DISCLAIMER: I am no fan of Femi Fani-Kayode’s. I could never hold brief for a man reputed to be a serial wife-beater (hey, just rumors…I have no proof about that). I also could never carry the can for a man still being prosecuted by the EFCC for a 47-count charge of money-laundering. Long before his current imbroglio with the Igbo people, Femi Fani-Kayode (FFN), in his attempt to remain relevant, has, at various times been both publicly rude and uncouth. He was an equal opportunity abuser and basher whose list of enemies include, but are not limited to Baba Gana Kingibe, James Ibori, Michael Aondoaka, Tanimu Yakubu, James Ibori, Turai Yar’Adua and Atiku Abubakar.
In the ‘”trilogy” (Lagos, the Igbo and the Servants of Truth; The Bitter Truth about the Igbo; and Neither Tribalist nor a Hater) published separately by FFN, it appeared the man stirred the hornet’s nest too deeply this time and a swarm of the poisonous insects descended on him. Virtually every Igbo person who had something to say to FFN declared him a tribalist. Even some Yoruba people referred to him as being ethnocentric and bigoted. You had to have read the three articles to fully appreciate the contexts in which FFN wrote and in which I am about to comment. But if you do not have the time to read, please accept my summaries and the selected quotations below. The articles were written in the order that I listed them above, with each building on the previous one.
In the first piece, FFN attempted to debunk the claim in some Igbo quarters that Lagos was a “no man’s land.” (The irksome declaration by some notable Igbo leaders that nobody owned Lagos was made in the wake of governor Fashola’s ill-advised deportation of some Igbo hoodlums and vagrants back to their home state.) When FFN received messages on his Facebook page from Igbo commentators who accused him of fomenting tribalism, he followed through with the second piece in which he thoroughly laid the blame of tribalism back at the doorstep of Ndigbo. FFN then received even more virulent criticism from Ndigbo who now questioned his locus standi in speaking for the Yoruba tribe. In his attempt to prove “beyond any reasonable doubt” that he was not a tribalist, FFN listed a few of his contacts and friendship with Igbos, to include a long and “intimate” relationship he had with a certain former beauty queen, Bianca Onoh, who later became the wife of no less an Igbo personality than the late Biafran leader himself, Odumegwu Ojukwu.
Now, this Bianca issue was the proverbial straw that finally broke the camel’s back. Everybody started falling over one another trying to get in line to vilify FFN for dissing the entire Igbo tribe. Even his Yoruba brethren did not spare him. Some criticized him for “kissing and telling.” How dare FFN declare in the public domain that he had sex with Ojukwu’s wife? What effrontery! What sacrilege!! Ojukwu of all people!!! It was as if an Hausa man were to rise today and declare that he had had sex with H.I.D. Awolowo before (or even after) Obafemi Awolowo married her. It was as if an Igbo man were to declare that he had had sex with one of Sardauna’s wives before (or even after) he married her. It would be heresy. The Yoruba people would take up arms and fight anybody who rubbished Awolowo’s name like that. The Hausa people would invade Enugu and exact their pound of flesh…literally. But everybody castigating FFN forgot that he DID NOT state that he had sex with Bianca. He only stated that he had a long and intimate relationship with her. Everybody (including myself) just assumed that it involved sex. And it is that sex part on which we are all fixated because sex is sensational and sex sells. Had FFN stated outright that he had dated and had sex with Bianca Nwafor – some Igbo nonentity from the backwoods of Mbaise – nobody would have cared. The belly-aching by the Igbos today is because FFN alluded to a sexual relationship with an Igbo icon, which, I must agree, amounts to an unmitigated insult to Ndigbo. Even if it were true, it is not the type of information a sane person, let alone a former federal Minister, wants to share with the public.
However, in the blind rage to throw FFN under the bus, in front of the train, and later into the River Niger, all of us have conveniently forgotten to address the more salient points he made in his “trilogy,” particularly in “The Bitter Truth about the Igbo.” FFN stated in that article that the Igbos “… FIRST introduced tribalism into southern politics in 1945 with the unsavoury comments of Mr. Charles Dadi Onyeama who was a member of the Central Legislative Council representing Enugu and who said at the Igbo State Union address that ‘the domination of Nigeria and Africa by the igbo is only a matter of time’”. Do we have any of our erudite commentators with information to the contrary? FFN also opined that Nnamdi Azikiwe’s own “tribal and incendiary” comment in 1948 led to his NCNC’s loss of the Western Region. Zik had spoken at the Igbo State Union about “the ‘god of the igbo’ eventually giving them the leadership of Nigeria and Africa.” I want some of our PhD historians to shame FFN with facts that contradict this.
