Some people are working hard to make me believe what I already know, which is that I have met many wicked Yoruba in my life. If you have the patience to read on, you will marvel at the lengths they were prepared to go to deliver acts of wickedness to my family. I know there are political hack writers out there promoting another truth that Ndigbo are truly the problem of the children of Oduduwa. So, today, I offer a testimony of my deliciously harrowing experience in the hands of wicked sons and daughters of Oduduwa.
My life in the Yoruba country began in Akure before I relocated to Lagos. Altogether, I spent 18 unbroken years of my life living among the Yoruba, collaborating with them at work, playing with them outdoors and in clubs. I should know a thing or two about them after those years, because experience remains the best teacher.
I met the first wicked Yoruba employer as a youth corps member at an Akure-based book publishing firm. His name was J.T. Aiyegbayo. He is still with us in the land of the living, but I am not concerned that he might read this and weep. J.T. is as wicked as they come. He facilitated deployment of a dear Igbo friend and I to his publishing business for our primary assignment. His wickedness did not stop there. He housed us in a well-appointed three-bedroom flat at Ijapo Estate (a low-density area of Akure), gave us an official car, and paid us generous monthly allowances that made the two Igbo youth live like kings among their peers. Publisher J.T. bewitched us with his wicked ways, served in very generous portions. Could it be because my friend and I were Catholic that this fellow who worshipped at a white garment church decided to deal with us the way he did?
As if that was not enough, I had the misfortune of meeting another wicked Yoruba youth on the same day that I travelled to Lagos to resume as a staff of The Guardian newspaper. His name was Akin Somoye, sadly late. This was August 1986. A cousin introduced Akin and I and we instantly bonded. This cousin took both of us to live with him in his three-bedroom apartment in Ogba. Our animated conversations made that 453 kilometre trip from Onitsha to Lagos by road look like a walk in the park. Akin was so wicked in his delightful Yoruba ways that, today, I get emotional at his memory. Our friendship ended only because a crazy gopnik fatally stabbed him in Moscow, on the eve of his departure to Nigeria after successfully defending his PhD thesis.
It was such an unforgettably wicked friendship. We watched each other’s back like true blood brothers. Along the way, he introduced me to the first wicked Yoruba academic that became a mother and mentor to my wife and I. Her name was Dr. Margaret Ogungbesan, also sadly late, but we affectionately called her Auntie Maggie. She cleared the path for me to pursue graduate degree at the University of Lagos while I was working at The Guardian. And then she added the icing on the cake when she and her husband, a medical doctor, graciously agreed to function as our wedding sponsors in 1993.
Auntie Maggie never allowed my family a moment’s rest with her wicked ways. She would come bearing gifts to fuss over my wife and the children. Her memory also makes me emotional, especially when I remember that one of her visits saved my life. On that fateful day, she was surprised to find me at home and in bed shivering, mouth sore and swollen, throat hurting, unable to breathe properly. Luckily, she knew and recommended a drug that saved me from my misery within 24 hours. She rescued me from a greedy neighbourhood doctor whose hospital I approached to manage an acute case of malaria. Auntie Maggie was convinced that the quack was feeding me with drugs that worsened, rather than relieved, my suffering. Our neighbours later confirmed this because I was not his only victim.
Akin and I leveraged the social networks of Auntie Maggie and my cousin to overcome circumstances that threatened our educational aspiration. Because of their serial acts of wickedness, I still feel the pain of Akin and Auntie Maggie’s passing. Akin first introduced me to the social circuits in Lagos where I met and happily mingled with a lot more of the wicked Yoruba men and women that are still friends to this day. In a sense, it was this terrible first experience that subsequently made me relate with any other without bothering about their surnames or where they worshipped.
