I had the privilege of attending some meetings of the Yoruba and Igbo Leaders. I was not a leader but a youth who knew how to wash his hands.
At one of those meetings in Owerri, I think in 1989, I think, I listened to Uncle Bola Ige and other Yoruba Leaders take the likes of Mbakwe, R. B. Okafor and others to the cleaners when the Igbo said the Yoruba were betrayers, citing that Chief Obafemi Awolowo led them into secession with a promise that if the Igbo left Nigeria, the Yoruba would follow suit.
They accused him of not following up on his promise. Trust Uncle Bola Ige! He pointed to Chief Mbakwe and said, “you were there in the meeting between Awolowo and Ojukwu as I was. Is that statement correct?”.He turned to two other Igbo and two Yoruba Leaders who were at that meeting and asked the same question, saying he had transcripts of the meeting between Awolowo and Ojukwu.
They kept quiet while the Yoruba Leaders affirmed that Awolowo never promised to follow the East into secession. What he said was that if the Igbo were “driven” out of Nigeria the Yoruba would take it seriously and reassess their own position. Igbo Leaders DID NOT CONTEST this version. Then Chief Bola Ige threw in the clincher! “Who are you to accuse the Yoruba of betrayal?” he roared, and continued:
1. At Independence, Awolowo offered a joint government between the NCNC and AG, with Zik as Prime Minister and Awo as Finance Minister. Awo and Zik “were still negotiating” when it was announced that Zik would be President in a coalition with NPC of the North. The East then collaborated in destroying the West and sending Awolowo and his lieutenants to jail!
2. What of the 1965 elections which the West and the East agreed to boycott? We met all night and reached agreement about 3am on the day of the election. In the morning, while the Yoruba boycotted the election, the Igbo went to vote
3. After the 1979 elections Yoruba (UPN) and Igbo (APP?) Leaders were still at the negotiating table for a coalition when to their surprise, an announcement was heard that the Igbo (NPP) had agreed to a coalition with the North (NPN)
4. After the 1983 elections, 1979 repeated itself. Not giving up, Awolowo reached out to Azikiwe again for cooperation. Talks started and they met in Benin where Awo pleaded passionately that only a collaboration between The Igbo and the Yoruba could save Nigeria. They didn’t reach agreement but promised to meet again. Before the next meeting, the Igbo had again teamed up with the North
Uncle Bola paused and then continued “we can go on and on. So how dare you accuse the Yoruba of betrayal? How many Igbo have been killed in Lagos, Ibadan, Akure, Oshogbo (he mentioned other Yoruba towns)? You have your businesses in the West and went to Western schools. Yet you count the Yoruba as your enemy. You get killed in Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi, Zaria etc and have your goods looted yet you consider the Hausa/ Fulani your friends. It’s your choice. If you want to be slaves forever, we can’t help you”
I had never been so scared in my life. I thought the roof was going to fall. There was a pin drop silence and no Igbo dared interrupt Uncle Bola Ige because he was telling the truth. The Yoruba Leaders ended the meeting at that point and left. I hope Chief C. O. Adebayo’s memoirs will give more details of those exchanges.
Now to make three points from all this:
A. The Yoruba have been stretching their hand across the Niger for a handshake for a long time. The Igbo refused to take it for a long time until recently
B. Many Igbo Leaders of the 70s, 80s and 90s deliberately perpetrated the legend of Awolowo’s role betraying them into the civil war and his role in prosecuting the war, to rally the Igbo population behind themselves. The Igbo agreed on Yoruba hatred than on any other issue. So it was the fabric that held them together for a long time
C. Time heals all things. Many Igbo reading this will be hearing for the first time that their leaders of old knew for a truth that Awolowo did not break his word to Ojukwu as alleged.
The Yorubas have always loved the Igbos more than the Igbos loved the Yorubas. Awolowo and his Action Group were ready in 1959 to form a coalition Government with the NCNC which would have given the NCNC and the Action Group coalition Government a narrow majority to push the NPC into the Opposition in Nigeria in preparation for Nigeria’s independence on October 1st, 1960.
