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If you happen to be African, a woman, Palestinian in Israel, or belong to a group that is routinely subjected to prejudice by a dominant population, you can usually spot bigotry the moment it shows its grotesque countenance. But, what if said bigotry is of the insidious variety – when it is not as blatant as, say, being called a “black bastard”, an “ugly cow”, or a “hymie”? And what if the perpetrator happens to be a well-known television journalist?
That was the issue I was confronted with around this time last year when, barely an hour after being subjected to a clear-cut case of racial abuse, I witnessed, even suffered another, but more subtle racial attack, which I could easily have missed, as did many of those who were present. You could call it the day I suffered a racist double-whammy! Although I noted at the time that the second incident was “suspect”, it did not register as sirens-blaring racist. That was the reason I never wrote about it. So what has made me lift this self-imposed moratorium?
The epiphany, as it were, came recently when I attended a conference at which one contributor from the floor asked a rhetorical question. He was speaking about a group of white workers who blamed migrants for the loss of their jobs. According to the brother, the white workers were not being racist; they were just being protective of their jobs.
The matter-of-fact tone in which he pontificated left one with very little doubt that he believed no person of sound mind or character could possibly take issue with that “reasonable” position. So, succumbing to the arrogance of self-assurance, he asked his rhetorical question.
“Now, that was not racism, was it?” he said, a smile lighting up his face as he spread his hands expansively.
“It was”, I promptly replied from my perch five or six seats to his left.
The man was clearly surprised, perhaps by the swiftness or the no-room-for-doubt clarity of my response. “Are you sure about that?”
The brother then went on to say something about being older and therefore blessed with more experience. Anyway, the point here is that I spotted a clear case of racism in a split-second. Indeed, I had experienced a “moment of clarity”, as defined by Jules Whitfield, the character Samuel L Jackson plays in Pulp Fiction. And then, without conscious prompting, my mind flitted back to the aforementioned “suspect” incident. But, thanks to my moment of clarity, that “suspect” incident had in that split-second metamorphosed into a clear-cut case of racism. Before we delve into those events of yesteryear, we will attempt a brief critique of the older brother’s seemingly “impregnable” position on those workers.
Racism by any other name stinks just as bad
First, workers should not blame the incidence of unemployment, or job losses, on other workers; the fault lies generally with those who formulate economic policies – in a word, the government. Further, if those policies had not been dictated by parochial class interests in the first place, there would be employment for every worker who wants work. Secondly, would those white British workers have blamed other white British workers for taking their jobs? Clearly not! That would be ridiculous. There will always be a reserve army of labour simply because of the way the economy is run under capitalism.
Finally, it is disingenuous to claim that the workers were “simply venting” to protect their livelihoods. That excuse is a godsend to the irredeemably racist rabble-rouser; it is a get-out clause that allows them to parade their prejudices abroad under the false flag of so-called bona fide economic protest. In a word, it not only recasts racism in a new guise, it also legitimises it by linking racist attitudes with legitimate working class struggle. Thus armed, the enemies of living labour can then divide and conquer the workers along the colour bar in the interests of capital, otherwise known as dead labour.
At best, those white workers were guilty of racism alloyed with fears about job security – akin to what some socialists I once met called “soft racism”. But we are not in a fancy hair-splitting contest; racism by any other name stinks just as bad – whether it emanates from “whites” or “blacks”!
We will now travel back in time to that sunny, somewhat chilly day in late April of 2018, the day I met two racists in the flesh. I was in a group of Labour party members who had gathered outside a building in Westminster, a stone’s throw from the British Parliament. I am not Labour. I was there on account of the group’s protest against the suspension and possible expulsion of a prominent black activist, Marc Wadsworth, for alleged anti-Semitism.
Inside the building being picketed sat Labour’s disciplinary committee, deliberating Wadsworth’s fate. A few journalists stood a little distance from the protesters, who at any one time numbered no more than 30; as some protesters left, others took their place. They chanted slogans sporadically, in support of Wadsworth, one-time leader of the now-defunct Anti-Racist Alliance.
