Nigerian politicians will never cease to amaze me. Simply put, they are about all the same kind of self seeking people – especially those of them who can be said to belong to the old school, the old brigade.
I was drawn to this conversation when I stumbled into Dr Samuel Okafor’s article debunking the claims former Aviation Minister, Chief Femi Fani Kayode, made in his rather spurious article titled “The bitter truth about the Igbo”. Somehow, Dr Okafor inadvertently followed Kayode’s lead even though he tackled him shoulder-to-shoulder on his claims.
Fani Kayode is a man I have always had a lot of regard for, not only because he is married to one of the very beautiful and therefore fragile Igbo women I would consider any day as my sister, but more because both of us write for the Nigerian Voice and Modern Ghana newspapers and the Sahara Reporters. If I should say that privately I was fond of Femi, it would be the truth. And I hope someone would enable Chief Kayode read this.
But despite the fact that I like him a lot or perhaps because of it, it is sometimes worrying to watch a man of his pedigree who is expected to build bridges to positively facilitate the country’s rather lousy march towards true democracy being more preoccupied with fanning the embers of tribal mischief.
For the avoidance of doubt, let the true situation be known that when Nigerians insinuate that Lagos is “no man’s land”, it does not mean that every Nigerian who lives in Lagos migrated at the same time. Obviously nearly every Lagosian migrated from somewhere else. But while some families have been in Lagos for six, seven, eight generations, others are just new in the place. That is not the issue here though. The issue is that Lagos was the capital city of Nigeria until General Babangida thought out the idea of creating a new federal capital, now Abuja.
Most Nigerians are not in a hurry to forget that by the time Nigeria had self rule in 1960, Lagos was both the commercial nerve centre and the federal capital territory of our country. Lagos had always been a commercially thriving coastal city which held massive attractions for traders and business men and women from many parts of the world.
Lagos swarmed with people. Being a coastal city, men and women arrived from all nooks and crannies of the world to add to the glamorous night life that made Lagos tick. And as a result, traders of all shades and business men and women of all persuasions trooped into Lagos in their droves from other parts of the country too, to make money. Lagos thrived like a beehive. And that was when the “no man’s land” idea was hatched. It meant no harm, either to the Yoruba or to the settlers who came from other parts of the world.
With time, Lagos became congested. The city began to find it difficult to accommodate the teeming number of people who came in daily to live and do business in the land. The infrastructure became over-used and consequently became inadequate for the swarming population that thronged into the city. Expansion became a necessity. And so was the urge to separate the seat of government from the commercial nerve centre.
When the military government of General Yakubu Gowon was toppled in a military putsch on 29 July 1975, the new military Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed, appointed a panel to evaluate the possibility of relocating the federal capital. The panel approved a relocation of the federal capital and seat of government and recommended that while the seat of government should be moved to a new location, Lagos should remain as the commercial nerve centre of the country.
Government officials immediately set out to study world capitals. They looked at Brasília, the new capital of Brazil. They visited Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. They went to Paris, the capital of France and to Washington D.C., the capital of the United States of America. Nigeria was looking for a central place to build a new national capital where its citizens would be equally represented in their entirety. Like Lagos, the new territory was to have favourable climate conditions, vast acres of land and plenty of water.
In 1976, after Abuja was chosen as the land for the new national capital, General Murtala Mohammed spoke to the nation. He said: “We believe that a new federal capital territory created on such virgin lands will be for all Nigerians a symbol of their oneness and unity. The Federal Capital Territory will belong to all Nigerians.” The General predicted a new era of “justice, peace and unity” for all Nigerians. But seven days later, he was assassinated.
As a soldier, General Mohammed made the supreme sacrifice for what he believed in. Looking at Abuja today, we see a modern city sprawling with high rises and a lush topography no one would have thought possible only a few years before. As the capital of Nigeria, citizens still refer to Abuja as “no man’s land”, just as they referred to Lagos when it was the federal capital. And what could possibly be so wrong with that?
That educated historians like Kayode cannot easily preach this gospel to his less informed Yoruba kith and kin is not only unfortunate, it smacks of his proclivity towards tribalism. And if a man as educated as he is, despite marrying across tribes is advocating for tribal supremacy, it simply means that the Igbo should begin to read the hand writing on the wall before they are taken aback by those they had thought could be their allies in nation-building.
In one of my articles titled “After the first hand shake”, I expressed this fear and I quote: “From far away London, we had heard it first in hush-hush whispers. There was a plan in the offing. There was a likelihood that Ohaneze Ndigbo was going to meet with Afanifere to discuss the future of the Nigerian experiment and how they should come into it at that point in time. The one was the apex Igbo cultural world-wide organisation of the south-east, the other its south-west, Yoruba counterpart.
We wondered. Was it possible that the Igbo and Yoruba would one day sit in one room to table and mutually discuss the future of Nigeria as it was happening to them? We adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
Then it became official. It was all over the place in so many media across the globe, even in advertisements. Elders of Ohaneze and Afanifere, youths from the south-east and south-west, their royal fathers, their governors, the women – in fact, all stakeholders in the Nigerian experiment who hailed from south of the country were to meet in Enugu on 11 January 2018. In Enugu, they would rub minds and exchange ideas on the way forward in the current political dispensation. They would deliberate on whether the people of southern Nigeria still had a voice in determining how the future of Nigeria should be shaped. They would discuss the possibility of restructuring Nigeria in its present context and come to a consensus. The meeting which was dubbed ‘Handshake across the Niger’ was heralded here in London by many southern Nigerians. But some of them received the news with mixed feelings of excitement and caution.