But probably the most damning of FFN’s tribalism charge against Ndigbo can be found in the following paragraphs, which, I will just quote verbatim so you can capture the entire context:
“The igbo people were the FIRST to carry out a failed coup on the night of Jan 15th, 1966 under the leadership of Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Major Chukuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, Major Christian Anuforo, Capt. Ben Gbulie, Major Timothy Onwatuegwu, Major Donatus Okafor, Capt. Ude, Capt. Emmanuel Nwobosi, Captain Udeaja, Lt. Okafor, Lt. Okocha, Lt. Anyafulu, Lt. Okaka, Lt. Ezedigbo, Lt. Amunchenwa, Lt. Nwokedi, 2nd Lt. J.C. Ojukwu, 2nd Lt. Ngwuluka, 2nd Lt. Ejiofor, 2nd Lt. Egbikor, 2nd Lt. Igweze, 2nd Lt. Onyefuru, 2nd Lt. Nwokocha, 2nd Lt. Azubuogu and 2nd Lt. Nweke in which they drew FIRST blood and openly slaughtered and butchered leading politicians and army officers from EVERY single zone in the country except their own. I should also mention that even though this was clearly an igbo coup there was one yoruba officer who was amongst the ringleaders by the name of Major Adewale Ademoyega.
“It was a very bloody night indeed. Amongst those killed were the Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa, the Premier of the Western Region, Chief S.L. Akintola, the Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Federal Minister of Finance, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Brigadier Zakari Maimalari, Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun, Colonel Ralph Shodeinde, Lt . Colonel James Yakubu Pam, Lt. Colonel Abogo Largema and numerous others. They did not just kill these reverred and respected leaders but in some cases they mocked, tortured and maimed them before doing so, took pictures of their dead and mutilated bodies and killed their wives and children as well. For weeks after these horrific acts were carried out the igbo people rejoiced and celebrated them in the streets and markets of the north, openly displaying pictures and posters of the Saurdana’s mutilated body with Nzeogwu’s boot on his neck, loudly playing a famous and deeply offensive anti-northern song in which northerners were compared to goats and listening to it on their radios, jubilating that they had brought an end to what they described as ”northern rule and islamic domination” and openly boasting that they themselves would now ”rule Nigeria forever”. Though the first coup failed the matter did not end there.
“The very next day after the Jan.15th mutiny and butchery had failed and did not result in Ifeajuna taking power in Lagos, the igbo people set their ”plan B” in motion and they were the FIRST to carry out a successful coup in Nigeria just one day later on Jan. 17th 1966. This was when the igbo Major-General J.T,U. Aguiyi-Ironsi (who was Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Army and who had inexplicably and suspiciously not been murdered by the young igbo officers in their violent mutiny and killing spree the night before) in collusion with the igbo Acting President Nwafor Orizu and the entire igbo political leadership of that day, invited the remnants of Sir Tafawa Balewa’s cabinet to a closed door meeting, threatened their lives and took power from them at the point of a gun.
“Aguiyi-Ironsi did not just ask them to give him power but he took it from them by force by telling them that he could not guarantee their safety if they refused to do so. Meanwhile Orizu point blank refused to do his duty as Acting President and swear in Zana Bukar Dipcharimma as the Acting Prime Minster when the members of the cabinet and the British Ambassador (who was also at the meeting) implored him to do so since by that time there was a power vacuum because the Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa, had gone missing and had probably been murdered. It was in these very suspicious circumstances and as a consequence of this murky and deep-seated igbo conspiaracy that General Aguiyi-Ironsi came to power. Amongst those that were present at that famous ”meeting” that are still alive today are Alhaji Maitama Sule, Chief Richard Akinjide and President Shehu Shagari who were all Ministers in Balewa’s cabinet . Those that doubt the veracity of my account of this meeting would do well to ask any of them exactly what transpired during that encounter.”
Note that FFN just challenged us to ask Maitama Sule, Richard Akinjide and Shehu Shagari if he lied. All three elder statesmen are still living. But I am sure none of them would venture to make a comment one way or the other. The reason is that none would want to upset the unstable apple cart that is Nigeria by re-opening old wounds. And that is part of the bane of our country. Nobody wants to tell Nigeria’s true story the way it happened. It is the reason we do not know from the leading horses’ mouths EXACTLY what led to Biafra. Ojukwu never told us the whole truth before he died, Gowon, who is still alive, has never told us the whole truth. OBJ would only write about his Command. None of our coup-plotting former heads of state has ever told us the bullet-by-bullet account of their coups. Everything has remained state secret covered under “national security” umbrella. Nobody will tell us EXACTLY who killed Dele Giwa and why. We will never know who and what killed MKO Abiola. We will never know who killed both Alfred Rewane and Bola Ige, and why. Would any of our notable political pundits, columnists and history professors come out and disprove what FFN wrote above? Much more than who slept with Bianca or didn’t sleep with Bianca, we need to know, for posterity sake, what truly happened in the past. Anybody who had the gut to criticize FFN for being a tribalist has a duty to come up with facts contravening the quotations above. Failure to do so, especially by his educated critics, is nothing but intellectual dishonesty.
