I always knew trouble was brewing. From August 2 when the media published Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi’s letter to President Goodluck Jonathan threatening “reciprocity or reprisal” ostensibly against south-westerners in Anambra because Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola “deported and dumped” 72 street beggars in the state.
Lagos Government had claimed they were only 14 Lagos-based Anambra indigenes at Iweka Bridge, Onitsha “in the thick of the night,” it was stark clear the stage had been set for a trifling inter-ethnic media war.
Ever since, arguments for and against the propriety of the action of both governors have been flying all about in the media. Ah, Nigerians can so write — and talk! First, I have to shun the temptation to sink my journalistic teeth into the meat of this rumpus from the middle. This is how it began.
In April, the Lagos State Government retrieved and rehabilitated 14 street idlers who identified themselves as citizens of Anambra. After exchanging communication with the Anambra Liaison Office, it decided (in July) to “integrate” the 14 into their original state of origin. I like to assume, on behalf of Governor Obi, that the liaison office failed in its duties to notify him. And pronto, Obi penned a letter to Jonathan, inflated the figure of returned citizens from 14 to 72, changed the official designation (as used by both Lagos State and Anambra Liaison office) from “integration” to “deportation” and fed his bellicosely worded letter to the media. I have mulled over Obi’s actions and they are nothing to be proud of — for two reasons.
I was in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State sometime last year at a time the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) was in town on an official engagement. Although prominent figures in rival political parties, host governor, Godswill Akpabio and Fashola (both lawyers) bantered on a number of matters, including those relating to other governors. At the inspection of one of Akpabio’s infrastructural projects, I was close enough to grip snippets of their conversation. And I left with one impression: notwithstanding the quarrelsome ACN-PDP media relationship, governors from both parties (and others) are a clique of friends who genuinely maintain a healthy level of personal friendship. Now, on Obi’s ‘deportation’ grouse, I am wondering how the media — rather than Fashola — suddenly became the friend he turned to. As Fashola himself confirmed, Obi had called him on phone to discuss less important matters — in the past.
Two, Obi — governor of one of the south-eastern states that comprised the short-lived Republic of Biafra — is one of the last public office holders who should be doing anything close to stoking the embers of inter-ethnic hostilities. Anyone who has read any of the many accounts of the Nigerian Civil War understands that the war did not begin on 30th May 1976 when the Military Governor of the old Eastern Nigeria, the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, proclaimed the region a sovereign state by the name, The Republic of Biafra, neither did it start on 6th July 1967, when the Federal Government launched a forceful effort to reclaim the secessionist state. The dawn of the Civil War actually predates even the country’s 1960 Independence to the 50s when seething tribal tension and inter-ethnic suspicions and agitations had reached unmanageable levels.
Evidently, there were too many Peter Obis in that era. And I really do think that if we had nine more Peter Obis in the country today, the streets of Lagos will, by now, be brimming with blood. I am saddened by Obi’s pattern of reasoning in his case against Lagos. But I am even sadder that he has an unlikely and unfortunate ethnic-chauvinist ally in Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode — unlikely, I say, for another two reasons.
Until six years ago, Fani-Kayode was enjoying a lengthy political career stretching back to two decades. From his days at the Nigerian National Congress (NNC) in the late 80s to his appointment in 1990 as Chief Press Secretary to the first National Chairman of the National Republican Convention (NRC), Chief Tom Ikimi, Fani-Kayode has played a frontline role in either the government or politics of literally every administration in the last 20 years.
In 1991, he was Special Assistant to Head of the Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO), Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi. Five years later, he joined the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) abroad. He joined President Olusegun Obasanjo’s campaign team in 2003, and was subsequently appointed as maiden Special Assistant on Public Affairs to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Between 2006 and 2007, he was ‘honourable minister’ in two separate capacities.
That Fani-Kayode has seen it all is the first reason I find his writings — ramblings, someone said — on the Anambra saga simply disappointing. No one needs to remind Fani-Kayode of the fragility of the country’s democracy and its nationhood. That is why I find the second (particularly) of his two opinions on the matter, titled The Bitter Truth about the Igbos, an immeasurable disservice to the very nation he will claim to have “served” over the decades.
