By Suyi AYODELE
Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu is the Chairman of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Council of Elders. The octogenarian has been in the news in the last four days for the wrong reasons. His outburst at the one-year anniversary of Governor Charles Soludo of Anambra State against the Yoruba of the South-West is the reason everyone is baying for his blood. And those calling for his blood are justified.
While speaking at the occasion, Chief Iwuanyanwu uttered the following words: “Yorubas (sic) are just political rascals, and we are going to handle them”.
The Ohanaeze chieftain was referring to the harassment of Igbo in Lagos during the February 25 and March 18 elections. He was pained. Now, a few Nigerians were and are pained by the unfortunate incidents in Lagos. The elderly man said before his “Yoruba rascals” statement earlier: “So, I want those who are from Lagos to go home and tell those in Lagos that we have resolved that never again can we allow anybody to take the life of any innocent Igbo person. All of us are going to fight the person. We are going to fight the person. Never again! He warned those asking the Igbo to leave Lagos that: “We are in Nigeria, and we have invested in Nigeria, and our investments are so much. We are not going to take it when people tell us to go; we are not going anywhere. And I want to tell those who are in Lagos to realise that there is no war between us and Yorubas”.
To a greater extent, he was right. There was no war between the Yoruba of South-West and the Igbo of the South-East. What happened in Lagos during the election was a war of survival between two sets of selfish people; the Yoruba clan who came out to protect their pot of soup, Lagos State, and the overzealous Igbo residents in Lagos, who erroneously reduced a national movement to an ethnic ambition.
Jesus Christ is the first in human history to have laid down his life for his friends. That was over 2000 years ago. The next person to have replicated same feat, at least in contemporary Nigerian history, was the late Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, who on July 29, 1966, laid down his life in protection of his guest, the General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. When the retaliatory soldiers of northern extraction came calling for Irons’s head in Ibadan, Fajuyi, who was then the Military Governor of the defunct Western Region refused to release his guests to the killer squad. He volunteered to die alongside Aguiyi-Ironsi and he was so killed. That was the relationship between the Yoruba and the Ndigbo. It did not start with Fajuyi and Aguiyi-Ironsi.
When the late nationalist, Herbert Macaulay, formed the then National Council for Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) in 1944, his most trusted ally was Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, whom he made the first Secretary. At the exit of Macaulay, Azikwe inherited the party as the second president. Assisted by prominent Yoruba sons and daughters, Azikwe’s NCNC won elections in some cities of South-West. Thus, Iwuanyanwu was right when he said that; “there is no war between us (Igbo) and Yorubas (sic)”. What then is the problem? The answer is found in the conduct of Iwuanyanwu in Awka, Anambra State, who last Saturday called the Yoruba “political rascals”.
That is a most unfortunate statement coming from an elder statesman of Iwuanyanwu’s clout. This is why those who refer to the Igbo in Lagos as ethnic jingoists appear to be justified. I watched Iwuayanwu’s video a couple of times. What came to my mind, especially when those who sent the video to me (and I had several of them), said “Suyi, can you now see?”, is the saying of my people on similar occasions.
Whenever the conduct of a member of a community brings opprobrium to the entire clan, my people draw wisdom from the allegory of Eran Ìbíye. Eran Ìbíye, when translated, simply means Ìbíye’s goat. Eran, in Yoruba morphology can translate to meat in the general form and goat in the more specific codification. In the Ekiti variety of the Standard Yoruba, eran, most often than not, when used contextually in an abusive mode, means goat.
The allegory of Eran Ìbíye is a story of a recalcitrant goat which brings insults to its equally grumpy owner, Ìbíye. Ìbíye, the folktale discloses, is a one-eyed woman. Her right eye was bad. She also has a pet goat, which has a half blind left eye. While Ìbíye, in her pettish manner picks quarrels with every neighbour, her goat, on its part, breaks into everyone’s home eating up all edibles available. When the victims of Eran Ìbíye’s voyage into their homes want to lament their losses, they call the goat “eran buruku, eran olojukan” (bad goat of the one-eyed).
The ambiguity in the expression is due to the flexible semiotics of the words, which makes it very difficult to know who is being referred to as “eran olojukan. The immediate transliteration of the noun phrase, “eran olojukan” is “the goat of a one-eyed owner. Whereas the literal meaning is “the one-eyed goat”. Of course, whenever such words are uttered, Ìbíye goes into another round of fight and the entire clan will be on edge trying to explain that no reference is being made to Ìbíye’s deformity but that of her goat.
To resolve the riddle, the people resort to the saying: “Amúni búni eran Ìbíye. Ìbíye fó lójú òtún, eran ré fó lójú òsì. Eran ún ja’lé, Ìbíye ún se ìjògbòn” (Ìbíye’s goat makes neighbours to insult the owner. Ìbíye is blind in her right eye and her goat is blind on the left eye. While the goat breaks home bounds, Ìbíye is a perpetual troublemaker).
The 2023 general election is one that will go down in history as the most divisive election ever held in Nigeria. Two major factors ruled the election. One is the issue of religion, and the second is the place of ethnicity. From Kano to Kafanchan, Abeokuta to Aramoko Ekiti; Akwa Ettiti to Ekeremor, Nigerians identified the political gladiators who presented themselves for the various elective positions by the languages they speak and the colour of their religious creeds. No attention, I say with every sense of conviction, was paid to the competence of the candidates.
