“Suddenly, it was discovered that Ndigbo are in cahoots to adulterate Yoruba culture…it was remembered that Chief Awolowo had cheated Dr. Azikiwe of the West Regional premiership… verbal missiles have been hitting antipodal zones with the destructive insistence of heavy artillery concentration.”
Azikiwe vs Awolowo
The feud between the Igbo and the Yoruba ethnic groups is contrived, just like the feud between the Igbo and the Ikwere. Whenever these feuds take centre stage, the impetus is invariably traceable to the divide-and-rule imperative, which inevitably profits the oligarchy of northern Nigeria. Every other explanation adduced in the explanation of the phenomenon can only be peripheral. It is important to make this point from the outset, before going about the business of explanations – for the benefit of those who may genuinely be ignorant of a crucial factor in the continued inability to resolve some of the more critical of Nigeria’s contradictions.
Femi Aribisala, one of the more perceptive of the motley coterie of columnists currently on the national stage, discussed the origins and manifestations of this feud in an incisive article entitled Time To End the bad blood between the Yorubas and Ndigbo (Vanguard January 12, 2016). “What is the basis of all this hate?” Mr. Aribisala asks. “In the sixties, the Igbo were slaughtered in pogroms in the North. However, the principal exchange of hateful words today is not between Northerners and Easterners, but between Easterners and Westerners. Why are these two ethnic groups so much at loggerheads?”
The straightforward answer is that it serves the interest of the “core” North to keep the South permanently in mutually assured destructive contention on largely immaterial issues. It happened between the Igbo and the old Rivers State in the wake of the Nigerian civil war. It was suddenly and conveniently “discovered” that the Ikwerre were not and had never been Igbo. The people went into a flourish of re-spelling: Umuomasi became Rumuomasi; Umukrushi became Rumukrushi; Umuola became Rumuola; Umueme became Rumueme. In truth, all these represent no more than distinct dialectal spellings of Igbo root names typical to the areas around Port Harcourt. But the re-spelling exercise was used to manufacture an entirely new ethnic group.
The acclaimed writer, Professor (Captain) Elechi Amadi, who led the group that lent intellectual weight to this fad, went further to celebrate in fictional terms the political marriage between Rivers people and Northern Nigeria. Yet, he did not see fit to change his name to Relechi Ramadi. Of course, the contrived ethnic dissonance achieved its purpose. While the fight raged relentlessly on “Abandoned Properties”, mostly mud houses built in the 1930s and 1940s, the “core” North moved in and harvested the oil rewards. Their members became instant millionaires by being allocated shiploads of crude, which they sold off at the Rotterdam Spot Market. Further, they appropriated 99 percent of the oil blocs. Then they seized Professor Tam David-West, a Rivers man, “tried” him for causing the country “economic adversity” and handed him a tidy prison term.
But the picture is becoming clearer. Had the black gold been found in the “core” North, would the Rivers man have been allocated even one percent of the oil blocs? It was not the Igbo that killed Major Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro. It was not the Igbo that killed Ken Saro-Wiwa. It was not the Igbo that banished Delta nights with the interminable flare of gas. It was not the Igbo that ordered the November 20, 1999 expeditionary attack on Odi that left 2500 Ijaw citizens killed and the town reduced to rubble. The Igbo was accused of desiring nothing but the expropriation of Delta oil and gas. But geophysics since proved that the entire Igbo country sits on oil, and holds in its bowels the largest concentration of gas on the Africa continent. That is the way everything goes and turns round.
The Delta people, previously cajoled into believing that they had been liberated from Ndigbo, are beginning to know differently. They have discovered their real oppressors. President Jonathan, a Rivers man, was denied a second term in office. His single tenure was covered in a mountain of mendacity by the manipulators of sectional press and political blackmail. The traditional “political allies” of the Southern minorities felt affronted by being asked to vote a second term for one of those they claimed to have “liberated” from Igbo clutches and talons!
It is on the same plane that the feud between Ndigbo and the Yoruba sits today. True, prophets abound who received messages directly from God that President Jonathan would lose his reelection bid. But realpolitik always made it obvious to informed non-prophets that no two of the ethnic tripod of Nigerian politics could bind together without carrying the day of national ballot. That is what the entire feud currently playing out between the Yoruba and the Igbo is about. Suddenly, it was discovered that Ndigbo are in cahoots to adulterate Yoruba culture! Suddenly it was remembered that, during the 1950s, Chief Awolowo had cheated Dr. Azikiwe of the West Regional premiership by playing the ethnic card. In the circumstance, verbal missiles have been hitting antipodal zones with the destructive insistence of heavy artillery concentration.
While this distraction was in ascent, a leeway was created for imbuing the Chosen One with the political sagacity that he so pitifully lacks. While this distraction runs, the entity suffers because a divided South guarantees less than enough mobilization for a national front to push for positive movement and needed reforms. This is where Aribisala’s lament becomes more apposite: “[The Yoruba and the Igbo] prefer a Nigeria that practices fiscal federalism. Both want a country with a weaker centre. Both want a Nigeria that rewards merit, with a state-structure based on resource-control. Both groups want a Nigeria committed to self-determination. These are grounds for cooperation as opposed to discord. If the North is not to continue to take the South for granted, it must not be allowed to continue to operate in the confidence that the East and the West will always be divided.”
That is the problem. The North does not operate in the confidence of eternal East-West dislocations. It surreptitiously incites and nurtures them, remotely controlling surrogates who celebrate sinecures at the expense of self-determination and fiscal independence! That is why, despite Aribisala’s realism, Northern pragmatism will ensure that the contrived Yoruba-Igbo discord does not abate. If anything, it is set to escalate. One only needs to critically examine the true nature of the Government of Change since served Nigerians on a platter of media overkill, to fully understand the state of play. Despotism is staging a comeback, propped up by a – not the – Yoruba media, which objectifies its permutations and predilections through a virulent antipathy for Ndigbo.
This ensures the attenuation of pressure from the Chosen One. There is firmly in place an abundance of menopausal professors of Law rabidly justifying the unfolding, visceral string of disobediences to court injunctions. The allegiance to true fiscal federalism, a central plank of the Yoruba profession of a continued corporate Nigeria, has all but been deliberately diminished. And, generally obfuscating every space for rational thinking and committed leadership, is the conundrum of trial by media. Those who have been setting the national clock back by decades confuse themselves by thinking that they are getting one back on the PDP. That is false. What they are doing is simply intensifying the artificial war between the Igbo and the Yoruba, in order that those born to rule would hold permanent sway. Yet, there is a redeeming feature in this morass of crassness – the very fact that everything goes and turns round.
Chuks Iloegbunam is the author of Ironside, the biography of General Aguiyi-Ironsi.