HANDSHAKE ACROSS THE NIGER: Igbo, Yoruba can do much for Nigeria — Chris Anyanwu

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AWARD winning broadcast journalist turned media entrepreneur and politician, Senator Chris Anyanwu was at last Thursday’s summit of Yoruba and Igbo leaders in Enugu, themed, Handshake Across The Niger.
In this interview she reviews the meeting and asserts the need for more of such collaborations for Nigeria to realise its potentials. Excerpts:


By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor

Did the meeting realise its objective?

Yes, it surpassed its objectives. I didn’t expect to have the kind of level of attendance, the quality of attendance and also as one that has observed Nigeria for a while; I saw something very refreshing. It was like the opening of the heart, people who came there came with an open heart. It looked like people were genuine in their handshake, in their attempt to reach out to the other.

Some saw it as an ethnic gang-up.

That is pessimism. There are people who will always see something negative in everything that people do, always looking at motives and all that. I don’t care about motives, I don’t read people’s hearts, what I concentrate on is desire, if these two people who had not been really having genuine talks, had not been relating well and because of that it has not been well for Nigeria, if relationships could be ironed out and they can relate genuinely and honestly; then people can live and let live, then people can come together to do positive things, it will benefit Nigeria. Why would Nigeria not benefit?

What is the purpose of ethnic gang-up? To do what? That is looking at it from the destructive view point, but I am looking at the positive side of it.

Why did you choose the Yoruba and not the Hausa-Fulani?

Our governors have been talking, but the Igbo and the Yoruba have not had any formal talks. And I think it is time for the people themselves to talk and that is what happened, to bring the people from both sides to sit down and talk because this had never happened before because of history and misunderstandings. A lot of things that happened in the past and all that. Even the Aguiyi-Ironis – Fajuyi incident, people did not understand it in the correct sense, did not see the heroism and patriotism of Fajuyi; all that was misunderstood, and because of that it did shape the kind of relationship between the two.

So, we think that it is time to begin to talk and begin to see ways the two can work together for the good of the nation. If these two formidable blocs should come together and work for the good of this nation, Nigeria will be better for it. Other groups and minorities are looking for leadership.

As for the North; yes we have talked with the South-South, we have talked with the Southwest, and later, maybe we will go and talk with the North. If we encourage all parts of the country, all blocs to talk with their neighbours, if there were better conversations happening between let’s say the Middle Belt and their neighbours, maybe we would not be having the bloodbath that is going on now.

It is a positive example that others should take up and run with.

The Northwest should talk with Northeast, and if they feel like talking with people in the South, they should do so and on and on it goes.

No nation can survive with unending trouble. Look at how they are doing. Human life has been devalued in Nigeria; life doesn’t mean a thing. I think this will help if people begin to talk and try to understand each other instead of sitting down in one corner and building suspicion and building all kinds of imaginations and reasons why people did this or did that.

So what positive things have you taken away from this meeting?

Do you know that there are a lot of people in the Southwest who had never stepped in the Southeast? The people of the Southeast had their fears as well. We are beginning to break down those fears, those fears that cause distrust and bad relations and to begin to feel that those things that hold us together are far more than the things that put us apart.

Now people are coming up with all sorts of studies and that there are some connections between the Yoruba and the Igbo. We don’t know how far it will go and maybe people they will say we are from the same gene pool and we have been killing each other these many years! This is the beginning of what can be.

The president of Ohanaeze has opened the door and said look, ‘my brothers come and invest here in the Southeast.’

Who says that they don’t let anybody in? The doors are wide open, you are welcome, come and invest here just as we invest in your part of the country.

Some of these ideas years back were unthinkable, but we are joined in one long chain of humanity, and we can work together. You can go there. Fajuyi’s daughter went and visited the place where she was born. It is the beginning of something positive. There are a lot of positive things that can come from it.

There was a conspicuous absence of political office holders especially governors.

This was not planned as a political event. What I saw was a fantastically well coordinated, well-attended event. It was a people’s event, and it was meant to reach the people, ordinary people. The political class was just to dignify the event.

If the governor of Ebonyi who is the leader of the Southeast governors decided to boycott it, he had his reasons because he was quickly involved. A delegation was sent to him earlier on what it was about, he requested for some information and later when they gave it to him, he now resorted to excuses that it was late and all that.

I still don’t think that was the way to approach it. Our governors must know that they are elected by the people. I think that they should be more circumspect in how they respond to this situation.

This is the second time that they are doing things like this and I don’t think that it augurs well.

I know that there must have been some pressures from somewhere, but then we understand that political survival is important especially in an election year.

We understand that, and we don’t hold it against them as such, but I didn’t think that it was necessary to make a big splash about it in the media. It is unnecessary. The others sent their deputy governors, and that was acceptable.

So, how do you think such collaborations would help in addressing the national question?

It is going to help break down the resistance, the ossified negative feeling between groups and groups.

In recent years, everybody has been pulling back to their villages; it is my village versus your village, my town versus your town, your tribe versus my tribe.

That is retrogression; we are not making progress, we are going back, we are disgracing our founding fathers. By now, we should have taken Nigeria light years ahead; the world is moving fast, leaving us behind, into our tribes. It is disgraceful; such discussions will help breakdown the negative feelings and begin to melt down those feelings and begin the journey towards moulding a nation.

But if we continue the way we are and the insularity is leading to a point where we don’t even feel that our neighbours should have their lives…it is not going to lead us anywhere. The only way out is for people to begin to sit down in small networks and keep talking and ironing out their differences, that is the way to go.

Are you likely to approach the government in Abuja on the issues raised from your meeting?

Well, I can’t say because truly I am not the flag bearer of the project. They will meet and talk about how to take it forward, but I am sure of that at some point.

Where is the handshake going on from here?

There are many handshakes that are going to be taking place on different levels.

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