The first racist incident took place a few hours after I arrived. Cold, and with a bladder threatening to disgorge itself on the sidewalk, I had headed off to hunt down the nearest pub – to use their john. As luck would have it, there were no pubs in the vicinity and the pressure on the dam below continued to build up. So, the dear reader will understand when I say that I barely spared a second glance for the man reclining against a doorway who asked me for money as I swooshed past him faster than The Flash.
I was eventually able to use the john at a small hotel, thanks to its superhero doorman. Upon retracing my steps I encountered for the second time the man who had asked me for a pound earlier. He repeated the request. I looked apologetically at him and said, “Sorry, mate. I don’t have any change”. And I did not, for I had used it to buy a cup of tea earlier. As I continued on my way, the man’s shouted response – “Fu***** black bastard” – chased after me like a twinkle-toed messenger-boy.
“Bastard” is the packaging, “black” the incendiary element
Those words were ringing in my ears as I got back to the makeshift picket line. The thing that got to me was not that a racial slur had been hurled at me. It was not that another human being thought that he was “better” than me simply because I had “black” skin and he “white”. Nor was it because a man I would have given money had called me “a name”. It was not even the fact that a man who obviously believed that my “economic situation” was better than his, nevertheless also believed that he was a “better” or “superior” human being for the simple biological happenstance of having a lighter skin tone than me. No, that was not it.
The thing that got to me was that he was not content with calling me a “black bastard”, as the rest of his ilk would have done. For those people, it is the word “black”, when attached to “bastard” that holds the potent abusive quotient. In a manner of speaking, “bastard” is merely the packaging, the lead piping; the word “black” is the incendiary element in the pipe-bomb of racial abuse. Indeed, “black” for them is a term of abuse, which is why the pure racist, the bona fide article, is loath to use the word “black” to describe a black person they happen to be “fond of”. In such rare cases, they use “coloured”, or even “African”, in its stead.
Even famous Hollywood actor Liam Neeson was content to stick with the hackneyed “black bastard”, while recounting how he once wanted to kill a black man. We do have to make allowances for this beloved and legendary action-man, haven’t we? As well as being a brilliantly good and brilliant and good Hollywood icon, he was after all only referring to a despicable rapist, y’know. In my neck of the ideological woods, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu is a very, very bad man, a criminal; but would we be given “Hollywood passes” if, hypothetically, we called him a “hymie”? How about calling serial killer Aileen Wuornos an “ugly bit**”? Would that be okay too? Just asking!
Anyway, back to our friendly neighbourhood “asker-of-change”. Nope, “black bastard” was not good enough for him. He may have been in the guise of a beggar the day I made his acquaintance, but that fact does not detract from his mental acuity. My crystal blackness evoked his one-upmanship, his creative spirit; it was so offensive to him that he had to go one step further, to wit: “fu***** black bastard”. That was like saying “double black bastard”; or, even better, black bastard to the second power! In a word, or rather in notation, “bb2” – black bastard squared!
That, dear reader, is the thing that got to me: instead of spending what you might call his creativity on something worthwhile, he had put it to the service of evil. [The scope of this essay will not allow us to debate whether the man’s racism was the product of ignorance. If it was, then what is our well-educated, liberal TV reporter doing in bed with him?] But even so, I apparently did not think it important, or hurtful enough, to write about it at the time. That omission was related to the (now properly defined) racist incident involving the well-known television reporter, henceforth Mr Reporter.
He had come to the protest a bit later than the handful of reporters present, all of whom were apparently from print, or non-TV media (no camera operators in tow). Mr Reporter is an instantly recognisable “celebrity” whose reporting style you could call confrontational, at times rambunctious. He belongs to what I call the Jeremy Paxman school of journalism, after the former British Broadcasting Corporation Newsnight presenter, who occasionally got up the noses of evasive politicians by asking pointed questions in repetitive, irreverent fashion. This can be sometimes amusing, so long as you don’t expect its practitioners to question or challenge the racist, bourgeois order. They are merely fixtures through which imperialist media can fool themselves that their journalism is “probing” or “robust”. Before this episode, I did not have a “position” on Mr Reporter, other than that he was a mildly-entertaining establishment journalist.
