Photo: Azuka Onwuka
For decades, the Igbo and the Yoruba have lived in peace but have bickered ceaselessly like cat and dog. On April 22, 2014, I wrote an article entitled, “‘Tom and Jerry’ relationship between Igbo and Yoruba to highlight the inherent strengths of these two ethnic groups and how they can positively direct these strengths for the good of the two ethnic groups and Nigeria in general. I added another article on April 21, 2015, entitled, “Lagos is not a ‘No man’s land’ but to underpin how the two ethnic groups can work together.
However, one complaint some Yoruba have against the Igbo is that the latter are limiting the opportunities available to the Yoruba by being in control of their homeland in the South-East and also sharing the opportunities in the South-West with the Yoruba. If the Igbo were all resident in the South-East, and only come into the South-West to transact business and go back, some maintain, there would not be much problem. But the idea of the Igbo settling en masse in Yorubaland, especially Lagos, buying property massively, controlling some markets and products, and having a say in the politics of the South-West seem threatening to some Yoruba. It creates the impression that the Igbo usually hold an annual general assembly in a 30-million-man capacity stadium at which a directive is issued to every Igbo person to go to the South-West and take it over. But as has been shown, the Igbo are investment-driven, and land seems to be the best investment in Nigeria, because of its ever appreciating value and the protection it gives to the owner from landlords who talk down on tenants, increase rent at will and eject tenants at the flimsiest reason. The Igbo are proud people who don’t like living at the mercy of any “master”.
One weird alternative is to send all Igbo out of Yorubaland. But that option is not an option because the Igbo are Nigerians and have a right to reside in any part of Nigeria without any passport or residential permit. Secondly, even if the Igbo and the Yoruba don’t belong to the same country, the global standard is that people are free to reside in any country once they have valid papers, and they have a right to own property once they can afford it. Currently, Nigerians reside in all parts of the world and own property there without being citizens of those countries.
However, there is an option that will balance the skewed equation between the Igbo and the Yoruba and reduce the tension between the two ethnic groups. That option is to have a strategic migration of the Yoruba in droves into Igboland, residing there with their families, transacting business, buying property and participating in the local politics and social activities in Igboland. Currently, many Yoruba seem to be averse to living in other parts of Nigeria outside the Yoruba enclave. Interestingly, they love to live in large numbers in the UK and the US.
Even in the choice of university, it is the same story. The PUNCH edition of August 10, 2015 published a news story on page 6 on the result of the post-UTME examination released by the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. The person with the highest score was Igbo (Onyenachi Nze). Two people tied at third position, and one of them was Igbo (Jude Epunam). If you check the results released by universities which are based in the South-East, Yoruba names will be few and far between, not because they don’t want to admit Yoruba students, but because they rarely apply to South-East universities or even those in the South-South. In my class of about 70 students at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, we had only one Yoruba student.
Once the Yoruba take a decision to “invade” the South-East in large numbers, the relationship between them and the Igbo will improve greatly. They will stop feeling short-changed by the Igbo. While an Emeka is buying a house in Okota, an Ayodele should be buying a house beside Emeka’s ancestral home in Amawbia. While a Dozie is calling himself Eze-Igbo of Ojo, a Dayo is calling himself Oba Yoruba of Ngwaland.
That was why I was very happy when Ekiti State mooted the idea of sending some Ekiti youths to Onitsha and Aba to acquire trading skills and craftsmanship. We Nigerians love to see the bad sides of each ethnic group rather than the good sides. Each ethnic group has some great qualities that anybody who is not enslaved by tribal supremacy and hate can copy and put to good use. My 21-year sojourn in Yorubaland has added some value to me.
In all parts of the world, settlers always have an edge to succeed more than the indigenes. Why? Settlers come with different perspectives. They naturally think outside the box. They see things differently and therefore spot opportunities that indigenes can’t spot. They have more drive to succeed. While sons of the soil live in their own houses and pay no rent, and have access to farmlands where they can get food for free, etc, which make them complacent and conceited, settlers know they have to succeed or die of hunger or get booted out by their landlords. They are also not bogged down by their culture or positions. A prince in a foreign land will pocket his title and do even menial jobs to succeed, but he can’t do the same in his own land.
While growing up in Nnewi in the South-East in the late 70s and early 80s, I saw hired farm workers from Enugu and Ebonyi send their Nnewi counterparts out of business. They came in with hoes whose blades were three times the size of the hoes used by Nnewi farmers. So, they worked faster. And unlike the Nnewi hired workers for whom you must provide one meal plus wine per day until they finished working for you, the Enugu/Ebonyi workers demanded no such thing. They got the job done fast, get paid, and move on to another job. Soon, nobody was hiring the Nnewi workers, and they fizzled out.
Ghanaian tailors, barbers, cobblers, etc, did the same thing to their Nnewi counterparts when they came into the town in the late 70s and early 80s.
The bottom line is that people who want to pay for goods and services want new, better, faster and more cost-effective ways of offering them. They don’t care about your race or religion or nationality. That is why settlers have an edge over indigenes.
So for the Yoruba involved in house construction, architecture, roofing, tiling, wiring, plumbing, auto mechanics, panel-beating/car-painting, house-painting, fashion designing, herbal medicine, hairdressing, nail-fixing, upholstery, restaurants/bars, etc, it may be time to seek a new territory. Igboland needs your fresh perspectives and artistry.
In China, Chinese food would seem ordinary, but in Africa, Europe or America, it is exotic. The same thing goes for something as ordinary as roast plantain (boli) or specially prepared goat meat called asun. Because these are Yoruba meals, if prepared in the South-East by a Yoruba person, they are seen as exotic delicacies.
When there is an influx of Yoruba into Igboland, it will create more competition there. Variety will be added to the lifestyle in Igbo land. A win-win situation will be created. The Igbo will no longer feel that they are being foolish by investing in Yoruba land without the Yoruba reciprocating.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe with Dim Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and Chief Obafemi Awolowo could not unite the Igbo and Yoruba. On the contrary, they created a deeper gulf between the two ethnic groups. The absence of regional governments has created an absence of central figures in Yorubaland and Igboland that can champion an honest and enduring Igbo-Yoruba relationship. A real handshake across the Niger is therefore essential now more than ever before.
Photo: Azuka Onwuka