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Ndigbo are our brothers

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Fashola-

Governor Babatunde Fashola

MY sources of inspiration for this piece are The Guardian Editorial, April 15, 2015, titled: “The end of hate”, and Dr. Jide Oluwajuyiton’s piece in The Nation of April 16, 2015 titled: “In defence of Oba Akiolu of Lagos”.

Both comments originated from the Oba’s alleged mordant remarks the other day on the Ndigbo. I am not inclined to repeat the statement here because of the ire it drew from the concerned citizenry.

Suffice to say, however, that as odious as it might sound, the Oba of Lagos did not entirely deserve the spleen that was vented on him. There are two sides to a coin. Invariably, the two sides ought to be considered to reach a judicious conclusion. From the outset, the reading public must be aware of the affinity between the Yoruba and the Ndigbo of Onitsha.

After all, the state has Ndigbo son in the service of its government under Governor Raji Fashola as a Commissioner for well over four years now.

Another is the Lagos State Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Joe Igbokwe, from Nnewi in Anambra State. I learnt that those five chiefs who founded Onitsha were from Oba of Benin’s Palace in Edo. And the Oba of Benin was the third son of Oduduwa from Ile-Ife.

That is why in Yoruba language, there is the word ‘Oba’ (king) which is “Obi” in Onitsha Igbo. Oba of Benin or the Oba of Lagos in Yorubaland has identical status with the Obi of Onitsha as the traditional ruler. That is why Onitsha indigenes share the same characteristics with the Yoruba people – peaceful, civil and accommodating. Both live in harmony with other races. We are all brothers and sisters. That is my conviction.

There had been skirmishes, though. I remember vividly that as far back as 1947, the Ndigbo in Lagos exhausted all available cutlasses and machetes in shops for the purpose of fighting their hosts.

I witnessed the development, which remains evergreen in my memory. I always draw from personal experiences to buttress my arguments. And this is what I do in this piece.

If we sincerely mean to minimise hate between Yoruba and Ndigbo, we need to dig deep to rationalise if the Ndigbo do not have eternal hatred for the Yoruba. In 1951, under the electoral system of the then new Constitution, there was an election in the West, and which the Action group won.

Till date, our Ndigbo brothers still allude to it to claim that the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo rigged that election conducted during the tenure of colonial Lieutenant-Governor – The Nigerian (Constitution) Order-in-Council, 1951.

It was not rigged. The reality was that when the Action Group was formed in March 1951, it was with the specific objective of capturing power in the West, besides other attractive objectives. Of course, there was the threat of the Ndigbo domination under a unitary system of government.

The NCNC wanted a unitary system, whilst the AG’s argument was that Federal System would afford the races in the country to develop at their own pace. This argument scored victory for the Action Group, and not rigging.

The Ndigbo assumed wrongly that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was rigged out of power in the West. It was that electoral loss of 1951 that perhaps still rings in the memory of Ndigbo till date.

It also accounted for the inability of the NCNC and the AG to coalesce after the 1959 elections. That suspected Igbo envy of the Yoruba still persists, except that in the federal elections of 1964, it nearly terminated with the formation of United Peoples Grand Alliance (UPGA) between the NCNC and the AG. So, Ndigbo’s strained relationship with the Yoruba is primordial.

The year 1951 is a long way to 2015. There is a Yoruba saying: “We must forget the ugly past, so as to live together in harmony”. But are the Ndigbo ready to forget the past? Then the Civil War, 1967 to 1970.

The war could have dragged much longer, but for the late Chief Awolowo’s advice of “Hunger is a veritable weapon of war” which many termed infamous. The situation was that the Federal Government, under General Yakubu Gowon, provided a safe corridor for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to bring in foods, drinks and medical supplies to the war-devastated Eastern Region.

Instead of distributing these materials to the impoverished masses, the military top brass monopolized them for their exclusive consumption. In retaliation of the “hunger policy”, during his electioneering campaigns of 1979, Awo’s helicopter was attacked with missiles in the East, ostensibly to crash-land it.

The Ndigbo branded him and the Yoruba as enemies. I leave the perception of the real enemy to individual judgments. In my younger days, I had the good fortune of teaching in a predominantly Igbo-populated school that belonged to the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Falomo, Ikoyi, Lagos. It was a mixture of Ndigbo and Yoruba staff under an Igbo headmistress.

She was from Onitsha, now in Anambra State.

I still remember this, because she was accustomed to boasting among the cosmopolitan staff: “I am a true daughter of Onitsha”. The camaraderie among us was such that I was imbued with the notion and ambition of marrying an Igbo girl. The passion was strong that I did not consider racial differences.

As a young Nigerian, I reasoned: “It makes for one Nigeria”. One day, the Lagos-born girl pointedly told me: “I cannot marry outside my Owerri village in the Eastern Region, let alone doing so with an Ijebuman in Yorubaland”. I could hardly recover my composure until few days after. That was 55 years ago.

My friends had nastier experiences to narrate. The girl was deliberately fed with that garbage. My idea of racial unity was shaken to its very foundation; I was disenchanted.

My personal love disaster with the Igbo girl from Owerri is not all. It is just the tip of the iceberg. In the old Daily Times of Nigeria Plc, I know the extent of discriminations suffered from the two editors under whom I served in the Books and Periodicals sections; it was hell on earth.

Truth must be told, if hate is to sincerely end, Oba Akiolu might be indiscreet in his expressions, but occasional outburst of that nature is desirable, instead of being soft and cajoling to string along the accused in the wrong direction.

The reason for persistence of the unwholesome attitude on display is that the truth is avoided so as not offend the other party. Why not point out the imperfections in one race so as to curb them, instead of perpetuating them? On the whole, how can we tackle perennial hate? First, we must all realize that no one ethnic group or extraction is the enemy of the other.

Second, there must be campaigns against persisting racism and xenophobia. The exercise must begin from the rural, local and state levels. At the local level, it must begin from the elementary schools. Third, the elders must desist from poisoning the minds of youths with cock-and-bull stories, twisting history to arouse hostility amongst other races in the country.

The seeds of discord must be scorched. Fourth, there must be the realization that other major ethnic stocks in the country are peaceful and accommodating. In most places in Yorubaland, non-indigenes settle down to pursue their legitimate businesses, particularly farming. If England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland co-exist peacefully in the United Kingdom, why not so in a racially-heterogeneous Nigeria? •Oshisada, a veteran journalist, wrote from Ikorodu, Lagos.


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