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The Bitter Truth About The Igbo, By Femi Fani-Kayode
Permit me to make my second and final contribution to the raging debate about Lagos, who owns it and the seemingly endless tensions that exist between the Igbo and the Yoruba. It is amazing how one or two of the numerous nationalities that make up Nigeria secretly wish that they were Yoruba and consistently lay claim to Lagos as being partly theirs. Have they forgotten where they came from? I have never heard of a Yoruba wanting to give the impression to the world that he is an Igbo, an Ijaw, an Efik or a Hausa-Fulani or claiming that he is a co-owner of Port Harcourt, Enugu, Calabar, Kano or Kaduna. Yet more often than not, some of those that are not of Yoruba extraction but that have lived in Lagos for some part of their lives have tried to claim that they are bona fide Lagosians and honorary members of the Yoruba race.
Clearly it is time for us to answer the nationality question. These matters have to be settled once and for all. Lagos and the South-west are the land and the patrimony of the Yoruba and we will not allow anyone, no matter how fond of them we may be, to take it away from us or share it with us in the name of ”being nice”, ”patriotism”, ”one Nigeria” or anything else. The day that the Yoruba are allowed to lay claim to exactly the same rights and privileges that the indigenous people in non-Yoruba states and zones enjoy and the day they can operate freely and become commissioners and governors in the Niger Delta states, the North, the Middle Belt and the South-east, we may reconsider our position. But up until then, we shall not do so. Lagos is not a ”no-man’s land” but the land and heritage of the Yoruba people. Others should not try to claim what is not theirs.
I am not involved in this debate for fun or for political gain and I am not participating in it to play politics but rather to speak the truth, to present the relevant historical facts to those that wish to learn and to educate the uninformed. That is why I write without fear or favour and that is why I intend to be thoroughly candid and brutally frank in this essay. And I am not too concerned or worried about what anyone may think or how they may feel about what I am about to say because I am a servant of truth and the truth must be told no matter how bitter it is and no matter whose ox is gored. That truth is as follows. The Yoruba, more than any other nationality in this country in the last 100 years, have been far too accommodating and tolerant when it comes to their relationship with other nationalities in this country and this is often done to their own detriment. That is why some of our Igbo brothers can make some of the sort of asinine remarks and contributions that a few of them have been making in this debate both in the print media and in numerous social media portals and networks ever since Governor Fashola ”deported” 19 Igbo destitute back to Anambra state a while ago. In the last 80 years, the Igbo have been shown more generosity, accommodation, warmth and kindness and given more opportunities and leverage by the Yoruba than they have been offered by ANY other ethnic group in Nigeria. This is a historical fact. The Yoruba do not have any resentment for the Igbo and we have allowed them to do in our land and our territory what they have never allowed us to do in theirs. This has been so for 80 long years and it is something that we are very proud of. As I said elsewhere recently, to be accommodating and generous is a mark of civilisation and it comes easily to people that once had empires. The reason why many of our people take strong exception to the apparent outrage of the Igbo over this ”deportation” issue and the provocative comments of my friend and brother Chief Orji Uzor Kalu when he described Lagos as being a ”no man’s land” is because the Igbo have not only taken us for granted but they have also taken liberty for licence.
We cannot be expected to tolerate or accept that sort of irreverent and unintelligent rubbish simply because we still happen to believe in ”one Nigeria” and we will not sacrifice our rights or prostitute our principles on the alter of that ”one Nigeria”. Whether Nigeria is one or not, what is ours is ours and no one should test our resolve or make any mistake about that. ”One Nigeria” yes but no one should spit in our faces or covet our land, our treasure, our success, our history, our virtues, our being and our heritage and attempt to claim those for themselves simply because we took them in on a rainy day. It is that same attitude of ”we own everything”, ”we must have everything” and ”we must control everything” that the Igbo settlers manifested in the northern region in the late 50’s and early and mid-60’s that got them into so much trouble up there with the Hausa-Fulani and that eventually led to the terrible pogroms where almost one hundred thousand of them were killed in just a few days. Again it is that same attitude that they manifested in Lagos and the Western Region in the late ’30’s and the early and mid-40’s that alienated the Yoruba from them, that led to the establishment of the Action Group in April, 1951 and that resulted in the narrow defeat of Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe in the Western Regional elections of December, 1951. As a matter of fact they were the ones that FIRST introduced tribalism into southern politics in 1945 with the unsavoury comments of Mr. Charles Dadi Onyeama who was a member of the Central Legislative Council representing Enugu and who said at the Igbo State Union address that ”the domination of Nigeria and Africa by the Igbo is only a matter of time”.