They were excited because they felt that the people of southern Nigeria were at last beginning to shake off their long, deep slumber.
Every day, they heard news about very ugly and unpleasant events happening in Nigeria. They heard, especially, of the daily killings of tens and hundreds of Nigerians in the north east either by Boko Haram or Fulani herdsmen or some local vigilante group. They heard of the government’s reluctant response to the situations on the ground. They heard of the people’s frustration and subsequent self-resignation to the violent whims and caprices and the ever threatening presence of terrorists among them.
Was it surprising that the leaders of the east and west had not thought it necessary to intercede in the conflict that was threatening to crush the country and bring it on its knees? Of course it was. So, if at last they had agreed to come together in unison to look into what the problem could be with Nigeria, it was sufficient reason to be excited.
But then, Nigerians from the south east were also cautious. From their very personal experiences, most people from the south east would be willing to tell anyone who cared to listen that people from the west were as slippery as jelly. They could betray their friend, even to an enemy. The south easterners believed that with all the power the north wields in the present government, occupying all the major security posts in the country, they would be simply taking a huge risk discussing the future of Nigeria’s ethnic components with a people they could scarcely trust.
The Yoruba, on the other hand, also distrusted the Igbo. They saw them as somewhat dominating, especially in business, and were afraid that any dealings with them would be like subjecting themselves willingly to the domination of the Igbo. In some sense, they would prefer the Hausa-Fulani alliance where they are surer of superior grounds in terms of education and enterprise.
Against this background, one Yoruba social commentator even posted a recent soul-searching analysis of what he considered as the Yoruba position in the social media, titled “Sad Yoruba Nation?”
In the post, the anonymous writer who virtually summarised the situation that had hitherto forestalled the coming together of the Igbo and Yoruba ethnic groups asks: “Did the Igbo put guns on anybody’s head before buying up Alaba, Ajegunle, Isolo and Oshodi in Lagos? Did they use juju before Ibadan surrendered Iwo Road to them? And what were we (Yoruba) looking at before the Igbo took over Isida and Adeti in Ilesa? Where were the Yoruba when the Igbo thrived and built 90% of the hotels in Abuja? Was there a law that excluded Yoruba from selling building materials? Dei Dei Building Materials Market in Abuja is 90% Igbo-owned.
“So, the more we point one finger at the Igbo, the more we have the other four fingers pointing at our laziness and lack of initiative as a society. The Yoruba should have been better with all our education, but we may be worse than the Fulani who just roam about the bush. Why? It is because we lack the entrepreneurship spirit. We just want salaries from doing 8 am to 5 pm jobs. The Igbo are different hence we are now jealous and envious.
“We love wasteful parties and Aso Ebi. Just a little business without even making any profit, yet we usually call musicians and spray money like confetti.”
Despite these and similar situations, those who attended the handshake across the Niger meeting said it went well. They said people came with an open heart. They came in expectation, like bosom friends who were meeting again after losing contact in a long, long while.
The two dominant southern ethnicities were known to have a common ancestry after all. They came from the Kwa Group of the Niger/Congo. But over the years, they had been mutually suspicious of each other. Given the unpredictable developments in Nigeria’s political arena, they had to resolve their differences in the face of the need to restructure the country. That, in essence, was their main focus.
The event which attracted several notable Igbo and Yoruba elite and stakeholders in the Nigeria project x-rayed the past, present and future Igbo and Yoruba relationship and sought for ways to enhance that fraternal relationship.
Among those who spoke was Femi Fani-Kayode, a man whose courage I always admired. Kayode who is married to an Igbo woman spoke eloquently on the ordeal the Igbo had been forced to pass through over the years and insisted that the days of fear were over and that either the present government was willing to restructure the country in its present context or Nigeria would seize to exist as it is known today.”
Kayode sounded like a nationalist then. So, one would have expected a “return match” after the first handshake across the Niger. The Yoruba should have called a follow-up meeting after the one held in Enugu. But, no, they did not see the need! There was not going to be a follow-up after the first handshake and that is politics, the Yoruba way. Today, Kayode and his kinsmen appear to be dancing to a different tune.
Truth is Nigerians already know that tribal leadership is what pays Nigerian politicians better. That is why the politicians have deliberately and criminally suppressed any attempt to fuse the different ethnic groups into a nationality in practice. So, that is probably why this same Yoruba elite, eight months later, would slide back to discuss the frivolous idea of Lagos being no-man’s land and assert Yoruba ownership of the former federal capital. It shows the typical Yoruba for who he is. And no true Nigerian would be surprised at that.
I am minded to believe that even though Kayode professes to be a big boy in the PDP, his sympathy, as projected by his body language, is for the APC. I am minded to believe that Kayode as a Nigerian politician of the old order is carried away by the fancy of his brother, Lord Ahmed Tinubu becoming the next President after Buhari. But I make haste to remind him that given Tinubu’s personal ambition, if Nigeria must attain true democracy, the axiom must be respected always that what concerns the country must take precedence over what concerns an individual politician or any political party. Come on, Femi. Nigerians in the Diaspora expect more from you than the breath of a tribal leader.
- Mr Asinugo is a London-based journalist, author of “The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari” and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (imostateblm.com)
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