These are the days of the hyenas. They’re gleefully cracking up the bones of Nigeria and counting their bloody shekels. Mr John Olufemi Kusa, who at one time was Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian Newspapers in Nigeria took to his Facebook page to produce a two-part piece he titled, “OKOTA: THE IGBO QUESTION, JIMI AGBAJE, AFENIFERE AND THE REST OF US.” For some of us who’ve worked at The Guardian and who understand the ethos of that great institution, Mr Kusa has always been an embarrassment. Below are links to his piece.
My response follows:
You claim to be saying what you’re saying here with all sense of responsibility; but you are a very irresponsible and bitter man. Anyway, you have form on your side, don’t you? The last I heard from you, you were joyfully dancing on the graves of Alex Ibru and Andy Akporugo, men you cannot hold a candle to. Today, it’s the Igbo and Jimi Agbaje. The North rejected Atiku Abubakar because he had Peter Obi, the Igbo expansionist as his running mate, right? They took their cue from Ahmadu Bello in 1952, you said. But where was that cue when they voted for Shehu Shagari when he chose Dr Alex Ekwueme as his running mate in 1979? Where was that cue when they voted for Buhari in 2003 and 2007 when he had Igbo running mates in Edwin Ume-Ezeoke and Dr Chuba Okadigbo? Oh, I forgot, in those years, the North fell into amnesia!
So, the Igbo wanted to conquer Yorubaland during the civil war? Were they going to do so under the command of a Yoruba man, Colonel Victor Banjo who had told his people that he was actually coming to liberate the Yoruba? Or maybe Banjo was an Igbo chap masquerading as a Yoruba. You see, you’ve got issues. It’s sad to note that you were once an editor-in-chief of a well-regarded national newspaper. I wonder what you told them at The Guardian that made them hire you. You need education, so let me help you. A bit.
First, in 1967 when Colonel Banjo reached Ore at the head of the Biafran army, there was no “Bendel state.” What we had was the Midwest State created shortly before the war from the old Midwestern Region. Bendel State was created by the administration of Murtala Muhammed in 1976, that is six years after the civil war.
Secondly, your claim about some “1952 audio clip of an interview with Ahmadu Bello, Governor of Northern Nigeria” where he “said unequivocally that the North would not employ igbos in its civil service, because if you gave them an inch, you will not know when they would take a mile” is a myth. In 1952, Bello was just barely a year into politics. He was never Governor of Northern Nigeria because the man who became the Governor of Northern Nigeria was Kashim Ibrahim and he remained Governor until the coup of January 15 1966. Ahmadu Bello became Premier of Northern Nigeria in 1954 and before then, there was no interview of the nature you are claiming. The interview you are possibly referring to was one with a BBC interviewer in 1964. He didn’t say exactly what you’re claiming he said and there was a context to it that you are missing out.
At the time, the parties of the First Republic were preparing for the 1964 general election and a lot of politicking was going on. Obafemi Awolowo, the Action Group leader was in prison and the Michael Okpara-led National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) had joined with the Action Group (AG) to form an alliance against the Northern People’s Congress (NPC). The feeling in the NPC was that there was a Southern gang-up against the North and the news making the rounds then was about what would happen if the Southern alliance wins. A few days before this interview, the great mathematician, Chike Obi of the Dynamic Party had come out in the news to say if the coalition wins, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who was then the ceremonial President was going to be Prime Minister and make Awolowo his Number 2. This news riled the Northern political leaders greatly because the ceremonial presidency was supposed to be above party politics (which was why Okpara was leading the NCNC). It was against this background that the interview was conducted with Bello who was said to be “provoked beyond endurance.” That was why the first question posed to him at the interview was what he had to say about what the journalist called “this press war”.
Here is the full exchange:
Journalist: How serious is this press war?
Ahmadu Bello: Well, it is not a very serious matter. It is a matter that happens in every country; you get odd controversies taking place here and there. I think all the leaders are at once seeing that the unity of the country is maintained and therefore, naturally, you get the tail of every party trying to wag the party one way or another.
Journalist: One thing I’ve noticed, Premier, while I’ve been here is that Northerners seem to have what’s called an obsession about the Ibo. Could you perhaps explain that to me?
