation was broadened to maintain ethnic integration among the component units of thee districts, separating judicial from legislative and executive functions and ensuring that the court staff (clerks, messengers and bailiffs) were drawn from the local population. But corruption and injustice were still in vogue in the courts and councils. Cases of bribery were frequent as cases were dubiously and frequently adjourned to multiply the sitting fees (Uya, 1984; Abasiattai, 1991; Etor, 2009).

            The fact that each village nominated at least two members to represent it at sessions which met regularly at the clan level made the membership of the council unduly large, unwieldy and ineffective. The major responsibility of the village representative was tax collection. No wonder why they became known as mbong ataks (tax collecting chiefs) and were much disliked by the people. Later in 1947 the colonial government drastically reduced the membership of the councils to improve the situation.

            Earlier, between 1931 and 1935 three legislations were passed to clarify the development of local government and courts. These legislations were: The Native Authority Ordinance, the Native Courts Ordinance and the Protectorate Courts Ordinance. Consequently, High Courts and Magistrate Courts were established in 1934 to operate under the English legal system. This marked the introduction of professional judges and lawyers. Accordingly, Ekong (1987) remarked:


with these institutions, the legislative and judicial powers of thee traditional  rulers were permanently transferred to a centralized non-traditional authority. The native chiefs became mere figure heads. The new government took over control of economic processes and warfare and although chiefs could still serve as judges in disputes at the village level, the magnitude of punishment they could award was drastically reduced (p. 10).


During this period chiefs continued to play the mutually contradictory roles of being leaders of their people as well as the representatives of the alien British government by whose grace they held their offices” (Ekong, 1987, p. 101). With the introduction of English legal procedure the retention of the services of lawyers and the consolidation of formal prisons, which were established at the onset of colonial rule under the warrant chief system, all led to conflict in the primordial jural system in Ibibioland. The use of Mbiam continued to feature in the courts until 1947 when it was discontinued and was replaced by the Holy Bible. In the new court system, both judges and litigants were required to swear by it “thereby restricting the fear of reprisal for either untrue evidence or unfair judgment, to Christians” (Ekong, 1987, p. 101).

            The following was the outlook of the administrative structure that remained in force from 1930-1947, when the clan assemblies and Native Courts were instituted in Ibibioland. Thereafter, the then Eastern Nigerian Government introduced the new local council government structure based on local, district, county and urban district councils. This new local government system is the subject of our analysis in the subsequent section.


Local Government System, 1951-1966


            After 1947, Jones (1970) observed that there was a shift from Native Administration, as it was now considered reactionary. Accordingly, there was a debate in the eastern house of assembly to introduce the local government system in the eastern provinces. Amadi (2000) noted that chiefs were deemphasized and that efforts were made to identify the repositories of traditional authority- the people (Cadist, 1931).

            Following this, therefore, a very significant change in the pattern of the indigenous political system occurred as the British administration attempted to seek and maintain ethnic integrity, localize staff, focus on local development and to separate the judiciary from the executive. This was to set in motion in 1948, machinery for the review of the system by the Eastern Regional Administration. Consequently, a local government system based on the British model complete with county, district and local councils to comprise mainly of elected members was recommended by the committee. An important point to note here is that the boundaries of these new local government council structures were almost identical with the previous Native Authority, clan, village and town areas (Jones, 1970; Amamkpa, 1979; Abasittai, 1991; Amadi, 2000).

            The council initially collected taxes, assessed and collected special rates and levies, constructed and maintained existing roads connecting major population centres and markets maintained the existing dispensaries as well as maternities and finally was charged to maintain peace and order within its area of jurisdiction. Amadi (2000) contended that:


this was to mark the beginning of modern local government in Eastern Nigeria. The new policy couched in the local government law of 1950 aimed at encouraging local interest in politics through the setting up of efficient democratic local government now recognized as the point of progress and upon which democratic political system at the centre and meaningful social services must be built (p. 25).


