I had the privilege of attending some meetings of the Yoruba and Igbo Leaders. I was not a leader but a youth who knew how to wash his hands. At one of those meetings in Owerri, I think in 1989, I think, I listened to Uncle Bola Ige and other Yoruba Leaders take the likes of Mbakwe, R. B. Okafor and others to the cleaners when the Igbo said the Yoruba were betrayers, citing that Chief Obafemi Awolowo led them into secession with a promise that if the Igbo left Nigeria, the Yoruba would follow suit. They accused him of not following up on his promise. Trust Uncle Bola Ige! He pointed to Chief Mbakwe and said, “you were there in the meeting between Awolowo and Ojukwu as I was. Is that statement correct?”.He turned to two other Igbo and two Yoruba Leaders who were at that meeting and asked the same question, saying he had transcripts of the meeting between Awolowo and Ojukwu. They kept quiet while the Yoruba Leaders affirmed that Awolowo never promised to follow the East into secession. What he said was that if the Igbo were “driven” out of Nigeria the Yoruba would take it seriously and reassess their own position. Igbo Leaders DID NOT CONTEST this version. Then Chief Bola Ige threw in the clincher! “Who are you to accuse the Yoruba of betrayal?” he roared, and continued:
1. At Independence Awolowo offered a joint government between the NCNC and AG, with Zik as Prime Minister and Awo as Finance Minister. Awo and Zik “were still negotiating” when it was announced that Zik would be President in a coalition with NPC of the North. The East then collaborated in destroying the West and sending Awolowo and his leutenants to jail!
2. What of the 1965 elections which the West and the East agreed to boycott? We met all night and reached agreement about 3am on the day of the election. In the morning, while the Yoruba boycotted the election, the Igbo went to vote
3. After the 1979 elections Yoruba (UPN) and Igbo (APP?) Leaders were still at the negotiating table for a coalition when to their surprise, an announcement was heard that the Igbo (APP) had agreed to a coalition with the North (NPN)
4. After the 1983 elections, 1979 repeated itself. Not giving up, Awolowo reached out to Azikiwe again for cooperation. Talks started and they met in Benin where Awo pleaded passionately that only a collaboration between The Igbo and the Yoruba could save Nigeria. They didn’t reach agreement but promised to meet again. Before the next meeting, the Igbo had again teamed up with the North
Uncle Bola paused and then continued “we can go on and on. So how dare you accuse the Yoruba of betrayal? How many Igbo have been killed in Lagos, Ibadan, Akure, Oshogbo (he mentioned other Yoruba towns)? You have your businesses in the West and went to Western schools. Yet you count the Yoruba as your enemy. You get killed in Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi, Zaria etc and have your goods looted yet you consider the Hausa/ Fulani your friends. It’s your choice. If you want to be slaves for ever, we can’t help you”
I had never been so scared in my life. I thought the roof was going to fall. There was a pin drop silence and no Igbo dared interrupt Uncle Bola Ige because he was telling the truth. The Yoruba Leaders ended the meeting at that point and left. I hope Chief C. O. Adebayo’s memoirs will give more details of those exchanges.
Now to make three points from all this:
A. The Yoruba have been stretching their hand across the Niger for a handshake for a long time. The Igbo refused to take it for a long time until recently.
B. Many Igbo Leaders of the 70s, 80s and 90s deliberately perpetrated the legend of Awolowo’s role betraying them into the civil war and his role in prosecuting the war, to rally the Igbo population behind themselves. The Igbo agreed on Yoruba hatred than on any other issue. So it was the fabric that held them together for a long time.
C. Time heals all things. Many Igbo reading this will be hearing for the first time that their leaders of old knew for a truth that Awolowo did not break his word to Ojukwu as alleged. And to think of it, EVEN IF OUR PARENTS QUARRELLED, SHOULD WE THE NEW GENERATION CONTINUE THE SAME WAY?. ITS TIME TO COME TOGETHER AND MAKE THE HANDSHAKE ACROSS THE NIGER WORK FOR THE SAKE OF OUR PEOPLES AND NIGERIA.
– Tunde Oduwole