The Yorubas and the Hausa /Fulani block also share part of the blame. Just like the Igbo-dominated NCNC under Azikiwe did not want any meaningful collaboration with the Yoruba dominated Action Group led by Awolowo,, the same Action Group did not want any collaboration with the North for the reasons I stated in part 1 and the North was always going back into a coalition with the Igbo-dominated party without making any serious attempt to woo the Yoruba dominated Action Group for a change. There was plenty of blame to go around.
The only Nigerian politician who made a serious attempt to change the status quo was Samuel Ladoke Akintola but he did it in a way that made him look like a Judas Iscariot. But what he did was the right thing to do in hindsight. He drastically changed the calculus of Nigerian Politics by rejecting Awolowo’s intransigence never to consider going into a coalition with the NPC. He immediately formed his Democratic Party in the Western Region which went into a coalition with the NPC/NCNC coalition at the Federal level thereby creating a counter force to the Igbos in that NPC/ NCNC coalition.
The Igbos did not appreciate what Akintola did because they knew their game was over. They could no longer continue to dominate most of the federal jobs that could not go to the northerners because they did not have the education to hold such positions in the Public Service. Richard Akinjide became Federal Minister of Education because of the move and one of the first things he did was to start correcting the lopsided imbalance. The Igbos did not forgive Akinjide or Akintola till tomorrow but the two Yoruba leaders did the right thing. I was in the Federal Public Service at the time and I knew that Richard Akinjide did what he had to do to put the Yorubas back in contention at the federal level.
The Igbos preferred a Government headed by Tafawa Balewa to the one proposed by Awolowo which would have been headed by Azikiwe as Prime Minister and Awolowo as Finance Minister. More than 60 years later, the Igbos are still of the same mindset, sad to say. My intent was not to insult either the Igbos or the Hausa Fulani in making the case. I did not say anything about the Hausa/Fulani oligarchy that their respected political leader, the late Sardauna Bello of Sokoto had not said about his own people in a moment of candor.
Sardauna publicly admitted at a press interview aired on You Tube that there was less than 23 indigenous northerners in the Northern Regional Public Service of Nigeria by the time he first became the leader of Government Business in northern Nigeria. He confessed that the Igbos had dominated his public service up until that time. He crafted and passed into law his “northernization” policy out of necessity and he justified his decision to appoint many British, Indians and Pakistanis and Egyptians on contract basis as public servants while turning down the applications of Nigerians from the South because he felt the Igbos were bent on marginalizing the northerners and he was not going to allow that. He admitted the northerners at that time were far behind the East and the West in education and that was one of his reasons for rejecting independence for Nigeria in 1956 or 1957 ahead of Ghana as proposed by Awolowo and Azikiwe. He told the British the North was not ready and he won the debate. He knew the northerners needed a lot of catching up to do and he said it loud and clear at the London conference.
Most Igbos would tell you they love the Yorubas. They just don’t like or appreciate Awolowo or Benjamin Adekunle, Olusegun Obasanjo, Samuel Ladoke Akintola and Fani Kayode. I say to them “Foul or over the bar” like late Ishola Folorunsho, the best Nigerian football commentator used to say in the 50s and 60s. Igbos cannot hate all of our best leaders and turn round to tell us they love us. By the same token, the Yorubas cannot tell the Igbos we love them but we hate Nnamdi Azikiwe, Odumegwu Ojukwu, Chinua Achebe, Michael Okpara and Alex Ekwueme to mention a few.
The idea of Igbo-dominated and Hausa/Fulani dominated parties always forming a coalition to rule the rest of Nigeria in perpetuity is not the kind of thing we all must embrace if Nigeria is to become a nation of our dreams. The former ACN of the Southwest and the Buhari-led CPC merging together to challenge the PDP is the kind of a major re-alignment I am talking about. It should be seen as a step in the right direction and a change to the status quo in Nigeria. It is a novelty which ought to be given a chance to succeed.
The two mega parties can then alternate power from one election circle to another based on performance like is done in very stable countries like America, Britain, India, Canada and Australia to mention a few. That is what I am advocating with the two serial articles.