However, there were some modifications, such as the creation of a House of Chiefs in 1956 and classification of chiefs and assigning chiefs only titular functions based on political expediency. It is pertinent to note that this 1950 reform remained the bedrock of local government administration in Eastern Nigeria up to 1960 when Nigerian attained political independence from Britain, and extended to 1966 when the life of the Nigerian parliaments came to an abrupt end through a military coup d’etat (Post and Vickers, 1973; Orewa and Adewumi, 1984; Uya, 1984; Essien, 1991). The next section shall examine the indigenous political system as fashioned by the new military administration led by General Yakubu Gowon.



Development Administration System of Local Government, 1967-1975


            With the advent of the military government in Nigeria in 1966, the Gowon administration carried out fundamental reorganization of the system under the Divisional Administration mode. The major philosophy of the system was rooted in the idea of community self help system. It also aimed at integrating the system of community organization for resourced a two tier structure of Divisional and Community Councils. The reorganization of the structure of the Development Administration was rooted in the indigenous units were designated Autonomous Development Administrative Areas with their Development Committees charged to perform the functions of the defunct Local Government Councils (Edict, 1971; Eboyeka, 1987; Ugwu, 2003; Ikpe, 2006). According  to Ikpe (2006):


in a very simple term, Development Administration means administration of development. It connotes administration of development as a part of public policy. That is, attempting to generate development by utilizing the public bureaucracy. When this concept is attached to the local government system, it means governing and providing services to the local communities using civil servants in the formal governmental structures. In this case, local governments form part of state government bureaucracy. It is undoubted that local governments are created for the purpose of development, to transform the lives to infrastructure and social welfare. But who spearheads this development is the major question. Accordingly, when civil servants and professional administrators in the government are charged with the responsibility of achieving development in the local governments, the system can be referred to as Development Administration (p. 73).


From the author’s brief analysis, it is obvious that the development administration removed emphasis from chiefs and politicians (councilors) in the political control of the local councils and preferred career civil servants and technocrats and professional administrators. 


            Accordingly Ikpe (2006) asserted that after the Nigerian civil war, government authority became stronger than any other group, including traditional rulers that could contest for legitimacy. The civil war had thoroughly disorganized the society and all the social groups. Only government was stable and strong enough to organize services in the society.

            This was the circumstance that gave birth to the Development Administration System which came to be the bedrock of Local Government Administration in the areas that presently constitute the South-South geopolitical zone of Nigeria. However, it was the South Eastern State that had the most radical conception and organization of the new system. South Eastern State was created out of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria on May 27, 1967. It metamorphosed into Cross River State by 1976.  Between 1970 and 1973 the South Eastern State Development Administration Edict establishing the development councils were deprived of executive or legislative powers, and had only advisory powers. Consequently, in our area of study, Development Administration Areas patterned on the clan and lineage structure were established. For Ikpe (2006) had said that:


in the territorial structure of Development Administration, the base was the village Authority. It was empowered to undertake some community Development projects, provided they would  not contradict or duplicate the programmes of the Development Area or Council. The Village Authority could also collect contributions in cash or kind in accordance with local customs and tradition and to exact forced communal labour (p. 78).


The aim of this was to bring government nearer to the people and reduce the barrier between the people and their environment. As Ugwu (2003, p. 20) argued, the new system of local government did bring government from an inaccessible height to within the reach of every community member as though with the injunction “local government is yours. Go ahead with your traditional methods and constitutions”.

The emphasis of government irrespective of thee decentralization strategy was on development and the village head which had regained his relevance in the new system, not just for maintenance of law and order at the grassroots level but for communal development purposes “irrespective of the obtrusive bureaucratization”. This was prevailing pattern of the political system up to 1975.


Unified Local Government System, 1976-1987

            The 1976 local government reform succeeded the development administration system and formed a watershed in the evolution of local government administration in Nigeria. The objective of this reform was to stabilize and rationalize government at the local level by decentralization of state governments in order to harness local resources. It basically sought to provide government at the grassroots or local level (Guidelines, 1976; Amamkpa, 1979; Ugwu, 2003; Akpan-Umana, 2004; Bassey, 2005; Imeh, 2006).

