Long Read: Femi Fani-Kayode’s Tangled Web ”Fani-Kayode’s essays, especially the second one, turned history on its head,” writes historian Henry Chukwemeka Onyema in this illuminating article of indisputable facts.

Long Read: Femi Fani-Kayode’s Tangled Web

Published on Thu, Aug 22 2013 by Web Master
By Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema
Femi Fani-Kayode. Via Indepth Africa
Nearly fifteen years ago, when I was an undergraduate student of history, my project supervisor made a profound statement in class. He said: ‘History exposes the dirty old man.’ That statement has been reverberating in my mind since I read Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode’s diatribe The Bitter Truth About The Igbo. The essay is his follow-up to another work of his, Lagos, The Igbos And The Servants Of Truth. Both articles seek to provide historical understanding about the ownership of Lagos and the place of the Igbo in it. Interestingly, they portray the Igbo as strangers in Lagos who depend on Yoruba largesse; that the Igbo are basically the cause of Nigeria’s vexed condition. Reading through both essays, especially the second one, some basic issues cropped up in my mind.
First, the genesis of Fani-Kayode’s diatribe which purportedly defends Yoruba patrimony is the reaction of ex-Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu to the ‘deportation’ of 14 or 72 (take your pick) Igbo destitute from Lagos to Onitsha, Anambra State, by the agents of the Lagos State government. Kalu described Lagos as a ‘no man’s land’ in which the Igbo had a stake as major contributors to its revenue base and thus should not be so shabbily treated. Fani-Kayode’s anger stemmed from the implications associated with that expression ‘no man’s land.’ But his essays were silent on the core issues. I expected him to address the questions.
But in case he does not know what they are or perhaps he sidestepped them in order to build a platform for launching his historical barrage on the Igbo, let me raise them. Did the Fashola government do the right thing with these destitute? What are the implications of that action for Igbo-Yoruba relations and national unity in this tense period of Nigeria’s evolution? Now other states have taken a cue from Lagos and are ‘deporting’ destitute. Last time I checked, Rivers State was the latest to get on the bandwagon.
Has our Cambridge-educated lawyer asked what this line of action, if unchecked, will mean for Nigeria? Who defines a destitute? Is it part of any state governor’s mandate to do so and consequently toss non-indigenes who meet his criteria out of the state? If I dress in beggarly clothes and speak Yoruba under a Port Harcourt bridge that gives Governor Rotimi Amaechi the licence to ‘deport’ me to Lagos State.
These are fundamental posers which Fani-Kayode is not addressing. They go to the heart of the type of federation Nigeria is. Can the governor of Texas ‘deport’ a New Yorker in his state or deprive him of any of his fundamental rights in so far as the New Yorker has not violated the laws of the United States which both Texas and New York State subscribe to? Is poverty a crime in the Nigerian constitution?
I have read Governor Fashola’s explanations about the ‘deportation’ and learnt of Anambra State Governor Peter Obi’s response. Both men completely missed the goalpost. If they have a hotline to each other, as Fashola implies, why did they not use it before matters got out of hand? Obi should have checked up with his Liaison Office staff; Fashola should have informed Obi through the hotline if the established protocols had failed. Strictly speaking, the ‘deportation’ policy raises the issue of how much of the notion of Nigerian citizenship exists.
Second, Fani-Kayode’s essays, especially the second one, turned history on its head. It should not be unchallenged because it is a beautiful mixture of half-truths and inaccuracies that can cause a lot of damage to readers who are uncritical or lack the inclination or facility to cross-check Fani-Kayode’s presentations. The new generation of Nigerians, including Igbo and Yoruba, are in trouble if a self-confessed history buff like Fani-Kayode deploys skewered history to argue that the Igbo have no stake in Lagos except as guests and that they are the trouble with Nigeria. This essay intends to untangle Fani-Kayode’s tangled web and not unduly inflame passions, though facts are no man’s friend.
Fani-Kayode wrote in the second essay: “It is that same attitude of ‘we own everything;’ ‘we must have everything;’ ‘ we must control everything’, that Igbo settlers manifested in the Northern Region in the late 50s and early and mid-60s that got them into so much trouble up there with the Hausa Fulani and that eventually led to the terrible pogroms where almost one hundred thousand of them were killed in just a few days. Again it is that same attitude that they manifested in Lagos and the Western Region….’”
