A Yoruba proverb says that one does not keep silent when something bad is going on because a house does not burn and fill the eyes with sleep.
I have been having sleepless nights because bad things are going on between the Igbos and their Yoruba brothers in Nigeria. And it troubles the hearts of those who love the peace and friendliness that once existed between these two tribes in Nigeria since after the civil war, which politicians for their very selfish reasons are determined to kill.
In the University of Ife( Now Obafemi Awolowo University) in the 1970s, we did everything together with Yorubas, from football, student unionism, entertainement, etc. Of particular reference was in the Palmwine Drinkers Club, where they referred to themselves as “carried fellows”, and non-members like me, as bearing very long tails, irrespective of tribe or circumstances of birth. We enjoyed our differences and the unity that followed it all.
They called us “Okoro”, “Aje okuta ma imu omi “, meaning: one who eats stones without drinking water. We called them “Ndi Ofe Nmanu”, meaning: people who eat too much red palm oil. Competition was healthy among us and you got what you deserved.
For example, you could drive your ‘campus bus’, or ‘bush meat’ whether she is from Gbagan, Calabar, or any part of the globe, without qualms. Please get explanations from any ex-Ife around you. We were all simply Nigerians, and have remained largely so.
I did my Operation Feed the Nation as a student in Iperu, a town in Ogun State and my National Service in Lagos. I love Yorubas, and my friends among them love me too.
When I started work in 1981, two Yorubas who touched my life in an uncommon way were Chiefs Adeniran Ogunsanya and Harold Shodipo, both of blessed memory. They were completely detribalized men, proud of their Igbo counterparts in politics. Chief Ogunsanya proved to me how he loved Dr, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and he actually introduced me to Zik in 1984. A Yoruba Chief and Elder introduced me, an Igbo man, to Owelle Ndigbo. That was those good old days.
I keep wondering what those pan-Nigerian founding fathers of Yoruba land would have done with what is happening today between Igbos and Yorubas in the politics of Lagos State.
So many things have started going wrong on between Igbos and Yorubas that things are now speedily falling apart.
The foundation for Igbo bashing and phobia may have been laid during the tenure of Chief Bola Tinubu as the Governor of Lagos State. That was when all Igbo core business areas began to be targeted for closure at the least provocation.
Alaba International Market in Ojo LGA, the Auto Market at Berger Bus-stop near Mile 2 and the Ladipo Motor Parts Market in Mushin LGA were closed at different times and reopened after a Governor from Igbo land came to plead.
Former Governor Babatunde Fashola broke the pot and spilled the beans when he deported Igbos in 2013. It was a highly spiritual action which many did not understand.The message was clear- Igbos are visitors and can be deported in spite of their investments in Lagos State.
In 2014, a group of Obas and Chiefs in Ondo State denigrated the Eze Ndigbo title and called for its ban in Ondo State.It generated public outcry by Igbos and Governor Olusegun Mimiko intervened and succeeded in calming all nerves.
Then came the 2015 elections. The Oba of Lagos shocked many when he pronounced a curse on Igbos, summarised as: ‘vote Ambode or perish in the Lagoon’.This was when the Igbo-phobia became xenophobic. Till date there is no record that the Oba cancelled that curse. And Igbos in their typical One Nigeria naïve attitude, ignored the matter and went out to vote, mostly for PDP. So, the curse remained.
Last week, Governor Akiwunmi Ambode, who demolished Oshodi Market during last December celebrations when the Igbo traders had travelled, raised the notch of Igbo bashing higher in the interest of ‘development’ of Lagos State.
He announced plans to relocate major Igbo dominated markets from the city centre to the hinter land of the State, adding: ‘if you don’t like it go’!
Those were not pleasant words, and could have been avoided but for the fact that the presumption is that Igbos will not listen and read between the lines.
Same week, some Chiefs in Lagos met and announced or re-echoed the need to ban Eze Ndigbo as a title recognised by government. These men are perhaps pushing and jostling to remove Eze Ndigbo from benefits that may follow increased involvement of traditional rulers in governance in Lagos State.
It needs to be understood that Eze Ndigbo is a creation by Igbos as a fulcrum of their unity outside Igbo land. It helps them to keep their culture and traditional ways. These Ezes help in resolving many knotty issues between Igbos and others when necessary.
They play good roles in the maintenance of cohesion between Igbos and their host societies all over Nigeria.
After the civil war, Igbos needed their Ezes to keep together in Nigeria. It will be unwise for them to jettison such an institution, especially in their host communities.
Eze Ndigbos maintain high regards, respect and cordial relationship with the Obas and Baales in Yorubaland, and where there are isolated cases of schism between the two, government should resolve it in the interest of peace and good order, instead of escalating matters.
Indeed, some bad eggs exist among Eze Ndigbos, just like they are also found among Obas, and such cases should be treated as exceptions rather than the rule.
Hausas have their leaders within their communities wherever they settle in Nigeria. Other ethnic tribes do the same. What is wrong if Igbos accept and call their own leaders Eze Ndigbo? Igbos should be allowed to be, for God’s sake.
Mr Clement Udegbe, a legal practitioner, wrote from Lagos