By Sen Babafemi Ojudu
I woke up this morning to read a piece written by my friend and brother, Demola Adegbamigb on the social relations between the Igbos and our Ado Ekiti people in the 1960s and 1970s.
It is a touching piece of history and prose. A piece that should make us reflect on the needlessness of the ethnic acrimony brought about by the last presidential election. Personally, I have related perfectly with Igbos since my adolescence. My playmate, as an urchin were Igbos and my best friend in the university , Austin Onuoha , is Igbo. We remain friends till today. I have had wonderful relationships with Igbos all my life.
I was however rudely shocked when, after the helicopter crash in Kaaba, people forwarded to me postings on Facebook by our Eastern brothers and sisters, who regretted I, Vice President Osinbajo, and other occupants did not perish. I was taken aback and could hardly understand that.
I am, however, knowledgeable and experienced enough to know that there are bad people everywhere, as there are good people . I also know that there are some of my own townsmen also who would have harbored sentiments of joy, had I died in that crash and could have secretly celebrated with the words “alakori omo ti lo.”
I know of someone who God placed in a position to be appreciative, and who has immensely benefitted from my huge heartedness who, days after the crash, refused to greet me at a public function and gave me a look of ‘why didn’t you die.’
No matter where you hail from, some will love you and some will hate you. That is human nature. You can only be loved by everyone when you have not dared. As my father will say, “if people do not speak of you, either positively or negatively, then you are non-existent and have not achieved anything.
Acrimony is not the subject of this piece, but this just goes to show how politics can move people to the extreme of wishing death on their fellow humans.
We should however be careful of what we wish for, as two of my grandchildren are Igbos, while my younger brother, Tayo, is married to an Igbo lady, with four beautiful children we are proud of. If I had perished in that crash, it would have caused misery to, both, my Igbo and Yoruba relatives.
Before Tayo went on to marry his Igbo wife, Angela, my father gave approval to it without reservation. I remember that occasion vividly now, as he took me on a historical tour of Igbo settlers in Ado Ekiti, and their relationships with the locals.
Much of that story is retold in Demola’s piece, which I read this morning. I am from a very liberal family, just as many Yoruba families are. My late mom, Mama Gani, was a redeemer till she died, while my dad was a staunch Muslim. At mom’s wake-keeping, both the Christian and Muslim communities sat side by side and recounted how much of a decent woman she was. When my sister Funke , got married, she insisted on having a Christian marriage . I was in detention then, under Abacha’s regime. My father, in spite of being Muslim, followed her to the church and led her to the alter. Growing up, we celebrated the festivals of Islam and Christianity, by fraternizing and having great fun with our neighbors, despite their religion or origin. As little urchins, members of Scripture Union used to pick up to Sunday school . The allure then, as young minds, was the anticipation of drinking Fanta and Mirinda, which was served at the end of the teachings.
It didn’t stop us from making our choices when we became adults.
We grew up knowing ethnic and religious harmony. Those were legacies left for us by our parents. We must not let them escape from our hearts.
My people of Ado Ekiti were exceptional in their relationship with the Igbos, as well as people of other cultural backgrounds. The Urhobos managed our farms and delivered palm oil to my grand parents in return for being tenants. And they enjoyed a harmonious relationship up until the end of their days.
Okoli, as simply known , was and is still a big player in the commercial business of my town and state. When the civil war broke out, the entire town went into a mournful mood because Okoli had to close his business and return to the East with his entire family, many of whom were our friends and playmates in the Ojumose area of the town.
What Demola didn’t know and did not feature in his piece is that the locals were not only pained that Okoli had to leave, they actually took part in all efforts to conceal his whereabouts and ensure his safety. He was loved by the entire community. Following the blitzkrieg of negative propaganda, he finally had no choice, but to leave. I was informed by my father how he and people of the community made representation to the Kabiyesi about Okoli and his wares. The Kabiyesi made available a room in the palace and Okoli was assisted in packing his non perishable wares and moving them to the palace where they were kept till the end of the war. He came back, took possession of his wares, and he and his large family continue to flourish in Ado Ekiti. All his children were born and raised in Ado and they all speak my dialect better than some of the indigenes. Today, there is a proliferation of Okoli shops all over town. They have spread out. Ironically, the polling station where I voted, in this recent election, was in front of one of the ubiquitous Okoli stores.
Such was the spirit then. Demola, do you know that until recently, when former Gov. Ayo Fayose ( no one is totally bad after all ) built a function hall at a section of the palace in Ado Ekiti, the section hosted largely, sojourners from the northern part of the country. They came in, took accommodation there, and were fed and catered to, by the Kabiyesi. Often they were the poorest of the poorest. Some were blind and disabled, yet the king found a good neighbor in them.
I am yet to find out what prompted the policy, as it went on through the reign of three rulers I have grown up to witness . It wasn’t until recently, when the palace experienced modernization, that their abode within the palace was demolished.
Currently, my grandparent’s home in Ereguru is occupied by Igbos and I don’t believe they are being asked to pay rent. The stretch of road from Okesha through Ojumose to Ereguru, all the way to the palace, which could be referred to as our ‘high street’, is occupied by our trader brothers from the east. We are happy about it , appreciative of their contributions, and have always shown and demonstrated our love.
When I was in the Senate, I regularly had a dialogue with the Igbo community leaders in Ekiti, and once hosted them in Abuja. I was, however, taken aback when right in my presence, they boasted to one of my colleagues that without their support no one could win elections in Ekiti. I felt that to be very disparaging.
As I said earlier, I have two grandchildren who are Igbos. I have four nieces and nephews who have Igbo decent. I was amused one day when one of my nephews, at eight years of age, pulled me aside and asked, “ Uncle, between playing football and music, which one is more financially rewarding?” At that point I knew the Ekiti DNA has conjoined with the Igbo DNA. So do not be surprised when, in future, you find an Ojudu in pursuit of financial success, as opposed to academics and activism, which we are known for in Ekiti. Such is life!
I love my son in-law, Ugo, so much that I sometimes forget he is not my younger brother and that I didn’t give birth to him. In disagreements with my daughter, I often find myself picking sides with him.
North , West , or East, we must reestablish love amongst our people. The evil propaganda needs to cease. We should stop encouraging hatred.
Mutual love and respect is what we should demand., not exclusion, not abuses, not war , not wishing death on others.
I’m grateful to God that our president, in his acceptance speech, talked about love and cohabitation; be you Igbo, Yoruba, Bachama, Urhobo, Ebira or Hausa, Christian or Muslim. He also promised inclusive government. President Buhari is not a flippant man. Whatever he promises he makes sure he delivers on. That, I think, is a path to peace and unity. Another election will soon be here, and the opportunity to rule will be open to all.