By Rono Omokri
Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the Sovereign State of Biafra and one or more questions still linger. I will not delve into the more contentious questions, but for the sake of improving the relationship between the Igbo and their Yoruba neighbours, let me touch on one or two areas where, if the truth is brought to the fore, the relationship between omo Oduduwa and Ndi’Igbo could be improved.
Firstly, why do Ndi’Igbo still believe the false stereotype that the omo Oduduwa (Yoruba) are cowards? This is simply not true and the facts do not support this belief.
In the history of Nigeria, only two men have returned to Nigeria to face almost certain death even when they had the option of a very comfortable political asylum abroad. Both of them are Yoruba. In 1985, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida toppled the Buhari regime while Major General Tunde Idiagbon (mixed Yoruba/Fulani) was at Mecca, yet Idiagbon returned.
In 1995, Olusegun Obasanjo (pure Owu Yoruba) was accused of planning a coup by the blood-thirsty tyrant, Abacha (if you do not like that truthful description of Abacha or if you believe that ‘Abacha did not loot’, you can go and join him where he is) while he was away in Copenhagen. He returned to face almost certain death.
What more example of bravery can there be than these two shining ones. Furthermore, there is the apocryphal example of Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi who chose to die with the Head of State, rather than abandon his guest, which he was at liberty to do. I am hard-pressed to believe that if it was vice versa, Ironsi would have done the same for Fajuyi, but then again, I may be wrong.
I admired Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu for his guts and stubborn determination during the events leading up to, and during the civil war, but I was disappointed that he fled Biafra when the end came. I wish he remained.
I also admired the Right Honourable Nnamdi Azikiwe, but Chief Obafemi Awolowo would NEVER have abandoned his people as Azikiwe did when he defected to the federal side during the civil war.
Awolowo was in prison because of his people and he could have been released had he compromised his beliefs but he stoutly refused. That is courage not cowardice. I have been in direct communication with General Yakubu Gowon whom I admire but he did not return to Nigeria after he was accused of being behind the Dimka coup.
All things considered, Fajuyi, Obasanjo and Idiagbon are probably the bravest Nigerians ever. They are (were in the cases of Fajuyi and Idiagbon) certainly braver than Murtala Ramat Mohammed, who was safely in London waiting for Joe Garba and co. to topple Gowon.
Even with the sullying of his name as a Quisling in the pages of history, it is on record that of all the first republic politicians that were killed in the January 1966 coup, only Samuel Ladoke Akintola, the Premier of the Western Region, put up a fight. He had a rifle and exchanged gunfire with Captain Emmanuel Nwobosi and his men. Akintola, a civilian, injured the trained soldiers and was only killed when his ammunition finished. And even at that he did not cry or beg!
Ndi’Igbo may do well to remember how Wole Soyinka, at great risk to himself, travelled to Enugu at the height of the civil war crisis to persuade Ojukwu against secession. Soyinka had nothing to gain. He did what he did as a humanitarian in support of the Igbo, an act for which he was arrested by the Gowon-led Federal Military Government and thrown in jail for 26 months, 22 of which he spent in solitary confinement.
These facts of history prove that the stereotype of Yoruba as cowards is false. Every ethnicity has cowards and brave men. As we celebrate #BiafraAt50, I hope the Yoruba and Igbo can find common ground and unite as Southern Nigeria’s two main ethnic nationalities otherwise the South will continue to be politically disadvantaged even when it is the most educationally advantaged part of Nigeria.
It is true that the Igbo are marginalised in Nigeria, however, I am of the opinion that a lot of the blame for this can be laid at Ndi’Igbo’s doorstep. In my opinion, and remember this is an opinion not a fact, the major undoing of Ndi’Igbo is their misunderstanding of the term ‘strength’.
Ndi’Igbo erroneously believe all strength is physical. They do not seem to realise that strength is your ability to assert your will on earth and that, that ability may not always be physical. The proverb – discretion is the better part of valour – is not understood by the Igbo. They tend to be reactionary and consider pausing to study a situation before you respond (not react) as cowardice. One or two of them may get it, but as a race in general they do not.