Just don’t expect them to challenge the racist, bourgeois order
And so it came to pass that during a lull in chants of “Reinstate Marc Wadsworth” and similar slogans, the placard-carrying liberal lefties suddenly spied with their little eyes the unsuspecting Mr Reporter and his cameraman, newly arrived on the scene. Like vultures alighting on dead meat, they pounced. There were maybe 15 or so people in the boisterous mob. They were not actually shouting, just speaking in very loud voices to the reporter, whose physical person was not in any danger.
One person said that Mr Reporter had come to their protest in order to “misreport” the truth. An elderly woman charged that he had only gone there to establish his presence, and that his report “has already been written” for him. He was called “a member of the establishment” by one West Indian protester. A lot of other allegations were hurled at Mr Reporter (and his absent bosses) – of being Zionist sympathisers, spreading fake-news, and supporting the 2011 imperialist aggression against Libya.
The very vocal and animated group included people of all races and colours, both men and women. The encounter was far from threatening; if anything, it seemed good-natured and spirited – at least from the perspective of the protesters, many of whom were smiling. However, Mr Reporter was taking it all very seriously – and personally.
And then I noticed that his reaction was very selective. To be exact, he only responded to the jibes and allegations made by the black people in the group. And the responses were of a particular kind – namely, a request for the person to define a word or phrase they had just used against him. So for instance, the black man who had said Mr Reporter was a member of the establishment was not only asked to define “establishment”, but to also spell the word. He asked another to define and spell “fake news”. I watched this strange spectacle for a while, not sure what to make of it.
Before long, I also entered the fray, charging that his TV station was a supporter of imperialist aggression against Libya in 2011. And true to recently-observed form, he asked whether I could spell imperialism. I said I could, upon which he asked me to define the word for him. I then replied that, not only could I define imperialism, but that I had also written a book about it in which I take his news anchor colleague to task for his slavish kowtowing to imperialism during the Western aggression against Libya.
That seemed to give him pause for thought, as he struggled to get his mini-brain to compute the fantastical fact that not only could this monkey standing before him spell and define words, but it could actually manage to also string enough sentences together in a configuration that can be referred to as a book. While his pea brain was thus over-heating, I advised him to visit my website for details of the book. I concluded the exchange by making the observation that the main female news-reader on his channel had over the years metamorphosed into a “mini-me” of said news anchor right in front of viewers’ eyes.
On my way home I thought long and hard about that incident. Were Mr Reporter’s selective question-responses to just his black “attackers” tantamount to racism? It was not as clear-cut as racist name-calling would have been, hence my reticence to label it racist, or to write about it. I considered it and the incident with the beggar as two of a kind, and so did not want to write about one and not the other.
Indeed, I knew that his behaviour was “suspect”. And I suppose I also knew that it was racist, but did not want to label it as such, perhaps because it was not “very clear-cut” and might be perceived as crying wolf on a high-profile journalist on the basis of “flimsy” evidence. But was I afraid that an accusation of racism against him could blight his career? Geddoutahere, as our American cousins would say. Being racist never blighted the career of television presenter Jeremy Clarkson who, as we know, has been rewarded with a new TV show.
You only had to scratch the surface for the hidden racist to jump out
Thanks to my aforementioned moment of clarity, I have now transcended my reservations about calling that incident racist and writing about it.
Mr Reporter’s chosen response, when he was effectively backed up against the wall by what could be described loosely as a mob, should be seen for what it was – a “spontaneous racist response” springing from a deep-seated hatred of black people. And that animosity, it can be argued, informs his abiding conviction that people of African descent are genetically predisposed to be of lower intelligence compared to other races.
It has to be acknowledged that at no point during these boisterous exchanges was the man under any threat of physical harm. The only things receiving a hammering were his “professional” pride and journalistic “ethics”.
This leads us to the question of how many other journalists in the mainstream [media], or even in the alternative or left-wing media are of similar inclination, even though they might have convinced themselves that they are not, but which disposition could manifest itself in what might be called “crunch” situations, such as when our hero found himself backed up, both literally and figuratively, against a wall by a multi-racial “mob” that his warped mind computed as just so many “dumb fu***** black bastards”.
For heaven’s sake, these are people who write stories and report on issues that impact the everyday lives of black people, in this country as well as internationally! Would not such deep-seated animosity towards black people colour the way they do their jobs? For instance, did racism play any role in the way they covered the 2011 Western aggression against Libya?
