Nigeria: Fani-Kayode: The bitter truth about a bitter man
Mr. Femi Fani Kayode’s sequel, “The bitter truth about the Igbo”, which appeared as a three-series article in The PUNCH earlier this week, did not disappoint in the least. We must remind ourselves that this article is part of Fani-Kayode’s efforts to prove that Lagos is Yoruba and that any claims to it by any other indigenous group is spurious. Part of his method was to trivialise the contributions of any other group to the development of Lagos, preferring to ascribe this development largely to the genius of the Yoruba. In an earlier response, I had sought to show that Fani-Kayode’s efforts in that direction were not successful. I showed that his claims and argument were neither grounded in history nor in economics, and that it was indeed so easy to puncture those claims.
The problem with Fani-Kayode’s concluding article on this issue is that it runs out of ideas and abandons the issue under review after the fourth paragraph and only returns to it in the last four paragraphs of the article. The contents of paragraph 5 (paragraph 5 begins “That single comment, made in that explosive and historic speech…”) up to the end of paragraph 13 are hardly relevant to the issue under discussion. Let us remind us what the main issue is using Fani-Kayode’s own words:
“Permit me to make my second and final contribution to the raging debate about Lagos, who owns it and the seemingly endless tensions that exist between the Igbo and the Yoruba. It is amazing how one or two of the numerous nationalities that make up Nigeria secretly wish that they were Yoruba and consistently lay claim to Lagos as being partly theirs.”
How relevant then is the diversion to the political history of the National Convention for Nigerians and the Cameroons, the 1966 coup, the Ironsi regime, the pogrom, the civil war to this issue of who owns Lagos and who has contributed to its development write-up? How does this advance the debate? How does this elucidate the key issues under discussion? I doubt very much that they do. What they certainly succeed in doing however is to rouse emotions, enflame tempers, to whip up sentiments. Even here, Fani-Kayode’s use of history is suspect, since his historiography is very selective. If anything, however, in the deployment of this elective historiography, he comes across as an apologist for the killings of the Igbo in the north and as an ethnic-driven revanchist historian out to even out scores with an imagined enemy. Revanchist and ethnicity-sodden historiography are poor and demeaning pursuits as the prisms of bitterness, revenge and ethnicity which come with them soon trap the historian, blur his vision, dull his criticality and destroy his objectivity and capacity for detached interpretation. The “history” we are thus presented in paragraphs 5 to 13 is replete with instances of these.
In succumbing to the appeals of this type of historiography, even if he was doing this as part of his ongoing efforts at rehabilitation with a view to regaining entry to his “tribe’s” confidence, Fani-Kayode does himself and his country a great disservice. He does himself a disservice because he ends up with an article where more than 55 per cent of its contents (55 per cent again!) are of doubtful relevance to his declared purpose. And because he fails to identify what is relevant and what is not, he ends up saddling his article with major problems of cohesion and coherence. He does his country a disservice because he presents a history of a difficult part of her history that is deliberately flawed and skewed by his selective use of sources and by his uncritical interpretation of events and casting of persons – Ironsi is a coup plotter, Igbo indiscretion was responsible for the pogrom unleashed on them in the North, the Igbo provoked the civil war – all of which are examples of a flight from intellectual rigour, mono-causal analysis, faulty attribution and one dimensional thinking, and all very painful, pernicious and debilitating ailments in persons they afflict. It bears repeating that good historiography is about balanced sources. To rely on sources that only support the case one is pushing pushes one away from doing history on to the slippery slopes of ethnic jingoism, “clan hagiography” and propagandising of the cheapest sort. This is what has happened in this article, and it is indeed a tragedy for Fani-Kayode. I believe that this tragedy has arisen less from a fundamental lack of intelligence on his part but more from his allowing himself and his mind to be shackled and blinkered by bitterness.
Fani-Kayode sets out hoping to write “the bitter truth” about one ethnic group and ends up clumsily splaying the reality and truth of his own bitterness in public for an amused world to behold and laugh at. As he navigates this current discomfort he has created for himself, he once again deserves our compassion and not our condemnation.
•Dr. Ihebuzor is a development specialist based in Tanzania