By ’Tunji Ajibade
Recently, I came across a title online that caught my attention and I moved in to read the first few lines. There were words in support of the position taken on Yoruba history by an elder, Alagba Yemi Elebuibon, whose incredible creativity in his Ewi poetry I appreciate so much. So, when I saw something written about him, I was eager to read on. But comments about Elebuibon ended as quickly as it began and something else followed.
My first reaction to this change in content was that one of the younger generations of Nigerians harbouring narrow-minded ethnic views was at it again. Each sentence screams and it becomes louder as I read on, making me get the impression that there’s an ongoing tribal war. Who are the targets of this? The Fulani ethnic group. I would have stopped reading immediately except for the thought that there might be more references to Elebuibon. The article was the concluding part of a piece that began talking about the proper name for the Yoruba, but ended with comments attacking the Fulani (The PUNCH, November 5, 2019). I finished reading before I checked the name of the writer. It’s a former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode.
For long I kept wondering how a former minister, someone who had been at the level where duty required him to treat all Nigerians as one, commented so negatively about an ethnic group. The regular reader of this page already knows my disposition regarding ethnic-related issues. When some religious leaders in the north were demonising the political leadership and presenting the Fulani as devils not long ago, I stated that it was unbecoming of them. In any case, the founder of their religion didn’t give them such a mission, and it’s baffling that they have hate to express for members of ethnic groups that their calling requires them to regard as potential members of their congregation.
As I always state – no tribe is perfect and none is totally evil. This thing is a matter of relations. If you maintain good relations with members of any ethnic group, you get to see the best out of them. I don’t know what Fani-Kayode has experienced, but I put his kind of comment about the Fulani down to the following. One, most southerners who have negative views of northerners have neither lived nor related with northerners in their northern locality. I have. I show myself friendly and I receive real friendship in return. The other set of people who harbour hate against the Fulani or northerners in general are those who depend on the prejudices they read in the media, especially in the social media.
One senior clergy said to his congregants the other time that they should beware of the kind of news materials they consumed. He said since 2000, he had been receiving in his email disturbing pictures and comments basically talking about ‘killing of Christians in the North’. He said 20 years down the line, exactly the same set of pictures was still being sent screaming, ‘killing of Christians in the North’. Members of the ethnic groups who reinforce this narrative know how to use the media to their advantage. The impression created is that one ethnic group permanently chases some weaker ethnic groups around in the north with the intention to kill them. This is where most southerners get their impression of ethnic relations in the north.
The third set includes southerners who rely on what they called history. Fani-Kayode made references to history of enmity between the Yoruba and Fulani relations. Yes, there were Yoruba-Fulani conflicts in the 19th century in the course of the Jihad. But for centuries before the Jihad, both sides had related fine, and they maintained good relations after the conflicts stopped. Before the end of the 19th century, the Alaafin of Oyo and the Fulani ruler in Ilorin were already exchanging gifts (Rev. Johnson’s ‘History of the Yoruba’). My uncle and father, Kabiyesi, Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, recently affirmed the friendly relations between the Oyo people and the Fulani and I quoted him on this page. While the Alaafin of Oyo chooses to let the past be, Fani-Kayode and some southerners like him unceasingly cite past altercations as a basis to bash the Fulani.
My conclusion is that when southerners like Fani-Kayode bash northerners as a whole, their hate is sometimes a manifestation of the brushes they’ve had with the northern elite, not ordinary northerners. Also, the like or dislike one feels for an entire tribe may sometimes be influenced by the treatment one gets from one or two members of the tribe. So, if one member treats you fine, you are likely to like their tribe, and if one member treats you badly, you dislike their tribe. But many southerners even dislike northerners without ever having had personal relationship with them, good or bad. I notice this because many southerners who have lived in the north and who have experienced the goodness that a northerner has in him speak highly of northerners to me. I used to think I was the only southerner who had anything positive to say about northerners until I met Nigerians (from the South-South, South-East, and South-West) who shared my view.
On the other hand, one northerner who has placed his view about southerners in the public record is the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai. He wrote in his book, ‘The Accidental Public Servant’, that more southerners had helped him along in life as a young person than northerners. His experience is exactly like mine. Years ago, I stayed back in the town where I did my NYSC programme in the north. A friend to a traditionalist that I was close to was offered appointment by his state governor. He said he learnt that I wanted to stay in their town and for that reason I should come and see him, promising to get me a job. At about the same time, I sat discussing with a friend of mine who had just started his private business (now he’s a top politician). Suddenly, he said, “Tunji, since you want to stay, what business do you want to do and how much should I give you to start it?” When a state university was established in the same town sometimes later, another influential indigene said if I wanted to lecture in the university, I should bring my CV. A few years later this same person was appointed as Commissioner and offered me appointment as an aide. All the people involved are Fulani.
How many northerners should I count who, after my briefest contact with them, say, “Tunji, I’ll like to work with you?” There’re many northerners who show me kindness but whose names I cannot mention here. Nonetheless, I can’t resist the temptation to mention the current Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Prof. Ibrahim Garba. He was on an inspection tour of the Main Library of the institution one day (at the time I was running my Ph.D programme) when he saw me. He took me by the hand (he knew me before) as he proceeded on his official tour. As we went to different parts of the library, he asked me to organise a programme through my NGO in collaboration with the institution. Garba doesn’t harbour ethnic hate against a fellow Nigerian as Oga Fani-Kayode does. Until I completed my academic programme, whenever Garba saw me at an event on the campus, he would say, “Tunji, why, you don’t come to see me.”
With northerners like Garba, how can I be on the same page with southerners who bad-mouth northerners as has been the practice for decades? If anyone bases their hate for tribe other than theirs on a bad deed, my response is that a few persons’ bad deed isn’t enough reason to demonise an entire tribe, and in any case there’s no tribe without a few elements who misbehave. Fani-Kayode and others like him may continue to express hate for tribes other than theirs. Those of us who have different experiences won’t stop pointing out the goodness in every human being for the sake of unity and peace among our peoples.