The Nationality Question By Femi Fani-Kayode
Permit me to begin this contribution with two incontrovertible assertions. Firstly had we successfully answered what has come to be collectively known as the ”Nationality Question” in the ’50’s and ’60’s there would have been no civil war in 1967. Secondly had we not chosen to forget our differences but instead had we tried to understand them the last fifty three years of our existence as an independent nation would have witnessed far more unity,stability and progress than it has done. The agitation and quest to answer the ”Nationality Question” in Nigeria will not stop until the question has been successfully answered no matter how long our leaders, politicians, professionals and intellectuals ignore it and attempt to brush it under the carpet. The quest to properly identify, situate and define the rights, duties and obligations of each and every one of our numerous nationalities in a wider Nigeria will never end until it is achieved. As a matter of fact given the sheer desperation of each of the major ethnic groups to win control at the centre in 2015, the activities of Boko Haram, the agitation of the Niger Deltans, the resurrection of MASSOB, the unmistakeable resurgence of a rather extreme form of igbo nationalism, the activities of various ethnic nationalist groups and the growing religious and sectarian divide in our country it has only just started in earnest and it is a cause that I have chosen to dedicate my life to. As long as I live I will resist the idea of any part of yorubaland being turned into a ”no-man’s land” where the yoruba people are meant to live as second class citizens and never-do-wells and where they are treated like filth. If that makes me a tribalist or a bigot, then so be it.
If loving my nationality, which comprises of 50 million yoruba people, and adoring my nation of 160 million Nigerians at the same time is a crime then I am guilty of that crime. I do not have to love one at the expense of the other. We are not America which is a nation that is made-up of immigrants and ex-slaves and a country which literally wiped out the indigenous population that they met there when they arrived who were known as the Red Indians. We are not Americans who somehow found their way into the world barely three hundred years ago but we are Nigerians. And each and every one of the great and numerous nationalities that make up our beautiful nation has a noble heritage that goes back for thousands of years. We may not be as developed or as wealthy as they are but we know who we are and we know where we are coming from. That is why I am proud of this country and all the various nationalities that make it up regardless of our difficulties and challenges.
Yet we are not so different to some others. In the United Kingdom there are basically four nationalities. The English, the Welsh, the Irish and the Scottish. Each of these four nationalities is actually a tribe yet you very rarely find a British person who will tell you that he is not proud of his Scottish, Welsh, Irish or English heritage AND at the same time proud of his nation. He is first an Irishman, a Welshman, an Englishman or a Scot before being British even though he cherishes being both. He does not have to sacrifice his Irish, Welsh, English or Scottish heritage and roots for Britain and neither does he have to sacrifice Britain for his heritage and roots. He balances it well, he has the best of both worlds and this is indeed a wonderful thing. He derives his strength from both. He enjoys being Irish, Scottish, English or Welsh and cherishes it deeply just as much as he enjoys and cherishes being British. And today, centuries after Great Britain was established as one nation under one Crown and one Royal Sovereign the British citizen still cherishes his primary nationality and tribal heritage so much that power has been gradually devolved from the centre at Westminster in London to the various tribes and ethnic nationalities in the regions over the years.
Such is the agitation for the restoration of ethnic identity and devolution of power in the United Kingdom today that Scotland is preparing for a referendum to determine whether her people should remain in Great Britain or not. This is a beautiful thing. It is known as self-determination and no human being ought to be denied that right. Taking pride in your primary roots and your ancient heritage is not a crime. That is how it is meant to be. It is only in Nigeria that we call this perfectly natural and wholesome phenomenon ”tribalism”. We give it an ugly name and we ascribe to it an even uglier connotation. Everywhere else in the world the reality of ethnic nationalities is acknowledged, respected, valued, cherished and well-managed.
As a matter of fact such diversity is a source of strength and pride for many. For example in the nation of Belgium one will find that there is an ancient dichotomy and deep rivalries between the Flemish people of the north and the Waloons of the south. They speak different languages and have a completely different history and cultural heritage yet these two great and ancient nationalities or tribes are proudly Belgian and they rally under one flag. This is how it ought to be everywhere. I have no hate or ill-feeling towards any other ethnic group in this country or anywhere else. God knows that that is the truth. If I did I would say so and damn the consequences. Racism and tribalism is below me and such primordial traits offend my sensibilities. To harbour such views is well below my intellectual and spiritual dignity. Those that know me well can attest to this. I am just too big, too large-hearted and too well educated for that sort of thing and most important of all my christian faith and heritage does not allow me to look down on anyone or any other race. We are all children of the Living God. I have as many non-yoruba friends just as I have yoruba ones. I look down on no other human being, no other race and no other nationality and I do not claim that the yoruba are better than anyone else.
