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Rejoinder: The Bitter Truth About Femi Fani-Kayode's Article By Akin Ajose-Adeogun

By Akin Ajose-Adeogun
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Double standards trouble me. Double standards in multi-ethnic Third World countries that are precariously balanced on a knife's edge trouble me greatly.

In the light of this, the following questions have given me much concern : (1) I have often wondered why Chinua Achebe, or even Tony Oganah (Ohaneze spokesman) who gave a very disturbing interview to the Sunday Punch about two weeks ago, were never cautioned for what many non-Igbo regard as their Igbo supremacist views (Achebe, in particular, was fond of observing that "...they had a head start, but within a few years we had overtaken them...we dominated this and we dominated that...we were on top...the most gifted...the most talented...etc...," reminding one of the chief Nazi racial theorist, Alfred Rosenberg, rattling on about the blue-eyed, blonde-haired, Aryan master race and the untermenschen - the sub-human races)? (2) Where was the righteous indignation of the Igbo when Governor Peter Obi started mischievously reading ethnicity into the Lagos State government's exercise of its statutory powers [under the social welfare laws] to repatriate vagrants - including those from the South-Western states - to their families/homes? (3) I can't imagine what the response would have been if the Lagos State government had retired its entire Igbo workforce in its civil service, as was done by Abia state.

Why was the response so muted in the case of Abia, but not Lagos? Why didn't Obi go sobbing to President Goodluck Jonathan in the case of Abia? (4) Where was this righteous fury when Orji Uzor Kalu started making claims of Igbo exceptionalism (once again,something that the Nazis would well have recognized)?

All these statements were pregnant with unmistakable innuendoes. The Igbo,dynamic and energetic as they are, must also, in all fairness, try to apply the same standards that they demand from fellow Nigerians to their kith and kin too.

I really believe that it is time for us to make an appointment with reality. Fani-Kayode's handling of the "Ethnic Nationalities Question," explosive and hard-hitting as it was, touched on the key issue confronting this country.The failure to find a suitable form of association for this ethnically diverse country of many submerged nations is, without doubt, the main source of our many sorrows. We certainly need to resolve this issue if we are to make progress or avoid certain disaster. This is the lesson provided by the Balkan wars of the early 1990s.

In spite of the fact that Yugoslavia (the most apt comparison to the Nigerian federation) was created at the Versailles peace conference of 1919, the ancient enemities that had endured for centuries (the Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs loathe each other, and both despise the Bosnian Muslims) in the end proved too strong for the ethnically diverse ragbag conjured up by idealistic and well meaning, but impractical, statesmen at the end of the First World War. The "Ethnic Nationalities Question" was first alluded to as early as the 1940s by Chief Awolowo in his book,The Path to Nigerian Freedom, London, 1947, when he referred to Nigeria as "a mere geographical expression."

The milestones in our difficult and unhappy inter-ethnic relations since then include the following historical events : The passing of an "8 Point Resolution" requesting for a confederation by the Northern Region's House of Assembly in retaliation for the humiliation suffered by Northern legislators in Lagos following their opposition to Anthony Enahoro's self-government motion; the clamour by the minorities for regions of their own in the 1950s; the bitterness of many Yorubas in the Western Region at being trampled underfoot during the First Republic; the attempt by the Igbo to secede in 1967 following the pogroms of 1966; the intercommunal clashes in Plateau State; the anger and sense of injustice felt by the people of the Niger Delta at their ruthless exploitation.

Even today, the Lagos State government is presently involved in a lawsuit - brought at the instance of trustees of an Igbo society in Lagos - concerning the non-recognition by government of the legal status of the "Eze Ndigbo of Lagos," whose assumed "title" is considered by many lawyers to be not only inconsistent with the State's chieftaincy laws, but also a derogation of the legal status, powers, privileges and dignity of the Oba of Lagos, as well as those of other traditional rulers in the State.

When one remembers the bitter and brutal conflict over Bosnia, between the Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims, in the Yugoslavian Civil war of the early 1990s, it may well be that it is better to settle certain questions now, rather than sweeping them under the carpet, and thereby encouraging irredentistism or revanchism - and its attendant violence - in a country in which the future is increasingly becoming uncertain.

Finally, I would like to comment on certain statements made in Mr Azubuike Ishiekwene's article. First, it is true that Dr Basil Onwu was, as he rightly pointed out, the first Igbo medical practitioner. However, he qualified in the 1930s, about two years or so before Dr Akanu Ibiam, who was his contemporary. He most certainly did not qualify in 1906! Secondly, while it is true that the northern and central parts of the Midwest were liberated by the 2nd Division of the Nigerian Army, it was in fact the 3rd Division, under Col. (as he then was) Benjamin Adekunle, that liberated the southern parts of the State in the amphibious operations in the riverine areas.

Thirdly, it is inaccurate to state that Dr Azikiwe formed the NCNC in as much as that party was in fact originally known as the NNDP, and was founded by Herbert Macaulay in 1923 in order to present candidates for the elections to both the Legislative Council and the Lagos City Council. Macaulay's lieutenants at this time were lawyers such as Joseph Egerton Shyngle (president of the party), E.J. Alexander Taylor (father of the judicial legend, the late Justice JIC Taylor), Eric Moore (vice-president), T.A. Doherty, J.C. Zizer, Montecute Thompson, and Ayodele Williams.

What Dr Azikiwe did was to suggest that an umbrella body be formed, in 1944, similar to a holding company, to embrace the NNDP and a wide assortment of other smaller parties, trade unions, tribal unions, and literary groups. The NCNC at this time was not a political party in the ordinary sense, but a confederation of numerous groups, the NNDP being its political arm. It was, therefore, on the platform of the NNDP, and not the NCNC, that "Zik," H.P. Adebola, T.O.S. Benson, Dr Ibiyinka Olorunnimbe, and Prince Adeleke Adedoyin contested and won all five Lagos seats in the Legislative Council elections of the December, 1946.

The first president of the NCNC was Macaulay, and "Zik" was the first secretary. It was later in the early 1950s that the name of the NNDP was changed to the NCNC. Fourthly, the assertion that the coup d' etat of Jan. 15, 1966, was planned in order to install Chief Obafemi Awolowo is a rather spurious claim, for which there is no credible evidence, as
far as I know, other than a reference to this in Mr Ben Gbulie's book.

Major Adewale Ademoyega in his book, Why We Struck, at page 33, merely mentions that "We also believed in the immediate release of political prisoners of those days, namely, Chief Awolowo, Jakande, Anthony Enahoro, Onitiri, and so on." Yet, the same Ademoyega makes the following statements at page 100 - 101 : "Thus, the first revolutionary child of Nigeria died completely. But why did it die? Four important reasons were responsible for this.

The first was the fickleness of some of us who planned and executed the coup....Ifeajuna took Okafor with him and both of them suddenly disappeared from our midst. This raised the serious question of whether or not there was a common collusion between them, and whether Okafor's failure to arrest the GOC (i.e. Ironsi) was not a case of deliberate or wilful omission."

It is, therefore, small wonder that some historians feel that Ademoyega and some of the others were mere dupes in a conspiracy that had aims other than those they were led to believe. There is simply no credible evidence, other than the self-serving statements of one or two of the conspirators, to substantiate the thesis that the coup d' etat was aimed at installing Chief Awolowo. Besides, how could such an aim, if it indeed it existed, justify the unscrupulous violence and the cowardly murder of a group of politicians and innocent army officers.

(MR. AKIN AJOSE-ADEOGUN IS A LAGOS-BASED LAWYER AND A HISTORIAN)

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