Yoruba, Igbo and Media Warriors By Olusegun Adeniyi
The young Yoruba man was leaving office early to go and receive his visiting Igbo wife undergoing her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) primary assignment in a neighbouring town when he encountered a co-worker who planted in him the seed of doubts that eventually destroyed a beautiful union and set his own life crashing down. The careless remark that would play in his head again and again was that he was being naive to believe that his wife would remain faithful, especially considering that “she is young, she is a corper…and she is Igbo!”
The predilection to stereotype and label people by blaming the conduct of one person on an entire group he or she belongs (whether by age, class or ethnicity) is for me the central message in Tunde Kelani’s movie, “Magun” (Thunderbolt). It speaks to a time like this in our nation when some Yoruba and Igbo irridentists are promoting hate speech in the name of a meaningless superiority war that glorifies some distorted accounts of the past.
The cast of the movie written by Professor Akinwunmi Isola included seasoned professionals like Adebayo Faleti, Buki Ajayi, Uche Obi-Osotule, Lanre Balogun, Wale Macauley, Ngozi Nwosu and the late Dr. Larinde Akinleye. The story is woven around Ngozi, (played by Uche, one of Nigeria’s most versatile and adored actresses who for some inexplicable reasons doesn’t feature much in Nollywood) and Yinka (played by Lanre Balogun). The duo met and fell in love at the NYSC orientation camp.
With the insinuation that an Igbo woman could not be trusted and feeling rather insecure and jealous–notwithstanding the fact that he actually met his wife a virgin–Yinka eventually sought the diabolical power of “Magun”- the mysterious chastity control which instantly terminates the life of any man who dares to “climb” a straying wife. The snag though is that if the woman played no “away game” within a certain period while still being laced with “Magun” she stood the risk of death. Being a faithful wife, it was Ngozi’s life that was in danger in the movie.
Magun is fatal and remedies are rare and often not foolproof. So the efforts to break its life-threatening effect on Ngozi provided the entertainment and the drama of existence captured in the movie. But in the final analysis, Ngozi’s redemption came from the family of her irresponsible Yoruba husband, the Yoruba native doctors, her local Yoruba guardian and finally the love-struck Yoruba medical doctor who offered himself as a guinea pig to test the efficacy of “Magun” on the altar of a five-minute enjoyment. He was lucky to survive with an experience he would never forget!
When her tribulation was over and she was confronted with the prospect of another Yorubaman as suitor, Ngozi, quite naturally, was hesitant but her father, who started out as a Yoruba antagonist, saved the day by advising her to follow her heart. He said it would be wrong to blame a whole ethnic group for the misconduct of one man, before giving us that memorable line: “A man is a man; and a race is a race”.
About four weeks ago, the Lagos State Government “deported” some people to Onitsha in furtherance of its ill-conceived policy to rid the state of destitute. But despite that the action (which is targeted at vulnerable people within our society regardless of their ethnicity) has been condemned by many, including Yoruba people, some Igbo politicians would not let the facts get in the way of an opportunity for opportunism; they termed it a deliberate action against their kinsmen. To compound the situation, some “Yoruba defenders” would also latch on to it to tell some imaginary tales about the superiority of their ethnic group. And with that, we now have a war on the internet as to who between the Yoruba and Igbo can abuse, slander or curse more than the other.
It is obvious that because our nation has not succeeded in establishing effective mechanisms to maximize the potentials in our diversity, our fault lines are ever exposed. But our leaders will do well to strengthen ethnic harmony and national unity by safeguarding and protecting equal rights of all citizens, regardless of their status or where they come from. In the absence of such guarantee of social and economic rights for all, it is no surprise that our people have become easily susceptible to the antics of political manipulators who deploy ethnicity to advance their own careers.
I am an admirer of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola but I believe that his approach to dealing with vulnerable people in Lagos State is wrong-headed; and as it has been most eloquently pointed out by Mr Femi Falana, SAN, clearly unconstitutional. I also think he could have handled better the complaints from the Anambra State Governor, Mr Peter Obi. However, that is also no excuse for some people to make provocative statements about Lagos being a “No-Man’s-land” or parrot one-sided accounts of the civil war to rain invectives on the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo with a view to provoking reactions from Yoruba people. While I have no problem with whoever would fault Awo’s judgement on some of the critical decisions he made in the course of the war as then Finance Minister (which should always be open to debate, especially since he took personal responsibility for the choices he made), I have problems with anybody using that to stigmatise his person or the entire Yoruba people. Within the same context, I consider it unacceptable and indeed reckless that any Yorubaman would libel, insult or abuse the Igbo people to make any silly points.