Clearly he does not know that inter-group relations among Nigerians since the British imposition of their 3Cs – Christianity, commerce and colonial rule- has been characterised by conflict. These were groups that, in most cases, had little or nothing in common with each other. True, links were forged by the British imposition. But mutually antagonistic worldviews and competition for the benefits of the new world order were not going to be friendly. Maybe Fani-Kayode does not know that as far back as 1934 Yoruba traders tried to take over the kola nut trade between their homeland and Northern Nigeria borderlines, hitherto the exclusive preserve of Hausa kola nut merchants. They failed. If the Igbo are accused of commencing the take over bid for Nigeria, what does this example tell about the Yoruba? What of the contemporary scenario in many Lagos markets where non-Yoruba are, through various strategies, denied participation in some apparently lucrative trades? The point is that in the competition in the unwholesome capitalist world the Europeans integrated us into, ugly tools were and are still being used by all ethnic groups.
Fani-Kayode wrote that the Igbo introduced tribalism in Southern Nigerian politics. He capitalised on the statements of Charles Daddy Onyeama and Nnamdi Azikiwe to buttress this charge. Onyeama allegedly declared that it was only a matter of time before the Igbo dominated Nigeria and Africa. Azikiwe’s statement should be quoted in full because of his position in Nigeria’s history. It came from Azikiwe’s newspaper ‘West African Pilot:’
“It would appear that the God of Africa has created the Ibo nation to lead the children of Africa from the bondage of ages. History has enabled them not only to conquer others but also to adapt themselves to the role of preserver…The Ibo cannot shirk its responsibility.”
At first glance this statement supports Fani-Kayode’s argument. But if he decided to write objective history, Fani-Kayode would have told his readers the following facts which can be cross checked:
These views by Azikiwe were aimed at the colonial masters who were effectively spreading the gospel that the Igbo, and by extension, other black Africans, had no history till the white man came; that they were destined to be in the white man’s thrall and remain conquered. By the time this statement was made, the crafty British had successfully inserted tribal politics among Nigerian nationalists. Example: the Richards Constitution of 1945 sowed the seed of regionalisation which gave official imprimatur to tribalist suspicions raised by the new world order of colonial rule. This extract from Dennis Osadebey’s biography ‘Building a Nation’ sets matters in proper perspective: ‘Although the Richards Constitution did advance Nigeria some steps further in the journey to democratic autonomy, Nigerian nationalists did not like it. They did not like the principle of regionalisation which they described as ‘Pakistanization.’ They saw in it the age-old long strategy of imperialism to ‘divide and rule;’ and their fears were strengthened when it was learnt that in making his Constitution, Sir Arthur Richards had ulterior motives. It was said he wanted to disperse the concentration of political agitation in Lagos, and send the agitators and ‘hotheads’ back to their own regions where they could be contained by the British Chief Commissioners and their British administrative officers, while he took care of the Lagosians.’ Azikiwe’s party, the NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons), fought the constitution but failed.
When Azikiwe returned to Lagos from Ghana in 1937, he galvanized Lagos politics and took it out of its local cocoon. His reputation as a journalist, nationalist, orator and pan-Africanist preceded him. He joined the Lagos Youth Movement (LYM). Other notables in the LYM included Obafemi Awolowo and Hezekiah O. Davies. They broadened the LYM’s appeal and its name changed to the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM). The NYM won the three seats in the Legislative Council allocated to Nigerians by the 1922 Clifford Constitution. But when one of its members, Kofo Abayomi, vacated his seat to travel to England, a dispute over his successor arose in the NYM. The contenders were Samuel Akinsanya, an Ijebu Yoruba, and Ernest Ikoli, an Eastern Nigerian from the riverine area of Brass. If Azikiwe was the architect of tribalism in Southern Nigerian politics would he have taken the position he did as narrated by this source: “Samuel Akinsanya was a Yoruba from Ijebu Province of Nigeria, and the Lagos Yorubas in the Movement would not have an Ijebu to represent Lagos in such an august body as the Legislative Council. Although Ijebus are Yorubas, the Lagosians looked down on them. One Lagosian, Mr. Kingston Gomez, exclaimed at a Youth Movement meeting ‘Ijebu ke n’ile yii’ meaning ‘Even an Ijebu would want to represent us in this land!’ It is true that Mr. Ernest Ikoli was not Yoruba but he had lived in Lagos since his boyhood…He married a Lagos Yoruba lady and was regarded as a Lagosian.
