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I didn’t know how corrosive tribalism is to Nigerian psyche until I arrived Toronto


Reactions to Senator Ogunlewe’s article on the Igbo, Yoruba ethnic rivalry in Lagos state of Nigeria:

I didn’t know how corrosive tribalism is to Nigerian psyche until I arrived Toronto – By Ola Kassim

“Though I attended secondary schools and University in Nigeria, I was not aware about how corrosive tribalism had been to the psyche of the average Nigerian until my arrival in Toronto as a post graduate medical student in 1977.”

Even though I have never met Senator Ogunlewe I can attest to the veracity of each and every one of his assertions from close quarters and personal experience. I was born at 53 A Idumagbo Avenue, a main street on Lagos Island which connects Nnamdi Azikiwe Rd through Jankara Market area all the way to the Lagos Lagoon.

The late Chief Ojukwu was one of the prominent industrialists in the area with a big office building close to the intersection of the road that leads to St Patrick’s Primary School and Isale Agbede.

Like Senator Ogunlewe I also played soccer at Orikoriko and Onala Football fields where we also occasionally sold homemade lemonade to raise funds for charitable purposes.

The spontaneous teams we form on the soccer fields were always multi-ethnic including Yoruba, Igbo, and kids from all over Nigeria. We also had in our midst some Lebanese children. Ditto at the primary school that I attended–Holy Trinity School, Ebute Ero which was without any doubt the best primary school on Lagos Island in those days. No protests please!)

On the way to and from school we pass by St Patrick’s Primary School which is almost directly opposite to the Post Office and the LEDB offices. We always pitied the kids because their school grounds were always flooded year round including during the dry season.

Even though I attended secondary schools and University in Nigeria, I was not aware about how corrosive tribalism had been to the psyche of the average Nigerian until my arrival in Toronto as a post graduate medical student in 1977.

I learnt more about tribalism in Nigeria from Canadians who had met, work with or attended school with Nigerians—-whose first question after announcing that one is from Nigeria was are you Igbo or Yoruba or were you part of Biafra or from outside of Biafra?

Then the internet arrived and all hell broke loose–exposing to the rest of the world the unhealed raw emotional wounds of tribal discord that had exited among Nigerians long before, during and after the Nigerian Civil War–1967-70.

At first I could not reconcile what I was reading on Nigerian newsgroups with my experience as a young lad growing up on Idumagbo Avenue, attending Holy Trinity primary school and later in my teenage years living in Surulere on the mainland and at UI.

My UI medical school class of 125 -1970-75 included 25 extra spaces reserved for the returning Igbo students who had begun their medical school in 1967 but fled to the Eastern Region after the outbreak of the civil war. This guarantee was part of Gowon’s RRR–post civil war!

I never had or heard an argument or name calling that was centred on ethnic origin among my classmates in my 5 years at UI.

The returning Igbo students were on average 2 to 3 years older than most of the rest of the class. After classes and on weekends while having some Star Lager, Gulda,
Guinness Stout Beer, Palm wine, Ogogoro and other drinks they frequently told stories about their exploits during the war during which they put the rudimentary medical skills they had learnt in one one to two years of medical to good use as Medical Officers and Medical Assistants] in the Biafran Armed Forces.

We learnt a lot from them just as they did from us.

I learnt more about racism and tribalism in Nigeria after arriving in Canada (the former from personal experience and the latter from the Nigerian newsgroups and frequent trips to Nigeria).

In my own personal experience, I think Nigerians in Canada are less consumed by their ethnic origins than their co-compatriots in the USA and the UK.

It is quite possible that Nigerian-Canadians have been influenced by the inclusiveness dictated by the multi-cultural ethos of Canadian life. There are Nigerian-Canadian Associations which are umbrella organizations for numerous ethnic and sub ethnic groups in most major cities in Canada while in the USA part from NIDO A and the Nigerian Association in NYC and Atlanta, the dominant and more common and active organizations are the Paparapo organizations like Egbe Omo Odua, Isokan Yoruba, Edo, Arewa, ANNIC and numerous other ethnic and sub ethnic organizations.

Our personalities are mostly formed and solidified during our mid to late teenage years. If you grew up in a community where tribalism and ethnic insults are acceptable, you would most likely grow up viewing each and very Nigerian issue through your narrow and foggy ethnic lenses!

Ola Kassim
Mr. Kassim,

I want to confirm the broad assertions you made below. There was very little if any tribalism, in my youth in Enugu. When we showed up at St. Peter’s football field, we chose team members based strictly on merit. The best players were picked first. A brother would skip his brother if he were not good. The only purpose was to ensure that your team won the game.

The rivalry was between Coal Camp boys, Asata boys Iva-Valley boys. A Coal Camp boy, if attacked by an Asata boy could count on all Camp boys for support – Yoruba, Efik, Hausa, etc. Often, a Yoruba boy by the name of Isaka will be the team’s captain and our coach was Kofi from Gold Coast (Ghana). There were many Sierra Leonians also for the British govern all of British West Africa as one nation.

Tribalism was first introduced into Nigerian politics by Chief Obafemi Awolowo when he formed Action Group as Yoruba only party under the slogan “Egbe Omo Yoruba.” His target was to capture the Western House. Earlier political parties were very national. NCNC and its antecedents were national parties as can be seen from their names. But Action Group was purely Yoruba. Even Sarduana’s NPC included other northern tribes, Hausa, Fulani, etc.