            Prominent among the features of the reform were the complete democratization of local Government and the tactical removal of the control of local government from the indigenous rulers, through a uniform single-tier structure and removal of the control of local governments from state governments by the abolition of provincial and divisional administrations, and the consolidation of local government councils. Other prominent features were the creation of 307 local government councils, and provision for the statutory allocations to be made by both the federal and state governments. This provision was an historic landmark in the evolution of local government in Nigeria. The Local Government Service Commission was established and charged with the responsibility for recruitment, posting, promotion and discipline. But how did this new pattern affect traditional governance and the indigenous power nomenclature in Ibibioland?

            One notable problem of the 1976 reform was the exclusion of traditional rulers from the membership of the local government council. This had the effect of further alienating villages from the system, as well as negating the declared policy of the government to restore the respect and prestige due to traditional authorities and to use them fully for rural development and cultural revival (Guidelines, 1976).

            Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki’s  local government reform committee of 1984 was set up by the Buhari administration and charged with the responsibility of looking into the problems of administration and recommendation of  solutions. The committee, in its report, strongly proposed the decentralization of the services provided by the government (Report of the Political Bureau, 1987). As a result of the coup d’etat that terminated Buhari’s administration in August 1985, the recommendations of the committee could not be implemented.

            The incoming Babangida regime and administration did not ignore the Dasuki Committee’s Report. Babangida’s government collected and critically studied this report along with that of the Political Bureau (1985-1987) which it set up, and came up with far reaching policy reforms which sought to give complete autonomy to local government in Nigeria (Ugwu and Bassey, 2003).

            It is important to note that the same political bureau (1987) also recommended the creation of six new states in Nigeria, to promote peace, good government, harmony and above all, the unity of Nigeria (p. 98). Eventually on September 23, 1987 two states were created, raising the number of states from 19 to 21 in the country. The point to note here is that all the 10 Local Government Areas that constituted the newly created Akwa Ibom State were located in Ibibioland. They all belonged to the legendary Ibibio Union, later renamed Ibibio State Union and had consistently and jointly pursued the cause of self-determination, unity and oneness of Ibibio people in a federal Nigeria.



*Blessing  Edet

+234 802 354 7650








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Afigbo, A.E, The Warrant Chiefs: Indirect Rule in Southern Nigeria 1891-1929, London: Longman Group Ltd, 1972

Akpan-Umana, O.E, Regional Leadershipi: Nigeria and the Challenge of Post-Apartheid South Africa, Uyo: Sure God International, 2000.

Amadi, I.R., “The Evolution of Local Government in Eastern Nigeria, 1900-1990”, The Calabar Historical Journal, 4:1, 2000.

Anene, J.C., Southern Nigeria in Transition: 1885-1906, London: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

Amamkpa, E.W., A Short History of Ibesikpo, Uyo: Modern Business Press, 1979.

Anyandele, E.A, The Missionary Impact of Modern Nigeria, London: Longman, Green and Company Limited, 1966.

Bassey, J.R. Epitaph to Military Rule: Political and Administrative History of the Nigeria Local Government, 1951-2003, Uyo: Minder International Publishers, 2005.

Buchan, J. The Expendable Mary Slessor, Edinburgh: The St. Andrew Press, 1980.

Burns, J.M., Leadership, New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1978.

Calvocoressi, P., World Politics, 1945-2000, New Delhi: Dorling Kindersley Pvt Limited, 2001.


Edemekong, N.D., “Engine of Growth: A Description of European Trade with West Africa by 1960”, Ibom Journal of History and International Studies, 12:2, 2008.

Essien, O.E, “The Ibibio Language: Classification and Dialects” In: Abasiattai, M.B. (ed.), The Ibibio: An Introduction to the People, the Land and their Culture, Calabar: Alphonsus Akpan Printers, 1991.

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Guidelines for Local Government Reform Kaduna, Government Printer, 1976.

Ikime, O., The Fall of Nigeria: The British Conquest, Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books Limited, 1977.

Ikpe, U.B., “Development Administration System of Local Government in Contemporary Nigeria”, In: Ekpe, A.N (ed.) Management in Local Government, Lagos: Asbot Graphics, 2006.

Ina, K.E. Presbyterian Church in Nigeria: 1846-2005, Uyo: Minder International Publishers, 2005.