In that piece, he responds (chiefly) to erstwhile Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu’s declaration that “Lagos is no man’s land” and then pontificates about how Yorubas own Lagos and built it. Ultimately — by my interpretation — he tells us that Yorubas are better than Igbos! Pity.
Fani-Kayode is no doubt a man of history. Full marks to him. But it is tragic that his knowledge of history fails him with a thud on previous ethnicity-oriented sufferings of the country. It doesn’t remind him that in the early 1950s when Nigeria’s century-long crave for independence began gathering steel, each region — Northern, Eastern, and Western (as the country had been divided to by the Richards Constitution of 1946) championed its own agenda. To every region, there was a political party to advance self-serving needs: the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) for the Northern Region, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) for the Eastern Region, and Action Group for the Western Region. How could his vast knowledge of history not have reminded him that these ethnic divisions were the very foundations of the capitulations that crystallised into the Civil War? That is one.
In his The Bitter Truth About The Igbos, Fani-Kayode writes: “Lagos and the south west [sic] are the land and the patrimony of the Yoruba [sic] and we will not allow anyone, no matter how fond of them we may be, to take it away from us or share it with us in the name of ‘being nice,’ ‘patriotism,’ ‘one Nigeria’ or anything else.” To Kalu’s no-man’s-land stance, he retorts: “We cannot be expected to tolerate or accept that sort of irreverant [sic] and unintelligent rubbish simply because we still happen to believe in ‘one Nigeria’ and we will not sacrifice our rights or prostitute our principles on the alter [sic] of that ‘one Nigeria.’”
Clearly, such caustic words in response to kalu’s (inaccurate, I have to admit) mere statement are uncharitable and unbefitting of a two-portfolio former Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That is two. If anyone asked me, I’d say there are only fewer tragedies than an ex-minister’s willingness to sacrifice Nigeria’s oneness for proof of ownership of Lagos. Plus, if he were half as loyal to the Yoruba cause as he attempted to portray in his treatises, I wonder why he didn’t turn down those lucrative federal appointments to remain a commissioner in Lagos or elsewhere in the Southwest. Fani-Kayode wants to prove Lagos is Yoruba land. And so what? Exactly what next after that? We drive the Igbos away?
Nigeria is far from the country of my dreams but I am happily first a Nigerian, before a Yoruba. Thankfully, for every Fani-Kayode, there is a Femi Okunnu, whose sense of nationalism I will readily recommend to any prospective public office holder. “Where are you from?” the octogenarian asked on our meeting.
“Ogun,” I replied. And he cut in.
“No. You are Nigerian, and from a place, a location in the country. You young people must begin to de-emphasise your states or regions of origin.”
Now, some agenda setting. Fani-Kayode devoted 5,425 words over two pieces to reminding Igbos that they are guests in Lagos. Bravo! Meanwhile, the aviation ministry he administered between 2006 and 2007 is as horrible as ever, splotched by life-threatening corruption and airline capriciousness. It was under his watch as Minister of Aviation that the N19.5bn Aviation Intervention fund was mismanaged. And the blithe disregard for customers in aviation is such that Nigerian airlines — led by Arik, the culprit-in-chief — daily delay flights by hours without any form of passenger compensation. I should think such matters should worry a former Minister of Aviation.
Fani-Kayode was a notable cabinet member of an administration that claimed to have invested billions of dollars in power projects but current electricity supply still yoyos terribly the way it did 10 years ago. Next time he has a “bitter truth” to tell, I hope he does on the true reasons why the monies have not translated to improved supply. If Fani-Kayode would continue ignoring the altruistic issues requiring his response as “a servant of truth,” in another 20 years, I wonder what role he would have played in Nigeria’s unity — or disunity. In his closet, I hope he has the candour to ask himself this question.
Lagos-based journalist, ‘Fisayo, available on Twitter (@fisayosoyombo) sent this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org