‘Ijebu members of the Movement and Azikiwe took exception to this discrimination against Akinsanya and demanded that Mr. Gomez withdraw the offending words. Mr. Gomez refused. The Ijebu members and Azikiwe then resigned. Many other non-Lagosians followed suit and left that Movement.’ Though Ikoli won the election to the Council the NYM died. These events occurred from 1937-1943. So how is Azikiwe the father of tribal politics in Southern Nigeria?
Fani-Kayode made a song and dance about Azikiwe succeeding Herbert Macaulay, a Yoruba, as the leader of the NCNC. To Fani-Kayode, this is proof of lack of racial prejudice and tribal bigotry on the part of the Yoruba. True, Macaulay was not a tribal bigot. Till date many Yoruba and non-Yoruba emulate his example. But it is a fact that there were many Yoruba who would rather eat their hat than follow Azikiwe’s leadership because of his ethnic background. They included NCNC founding fathers like Dr. Olorun-Nimbe and Magnus Williams. Azikiwe, too, was a founding father of the party. But theses gentlemen quit and became the nucleus of anti-Igbo stance in Southern Nigerian politics. Who sowed the story that Azikiwe was told by Igbo students in London when he led the NCNC delegation to fight the Richards Constitution not to trust his Yoruba colleagues? The story was later proven to be false but it was a gem. It brought tribal politics into NCNC, Nigeria’s leading party at that time.
I will not delve into the politics of Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group and Chief Akintola’s Nigerian National Democratic Party. The historical records are available and Fani-Kayode can study them. His father, Chief Fani-Kayode, was Akintola’s deputy.
Only a hater of Nigeria will raise the spectre of the coups of 1966 and the civil war to score unnecessary points. If these events must be addressed in history, they should be untainted by bias. Fani-Kayode claims that the great Yoruba magnanimity towards the Igbo was exhibited in the July 29 1966 coup when Lieutenant-Colonel Adekunle Francis Fajuyi, the governor of the old Western Region, openly preferred to die rather than give up his guest, General Ironsi, the head of state, to the coup plotters. Fani-Kayode argued that the Igbo ought to eternally grateful for that sacrifice by the Yoruba soldier.
Facts: Fajuyi was not shot because he refused to give up Ironsi. If he is a student of Nigerian history, Fani-Kayode should know this. I know he is a fan of Max Silloun, the chronicler of Nigerian military history. He should read Silloun’s book on Nigerian coups between 1966 and 1976, Oil, Politics and Violence. Silloun’s article on the July coup, The Northern Counter-Coup of 1966: The Full Story is freely available on the internet. The plotters had Fajuyi’s official residence surrounded; they had Northern moles inside and there was no way Fajuyi or Ironsi could stop them since all military facilities then were in the plotters’ grip.
The plotters killed Fajuyi because they believed he was an accessory to and supporter of the January 16, 1966 coup which Fani-Kayode calls an Igbo coup. Adewale Ademoyega, one of that coup’s leaders, wrote in page 59 of Why We Struck, his account of the coup: “…Lieutenant-Colonel Fajuyi who commanded the cause had sympathy for our cause and was willing to contribute ideas to the execution of our plan. It shall stand eternally to his credit that although the coup took place while he was away on leave, he rose for the revolution and stood firmly by its principles even until he breathed his last.”
Participants in the July coup, namely General T.Y. Danjuma, and (then Lieutenant) William Walbe, confirmed this separately. I will quote only Walbe’s words: “We suspected him (Fajuyi) of being party to the January coup. You remember the Battle Group Course which was held at Abeokuta…Fajuyi was the commander of the Battle Group Course. All those who took part in the January coup were those who had taken part in that course. It gave us the impression that the Battle Course was arranged for the January coup, so he had to suffer it too.”