Jones,  G.I, Chieftaincy in the Former Eastern Region of Nigeria, In: Crowder, M. and Ikime O (eds.) West African Chiefs: Their Changing Status and Independence under Colonial Rule, Ife: University of Ile-Ife Press, 1970.

Okoko, E.U., Ubium History, Customs and Culture, Calabar: Paico Limited Press and Books, 1988.

Orewa, G. O. and Adewumi, J.B, Local Government in Nigeria: The Changing Scene, Benin: Ethiope Publishing Corp., 1983.

Post, K.W.J. and Vickers, M., Structure and Conflict in Nigeria, 1960-1965, Ibadan: Heinemann, 1973.

Report of Political Bureau, A Publication of the Directorate for Social Mobilization, 1987.

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Udoma, U., The Story of the Ibibio Union: Its Background, Emergence, Aims, Objectives and Achievements, Ibadan: Spectrum Books Limited, 1987.

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Umo, B.E., “Government and Law among the Ibibio”, In: Abasiattai, M.B. (eds), The Ibibio: An Introduction to the Land, the People and their Culture, Calabar: Alphonsus Akpan Printers, 1991.

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Interview with Chief Godwin Etim Etor, Atai Otoro, Abak LGA,  31/10/2009

Interview with Chief Akpe Ekong Imeh, Edem Idim, Ukanafun LGA,  31/10/2006




“Notes on Steve Biko”

Gloria Emeagwali



Steve  Biko was born in 1946,  in King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape,  two years before apartheid was officially started in South Africa,  in 1948. He   was an anti-apartheid  activist, political philosopher and strategist,  and one of the most  celebrated critics of  South Africa’s system of institutionalized racism and segregation - a system with roots in the  17th century, when  Dutch settler - colonists first arrived in South Africa.  Biko’s political activism  led to the creation of  the South African Student Organization (SASO), founded in 1969 at the University of the North,  as well as a movement  aimed at Black empowerment, Black Consciousness.  Biko’s  organizational wizardry and prowess  harnessed the forces of democratic activity, psychological awareness and  empowerment, and  energized  the anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and 1980s.

 At the age of thirty, Biko paid the ultimate price for his  anti-apartheid activity by brutal assassination at the behest of the  racist state, on September  12,  1977. Jimmy Kruger, the Minister of  Justice claimed that he died from  a  hunger strike. In reality, he was tortured to death.  His  horrific assassination generated international outrage. Biko was buried on  September 25, 1977 at what is now the Steve Biko Garden of Remembrance (Mangcu, 2014).  This article reflects on  Biko’s overall philosophy with respect to history, religion, politics and culture.




Socio- Economic and Political Discourse

Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like consists of eighteen illuminating addresses and speeches on the social, economic,  political, religious and  cultural  dimensions of South African society. It includes letters to various organizations, conference papers, interviews, trial documents, his reflections after tours of  Black campuses, and  articles on specific  philosophical issues related to  justice, righteousness, and freedom. Some of the latter were written with the   pseudonym, “Frank Talk."There are also   great policy statements, illuminating arguments, clarifications and insights, in a biography authored by Donald Woods,  that became the basis of Cry Freedom, the  movie. His trial in 1986, elicited incisive illuminating commentary and affirmations on the  prerequisites for radical transformation in a  new South Africa. In Millard Arnold’s edited work, Steve Biko, we have his last public statement, given during his trial in 1976.

 His contribution to Black political thought and  liberation endures and  in some quarters he is viewed as a major philosopher on  race discourse, and “South Africa’s greatest liberationist theorist.” His lucid expose of white supremacist thinking,  and his profound analysis of  various dimensions of  hegemonic control,  make Steve Biko’s writings indispensable for liberation philosophy, in particular, and political philosophy, in general.