It should be recalled that Western mass media, as I wrote recently, universally spread disinformation in 2011 that so-called black African mercenaries had been killing “innocent protesters” at the behest of Colonel Gaddafi. This fake-news reporting by the Western Propaganda Brigade, Fourth Estate Regiment led directly to the genocide of Africans in Libya. This sounds eerily similar to the role Rwanda’s Hutu media played in the genocide of up to 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu people in 1994. Those media workers subsequently faced some kind of justice. But where is the United Nations investigation into the role of Western media in Libya’s African Genocide? When will those guilty United Kingdom journalists decamp to cells in Her Majesty’s Prison Pentonvile? When will their United States comrades-in-arms be sent to the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana, where irate African-American inmates would line up to get to know them in the biblical sense.
This brings to mind the case of Michael Richards, who played Cosmo Kramer in the United States Sitcom Seinfeld, one of my most favourite TV shows. Although I was partial to Elaine “He took it out” Benes, not to mention George “It shrunk” Costanza (played, respectively, by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander), I also loved the mad-cap way Richards portrayed the Kramer character. Alright, then, I loved Richards. And then, seemingly out of the blue, he let rip with a tirade of racist abuse after he was heckled on stage by an audience that included black people. No-one saw that coming; at least I didn’t. Not unlike Mr Reporter, you only had to scratch the surface for the hidden racist to jump out at you.
And just who, you may be saying, is this mysterious Mr Reporter? Well, now that we are clear in our mind about the racist nature of that incident, there would seem to be no reason to withhold his identity. However, I am not going to say his name, for the simple reason that it does not really matter who he is. Naming him would change nothing; it will only boost his career (remember what bigotry did for the proud racist Clarkson). It is enough just to be reminded now and again that such people do exist.
But those readers who really want to know the true identity of our hero could do worse than follow the inadvertent clues in this essay. As Britain’s Channel 4 News reporter Michael Crick would put it, it’s not rocket science.
*Julian Lahai Samboma is a Pan-Africanist and the author of The Dialectic and the Detective: The Arab Spring and Regime Change in Libya, which is available on Amazon. His website is eBeefs.com.
So feared was Sobukwe that, in an unprecedented move, the illegitimate-racist-European-regime designed legislation that was tailor-made for him. This was mainly done to limit the spread of his influence and in particular what the settler regime described as “his magnetic personality”.
In a poem dedicated to him, the elder and revolutionary poet, uBab’uDonato Mattera says of Sobukwe “men feared the fire of his soul”. Even in death, they continue to fear “the fire of his soul”.
Like many of the authentic voices of pan-Africanism, globally, today, there continues to be a conscious-pro-white project that is geared towards erasing Sobukwe’s name from popular memory and ensuring that the agenda of pan-Africanism (the total and unconditional independence of the African race)—doesn’t triumph.
In spite of the diabolic project to erase Sobukwe and pan-Africanism, his ideas remain irrepressible. In fact, his ideas have found renewed articulation in the form of the #RhodesMustFall moment and the related call for Afrocentric education by Black students in the white criminal settler colony referred to as South Africa.
It can also be legitimately argued that even movements like the Economic Freedom Fighters, have drawn substantially from the ideas of Sobukwe, particularly as it relates to the land question and the question of African unity.
Like many of the warriors of our race, who didn’t just give their very lives to Black peoples’ quest for liberation, but also never sold their souls to any of our race-enemies, uBaw’uHlathi occupies a special and honourable place in the hearts of Black people, the world over.
Given where we find ourselves today as a race (at the bottom of the human pyramid)-there is an urgent need for a critical re-study and re-articulation of his ideas, with the view to give impetus and proper context to the historically-evolved-globalised and now aborted project of Black liberation.
41 years later, we as a race, are in serious trouble. We are lost, confused, and leaderless and above all, agendaless. Just look at the state of the richest continent in the world-Africa. Africa is in a pathetic state, to say the least!
In view of all this, I can’t help but wonder: today, are those movements that define themselves along pan-Africanism or black consciousness- pursuing the same agenda for which Sobukwe suffered and gave his life?
So what should remembering Sobukwe mean today? Remembering Sobukwe today can’t be reduced to periodically writing glowing essays about him, changing the names of public places or buildings.
