Opinion: Need For Igbo-Yoruba Détente

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By Chinweizu

By the way there is historical evidence, from a well-placed non-Nigerian source, that the Igbo-Yoruba Cold War was needlessly unleashed by Zik in 1948, and not, as Igbo mythology has it, by Awo through the Carpet crossing in 1951.
Here is the story of how Zik declared war on the Yoruba in 1948
It was in this year [1945] that a group of Yorubas, led by Chief Awolowo, Dr Oni Akerele, Chief Abiodun Akerele, Akintola Williams, Chief Rosiji and others, founded a Yoruba organization in London called Egbe Omo Oduduwa, meaning “a society of the descendants of Oduduwa.” . . . Our friends from the Eastern Region and some from the Western Regions of that vast country showed their hostility to the formation of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa of the Yorubas.
Those of us who did not hail from Nigeria were highly disturbed by the threat of our unity as West Africans under the banner of W.A.S.U., which was itself predominantly Nigerian. Although there had been in existence an Ibo Union for some twenty months or so before the birth of Egbe Omo Oduduwa, not much notice had been taken of it at W.A.S.U. In any case, for obvious reasons, this new association looked formidable enough to merit our attention. All attempts to persuade the founders to squelch the new-born association proved futile.
Happily, this did not break up our great W.A.S.U. although it did leave bitter feelings all over. In Nigeria itself, the new Association did not take root until 1948, when another powerful group of Yoruba leaders formed one in Lagos. The names of the founders were indeed names to conjure with among the Yorubas in the capital—Sir Akintola Maja and many others. It was after that great event in Lagos that Chief Awolowo himself plucked up courage to inaugurate a branch at Ibadan. An editorial in Nigeria’s West African Pilot of September, 8 1948, which reached us in London, warned of the battle ahead. Among many other things, the editorial carried these ominous words: “Henceforth the cry must be one of battle against the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, its leaders at home and abroad, up hill and down dale, in the streets of Nigeria and in the streets of London and in the residence of its advocates.” The language was familiar enough. This was Nnamdi Azikiwe’s. Were our fears about the unity of Nigeria about to be justified? The parting knell had been tolled. It might in retrospect be said that the first salvos of the civil war had been fired by these words.
— Joseph Appiah, Joe Appiah: The Autobiography of an African Patriot, Accra: Assempa publishers, 1996, pp. 160-161,
This testimony from a Ghanaian who, for many years, was a member and President of W.A.S.U. in London, should give Igbos pause about the version of the Igbo-Yoruba Cold War they have accepted. The key point is that the Ibo Union had been in existence before the Egbe Omo Oduduwa was founded. Yet Zik declared war on the Egbe Omo Oduduwa. Why? If it was because the Egbe Omo Oduduwa was not Pan-Nigerian, then what of the pre-existing Ibo Union? In other words, it wasn’t the Yoruba who introduced tribal unions and tribalist politics into Nigeria but the Igbos. But whatever his reason, Zik was the one who declared war on the Yorubas; he was the aggressor.
With that aggression as background, the carpet crossing becomes an understandable response to Zik’s declaration of war. If somebody who declared war on your people arrives to govern your homeland, what should your leaders do? Welcome him and let him govern, or drive him out by any means necessary? The carpet crossing accomplished just that. And Igbos, following Zik, the instigator of the response, condemn the Yorubas for defending themselves from Zik’s aggression.
Zik’s conduct is an example of how Igbos can act without thinking of how their action might look to those their proposed action might adversely affect. That is a weakness Igbos should be on guard against, and should work to eliminate by extra self-awareness and constant self-criticism.
For seven decades, we have paid for Zik’s aggression against the Yorubas. The Cold War which Zik started made it possible for the British to install the NPC in power in 1959 when Zik refused to join with Awo to form the Federal government. He explained it away by alluding to his distrust of Awo that stemmed from the Carpet crossing affair. In other words, Zik is ultimately responsible for our disasters and oppression under the Caliphate. But the pertinent issue at this time is that we, not the Yorubas, are responsible for the Yoruba-Igbo feud. We are not the innocent victims of Yoruba tribalism and hatred. That fact should inform our attitude in seeking rapprochement with the Yorubas, especially now that we need a Yoruba-Igbo alliance to help create conditions for us to exit our imprisonment in Lugard’s Nigeria.

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