By Obi Nwakanma

My first instinct was not to respond to Dr. Jide Oluwajuyitan’s revanchist drivel, “Between Zik and Obi: Lessons of History,” published in the APC-controlled Nation Newspapers on September 22. But I have had to rethink it.

A full response to Oluwajuyitan piece, given what I think, is a poorly hidden hack job. In the current environment of politics, Oluwajuyitan aims to roil up the mood, and create an Igbo-Yoruba conflict going into the elections of 2023. His endgame is to try to reduce Peter Obi to “just as an Igbo candidate.”

This is now an old, well-worn trick that might not fly this time. So, when a man gets out of the bed in the morning, steps out of his door, and finds that a rooster is in an angry pursuit of him, what should he do? Flee? Or wait to see if the rooster grew teeth overnight? That’s how I first thought of Jide Oluwajuyitan’s essay riddled with historical and invented inaccuracies. Let it be. But for the records, I would like to make the following corrections, principally because if you allow a lie to fester, it begins to wear the garb of truth.  

I’m not going to speak for the Obi Campaign about the accusations leveled by Oluwajuyitan  about Peter Obi’s supporters threatening to expel anyone from the East who does not vote for Obi, and some alleged mob attack against Tinubu’s supporters in Alaba, Lagos. If they dd this, then it is very bad, and these rude supporters must be  brought to heel.

I think the Obi campaign should respond to these allegations.But as a consumer as well as a purveyor of public information, what I see is different. Most Igbo I know are far too republican to issue a fatwa on any one who exercises his/her conscience. There is no mob culture among the Igbo. This is because Igbo political culture is built around a rhetorical tradition. This reflects their distinct republican and egalitarian convictions. 

Igbo folk are much more likely to have  robust, and friendly dispute over political choices than  war over ideas. Igbo culture is based on a healthy awareness of difference and a tradition of toleration. What Oluwajuyitan describes are not Igbo. It is the invention of the Igbo of his mind made feverish by bigotry. He revises the story of the 1948 matchet drive. Yes, the Igbo and Yoruba bought up the matchets in Lagos ready for each other to make the first move.

It was a senseless, needless stance on both sides. Luckily, good sense prevailed. Nothing came of it.But the needless prejudice and animosity that has existed among, especially those who continue to fan its embers like Oluwajuyitan, is now boring. But what were the causes? What’s the background to this story? It goes back to 1947, when the Trade Union Congress (TUC) voted to back the Nationalist movement, the NCNC.

Then the formation of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa in 1948.Yes, Azikiwe had railed in his September 8, 1948 editorial in the West African Pilot, against the formation of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, and had accused many of its movers as “stooges of imperialism,” and the principle of the association as “fascist.” 

Current access to the empire papers give credence to Azikiwe’s assertions, but in the manipulations of these stories, Azikiwe’s adversaries accused him of promoting Igbo interests above every other. Beneath it all also was the fear and resentment of Azikiwe, whose increasing power made him dangerous to certain Yoruba interests who worried that Yoruba Youth were following Azikiwe. Much like today’s “Obidient Movement.” It was not true that Azikiwe was promoting Igbo interest. The statement about Lagos offering livelihood to Azikiwe and Obi is a cop out too. 

Obi began his life as a businessman in Onitsha, not Lagos. Zik, on the other hand, was a proper Lagos boy in the way Awolowo was not. He lived in Lagos long before Awolowo left his Ikenne village to Abeokuta. By 1917, Azikiwe’s father was already a Chief Clerk in the Colonial Civil Service in Lagos. That was the highest position any African could attain in the Colonial Civil Service. 

The older Azikiwe was thus part of the small African colonial elite in the city of Lagos, long before many who now claim to be “Lagosians” could leave their Yoruba hinterlands to the city. Nnamdi Azikiwe was the classic “Aje butter” of his time. He was taught at Wesleyan High School (now Methodist Boys High School in Lagos) by Femi Fani-Kayode’s grandfather. He played street cricket at Olowogbowo. By 1922, he was himself already 3rd Class Clerk in the Government’s Treasury Department in Lagos.