Or hosting elitist-ritualistic-cheese sandwich gatherings in his name. To remember Sobukwe today should mean, among others, to continue asking those difficult, discomforting, unpopular and unresolved questions (about the Black condition) that others prefer to avoid.
To remember Sobukwe today should mean to openly say or advocate for those things that others prefer to say only in the safety of their living rooms (for those Blacks who have living rooms).
To remember Sobukwe today should mean to refuse to be part of the neo-colonial project that seeks to reduce our race-agenda to nothing else but a perpetual lust for the crumbs that fall from the bloody table of those who murdered, raped and robbed our ancestors.
To remember Sobukwe today should also include openly calling for a formal inquest into his mysterious death and the deaths of many other Black people, who died mysteriously under the illegitimate-racist-European regime.
Above all, to remember Sobukwe today must mean to have the courage to look each other in the eye as Black people and ask: what price are you prepared to pay for the liberation of your race?
uBaw’uHlathi was indoda emadodeni (a man among men). A gladiator who never equivocated when the hour came for him to engage in combat with the enemies of our ancestors.
This is why Sobukwe is so dear to us. This is why the “fire of his soul” continues to ignite our souls. This is why we choose to remember Sobukwe.
* Veli Mbele is an author, essayist and activist.
First, a confession. I am Igbo, whatever that means! I was born in 1966, a year before the Nigerian Civil War that lasted for 30 months, from July 1967 to January 1970. And depending on who is counting, or writing the history, the casualty figures in that internecine war could be anywhere between two and three million or more.
I can’t believe am posting this, 105 years after amalgamation and the creation of Nigeria, almost 60 years after independence, 49 years after the civil war ended and the country proclaimed, “no victor, no vanquished,” and embarked on the 3Rs: Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction.
Once again, the “Igbo Question” rears its ugly head. The logical question would be, how do we deal with a “problem” like the Igbos? I shall return to this.
But if I were an aged bigot and quintessential newspaperman who has trained many journalists and shaped the future of journalism in Nigeria, an educated “Yoruba” man and “putative lover of Igbos,” how would I answer this question?
I would start by saying, “I attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria between 1974 and 1978 for which I owe the Igbos gratitude for this opportunity. It wasn’t that I could not have studied in Lagos, Ibadan or Ife. I wished to be far away from home to detach completely from the city boy life of clubbing and all that in which I was engulfed for five years despite finishing higher school certificate education in record one year with three A level papers at one sitting, a feat in those days. There were fears in my family that a war (1967-1970) had just ended, four years earlier in the East and the people may be hostile to immigrants whose people partook in the war against them. But I was a rebellious young man, and believe I still am at close to 70. At 16, when the war broke out, I was fascinated by Lt Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu’s oration and Okokondem on Biafra Radio. I didn’t understand what the issues were. So, off to the East I went to Nsukka, the land of the folding hills.
“I made many Igbo friends, maybe because I learned to behave like a Roman in Rome. One day, one of my Igbo friends and I went to his village. Surprisingly, I wasn’t frightened by stories I had heard in the West that I could be killed and eaten like bush meat. Everywhere I went, the visitor was treated like a tin god. They brought out the kola and the pepper. There were cultural shocks, though. One day, an 11-year-old boy stretched out his hand to greet me. In Yorubaland, that was an abomination. The older man could deal such a “rude” boy a knock on the head to teach him to respect his elders. But that was republican Igbo culture for you. Without qualms, I took the hand he offered to me in pure love and shook hands with him. If you respect your hosts and do not try to impose yourself on them, they would love you.
“My relationship with the Igbos goes beyond Nsukka. Two of the editors who gave me a sound professional foundation in journalism are Igbos. The first was George Okoro, who was chief sub editor of the Daily Times when I was brought before him on 8 March 1971, to start work as trainee subeditor. The other was Angus Okoli. He was acting editor at the Lagos Weekend where I was posted after I completed my training under Okoro. He was like a big uncle to me. At that time, Alhaji Babatunde Jose, later chairman/managing director of the Daily Times group of companies, was trying to bring to the newspaper people with higher school certificate, but the G4 and “O” Level men were resisting. They were Yorubas. Okoro and Okoli were Igbos. Okoro would spend his money to buy us foreign newspapers to train with. He would take us at his own cost from club to club to knock journalism life into us. Sometimes, we ended up at his flat in Johnson Street, near Pedro in Somolu. Okoli would teach you how to write.
