NewsReel 30/9/13 - Fani-Kayode on Deportation: Enough Is Enough

 [ Masterweb Reports: Dipo Salimonu reports ] –  The story has been told often enough and is now old: A response from Chief Orji Uzor Kalu to the recent forced removal of some Nigerians from one part of their country to another vexed and caused Chief Femi Fani Kayode to write a series of essays, one of which he termed, ‘The Bitter Truth about the Igbos’.


That the response was from his ‘friend and brother’ and was merely to aver that Lagos belonged to no one would appear to warrant nothing more than a private telephone call between the two men. Instead we got a tribal fire-fight after Fani Kayode’s essays squared ‘the Yorubas’ off against ‘the Igbos’.


I am reluctant to enter a conversation uninvited especially one I feel has exceeded certain boundaries of propriety. But I simply cannot remain silent at this treatment meted out to what FK repeatedly as ‘the Igbos. With that term, oft repeated in his essay he has taken millions of his compatriots and mine, millions of people from every imaginable walk of life, wherever in the world they may live, or whatever relationship or association they may have with the statements and assumptions made in the essay, irrespective of whatever else may define them as human beings, and collecting them together as a unit, tongue-lashed them, as though with a ‘koboko.’


Estimates are that there are now 171 million Nigerians. About a fifth of these are Igbo. Thus, Fani Kayode’s essay and its ‘the Igbos’ can have as its ambition no less than to encompass the entire 30 million or so of them alive in Nigeria and across the world. And with the historical ambit described therein he seems to have included their forebears also. This is a violation, of stupendous and unacceptable proportions, of the uniqueness and individuality of each human being and the dignity inherent thereof. That dignity, the according of which to each, is the first law of humanity, after only which justice now becomes relevant or necessary.


I will seek to speak here more about ideas than about people or events. Not for Eleanor Roosevelt’s maxim “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” I have read and heard great minds hold forth and I am quite comfortable with the realization that I am not one. Rather, it is because I have innumerable times in my life arrived at and held firm conclusions about people and events that I subsequently found out were wrong or severely limited. Anyone can read a history book, or write one, even, and I want to be careful with things about which I do not have perfect or complete knowledge. As the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart once said, “the hand that will write the true thing must first learn to erase”.


But first to some points from the essay: If even they were substantiated, comments made by one man representing Enugu at some council or the other in 1945 cannot be held as evidence that a “they” (the Igbos’) were “the ones that FIRST (emphasis his) introduced tribalism into southern politics”. The verbal lathe that turns a ‘they’ out of the actions of one man is a dehumanizing one and deserves to be abandoned. It robs the humanity of every Igbo person other than the supposed speaker of those words to pay for the convenience of a point.


And in the same vein, the ‘Igbo people’ never carried out a failed coup, as is asserted in the essay, referring to the first coup of January, 1966. The coup plotters were not delegated to do so by the wider community. And an ‘Igbo Coup’ as Fani Kayode refers, would have required millions of more participants’ names than the 25 names listed in the essay.


There are many more generalizations and scapegoating in the essay but my purpose here is not to debate Fani Kayode’s essay. It is simply to condemn the widespread practice of taking a community of Nigerians and excoriating or insulting them as a group for actions which they are not to a person culpable of. Or the practice in which behaviour or traits of one sort or another are ascribed to entire communities or groups. That it is convenient to do so does not make it right.


All societies are unique but I submit that the nature and degree of diversity and plurality that exists in our Nigerian society is without precedent or equal: Nigeria is the biggest society in the world and in the history of mankind that has an equal number of Moslems and Christians. Papua New Guinea ’s 830 languages make that country arguably the most diverse on earth, but they are spoken by just 7 million people. India , with its teeming cultural diversity and its more than 1 billion people speak 438 languages. Nigerians, with our 515 languages spoken by 171 million citizens easily ranks our society the highest in the world on a plurality- diversity matrix. No country in the world with more people speaks as many languages.


With this complexity and diversity come a great requirement of care and reasonableness in the way we talk to, relate with and refer to one another, especially in public spaces. A care and discipline greater even than practised in other countries. Rather than being a reason for strife, our diversity is a greater imperative to work harder to stay aligned. Along with wisdom, we have to acquire and evince not only the unity with which to manage our diversity, but the maturity also.


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