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Monday, 26 August 2013

Deportation: The Fani-Kayode Debate

By Akin Osuntokun

As the cliché goes, all this would have been laughable if it is not so tragic. In the heat of the subsisting venom and vitriol, it seems nobody now cares that the first set of “deportees” from Lagos were no other than Yoruba indigenes of Oyo and Osun states. I say this because this knowledge is not reflected in the way and manner protagonists have been conducting the debate on the so-called “deportation” of Igbo’s from Lagos. This precedent completely nullifies the presumption and dangerous peg of tribalism on which the mutual trade in personal and ethnic slurs, derision, denigration, demonisation, and hubris has been hoisted. It tells us that governor Babatunde Fashola’s action was not motivated and informed by ethnic calculations neither was it intended and directed against any particular group or nationality. It is a detribalised act but it is not a good policy. It is a joke carried too far. It is a conduct unbecoming of any government that aspires to be taken seriously. It fails miserably on the template of cost-benefit analysis. It is an instance in which the cost-in distraction, goodwill and reputation has far outweighed any conceivable benefit from the forceful relocation of a few pathetic destitute. It also underscores the predilection of Nigerians for political theatre and excitement at the expense of calm and fruitful introspection; for heat and passion over and above light and reason; for mutual recrimination over cooperation and consensus.
In the first place there was no need for ethnic casus belli. The ill-starred destitute were not relocated as Igbo’s but as indigenes of Anambra State. It was done in replication of the precedence of Oyo and Osun states where similar victims were earlier repatriated. They received the short end of the stick not as Yoruba but as indigenes of specific states. It was then left to the government of those states to respond and take up the challenge of accepting or rejecting the folly of the Lagos State Government. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that any litigation initiative on the case is a wrap up, open and shut case against Lagos State. Rather than political grandstanding, the affected governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, for instance, should have proceeded to the courts and seize an opportunity to make the destitute of today the multi-millionaires of tomorrow – in consequent hefty damages that would accrue to those hapless Nigerians through judicial penalty and sanction. Quite significantly it also poses the unique utility of testing the Nigerian Constitution on the key and basic question of citizenship.
How then did the unbecoming nuisance of repatriating some unfortunate citizens of Nigeria from one state to another transmogrified into a virulent diatribe across the ethnic divide bringing out the worst in the protagonists? It will be difficult for any thinking Nigerian not to admire and identify with Professor Chinua Achebe but it was his grating remarks in the Biafra evocative book, There Was a Country and the debate it spawned that served as the dress rehearsal for the present turn of events. In the book, the civil war was relived all over again with the attendant ripping open of old wounds and injuries. The story was told from a partisan point of view where blames and villainy are liberally attributed to the other side in counterpoise to the exhortation of heroic Igbo exceptionalism. The thematic backdrop was of a martyrdom suffered by a people whose surpassing excellence had incurred the envy and spite of fellow Nigerians. There was the account of how within the decades of the 1930s through to the 1960s, the Igbo’s caught up and excelled the Yoruba’s in education and modernisation.
Yet I do not begrudge Achebe. The indomitable Sir Ahmadu Bello was the one who counselled that if you do not blow your trumpet, nobody would blow it for you. The modernisation rivalry among the component units of Nigeria especially between the Igbo and Yoruba is the stuff of which social progress and advancement is made. Nigeria will be the better for it. But there is also the pernicious strain, which is neither good for the Igbo’s nor fair to the rest of Nigeria. It has been repeatedly stated along the following lines- “the military coup of 1966 presented a pretext to carry out a plan that had been laid out years before. It was a plan that aimed at a total extermination of the Igbo or, at least, their containment. The pogrom and the brutal war that followed was the final solution to the perceived Igbo problems in Nigeria. When Anthony Enahoro travelled round the globe arguing that starvation was a weapon of war, he was following the script for the total extermination of the Igbo. When Benjamin Adekunle boasted to foreign reporters, ‘I want to see no Red Cross, no Caritas, no World Council of Churches, no pope, no missionary and no UN delegation. I want to prevent even one Ibo from having even one piece to eat before their capitulation. We shoot at everything that moves and when our troops march into the centre of Ibo territory, we shoot at everything even at things that do not move’, he was following the same script.”
Could there indeed have been a plan by the rest of Nigeria…laid out years before aimed at a total extermination of the Igbo? Recent political history of Nigeria does not bear out this preposterous and extravagant claim. Such conspiracy would have required at the minimum an entrenched and long-standing political rapport between the government and peoples of the Northern and Western regions. On the contrary, the first lesson in politics and most successful political currency among the Yoruba (until the advent of the nascent APC) is to swear fidelity to the political canon of everlasting defiance and resistance of the Hausa-Fulani standard bearers of feudalism and hegemony. If there was any relationship between the two blocs, it was that of adversity, mutual suspicion and disdain.