Steve Bantu Biko was the pioneer and founder of Black Consciousness (BC), a comprehensive philosophical system,  viewed as a necessary component of  the  Black Consciousness movement.  One of Biko’s biographers, Xolela Mangcu, traced Black Consciousness to the  19th century Xhosa officials  and prophet intellectuals   who took up the struggle  against white settler colonists,  after the decimation of the Khoisan population. One of the aims of Black Consciousness was to produce  ‘real black people’ who do not regard themselves as ‘appendages to white society,’ -independent  actors  who would not be intimidated (Biko, 51). The fundamental aim of the  Black Consciousness Movement was  liberation, empowerment and freedom from oppression.  The expectation was that activism would facilitate the removal  from Blacks of “ shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude” Biko, 49. Freedom was not just about numerical  statistics of representation, but entailed  the attainment of “ the envisioned self,” which to him was  “the free self.”   Consciousness and pride in oneself, his or her  culture, indigenous religion and outlook, were key to self  liberation. For Biko, Blackness was a mental attitude,  and to declare oneself a   Black activist  meant that you were emboldened to challenge those for whom your Blackness was a stamp of servitude, weakness and subservience. Black Consciousness also had strategic significance,  in that, as a movement,  it enabled Black anger to be channeled into a potentially powerful direction for political action. In a non-exploitative egalitarian society,  Black Consciousness  might be irrelevant, perhaps, but  for Biko, that day was  well into the future.

The “evildoers” had produced “a kind of Blackman that was man only in form, from the output end of their machine” and Black Consciousness was designed to repair, restore and“pump back life” into the shell that he had become, said Biko (Biko, 29). The awe and deference at the white power structure,  would necessarily be challenged by Black Consciousness, he affirmed. The Black Consciousness Movement in conjunction with the  South African Student Organization (SASO) would fuse and regenerate  those  aspects of culture  that facilitated liberation of the mind as well as freedom from oppression. When asked about the kind of economic system that Black Consciouness supported, Steve Biko   proposed that Black Consciousness implied  “a socialist solution that is an authentic expression of  Black communalism”  (Woods, 122).

Steve Biko lamented the fact that a settler minority should impose “ an entire system of values on an indigenous people”  in the context of  racism, that he defined as “ a form of idolatry” (Biko, 21).  Blacks  were denied  their  humanity and  settler colonists installed themselves  as “perpetual rulers in a foreign land”, with the aim of  “the ruthless exploitation of black energy” - in the context of a white power structure.

Biko’s Views on  Religion

For Biko, religion was “a social institution attempting to explain what cannot be scientifically known about the origin and destiny of man" (Biko, 55). All religions  try to explain the origin and destiny of men and women in society, claim a monopoly of truth, and,  with the assistance of  ritualistic patterns and procedures, intricately bound with the cultural patterns and values of  society,  convey the central message of the respective religious systems.

African Traditional Religion had no concept of hell and was untainted by the   scary expectations of eternal flames that is central to the Christian theological narrative (Biko, 43). Neither were there  special edifices for worship in ATR, nor a bureaucracy that stunted it, as in the case of Christianity. ATR was not steeped in suspicion,  and emerged with a belief  in” the inherent goodness of man” Biko, 42. A community of  saints including ancestral spirits operated in a culture that was human-centered, and where communication was enjoyed for its own sake in the context of “situation-experiencing” values as opposed to an individualistic, problem solving, one. In his view,  Christianity aided and abetted in the  disempowerment of  Black believers by decrying as  “ pagan or barbaric”  various aspects of their indigenous culture (Biko, 56) . By introducing new forms of dress and clothing,  new forms of etiquette,  new spiritual values, and new medicinal techniques, indigenous methods were abandoned, even when of proven utility ( Biko pp. 40 - 47).

