Igbo People: Of What strategic interest to the Yoruba Nation?
The Irohinoodua Editorial, May 2020
If there is an old wound which festering sour remains offensive, it is the bitter contest between Igbo and Yoruba nations, two major ethnic groups in Nigeria. Since the country was merged together at gun point by the British in 1914, Nigeria has been in a state of perpetual flux, once closed, now open, in a ceaseless spasm of hate and prejudice which 116 years of amalgamation has failed to halt. The tough tournament between Igbo and Yoruba is time honoured. It plays out in in the realm of political-economy, sports, elections and the commercial and material spaces, eventhough political actors constantly deny the obvious.
IGBO and YORUBA DEBATE: Why do Igbo and Yoruba see themselves as harsh competitors? No doubt, rivalry is the past time of any two great and prosperous nations. The Yoruba that had long established a monarchy system since the 10th century had no contact with the Igbo until the later part of 19th century. Eventhough the two nationalities have no shared border, the two have continued to be ancient competitors. If there are any two main rivals in Southern Nigeria, it is the Igbo and the Yoruba, and repeatedly, the hate and prejudice have been inherited by generations. While Yoruba is believed to have a population of about 60 million, the Igbos can only be a little bit less, given the Nigerian official figures, making the race even keener.
HISTORY OF SUSPICION: The Igbo view Yoruba with suspicion, citing the role of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo during the civil war which lasted between 1966 to 1970. But in reality, the Awo purported distrust is a sheer metaphor, if not a smokescreen. Long before, the Igbo and Yoruba have been at each other’s throats beginning from the elections into the Legislative Councils in the 1950s. Igbo claimed Awo’s meteoric rise to lead the Yoruba after the formation of Egbe Omo Yoruba in 1948 was a deliberate plot to ease out the dominion of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe; Yoruba claim the Egbe only came after the Igbo Federal Union had been formed years earlier and that Zik’s bid to rule the Western Region was uncalled for.
The Yoruba also point to the obnoxious claim by some Igbo that Lagos is no man’s land, an offensive phrase many resent to hell. But what is the use in fighting a passer-by who insists your house does not belong to you, yet he has neither legal nor historic backup and lacks the physical strength to impose that wish? It then becomes a mere irritating slogan that nevertheless has no practical effect. Yoruba make reference to the these statements: “It would appear that the God of Africa has created the Igbo nation to lead the children of Africa from the bondage of ages ….” attributed to Dr Azikiwe who was also President of the Pan-Igbo Federal Union, (The West African Pilot of July 8, 1949) and another statement “The Igbo domination in Nigeria is a matter of time” expressed by Charles Onyeama, Member of the Central Legislative of old. Whether the opinion of the two prominent Igbo represented their people is not the issue. The point is that the statements reflected depth of prevalent levels of suspicion. It would be wrong to assume there were no Yoruba leaders that nurtured the same feelings as above even if they did not say it. The truth is that unfortunately, both nations continue to reference a circle of evil, instead of exploring the positive energy and focusing on iconic sacrifices like the death price paid by Col Adekunle Fajuyi to save Aguiyi Ironsi and the monumental role played by a section of Ndigbo in the June 12 campaign.
STATEGIC INTERESTS YORUBA NEED TO CONSIDER: The Igbo are naturally forward, but their human and material assets cannot be denied all over the world. If managed effectively, with strong and effective host institutions, the Igbo is an advantage to any community. The Igbo have a strong commercial presence in Eastern Nigeria and have a substantial register in the Niger-Delta. Port Harcourt hosts a huge population of Igbo, their alliance with their cousins, Ikwere being one of the major factors the Ikwerre have produced the Rivers State Governor since 1999 with the exception of Odili. Across West Africa, Igbo and Yoruba have a huge strength. Also, in Ivory Coast alone, Yoruba presence is about 3million, their migration dating back to 16th century. In terms of physical appearances, the Igbo share a lot with Yoruba.
The degree of Igbo assimilation in Yorubaland is amazing. A research by Irohinoodua in 2013 indicated that the number of Yoruba children of Igbo mothers is in the range of half a million, majority of who have adopted the South West as their first home. Many of those children are grandfathers-referring especially to those women married by Yoruba soldiers, whom they brought back home after the civil war.
