The Unending Ethnic Mistrust Between the Yoruba and the Igbo : Time for a Reassessment

There has been a crippling historical mistrust between the Yoruba and Igbo with terrible and devastating consequences for the Nigerian nation. During the Nigerian civil war, the Yoruba elite supported the Hausa-Fulani elite to defeat the Igbo in their secessionist bid. This resulted in over a million death of the Igbo. Till his death, the Igbo never forgave Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

During the Second Republic, Nnamdi Azikiwe formed an alliance with the NPN that neutralized the Awo’s UPN. Today, Tinubu has taken the Yoruba to the Hausa-Fulani while the Igbo are the cold. It is really unfortunate that these two intelligent and hard-working ethnic nationalities could not rise above their parochial, provincial and insular outlooks to move the Nigerian nation forward.

I therefore put this historical perspective from one of my Ph.D students within the domain of my audience for their interpretation of the Nigerian political metamorphosis. In the past twenty eight years I have been interrogating the Nigerian federalism and the attendant national question crisis. My professorial inaugural lecture is on this. In order to ameliorate this crisis, Nigeria must be restructured. The current 36 state structure will engender ethnic mistrust, underdevelopment, centrifugal and fissiparous forces. Please read on:

“I believe Fulani is Yoruba’s number one enemy which we all knew how the British handed over Nigeria to them.”

This is not the truth. The British did not hand over Nigeria to the Fulani.
Parliamentary elections were held in Nigeria on 12 December 1959. The result was a hung parliament with no clear majority to form a government.
Zik’s National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC), came first with 2,594,577 votes to get 81 seats. Awolowo’s Action Group (AG), came second with 1,992,364 votes to get only 73 seats.  However, the Ahmadu Bello’s Northern People’s Congress (NPC), came a distant third with 1,922,179 votes to get 134 of the 312 seats in the House of Representatives despite getting less public votes.

The above three major political parties in the election did not get enough number of the seats to form a government. An alliance had to be formed to determine who would rule.
It was a no brainer that Zik’s NCNC and Awolowo’s Action Group should make a coalition government as they came first and second respectively. Awolowo, then humbled himself and volunteered to be a Deputy Prime Minister or Finance Minister in a coalition government with Zik as the Prime Minister. This was because the Zik’s NCNC party had more public votes and seats than the Awolowo’s Action Group.

Zik invited Awolowo’s team to Asaba, the gateway between the Yoruba’s Western Region and the Igbo’s Eastern Region to hold coalition talks. The talks were a clever ruse to keep Action Group’s hopes high, so that Action Group would be kept distracted from meeting with other minor parties for talks, including: Northern Elements Progressive Union with 8 seats; Mobolaje Grand Alliance with 6 seats; Igala Union with 4 seats; Independents Candidates with 4 seats; Igbira Tribal Union with 4 seats and the Niger Delta Congress with 1 seat. Whilst the Action Group team was waiting in Asaba for a meeting with the NCNC, they read in the news that Zik and the NCNC had gone up North and clinched the deal with Ahmadu Bello on forming a coalition government with the NPC.

Tafawa Balewa, a Fulani, would be the Prime Minister of Nigeria while Zik would be the figure head Governor-General. Even Nkrumah of Ghana was shocked. He asked Zik why having spent so much energy fighting for colonial emancipation and then settling for a toothless bulldog role when Nigeria needed him the most.

Zik wrote in his autobiography why he did not form a coalition government with Awolowo.
In 1947, with over £13,500 raised from the Yoruba people and given to the NCNC, Zik had led other six prominent NCNC delegates to London to protest the “obnoxious laws” of Governor Arthur Richards. The trip ended in failure with backbiting, abuses and accusation of theft against Zik. Zik’s opponents at the NCNC, accused him of squandering the money and the trust of Nigerians. Zik replied insinuating that the Yoruba on the team, that are: Mrs. Fumilayo Ransome-Kuti, Prince Adeleke Adedoyin, and Dr. A. B. Olorunnimbe, were the problem.
There erupted a heated and prolonged press war between Zik’s Political Reminiscence in his West African Pilot and H.O. Davies’ Political Panorama in the Daily Service. This led to Igbo in Lagos rushing to buy machetes in large numbers thinking a tribal war was imminent. The Governor and his General Secretary, Hugh Foot, quickly called Zik and H.O. Davies to order at the Government House.

Zik went away with the resolve that “the Yoruba must not be allowed to rule over others in Nigeria”. And afterwards in the Daily Service published the speech of Zik in 1949 about Igbo being destined by God to conquer and rule over others. This among others, will explain why Zik rejected Awolowo’s offer of a coalition government in 1959 and instead worked with the Fulani.
The Fulani had been reading Zik and the Igbo through the lens of his 1949 speech ever since. The Fulani way of neutralizing Zik when the opportunity came in 1959 was to offer him a powerless post, which surprisingly Zik and the NCNC dutifully accepted in place of being Nigeria’s first Prime Minister.

Zik had thought that the Igbo can easily manipulate the Fulani in place of the educated Yoruba. He thus manipulated Balewa to arrest Awolowo in 1962 and to have him jailed for 10 years in 1963.

Zik also manipulated Balewa to remove from the Western Region the Edo, Urhobo, Itsekiri and Western Ijaw that account for 70% of the oil wealth in Nigeria and created for them the Mid-West Region.

Zik’s hatred for the Yoruba gave the Fulani the impetus to rule over others in Nigeria. The Igbo coup plotters tried to undo Zik’s mistake in 1966 which resulted in the civil war.
Britain did not really hand over Nigeria to the Fulani. Nigeria was given over to the Fulani by the Igbo. However, to hold on to power in Nigeria, the Fulani enlisted the backing of the self-serving career politicians in England.
– copied.

Not many Igbo especially the young ones know this narrative.
This is now history. The current generation of the Yoruba and Igbo should now sink their differences and work together in order to build a new Nigeria

Author: David O. Alabi
David Alabi is a Professor of Political Science and Defense studies at the Nigeria Defense Academy. He writes on International relations and Political Science . He is the current Dean of the faculty of Arts and Social Studies in the same Institution. Follow him on Facebook with handle @Aojaalabi. You may write to him with email tobalabi@yahoo.com


One comment

  1. Hi, yeah this article is in fact fastidious and I have learned lot of things from
    it. thanks.

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