Maybe Fani-Kayode does not know that Yoruba officers participated in the butchery of July 29 so his argument that there were no Yoruba reprisals against the Igbo for the January coup holds no water. Four Yoruba officers from Ilorin and Kabba were involved. One was Major (later Colonel) Shittu Alao who commanded the Nigerian Air Force. Another was Major (later Colonel) Daramola who commanded the Eighth Brigade of the Second Division of the Nigerian Army during the civil war.
Apart from Adewale Ademoyega, there were other Yoruba military officers who willingly gave their best for the January coup. There is Second Lieutenant Olafimihan, an officer who served under Major Alexander Madiebo, one of the Igbo officers who crushed the January coup. Olafimihan was sent by the plotters to gauge Madiebo’s loyalty and only his shrewdness saved Madiebo. This information can be read on pages 17-18 of Madiebo’s book ‘The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War.’ There is also Lieutenant (some sources refer to him as a Captain) Fola Oyewole. He, like Ademoyega, fought for Biafra and wrote a book titled ‘Reluctant Rebel.’ There is also Captain Ganiyu Adeleke. Were all these men acting on behalf of the millions of Yoruba who had nothing to do with the coup? So why should Ifeajuna, Nzeogwu, Anuforo, etc. be labelled as acting on behalf of the Igbo? Why was Colonel Arthur Unegbe, the Army Quartermaster General, excluded from Fani-Kayode’s list of casualties of the January coup? He should read Silloun’s accounts and Ademoyega’s book. Those who want to label the January coup as an Igbo affair ignore these facts:
Unegbe was shot by the January plotters, specifically Major Chris Anuforo and his team.
Unegbe was not killed because he refused to surrender the armoury keys to the plotters. He was not in charge of any armoury because his post as Quartermaster General was an administrative one. From day one he was on the plotters’ list because of his pro-Establishment leanings. Ademoyega confirmed this on page 60 of his book.
Some writers on the coup claim that Unegbe was an Anioma so he was not Igbo. But I was informed by a townsman that Unegbe was from Ozobulu in present day Anambra State. However, whether from Anioma in Delta State or Ozobulu, he was an Igbo.
Igbo officers, namely, Ironsi, Ojukwu, and Madiebo, were instrumental to crushing the coup.
Ironsi was a target of the coup plotters but he outsmarted them. Fani-Kayode should look for the January 22, 1966 edition of the Daily Telegraph newspaper and read Nzeogwu’s interview to confirm this. Ademoyega wrote the same thing in the fifth chapter of his book.
Much has been written about how Ironsi and Senate President Nwafor Orizu strong-armed the remnants of Balewa’s cabinet into handing over to Ironsi. Fani-Kayode described the episode as a “murky and deep-seated Igbo conspiracy.” But a few basic posers are necessary: Why did Ironsi not arbitrarily shoot himself to power if he wanted it so badly? Everything was going for him. Why should he seek Orizu’s blessing and the cabinet’s backing?
How about Northern officers such as Yakubu Gowon and Hassan Katsina who supported Ironsi in crushing the coup? Could they not have stopped Ironsi’s so-called plot? They got top jobs in Ironsi’s administration.
Have you ever heard of unarmed Nigerian civilians stopping armed military coup plotters? How would Orizu do it? Was the so-called British support ready for an all-out war with Nzeogwu’s forces? Nzeogwu had control of the North, where the coup succeeded. Back then, most of Nigeria’s military structure was concentrated in the North. Minus the Fifth Battalion in Kano under Ojukwu’s command, the rest were at Nzeogwu’s beck and call and he was ready to march down on the South where his colleagues failed. Only negotiations stopped him.
It is a tragedy that nearly fifty years after these unwholesome history, Fani-Kayode refuses to be an objective historian. This idea that the Igbo published and aired material celebrating the killings of January 1966 is widely accepted by many people who want to blame the Igbo for Nigeria’s woes. But facts do not lie. Fani-Kayode should read Operation Aure: The Northern Military Counter-Rebellion of July 1966 by Nowa Omoigui, a Nigerian military historian who by no account is pro-January 1966 coup. I raise the following facts that can be verified:
The controversial Goats Are Bleating song which is regarded as Igbo rejoicing over the coup was released in 1964 by Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson, a Kalabari highlife musician of the 1950s and 60s. Although an Ijaw, he sang in Igbo and other languages. How did a song released in 1964 become an anthem for a bloody coup in 1966?
