In the last two months, I had visited South East twice in quick succession to bear witness, first hand, to inter – ethnic marital solemnization. The first one was in Imo State while the second one was in Aba. Honestly, in terms of the warm hospitality, I am at a crossroads as to determine which one was the best. And I don’t mean from the Chief host per se but the people generally. Relevant to this piece was an event that occurred in Owerri at Naze junction, also known as Poly Junction while returning from Aba, the venue of the wedding. I had indulged myself with few bottles of can drinks at the reception, and I did not overstep my bounds, but somehow, perhaps being a long time that I took beers, my exclusive passage was over efficient.
At interval, I was urinating. On getting to the said Naze Junction, before mounting a bike that will take me to my hotel, I sought refuge behind a stand – alone big tree to unburden my bowel. A passer – by alerted and alarmed me to the looming danger of urinating at the spot, but I didn’t understand because he was speaking in Igbo thinking I was one of the natives because of my dress. I had barely finished the business when I started hearing loud voices behind me calling my attention. Sensing no harm, I turned back calmly, wow! The look frightened me. I needed no interpreter or soothsayer to know that I was in for a big trouble. One spirit said I should take to my heels, the other spirit cautioned me and reminded me that I was light legged, courtesy of the substance.
I succumbed to the latter and walked briskly towards them. There were four of them, neatly clad and wearing hostile faces. It was then I realised I had desecrated an army barrack. They bombarded me with queries simultaneously, remorsefully, I interjected them and told them that I was a first time visitor in that neighborhood and I didn’t know…
The only Igbo among them cut in, and said in pidgin; where you come from ? I said from Lagos, I added sir to it. “You be Yoruba?” he enquired. And I answered, “Yes.” To my chagrin, he asked me to go. In his own words ” Den be decent people, make in dey comot”. ( If I lied may God punish me).
I thanked them and slowly but hastily walked away with fear and trembling. But between you and me, there was nothing decent in urinating by the roadside. The soldier must have based his verdict or his opinions about the Yoruba as a people.
Now, based on the foregoing, juxtapose the soldier’s attitude with the grossly provocative insults of that Vanguard journalist. They are both Igbo. The presumption is that a high ranking journalist will be more civil and courteous in words and deeds than a recruit in Nigerian Army. If anybody had told me it is a rebuttable presumption, I would have argued it vehemently.
Clearly, there is one important lesson here; what defines you is not necessarily your profession nor education nor title but largely, family values. Those things we use as a yardstick most times are more of myth than reality. I have seen an irreligious person with only one car making same available for his friends to learn driving for days, while a very religious guy with three cars cannot spare one to be used for Registry. A one-day exercise.
That journalist, let’s be frank, must have been propagating ills about other ethnic groups to his children and would – be mentees; hence, the assertion in public. It was a time bomb that got exploded.
I know, incontrovertibly, that there is mutual suspicion, intimate hostility and cordial acrimony between and among different ethnic groups in Nigeria. Amidst it, however, we are managing the fragile oneness to prevent affliction from rising again. I applauded the belated posthumous recognition of June 12. Arguing that with such precedence, it is a matter of time when the referendum we have been skedaddling will be conveyed and the Biafra question will be interrogated whether to be or not to be.
Ideally, a trained journalist should be at the vanguard of preaching peace, and ensuring with the use of his pen and intellect; unity in diversity. Sadly, our man in Vanguard thought otherwise.
I urge him when the dust settles on this self destructive mission to pay special and diligent attention to the number one instruction in the Ten Fundamentals to Change The World as sagely formulated by Mahatma Ghandi; Change Yourself. There is no logic in being cerebral in bigotry!
God bless Nigeria.
Idowu Awopeju is a Lagos based lawyer.