One of my teachers back in Enugu exposed highflyers from my school to work in The Guardian. This was how I ended up in Lagos after national service. However, it took another wicked Yoruba, Mr. Lade Bonuola, who is thankfully alive and well, to end my five years of demanding work in The Guardian with neither a raise nor promotion. Ladbone, as everyone in the profession knows him, wickedly jumped me three grades within six months to qualify for appointment as news editor. He, a Yoruba, and a Cross Bearer (adherent of the Grail Message), delivered this piece of mischief to an Igbo youth who is of the Catholic faith.
The Yoruba did not leave me alone, even where I lived with my family in Festac Town. I still met another wicked neighbour who turned out to be a friend and local guide. Mr. Dapo Adalemo, a retired chief sub-editor at New Nigerian in Lagos was the friend that I affectionately nicknamed Commander-in-Chief. Being older and more experienced in the trade, I eagerly looked forward to coming home to spend quality leisure time with him. And he generously shared invaluable insights on life, Lagos politics, and journalism. Commander-in-Chief was both Yoruba and Muslim.
Did I ever meet a kindly Yoruba person? One of my editorial supervisors at The Guardian opposed my appointment as news editor. Throughout our association, he happily served me a delicious query for breakfast every other day, in hopes of garnishing his efforts with future suspension or outright sack. Sadly, management took no notice of his kindly ways. One day, an admin officer invited and quietly showed me that none of our fiery exchanges made it to my personal file for evaluation purposes. This supervisor, who shall remain unnamed, gave me a whiff of how bosses intentionally choose to invest in the downfall of their subordinates. But his kindness was an isolated case, an exception to the many wicked acts that my family and I enjoyed in the hands of the Yoruba that I met at work, where we lived and in social circuits.
These experiences convince me that the enmity between Igbo and Yoruba is an artificial creation of identity politics, powered by ambitious regional powermongers from both sides. It is an artificial wine that they open to get their kinsmen inebriated with ethnic pride whenever they sense that their personal ambitions are under threat. They know that this political drug cannot cure Nigeria of its acute socioeconomic malaria, much like the Lagos doctor from whose greedy hands Auntie Maggie rescued me. They also know that the effects of the drug wear off soon after elections. Keep in mind that, despite the shows of bravado, members of one group do not intentionally set out to kill those of the other, unlike what we intermittently witness in northern Nigeria. Thus, there must be something wickedly good about a relationship that endured for more than a century of intermarriages, great business partnerships, and support for career aspirations of deserving youths by the good people from both sides. Are these façades that mask a “consuming hatred” that the two groups nurse against each other, as the hack writers try to make out?
The only problem is that the ambition of desperate politicians to win elections trumps everything else. They never pause to think about the damage they cause. Today, families experience murder of their loved ones daily, highway bandits kidnap travellers for ransom, herders rape women in farms and destroy crops, just as rustlers pinch their cows. Hard-pressed private sector employers deprive workers of their wages while state and local governments owe for months on end. Undergraduates of our public universities are not in school because their teachers are on strike. All these spell national social dislocation and economic ruin. One would imagine that politicians looking for power will use solutions to these challenges to campaign for votes. But no, the biggest issues are idiotic ramblings such as the nature of the relationship between Igbo and Yoruba, and whether Lagos is a no-man’s land.
Let desperate politicians and media hacks continue to promote interethnic conflicts as vote-catching measures. However, citizens who are the targets of the propaganda should note that the unending rivalry between the Yoruba and Igbo neither gave rise to Nigeria’s current multifaced challenges nor will it deliver solutions. A solution will come only when we approach the matter like the wicked Yoruba whose character I profiled from the above firsthand experiences, dealing with the other without regard to their surnames or where they worship. Our help will come when we look beyond our blinders to choose leaders who have what it takes to force a change – a relatable vision, a workable plan, proven managerial capacity, and a history of altruistic leadership.
My honest assessment is that, so far, we are yet to see the leader we need among the current lineup of presidential candidates. This is not to say that there is none. Voters cannot make the right choice now, principally because the media chose to report the 2023 election like a horse race. They will see and vote for the right candidates when the media focus on citizen issues, intelligently and honestly analyzing candidate platforms to give them a clearer picture of their strengths and weaknesses.