Incidentally, it was the NCNC –as it evolved to become the eastern regional denominated party –, that went into alliance with the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, (haven spurned overtures from the action group, AG, of the western region) to form the Federal Government at independence. And in the post-independence years, the adversity and hostility between the west and the north only deepened with the northern backed factionalisation of the AG and the imprisonment of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In the century before British colonialism the long-drawn war to checkmate the expansion of the Sokoto Caliphate into the Oyo Empire served as the singular presage to the unhappy relations between the Yoruba and the inheritors of the caliphate within Nigeria. Thus, it is difficult and improbable to impute any logic to the suggestion of a grand conspiracy between the Yoruba dominated western region and the Caliphate-dominated Northern Region. If ever there was such a conspiracy, the Western Region could not have been part of it. Neither, for that matter, could the Northern Region.
If we were not to stand guilty of seeing ghosts where none exists, it was the chain of events set in motion by the western regional crisis of 1962 leading to the military coup of January 15 1966 that culminated in the civil war. It is possible that the coup was not a product of Igbo conspiracy but in politics, perception can be more important than reality. And in the interim between January and July 1966, this perception was reinforced by two inadvertent events. The coup-makers were not tried and punished (court-martialled by the army authorities) as they should; and the Ironsi government, perhaps in good faith, legislated the abolition of the regions and the unification of Nigeria under the unitary rule of the military – whose hierarchy was disproportionately skewed in favour of officers of Igbo origins. I do not need to be an apologist for the Northern Region to propose that no group can be dispossessed of power in the summary and traumatic manner that functionaries and officers of northern extraction were wiped out in the January 1966 coup and not react in a bitter riposte commensurate with its capacity to exact revenge.
Beyond the levelling up of scores in the counter coup, was the subsequent gross violation and pogrom of the Igbo’s resident in the North a product of conspiracy? Without a shade of doubt it was. But it was a conspiracy that did not antedate 1966. As a matter of fact, the original objective (from which it deviated at the instance of the British high commissioner in Lagos) of the July 1966 counter coup was to terminate in a secession of the North from Nigeria and not remain to pursue any hidden agenda. Nothing exemplifies the lack of a Nigeria wide or even a northern conspiracy against the Igbo’s than the incoherence and sheer ineptitude that characterised the conduct of the Nigerian government towards the eastern region in the months leading to the civil war. Remember the Aburi debacle?
Yet, I was not of any mind to join this hoopla until I read a rejoinder by Mr. Femi Aribisala. One virtue I have always urged on Femi Fani-Kayode (a close friend and a brother) is to exercise a sense of proportion and moderation in his all too frequent public interventions. Alas, how successful I have been in this regard is plain to all those who have followed him! Fani-Kayode is gifted at working himself into a storm in a tea cup on virtually any issue that catches his fancy; and has a provocative penchant for overstating his advocacy. Subtlety and diplomacy are not his strong points. And he has been duly admonished and upbraided in sundry responses. Now the other Femi (Mr. Aribisala) is an academic and a pastor and he is 61years old. He took umbrage and has published a rejoinder to the younger Femi and it is a cure worse than the disease. Hear him:
“Power-power, Fani-igbo: I was having private lessons in mathematics at the home of a colleague, Enitan Abiodun, when we heard the noise of a crowd outside. We rushed to the veranda to see Chief Femi Fani-Kayode (alias Fani-Power), then deputy governor of the Western Region, standing on the seat of a moving convertible. He was surrounded by a mob, which was shouting and hailing him. On hearing the noise, Enitan’s mother rushed to the veranda shouting ‘Awo!’ only to discover that the people outside were not supporters of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, but those of his arch-enemies.
“The shout of ‘Awo!’ by Mrs. Abiodun brought the procession to a screeching halt. ‘Who said that? Who said that?’ demanded the mob, enraged.
“‘Fani-power’ turned and looked up at us. His eyes were the usual blood-shot red. At the time, many claimed it was because he regularly smoked Indian hemp. Fani-Kayode pointed to our building and identified to his thugs that the offending shout came from our direction. We did not know that the floor of the convertible he was standing in was loaded with empty bottles. His thugs reached for the bottles and rained them down on us as we all scrambled back inside the house for dear life.
Like father, like son: that was 48 years ago. Today, Femi Fani-Kayode, the 53-year-old son of ‘Fani-Power,’ continues in the mischievous tradition of his father.”
Pray, what civic etiquette does one learn from this kind of admonition reeking as it does of pure and unadulterated malice? To hide under the cover of an opportunistic moment to vent personal animus with reckless abandon? So what was the whole uproar against Mr. Fani-Kayode about if those who criticise are themselves a worse advertisement on the ethics of public engagement?
Mr. Aribisala has published quite a number of peculiar and controversial sermons on Christianity, which many Christians will find grossly offensive i.e. “God is the servant of man”, yet it will not be proper to wonder whether such behaviour might be attributable to what his parent’s did or did not do 50 years ago. The hallmark of a true and genuine man of God is charity and temperance towards all, not unrestrained anger and bile; the measure of good character and learning is sobriety and comportment when others are losing their cool in bitterness and outrage; an elder, according to Yoruba adage, is quick to hear and learn but slow and hesitant to speak and join a cacophony. As a pastor, academic and elder, how does Aribisala fare on each score?
–– Osuntokun is former MD of NAN
ThisDay

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