By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
A major review of Nigeria’s geopolitical alignment is set to take place tomorrow as the Yoruba nation engages the Igbo nation in an embrace that could alter the country’s political configuration in a way as never seen since the 1951 cross carpeting on the floor of the Western House of Assembly.
The meeting of Afenifere, the apex Yoruba socio-cultural body with Ohaneze, the apex socio-cultural Igbo body in Enugu has remarkably also drawn the participation of South-South political elements. Vanguard could not confirm as at Press time the participation of South-South leader, Chief Edwin Clark, but his leading associates, including Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, a former chairman of the Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC, are expected at the event.
The seed for the summit was sown in the sacrificial death, 52 years ago, of Nigeria’s first military head of state, Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi and the first military governor of the defunct Western Region, Brig. Adekunle Fajuyi.
Aguiyi-Ironsi was killed by soldiers mostly of Northern descent in Ibadan while visiting Fajuyi who paid the ultimate sacrifice for a guest when he opted to die with the visiting head of state.
However, the twine that tied Aguiyi-Ironsi and Fajuyi in death was subsequently displaced by animosity and rivalry that have for most of the country’s existence, kept the two major nations as rivals always competing for an alliance with the North.
The prod towards reconstructing the bridge follows the increasing chasm in the polity especially since the advent of the Muhammadu Buhari regime which in the opinion of many stakeholders in the South, has alienated the region through its appointments, policies, and programmes.
Remarkably, one of President Buhari’s leading apologists, Mr. Osita Okechukwu dismissed tomorrow’s meeting as nothing new and perhaps as a distraction to Buhari’s long-term goal of restructuring Nigeria’s economic and political configurations.
He said that quite unlike the agitations of the summiteers in Enugu tomorrow, that Buhari has positioned political restructuring that is to be canvassed tomorrow as a priority for his second term.
“Mr. President has been much engaged in economic restructuring, and you can see that it is his goodwill that has unlocked several aids, grants, and loans to Nigeria to pursue projects that have been in the pipeline for several years now,” Okechukwu, director-general of the Voice of Nigeria, VON and one of Buhari’s longest-serving political associates from the South, deposed.
The framework for the summit, however, hopes to look beyond the political necessity for an alignment towards a cultural bond that drivers for the meeting say flows from similarities in culture between the Yoruba and the Igbo.
The hosts for the meeting are Pa Reuben Fasoranti, leader of Afenifere and Chief Nnia Nwodo, president-general of Ohaneze Ndigbo while the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, and the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, will act as Royal Fathers of the Day.
Ironsi, Fajuyi, symbol of national unity —Donald, Fajuyi’s eldest child
By Charles Kumolu
DONALD Fajuyi, the first son of the late Military governor of defunct Western Region, Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, retd, has said the Handshake Across the Niger testifies that the duo of Fajuyi and the late Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi were symbols of national unity.
He also said the decision to celebrate them by the Igbo and Yoruba race, indicated that the significance of their deaths still resonates among Nigerians.
Fajuyi in a chat with Vanguard said he is expectant of a similar forum to be convened to also celebrate people of other tribes, who paid the supreme price for Nigeria’s unity.
He said: “I want to thank God for making it possible because it is long overdue. Those who conceived the idea did well because it is needed. The late Ironside (Ironsi) was a great soldier and statesman, who was at the peak of his career. In those days, anyone who is a General is on top of his profession. He was a close friend of my father (Fajuyi). They were good friends. In those days, people were detribalised. There was no attachment to being Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba.
“I am very proud that my father was a party to those who ensured that their era was detribalised. I hope that with this, more bridges will be built and more handshakes exchanged across the Niger. The late Gen Hassan Katsina, retd, was also a great Nigerian. I hope that in time to come, Northern soldiers who also sacrificed their lives for the country would be celebrated as symbols of unity like my father and Ironsi. I hope to see handshakes across the Benue. I want to thank the organisers and Nigerians for recognising the sacrifice made by Ironsi and my father.”
It’s an opportunity for southern people to re-invent themselves – Annkio Briggs
By Clifford Ndujihe
Niger-Delta leader and environmental rights activist, Ms. Annkio Briggs, 65, who said she had been invited to the Enugu gathering, said the move is an opportunity for the South to re-invent itself and explore past affinities before colonial rule. She also said there is need to get the Middle-Belt into the enlarging arena.
Asked if the handshake across the Niger is necessary and feasible, she said: “Definitely. In Nigeria, I think we have come to the realisation, and I hope not late, that Southern Nigeria has a lot of work to do. It is an opportunity to explore what existed before the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates. Before the amalgamation, we had Northern and Southern protectorates. The South covers the Yoruba, Igbo and other ethnic nationalities in the Niger-Delta. The Middle-Belt is between the North and the South.
“Since then, the Middle-Belt has been in a working relationship with the Fulani people, who came into their areas and settled. What is happening now is that the Middle-Belt has realised that their working relationship with Fulani cannot stand. They see that they can work better with Southern Nigeria than with people, who have come to displace them from their land with the activities of herdsmen. Now, there is a lot that strengthens the bond between Southern Nigeria and the Middle-Belt.
“So, it is a very necessary meeting and a way of looking at the future and potential survival of Nigeria. The various ethnic groups should come as they are. It is better to go into this meeting as different and distinct people to discuss the problems of the country as they affect the South. There is need for the Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, Efik and other groups in the South to sit and discuss honestly and sincerely their future in Nigeria. If we do that, it will give us the opportunity of starting afresh. We stand a better chance of surviving if we can sit down as individual components to discuss our future.