For Biko, Christianity enhanced the  “ rotten foundation” that the missionaries created on arrival (Biko, 31). He decried  the incredible gullibility of  the Black world  that  threw a blind eye to the fact that about eighty percent of the  bureaucracy of the church was concentrated in the hands of White people  who,  he claimed,  did not have the interest of Black people at heart (Biko, 57).  In the Christian church, all that was valuable was equated with whiteness and  whiteness equaled value. Black people were made to feel that they were “the unwanted step children of God” and stern- faced ministers in the religion heaped blame on an already burdened society (Biko, 56).  Blacks  "chant mea culpa, "while the whites "chant tua culpa," said Biko (Biko, 31). The  Black South African, according to Biko,  should be reminded of “his complicity in  the crime of allowing himself to be misused," and his permission “for evil  to rule supreme in the country of his birth” (Biko,31).  Biko argued that the Bible "should make it a sin to allow oneself to be oppressed'’ (Biko, 31).   He  concluded that Christianity was ‘the ideal religion for colonization’ and  the maintenance of  the subjugation of the colonized (Biko, 58). The  religion was “a turn- the- other- cheek religion”  in the face of destitution and poverty,  with a concentration on petty crime rather than  the major sins in society, ignoring the larger  fundamental  crimes -  the real  causes of starvation and suffering (Biko, 57). One of the fundamental challenges of Black theology was indeed to shift the emphasis from petty to major sins in society, he argued (Biko, 59). What worried Biko most about the Christian church was  the illusion of brotherhood, and the institutionalization of white domination. These tendencies had negative psychological implications for Black society, he pointed out.  Christianity was “ a cold cruel religion” that preached a theology of the existence of hell, “scaring our fathers and mothers with stories about burning, eternal flames and gnashing of teeth and  grinding of bones,”  he stated (Biko.  45). Religion and culture were closely related,  and  for Christianity to become  relevant, the message had to be  redefined in the context of Black Theology since, “the white god “has been doing the talking all along ” (Biko,30).   There was a   high degree of psychological unease and inadequateness in  Black  converts   especially in what he considered the  “colonialist- tainted” form of Christianity. 

 Biko argued that  believers should take note that  Jesus of the Bible was a fighting god  and not a god of inaction ( Biko 31). He  took  some of the Christian hymns and replaced their words with revolutionary verses (Mangcu, 26).  His collaboration on Black Theology with the University Christian Movement (UCM) should also be noted (Mangcu, 152). The latter built links with the South African Council of Churches, the Christian Institute, the South African Institute of Race Relations and the older white dominated student organization,  the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) . It also made links with the organization pioneered by Steve Biko, SASO.


White Liberals                                                                                               

White “liberals” were   seen by Biko as  “arrogant” advocates of  “false artificial integration.” For them integration was a response to “conscious maneuver”  rather than to “ the dictates of the inner soul” (Biko, 20).The integration  so achieved was “a one way course” with “the whites doing all the talking” and “the blacks, the listening” rather than a means to genuine democracy and development designed  to consolidate and perpetuate the white power structure (Biko, 20). He  decried a system of   integration that was arrived at without the  full participation of Blacks in all steps of the process. If integration meant that Blacks were shoved into a pre-determined and pre-established body of norms and values constructed by whites and run by whites, he was totally against it. Such an arrangement simply perpetuated  relations of dependence and servility and condemned Black people to perpetual dependence and subservience. In such an arrangement the Black person would be “a perpetual pupil” (Biko, 24).

 White liberals tended to extract  opportunistically what suited them  “from the exclusive pool of white privileges” (Biko, 65).  “Such agents of the white power structure, according to Biko, would invite  “ a few articulate and intelligent blacks”  for tea, ignoring the majority of the population and seeking to bribe a few Blacks here and there into silence and compliance (Biko, 21). They subconsciously shunned change and considered that the oppression of Blacks was “an eyesore spoiling an otherwise beautiful view”( Biko,22).  They  were increasingly  worried that “ their trusteeship ground”  was being “washed from under their feet” and sought to preempt this development as much as possible and for  as long as circumstances allowed (Biko, 25).   White liberals took pride in “doing things for blacks” but panicked when Black people sought to do things for themselves (Biko, 25). Token non-racialism in the context of a world of  “colourlessness” and “amorphous common humanity” could not  generate genuine freedom and  democracy, he argued (Biko, 50).

History, Culture and Democracy

According to Biko, the history of the Black man must be rewritten “to acknowledge the heroes who form the core of the African background” (Biko, 29). He points out that History has been used by the Boers and Dutch descendants to honor people like Kruger and to celebrate the defeat of Africans. History has been thus presented as a long period of victory by whites and a “lamentation” of failures for Blacks, all aimed at humiliating Africans and celebrating the settler colonist (Biko, 29). Indigenous clothing, etiquette, medical approaches, customs and beliefs have been generally described as “pagan and barbaric” leading to “increased feelings of unworthiness” and “psychological unease” (Biko 56). As a result of this manner of presenting the past, the African child learns to hate his heritage and to find solace in identifying with white society. The Black Consciousness Movement was therefore aimed at rectifying such anomalies and repairing the psychological damage caused by misinformation and illwill.

