By Dele Sobowale
“We salute the men and women who kept our nation together, especially those who paid the supreme price…The only way we can honour their memory is not to re-open old wounds but to resolve that never again will our people’s blood be shed by their own people. We must harness our diversity to make our union perfect”. Governor Babatunde Fashola, at Colloquium Fair, held at Brown University, Rhode Island, USA by Professor Chinua Achebe.
Just when I thought that the last words have appeared on these pages about Chinua Achebe’s book and its consequences for Nigeria, the most desirable, at least to me, event occurred, which made this a successful year for Nigeria. Roads are still in deplorable condition, poverty increases, jobs are difficult to find and cash is short for ninety per cent of our people.
But, out of the possible calamity that the old Professor’s book was about to unleash on us has come a ray of hope. I don’t know whether or not Governor Fashola was invited before the book was launched, but everybody knows he belongs to the “Awoist” camp and is fully aware of what they think of Achebe’s book.
It must have been one of the most difficult decisions for him to make when he made up his mind to accept the invitation and attend the seminar. Personally, I am glad he did; and I would have gladly attended if invited. I am also happy that Governor Fashola said in different words what I advocated when this book was first brought to our attention in Nigeria.
Then, and more so, even now, I still believe that despite the intellectual foundations of the book, it can only serve to draw us back and to divide us further as a nation. And everything that I have read on both sides of the controversy had only strengthened my belief. Permit me, most kindly, to repeat what I wrote at the time. In the first paragraph of the three part series I had made the following observations.
“I wept for Nigeria when the excerpts of Chinua Achebe’s MEMOIRS, were published in Nigeria. I instinctively knew that the season of media and social lynch-mobs had started. It is one of the inevitable, but unintended consequences of that book.
Wounds which were gradually healing might once again be re-opened depending on how we handle the intellectual bomb handed to us. It is my strong belief that we should defuse it; for, if we fail, the results will be disastrous beyond our wildest nightmares.”
It was an appeal to Igbos and non-Igbos to let sleeping dogs lie and to allow peace to reign despite the explosive statements in the book. There was no doubt in my mind that no Igbo person would fail to support it and no Yoruba or even non-Igbo would fail to condemn it.
Minds were made up before the book was written and released and nothing was going to change them. One Igbo reader sent me several text messages full of abuses for asking that the “truth” be suppressed. He branded the suggestion for caution “madness” and later claimed that was not an insult.
I challenge anybody to go and read all the contributions to newspapers on this subject and fault my prediction that we were heading for another ethnic war of words. No single Igbo dissented from Achebe and no non-Igbo agreed with him. So, what have we achieved other than re-opening of old wounds which we refuse to heal?
Obviously it took a lot of courage for Fashola to go. But as Nelson Mandela had told us, “There are times when a leader must move ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way”. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 124). Fashola has become the first “Awoist” “to move out ahead of the flock” and he has my support.
All we need now is to find an Igbo leader to also “move ahead of the flock”; join with Fashola and together they can convene a colloquium of their own to bring the South East and the South West together. Whether invited or not I shall attend the gathering. The logical question is, “who can convene such a meeting?”
HANDSHAKE ACROSS THE NIGER: SOUTH EAST/SOUTHWEST CONVENTION
At the risk of being accused of meddling in the affairs of the South East, let me first of all present some of the personal attributes the convener of such a conference should possess.
First he/she must have high personal integrity and be credible to leaders of thought in the two zones. Second, he must command respect across all possible political and social circles. Third he must be prepared to be a bridge builder and must possess a high tolerance for frustration because this is not going to be an easy assignment but one which might ultimately save our country— Nigeria.
Before proposing two individuals from the zone, let me provide the reason for my not so modest proposal. In the GUARDIAN on Sunday, December 9, 2012, Dr Alex Ekwueme granted an interview in which he advocated for Igbo presidency at the earliest possible time. I cannot agree more. Indeed, I think it was a mistake not to have done it in 1999 and I wrote that in my book PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED. Ekwueme himself was partly responsible for the delay. Now we can wait no longer.
However, Igbo presidency will not arise from wishful thinking; it calls for purposeful work and strategic alliances between Igbos and others. It is axiomatic that no Igbo candidate can become President by wining only Igbo votes. As it turned out, from historical evidence available, the Yoruba people of the Southwest have been more friendly with Igbos than any other ethnic group.
Unless challenged to prove this statement, I will move on. Furthermore, once convinced about a candidate they generally provide more solid support. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, despite his failure to become Premier of the Western Region, was a beneficiary of this traditional friendship.
He was first elected into the Western Regional House of Assembly from a constituency that was over 80 per cent Yoruba. Even, the NCNC which he led, until the end of the First Republic, was founded by Yoruba politicians. Zik emerged from the party because he had the attributes listed above. The challenge now is to find another Igbo who can command the votes of the Southwest.
I have two in mind; Dr Ekwueme himself and Chief Emeka Anyaoku. Somehow, these two leaders have managed to escape having any strong political adversaries; while making friends everywhere. There must be a handshake across the Niger for Nigeria to move forward.
Words and Action.
Last week, President Jonathan announced to anybody who cared to listen to fiction that Nigeria is secure. Two days after that announcement, those who actually control the “security” of Nigeria struck, by kidnapping the mother of the “Senior Prefect” Minister. I am sure that even the Finance Minister no longer believes the boss. Who’s next?
With ten aircraft to his credit, the President of Nigeria now runs the second largest airline in Nigeria. Only Arik has more “balloons” in the air (or tarmac). That is “privatization in practice. The “toys” cost N9 billion per annum to play with.
My Fellow Countrymen, you deserve the insults.