Femi Fani-Kayode’s Tangled Web (Part 1)

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema

Nearly fifteen years ago, when I was an undergraduate student of History, my project supervisor made a profound statement in class. He said: ‘History exposes the dirty old man.’ That statement has been reverberating in my mind since I read Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode’s diatribe ‘The Bitter Truth about the Igbo.’ The essay is his follow-up to another work of his titled ‘Lagos, the Igbos and the Servants of Truth.’ Both articles seek to provide historical understanding about the ownership of Lagos and the place of the Igbo in it. Interestingly, they portray the Igbo as strangers in Lagos who depend on Yoruba largesse; that the Igbo are basically the cause of Nigeria’s vexed condition. Reading through both essays, especially the second one, some basic issues cropped up in my mind.

First, the genesis of Fani-Kayode’s diatribe which purportedly defends Yoruba patrimony is the reaction of ex-Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu to the ‘deportation’ of 14 or 72 (take your pick) Igbo destitutes from Lagos to Onitsha, Anambra State, by the agents of the Lagos State government. Kalu described Lagos as a ‘no man’s land’ in which the Igbo had a stake as major contributors to its revenue base and thus should not be so shabbily treated. Fani-Kayode’s anger stemmed from the implications associated with that expression ‘no man’s land.’ But his essays were silent on the core issues. I expected him to address the questions. But in case he does not know what they are or perhaps he sidestepped them in order to build a platform for launching his historical barrage on the Igbo, let me raise them. Did the Fashola government do the right thing with these destitutes? What are the implications of that action for Igbo-Yoruba relations and national unity in this tense period of Nigeria’s evolution? Now other states have taken a cue from Lagos and are ‘deporting’ destitutes. Last time I checked, Rivers State was the latest to get on the bandwagon. Has our Cambridge-educated lawyer asked what this line of action, if unchecked, will mean for Nigeria? Who defines a destitute? Is it part of any state governor’s mandate to do so and consequently toss non-indigenes who meet his criteria out of the state? If I dress in beggarly clothes and speak Yoruba under a Port Harcourt bridge that gives Governor Rotimi Amaechi the licence to ‘deport’ me to Lagos State. These are fundamental posers which Fani-Kayode is not addressing. They go to the heart of the type of federation Nigeria is. Can the governor of Texas ‘deport’ a New Yorker in his state or deprive him of any of his fundamental rights in so far as the New Yorker has not violated the laws of the United States which both Texas and New York State subscribe to? Is poverty a crime in the Nigerian constitution? I have read Governor Fashola’s explanations of the ‘deportation’ and learnt of Anambra State Governor Peter Obi’s response. Both men completely missed the goalpost. If they have a hotline to each other, as Fashola implies, why did they not use it before matters got out of hand? Obi should have checked up with his Liaison Office staff; Fashola should have informed Obi through the hotline if the established protocols had failed. Strictly speaking, the ‘deportation’ policy raises the issue of how much of the notion of Nigerian citizenship exists.

Second, Fani-Kayode’s essays, especially the second one, turned history on its head. It should not be unchallenged because it is a beautiful mixture of half-truths and inaccuracies that can cause a lot of damage to readers who are uncritical or lack the inclination or facility to cross-check Fani-Kayode’s presentations. The new generation of Nigerians, including Igbo and Yoruba, are in trouble if a self-confessed history buff like Fani-Kayode deploys skewered history to argue that the Igbo have no stake in Lagos except as guests and that they are the trouble with Nigeria.

This essay intends to untangle Fani-Kayode’s tangled web and not unduly inflame passions, though facts are no man’s friend.

Fani-Kayode wrote in the second essay: ‘It is that same attitude of ‘‘we own everything;’’ ‘‘we must have everything;’’ ‘‘ we must control everything’’ that Igbo settlers manifested in the Northern Region in the late 50s and early and mid-60s that got them into so much trouble up there with the Hausa Fulani and that eventually led to the terrible pogroms where almost one hundred thousand of them were killed in just a few days. Again it is that same attitude that they manifested in Lagos and the Western Region….’