By this time, the man whom Oluwajuyitan calls the leader of the Yoruba had yet to step a foot into the city of Lagos. In short, to put this nonsense about the “Igbo and their Yoruba hosts” to rest, I need to note that Eletu Odibo was not a Yoruba man. The name speaks for itself. The Eletu-Odibo clan may now have become thoroughly assimilated and Yorubanized, but the original Eletu Odibo, going by his name alone, was possibly – and I do speculate here – one of those Igbere (Isu) emissaries of the Benin Oba Orhhogbua, established to trade with the Portuguese by the 17th century in Eko, which thePortuguese later called Lagos.  

In any case, because Lagos was a major slave trading port, it is conceivable that the Aro and Igbere (Isu metal craftsmen and traders), and other Igbo were already present in Lagos by the 16th century trading with the English, the Portuguese, and other Africans. All anyone needs to do to is read Kenneth Dike’s Trade in the Niger Delta, to understand this vast trading network that went right up to the present Ghana.

Very clearly, many of the Igbo already resident in Lagos by the 16th century had settled in a part of Lagos still to this date called “Onye-Igbo” (Oyingbo). It must therefore be emphasized that while the Igbo were trading in Lagos by the17th century, many Yoruba from the hinterland were still paying tolls and custom levies, right up till the 19th century, to come and trade in Lagos. 

I make these assertions, not to establish any Igbo claim on Lagos, because that would be unnecessary, but to ask Dr. Jide Oluwajuyitan to grow up, and to stop fighting shadows. He should also stop insulting the Yoruba too by flattening and essentializing them. Yoruba politics is far more complex than Oluwajuyitan seems to comprehend. As for the NCNC.Fact is that Herbert Macaulay did not found the NCNC.

This is revisionist cap-trap. Truth is that Nnamdi Azikiwe founded the NCNC and recruited Herbert Macaulay, the redoubtable “Wizard of Kirsten House,” who although already in retirement and in political decline, was  formidable in his own right. Azikiwe made him the first President of the NCNC, while he was Secretary.

The NCNC, like the current Obi movement, was a very attractive movement to the youth of all sections of this country. It was neither an Igbo party, nor a Yoruba party. I was the pan-Nigerian Nationalist party, and it was the platform on which Nigeran nationalists fought the anti-colonial battles.

 A vast number of Yoruba youth supported the NCNC then, just as a vast number of the Yoruba youth are supporting the “Obi Movement” today. There are indeed similarities between the Obi movement today and the Azikiwe movement of the 1940s. First, they are both youth driven. Azikiwe always appealed to the “New Africans” to take their destiny in their hands.To rise and take back their liberties and their country, and to do this by peaceful means.

That movement led to the independence of Nigeria.Just as Oluwajuyitan is attempting now to do with Obi, seeing that the Yoruba youth were large, “Zikified” followers of Azikiwe, the self-interested conservatives among the Yoruba, began to push the argument that NCNC was a regional party and that Azikiwe was only all about Igbo interest, even  when in all his actions, including the radical, selfless concessions he made, he was always pan-Nigerian. This is what Dr. Jide Oluwajuyitan wishes to recreate today. But no, he is fifty years already too late. 

The lies which people told to keep t Nigerians divided against each other while powerful men betrayed their futures has unraveled. Oluwajuyitan writes about a “greed-driven Igbo political elite” preferring the NPC for a coalition in 1960. And I thought this guy is a Professor at the University of Lagos? Perhaps he should go back and take elementary courses in Nigeria’s political history.

Significant historians have placed in some contexts what happened: it was not Igbo politicians who preferred the NCNC-NPC coalition to form the first independent government. First, the British blackmailed the leadership of the Nationalist party with the threat to cancel the talks leading to independence and postpone Nigerian independence to 1970. 

Secondly, it was the leadership of the Western Regional Committee of the NCNC that was vehement in its opposition of an NCNC-AG alliance and threatened to decamp should Azikiwe pursue it. In any case, Dr. Azikiwe understood the logic of inclusion, and it was a no brainer for him to consider the highest national good. That willingness to be selfless; to commit to the highest public good is what I think Peter Obi is campaigning on. And the tide is swelling around him.

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