For Biko, democracy entailed policies that relied on tokenism and occasional visibility instead of genuine participation and representation. But people had to be active and be able to be pressure groups to collectively create and influence policy. Without such activism it would be difficult to channel energies in meaningful directions. Biko felt that the real underlying objective of “white domination” was to prepare the Black man “ for a subservient role” in the society (Biko, 28). For him, though, democracy implied participation and should not be linked to paternalism. In fact for Biko, freedom and democracy would not be given on a platter but had to be taken (Biko, 90). Blacks must assert themselves “and take their rightful place” (Biko, 21). In his view, “the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress” (Biko, 90). Biko’s ultimate goal was a democratic, non-racial, egalitarian society but he had no illusions about the high level of organization, mass action and determination that such a project entailed. According to him, the greatest danger was to lose oneself in an “amorphous, common humanity” and colorlessness, prematurely” (Biko, 50).

Biko was on the alert  for those who were willing to serve the interests of opponents aimed at  the fragmentation of the anti- apartheid movement. The real persons in support of the freedom movement were persons like Nelson Mandela in Robben Island, said Biko. He knew that his life was at risk  and was fully cognizant of the fact that the  renegade apartheid state could come down on him  at any moment using  some of these counter-revolutionaries to get at him. Biko expected that the apartheid regime would  give “preferential treatment” to some groups in order to divide and weaken the movement for freedom. The attempts at  “tribalization of the struggle” into Zulu, Tswana, Xhosa and other ethnicities,  alarmed him, and so, too, the creation of the Bantustans, that he considered to be “sophisticated concentration camps”  (Biko, 86).  “Frank Talk “was quick to point out the irony of the situation whereby the indigenous occupants of South Africa were relegated to thirteen percent of the land area by their “guests” (Biko, 86).

He   called for an end to the establishment of  Bantustans. He was equally aggrieved by the mass removals of Africans from Bantu areas, and the relentless application of  Pass Laws. The fragmentation of the Black Resistance  to such atrocious policies must be avoided at all cost, said Steve Biko (Biko, 82).  Be cautious about those who  promise “artificially integrated circles” to calm the masses,  appease their conscience and provide a “soporific to blacks,” warned the master philosopher (Biko, 64). Be cautious of an integration in which “black will compete with black, using each other as rungs up a step ladder leading them to white values”

 There would  be attempts by “frightened little people”  determined  “to control the minds and bodies of the  indigenous peoples of Africa indefinitely,”  he warned (Biko, 72).  As he stared into the crystal ball, in the 1970s, Biko cautioned that no group, however benevolent “will ever hand power to the vanquished on a plate (Biko, 90). When you  come to the roundtable to beg your opponents for freedom “you are asking for the contempt of those who have power over you” (Biko, 91).  Many of Biko’s observations were prophetic. 

US Foreign Policy

Biko wrote a memorandum  to Dick Clark, dated Jan. 12, 1976,  after his release from  101 days of detention.  In this note he stated that the United States had played a shameful role in its relations with South Africa, and pointed out that the liberation movement was taking stock of the roles played by the dominant world powers in either assisting or hurting the  struggle for freedom from oppression. According to Donald Woods, one of his biographers, Biko felt that the Communist Bloc was more likely to challenge the apartheid government  and agree to the sanctions  imposed by the United Nations,  than the United States. The oratory of Andrew Young was less helpful than the material aid of the Soviets in fighting apartheid, said Biko, who realized  that the attempts by Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela to get Western support  for the liberation  movement, had failed.  It was the Eastern  Bloc, along with  African countries, and the “Third World” countries of the day,  that provided assistance. He argued that Russia had no investments to protect in South Africa unlike the United States. According to Donald Woods, Biko perceived that the Carter administration had shifted from the policies of  his predecessors,  Presidents Nixon and  Ford but hoped that  Washington would initiate discussions with opponents of the apartheid regime, and the authentic leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle,  and   pursue  policies  of disinvestment.