However, what worries me is not so much the antics of some Igbo and Yoruba juvenile adults who spend valuable time on the internet trading diatribes but rather the dangerous seeds they are sowing for our children who read many of the intemperate postings which paint a distorted picture of who we really are. For instance, I have Igbo friends who if anything happens within their families I would be one of the first persons to be contacted. This bond of trust is also reciprocated by my family who care less about the ethnicity of those friends. Even at that, I am also aware that this sort of relationships goes beyond the personal to the political arena, notwithstanding all the posturing to the contrary.
One of the most memorable assignments I covered as a reporter with the defunct Concord newspapers in the nineties was the burial in Ikorodu, Lagos, of the late Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya. I had never witnessed anything like that before or after when thousands of people (including the high and mighty) from another ethnic group would rally to bury someone who is not their kinsman. But that is because they considered him their kinsman; which then strengthens the argument of Dr Chika Ezeanya in her recent brilliant thesis on the issue and supports the message in ‘Magun’: a man is a man; a race is a race.
There are critical issues facing our nation today that should task us, beyond the infantile debate as to which ethnic group produced the first person to eat ‘ponmo’ in Nigeria! For instance, ASUU has been on strike for several weeks now but that is not generating debate because the children of almost anybody that is somebody in Nigeria today are either in private universities at home or schooling abroad. Unfortunately, that speaks to the current issue. Three days after Lagos dumped the destitute in Onitsha, it was reported that one of them had died. The question to ask is: what were they still doing under the bridge? What has happened to the remaining of those unfortunates on whose behalf we all make noise? I will not be surprised if they are still under Onitsha bridge, left to their fate for the same reason that the Lagos State Government deported them in the first place: because they are poor, homeless people who live on the margin of society!
This “Igbo this, Yoruba that” argument is unhelpful and detracts from what should be the focus of our attention. I believe it will serve us well if we return to what the real issue is, or at least should be: Whether they are Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba and regardless of their “state of origin”, no Nigerian should be discriminated against in any part of the country on account of his or her social status. It is time we put an end to the on-going nonsensical debate between some Igbo and Yoruba commentators and face the real issues of poverty, development and national unity.
Whither Bob Marley’s Zimbabwe?
In his famous track, “Zimbabwe”, the late Reggae music legend, Bob Marley, had rhapsodized that “every man has a right to his own destiny”, charging that Africa should liberate Zimbabwe. As it would happen, however, 32 years after the country was actually liberated, the people are now crying for another liberation, this time from President Robert Mugabe, ironically the man who only yesterday was seen as their messiah.
It is a shame that African history is replete with leaders who played critical roles in the struggle for independence only to end up as tyrants by overstaying their welcome. That was the point made so eloquently last Saturday in South Africa by Sudanese-born billionaire, Mr. Mo Ibrahim who drew comparisons between African and American leaders: “People in their 40s are being elected to run a country (United States) which is not only the greatest superpower, but has a GDP of 15-trillion dollars a year — 15 times the total economy of Africa. And here we have somebody in a neighbouring country (Zimbabwe), at 90 about to start a new term. What’s wrong with us?”
The question posed by Mo Ibrahim is one that should agitate the minds of not only Zimbabweans but indeed all Africans. I have just gone through an old (December 2003) edition of The Atlantic Monthly, where there was this interesting story on Zimbabwe which illustrates rather vividly what happens when elected political leaders operate without the fear of being held accountable by the people for the decisions they take.
A paragraph from the ten-page essay will suffice, hoping our leaders, at all levels and in all spheres, can learn something: “Although Zimbabwe is as broken as any country on the planet, it offers a testament not to some inherent African inability to govern but to a leadership as oppressive and inconsiderate of the welfare of citizens as its ignominious white predecessor. How could the breadbasket of Africa have deteriorated so quickly into the continent’s basket case? The answer is Robert Mugabe, now seventy-nine (89 now!), who by his actions has compiled something of a ‘how-to’ manual for national destruction. The Zimbabwe case offers some important insights. It illustrates the prime importance of accountability as an antidote to idiocy and excess and the reluctance by African leaders to criticise their own. And it offers a warning about how much damage one man can do very quickly…”
Bob Marley must be turning in his grave.
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