Ahmadu Bello: Well, the Ibos are, more or less, the type of people whose desire is mainly to dominate everybody. If they go to a village or a town, they want to monopolize everything in that area. If you put them in a labour camp as a labourer, within a year, they’d want to emerge as headman of that camp and so on. Well, in the past, our people were not alive to their responsibilities because you can see from our Northernisation policy that in 1952 when I came here, there weren’t ten Northerners in our civil service here. Then I tried to have it northernised and now all important posts are being held by Northerners.
Journalist: Is this policy of filling all key posts in the North totally with Northerners and not with other Nigerians a temporary or permanent one?
Ahmadu Bello: In actual fact, what it is is a Northerner first. If we can’t get a Northerner, then we take an expatriate like yourself on contract. If we can’t, then we can employ another Nigerian but on contract too. This is going to be permanent as far as I can foresee because it is rather dangerous to see the number of boys who are now returning from all our learning institutions coming out and having no work to do. I’m sure no matter what government of the day might be, it would feel rather embarrassed and it might even lead to bloodshed.
Journalist: Doesn’t this damage the idea, sir, of all people in all regions of Nigeria being fellow citizens of one country?
Ahmadu Bello: Well, it might, err…the North is our region, but how many Northerners are employed in the East or in the West? The answer is no and if there are, there may be 10 labourers employed in the two regions.
So, from the above, we can see the whole context. At the time, ethnic politics ruled the nation unabashedly. The Sarduana was the head of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), which was the ruling party at the centre. But in all this, what the Sarduana is not saying is that the NPC actually formed government at Independence only via a coalition with the NCNC, which was why Dr Azikiwe was the ceremonial President and the Sarduana’s lieutenant, Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa was Prime Minister while Obafemi Awolowo of the AG became the Leader of the Opposition. If that alliance had held and the NCNC had gone into the 1964 election with the APC in an alliance, I doubt the Sarduana would be saying this about the Igbo. I mean, this was on the eve of another election and, this time, the NPC’s former coalition partner was joining up with Awolowo’s AG for that election and, of course, the Sarduana was not happy. So, he tried to use this interview to play the usual ethnic politics, which was the fare at the time. His opponents were the main Igbo and Yoruba parties who were forming a coalition and he obviously felt he needed to say something that would undermine their union and the journalist’s question on the Igbo was a good opening.
Of course, his view of the Igbo was highly subjective, but in reality it was deployed craftily as an attack on Azikiwe and the NCNC in the context of what he wanted the West to see as the Igbo trying to dominate the Southern coalition. It was a political gambit of setting the fox amongst the pigeons. He wanted to undermine the Southern coalition by creating doubts in the mind of one party (the AG). I mean, this was pure politics because, really, the general outlook of the coalitions was actually national. For instance, the Sarduana’s party, the NPC had in its coalition Ladoke Akintola’s Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), Chike Obi’s Dynamic Party, the Niger Delta Congress, the Midwest Democratic Front and the Republican Party to form the Nigerian National Alliance. On the other side, the NCNC and the AG were joined by Aminu Kano’s Northern Elements Progressive Union, Joseph Tarka’s United Middle Belt Congress, the Kano People’s Party, the Northern Progressive Front and the Zamfara Commoners Party and they formed the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA).
Now, if you really listened to the audio clip you’re claiming you listened to, which I have now transcribed above in full, you will see that at no point did the Sarduana say the North would not employ the Igbo in its civil service. His response to the Igbo question only made him talk about his Northernization policy. The policy was not anti-Igbo; it was simply pro-North and the Igbo of the East, irrespective of what he said about them, were not Northerners, just as the Yoruba of the West were not Northerners. The man explained that the policy was ‘a Northerner first’ and then an expatriate and then a Nigerian. He did not say they weren’t going to employ the Igbo if they were forced to employ Nigerians. In fact, his last response in the interview clearly shows that he was treating the East and West the same way under his Northernization policy. Maybe if the journalist had asked him about his view of the Yoruba, he might have said something worse; but he only asked him about the Igbo and the man said what he had to say to score some political points and that was it. I mean, remember also that his party was at the time facing a stiff challenge in the North from Aminu Kano’s NEPU and NEPU was already part of the UPGA alliance. So, please, do not read what is not in Ahmadu Bello’s comment into it. This was pure political talk in the context of what was going on and in an age of strong ethnic politics this was normal. Nigeria has moved on and that is what people like you, the modern day ethnic bigots are missing out.
