Igbo and Yoruba culture clash

The verbal war between the Igbo and Yoruba columnists and opinion moulders over the role of their elites in the Nigerian post independence crisis and the subsequent civil war (1967-1970) rages on. The former celebrate Ojukwu and Achebe as heroes while demonising Awo as the architect of Igbo tragedy. The latter insist the statement of Awo, their hero, that ‘starvation is a weapon of war’, is not the answer to Igbo failure of leadership. That both derived different conclusions from the same set of facts only underscores our multiculturalism. As products of different cultures, our perception of reality is conditioned by our values, mores, norm and language.

This explains why our elder statesman, Professor Chinua Achebe, a former Biafra cultural ambassador will declare with such finality that ‘Nigerians hate the Igbo because of their superior culture’. Of course, were Bola Ige, the unrepentant Yoruba irredentist and Achebe’s friend, to be alive, he would have countered by insisting Yoruba culture is the most advanced in Africa. Our pastoralists brothers from the Sahel of the north would, have as they once did in the 50s, dismissed the cultures of those they derogatively referred to as ‘half naked people of the east and unbelievers of the west’ as inferior. Never mind that anthropologists have long said no one culture is superior or inferior.

The clash of culture also accounts for Achebe’s claim ‘there was a country’ while others argue what he saw, was probably an apparition, if he meant the Biafra nation Ojukwu created on May 30, 1967 which he impudently claimed ‘no power in Black Africa ‘could suppress, long after Gowon’s creation of a 12-state structure of May 26, 1967 which carved out South-eastern and Rivers states for the Ijaw, Efiks and Ibibio – sworn enemies of the Igbo.

Achebe and Igbo elite also insist Awo betrayed the Igbo by reneging on a promise to declare an Oduduwa Republic. Again that amounts to viewing reality only from Achebe’s ‘superior Igbo culture’. Ojukwu was not in a position to know all that transpired in the meeting between Awo and Yoruba leaders in early May, where Awo made the statement, but it is on record that Awolowo later led a delegation of Western and Mid-Western leaders to Enugu on May 6, 1967, to dissuade Ojukwu from seceding according to Hilary Njoku’s ‘A Tragedy Without Heroes’.

Both Ojukwu, who Professor Aluko said spoke better Yoruba than many Yoruba, and Achebe who lived in Ibadan, knew that Awo might have been revered by his Yoruba people, but that would not translate to Awo railroading the Yoruba to a war for which they were ill-prepared. With western Nigeria taken over by ’a northern army of occupation’ according to Awo himself, Yoruba would have asked him to first go and bring his children from London to lead the battle if he insisted on a mass suicide.

Achebe claimed Zik was cheated because of cross carpeting after the 1952 election he had won. Igbo commentators as a result of selective perception seem not to be interested in all available documents which have shown that what happened was not different from Igbo going into coalition with the north in 1959 and 1979.

But even if the story were different, bearing in mind our cultural differences, why should the decision of Yoruba elite to take their own destiny in their own hands in a federation where a northerner then controlled the North, an easterner controlled the East and Zik, based in Yoruba land using the platform of NCNC, a Yoruba party which had only one Igbo man during its first inaugural meeting, to mobilise the Igbo who had by 1959 outstripped the Yoruba in education, become the basis for bitterness passed down generations by leaders like Achebe?

Would the Igbo elite which later schemed out Eyo Ita, a minority, as premier of the East have allowed a Yoruba man as premier of East in 1952?

Of course the Igbo had the right to self-determination following the pogrom in the north. But others from different cultural background would have adopted a different approach. For instance the Yoruba culture prepares you for decision making , leadership and bravery through all forms of allegories : “Emi ko leku, ki nje oye ile Baba re’’ ‘the faint hearted never inherits his father’s throne’ ; but you are equally warned , “ti owo eni ko ba te eeku ida, a ki bere iku ti o pa baba eni”. (If you don’t control the armoury, you don’t embark on a war of vengeance). Ojukwu was stampeded to secession with less than 200 rifles.

By 1968, with the fall of Enugu and defection of Zik, the war was effectively lost. But Ojukwu and Achebe extended the suffering of their people until 1970. Ojukwu returned after a decade in exile for an act of contrition by teaming up with his northern nemesis. He was later to work against the interest of June 12 and Yoruba, his host, by becoming an errand boy to Europe for Abacha.

Again, if Yoruba do not regard such celebrated Igbo leader a hero, blame it on Yoruba culture that inculcates the spirit of supreme sacrifice for your host in times of great adversity (Fajuyi chose to die with Ironsi). This is contrary to Igbo culture which according to Achebe expects Igbo who stay in strange land to abandon their hosts “who know how to appease their gods when calamity befalls the owners of the land”. Igbo abandoned Lagos during the June 12 crisis to avoid becoming victims of war orchestrated more by their leaders. But again, MKO Abiola who on the eve of 1993 election predicted his martyrdom by making metaphorical allusion to those the Yoruba chose to carry sacrifice to the gods paid the supreme sacrifice.

What has become apparent from the foregoing is a clash of culture between the Igbo and their Yoruba host. It was precisely to forestall such clash in a nation with over 250 ethnic nationalities that Ahmadu Bello, one of our founding fathers had in response to Zik admonition that they should forget their cultural differences to hasten their task of decolonization, warned they should instead endeavour to ‘understand our differences.’

Tragically, over six decades after Ahmadu Bello’s warning, a segment of Nigerian ruling class made up of ‘vultures’ from the north, east and west, that have always exploited the divisive cultural differences, for personal gains such as becoming president without a political base, acquiring oil blocks, partaking in sharing of our national patrimony, and day light stealing of close to N2 trillion, still insist convocation of a sovereign national conference to discuss our differences is an invitation to disintegration of the country.

All our angry, educated but jobless youths want is good things of life. Too lazy to worry about the past, they have become miracle seekers who want victory without war. Their counterparts from the north earnestly yearn for a messiah. Youths who don’t understand where they are coming from cannot chart the way forward. The challenge is therefore before the current political ruling class. They must learn from the selfless sacrifices of founding fathers of America, Germany and present Russia to negotiate our own variant of federalism.

Every nationality has the right to choose its own hero as dictated by its culture. That is the whole essence of federal arrangement which as a social philosophy strives to liberate groups from the tyranny of the state. More than half of the world population has adopted one form of federal arrangement or the other. Europe after two world wars is resorting to a federal arrangement. Britain has accepted the Northern Ireland challenge after 300 years of forced marriage. This is the time to liberate this nation from the strangle-hold of ‘vultures’.

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