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After holding Nigeria down for long, Yoruba, Igbo have realised their mistakes –Ezeife

A former Governor of the old Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, speaks to TOBI AWORINDE on the need for the Yoruba and the Igbo to set aside their differences to achieve restructuring and political unity What is the genesis of the conflict between the Igbo and Yoruba? The Igbo and the Yoruba are jointly responsible for all the negative developments in Nigeria. For as long as the Igbo and the Yoruba go lone-ranging in the Nigerian system, neither party will get what it wants. But the moment the Yoruba and the Igbo play joint venture in Nigerian politics, the Hausa, the Fulani and all the groups in Nigeria, large and small, will begin to celebrate the greatness of Nigeria. Yes, you talk about genesis; I will give factual history without blaming anybody. In 1952, with (Dr. Nnamdi) Azikiwe taking over from Herbert Macaulay against the Yoruba to run the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, the NCNC won the election into the Western House of Assembly and Zik (Azikiwe) went there to go and become premier. Because they had a comfortable majority, on the day the assembly was inaugurated and things were supposed to be done, Awo (Chief Obafemi Awolowo) and the Yoruba had lobbied the majority of the people, who were elected under the NCNC, to change camps, ‘cross carpet’ to the Action Group. The result was supposed to be that Azikiwe became the premier of Western Nigeria. But because of that magic of ‘carpet crossing’ which was an anti-Igbo affair, Zik failed to become premier and didn’t want to be irrelevant, and so, decided to go to the East to become premier and he did, causing problem between the Igbo and some of the minorities in the East, who were already given the office of premier. Then, for years, the Igbo continued to ‘carry briefcase’ for the Hausa/Fulani and they were made vice president. The Yoruba were out of government but they had the press. They (Yoruba) worked hard and they were politically sagacious. They understand politics well. But there was this continuing strife: ‘Let’s displace the Yoruba from access to the Hausa. Let’s displace the Igbo from access to the Hausa.’ What was the disposition of the colonialists at the time of independence? The colonial masters preferred them (Hausa/Fulani) over everybody because they could do whatever they say. The colonial masters did everything in favour of the Hausa. They manipulated the census figures to favour them, manipulated the election to favour them, and manipulated the House of Representatives numbers to favour them because they were afraid that if either the Igbo or the Yoruba got central power in Nigeria, before the British packed their things and reached their London after colonialism, Nigeria would have been a rival in the comity of nations against Britain because the British knew very well that the Igbo are go-getters. They knew the Yoruba are go-getters, very competent people. So, neither the Yoruba nor the Igbo could pitch the interest of the British. For the Fulani, yes, but you had this feudal system which the Hausa/Fulani enjoys. Feudalism means ‘keep the man down; let him not be above you or compete with your children’. My prayer is ‘let my child be bigger than myself; let the people I bring up be numerous’. That is the egalitarian system of the Igbo. To a large extent, the same thing applies to the Yoruba. Instead of (the Igbo and the Yoruba) thinking deep and realising the thing being done against them, they got caught in the trap of the British and kept fighting (each other), while the British gave power to the Hausa/Fulani and those people were using their power very violently. Do you think at any point in time, northern leaders considered a nationalist agenda? You can see statements by Tafawa Balewa, statements by Ahmadu Bello, saying they would deep the Koran in the sea (Atlantic Ocean). Whether the North deeps the Koran in the sea or not, Christianity will take over Nigeria; it will even take over the North eventually. It is all going to happen in 20 years. Why has it been difficult for southerners to unite? After the handshake across the Niger, there are some Igbo who still have reservations. Many are still suspicious of one another. But all the genuine leaders of the Yoruba and the Igbo are one. They agreed to be one and to fight for the emancipation of the black man. God created Nigeria using the instrumentality of British imperialism. But God has a purpose in creating the largest concentration of blacks on the face of the earth, which Nigeria is. God created Nigeria to be a rallying point for and a big brother to all blacks. Number one. God gave us climate — anything you can grow in any part of the world, you can grow in Nigeria. There are animals everywhere and we have mineral resources in every state. We have a surplus of gemstones in the North, the East and the West. When it comes to human beings, we have many talents from many tribes. Yes, God designed Nigeria for greatness but our mess-up as human beings is the problem and one of the biggest mess-ups is the rivalry between the Yoruba and the Igbo. The earlier they end it, the better for the Almajiri, the Talakawa and all tribes and groups in Nigeria.
The happiness of Nigerians is in the hands of the Yoruba and Igbo. What they do with themselves makes the difference. It is my view that because of what God gave to us from climate to natural resources, we are supposed to develop into a superpower among nations. In the process, let’s respect the dignity and prestige of the black man and, ultimately, wipe away the shame of slavery from the faces of all blacks on earth. This is our manifest destiny, which means God’s assignment to a country. Nigeria’s manifest destiny is to raise the blacks. That is why the late Nelson Mandela was crying, saying, “There is no way Africa can go up when Nigeria is going down.” It is only Nigeria that can bring respect to Africa and not the other way round. This is how we are now. Check your WhatsApp and look at the pictures from Plateau and ask yourself whether we are human, whether the people who did that kind of thing are human beings, and whether they know that that kind of intimidation will never last. In Imo, there is something we say: ‘What is life when there is no honour in it?’ May God help Miyetti Allah to realise how far they have already gone and ask for forgiveness from the Nigerian people. You declared jihad and proceeded to kill people in every village and nobody is killing you. The Koran does not recommend the killings. Anybody killing anybody is not obeying Allah in the Koran. What is the relationship between the Yoruba and Igbo today? The Yoruba and the Igbo, who have held Nigeria down for too long, are now realising their mistakes. Even as they are realising, some other people are planting more mistakes. But of course, the days of the Fulani are gone, whether they like it or not. I say what I think and people think I hate somebody. I cannot hate any group. The days of Fulani domination are gone. They wasted it; nobody wasted it for them. With (President Muhammadu) Buhari in power, he has united the rest of Nigeria with their (Fulani) killings and their hired so-called herdsmen who come from Niger and all kinds of West African countries to kill in Nigeria. And the President is looking. How can Miyetti Allah come on television and accept the heinous crimes they have committed, saying it is so because their cows were killed? We don’t even know where the cows were and the President is there. The police and the army are there, and the man (Miyetti Allah) makes the announcement and goes back. President Buhari said those who are pressing for the restructuring of Nigeria are selfish. That is an ignoramus statement. It doesn’t make sense at all. The small sense he makes, I will deal with it. Some people in the North think that restructuring only means resource control. What is worse, they think that resource control is such that we do optimal resource control, and today, we are in a system; tomorrow, we say resource control has come into effect; therefore no revenue from oil should go to any northern state. That is a lie. We have human souls and values in the South. You cannot switch off revenue from any state and expect them to survive. What do you gain from that? So, we can have optimal resource control within optimal restructuring, and yet, not have any group suffer. What we do is this: we work out the optimal resource control and then have about five years implementation period whereby the Federal Government and all the people who want to help us in the development of alternative revenue sources; all the people who have been sharing oil revenue. In the meantime, the monies from oil can still be spent in their areas but they will be for developing alternative revenue. It is myopic, short-sighted, inhuman and callous for somebody to think that, overnight, you do resource control and switch off revenue from all the other people. It is a matter of negotiation. Five years may not be long enough to develop alternative revenue sources for every unit of government.