Clearly he does not know that inter-group relations among Nigerians since the British imposition of their 3Cs-christianity, commerce and colonial rule-has been characterised by conflict. These were groups that, in most cases, had little or nothing in common with each other. True, links were forged by the British imposition. But mutually antagonistic worldviews and competition for the benefits of the new world order were not going to be friendly. Maybe Fani-Kayode does not know that as far back as 1934 Yoruba traders tried to take over the kola nut trade between their homeland and Northern Nigeria borderlines, hitherto the exclusive preserve of Hausa kola nut merchants. They failed. If the Igbo are accused of commencing the take over bid for Nigeria, what does this example tell about the Yoruba? What of the contemporary scenario in many Lagos markets where non-Yoruba are, through various strategies, denied participation in some apparently lucrative trades? The point is that in the competition in the unwholesome capitalist world the Europeans integrated us into; ugly tools were and are still being used by all ethnic groups.

Fani-Kayode wrote that the Igbo introduced tribalism in Southern Nigerian politics. He capitalised on the statements of Charles Daddy Onyeama and Nnamdi Azikiwe to buttress this charge. Onyeama allegedly declared that it was only a matter of time before the Igbo dominated Nigeria and Africa. Azikiwe’s statement should be quoted in full because of his position in Nigeria’s history. It came from Azikiwe’s newspaper ‘West African Pilot:’

‘It would appear that the God of Africa has created the Ibo nation to lead the children of Africa from the bondage of ages. History has enabled them not only to conquer others but also to adapt themselves to the role of preserver…The Ibo cannot shirk its responsibility.’

At first glance this statement supports Fani-Kayode’s argument. But if he decided to write objective history, Fani-Kayode would have told his readers the following facts which can be cross checked:

These views by Azikiwe were aimed at the colonial masters who were effectively spreading the gospel that the Igbo, and by extension, other black Africans, had no history till the white man came; that they were destined to be in the white man’s thrall and remain conquered.

By the time this statement was made, the crafty British had successfully inserted tribal politics among Nigerian nationalists. Example: the Richards Constitution of 1945 sowed the seed of regionalisation which gave official imprimatur to tribalist suspicions raised by the new world order of colonial rule. This extract from Dennis Osadebey’s biography ‘Building a Nation’ sets matters in proper perspective:

‘Although the Richards Constitution did advance Nigeria some steps further in the journey to democratic autonomy, Nigerian nationalists did not like it. They did not like the principle of regionalisation which they described as ‘Pakistanization.’ They saw in it the age-old long strategy of imperialism to ‘divide and rule;’ and their fears were strengthened when it was learnt

that in making his Constitution, Sir Arthur Richards had ulterior motives. It was said he wanted to disperse the concentration of political agitation in Lagos, and send the agitators and ‘hotheads’ back to their own regions where they could be contained by the British Chief Commissioners and their British administrative officers, while he took care of the Lagosians.’ Azikiwe’s party, the NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons), fought the constitution but failed.

When Azikiwe returned to Lagos from Ghana in 1937, he galvanized Lagos politics and took it out of its local cocoon. His reputation as a journalist, nationalist, orator and pan-Africanist preceded him. He joined the Lagos Youth Movement (LYM). Other notables in the LYM included Obafemi Awolowo and Hezekiah O. Davies. They broadened the LYM’s appeal and its name changed to the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM). The NYM won the three seats in the Legislative Council allocated to Nigerians by the 1922 Clifford Constitution. But when one of its members, Kofo Abayomi, vacated his seat to travel to England, a dispute over his successor arose in the NYM. The contenders were Samuel Akinsanya, an Ijebu Yoruba, and Ernest Ikoli, an Eastern Nigerian from the riverine area of Brass. If Azikiwe was the architect of tribalism in Southern Nigerian politics would he have taken the position he did as narrated by this source:

‘Samuel Akinsanya was a Yoruba from Ijebu Province of Nigeria, and the Lagos Yorubas in the Movement would not have an Ijebu to represent Lagos in such an august body as the Legislative Council. Although Ijebus are Yorubas, the Lagosians looked down on them. One Lagosian, Mr. Kingston Gomez, exclaimed at a Youth Movement meeting ‘Ijebu ke n’ile yii’ meaning ‘Even an Ijebu would want to represent us in this land!’ It is true that Mr. Ernest Ikoli was not Yoruba but he had lived in Lagos since his boyhood…He married a Lagos Yoruba lady and was regarded as a Lagosian

‘Ijebu members of the Movement and Azikiwe took exception to this discrimination against Akinsanya and demanded that Mr. Gomez withdraw the offending words. Mr. Gomez refused. The Ijebu members and Azikiwe then resigned. Many other non-Lagosians followed suit and left that Movement.’ Though Ikoli won the election to the Council the NYM died. These events occurred from 1937-1943. So how is Azikiwe the father of tribal politics in Southern Nigeria?