That single comment, made in that explosive and historic speech, did more damage to southern Nigerian unity than any other in the entire history of our country and everything changed from that moment on. To make matters worse, in July 1948, Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe made his own openly tribal and incendiary speech, again at the Igbo State Union, in which he spoke about the ”god of the Igbo” eventually giving them the leadership of Nigeria and Africa. These careless and provocative words cost him dearly and put a nail in the coffin of the NCNC in the Western Region from that moment on. This was despite the fact that that same NCNC, which was easily the largest and most powerful political party in Nigeria at the time, had been founded and established by a great and illustrious son of the Yoruba by the name of Herbert Macauley. Macauley, like most of the Yoruba in his day, saw no tribe and he happily handed the leadership of the party over to Azikiwe, an Igbo man, in 1945 when he was on his dying bed. How much more can the Yoruba do than that when it comes to being blind to tribe? Can there be any greater evidence of our total lack of racial prejudice and tribal sentiments than that? If the NCNC had been founded and established by an Igbo man, would he have handed the whole thing over to a Yoruba on his death bed? I doubt it very much.
Again when northern military officers mutinied, effected their ”revenge coup” and went to kill the Igbo military Head of State, General Aguiyi-Ironsi on July 29th 1966 in the old Western Region, his host, the Yoruba Col. Fajuyi (who was military Governor of the Western Region at the time), insisted that they would have to kill him first before taking Aguiyi-Ironsi’s life and the northern officers (led by Major T.Y. Danjuma as he then was) promptly obliged him by slaughtering him before killing Aguiyi-Ironsi. How many Igbo know about that and how many times in our history have they made such sacrifices for the Yoruba? Would Aguiyi-Ironsi, or any other Igbo officer, have stood for Fajuyi, or any other Yoruba officer, and sacrificed his life for him in the same way that Fajuyi did had the roles been reversed? I doubt it very much. Yet instead of being grateful the Igbo continuously run us down, blame us for all their woes, envy our educational advantages and resent us deeply for our ability to excel in the professions and commerce. Unlike them, we were never traders but we were (and still are) industrialists and when it comes to the professions we were producing lawyers, doctors, accountants and university graduates at least three generations before they ever did. That is the bitter truth and they have been trying to catch up with us ever since. For example the first Yoruba lawyer Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams was called to the English Bar in 1879 whilst the first Igbo lawyer, Sir Louis Mbanefo, was called to the English bar in 1937. Again the first Yoruba medical practitioner, Dr. Nathaniel King, graduated in 1875 from the University of Edinburgh whilst the first Igbo medical practitioner, Dr. Akannu Ibiam, graduated from another Scottish University in 1935.
Yet despite all this and all that they have been through over the years and despite their terrible experiences in the civil war we are witnessing that same attitude of ”we must control all”, ”we must own all” and ”we must have all” rearing its ugly head again today when it comes to their attitude to the issue of the deportations from Lagos state and when you consider the comments of the Orji Kalu’s of this world about the Igbo supposedly ”owning Lagos” with the Yoruba and supposedly ”generating 55 per cent of the state’s revenue”. It is most insulting.
And I must say that it is wrong and unfair for anyone to lay the blame for the perennial suspicion and underlying tensions that lie between the two nationalities on the Yoruba because that is far from the truth. We are not the problem, they are. Pray tell me, in the whole of Nigeria who treated the Igbo better than the Yoruba after the civil war and who gave them somewhere to run to where they could regain all their ”abandoned property” and feel at home again? Who encouraged them to return to Lagos and the West and who saved the jobs that they held before the civil war for them to come back to when the war ended? No other tribe or nationality did all that for them in the country- only the Yoruba did so. And the people of the old Mid-West and the Eastern minorities (who make up the zone that is collectively known as the ”south-south’ today) have always viewed them with suspicion, have always feared them and have always resented them deeply. From the foregoing, any objective observer can tell that we the Yoruba have always played our part when it comes to accommodating others. This is particularly so when it comes to the Igbo who we have always had a soft spot for and who we have always regarded as brothers and sisters. It is time that those ”others” also play their part by acquiring a little more humility, by knowing and accepting their place in the scheme of things and by desisting from giving the impression that they own our territory or that they made us what we are.
Now, let us look at a few historical facts and one or two more Igbo ”firsts’ that many may not be familiar with to buttress the point. The Igbo people were the FIRST to carry out a failed coup on the night of Jan 15th, 1966 under the leadership of Major Emmanuel Ifejuna, Major Chukuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, Major Christian Anuforo, Capt. Ben Gbulie, Major Timothy Onwatuegwu, Major Donatus Okafor, Capt. Ude, Capt. Emmanuel Nwobosi, Captain Udeaja, Lt. Okafor, Lt. Okocha, Lt. Anyafulu, Lt. Okaka, Lt. EzedIgbo, Lt. Amunchenwa, Lt. Nwokedi, 2nd Lt. J.C. Ojukwu, 2nd Lt. Ngwuluka, 2nd Lt. Ejiofor, 2nd Lt. Egbikor, 2nd Lt. Igweze, 2nd Lt. Onyefuru, 2nd Lt. Nwokocha, 2nd Lt. Azubuogu and 2nd Lt. Nweke in which they drew FIRST blood and openly slaughtered and butchered leading politicians and army officers from EVERY single zone in the country except their own.