Biko was brutally tortured at the Pretoria prison where he spent his last days.  On September 12, 1977,  his lifeless body became the focus of the international community and from that moment his name became a household name in many regions around the world. About four decades after his untimely death, we observe that his insights on gullibility, betrayal, divisiveness and  illusionary power,  remain even more relevant  than  we anticipated. His words of wisdom and  political instruction have become guidelines for  transformation. The solidarity  he tried to forge among Indians, Africans, and the so-called  “Coloureds,”  and  his determination to form alliances across  organizations, seem to be  no less meaningful  in the post-apartheid era than  before it.  His statements have become  quotable citations. Political philosophy has been enriched by his brilliance.

We note that scholars  and performing artists around the world  have honored Biko’s incredible courage,  in papers, scholarly books and articles, literary works, music and dance,  film and performances. He is celebrated on  T -shirts, bumper stickers, cups, calendars  and caps. Protest songs, poetry, children literature, memorial lectures, conferences, scholarly books and articles, film and television shows, and websites are among the long list of  celebratory contributions of recognition and appreciation for the  radical  icon who is  still seen as a martyr by many people around the world,  more than four decades after his assassination.



Badat, Saleem. Black Student Politics, Higher Education and Apartheid. 

From SASO to  SANSCO 1968 -1990. Human Sciences Research  Council..

South Africa, Pretoria, 1999

Biko, Steve. I Write What I Like: Selected Writings. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978. 

Gibson, Nigel. Fanonian  Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali

Basemjondolo. Scottsville, South Africa: UKZN Press and  NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Khoapa, Bennie and Kritzinger  JNJ. The  Legacy of Stephen Bantu Biko: Theological Challenges.  Pretoria: RITR, UNISA, 2008 Millard, A Steve Biko: Black Consciousness in South Africa; Biko's Last Public Statement and Political Testament. NY: Vintage, 1979.

Mangcu. Xolela. Biko: A Life. I.B Tauris, 2014

Mngxitama, Andile and Alexander, Amanda.   Biko Lives: Contesting the Legacies of Steve Biko . NY: Palgrave Macmillan,  2008 Hill, Shannen.  Biko's Ghost: The Iconography of Black Consciousness. University of Minnesota Press,  2015

Tutu, Desmond  and Manuel, T. The Steve Biko Memorial Lectures 2000-2008. NY: Macmillan & The Steve Biko Foundation, 2011

 Van Wyk, C. We Write What We Like: Celebrating Steve. Johannesburg:Wits University Press,  2007

Wilson, L. Steve Biko . Athens: Ohio University Press,  2012

Woods, D. Biko .The True Story of the Young South African Martyr and His Struggle to Raise Black Consciousness. NY: Henry Holt, 1978.








Cry Freedom. Dir. By Richard Attenborough.


 Hirschman. Homage to Steve Biko,  1975.


The  poem was composed before his assassination.

Biko’s Kindred Lament  in  Tribute to the Martyrs. Island Records, 1979.

The Life and Death of Steve Biko. ITV. 1977

Chris Van Wyk. In Detention. See the celebrated poem in

Midnight Marauders.

 A Tribe called Quest. Jive Records, 1993.Album

Film adaptation of Norman Fenton and Jon Blair, The Biko Inquest, 1985.

Benjamin Zephaniah,        Biko-The Greatness

in Too Black Too Strong. Bloodaxe Books,2001.

 Biko. “Peter Gabriel.” Charisma Record  Label,1980. Album




Gloria Emeagwali 
Chief Editor

Walton Brown-Foster
Copy Editor

Haines Brown




ISSN  1526-7822


Olayemi Akinwumi 

Ayele Bekerie

Osakue Omoera

Alfred Zack-Williams 
(Sierra Leone)

Gumbo Mishack

(South Africa)




Chad Tower,                                Institutional Marketing, CCSU


Jennifer Nicoletti
Academic Technology, CCSU

For more information concerning AfricaUpdate
Prof. Gloria Emeagwali
CCSU History Dept.
1615 Stanley Street
New Britain, CT 06050
Tel: 860-832-2815