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Igbo And Yoruba Collaboration Can Change Nigeria, If They Bury The Hatchet For Once (Part II) By Dr. Wumi Akintide

October 31, 2014

I knew Awolowo. Awolowo was not the kind of man to commit suicide for any reason. The man did have a clear premonition of his death. He had to know he had completed his job in this world and was soon to make his glorious transition to the next. The man died at 76 leaving a chain of legacies that most of his peers like Azikiwe, Sardauna Bello, and Dennis Osadebe could only dream of. Give me any other Nigerian leader or president with that kind of track record.

I did not rush the release of part two of this piece to give me a chance to reflect on some of the criticisms, both positive and negative coming from commentators across the board. Some of those criticisms can be dismissed as knee-jerk reactions from individuals who want to take full advantage of the anonymity offered them by the Internet to insult individuals like me who never shy away from speaking their minds. 

I am in the kitchen because I am willing to take the heat. For Nigeria to become a nation of our dreams there has got to be a fundamental re-alignment of political forces. I wrote the article because of that conviction.

Americans go to the polls for the mid-term elections less than a week from now. Victory or defeat in that election is not guaranteed to either of the two major political parties. We can see that from opinion polls that keep changing from day to day as candidates and their parties compete for the voters’ attention.

Is the country better off today than it was six years ago when Vice President Jonathan stepped in to complete the remaining two years of late Yar Adua? In a more serious and stable country, that should be the question the other mega party should be asking at all their rallies and in political debates with the party in power. That is the question the voters would want answered to their satisfaction as we move closer and closer to 2015. In Nigeria it is a different ball game. The resounding answer to that question should be “no”. Only in Nigeria can any sitting President be running unopposed in his party in the kind of crisis Nigeria currently faces. Corruption has reached its highest peak. Insecurity, kidnapping and armed robbery, and power outages still remain a nightmare for Nigerians across the board.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, a great President by comparison to President Jonathan announced halfway into his first full term as President he would not run if nominated and he would not serve if elected. Why? Because Americans thought he was irredeemably damaged by his lackluster policies in Vietnam. President Carter, another good President, lost to Ronald Reagan in 49 out of 50 states because of his handling of the American hostages in Iran. Anything that could go wrong for Jonathan is going wrong right now as Jonathan goes around making elaborate preparations to run again at government expense.


Where is the outrage from so many of the Igbos, the Yoruba, and the Hausa/Fulani power-brokers in the PDP and even in the APC?  

There is something fundamentally wrong with the politics of Nigeria. That is my greatest concern in writing these two articles.

I am going to strictly follow the outline I laid out in the second to the last paragraph of part one of this piece. Before I do that, however, I want to acknowledge and appreciate the comments of those who agreed with my position in part one. I also want to show some courtesy or deference to those who engage in name-calling and abuse instead of calling a spade a spade.

My promise for this second part was to show that 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.  

I want to apologize in this part two for my appearing to put all the blame on the Igbos in the part one. 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 one 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 were 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 megaparties 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 the Igbatoro/Ala Ajagbusi/Igunshin area of Akure North Local Government. Who voted for Kenneth to become 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 free and compulsory education and free medical treatment in the old Western Nigeria, many Igbo parents and their children emigrated to the West in huge numbers to take advantage of the program. Many of their children were my classmates in primary school in 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 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 Yorubaland 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.  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 dthe 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.

At a time no Nigerian of consequence from the North was willing to travel to the East to persuade Ojukwu not to secede, the same Obafemi Awolowo that the Igbos love to hate like poison was the only Nigerian who risked his life to travel down to Enugu to go personally talk to Odumegwu Ojukwu to reconsider his plan to go to war because the West was not mentally ready to collaborate with him at that point in time.

Igbo prominent citizens like Chike Obi, Kenneth Dike, Ojukwu Senior, Mbadiwe, Ikejiani  and Francis Ibiam were all national heroes among the Yorubas. Samuel Ladoke Akintola defined the name “Mbadiwe” as” I would have become a book because I love education so much”. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi of Ado Ekiti laid down his life to save the life of Aguiyi Ironsi at Agodi Ibadan because he viewed it as a betrayal of the Igbos to do that. Who says the Yorubas don’t like the Igbos? We sure do without any doubt in my mind. It would have been a different story in Nigeria if the Igbos were just able to reciprocate a little bit of that love.