“Maybe these men influenced my decision to go to Nsukka without knowing it. If I didn’t take a wife from the East, it was probably because I did not have money for the dowry or because I was faithfully committed to a young adolescent’s promise I did not wish to break. But the Igbos continued to trudge on my paths. No fewer than four of them married my sisters and cousins. They are among the best husbands I have seen in Nigeria in terms of their commitment to the concept of one-man-one-wife, which my family values and their love and commitment to the extended families of their wives.
“I remember an incident at one of the wedding engagements. The Igwe who accompanied the groom-to-be said it was against Igbo custom for an Igwe to prostrate when he was asked to prostrate before the parents of the bride-to-be. All members of the family felt affronted. Otunba Olufemi Deru, chairman of the event and a former chairman/managing director of the British Ever Ready Electrical Company and former president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, rose and asked everyone to go home. Luckily, there was a member of my faith in the Igbo entourage. I didn’t know him, but he recognised me, came over and whispered to me that we should rescue the event from intransigence or rigidity on both sides. So, I announced that maybe the Igwe did not wish to soil his dress and called for a mat. The Igwe agreed to prostrate and actually did. Today, this couple have four beautiful children who are a pride not only to their father’s family but to ours as well. From this preamble, I will proceed to voice my opinion on the Okota question with all sense of responsibility.
“I am Yoruba, and I condemn all forms of electoral malpractice, including ballot box snatching on Election Day. The Yorubas are an intelligent people with their own fair share of rascals. There are many intelligent and creative ways open to the Yorubas to deal with the Igbo question in Lagos or elsewhere.
“Chief Obafemi Awolowo dealt with it when Nnamdi Azikiwe abused the generosity of the Yorubas and attempted to take over their land as the Dutchmen took over Southern Africa. The Yorubas also dealt with this question intelligently when Biafran soldiers tried to invade the West from Ore, after overrunning Bendel State with the aid of Igbo connections there. At different fora where the Igbo question in Lagos comes up, I always invite the Igbos to remember that the Yorubas have always been their best friends in Nigeria. The Yoruba leader of the 1950s, Herbert Macaulay, founded the National Council of Nigerians and the Cameroons (NCNC)
“When Macaulay died following an illness during his nationwide campaign for independence, wasn’t it the Yoruba NCNC leadership, which invited Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo, to return home from Ghana and lead their party? And when he held their hand in the soup pot, to bar them from having the meal they prepared, didn’t they peacefully and intelligently show him the way back to the east? Yorubas were generous and trustful. Azikiwe insulted their sensibility, abused their generosity and trust. Why would he, an Igbo, wish to be premier of the West and then install an Igbo, as premier of the East when the Yorubas at that time had more literate people than the Igbos? That was cunning, greed and betrayal of trust to say the least.
“We were all fighting to send the white man away and, after we had succeeded, you wished to impose local Igbo colonialism on a better educated Yoruba race. Who would have accepted that? Secondly, I remind my Igbo friends that, after the civil war, their properties in the North, Port Harcourt, Cross River and Akwa Ibom States, their present political allies, were seized from them as “abandoned” property and handed out to the aborigines. But in the latest, Igbo property was all returned with all the rent, which accrued to them. Were the Yorubas stupid or merely civilised, honest and friendly or, if you like, God fearing?”
Okota ballot box
“As I said in the first part, the snatching of ballot boxes after all the warnings by government was unnecessary, crude, condemnable and punishable. If the Yorubas condemn it elsewhere, they should condemn it also in Okota. But after the condemnation and necessary punishment under the law, it will not be right for all of us to not get to the bottom of why it happened and the bigger problems, which are brewing beneath this cause if the surface and deep-lining causes are not addressed.
“The major problem, in my opinion, is the Igbo penchant to wish to take over another person’s land. I say this with all sense of responsibility. Recently, Mofe Oyatogun of Star 101.5FM Radio Station in Lagos played during her Early Rush Show, a 1952 audio clip of an interview with Ahmadu Bello, Premier of Northern Nigeria. He said unequivocally that the North would not employ Igbos in its civil service because if you gave them an inch, you will not know when they would take a mile. That was way back in 1952, about 67 years ago. Is this not what is still playing out today in South Africa, Benin Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Libya and China, to mention a few countries?