The second introduction of ethnicism was in January 1966 when a group of soldiers overthrew the Federal government. The group was led by Igbo officers but included officers from other ethnic groups from the south. Some people assert that the preponderance of southerners was because southerners made up the bulk of officers while northerners belonged to the “other ranks.”

The third introduction of tribalism and the most vicious and the most gregarious was during the second coup and after wards when the Igbo was targeted,and massacred by hundreds of thousands and expelled from parts of Nigeria.

After this the Igbo started being aware of their Igboness and have not given it up. And of course others joined in the busy market of tribal consciousness including the requirement of “state of Origin” in Federal Government application forms.

After the “abandoned properties” fiasco formerly sceptical Igbo on ethnic politics became converts.

To get back to where things were before AG we need to make laws banning discrimination in all its forms and include sex, LGBT, Osu, etc.

Benjamin Obiajulu Aduba
Boston, Massachusetts
Lagos State belongs as much to the ethnic Igbo as to the Yoruba, Ijaw, Hausa, Fulani, Efik, Idoma, Urhobo, Itshekiri, Edo, and so on who live in it, pay tax, identify with it, and settle in it. That compact was made the moment Nigeria became a single nation, and a successor power to the old principalities who were subdued and who ceded their sovereignty for the new commonwealth of Nigeria.
It was pragmatic. The Igbo had the skill and the industry, and Lagos was the seat of the Federal Government of Nigeria and its major port. The Igbo have lived in Lagos since the 15th century when the Aro and other Igbo first settled in good number in a place we now call “Oyingbo” in the era of Benin and the Portuguese trade.
The arrival of Dr. Namdi Azikiwe to Lagos in 1937 from Accra after his studies in the United States, stimulated the political and cultural environment of Lagos as no other has before or after him. Zik literally resurrected the wizard of Kirsten hall from political death. Zik represented Lagos in the western house. The NCNC was the power in Lagos, and not the Action Group. The Igbo were prominent in the governance of Lagos in the Lagos City Hall.
The institutional development of Lagos – the railways, the ports and ship yards; the education and research facilities; the Banking and Commodities Exchange, the development of towns like Yaba, Surulere, Ebutta-Metta, Festac Town, Victoria Island, and now increasing the Ajah-Lekki axis, and of course, the ghettoes along the Orile-Badagry axis, have profound Igbo imprimatur.
The circulation of the image of Lagos is to date best reflected in the cosmopolitan Igbo imagination of one of the greatest African writers of the 20th century, Cyprian Ekwensi, a thorough Lagosian if there was any. Igbo have built industries in Lagos and have been drivers of commerce and exchange.
Interestingly, I was born at plot number 8, Okoya Street, Idumagbo- Lagos, while the Ojukwu families were residing at number one to three on the same street. I grew up to know the father of Odumegwu Ojukwu. Chimbizie and Azuka grew up with us on the same street. Even the Chibeze small parking space at the end of Okoya Street is called Ojukwu.
I later attended St. Patrick Primary School, Idumagbo, where I had very amiable classmates of Igbo origin in the persons of Azubike Ezenwa and Damian, Ihekuna, both now professors and doctors of today. They were brilliant, resourceful and friendly.
When we were playing bamboo and Tene Felele at Orikoriko at Onola playing ground, the Igbo participated actively. In the area of sports, school football and athletes, Igbo were dominant at Kings College, St. Gregory school, St. Finbars, Akoka, Igbobi College and Ahmadiyya College, Agege. Such boys, Njokwu, George Amu, Stephen Keshi, Henry Nwosu, Patrick Noquapor, Peter Anieke and Sammy Opone were dominant on the field of football, while Asiodu, Empire Kanu were prominent on the field of athletics.
Anytime we went to watch football match at Onikan stadium, my darling team, Stationery Stores and our adversary team I hated most was the E. C. N, where the centre forward, Paul Hamilton, the National Team, Fabian the captain who bit the dust. Our greatest captain was Duru, Oduah Onyenrekwa, Onyeador Onyeali and Opel, the greatest outside right Nigeria ever had, Cyril Azuluka. So, during my early life at primary school, the Igbo were always there and delightful to watch, both in athletes and on the football field.
When I listened to radio at that time, both the commentary and drama series, the Igbo were there for you. The likes of Chris Ndaguba, Ernest Okwonkwo, Ralph Okpara ‘Alawo Sekiseki the traveler’. The episode will end with – The script was written by Ralph Okpara and edited by Yemi Lijadu.
Anytime I visited where I was born today in Idumagbo at Lagos Island, the entire place is covered by Igbo traders in their thousands. They were never troublesome but decent and accommodating. They have virtually taken over all properties of the indigenes. They succeeded in developing all our properties, married to most of our children even from the royal families. There is no single house you will visit without an Igbo man selling wares there.
So, who is saying something else? Only the strangers in our midst will not notice participation of economic development in our state by the Igbos. Most houses and shops in Lagos Island have been purchased, developed and occupied by the Igbos. The value of their investments in Lagos Island alone is in trillions of naira.
Instead of deporting the Igbos, whose contributions to the development of Lagos state are immensurable, you must keep on praising and encouraging them to keep on developing Lagos State
Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe

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