The report indicated that in recent times, inter-Yoruba-Igbo marriage has more than tripled since the civil war ended. The report indicated that while Igbo men marry more of Yoruba women, less Yoruba men marry Igbo women. Yet, immediately after the war, millions of Igbo moved to the South West for economic pastures and many have since remained in the region with some of their children adopting Yoruba as their first language. The number of Yoruba in the Eastern part, however is not proportional. The report cite problem of land acquisition, stereotyping and old myths as responsible for less Yoruba presence in Eastern Nigeria, with the exception of Rivers State.
In Lagos, Igbo population is not only huge, it is economically viable and productive. Yes, the Igbo have been accused of flooding the markets with fake goods, but the discomfort lay in the hands of an inept central authority and fragile institutions while the creative wits, skill and ingenuity of the Igbo in Lagos cannot be denied. The Igbo in Yorubaland are not beggars; it is difficult to find an Igbo person in Lagos whose trade is begging as a means of survival. The huge contribution of Igbo to Yoruba economy should not be denied. While the Igbo dominion spirit is undisputable, the prospect of overwhelming the Yoruba in their sovereign land is remote, especially in the context of a self-determining space. It should be understood that the fears and aspirations of Yoruba and Igbo in Nigeria are essentially the same, though the methodology of dealing with the fear differ.
In the realm of faith, Igbo who are largely Catholic, share a lot of affinity with the Yoruba. A lot of Igbo are members of several iconic Churches owned by the Yoruba, especially the Pentecostal Churches. This oils the unseen bridge of mutual relationship that binds the two together in the work places, in the critical realm of the spirits and in the vast industrial complex of urban Yorubaland. There are more financial bounds between Yoruba and Igbo, in the forms of joint limited companies, maritime, legal practice, commercial enterprises compared with any two other nationality in Nigeria.
Yet, the Igbo infact control the automobile market in Yorubaland. At Idumota, Orile, Osogbo, Ibadan, and many Yoruba communities, Igbo have bought, received on lease or rebuilt and later transfer, a sort of agreement with the land owners creating a pillar of cooperation.
The level of relationship between Yoruba and Igbo driven by their constant commercial daily enterprises is astonishing. In the academic corridor, Igbo are a major pillar of knowledge in Yoruba higher and tertiary institutions. The Yoruba need to realize that there is no permanent friend but permanent interests. The political leadership, that has always been sovereign but now shifted towards the core North should also realize that while electoral victories might derive from alliance with the core North, it does not automatically translated to a bound of productive solidarity and material gains for the millions of Yoruba people whose daily encounter with Igbo in their day to day activities make them see a symbiotic relationship that is more productive and meaningful to their livelihood. Yet, a conventional conflict with the Igbo is unlikely, given the distance of borders between the two nations.
Unfortunately, the Yoruba and Igbo political class are notorious for fanning the embers of disunity, since dominion at the central of governance in Abuja is premised on only one leg needed by the North out of the geo-political triangle of East and West. It is therefore impulsive that East and West must outdo the other to secure the confidence of the core-North in the fierce contest for power, pecks and privileges.
WHAT THE YORUBA NATION SHOULD DO: It considering her strategic interests is time for the Yoruba to nurture her think-thank that will weigh available options in a scientific manner beyond puerile assumptions that are fact-empty. The Yoruba should look for the strength and opportunities in any alliance, the Igbo inclusive. It is naïve to take a permanent position on a fluid phenomenon.
The lack of perspective and intelligent leaders from both nations, in recent times, has compounded the prospect of holding hands to forge a common front against serious hurdles that keep the two great nations in the trashbin against the enormous potential of each. It then calls for an urgent Igbo-Yoruba Alliance platform.
The Yoruba need to effectively define its strategic interests, long term and short term, beyond the euphoria of electoral politics that only serves the interests of a parochial few who take delight in keeping the Igbo and Yoruba perpetually divided. In doing this, we in Irohinoodua see the Igbo as more of opportunity than a liability.