If the Igbos can point to anything they have done for the Yorubas, they should free to say it. The only positive thing I heard was that Odumegwu Ojukwu as first military Governor of the Eastern Region was the one who released Obafemi Awolowo from Calabar Prison. It is true that Ojukwu could easily have disobeyed the order issued by Gowon, his boss and Commander-in-Chief in Lagos at the time to have Awolowo released and flown back to Lagos. There is some truth to that statement.

Ojukwu could have found some ways to disobey the order from Yakubu Gowon, but he knew that if he did that, he would have antagonized the Yorubas and he did not want to antagonize the Yorubas at that point in time because it would have been suicidal or counter-productive for him to do that to the preeminent Yoruba leader of all times. Ojukwu, the Oxford-trained Historian and leader, could never have done such a stupid thing. He needed the psychological support of the Yorubas and he was also aware that the first coup led by Chukwuma Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna had occurred on January 15, 1966 because the coup plotters had wanted to free Awolowo and to put him in charge to rule Nigeria.

That was the original plan before the coup was hijacked by Aguiyi Ironsi and the coup plotters were all put in detention. Odumegwu Ojukwu could not have stopped Obafemi Awolowo from being released from Calabar prison, and being flown to Lagos. If Odumegwu Ojukwu had released Awolowo like he claimed in an interview with Rudolf Okonkwo of SaharaTV. I know for sure that Awolowo would have gone first and foremost to thank Ojukwu before flying to Lagos. Awolowo was a leader who could not be pushed around by any of those young boys leading Nigeria at the time, including the 32-year-old Yakubu Gowon who just returned from a training in the UK on the night of the coup or a day before to become the compromise choice to appease the aggrieved southerners because he was a Christian from a minority tribe in the North and was very colorful and charismatic.

I remember Awolowo telling Yakubu Gowon he would only serve in the Gowon Cabinet until a solution was found to the Nigerian stalemate because he did not like the idea of serving under an “unelected” government, to use his exact word. As soon as Awolowo felt he had achieved his set goal, he tendered his resignation. He was the first Nigerian leader of consequence to ever to keep a promise like that. He did not resign with a gun pointed to his head. That was Obafemi Awolowo at his best and that was one of the reasons Ojukwu had no reservation in describing him as “the best president Nigeria never had”. If Awolowo gave you his word, he kept it come rain or shine. He received his appellation as “Lion of Ikenne” because Awolowo did not fool around like most of his peers and Nigerians knew that.

The Igbo-dominated NCNC had every reason to want to warm up to the Yoruba-dominated Action Group and if possible to have formed a coalition Government with the Action Group to move Nigeria forward, but the NCNC was always very reluctant to do it because the Igbos think the Yorubas were just too educated and too smart and sneaky to be pushed around or micro-managed like the Hausa/Fulani. In the final analysis, the Hausa/Fulani proved to the Igbos they were not as stupid or dumb as the Igbos think.

The Igbos had always taken some joy in destabilizing the Yorubas at every opportunity. They were very happy to nudge their senior partners in the Federal Government to slow down the fast moving train of the West by creating the Midwest out of the Western Region in the hope of weakening or crippling the Awolowo government and in the hope that the new regional government of the midwest could then be taken over by the NCNC with a Bendelite Ibo, Dennis Osadebe from Asaba as Premier. The move did weaken the Awolowo Government but only for a short time.

Awolowo had always canvassed for the creation of more states in Nigeria. The Igbos and the NCNC knew that very well. They therefore decided to use that move to cripple Awolowo and the Yorubas but the move blew up in their faces when the Yakubu Gowon saw the need to revisit some of the past ideas of Obafemi Awolowo that Nigeria should actively pursue devolution by creating more states in Nigeria. Yakubu Gowon saw the creation of 12 states as the best move to destabilize Biafra by taking away the present South/South and the oil producing area from Biafran control. It was one of the tactical moves that eventually won the war for Nigeria.

In 1964, it was the same Igbo brains in the NPC/NCNC coalition that encouraged the Democratic Party popularly called Demo Party led by Akintola as Premier and and Fani Fayode as Deputy Premier to challenge the Action Group and to massively rig the 1964 elections into the old House of Assembly in the Western Region. The massive rigging led to the “wet e” revolution and mayhem which killed so many people and eventually led to the coup of the Majors in Nigeria on January 15, 1966.