What I insist on though is that I should be allowed to acknowledge my history and to preserve my ancient heritage, culture, values and ethos. I also insist that my people should be allowed to develop at their own pace. I am not ashamed of who I am and where I come from and had it not been for others holding us back I know where the south west and the yoruba would have been by now in terms of development. And neither would I go to England or America or Enugu or Kano and claim that I own the place or that my people built it from scratch and that they generate all the money that is there. I would never say or do such a thing and neither should I be expected to sit back quietly when someone says it about my land, my people and my territory. In this debate I have threatened no-one, I have incited no-one, I have accused no-one and I have not sought to silence anyone with threats or blackmail. I have not expressed hatred towards anyone. Yet my family has been subjected to insults, threats, humiliation, hate-speech, misrepresentation, falsehood, intimidation, calls for arrest and lies by some people who really ought to know better. My late father of blessed memory has been insulted during the course of this debate as has my late mother, my wife, my children and my people from the south west. We have been called all sorts of names and subjected to the most filthy and disgraceful abuse and malicious lies.
And now some ask ask me if I will ever stop this fight for the rights of my people. The answer is that I will not stop because a price has already been paid. I will never renounce my views. As a matter of fact now more than ever before I see how important it is for us to ensure a certain degree of separate development in this country and to hold on to our heritage because we are just so different. Those that have chosen the path of aggression and open hostility and that seek to suppress our voices, intimidate us into silence and drown us with their propaganda are vulgar, crude and rude. That is their way. They are also experts at telling lies. Yet they cannot silence a whole nationality or just wish us away. We are here to stay. I am not looking for trouble and I abhor strife and violence. To me this is simply an intellectual exercise and we can agree to disagree and still remain compatriots and friends. However I will not give up my identity because that is all I have. I will not betray the dreams of my forefathers and their aspirations for our people. For four generations now the Fani-Kayode have contributed positively to the affairs of this country. Unlike some of those that are bleating and insulting us we have paid our dues. Like millions of others we have a stake here and we are from yorubaland. I have a little fulani blood in me too and I am very proud of that but I am first and foremost a yoruba and I will live and die for the yoruba and indeed for my nation Nigeria if needs be.
I have written about virtually every major ethnic group and nationality in this country over the last twenty three years and sometimes in very harsh terms, including my own. Yet it is only when I disagree with some of our igbo brothers and sisters and dispute their claims on Lagos that all hell breaks loose. Well one thing is clear. Whether they like it or not as long as God gives me life I will voice out my opinion and articulate what millions of the yoruba are secretly thinking on this matter but are too shy, gentle and polite to say. They may not want to talk but I will talk for them and I will voice their legitimate concerns about the future of every yoruba child in an increasingly hostile, ugly and unsustainable Nigeria. All the smear campaigns in the world cannot change that and neither can it stop it. If God does not smear me or mine, no man can smear us. This battle is more important to me than politics or anything else. It is a battle for the very survival of my people and my nation and with my intellect, my pen, my tongue, my knowledge and my wits I intend to fight it till the day that I die. It is my right to voice out my views and create awareness about the imminent danger that my people are facing of being overwhelmed by others that were never really part of them. They say our territory is ”no-man’s land” yet they will never offer us theirs in return or even allow us to build there. Who is the fool here? And when we complain they have the nerve to insult us. Enough is enough. It stops today. I am not a racist or a bigot but I believe that I have a right to defend that which is mine and to preserve my identity. Though I love being both, let it be clearly understood that I am a yorubaman before being a Nigerian and I make no apology for that.
We ignore our differences at our own peril and this is not only naive but it is also exceptionally dangerous. They made the same mistake in Yugoslavia through the ’70’s and 80’s until the explosion came out of the blue in the ’90’s and all hell broke loose. No-one saw the war coming in that country except the more discerning and brilliant minds who had been shouting for decades before it came that their very own ”nationality question” had to be answered and that Colonel Broznin Tito’s dream of an eternal and everlasting old Yugoslavia was unsustainable. No-one listened to those discerning voices and consequently millions were killed in the most horrendous and vicious civil war that Europe has ever seen. From being one country where the people and numerous nationalities were compelled to ”forget their differences” by law, Yugoslavia was eventually broken up into five sovereign independent states as a consequence of fratricidal butchery and unrestrained and all-out war. I pray that we never break up and that we never witness or fight such a war in Nigeria. The answer is to understand and settle our differences and not to conveniently forget them.
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