I am also saying with emphasis that the Yorubas love the Igbos more than the Igbos love the Yorubas. Kenneth Olawale, an Igbo young man born and raised in Akure was elected and selected as the Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly which is third in rank to the State Governor. I knew it because Kenneth came from my constituency in Igbatoro/ Ala Ajagbusi /Igunshin area of Akure North Local Government. Who voted for Kenneth to become an Honorable member and Speaker? It was the Yorubas. We knew he was an Igbo man but we loved him and we knew he could do the job well. Once upon a time, Ogbuefi Nnamdi Azikiwe as I hinted earlier, was on his way to becoming the first Premier of the old Western Region in 1954. Who voted for him? It was we the same Yoruba people.
When Awolowo launched his Free and compulsory education and free medical treatment in the old Western Nigeria, many Igbo parents and their children emigrated to the Wet in huge numbers to take advantage of the program. Many of their children were my classmates in the primary school at Akure. Awolowo did not exclude them and the Yorubas never resented them at all for coming to the West to enjoy a program the Azikiwe Government in the Eastern Region could not offer them. Many of those Igbo sons and daughters including Elias Ibe Opadike an Engineer who now lives in Detroit and Mr. Alex Omeke, a good friend of mine, were some of the beneficiaries of the Awolowo ‘s free education and free medical coverage in the old Western Region.
The two gentlemen are alive today and living in America. They are encouraged to feel free to issue a rebuttal if they think I am lying. As a matter of fact I would be sending them copies of this article for that reason. I write about what I know and never about hearsay
None of the properties left behind in Yoruba land by the Igbos during the Biafran war were confiscated or taken away by the Yorubas like the Rivers people and Ikwere people did to the abandoned properties of the Igbos in Port Harcourt and in much of the South/South. What more evidence of love and consideration do the Igbos want from the Yorubas?
Odumegwu Ojukwu the rebel leader who could have faced the firing squad had he been captured alive during the war was lucky to return from exile in the Ivory Coast to recover all of his father’s properties in Lagos. All Igbo properties in Akure my hometown were preserved and kept under lock and key for the Igbos to reclaim after the war. Akure Metropolis, Ibadan and Ilesha metropolis used to vote massively for the Igbo-dominated NCNC and Azikiwe when I was growing up in Nigeria. That was how Sir Odeleye Fadahunsi, an Ijesha man and a big wig in the NCNC became Governor of Western Nigeria after Sir Adesoji Aderemi. Pa Adegbola the greatest Akure community leader. Pa Faleye Igun “O sari mo sa ogun” Pa Gideon Arowolo of Akure were all big supporters of Azikiwe and the NCNC in those days talk less of Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya of Ikorodu, Chief J.M.Johnson and Theophillus Benson of Lagos, Adegoke Adelabu, M.A. Akinloye and the present Olubadan of Ibadan, Oba Odugade who actually became a Parliamentary Secretary under the Tafawa Balewa Government at the Federal level as I recall. Who says the Yorubas do not like the Igbos?
The name “Azikiwe” was defined by the Yorubas as “Aisiki Iwe” meaning “a joyful embrace of education”. I do not know what the name means in Igbo Language but the Yorubas felt so good about Azikiwe that they define the name in their own way. Herbert Macaulay, the first nationalist in Nigeria and a Yoruba man handed over to Azikiwe as his successor in the Nigerian Youth Movement because he trusted Azikiwe. He loved Azikiwe like his own son. Azikiwe in return love the Yorubas, spoke Yoruba fluently and gave Yoruba names to all of his children.
Prominent Yoruba citizens like the late Tai Solarin and Nobel Peace Laureate Wole Soyinka all stood up for the Igbos’ right to live in peace and security in Nigeria and not be subjected to ethnic cleansing by the Northerners.
And to think of it, EVEN IF OUR PARENTS QUARRELLED, SHOULD WE THE NEW GENERATION CONTINUE THE SAME WAY?.
“ITS TIME TO COME TOGETHER AND MAKE THE HANDSHAKE ACROSS THE NIGER WORK FOR THE SAKE OF OUR PEOPLES AND NIGERIA.”