I don't know if you have been following the articles written by one-time Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, on the issues arising from the 'deportation' of some Igbo people from Lagos. What is your reaction to them?
I have no reason to quarrel with Fani-Kayode. There is a price for success. The Jews all over the world, even among their fellow Arabs, are symbols of success. That is how the Igbo are. In my address at the Ohajioku Lecture in Owerri, I told my people; the Igbo people that this is the time to make friends with other Nigerians. I tried to explain to my people, why some people resent them and are jealous of them, and what we have to do to counter that. Typically, an Igbo comes to a place like Lagos for example with an almost empty bag. He starts with a kind of menial job. After some time, he puts a kiosk somewhere, and in not too long a time, he builds a mansion and stays in front of his mansion exuding apparently more confidence than the original owners of the land. What do you think the original owners of the land will do? How would they feel? They will feel resentment. I tell my people, 'look they are not resenting you, but they are comparing you with themselves. They get annoyed with you and start being jealous of you. If in addition to your success, you talk about your achievements with pride, like a typical Anambra man will do, that will make the host community even more resentful and jealous.' What I'm saying is that Fani-Kayode has not done anything fundamental. All he has said is that the Igbo, who come to a bush and convert it to a town; the Igbo who build everywhere and develop everywhere are resented for their success by him and others. I think Igbo people must recognise this. I believe what we can do, which we have not been doing well enough is to put back what we make into fruitful philanthropic. For example, we shouldn't have allowed the development of Almajiri in the North, as we trained our children, we should have taken those children from the streets and trained them. We have tried to do this, but we will see where we can make amendments in a society like this.
He also wrote about how the Yoruba have made sacrifices for Igbo people, saying the Igbo have not made sacrifices for the Yoruba or any other ethnic group.
What are we talking about? Did anyone in Yorubaland fight harder for Nigeria than I did? At the beginning of the democratic dispensation, I gave up the politics of the Peoples Democratic Party, where things were, and went for Alliance for Democracy. I knew what I was doing. I didn't want the Igbo and the Yoruba to be on parallel lines in Nigeria. I also did it because the injustice against MKO Abiola was very bad. I take no offence with whatever Fani-Kayode has written. Sacrifice is mutual. When people find themselves in a position to help, they are obligated to do so. For example during the Civil War, Yoruba people collected rent on houses belonging to Igbo people. Has there been any Yoruba man who left Igboland and came back and couldn't find his house? Do the Yoruba have abandoned property issues in the South-East? How many of them build houses outside Yorubaland? Go to Abuja, maybe 65 to 70 per cent of the houses there are owned by the Igbo. They came and opened it up. If you say we don't make sacrifices for others, what sacrifice is more than leaving your place and developing another person's land. I'm not challenging the opinion of Fani-Kayode, whose father was a friend to some prominent Igbo leaders. We, the Igbo, believe that where a person lives, is the place he must develop.
Fani-Kayode pointed out in one of his articles, how Igbo leaders, including late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, made statements about the Igbo's plan to dominate Africa. Don't you think this superiority complex put the Igbo on the wrong side of peaceful coexistence?
The Igbo have no superiority mentality, we only have an achievement orientation. Somebody once wrote that the Igbo are a group of people for whom the white man feels inferiority complex. The colonial masters felt inferior to the Igbo people; that tells you the nature of the Igbo. Remember the slave trade. Who were the most difficult people to manage? Instead of going to become slaves, some of them (the Igbo) would rather commit suicide by jumping out of the ship. For an Igbo man, what will he do with life if he does not achieve certain things? It is not superiority feeling; in fact it is inferiority feeling because we keep striving to make money to compete, not with the Yoruba, not with the Hausa, but with ourselves. If you see an Igbo working hard, he is not targeting to outdo anybody from another ethnic group; rather he is competing with his own kinsman, another person from his village, not outsiders.
What is your reaction to the 'deportation' of some Igbo people from Lagos to Onitsha and what it means considering the relationship between the Yoruba and the Igbo?
Nothing will harm that relationship. One person's mistake cannot be generalised. There is no Yoruba-Igbo conflict resulting from the illegal, detestable and obnoxious action of deporting some people from Lagos. It will not cause any long-term problem. The long-term problem that existed, some of us have worked very hard to solve it. We are everywhere, and if anybody thinks we have not contributed enough to developing all parts of Nigeria, the person is wasting his time. It is our nature, we were born that way. We are not competing with anybody but ourselves back in the villages. There is no superiority complex except in competition with your village man, especially in ones age group and other people near you.
What is your view of how Fani-Kayode has carried on with expressing his opinion on this issue?
I like the way Fani-Kayode has opened up. Some people bottle up these things and do not allow people know what they are thinking and that is worse. When you open up, people will give you replies and through these replies, you will see the pitfalls in your thoughts. You will be corrected and you move on. I know people are fond of controversy. We need to apply intellect to every situation and we can find a better answer instead of fighting because somebody has called you names.
Culled from The Punch