I should also mention that even though this was clearly an Igbo coup there was one Yoruba officer who was amongst the ringleaders by the name of Major Adewale Ademoyega. It was a very bloody night indeed. Amongst those killed were the Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa, the Premier of the Western Region, Chief S.L. Akintola, the Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Federal Minister of Finance, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Brigadier Zakari Maimalari, Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun, Colonel Ralph Shodeinde, Lt . Colonel James Yakubu Pam, Lt. Colonel Abogo Largema and numerous others. They did not just kill these revered and respected leaders but in some cases they mocked, tortured and maimed them before doing so, took pictures of their dead and mutilated bodies and killed their wives and children as well. For weeks after these horrific acts were carried out, the Igbo people rejoiced and celebrated them in the streets and markets of the north, openly displaying pictures and posters of the Saurdana’s mutilated body with Nzeogwu’s boot on his neck, loudly playing a famous and deeply offensive anti-northern song in which northerners were compared to goats and listening to it on their radios, jubilating that they had brought an end to what they described as ”northern rule and Islamic domination” and openly boasting that they themselves would now ”rule Nigeria forever”. Though the first coup failed the matter did not end there.
The very next day after the Jan.15th mutiny and butchery had failed and did not result in Ifejuana taking power in Lagos, the Igbo people set their ”plan B” in motion and they were the FIRST to carry out a successful coup in Nigeria just one day later on Jan. 17th 1966. This was when the Igbo Major-General J.T,U. Aguiyi-Ironsi (who was Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Army and who had inexplicably and suspiciously not been murdered by the young Igbo officers in their violent mutiny and killing spree the night before) in collusion with the Igbo Acting President Nwafor Orizu and the entire Igbo political leadership of that day, invited the remnants of Sir Tafawa Balewa’s cabinet to a closed door meeting, threatened their lives and took power from them at the point of a gun. Aguiyi-Ironsi did not just ask them to give him power but he took it from them by force by telling them that he could not guarantee their safety if they refused to do so. Meanwhile Orizu point blank refused to do his duty as Acting President and swear in Zana Bukar Dipcharimma as the Acting Prime Minster when the members of the cabinet and the British Ambassador (who was also at the meeting) implored him to do so since by that time there was a power vacuum because the Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa, had gone missing and had probably been murdered. It was in these very suspicious circumstances and as a consequence of this murky and deep-seated Igbo conspiracy that General Aguiyi-Ironsi came to power. Amongst those that were present at that famous ”meeting” that are still alive today are Alhaji Maitama Sule, Chief Richard Akinjide and President Shehu Shagari who were all Ministers in Balewa’s cabinet . Those that doubt the veracity of my account of this meeting would do well to ask any of them exactly what transpired during that encounter.
Yet the seeming success of the conspiracy was short-lived. Only six months later, on July 29th 1966, General Aguiyi-Ironsi and no less than 300 Igbo army officers reaped the consequences of their actions and plot when they were all slaughtered in just one night during the northern officers revenge coup which was led by Lt. Colonel Murtala Mohammed, Major Abba Kyari, Captain Martins Adamu, Major T.Y. Danjuma, Major Musa Usman, Captain Joseph Garba, Captain Shittu Alao, Captain Baba Usman, Captain Gibson S.Jalo and Captain Shehu Musa Yar’adua as they then were. Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon was put in power by this group after that and a few weeks later between September 29th 1966 and the middle of October of that same year approximately 50,000 Igbo civilians were attacked and slaughtered in a series of horrendous pogroms in the north by violent northern mobs as a reprisal for the killing of the northern leaders, including Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Saurdana of Sokoto, by Major Nzeogwu, Major Ifejuna and other junior Igbo officers on the night of Jan. 15th 1966. Please note that despite the fact that a number of Yoruba leaders were killed on that night as well no Igbo civilians were massacred anywhere in the west by mobs in reprisal killings throughout that period.
