Yoruba/Igbo Spat: I Chose Not To Die (1)


When Nigeria’s first Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, wrote his fa­mous book, The Man Died in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny, I can imagine that the wordsmith never expected that he would be required to contextualize the cen­tral message in the book which is basically that a man dies if he does not speak out against tyranny.

By speaking out against perceived injustice perpetrated by the Federal Government of Nige­ria, FGN, against the Igbos that degenerated into the civil war of 1967-1970, Prof. Soyinka, a Yoruba man, was taken into custody and held in detention by the authorities.

His offence was that he attempted to take over a radio station by holding a gun to the head of a broadcaster with a view to forcibly compelling his victim to allow him speak out against the government.

It was while he was incarcerated that he wrote the book, The Man Died, which is basically a pris­on note by a radical theatre arts lecturer from the premier university in Nigeria, the University of Ibadan, UI.

It is not amazing that over 50 years (1967-2023) after Prof. Soyinka’s showdown with the authori­ties, history appears about to repeat itself as Sen­ator Datti Baba-Ahmed (also a university propri­etor not a lecturer) like Prof. Soyinka has gone to Channels Television (also a broadcast station) to air his grievances about what he deems as an act of tyranny against him and the Labor Party, LP, by demanding that government must not swear in the INEC declared winner on May 29 as mandated by the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, FGN.

The Baba-Ahmed outburst is in the manner that Soyinka attempted to denounce government in a rather violent way by way of taking hostage a broadcaster in a radio station thereby threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria before he got apprehended and taken into custody.

While it might have been expected that it would be required of Prof. Soyinka to be justify­ing the reasoning behind the theme of his seminal book in media interviews or during book reading sessions, as if in validation of the belief that life is very unpredictable, the renowned poet has found himself in a situation in which he appears to be like a bull whose horns are caught in a thicket formed by a web of complex and complicated branches of trees packed densely together.

To untangle himself, the erudite and revered Prof. is demanding a television debate with Sen­ator Datti Baba-Ahmed, the vice presidential can­didate of the insurgent political platform, Labor Party, who seem to have borrowed a page out of Prof. Soyinka’s very prescient book by forceful­ly demanding that the candidate that has been declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as president-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, should not be sworn into office as president on May 29 as mandated by law.

It is an action that has been equated with Prof. Soyinka’s speaking out against tyranny in 1967 and which landed him in hot waters, that is prob­ably why the likes of my good friend, Mr. Festus Keyamo, APC Presidential Campaign Council spokesman, has on March 23 written a petition to the Directorate of State Services, DSS, requesting it to apprehend the aggrieved LP vice presidential candidate, Senator Baba-Ahmed.

It may be recalled that the LP vice presidential candidate had spoken up against government via a television interview in the manner that Prof. Soyinka attempted to seize a radio station to de­nounce government for similar case of injustice about a half century ago.

As lawyers always argue, no two (2) cases are the same.

That aphorism is derived from the belief that circumstances and time have roles to play in de­termining the appropriate actions to be taken or already taken in matters which appear to be similar in material, context and content.

It matters that Prof. Soyinka attempted to speak out via broadcast in a radio station during a military regime while Baba-Ahmed actually spoke out in an interview by a television station.

Also it is critical to point out that while Soy­inka never got round to actually speak out via a radio broadcast as he had intended, so we don’t know what he really wanted to say, which means that we do not know whether he wanted to incite a street protest in the manner of a mob action against government or just air his grievances in the manner that Baba-Ahmed, the vice presiden­tial candidate of LP did on Channels Television on March 22 by demanding that the president-elect must not be sworn into office as president on the constitutionally scheduled date of May 29.

We are all familiar with the genesis of the current spat which is triggered by the claim and counter claim that the 2023 elections (particularly the presidential contest) were rigged in favor of the candidate that has been declared the winner.

Arising from the above, tension has been rising and falling between the Yoruba ethnic group of the ruling APC candidate that has been declared the winner of the presidential contest by INEC and the Igbos, which is the ethnic nationality of the LP flag bearer that was placed in the third (3rd) position in the race to Aso Rock Villa.

The attention that the verbal and written ex­changes between the Nobel laureate, Prof. Soyin­ka, and Senator Datti Baba-Ahmed has received in both virtual and real life space, compels its characterization as Rumble in the Jungle. That is how the epic boxing bout between the legendary pugilists, Mohammed Ali and George Foreman, was branded when the world boxing duel to deter­mine who would be heavy weight champion of the world was staged in Kinshasa, Zaire in Africa back in 1974.

Although, elections are supposed to be another type of war without guns, it is disheartening that politics in Nigeria is more often than not being turned into a blood sport.

Based on experience, most election seasons in Nigeria come with significant peculiar changes in the process.

That is why 2023 election which is supposed to be the crowning glory of our evolving democratic process that is about to hit the milestone of contin­uous or back to back practice for twenty four (24) years without a break, is turning out to a festering sore ethnic and religious conflicts.