Drum Magazine which published the incendiary pictures and articles that shook the North had been operating in Nigeria for some years before 1966. The awful cartoon on Sir Ahmadu Bello was allegedly drawn by a Coz Idapo. That edition of the monthly magazine came into the North on May 28; just four days after the region began seething over the Unification Decree promulgated by the Ironsi regime.
Coz Idapo does not sound like an Igbo name to me and I hope I am sufficiently Igbo to know an Igbo name. Who comprised the magazine’s editorial team that gave the green light for the publication of such material when Nigeria was burning? Given that there were Northern agent provocateurs sowing seeds of disaffection among the Northern military and civilian populace then, was the arrival of the magazine deliberately timed? Who is this Coz Idapo? Was he a cover to deal with the ‘stubborn’ Igbo?
Thank God it is known that Nigeria declared war on Biafra on July 6 1967. The Nigerian Army fired the first shot at Gakem, Ogoja, in present day Cross River State. This is not the forum to address the vexed question of Eastern minorities but Fani-Kayode needs to be reminded that the name of the secessionist republic was coined by Frank Apuigo, an Ijaw politician who served Biafra to the end. Till they eventually got their Mid-Western Region in 1963, the peoples of that area, including the Igbo of Asaba, Aboh, Ika, etc. did not have a sweet life with their dominant Yoruba neighbours.
When the Igbo came back to Lagos after the war they had to contend with official policies such as the Indigenisation Decree of 1972 which the Yoruba hegemonists capitalized on to squeeze the Igbo out of Nigeria’s post-war economy. Agreed, there were individual and low-level official Yoruba efforts to integrate Igbo returnees after the war. But by and large the Yoruba bureaucrats and leaders were not so strategically unwise to allow the Igbo to rise to their pre-war levels of rivalry in the stiff competition for the boons of the new world order initiated by the British and consolidated after 1960. Fani-Kayode is a lawyer. Is he unaware of records of Igbo who had to fight through the courts for their ‘abandoned property’?
Fani-Kayode should realise that Lagos is a complex phenomenon. I agree there are indigenous ownership of parts of the area of Lagos; ex-slaves, returnees, etc. Even the ancient Benin Empire once called the shots. But no modern city thrives on solely indigenous enterprise. Come to think of it, what are the generally accepted criteria for defining the indigenes of a place? History is an endless wave of migration and with her access to the ocean, Lagos is particularly susceptible. However, if Fani-Kayode’s ambition of ‘deporting’ all Igbo from Lagos comes to pass, what of non-Lagos Yoruba?
Modern cities thrive on integration, not exclusivism. If Yoruba residents in Owerri are hounded by the Imo State government I will condemn it. Lagos is not ‘no man’s land.’ Every inhabitable land on earth is owned by man, even the Wild West frontiers penetrated by early Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They had to contend with Indian tribes. But today they have come to terms with one another. As a significant part of Lagos, the Igbo deserve all the rights and responsibilities of being part of its evolution and mega-mix. We do not beg to be part of Lagos. We wish to prove that, like all others who come from or to Lagos, are worthy of a place under its sky. Our record so far shows that we deserve it.
I acknowledge the Yoruba head start in scholarship and the professions in Nigeria. But if Fani-Kayode wants to use that to consign the Igbo to the non-starter’s block he is wrong. It is not who first started the race that counts. For every Soyinka there is an Achebe; for every D’Banj there are the P-Square twins; for every Lola Shoneyin there is an Adaobi Nwabuani; for every Sefi Atta there is a Chimamanda Adichie; for every Omotola Ekeinde there is a Genevieve Nnaji. So let us outgrow primordial sentiments.
These developments should spur Igbo people to channel their resources and talents to developing their region. That we are traditionally footloose is no excuse. This is necessary because the utterances of the likes of Fani-Kayode imply that Nigeria is not yet home for all that dwell in it.

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