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More than fifty years earlier, the United Kingdom had carved an area out of West Africa containing hundreds of different ethnic groups and unified it, calling it Nigeria.
The three predominant groups were the Igbo, which formed between 60–70% of the population in the southeast; the Hausa-Fulani, which formed about 65% of the peoples in the northern part of the territory; and the Yoruba, which formed about 75% of the population in the southwestern part.
In its zenith the Kingdom controlled most of Igbo land, including influence on the Anioma people, Arochukwu (which controlled slavery in Igbo), and Onitsha land.
Unlike the other two regions, decisions within the Igbo communities were made by a general assembly in which men could participate.
Although these groups have their own homelands, by the 1960s the peoples were dispersed across Nigeria, with all three ethnic groups represented substantially in major cities.
When the war broke out in 1967, there were still 5,000 Igbo in Lagos.
The Hausa-Fulani commoners, having contact with the political system only through a village head designated by the Emir or one of his subordinates, did not view political leaders as amenable to influence. As with all other authoritarian and liberal religious and political systems, leadership positions were given to persons willing to be subservient and loyal to superiors.
The semi-feudal and Islamic Hausa-Fulani in the North were traditionally ruled by a feudal, conservative Islamic hierarchy consisting of Emirs who, in turn, owed their allegiance to a supreme Sultan.
This Sultan was regarded as the source of all political power and religious authority.
With their emphasis upon social achievement and political participation, the Igbo adapted to and challenged colonial rule in innovative ways.
These tradition-derived differences were perpetuated and perhaps enhanced by the British system of colonial rule in Nigeria.
The Yoruba political system in the southwest, like that of the Hausa-Fulani, also consisted of a series of monarchs, the Oba.