They do not consider diplomacy as a first step. To them it is weakness and makes you an efulefu! If they have an enemy, they are not able to suppress their emotions and work with those they do not like. They must make their hostility obvious to the person they do not like and being aware of the dislike, the person is armed against them. In an organisation, others may be sublime and discrete in their scheming, but the Igbo are more likely to be obvious and in your face about theirs and end up causing unity amongst their enemies in plotting their downfall. As a general rule, Ndi’Igbo have very little humility and are very proud individually though there are few exceptions and I must single out my friend Emeka Maduewesi as one of those exceptions. An epitome of a gentleman!
For example since 2010, my white beard has been my trademark. In fact, Punch newspapers refers to me as ‘the white bearded Omokri’. Yesterday (May 30th), my grandfather called me and asked me to shave it off because he does not like it. That same day, I obeyed him. I obey my grandfather at 43 the same way I obeyed him at 3. I am very successful today and I trace my success to the upbringing and prayers I got from my father and grandfather. No money ritual is as effective as a prayer and blessing from your fathers. I may be wrong, but
I am not sure that a father or grandfather can have this type of influence on an adult male, financially and socially successful male in Igbo land. What I did may even be construed as a weakness.
In my opinion, Ndi’Igbo are also individually more intelligent than their neighbours (I call it as I see it) but they hardly use their intelligence to unite and have one leader, one goal and one destiny. Because of this, even though they are more intelligent, they are almost always doomed to serve those that are wiser than them because wisdom is superior to intelligence.
The Igbo also appear to value leaders because of the leader’s personal attainments in life and so money gives you more leadership credentials than wisdom or age. They forget that a rich man may have more clothes than an elder but cannot have more rags than him. They overestimate the power of money and underestimate the power of wisdom. If the Igbo can learn humility and practice diplomacy and discipline themselves to have one leader that they listen to in good and bad times not because he is always right but because he is their leader, their marginalisation will end and their dominance will begin.
These are merely my opinions which may be wrong.
Now that I have touched on Ndi’Igbo, perhaps I may also touch on the South in general. There are four things that the South has to understand about the North. One, there is no such thing as Hausa-Fulani. It is a myth.
There is Hausa and there is Fulani.
The second thing is that the Fulani are not our enemies. They are our rivals for power. Once we make this paradigm shift, our attitudes to seeking political power will change.
The third thing is that the Northern elite are experts at brinkmanship.
A perfect example is the recent ranting by the chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, the cantankerous Ango Abdullahi, who says that the North is prepared to split from Nigeria.
When at Chief EK Clark’s 90th birthday in Abuja, Ango Abdullahi said “I come from Kaduna State, the population according to the 2006 census puts us at 6.3 million. And if you look at the resources that come from the so-called federation account to Kaduna, it is one quarter of what Delta gets”, what Nigerians should understand is that he was only playing the game of brinksmanship.
Kaduna contributes only 0.1% of the funds that enter the Federation Account and gets 1.4% of the monies that leave the Federation Account.
Who should complain between Kaduna and Delta?
The fourth and final thing is that too many Southerners are filled with hostility for the Hausa people. Unbeknownst to but a few of us down South, there are very few actual Hausa people in the North.
Hausa is more of a language than a people. Most of those, we in the South label ‘Hausa’ in the North are a motley crew of various minority ethnic groups who are bound together by a common lingua franca – Hausa. For decades before Independence, these minority groups had been dominated by the Fulani and when Independence came they thought that the more exposed Southerners would come and hand them a hand of fellowship and deliver them from their oppressors but to their shock, we greeted them with hostility and sometimes open hatred and a wise sage like Sardauna Ahmadu Bello opened up his hands to them through his policy of One North and empowered Northern minorities like Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Sunday Awoniyi and co.