“We cannot tell if the handshake across the Niger is feasible unless we take the first step. It is a very critical discussion that we must hold. We have much in common to work successfully than otherwise. There are more things that connect us than things that distance us. We all have to come with a shopping list. What do the people – Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, etc. want, and where are we going?
“If we know what we want, we can ask ourselves how we can get it. In the South, there is the desire to genuinely sit and discuss before the 2019 elections, especially with Fulani herdsmen killing, crisscrossing the country and demanding that other peoples’ land should be given to them.
‘’We must go to the meeting with an open mind, which will allow us to listen attentively to the other person and vice versa so that we know where to make compromises. There is need for Southern Nigeria to sit and marshal out a way for themselves in Nigeria.”
We also need a hand-shake across the Benue – Ikokwu
By Clifford Ndujihe
Second Republic politician and a member of the Ime-Obi (Inner caucus) of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Guy Ikokwu, 80, hailed the move as a bold step and added that it should be extended to the Middle-Belt, to quicken the process of fixing the country.
Noting that the Nzuko Umunna and Afenifere hand-shake across the Niger is a follow-up to what Aka Ikenga, the Igbo intellectual think-tank group did four years ago when it commended the family of the late Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi and gave them award. He said some leaders of the South-East, South-South, South-West, and Middle-Belt have been meeting on the issue, which he argued is in the best interest of the country.
Asked if the move is necessary, he said: “Very much. There is already an increasing handshake across the Niger. It has to be so because we have common destiny. The Swedish scientists, in the report they issued six months ago, said the DNA of people from Calabar, the Igbo, Benin, Yoruba, Dahomey down to Akan in Ghana are 99 per cent the same. Their languages are of the same Bantu origin.
“The whole Southern states are ethnically homogeneous with the recent scientific findings that we have 99.9 per cent similarity in our DNA as a result of our common ancestry since the dark ages.
“So, there is much integration of the peoples mentioned. There are so many similarities regarding language and intelligence that we cannot say we are different. We have to integrate more so that the oneness of Nigeria can be enhanced. So, we should work together and get a common destiny for Nigeria.
“If the right things are done about restructuring, in 10 years, Nigeria’s economy will be growing at 10 per cent per annum instead of the current rate of about one per cent. The handshake across the Niger should be strengthened and should continue across the Benue to further integrate Nigerians in a lateral and triangular formation of ages gone. We need to restructure urgently before the 2019 elections because the current situation may not last beyond 2018.”
It’s a new dawn in Yoruba/Igbo relationship —Odumakin
By Dapo Akinrefon
What informed the Handshake Across the Niger initiative?
The whole idea started with some Igbo intellectual Think-Tank coming up with the idea that the time has come for the Yoruba and Igbo nations to come together and celebrate Adekunle Fajuyi and Aguiyi Ironsi, two icons of the nations who were brutally murdered on July 29, 1966, during the revenge coup. Fajuyi laid down his life for his boss and guest when the mutineers did not come for him. As a proper Omoluabi, he decided to lay down his life for his guest and that deserves to be celebrated by the two nations for the first time. The group that came up with this initiative call themselves Nzuko Umunna.
They then approached Afenifere and Ohaneze, and the leadership of the two groups embraced the idea, and that was how January 11 was fixed for the event in Enugu to celebrate these two icons and to use this as a narrative as the basis for a new coexistence between the Yoruba and Igbo. The two groups share the same origin at some point but have been set against themselves by wrong narratives; it is aimed at helping them see things differently. That is the reason for the conference .
What prospects do you see in this joint venture?
First, we need to open a new vista of understanding between the two groups and as an example for other nationalities for other Nigerians for us to coexist in harmony and peace. But beyond that, we need to reaffirm a lot of things, for instance, this has shown us clearly that Igbo and Yoruba share the same origin at some point and history has shown that the Igbo may actually have migrated from Ile Ife because if you go to Ile Ife today, there is Igbo quarter where they speak Igbo presently, and when you go to Anambra State, there is a town called Oraifite. Oranfe was one of the earliest quarters in Ile Ife.
When you look at the Igbo and Yoruba languages, you see a lot of similarities, and when you look at kolanut, it is planted in Yoruba land but celebrated in Igbo land.
So, you can see that there are lots of things that bind these two groups. This celebration is a reaffirmation of that brotherhood of that sheer origin which we can use to promote a new understanding, ethnic harmony and once that is done, it can affect other parts of Nigeria.
Let me tell you this that Nigeria will not get it right until Igbo and Yoruba cooperate and use all their ingenuity to promote national unity in Nigeria and use it to rub on Nigeria.
So, this conference is aimed at bringing about the dawn of a new day in Igbo/Yoruba relationship as an example for inter-ethnic harmony in Nigeria.
Will this be a one-off thing or are we going to see more collaboration in the near future?
This is just the beginning, a lot of other things will come up to strengthen this new understanding. At the end of this conference, we are going to promote so many other activities that will ensure the brotherhood is reaffirmed and that a new day comes in between us. This is just the beginning; there will be many more programmes along that line to promote this new understanding.
There should be no ethnic conspiracy – Babatope
By Gbenga Oke
Former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope has said that Igbo/Yoruba unity ahead of 2019 should be devoid of ethnic conspiracy else it will fail.
He said, “The hand-shake across the Niger meeting is not a bad idea, it is normal for politicians to meet and discuss especially when we are approaching a major election, however, if the meeting is based on ethnic conspiracy, it will fail. We saw such during the time of Chief Obafemi Awolowo when the Yoruba and Igbo tried to form a common front, but it failed due to ethnic differences.”
He said further, “I will want to advise that they should stay away from ethnic conspiracies because if they don’t, the meeting will not only collapse but it’s going to fade away as it happened during the time of Chief Awolowo.”