Well, I’m not going to spend the whole of my time responding to you to educate you on some of the other craps you’re spewing here in the name of history and analysis. Just like the last time when I didn’t have time for your childish yarns about your workplace woes that were the bases of your ill-advised attack on Ibru in the name of a tribute upon his death, today I have no time for your Igbophobia. I will never defend the Igbo against any of your claims because anyone with half a brain can see that you’re a provincial little prick who will never grow, no matter the morsels you eat from Bola Tinubu’s bullion vans. I mean, for a guy who attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who enjoyed the hospitality of the Igbo throughout his time there, for a guy who says he has Igbo friends and who was taught the rubrics of the journalism profession by great Igbo men, a man with in-laws and cousins who are Igbo, you are a huge disappointment. Your case is like that of the racist who hollers to the world in protest that he has black friends. You might really not be an Igbo hater, but this two-part piece of yours drips with Igbo hatred. I hope one day, one of your brilliant children will get the courage to tell you how horribly wrong you are.
So, today, I’m not going to get into the evil forest of your Igbo hatred with you, I’ve only followed you up to the boundary. Today, I want to talk Jimi. I want to talk Jimi Agbaje, who is the real reason you’ve written this piece. You are afraid he’s coming to take away your Tinubu-installed feeding bottle, so you’re yelping like a wounded dog. Calm down, Jimi isn’t a sadist. I’ll talk Jimi Agbaje because, like you, he’s a Yoruba, but unlike you, he’s civilized and this hatchet job you have taken for your paymasters will be the end of you. It’s not a curse; it’s a contract you signed with evil when you sold your soul long ago.
I know Jimi Agbaje and I can speak for him. It’s pathetic that you dare to call Jimi Agbaje and the Afenifere who are the real protectors of the Yoruba, “the modern Afonjas” when you are the one on your knees serving the real modern day Afonja. I mean, you’re openly creaming yourself in the hegemonic philosophy of Ahmadu Bello, but then calling other people Afonjas? Well, that’s the age we live in, the age of false projections. As I said, I know Jimi Agbaje and I will tell you who he is and what he believes.
Olujimi Kolawole Agbaje was born and bred in Lagos. He’s a full-blooded Lagosian from Onilegbale family of Isale-Eko and Ikorodu. His mother is from Ode-Remo in Ogun State. His wife, Biola Agbaje is from Isan-Ekiti and Lagos. On her Ekiti side, she is related to Dr Kayode Fayemi as a cousin. So, Jimi is a proud Lagosian, a proud Yoruba man who loves his people, their culture and their way of life. But he’s also a Nigerian, a proud patriot who has put his life on the line in defence of democracy in our country. In politics, he never plays the ethnic card because he knows the difference between traditional leadership and civil, democratic leadership in a nation-state comprised of people from many ethnic groups.
Nigeria is made up of diverse people and cultures, but Jimi knows we are one because we are Nigerians. He believes every Nigerian should be proud of their ethnic origins and their ethnic group, but we must first and foremost relate as Nigerians wherever we live and work because that is the only way we can build one prosperous nation where everyone lives in dignity. That is why in running for the governorship of Lagos State, he knows the expectations and honour associated with such a high office, the honour of serving Lagosians and Nigerians as the Governor of Lagos State.
Jimi knows that Lagos is the only megacity in Nigeria and as much as its location is in the Yoruba area of the country, it has been home to all that helped build it into a megacity. Yes, it did not become a megacity or a cosmopolitan state only by the work of the Yoruba, Igbo, Esan, Lebanese, Hausa, Fulani, Edo, Birom, Bachama, Efik and so on; it’s a megacity because everyone has contributed to make it what it is today. Yes, the nation’s capital has been moved to Abuja, but Lagos was the nation’s capital for 86 years and is still celebrated as the commercial capital of the country. Jimi knows all this is possible because Lagos is a melting pot of cultures and peoples just like London, New York and many such cities around the world.
