By Simon Kolawole
Oh my, Igbo and Yoruba nationalists have started again. They always look for the faintest opportunity to exchange hurtful and incendiary words, betraying a relationship built on mutual suspicion, bitterness, rivalry, resentment and group megalomania. These guys never allow any boxing or wrestling opportunity to pass them by. Whether it is Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country or Femi Fani-Kayode’s Lagos, The Igbo and Servants of Truth, there is always a little spark to ignite meaningless arguments over who created Lagos, who betrayed who, who perpetrated genocide, who invented ethnic politics, and such like. These are issues that should belong in the past but are being treated as fresh developments everyday of the week.
Any follower of public debate will have noticed the ongoing media war between Igbo and Yoruba nationalists over the “destitute deportation” programme of Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State. While I am completely against the anti-poor policy and feared it could ignite a political-cum-ethnic crisis because of the shaky state of the Nigerian union, I never reckoned with the current setting where it would be reduced to a Yoruba vs Igbo confrontation, given the fact that people of several ethnic groups, including Yoruba, had also been “deported”. But then, why should I be surprised? The Igbo and Yoruba are first-class rivals and antagonists.
Forget the politically correct statement that the Igbo and Yoruba are not “enemies”. Some commentators euphemistically call it “healthy rivalry”. The facts don’t back that assertion. The two ethnic groups are traditionally full of resentment and disdain for each other. They are always at each other’s throat. I think both of them suffer from a supremacy mentality. You know the game – “I am more intelligent than you”, “I am neater than you”, “I am more industrious than you”, “I am more sophisticated than you”, and so on and so forth. It is an unending battle of mega egos – both at individual and group levels.
The latest round of Igbo/Yoruba super heavyweight boxing bout has again called to mind the agitation by some people that Nigeria should be balkanised into North and South. Why do they still see balkanisation as the solution to our political and economic challenges? I have an idea. Professor Achebe famously said: “Nigerians will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo”. I will parody that by saying: “Southerners will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of Northerners”. Every talk about breaking up Nigeria is usually targeted at the North; the Hausa/Fulani to be specific. The Igbo and Yoruba are hypocritically united when they want to spite the North. They talk about how the North is “dragging us backward” and how only a break-up would “liberate us”.
I hereby predict that the proposed “Republic of Southern Nigeria” would be a political disaster. It is wishful thinking to suggest that the Igbo and Yoruba will suddenly bury the hatchet in the new country. To start with, where would the capital be? Lagos or Enugu or Port Harcourt? They will have to hold a sovereign national conference on that. The argument will start from whether or not Lagos is no man’s land. As soon as they settle that one, they will hold another sovereign national conference to determine the structure of government – confederacy or “true federalism”? Meanwhile, how would the petrodollars of the Niger Delta be distributed? Will there be “fiscal federalism” and “resource control”? And while the Igbo and Yoruba would clearly dominate the Republic of Southern Nigeria and fight endless supremacy battles, what will be the fate of the minorities?
Maybe you are in favour of balkanising Nigeria into more units, not just North and South. In which case, the Yoruba will have their own republic, with headquarters in… Ibadan. Or is it Lagos? Many Yoruba nationalists portray the Yoruba nation as united, indivisible and progressive – with one mind, one aspiration and one goal. They so conveniently forget that Yoruba states and councils have received over a trillion naira in revenue since 1999 but their “sophistication” and “competence” are yet to turn the Republic of Oduduwa into Singapore. To them, the Hausa/Fulani should be blamed for this, not Adebayo Alao-Akala or Niyi Adebayo. Meanwhile, the notion of a “united and indivisible” Yoruba “nation” is a joke, and I will not bother to comment on that.
What should I say about the Republic of Igbo? Maybe I should not talk about the Umuleri/Aguleri war – and many of such tensions waiting to explode some day. Maybe I should keep quiet on the frequent Igbo-on-Igbo killings in Ezillo, Ebonyi State. Maybe I should conveniently ignore the Catholic/Protestant divide in Anambra State and the deafening cries of marginalisation from Enugu North. And when Igbo nationalists blame the North for their underdevelopment, you are forced to wonder if it was Northerners that helped them spend the trillion naira they have received in revenue in the last 14 years. Is it the North that helped them vote for Chinwoke Mbadinuju and Achike Udenwa as governors? Or it is the North that has stopped Igbo governors from turning the South-east into Africa’s powerhouse for manufacturing of electronics? I think I should just shut up before I am conferred with the honorary title of “Igbo Hater”.
I will now summarise my arguments. One, the proposal for the balkanisation of Nigeria, as attractive as it is to Southerners, is not a magic formula for the nation’s problems. Two, the notion that the Igbo and Yoruba can live happily together in the imaginary Republic of Southern Nigeria is exaggerated. Three, the thinking that a purely Yoruba or strictly Igbo republic will suddenly experience peace and prosperity is subject to further interrogation given the fact that the trillions of naira that have gone into Yoruba and Igbo states and councils, ruled by their own sons and daughters since 1999, have not transformed their regions. It is clearly not enough to demonise the North as the stumbling block to anyone’s progress.
I conclude. No matter how many countries you break Nigeria into, there will always be cause for conflict. There is no country in the world – mono-ethnic or multi-ethnic – that does not have internal divisions to deal with. Diversity is, therefore, no cancer. It is the political management of conflicts and divisions that will determine the level of social cohesion a country will enjoy. The lazy mind always thinks balkanisation is the magic cure, the easy way out. Yugoslavia started disintegrating in 1991. But there are still internal conflicts in the republics that emerged from the rubble. Break Nigeria into 36 republics and conflicts will not disappear, I promise you.