“In the recent presidential election [23 February 2019], President Muhammadu Buhari probably won landslide victories in Northern states because that Ahmadu Bello radio interview clip went viral in that political landscape. Peter Obi, an Igbo, was vice presidential running mate to Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, a Fulani from the Northeast. It was possible the North still lived in fear of the Igbo man as Ahmadu Bello had taught them to do and as they were reminded in that audio clip replay.
“In Yorubaland, we are a society governed by laws. That is why we have ministries of chieftaincy affairs. All the land in Lagos has owners. Lagos was either a colony or part of Western Nigeria. But because of the generosity of Yorubas, and the foresight of their forefathers, which made this region the star region in West Africa, the Igbos would like the Yorubaman to believe that “Lagos is no man’s land.” Can anyone say that of Benin without eating his pounded yam as raw yam? Can the Igbos say that of Kano and Jos? The people there know how to make themselves husbands of the mothers of the territorial expansionist.
“Everywhere on earth, we have seen that territorial expansion ends in chaos. In recent history, we can pin the two world wars to it. What about the war in Liberia between the aborigines and the settled slaves? What about Rwanda? What about Hitler’s war on the Jews? What about the liberation wars in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique? Why did General Idi Amin of Uganda chase away the Asians? Why did Bangladesh separate from India, Eritrea from Ethiopia and Senegal from Senegambia? What about the communal clashes over land in Nigeria?
“Recently, almost 100 Fulanis were killed in Kaduna. We cannot forget the Zango-Kataf problem. So, we should be careful when you come to settle on my land and say you must represent me in the Nigerian Senate or the House of Representatives, or the Lagos State House of Assembly, taking away from me my aboriginal right to have my kith, kindred and blood represent me, while back home you are being represented in the Senate and House of Representatives. When you insist on becoming a commissioner in my state or a deputy governor, or a local government chairman, when you try to govern me in my own land as Nnamdi Azikiwe once tried to do, all because I was generous to let you become in my land what you couldn’t become in your land, simply because you believe you have the numbers, I will tell you that is greed and unnatural irrespective of the backing of the law you may think you have.
“Think, for example, about an Igbo becoming the chairman of Lagos Island Local Government and arrogating to himself the right under the laws of Nigeria and of Lagos State to issue instructions to the Oba of Lagos about how the Kabiyesi should conduct himself and govern his people. What will this breed?
That is what has been happening in countries from where the Igbos are being sent back home. It happened once in the North as Ahmadu Bello said in 1952. And seriously speaking, I believe this is why the North rejected Atiku Abubakar. The Igbos should reflect on this...Why does everyone tend to (hate) us?”
“The Igbos should be wary of Jimi Agbaje and Afenifere. They are politicians who are looking for ethnic heads to break coconuts on. The Igbos are hardworking and resourceful and should try to overcome ethnic politics as the Yorubas have done. They should learn from immigrants from other lands worldwide. The Indians do not trouble their hosts or try to take over their lands. They make their money quietly and take it back home to develop their own land. That is why India has been able to lift herself from poverty. In contrast, the Igbos do not develop their own lands. All they do is largely to make money from abroad through whichever or whatever means and buy up property which other people have built and then claim they own the land without remembering that they can never hold aboriginal rights to the land in their hands whenever the chips come down.
“Meanwhile, their land back home is languid, crying and shouting for investment and development and they begin to talk about marginalisation. Did they not flower and fruit under Obasanjo and Jonathan’s administrations? What happened to Igboland in those 16 years that they were not marginalised? What happened to Yorubaland in those 16 years that the Yorubas were marginalised and that Yorubaland still continued to be a honey pot for the Igbo? I would go any day with Chief Emeka Anyaoku who looks at the world with universal spectacles. Succeeding Lagos governments have beautifully held the ethnic balance in Lagos and prevented ethnic disturbances. Igbos should stop saying they own Lagos or that they built Lagos or that Lagos is a “no man’s land”. Only a bastard Yorubaman will not feel affronted by such statements. And in spiritual terms, the man or woman who cannot defend his land is not fit to live. Wasn’t this the failure of the sons of the Incas?