It is more disappointing because technology in the form of Bimodal Voters Accreditation System which was relied upon to deliver elections 2023 and was touted as a panacea to the past election malpractices that had dogged our elections failed to live up to the high expectations.

It is on account of the identified malaise of the ongoing conflict between the Igbos and Yorubas that manifested mainly in Lagos State leading to the Igbo/Yoruba spat wherein the Igbos resid­ing in the state were allegedly intimidated by the Yoruba goons that prevented them from voting during the March 18 gubernatorial elections that our country is now on edge.

By the same token, the allusion to religious war allegedly by Mr. Peter Obi in his conversation with Bishop David Oyedepo, General Overseer of Winners Church, during the run up to the pres­idential election of February 25, has also been interpreted as weaponization of religion by Mr. Obi who was presumably caught on tape solic­iting for Christian votes from Bishop Oyedepo.

That incident is now infamously dubbed ‘Yes Daddy Gate’.

Obviously, the leaked or doctored audio tape is tagged ‘Yes Daddy Gate’ after the infamous Watergate scandal that rocked the USA and led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974 after some thieves were discovered to have broken into the Democratic Party, DNC data base and the truth was leaked in an audio recording.

In Nigeria, a type of Watergate scandal had also occurred when an alleged diversion of funds estimated to be about $2.1 billion was made against then National Security Adviser, NSA, Col. Ahmed Dasuki and the scandal was tagged ‘Da­suki Gate’.

There are two (2) significant fallouts from elec­tions 2023.

These are the rift between the Yorubas that have been hosting the Igbos without conflicts over the years until politics reared its ugly head in 2019 and the current election 2023 season.

The second is the role that religion now plays in our politics which was hitherto mainly defined by ethic nationalism.

With ethnic nationalism becoming a signifi­cant factor in politics in Lagos and religious dif­ferences taking on a life of its own nationwide, our beloved country maybe descending towards an uncharted territory.

Two caustic articles written by Prof. Soyinka and Mr. Femi Kusa published in the mass media recently reveal how deep the ongoing Yoruba/Igbo spat really is.

The first is the piece titled, ‘Fascism On Course’, which is in defense of himself against the onslaught from Obidients following his con­demnation of Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed’s televi­sion comment that is considered as incendiary by LP supporters.

Expectedly, the Nobel laureate practically took no prisoners: “The refusal to entertain corrective criticism, even differing perspectives of the same position has become a badge of honour and certif­icate of commitment. What is at stake, ultimately is – Truth, and at a most elementary level of social regulation: when you are party to a conflict, you do not attempt to intimidate the arbiter, attempt to dictate the outcome, or impugn, without credible cause, his or her neutrality even before hearing has commenced. That is a ground rule of just proceeding. Short of this, truth remains perma­nently elusive.”

Prof. Soyinka was unapologetic. Instead he seemed sorely vexed.

On his part, Mr. Femi Kuta, who is a found­ing member of the Guardian newspaper and its first editor also took umbrage against the Igbos who the Yorubas, especially in Lagos, believe are nursing territorial ambition of taking over Lagos State.

Here is how he expressed outrage: ‘LAGOS QUESTION’. Two questions grossly unrelated to good or bad governance were the dominant questions in the presidential and governorship elections in Lagos.

He argued, “These questions were, who owns Lagos? And is Lagos a no man’s land? Both ques­tions are related.

“The Yorubas of South Western Nigeria say Lagos is their political capital and that Lagos is not a no man’s land. Ibos say Lagos is no man’s land.”

He forcefully made his case by making the fore­going inference: “This means everyone can come to Lagos and do whatever he or she likes with La­gos. They cite the cases of Nigerians becoming Mayors in the United States. But they forget to remind us that the U.S. is no man’s land because Europeans who fled their continent when life be­came unbearable for them there forcibly took the land from American Indians. In Nigeria, save for the Funlani conquest of the Hausa states, no other nationality conquered another and colonized it”.

At the end of his narrative, he was kind of conciliatory and sensitive to the interests of the Igbo settlers.

Both media interventions in my assessment are quite pungent and unfortunate because they are avoidable crisis that should not beset a metro­politan city like Lagos and Nigeria that needs to be united to enjoy the benefits of its large size made possible by the multiplicity of ethnic nationalities that make up the country.

By and large, the trigger for the fiasco in Lagos is the parentage of the LP candidate, Mr. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, whose mother is an Igbo woman, who married a dye-in-the-wool Lagos indigene, Mr. Rhodes Vivour.

The purity of ethnicity of a potential gover­nor of Lagos was weaponized in 2023 because it was the most vulnerable underbelly which the ruling party could explore to win over the hearts and minds of Lagosians, more so because the LP candidate also has as a wife who is an Igbo lady. To the ignorant voters only indigenes can rule over them, as such none indigenes should not be voted for.