That is a fact that honest people cannot deny. Right now they still expect the Yorubas to suffer the same fate they have endured in the Biafra war. They always forget that Yorubas don’t think like them at all. If Nigeria is ever going to break up, it needs not be by force or by war but by consensus, many Yorubas will tell you. The Yorubas are the consummate diplomats in Nigeria. The Igbos don’t understand that at all and that is why they always misread the Yorubas much to their own peril.

You will never hear the Igbos acknowledge that the Yorubas have been kind to them at any point in their history. What they always talk about is how Awolowo betrayed them by refusing to let the Yorubas sign their death warrant by foolishly joining them to fight the Hausa/Fulani. All the Igbos talk about is how Awolowo as Federal Commissioner for Finance changed the Nigerian currency to stop the Biafrans from using Nigerian money to fight Nigeria. They always complain about how Awolowo refused to let the Federal Government continue to feed them so the Biafran war could be prolonged forever. They even said that Awolowo only agreed to pay them only 20 pounds each instead of giving them more money from the Nigerian treasury after the war.  

I knew Awolowo. I worked with him. Awolowo was not the kind of man to commit suicide for any reason. The truth was that the man probably had a cardiac arrest and died in his bathroom without getting needed help because the man slept alone. But the man did have a clear premonition of his death. His last public appearance on Earth was the coronation of the new Olu of Warri. He attended that function frequently looking at his watch as if he was in a hurry to get back home because he knew his end was near. He was a Rosicrucian and he reached the highest level in the order. He had to know he had completed his job in this world and was soon to make his glorious transition to the next. The man died at 76 leaving a chain of legacies that most of his peers like Azikiwe, Sardauna Bello, and Dennis Osadebe could only dream of. Most of his legacies still live after him till tomorrow. Let the Igbos give me any other Nigerian leader or president with that kind of track record or gravitas.

The Igbos who falsely claim that Awolowo committed suicide are yet to tell us how Azikiwe died but one point they cannot deny is that no autopsy performed on Awo’s body ever drew such a conclusion? Why should Awo commit suicide with all the adulation he received from his own people and from the international community and from all other parts of Nigeria and Africa? Like I said Obafemi  Awolowo was buried like no other political leader in the whole of Nigeria and Africa. A mausoleum, the first in Nigeria, was built for him at Ikenne. Nigerians are either for or against Obafemi Awolowo. He remains the central issue in Nigerian politics both in life and in death till tomorrow as brilliantly acknowledged by President Babangida in his eulogy delivered at Awolowo’s burial.

The Northern power-brokers, the Igbos and the Yoruba leaders in the PDP who benefit from corruption in Nigeria are not interested in any government that will clean up the Augean stable of Nigeria. They are busy looking for a President who will neither rock the boat nor fight the status quo.  

What Nigeria stands to gain from Igbo and Yoruba collaboration does not mean that another northerner may not emerge as Head of State but such a northerner would be doing so on the joint sponsorship of an Igbo-dominated party and a Yoruba-dominated party. The north-dominated party could then serve as the opposition for once in Nigerian history. That is what I am talking about. A Hausa/Fulani dominated party does not have to rule Nigeria on a permanent basis is what I am saying. To institutionalize the status quo in Nigeria is a recipe for disaster and is never going to be in the best interest of democracy.

Nigerian democracy would never reach the desired height we all wish for it until the two dominant tribes in the South decide to put their past behind them and to move forward in the spirit of cooperation and trust.

If the Igbos can change their mindset about the Yorubas, they might yet come to understand and appreciate that collaboration with the Yorubas is a better proposition than the one they have had with the Northerners for more than 50 years with little to nothing to show for it.

Now that Awolowo, Benjamin Adekunle, S.L.A Akintola, Fani Kayode, and Azikiwe, Okpara. Mbonu Ojike and Mbadiwe and Ojukwu and the rest of those leaders have gone to rest, the new generation of Igbo and Yoruba leaders must learn to forget the past and to move forward together in peace and cooperation if they truly have the best interest of Nigeria at heart.

The unhealthy rivalry and lack of trust between the Igbo and the Yorubas must end in the best interest of Nigeria. That is what I am advocating because I want the best for Nigeria.  I thank you all you who have taken pains to read the two articles and I am grateful for some of your constructive criticisms.

I rest my case.