As a Nigerian and true citizen of the world, Jimi has friends and relations from everywhere. He has friends and relations in the North, in the East and in the South; he has friends and relations from all over Nigeria because that is how he sees humanity. To him, we are like water; we flow into each other. He has been to all the states of the federation for business and for the celebration of friendship and he has always seen other Nigerians, whether meeting them in Lagos or elsewhere in the country or abroad, as his brothers and my sisters. He has enjoyed their hospitality and care when he visits them outside Lagos and they have enjoyed his when they come to Lagos, his home. The great beauty of his life is his kinship with Nigerians from everywhere.
So, as a true Lagosian and Nigerian, it’s an insult to Jimi to see what some desperate ethnic bigots are turning Lagos into in the name of politics! Every Nigerian is free to live and work wherever he or she chooses within the country without feeling like a stranger. And once he or she is of age, every Nigerian can vote and exercise their democratic rights in any part of the country he or she lives and works. Therefore, when ethnic bigots in the name of politics raise thugs to attack other Nigerians in Lagos with a view to winning political positions, Jimi, like all decent Yorubas, Lagosians and Nigerians would rise and condemn them unreservedly! He does so because they do not speak for him and they do not speak for the Yoruba! They only speak for themselves and their greed and Jimi is telling us we must not be cowed!
Jimi says the Yoruba who believe in the ethos of Omo’luabi have not raised their children to be hanging on to crumbs from bullion vans and to be killing themselves and others on behalf of politicians! Jimi says the Yoruba give their children knowledge and work to live a better life; he says they give them wisdom! Jimi assures us that the Yoruba do not train their children to kill other Nigerians just because they think these other Nigerians wouldn’t vote for them and we believe him because we know it’s true! For Jimi, this is not a debate about whether Lagos is a ‘no man’s land’ or not because Lagos is not a ‘no man’s land’. There are indigenous Lagosians as there are indigenous people elsewhere and Jimi is proud to be an indigenous Lagosian. This is about the right of all Nigerians who live and work legitimately in Lagos to exercise their democratic rights in Lagos as Lagosians and citizens of Nigeria.
So, Mr Kusa, unlike you, Jimi does not see Lagos as a Yoruba enclave. To him, this is the Lagos of Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Louis Odumegwu-Ojukwu, T.O.S Benson, S. O. Gbadamosi, Murtala Muhammed, Ibrahim Babangida, Okoi Arikpo, Adeniran Ogunsanya, M.T. Mbu, Jaja Wachuku, K. O. Mbadiwe, Ernest Ikoli, Festus Okotie-Eboh, J.S. Tarka, Salami Agbaje, Bode Thomas, Victor Olaiya, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Olamide, P-Square, Aliko Dangote, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Ali Baba and so on. Lagos made them all, irrespective of whatever part of Nigeria they came or come from! To Jimi, Lagos is for Gbenga, Chukwudi, Onome, Okon and Abdullahi!
In Jimi Agbaje’s Lagos, no one can take Lagos away from the Nigerian! And yes, it is the Lagos of Bola Tinubu from Iragbiji in Osun State, Obafemi Hamzat from Ewekoro in Ogun State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu from Ijebu Ife in Ogun State, Solomon Adeola from Ilaro in Ogun State, James Faleke from Ekinrin Adde in Kogi State and Rauf Aregbesola from Ilesa in Osun State. No one is taking Lagos away from them, so they must not take Lagos away from any Nigerian! And you, yes even you Femi Kusa from Ijebuland, Jimi Agbaje’s Lagos is your Lagos! If Nigerians can be Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom with the potential of being Prime Minister of United Kingdom, if they can occupy high political offices in the United States and elsewhere in the Western world, why should anyone try to scare them from exercising their right to vote anyone of their choice in Lagos? No, Lagos is for FREEDOM and so it must remain!
Now, I don’t know you, but I know who you are. You are an old thug and a withering agent of thugs. You’re using glib words and false history to tune up your band of losers. The governorship election is coming up on Saturday, so get them ready to come cause more mayhem in Lagos communities and you will know what it means to truly be Yoruba. For now, go lick your master’s dripping arse; that should keep you going till Saturday.