Given the predominant character of the relationship between the Yoruba and the Igbo nations in the past six decades in Nigeria, writing the foreword to a book proclaiming any joint Yoruba-Igbo celebration of anything must be, for any Yoruba or Igbo person, a profoundly emotional encounter with history. But when God’s time comes, it comes – whether in the life of an individual human or in the life of a nation or nations. God’s time has come in the lives and the relationship of the Igbo and Yoruba nations of Nigeria. And when God’s almighty hand is stretched forth, nothing can bend it back.
Two Nigerian men, one Igbo by birth and the other Yoruba by birth, both of them officers in the Nigerian Army, but both of them serving as heads of governments in the Nigerian Federation, died suddenly one morning at the hands of fellow Nigerian military officers, and in very extraordinary and portentous circumstances. The one of Igbo birth, General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi was serving as Head of State of the Nigerian Federation, and the other, Lt. Col. Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, was serving as Governor of his native Yoruba Western Region. The Head of State, on tour of parts of Nigeria, was guest of the Regional Governor. Nigeria had been burning for weeks, with crowds of Northern Nigerian citizens cold-bloodedly slaughtering thousands of Igbo Nigerians in the streets of Northern Nigerian towns. In the early hours of the morning, a contingent of exclusively Northern military officers broke into the Governor’s premises and demanded that the Head of State be surrendered to them.
The Governor came rushing to the scene and bravely refused. When they threatened him, he heroically told them that the unwritten laws of his Yoruba nation forbade any Yoruba man to hand over his guest to people who intend to hurt the guest. So, they roughly grabbed the Governor and the Head of State, drove them away and, some distance from the city, shot them both and buried their bodies in shallow graves beside the road. The story is typical of Nigeria – especially of the viciousness that citizens of Southern Nigeria can experience in the hands of citizens of Northern Nigeria. Brands of it are being enacted even today, as well-armed Fulani herdsmen kill and maim innocent and defenceless farmers, and destroy farms and villages, across the South and Middle Belt of Nigeria.
But the event of the joint murder of Ironsi and Fajuyi; did it not pull their Igbo and Yoruba nations together to address the hideous wrongs that are devastating Nigeria? Well, it did not. The Yoruba and Igbo, two of the largest nations in Nigeria and Africa, two of the most educated, two of the most modernizing, two of the most dynamic, command together the capability to straighten up Nigeria and guide Nigeria onto the path of sanity, of respect for life, and of stability and progress. But they have not done it. Rivals for the best things in modern life, they would rather demonize their rivalry, and their elite would rather mobilize their enormous power and influence for the purpose of hustling for positions, limelight and wealth from the far weaker Fulani elite who control power over Nigeria.
The British designed the formula and methodology for keeping the Yoruba and Igbo in perpetual enmity with each other; the Fulani, whom the British manipulated to enthrone over Nigeria at independence in 1960, have mastered the formula and methodology very firmly; and the Yoruba and Igbo elite have predictably obliged by learning how to grovel effectively, and how to push and shove each other, at the doorsteps of power. In the process, the Fulani who control the power and assets of the Nigerian Federal Government has gradually converted the federal establishment into their exclusive instrument for subduing and degrading both the Yoruba and Igbo and the hundreds of other peoples of Nigeria, to the status of near slaves – near slaves lacking even the bare guarantee of personal safety as human beings.
But I repeat that God’s time has come. From far in some distant countries of the world, many of our men and women in the Diaspora came together in recent months and started a movement for a joint Igbo-Yoruba memorial for Ironsi and Fajuyi. They started it in the context of a growing realisation that the Igbo and Yoruba must join hands to liberate Nigeria and all the peoples of Nigeria. A breath of fresh air is beginning to blow over the brutalized face of Nigeria, and the horribly downtrodden peoples of the Middle Belt are waking up too and beginning to rouse themselves into the brightening dawn.
The two of our eminent men, Professor Akinyemi Onigbinde and Ambassador Humphrey Orjiakor, who has written this book, deserve enormous gratitude from our two nations and from all of Nigeria and Africa. They undertook to write it at very short notice, and they have done a great job of it. It is a short book, but it is not a small book. Indeed, it may prove to be one of the greatest books that any Black African has written in our times about the destiny of the Black Race.
Dry and stony is the desert. But God sends the magic hour – when the thorniest shrub and cactus blossom radiant into flower: when all the past we leave behind, and the world grows young again.
- Professor Akintoye is an elder statesman