My motivation for writing this piece stemmed from the avalanche of self-righteous indignation-laden criticism that FFN received, especially from Yoruba people, many of whom did not read ANY of the articles. Some of his worst critics were those supposedly educated Yoruba pundits who read the articles, but chose to mislead the public because FFN was an easy target and it was a politically correct thing to do. Just because you disagree with somebody’s politics does not mean you wear blinders when he is being unjustly vilified and jump on the bandwagon to crucify him. Opinion leaders have a responsibility to stand up for truth and justice even when it is not convenient to do so.
True, FFN used some gutter language in describing Igbo people, and some of his complaints were infantile. Also, as a former public official of the caliber of Federal Minister who is 53 years old, some topics, diction, and style should be beneath him. FFN needs to know that candor should be delivered with respect in order to be taken seriously. Having said that, the crux; the centerpiece of his articles was not very far from the truth. Which Yoruba person (over 30 years old) does not believe that Igbo people hate him for “betraying” them during the Biafra war? Which Igbo person (over 30 years old) does not consider Yoruba people worse than serpents for “goading” Ojukwu into Biafra and then backing out? Which Hausa person (over 30 years old) does not believe that if given the chance, the Igbo man will “take everything” and stab him in the back? I want that person to come out and I will tell him he is a lying sonofabitch. These are the realities with which we live in Nigeria. Every single tribe in Nigeria can be the subject of scorn, derision or jokes by any other tribe. Some of the scorn, derision or jokes stem from long-held fables that do not hold any truth, while others derive from the truth. For example, who has never heard that Ibadan people prefer to be meat sellers, danfo bus drivers or drummers rather than pursue formal education? This is in spite of the fact that the premier Nigerian university is located in the city! I am from Ibadan and I am a product of the University of Ibadan. But I hear the joke all the time. I also hear the joke about Ibadan people not having the sibilant Z in their list of consonants, leading them to change Z to S when they speak. We have been referred to as having caustic tongues and quick to respond to true or perceived insults.
I take all the jokes with equanimity and in stride. And I join in poking fun back at Ekiti people for not developing any industry in their area other than schools thereby churning out all those PhDs who will never secure gainful employment anywhere; the Ijebus whose stock-in-trade is to miserly starve themselves during the week in order to save for lavish weekend parties (an Ijebu person is yet to find a party invitation he will reject); the Egbas for investing too much in juju or voodoo (most of them are Babalawos); the Ijeshas for being stubborn, merciless debt collectors (Osomaalo), the Ondos for reveling in their sumptuous dog meat soup (lookili!), Lagosians for being empty-barrel noise-makers (Eko for Show!), the Rivers people for not being much different than “mamiwater” and for eating too much fish; Ilorin folks for knowing nothing other than the Qur’ran, the Fulanis for not being smarter than their cattle and for placing more value on their cows than their children, the Hausas for their dark teeth, dark phlegm and their incurable kolanut addiction (Hausa sai goro!), the Ogbomoso people (S.L. Akintola people) for their rigidity and uncompromising sit-tight attitude (Akintola taku!), the Ife people for being whipping boys of the tiny Modakeke people and for sacrificing human beings to appease their gods, the Igbos for seeing every opportunity as a money-making venture, including the sale of their daughters for marriage, and the Ila-Orangun people for being palm wine revelers.
These were jokes that were intrinsic to our biases and fed our tribal tendencies. Would you want to share a room with a Hausa person if you couldn’t tolerate dark phlegm? Would you want to eat at an Ondo man’s house? Would you lend money to an Ijebu person? Would you seriously date an Igbo girl? Would you borrow money from an Ijesha person? We allowed these jokes to become ingrained in our collective norms and they become inseparable from us as a society. The subliminal perceptions buried in these jokes become our realities. No matter his string of academic laurels, an Ibadan man is still an illiterate! No matter how altruistic his intentions are, an Igbo man is still out to make money. We need to jettison these labels and start to respect each other. Most of the criticism of FFN from Igbo people did not address the substance of his articles. Those that did quickly veered off and degenerated into a general lambasting of the entire Yoruba people as Igbo haters.
Finally, I expect to receive a torrent of feedback from all the tribes I mentioned above accusing me of being a tribalist, completely ignoring the fact that I mentioned the jokes about my own Ibadan people as well. And especially from Igbo readers, I expect vituperative tirades accusing me of hating Ndigbo. Before anybody sends me any nonsense sha, they better read my articles: 2007: Ndigbo’s Lackluster Clamor for the Presidency; and Boko Haram Justifies Biafra and Vindicates Odumegwu Ojukwu; published in some Nigerian newspapers and many online outfits. They can just google them.