Tunde Fagbenle: The sad cankerworm of ethnicity

by Tunde Fagbenle


The country is bogged down by this ethnic madness that now appears even worse than corruption in virulence and effect on national development. In a sense they go hand-in-hand, corruption itself being a child of ethnicity.

It is now an understatement that our country Nigeria is being torn apart by the virus of ethnicity. It has, particularly in the last few weeks, escalated to a near epidemic proportion with all manner of vitriol being traded, especially on the Internet, amongst the various ethnic groups, with the Igbo and the Yoruba in particular engaging in a combat of a mutually assured destruction kind.

Nothing could be sillier. Every word spoken by someone in one group is immediately splashed with ethnic mud by those in another group. Nothing makes sense anymore. The air is polluted with suspicion and hate in the mad struggle for one group to claim vain “superiority” over the other. You will wonder what the race(s) that have invented the motor car, the airplane, the Internet, the space-shuttle, gone to the moon, explored the sea, and achieved innumerable other conquests, should say of themselves!

The country is bogged down by this ethnic madness that now appears even worse than corruption in virulence and effect on national development. In a sense they go hand-in-hand, corruption itself being a child of ethnicity.

But an exchange of emails between me and one of my readers, one Dr. Garvey Ufot, who claims to be a lecturer in the Department of English at the Ekiti State University, has ruined what is left of hope in me, giving me much concern about the quality of mind of those to whom we entrust the education of our children; how they have turned our supposed citadels of learning into further breeding grounds of the ethnic cancer.

Garvey sent an over 2,200-word essay, a long opinionated treatise full of self-conceit and self-praise (Unlike a great many of my compatriots today, I have a great deal of respect for history, facts and logic. This is aided by the fact that good memory has always been my special forte. Yes, I easily recall events with uncanny clarity)scathingly castigating the (Southwest) Yoruba for being “anti-Jonathan”.

In the essay titled, “THE APC, THE SOUTH-WEST AND HYPOCRISY,” he began by asserting rightly that “President Jonathan’s ‘pan Nigerian’ mandate …was made possible by a broad coalition of 4 geopolitical zones, namely, North-Central (Middle Belt), South-West, South-East and South-South.” He anchored what he called BokoHaram North” “anti-Jonathan stance on their preference for Buhari. He then charged, “But what is astonishing and completely incomprehensible to me and thus CANNOT be ignored is that, of the four members of President Jonathan’s 2011 broad coalition, only the South-West today APPEARS to be opting out for reasons which are not very clearly articulated, and this is rather intriguing for historical reasons.”

Garvey then went into a long historical excursion of the present democratic experience. He wondered why when a “Senator called Arthur Nzeribe from Imo State (a very controversial man associated mostly with fraudulent, irresponsible and unprincipled causes) sought the impeachment of Obasanjo and most of the Muslim North, “already disenchanted with Obasanjo, endorsed Nzeribe’s action”, “the entire South-West, Nzeribe’s action elicited ferocious anger and condemnation.” And “No one was ready, rightly so, to even consider the merits or otherwise of Nzeribe’s allegations against Obasanjo.Instead, it was condemnation and threats galore for Senator Arthur Nzeribe of the ANPP from all the AD Governors and their supporters over a matter involving President Obasanjo of the PDP.”

He continued, “Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State, who is now hobnobbing with the arch-enemy of the South West, Muhammadu Buhari, went so far as to declare Nzeribe persona non grata in Lagos State and the entire South-West, and warned him not to step into the South-West of Nigeria. Even social activists like Wole Soyinka and Femi Falana joined in condemning Nzeribe. The question was and still is: Why would the South-West who had roundly rejected Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP for Olu Falae of the AD/APP in 1999 turn around to threaten fire and brimstone against Nzeribe over a man they had rejected?”

Furthermore, Garvey recounted the many atrocities against democracy by Obasanjo, cited the instances of Ghali Na’Abba, Chuba Okadigbo, Ken Nnamani, etc legislators that had opposed Obasanjo’s anti-democratic shenanigans to their ouster. Reading obvious blind tribalism Garvey asked,  “Did anyone in the South-West applaud these men for opposing Obasanjo then the way the ACN/APC are applauding Amaechi’s, Tambuwal’s and some Northern Governors’ opposition to Jonathan now?” Rather, he added, “Obasanjo won his second term in 2003 with ease with the entire South-West voting massively for him.”

Pursuing his grand ethnic conspiracy theory further, he wrote: “Today, many people in Yorubaland are hurling insults at Jonathan and his wife, criticising them blindly and falsely, fabricating allegations against the President, even calling for a coup d’etat against Jonathan’s government and generally attempting to create a non-existent atmosphere of rancour in order to encourage the military to intervene, all for no clear reasons.”

Garvey went listing what he considered as Jonathan’s achievements in two years that has far surpassed Obasanjo’s in eight years, and added that Jonathan “deserves the support and encouragement of all, not in elegant posturing, insults and ‘etainu’ (bad belle) which obviously proceed from nothing but TRIBAL MOTIVES (caps mine).”

I thought I could try reason with Garvey and make a point or two, not in any ethnic defence but hoping that he would be the academic he claims. And I replied him thus:

“Well, well, well.

“Two things:

“1. Issues should be viewed and analysed within the context and mood of the time.

“2. History, I believe, would show that the Yoruba were, overall, the most vocal and harsh critic of Obasanjo, prior, during, and after being the president. The examples abound, including: him losing even in his own ward; WS’s strong opposition to Obasanjo’s UN Secretary-General’s ambition; and all manner of abusive and insulting vitriol on him, of which I count amongst the many.  Nevertheless, there were times when the mood favoured Obasanjo indeed, which helped in his 2003 victory. But that was only briefly. And not any different from the vanguard role the SW played in getting Jonathan there against all Northern opposition and shenanigan.

“Much was expected from Jonathan for many reasons – young, PhD holder, etc – not for SW but for Nigeria. The rot, corruption, and (again) cluelessness that go on are too disappointing for words.

“We should stop all this ridiculous ethnic-card game. I am sick and tired of it. I still remain one of Obasanjo’s harshest critics. We must always remember that everything has its own context.

“Thank you, anyway.” TF

Garvey Ufot’s response to this was an off tangent long piece abusing me for alluding in my column to Gen. Buhari as being “one person whose anti-corruption stance most Nigerians can swear by,” even though I had in the same breath pointedly said Buhari is neither “youthful” nor “visionary” and it would be in the interest of the APC for him to “yield places to those young and vibrant ones within the rank and file of the party.”

Nothing but an unqualified support for Jonathan would mollify Garvey. Anyone who is from the SW that is not for Jonathan’s second term has “tribally motivated antipathy towards President Jonathan.”

I wish I had more space to reproduce all that transpired between Garvey and I. But my last word for Garvey was:

“If you can speak to me so rudely, as you have done; And you can speak of yourself so vauntingly, as you have done; Then you have my sympathy.” TF



Republished with the permission of the author.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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