THE ELUSIVE IGBO, YORUBA UNITY
O ne of the intriguing ironies of the Nigerian state is the dynamics of the Igbo, Yoruba politics.So close, but too farfrom each other, politically. They share common political features but are polarisedby variegated ideological leanings. Whateverhas happenedorfailed to happen to the Nigerian federation is attributable to the activities orin-activities of the two geo-political zones.
Look at it this way. Failure of Zik and Awo to forge an alliance gave the North the opportunity for Tafawa Balewa to emerge as the Prime Minister in the First Republic. Mind you the NCNC, AG alliance that gave rise to UPGAin the second lap of the First Republic was weak.
After the January 1966 coup, the inability of the plotters, majority of who were Igbo, to successfully hand over to Awo as planned, boomeranged as the Northern forces re-grouped and took over the government six months later. The reason was that Ironsi (Igbo) was assassinated in the counter coup of 1966 and Ogundipe (Yoruba) who ought to have taken over from him as the next in rank was nowhere to be found prompting Ojukwu to make the great remark of 'where is Ogundipe'.
Meaning, a Westerner had abandoned his duty post in the face of the Igbo being almost exterminated and the helms of affairs would fall to the wrong persons as it did. In the Second Republic, there were no Balewa and no Ahmadu Bello but there were Zik and Awo in the midst of junior Northern politicians like Shehu Shagari, Waziri Ibrahim and Aminu Kano. It was expected that the two southern political giants would close ranks and work for the realisation of an Igbo, Yoruba unity that would have benefited the larger Nigerian society but neither Zik nor Awo agreed to step down for the other, thereby paving way for Shagari to be elected as the first executive president of Nigeria in 1979.
The NPP/UPN alliance, which was ill-conceived crashed without much success. There are other several examples. But the thrust of this article is the elusive Igbo, Yoruba unity. But why can't the two tribes close ranks and come together for mutual benefits for the good of Nigeria?
Historically, it is said that things went bad for the two major ethnic groups following the dirty politics that eventually consumed the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) formed in 1936. In February 1941, Dr K. A. Abayomi, a former president of the NYM, resigned his seat on the Governor's Executive Council and a struggle for succession became imminent within the movement between Ernest Ikoli, the then president and Samuel Akinsanya, the Vice- President. Ikoli defeated Akinsanya.
He was Ijaw and was supportedby Awo, a Yoruba, while Zik, an Igbo supported Akinsanya, a Yoruba. Thus, a cold political war crept into the Zik and Awo relationship as the former saw it that the latter supported Ikoli on economic and political grounds. Zik might have thought this way because Ikoli was the publisher and editor of the Lagos based Daily Service, a publication that later became a fierce competitor of Zik's West African Pilot. It was a bad beginning for Zik (representing Igbo) and Awo (representing Yoruba) and it got worse in due course. As it turned out, Zik and the Igbo nation pulled out of the NYM, which its activities became exclusively Yoruba.
There was also the 1952 saga which further polarised the political understanding of the two tribes. It was the 1952 elections into the various Houses of Assembly. Zik's NCNC had a comfortable lead in the Western House of Assembly even as all the four house members from Lagos were of NCNC. They were Zik himself (this means that Zik came all the way from the East to beat a Yoruba in Lagos), Olorunnimbe, H.O. Davids and Adeleke Adedoyin.
As it was in Lagos so it was in all other Yoruba areas – NCNC won the majority. The Constitution as it were, provided that the leader of the party with the majority of the members in the House would be the House Leader and such person would eventually emerge as the Premier later during self governance. The import is that Zik, not Awo, would be the Yoruba (Western House) leader and ultimately Premier if the victory was allowed to stand. Of course, it was not to be. Awo quickly rallied round all the Yoruba NCNC members and all of them cross over to Action Group (AG) and this was how the phrase cross carpeting entered into Nigeria's political lexicon, and Zik was denied of his victory in the West. But the consequence was that the Igbo saw it as a political slap on them by the Yoruba. The far reaching effect was that the cross carpetingsaga caused a major political problem between the Igbo and the then South-
Zik and Awo had another political misunderstanding in the 1959 elections that ushered in Independence and democratic governance in 1960. The gist was that no party had a clear cut majority in the parliament hence there was the need to forge alliances. First, Zik and and Awo were discussing to this effect. Later, Ahmadu Bello called and wanted to work with Zik. Awo promised Zik the post of the Prime Minister because NCNC was a superior partner based on numerical strength, while Bello gave Zik the Governor General later President because NCNC was a junior partner to NPC. As Zik was considering which side to go, NCNC members claimed that words filtered through that Awo had equally gone to Bello, struggling to convince him on why the NPC and AG should form the government of the day. It was at this point, according to reports, that Bello got Zik on the line telling him that Awo was with him for the earlier discussion both (Zik and Bello) had.
There and then Zik concluded that Awo was not the one to ally with, after all, he remembered the cross carpeting saga of 1952 and therefore forged ahead with Bello's NPC. The rivalry was repeated during the political struggles of troubles of the mid 60s with an agreement between Ojukwu and Awo to pull out of the nation. The Yoruba also complain that the Igbo nation has not been sincere to the West.
The South West point out to the ignoble role Francis Arthur Nzeribe played, leading to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election believed to have been won by MKO Abiola, a Yoruba. More than any other thing else, both sides usually see things from different angles to wit: West had been AG, UNPP, SDP, AD, ACand ACN while the South had been NCNC, NPP, NRC, PDPand you can say APGA.
With the polarization seemingly getting wider with time, some gaps have been unwittingly given the chance to exist in our political system. One of such is the dominance or poise of the north as the determinant factor in the nation's political trajectory. Should these two groups, with their clout in some other areas of advancement come together and forge a unification, it would be in their hands to move the nation's politics away from the northern dominance and, and to some large extent, since the northern prime position has done nothing to develop the nation, it would be a breathing space for Igbo/Yoruba to call the shots and perhaps the nation will find its way out of the turbulence we have been stuck in over these years.