Who knows, he might have done the same with the South and created a truly ‘One Nigeria’, if his life had not been tragically cut short in the coup mistakenly called Nzeogwu coup but which was actually masterminded by Emmanuel Ifeajuna with Nzeogwu being slightly more than a pawn in the game.
Ahmadu Bello was not a tribalistic leader. But he was a regional leader. He was suspicious of Southerners in general and he had something akin to disdain and maybe even contempt for Ndi’Igbo. It is an inconvenient truth that cannot be denied. Even his hardcore followers cannot deny this. He is caught on video articulating this view and these videos are now on YouTube.
Some of Sir Ahmadu Bello’s successors have built upon the foundations he laid and have matured to be great patriots.
For instance, despite what the media has written about him to exaggerate his faults, the fact remains that former President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida is one of the most patriotic Nigerians alive. Only President Olusegun Obasanjo can be said to be more patriotic than General Babangida in contemporary Nigerian history.
How do I mean? Consider this; in 1998 after Abacha died and Babangida’s protege, General Abdulsalami Abubakar became head of state, President Babangida engineered the shift of political power from the North to the South-west and specifically to President Olusegun Obasanjo.
For those who think that he had to do this let me ask you a question: What would have happened if the 1999 Presidential election had been thrown open to all and sundry, and not just restricted to the South-west and a Northerner like Atiku Abubakar or some other credible Northerner had won?
Would the South-west have seceded? Would there have been war in 1999? Would Nigeria have gone the way of Rwanda? No, no, no!
There would have been a great discontent in the South-west, but as long as the results were free and fair, there would have been little the South-west could have done to change the situation.
Now let me ask a hypothetical question: Placed in that same situation, with Igbo dominance in the military and in government, would an Igbo leader have ceded power to the Yoruba to compensate them for an event like June 12, knowing that even if he did not, there was little they could do by way of taking the power from him?
Even an Igbo man would agree with me that this is very unlikely.
I do not need to ask the question of whether or not a Yoruba man would do this because General Olusegun Obasanjo had already done it in 1979.
It is this statesmanly humility, (having the power to do something that would favour yours and your people’s cause, yet having the conscience and discipline not to do it because it is against the principles of natural justice), that Ndi’Igbo lack in sufficient quantity at their leadership levels. The above reason is why power continues to elude them. It is more than physical. It is spiritual. As James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”
This humility is ingrained into Yoruba and Northern youths from infancy. In the North, youths squat to greet their fathers and their male elders. In the South-west, children are taught to prostrate for their elders as a form of greeting. Banky W, is an international star but when he met Dele Momodu, he prostrated before him.
Long before him, Sir Shina Peters did that to King Sunny Ade. I doubt that an Igbo man can even muster enough humility to prostrate before his own father how much more an elder! He would consider that as foolishness.
And there is nothing unGodly about this. It is not idolatrous. Many Igbo like to claim Jewish ancestry. Maybe they are right, maybe they are not. But Abraham is the father of the Jewish nation. In Genesis 18:2 the Bible records that “Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.” Look at that “bowed low to the ground”. Abraham prostrated!
That act of humility does not take anything from you. But it gives everything to you. You see, a man’s greatest pleasure and need is not money or sex. It is to feel important. It is to be respected.
Both religion and science support this position. In Genesis 1:28 God gave man a charge and said “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion”.
It is God Himself that put the desire in man to want to dominate, to want to be respected. According to Sigmund Freud, man is dominated by two urges, the sex urge and the urge to be important. This goes back to Genesis 1:28 ‘be fruitful’ and ‘have dominion’.
Women by and large influence men through the first urge which Freud named ‘Eros’. Men influence other men through another part of the male personality that Freud called ego.
Because every man has an ego (the only difference is in size) it is very difficult, if not impossible to influence another man without massaging his ego. Refusal to do so can only end in two ways:
Conflict: which arises when two egos collide and one refuses to bow to the other, or Frustration: which arises when one person refuses to work on the ego of a man who has power over him.