Fani-Kayode made a song and dance about Azikiwe succeeding Herbert Macaulay, a Yoruba, as the leader of the NCNC. To Fani-Kayode, this is proof of lack of racial prejudice and tribal bigotry on the part of the Yoruba. True, Macaulay was not a tribal bigot. Till date many Yoruba and non-Yoruba emulate his example. But it is a fact that there were many Yoruba who would rather eat their hat than follow Azikiwe’s leadership because of his ethnic background. They included NCNC founding fathers like Dr. Olorun-Nimbe and Magnus Williams. Azikiwe, too, was a founding father of the party. But theses gentlemen quit and became the nucleus of anti-Igbo stance in Southern Nigerian politics. Who sowed the story that Azikiwe was told by Igbo students in London when he led the NCNC delegation to fight the Richards Constitution not to trust his Yoruba colleagues? The story was later proven to be false but it was a gem. It brought tribal politics into NCNC, Nigeria’s leading party at that time.

I will not delve into the politics of Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group and Chief Akintola’s Nigerian National Democratic Party. The historical records are available and Fani-Kayode can study them. His father, Chief Fani-Kayode, was Akintola’s deputy.

Only a hater of Nigeria will raise the spectre of the coups of 1966 and the civil war to score unnecessary points. If these events must be addressed in history, they should be untainted by bias. Fani-Kayode claims that the great Yoruba magnanimity towards the Igbo was exhibited in the July 29 1966 coup when Lieutenant-Colonel Adekunle Francis Fajuyi, the governor of the old Western Region, openly preferred to die rather than give up his guest, General Ironsi, the head of state, to the coup plotters. Fani-Kayode argued that the Igbo ought to eternally grateful for that sacrifice by the Yoruba soldier.

Facts: Fajuyi was NOT shot because he refused to give up Ironsi. If he is a student of Nigerian history, Fani-Kayode should know this. I know he is a fan of Max Silloun, the chronicler of Nigerian military history. He should read Silloun’s book on Nigerian coups between 1966 and 1976. The title is ‘Oil, Politics and Violence.’ Silloun’s article on the July coup titled ‘The Northern Counter-Coup of 1966: The Full Story’ is freely available on the internet. The plotters had Fajuyi’s official residence surrounded; they had Northern moles inside and there was no way Fajuyi or Ironsi could stop them since all military facilities then were in the plotters’ grip.

The plotters killed Fajuyi because they believed he was an accessory to and supporter of the January 16 1966 coup which Fani-Kayode calls an Igbo coup. Adewale Ademouega, one of that coup’s leaders, wrote in page 59 of ‘Why We Struck,’ his account of the coup:

‘…Lieutenant-Colonel Fajuyi who commanded the Course had sympathy for our course and was willing to contribute ideas to the execution of our plan. It shall stand eternally to his credit that although the coup took place while he was away on leave, he rose for the revolution and stood firmly by its principles even until he breathed his last.’

Participants in the July coup, namely General T.Y Danjuma, and (then Lieutenant) William Walbe, confirmed this separately. I will quote only Walbe’s words: ‘We suspected him (Fajuyi) of being party to the January coup. You remember the Battle Group Course which was held at Abeokuta…Fajuyi was the commander of the Battle Group Course. All those who took part in the January coup were those who had taken part in that course. It gave us the impression that the Battle Course was arranged for the
January coup, so he had to suffer it too.’

Maybe Fani-Kayode does not know that Yoruba officers participated in the butchery of July 29 so his argument that there were no Yoruba reprisals against the Igbo for the January coup holds no water. Four Yoruba officers from Ilorin and Kabba were involved. One was Major (later Colonel) Shittu Alao who commanded the Nigerian Air Force. Another was Major (later Colonel) Daramola who commanded the Eighth Brigade of the Second Division of the Nigerian Army during the civil war.

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