“It is good news that the leaders of the Igbos and other nationalities in Nigeria have met with the traditional leaders of the Yorubas in Okota and Oshodi areas to avert a backlash in respect of the 23 February’s events. As I said earlier, Agbaje and Afenifere are outside the mainstream of Yoruba politics. They are trying to take control of it. And they have the right to so aspire, being Yorubas. What is objectionable to the mainstream Yoruba is their attempt to knock the heads of the Igbo against the head of the mainstream Yorubas.
“They remind the Yorubas of a similar affront by Afonja, the Yoruba army commander in Ilorin who was sent there by the Alaafin of Oyo to stop jihadist expansion. Afonja betrayed the Alaafin and invited the jihadists to defend his betrayal. They did and Afonja triumphed momentarily only to be killed afterwards by the jihadists who took over the land. The perception in Yorubaland today is that the Igbos, in Lagos especially, are the modern jihadists and that Agbaje and Afenifere are the modern Afonjas. This is the underlying perception, which, in my opinion, triggered the surface reaction in Okota on 23 February. The Yorubas remain an accommodating people. But they never fail to rise in their defence when they have to, as they did in the 1950s in respect of Azikiwe’s blatant attempt to usurp their land and as they also did at Ore during the civil war.”
As an educated, proud “Yoruba” man and ethnic chauvinist, I hope am only speaking my jaundiced mind.
This is not a call to arms, but interventions like the one above signal the crisis confronting us as a people and the great danger we face trying to gloss over it.
So, how do we deal with the “Igbo Question” in Nigeria? Perhaps, there is no “Igbo Question.” What we have is a “National/Nigeria Question” that is real and smouldering. It is time we took on this hydra-headed problem before it consumes us all.
Was there ever a country?
* Chido Onumah is a Nigerian/Canadian journalist, author, blogger and rights activist.
PAI is the lead organization documenting the harmful effects of the Global Gag Rule, an executive branch policy imposed by the Trump-Pence administration in January 2017. PAI has published several case studies on the policy and continues to provide guidance to overseas partners to help them navigate and mitigate the Global Gag Rule’s effects. PAI has just launched a comprehensive initiative to support strategic communications and media engagement in service of mitigating the effects of the Global Gag Rule outside of the United States. The Communications Consultant, Global Gag Rule Project (East Africa Region) would support these efforts.
The Communications Consultant, Global Gag Rule Project (East Africa Region) will serve as a regional media contact for PAI and a select group of partners in East Africa. The consultant will provide communications technical assistance to partners in the region, including media training and publications support. S/he will support partners in creating media strategies to increase high quality coverage of the impact of the Global Gag Rule in the region. S/he will coordinate activities with the Senior International Advocacy Associate, Global Gag Rule Project to disseminate resources on the Global Gag Rule and to connect regional partners and journalists.
o Monitor news and trends related to the Global Gag Rule. o Track media hits • Other duties as assigned
Compensation: Commensurate with experience
Please submit a cover letter, resume and writing sample to email@example.com
PAI is the lead organization documenting the harmful effects of the Global Gag Rule, an executive branch policy imposed by the Trump-Pence administration in January 2017. PAI has published several case studies on the policy and continues to provide guidance to overseas partners to help them navigate and mitigate the Global Gag Rule’s effects. PAI has just launched a comprehensive initiative to support strategic communications and media engagement in service of mitigating the effects of the Global Gag Rule outside of the United States. The Communications Consultant, Global Gag Rule Project (Asia) would support these efforts.
The Communications Consultant, Global Gag Rule Project (Asia) will serve as a regional media contact for PAI and a select group of partners in Asia. The consultant will provide communications technical assistance to partners in the region, including media training and publications support. S/he will support partners in creating media strategies to increase high quality coverage of the impact of the Global Gag Rule in the region. S/he will coordinate activities with the Senior International Advocacy Associate, Global Gag Rule Project to disseminate resources on the Global Gag Rule and to connect regional partners and journalists.
o Monitor news and trends related to the Global Gag Rule. o Track media hits • Other duties as assigned
Compensation: Commensurate with experience
Please submit a cover letter, resume and writing sample to firstname.lastname@example.org