Monday, 19 August 2013 13:26

The Yoruba are far ahead of them — Fani-Kayode

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As the debate over the deportation of some Igbo from Lagos rages, a former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, in this interview tells ALLWELL OKPI that the city was built by the Yoruba and not the Igbo

Your articles on the issues arising from the deportation of some Igbo from Lagos to Onitsha have generated much reactions. What exactly did you hope to achieve with those write ups?

It’s perfectly natural for write ups that are of historical nature; that seek to bring to the fore and to public attention events in our history to attract various reactions. My purpose for writing these write ups is very simple and clear. It is to educate, to bring to the consciousness of the younger generation some parts of our history; to put straight a number of events and be sure that we learn from our history so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. What acted as a catalyst to the write ups was this issue of relocation of some of our Igbo brethren from Lagos, and the reactions to that action by some key Igbo leaders, particularly Orji Uzor Kalu, who appears to be speaking for the whole of Ndi Igbo on this issue. He is a friend of mine; we’ve known each other for 35 years. He made a contribution in which he said that Lagos was a ‘no man’s land’ and that the Igbo are responsible for the generation of 55 per cent of the wealth and business in Lagos State.

Do you disagree with his claim?

Of course, I disagree with that reflection and it needed to be responded to not with emotion, not even with anger. I found it appropriate to respond to it, and not just to say I disagree but also to explain why I disagree. That was what led to the first reaction – ‘Lagos, Igbo and servants of truth’ which was a straight-forward article. But due to the reactions to it by some of our Igbo brethren, most of them nothing but insults, because they obviously were not fully aware of Yoruba history and Nigerian history, I then decided to go a step further. I went much deeper into a full analysis of the role of the Igbo in Nigerian history over the last 80 years. I thought it was appropriate simply to let people understand that the Yoruba have been very gracious to the Igbo and we also welcome them with open arms and we are tolerant people. However, from these utterances and past historical events, it is clear that many in the Igbo community do not appreciate it; they seem to misinterpret it as a lack of knowledge and understanding. That called me to write the second one which was the ‘The bitter truth about the Igbo.’ The reactions from that one were massive; some mainly the Igbo disagreed and that’s good, the others supported me.

How will you describe the reactions?

The reactions I got from members of the Igbo community comprised mainly insults. They labelled me as a tribalist and someone who was inciting others to hate or somebody who wanted Igbo people killed and all kind of absurd assertions. I challenge them to read my article to see whether there is any place where I tried to incite people, preach hate or insult anybody. I don’t write that way when I’m talking about history. I simply prepared analysis and present historical facts in order to remain objective and not get emotional about the issue. So, when I saw the reactions, I thought I needed to put it straight that I’m not a tribalist.

I wrote the third one which was entitled, ‘A word for those who think I’m an Igbo-hater,’ where I gave specific examples of my contributions over the last 25 years of being involved with public affairs. When I speak about the North, they call me anti-North, when I speak about my people, the Yoruba, about our history, some of them call me anti-Yoruba; when I speak about the Igbo, they call me anti-Igbo. These are all emotional reactions. I’m the last person that will hate the Igbo or any other Nigerian. I do however believe that there are many nationalities in this country, and each of us has the right to fight for true federalism and to fight to protect our own culture, historical and racial integrity. To think I’m anti-Igbo is absurd. Like I said, Kalu and I are very good friends, we even spoke yesterday (Tuesday).

But some Igbo leaders are of the opinion that your write ups showed that you and many other Yoruba people resent the Igbo for their successes, particularly in Lagos.

How can Yoruba people be envious of the Igbo? As far as I’m concerned, the Yoruba control many of the industries, particularly the manufacturing industry. They have most of the investments. In every sector and profession, they are far ahead. Essentially, the Igbo are into trading more than anything else. There is nothing wrong with that. I don’t think there is anything the Igbo have that the Yoruba should be envious of. The Yoruba have seen the Igbo as their brothers and compatriots and have welcomed them within their communities and that should be the case. Even after the Civil War when nobody was interested in having them, the Yoruba handed their property back to them. There was no abandoned property case; there was no history of the Yoruba killing the Igbo in Lagos. You only envy somebody if you feel the person is more prosperous than you are. If you want to compare it, go back to history and find out how developed any of the eastern states or cities were and you will see that they were far behind. There is nothing to suggest that we are envious of them. The fact is that they have contributed to the development of Lagos and other parts of the South-West; there is no doubt about that. But to suggest that they own Lagos or that they control everything, in terms of commerce and finances in Lagos is absolutely absurd. It has no basis in reality or rationality and it is deeply insulting. We are very liberal and accommodating, but that should not be seen as stupidity or weakness. We will not allow anybody to redefine or rewrite our history for us. No Yoruba man can go to the East and achieve and do the sort of things that the Igbo community is doing in Lagos. So, those expending their energy by hurling insults at me and saying I should be arrested for making these views known, should go and develop their own communities and their own parts of the country and stop talking about Lagos, which has been developed by the hardwork of the Yoruba and other nationalities in the country.

You seem to be suggesting that the Igbo do not allow the Yoruba to do business in the South-East. Don’t you think the reality is that the Yoruba are not interested in doing business there?

Try being a Yoruba man and go to Aba, Enugu, Onitsha or any of the major cities in the East. Try and buy land there; try and establish your own kingship there as an Oba in the East; try and claim that any town there belongs to or was developed by the Yoruba; try and interact with the community and bring your cultural ways there and you will see what the reaction will be. This never happens. We have no regrets being so accommodating in the South-West, because it is part of our enlightened culture and mark of civilisation. But this needs to be reciprocated by the Igbo in the East. In other parts of the country; the North and even the Mid-West, the Yoruba are far more welcome than they are in the East. It is not because they don’t want to go there; it is because they are not that welcome there. The most important thing is that there is absolutely no enmity from the Yoruba towards the Igbo. There is no hate, there is no bitterness. We are happy to have the Igbo amongst us, and we are happy that they are doing so well and they have always done so well. But that does not mean that we should give up our patrimony and say that even one inch of the South-West belongs to anybody asides the Yoruba people. Most of the infrastructure of the South-West was developed during the oil boom and the First Republic. There is no doubt that after the Civil War, federal money was pumped into Lagos, but that was federal money not Igbo money.

Essentially it was the business acumen of the Lagosians and their ability in commerce that drove the Lagos economy and made it what it is. The Igbo influx came primarily after the Civil War. And now some say they own and control the place. We will continue to debate this. It is a friendly debate; it has no room for hate, call to violence, or insults. 

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Femi Fani-Kayode

Femi Fani-Kayode was born in Lagos, Nigeria on 16th October 1960 to Chief Remilekun Adetokunbo Fani-Kayode and to Chief (Mrs) Adia Adunni Fani-Kayode. He was christened David Oluwafemi (meaning "the beloved of the Lord") Adewunmi Fani-Kayode. He is a lawyer, a Nigerian politician, an evangelical christian, an essayist, a poet and he was the Special Assistant (Public Affairs) to President Olusegun Obasanjo from July 2003 until June 2006. He was appointed the Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from June 22nd to Nov 7th 2006 and as the Minister of Aviation from Nov 7th 2006 to May 29th 2007.