These two factors were more pronounced, while the electioneering lasted, among the three leading political parties: the All Progressive Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP). And for the first time too, the division was more noticeable among the people of Southern Nigeria, and if one takes it further, between the Yoruba people of the South-West and the Igbo of the South-East. The bad blood the election generated among the supporters of the APC candidate, now president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and those of the phenomenal LP candidate, Peter Obi, is one that will live with us for long.
The acrimony between these two groups was such that even though, the perennial presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, came second at the end of the exercise, his presence was shadowed by the LP and the APC tug of war. While Nigerians easily dismissed Atiku as an extension of the Buhari Fulani hegemony, the nation was left gasping for breath by the tsunamic exploits of the LP and its enthusiastic youthful supporters, who tagged themselves, ‘Obidients’.
What actually kindled ‘animosity’ between the Yoruba and the Igbo was the result of the February 25 presidential election which saw the LP trouncing the APC in Lagos which had always been known as an APC stronghold. With the looming repeat of the February 25 feat during the governorship election of March 18, the two ethnic groups went to practical war. That was expected because of the boast by some LP supporters who vowed to end Tinubu’s APC’s stranglehold on Lagos State. In reaction, the Tinubu political family deployed every conventional and unconventional tactic to win the election. Some two days to March 18, it was clear even to the blind that only the boldest of Igbo residents in Lagos would dare venture out to vote.
The election has since come and gone. By whatever means, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu won his second term in office. But there are lessons to be learnt in the election. For me, I stand by the view that the outright intimidation of the Igbo residents in Lagos and anywhere else during the election remains condemnable. No rational mind should justify the barbaric underhand dealings perpetrated to achieve victory for the APC. To a greater extent, I want to believe that without going overboard, the APC would still have won the Lagos gubernatorial election.
It is also of note that whatever success the LP recorded in Lagos in the February 25 presidential election was not made possible by only the Igbo residents in Lagos. No! I am sure that if forensic fingerprint analyses of the ballot papers are carried out, a sizeable number of Yoruba, Hausa and other ethnic nationalities voted for the LP during that election. It cannot also be ruled out that not a few Igbo people also voted for Tinubu and his APC at that election.
The unnecessary tension came about because a few overzealous Igbo Lagos residents tried to appropriate the February 25 success as Igbo magic. That was where they got it wrong and what brought about the unfortunate reaction from the Yoruba APC political family. Every race has its fair share of the good, the bad and the ugly. Extremists exist in every ethnic group. The results of the elections from the South-East and how other political parties fared in that region compared to the LP also speaks volumes.
What Chief Iwuanyanwu did by his last Saturday’s castigation of the Yoruba political class was to justify the position of those who believe that the Ndigbo is an aggressively domineering sect. Whenever an elder speaks in the manner the Owerri chief spoke, it tells us the type of moonlight tales such elders tell their young folks. After the elections, Nigerians should be thinking of the healing process.
A friend told me last week that around Coker in Lagos, supermarkets run by the Igbo were shut to customers because of fear of attacks. Both the old and the young owe it a duty to reassure our folks from the South-East that they are safe anywhere in the country. Any statement that tends to reopen the healing wounds should not be heard, not even when the very old we all look up to for quality leadership are involved. There are political rascals in all ethnic groups in Nigeria. The Arewa people, who are trying to wear a clean robe of political decency are merely on a voyage of self-deceit. Voter’s intimidation was witnessed in virtually every state of the federation. That wouldn’t have been if the Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC) had done the needful.
The Igbo apex socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, I daresay, is not also helping matters. Its defense of Iwuanyanwu’s unfortunate statement is not the best way to pacify those who are genuinely injured by the Ohanaeze chieftain. Calling those who condemned Iwuanyanwu as “mischief makers” is very preposterous of the Ohanaeze at this period. Chief Iwuanyanwu, as we all can recall, ran a national newspaper for many decades. He knows what communication is. He made a very huge mistake and Ohanaeze should just accept that and allow us to move forward.
Again, it will also be wrong for anyone to conclude that because Iwuanyanwu uttered those words, every Igbo man sees the Yoruba race in that mould.
It is equally gratifying to note that Chief Iwuanyanwu has backtracked on the statement. In a statement he endorsed on March 27, Iwuanyanwu said his statement at the Awka event was completely misrepresented. “I want to make it abundantly clear that at no time did I make the statement credited to me by blackmail circulating on the social media that Yorubas are political rascals as this was fraudulently manipulated. …I am no doubt an honorary citizen of Yoruba land.
I have many personal friends and staff of my various companies including directors who are Yorubas…I therefore do not have any reason whatsoever to insult the Yoruba tribe whom I regard with great respect”. Being an elder, one will take this rebuttal as the chief’s veiled apology and that, I think, should be taken in view of everyone’s desire for a united Nigeria. Maybe, “the rascals, hooligans, spivs, charlatans, miscreants, and dregs of Lagos society” the Ohanaeze referred to in its statement are the Eran Ibiye who should change their ways. This becomes imperative in the face of the validity of the saying that only one man is baldheaded in Ado (not Ado Ekiti) and the entire people are referred to as “the baldheaded people of Ado”.