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The Handshake Across the Niger that was not!

By Ikechukwu Bismarck Oji


On Thursday, 11th January, 2018, the Handshake Across the Niger Summit was held at The Base Event Centre, Enugu.

Although the much awaited and epochal event was expected to unveil a new vista in Igbo-Yoruba relations and by extension, relationship between all the peoples of Southern Nigeria, that is yet to be the case. Ndigbo and their Yoruba brothers got so carried away with the buzz of 2019 Presidential Election politics that they failed to build upon the gains of such a strategic and timeous unifying summit.

Certainly, the summit, the mere fact that it held ought to cancel out the bad blood that had for so long existed between these two brother nations. However, that has not been the case. Why? Summits and proclamations cannot wipe away nearly a century of abrasive animosity and mutual mistrust. No, the fraternal bonds can only be strengthened overtime by collaboration in various spheres thereby building up mutual trust in practical ways.

In this regard, the recent trailblazing steps of the Ooni of Ife in highlighting cultural ties and common origin of these two nations is a necessary practical step that should be institutionalized. The fact that the Igbo monarch collaborating with him is none other than Eze Akajiovo Igbo Chukwuemeka Eri, keeper of the ancestral home of the Igbo race is also noteworthy.

Between these two cultural icons, much can be done to promote Igbo-Yoruba cultural ties including shooting of Igbo-Yoruba movies, greater collaboration between Igbo and Yoruba musicians in producing songs that foster our filial bonds, etc.

However, a very important aspect of the ongoing bridge building is economical. According to the bible, “Where a man’s wealth is, there lies his heart”. The Igbo and Yoruba nations need to collaborate and cooperate on the economic front, if they are sincere with each other. They must seek to protect each other’s interest by watching each other’s back. That is the fastest way of creating trust.

But, it’s impossible! How can you protect your rival’s interest? Healthy Rivalry! Rivalry among these two foremost African nations cannot be eliminated. However, it can be healthy, not destructive. Of a truth, the Igbo and Yoruba are both global powers with influence spread across all the continents.

For instance, in the Americas, from North to South, to even the Caribbean, the greatest cultural influence on African Americans is either Igbo or Yoruba. In a country like Trinidad & Tobago, Trinidad comprises mainly people of Yoruba descent while Tobago comprises Igbo.

In Cuba, the Yoruba influence is more, likewise in Brazil. Today, the Yoruba form of African Traditional Religion is common among African Americans. However, in Haiti, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Bermuda, Barbados, etc, the Igbo imprint is predominant. In fact, President Francois Duvalier of Haiti hinged his country’s recognition of Biafra on their common Igbo ancestry!

From DNA mapping, there is scientific evidence that at least 45% of African Americans in the US are of Igbo ancestry, including senators and Bishops. In fact, the Igbo Farm Village Museum in Staunton, Virginia is a testament of the outstanding role Ndigbo played in the making of the American nation.

From the above, competition and rivalry is only natural among two such great nations. However, it can be brotherly and shorn of animosity, if driven by the right motives. For instance, Igbo-Yoruba rapprochement should be hinged on the principle of Common Grounds.

According to an Igbo adage, “O duru nja mma, o duru onye pa ya” which can translated thus: “If it is well with the platter, it shall also be well with its bearer”. If there is food, sumptuous food on the platter, both the platter and its bearer benefit. The platter bearer benefits by eating and the platter benefits by being put to use.

Any platter (plate/dish) that doesn’t get used is bound to be abandoned or jettisoned. If the Igbo and Yoruba have this mindset which has already been exhibited by the Ooni himself, their filial bonds shall flourish.

An instance is the issue of Lagos. Lagos is not and cannot be a No man’s Land. Even Abuja that was acquired by the Government from the natives, the Gwaris are now asserting their rights as ancestral landowners. Today, Lagos with an estimated population of over 21 million is Africa’s most populous city, closely followed by Cairo with a population of 20.4 million. This makes Lagos the 6th most populous city in the world after Tokyo (37, 435,191), Delhi (29,399,141, Shanghai (26,317,104), Sao Paulo (21,846,507) and Mexico City (21,671,908).

With proper cooperation between the Yoruba and Igbo, viewing Lagos as a mutual asset for both the Yoruba (ancestral landowners) and the Igbo (highest investors), Lagos can easily become the 3rd most populous city in the world, as well as the 3rd richest in terms of GDP, in twenty years’ time. Firstly, the bid to have Lagos granted a Special Status should not be left to the Yorubas but should be supported by the Igbos and indeed all other patriotic Nigerians. (Sources: www.worldatlas.com, www.worldpopulationreview.com )

Conversely, instead of dwelling on building new ports in Lagos, the Yoruba should clamour for the Federal Government to do the right thing by revitalizing Eastern ports such as Port Harcourt and Calabar. Furthermore, reopening of the Eastern Economic Corridor from Port Harcourt through Enugu to Jos and Maiduguri is of strategic economic and security importance and should be supported by the Yoruba.

A school of thought believes that the shutting of the Eastern Economic Corridor in the aftermath of the Biafran War was one of the root causes of insurgency in the North East. The Eastern Economic Corridor cuts through the South South, the South East, the North Central and the North East. The Nigerian Government signed a contract with the Chinese for the ongoing modernization of the Western segment of the Nigerian rail way whereas the Eastern segment remains abandoned.

An embrace between the Yoruba and the Igbo will usher in peace and stability into Nigeria. Firstly, Nigeria was built on a tripod; the Hausa-Fulani (North), the Igbo (East) and the Yoruba (West) as the major ethnic groups.  Peace between them will lead to peace between other Southern Nigerian and Middle Belt tribes since they mostly belong to the Niger Kongo ethnolinguistic family.

The Middle Aged Generation (40-59) where both the Ooni and this author falls into are those to ignite this Igbo-Yoruba rapprochement. They bear no ills or blemish of having either been defeated or participated in the defeat of their brother as they were either not born or too young to be part of the fratricidal Biafran War.

The most important benefit of this rapprochement will be political. Nigeria can only be fixed through Restructuring (Regional Autonomy) which was the structure agreed upon by true representatives of the peoples of Nigeria prior to Independence. With an Igbo-Yoruba alliance, Restructuring (Regional Autonomy) can be actualized before 2023 so as to save Nigeria from the econo-political  quagmire ensuing from the country’s current “Feeding Bottle Federalism”

Finally, it is in the interest of the entire Blackkind that this handshake across the Niger that is getting cold progresses into a warm embrace.

 Mazi Ikechukwu Bismarck Oji (MNSE)

Former National Chairman, Ohaneze Youth Wing/

Convener, Vote4Restructuring


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