Ever since the police paraded some Yoruba youths over the Ile-Ife, Osun State, violence, which claimed lives and caused the loss of property, I have been thinking about the South westerners in Nigeria and the things that stand them out in the country. I can’t stop seeing the Yoruba, as a race that knows where their interest lies and defends it with everything. I can’t stop seeing the Yoruba as a race that knows its people and defends them. Indeed, I can’t stop seeing the Yoruba as a race that sticks together and fights as one when it matters most.
Some people may see the Yoruba attitude as “clannism.” Perhaps! But I think it is a mark of watching one another’s back, working as a group for a common goal. In a country, where ethnicity and clannishness manifest in everyday life, even in a “change government,” tiwani or tiwantiwa becomes the surviving strategy. This is the lesson the Yoruba have thought the rest of Nigerians. And my people, the Igbo must learn this lesson.
Yes, the police paraded people arrested for allegedly playing one role or another in the mayhem that swept through Ile-Ife about two weeks ago. All suspects arrested and paraded are Yoruba. Coming from a fight between the Yoruba and Hausa in a community, though in a Yorubaland, this looked odd. This is so because where there is an action, there must be a reaction. And the action and reaction may not “be equal and opposite,” as we were taught in Physics. The Yoruba have risen up to say so. They have said it as individuals. They have said it as a group. They have said it as a geopolitical zone.
For the avoidance of doubt, prominent Yoruba sons, irrespective of political affiliation or creed, have condemned what they saw as “one-sided” arrest in Ile-Ife. The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, have explained why only the Yoruba were arrested. He did say that crime had no colour, religion or ethnic configuration. His argument may be good, but Yoruba people won’t buy that. Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State has condemned it. Former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, spoke out against it. Hon. Kehinde Ayoola, a former Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, rejected it. Afenifere topshot, Yinka Odumakin, criticised it. Also, other top Yoruba personalities, like Afenifere leader, Senator Femi Okurounmu; former Bishop of Akure Diocese of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Bishop Emmanuel Bolanle Gbonigi; elder statesman, Ayo Fasanmi and Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) leader, Gani Adams, among others, minced no word in condemning the police and the authorities.
Of course, the condemnation does not stop with Yoruba elite and youths. Groups from the South West have raised hell. They include Afenifere Renewal Group, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group; the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC); Yoruba Youth Council (YYC); Yoruba Movement for Peace, Yoruba Unity Forum and Yoruba Elders Group, among others. Yoruba lawyers have also volunteered to come together and defend the suspects in court, pro bono.
Looking at these actions and reactions from Yoruba people and Yoruba groups, over the Ile-Ife crisis, I have come to respect them. The Yoruba have shown courage and determination to defend their people, no matter the risk. Those who spoke did not exhibit fear. They did not speak from both sides of their mouths. They did not quiver in condemning the arrest of only their people. And so far, there is no dissenting voice.
I have looked at my people, the Igbo and comparing their actions with what the Yoruba have done in the case of arrested youths in Ile-Ife and have seen a clear difference. I am, therefore, persuaded that the Igbo have some lessons to learn from Yoruba people. Some people may not like it, but the truth is that since after the Civil War, the Igbo, individually and collectively, find it difficult to protect their common interest or their people. They no longer speak out collectively when things are going wrong against them. They are afraid to speak out as individuals against what is wrong. They, more often than not, show cowardice, in situations where courage is needed.
Igbo youths, whether as agitators or businessmen/women, have been arrested or killed indiscriminately across the nation. We hardly see a “strong Igbo voice,” in the true sense of it. Sometimes, there is a sprinkle of voices, which does not carry much weight. For one, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, was arrested and clamped into detention for alleged “treason.” Prominent Igbo, mortally afraid of the powers-that-be, never gave a whimper. They looked the other way, while “Rome burnt.” Kanu was charged to court. He was granted bail by the court, but the government refused to honour it. The Igbo did not talk. Also, security agents killed Igbo youths in Onitsha, Asaba, Port Harcourt and other places, because they exercised their rights to protest what they considered as evil in Nigeria. Igbo leaders said nothing. Igbo lawyers have not come together to say they would defend Kanu. This is our lot.
I am, indeed, surprised that a race that had the courage to dare Nigeria in war, with almost bare hands, has suddenly become chickens that run under the table, even when a common “banger” explodes. How are the mighty fallen! The only time I could remember the Igbo stood together, after the Civil War, was in the 2015 presidential election. Some people said it was a mistake, but I insist it was a statement to the effect that they could take a position and stand by it.
In the case of Nnamdi Kanu, it took the courage of former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, to visit him in prison, before the likes Prof Chukwuma Soludo, Prof Pat Utomi, Mr. Emeke Ugwu-Oju and others working under the auspices of the Igbo professionals, came out to demand his release. And now others are demanding Kanu’s freedom, including Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, ex-Anambra governor, Peter Obi, and others. Perhaps, if the Igbo had hit the iron when it was hot, the Kanu and other agitators’ saga would be a diferent story. This is not, in any case, down-playing the fearlessness of the current Ohanaeze Ndigbo president-general, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who has talked about Kanu’s detention, killing of Igbo youths by the military and police and other things that affect the people he represents. This is not failing to highlight the interventions of Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Dr. Dozie Ikedife and other courageous Igbo, in defence of the Igbo nation and people, when it matters most.
The Igbo should learn from the Yoruba how to settle differences, in the interest of the collective. Recently, for instance, there was an emerging face-off between Lagos Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, and his predecessor, Babatunde Fashola, over the reconstruction of Murtala Muhammed International Airport Road, in Lagos. Ambode had fired the first shot and Fashola replied. Those who may be wondering why Ambode and Fashola suddenly started praising each other should know that the Yoruba touch had been applied. People have obviously intervened, knowing that a fight between two prominent Yoruba sons is bad for the zone. Fayose and former Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) fought the All Progressives Congress (APC) in South West, in politics, but when the interest of Yoruba is at stake, they worked together with APC governors from the zone for economic and political integration.
Such things are now rare in Igboland. Okorocha and Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, washed their dirty linens in public. Although they appear to have sheathed the swords, the war is not over. The South East governors were not holding formal meetings, as expected. Igbo political stakeholders do not meet. With all these, the zone is bare and cannot project a common front.
A time has come for the Igbo to look at themselves, re-examine their strategy, come together, dump cowardice and fight for their rights in Nigeria. It is only then that they would get the respect they deserve or their due in Nigeria. If they continue to be in their cocoon, afraid that they would be clobbered, they should remember what the Bible said: For whosoever will save his life shall lose it and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it …(Matthew 16: 25).