The Igbo understandably left the north in droves after those terrible pogroms and fled back to the east from whence they came. And perhaps that would have been the end of the story but for the fact that they also declared secession and sought to dismember Nigeria. They then made their biggest mistake of all by provoking a full scale military conflict with Nigeria when they launched a vicious and unprovoked attack against the rest of the south attacking and conscripting the eastern minorities , storming the Mid-West and attempting to enter Yorubaland through Ore to capture it. Thankfully they were stopped in their tracks by the gallant efforts and courageous fighting skills of the Third Marine Commando (which was primarily a Yoruba force and which was under the command of the great Colonel Benjamin Adekunle, ‘the Black Scorpion’), prevented from entering the west, driven out of the Mid-West, pushed back into the East, defeated in battle after battle and were eventually brought down to their knees and forced to surrender to the Federal forces in Enugu.
The Igbo and their Biafra fought Nigeria and killed Nigerians for three hard years in that brutal civil war in which over one million courageous, loyal and faithful sons and daughters of the Federal Republic lost their lives at the war front trying to stop Biafra from seceding from the federation, from taking our land and from taking the minority groups of the Mid-Western Region and Eastern Region and our newly-discovered oil with them. Yet despite our massive casualties and the monumental loss of life that the Federal side suffered (a total of 2 million died on both sides) the Igbo people were welcomed back into Nigeria after the war with open arms. Yet it was only in Yorubaland and especially in Lagos that they were given all their ”abandoned property” back and welcomed back as brothers and sisters without any reservations or suspicions whatsoever. Everywhere else in the country for many years they were denied, deprived, shunned, attacked, killed, discriminated against and humiliated but never in the southwest or Lagos. It is the Igbo people more than any other that have complained about marginalisation in Nigeria, forgetting that there is no other country in the world in which there was a major civil war and yet only 10 years after that war ended the losing side produced the Vice President for the whole country in a democratic election in 1979 in the distinguished person of Vice President Alex Ekwueme.
Some have described my submissions in this debate as being ”inflammatory” and have claimed that I am ”not a true progressive” for making them. I reject these labels and I wonder whether those people that conjured them up described the comments of my dear friend and brother Chief Orji Kalu as “inflammatory” and whether they labelled him as ”not being a true progressive” when he erroneously claimed that the Igbo generated 55 per cent of the revenue and owned 55 per cent of businesses in Lagos and that they are effectively the owners of the state. Unlike most of those that are attempting to label me and brand me as a tribalist I know the history of Lagos and the Yoruba very well.
We will not let anyone poison the minds of our Yoruba youth or dispossess them of their heritage by keeping silent when we witness the irresponsible and dishonest propagation of the most desperate and despicable form of historical revisionism that some Igbo leaders are suddenly churning out. If anyone thinks that they can intimidate us into keeping quite when their leaders say such things then they will have the biggest shocker of their lives. We shall not be silenced and they shall not pass. Lagos and the Yoruba generally have much stronger historical, cultural and trading ties with the Bini, the Itsekiri, the Urhobo, the Isoko, the Hausa-Fulani, the Tapas, the Nupes and the Ijaws than they do with the Igbo. The input of those other major ethnic groups to the development of Lagos and their stake in her is far greater than that of the Igbo. Whether anyone wishes to accept it or not that is the bitter truth. We will not let anyone distort history and we will not keep silent when we hear the irresponsible and disrespectful effusions of those that seek to substitute truth with falsehood. When it comes to Lagos it is time that everyone respected themselves and knew their place. The Igbo particularly should display a much higher degree of respect and gratitude to those who were gracious enough to accept them in their land as equals when things were very difficult for them and who treated them with love, respect and kindness after the civil war when hardly anyone else was prepared to do so.
We the Yoruba have accommodated others in Lagos and throughout the South-west and we have let them live in peace for the last 100 years. As a matter of fact we have been glad to do so because as far as we are concerned that is one of the hallmarks of civilisation- the ability to accommodate other faiths, other cultures, other races and other nationalities and to create an equitable and just racial melting pot where equal opportunities are available to all. It is a great and noble virtue to be open and tolerant but that does not mean that we are fools and it does not mean that we do not know who we are, where we are coming from, what is ours and what our heritage is.
The fact that we have allowed others to thrive and settle in our land and share it with us does not mean that we have stopped owning that land. The suggestion that Lagos is a ”no-man’s land’ and that the Igbo or any other nationality outside the Yoruba generate up to 55 per cent of it’s revenue or business is absolutely absurd and frankly it has no basis in reality or rationality. It is not only a dirty lie but it is also very insulting. Guests, no matter how welcome, esteemed, cherished and valued they are, cannot become the owners of the house no matter how comfortable they are made to feel within it. Those guests will always be guests. Lagos belongs to the Yoruba and to the Yoruba alone. ALL others that reside there are guests, though some guests are far closer to us than others. The Igbo are the least close, the most distant and the least familiar with our customs and our ways. They ought to be the last to be claiming our heritage and coveting our land and neither can they claim to have made any real input to our glaring success. For them to think otherwise is nothing but delusion.