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Still on East–West handshake

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By Emeka Obasi

The online battle is still on, young Igbo versus youthful Yoruba. There are so many reasons to fight depending on who is talking. From what Chief Obafemi Awolowo did to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe ,to the former’s role as Federal Commissioner of Finance during the War. There is this unforgiving spirit about Biafrans grabbing Ore and almost bombing Lagos.

Of course, a lot of things that should be done were not done and things that were done should not have been done. The Yoruba and Igbo cannot continue to dwell in the past. There should be true reconciliation in the real sense of the word not the type that General Yakubu Gowon promised in 1970.

Chief Awolowo tried to make up later. In the 1979 elections, his running mate was Chief Philip Umeadi. He also had such Igbo stalwarts as Chief MCK Ajuluchukwu and Mrs Oyibo Odinammadu around him. During his campaign, the chopper that brought him to Aba was stoned.

When Awolowo died in 1987, the tribute that went viral was offered by Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, who described the sage as, “ the best President Nigeria never had.” When Chief Dideolu Awolowo passed on, one of her closest aides was an Igbo woman.

The same Biafrans who attacked Lagos from the skies and invaded Ore are all over Eko today helping in the transformation of the land. The First Lady of Ondo State is of Biafran blood.

We just have to accept the fact that the two groups can do better working together. Even Iran and Iraq, two countries who are always at war, are never apart.

Let me tell this story. As a boy in January 1970, a few days after the war ended, I picked my first words in Yoruba: ‘ejoo’ [please]. It was around 2.00am and we were all woken up by shouts of ‘ejoo oo, ejoo ooo, ejoo ooo.’ The brave boys and men in our family rushed out. They saw a Nigerian soldier, abandoned in an Igbo village, as a military truck zoomed off.

The frightened soldier managed to tell his story. He was indeed, the driver of the truck and was taking an officer to their base. His offence was failure to crush a pedestrian who crossed the road. When they got to my ancestral home in Imo State, the officer asked the driver to stop. At gunpoint, he was ordered to get down from the vehicle.

The idea was for the soldier to be killed by my people. Some members of my family spoke Yoruba and he was taken in and offered light meal. A room was hurriedly prepared for him to lay his head.

In the morning, we were all surprised to find out that the soldier had left probably before daybreak. He feared for his life, thinking ‘this friendly Igbo family could eventually harm him.’ Everyone felt for him.

That perception of the Yoruba still lives with me. The driver refused to spill Igbo blood at the end of hostilities. It meant a lot, for there was a particular Nigerian Army driver who crushed more of my people after the war than we lost in the battle field. He rammed his truck into anything Igbo at will.

Such people did not understand the

Igbo-Yoruba link. Many still do not. David Lasisi Bamigboye, the first governor of Kwara State and Tony Ukpabi Asika, East Central State administrator, treasured the ties. In 1973, they worked out an Exchange Programme for the best pupils from both states.

Ten pupils left Enugu for Government Secondary School, Ilorin and Queen Elizabeth School in the same town on scholarship. Ten Kwara pupils also travelled down to colleges in Enugu. That was how boys like the late Ike Abugu[Dana crash], Ikechukwu [Aporo] Emesobum[ former Abia State Commissioner for Works] and Chinaka Obasi got to know Ilorin more than Enugu.

Those of us who always accuse Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of being anti–Igbo may have their reasons. However, the former President has a son from an Igbo woman. She is from the Amadi family of Uratta, Owerri. OBJ joined the Army same day as Lt. Col. Patrick Chiedu Amadi. Amadi’s wife, an Amadi, is therefore the Balogun of Owu’s sister –in law.

As Head of State, Obasanjo made sure Imo State had Yoruba governors, while Lagos got Igbo governors. Shamshideen Adekunle Lawal swapped position with Ndubuisi Godwin Kanu while at the time of Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe in the West, Sunday Ajibade Adenihun was in the East.

In Owerri, the home of newspapers is Rotibi Street named after a Yoruba man who settled in the town long ago. That is not forgetting that in 1940, Zik built a stadium in Yaba, Lagos and not only controlled sports through his Zik Athletics Club[ZAC], he formed three soccer clubs, Bombers, Spitfire and Hurricane, with the motto: “Ut unum omnisint’ [that all may be one].

There are more examples of Igbo –Yoruba unity. In their Green Eagles playing days, the quartet of Christian Chukwu, Emma Okala, Segun Odegbami and Best Ogedegbe were the best of friends. Best displaced Okala as goalie in 1980. While fans argued, Best’s adviser, was his room mate, Okala. Anytime you find ‘Mathematical’ in Enugu, be sure he is enjoying a meal of “ugba and okporoko[stockwish] with his ex-teammates.

In music, the best comes out when Igbo and Yoruba collaborate. Sunny Ade/Onyeka Onwenu, D banj/ Don Jazzy. Phyno/Olamide. Mixed blood like Yemi Alade, Clarence Peters are also exceptional. Victor Olaiya sings in Igbo. OAP ‘Lolo’ is Yoruba. Free to receive blessings from Paul and Ifeanyi Adefarasin with Kayode Odunaro and Akin Olowookere watching.

When Prince Henry Odukomaiya gave me a job, he said an Igbo man, Chief Gabriel Idigo, did it for him too. When you hear ‘ewu’ in Igbo, it is goat[ewure] in Yoruba. Okute[stone ] is okuta, nti[ear] eti, imi[nose] imu, onu [mouth]enu.

Col.Adekunle Fajuyi died with his host Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi. That says it all. Igbo, Yoruba: Be your brother’s keeper.

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