Before the Igbo came into the Nigerian political scene, the Yoruba were already firmly established. The first school in Igboland was established in 1857 by Reverend J. C. Taylor of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). Before then, the Yoruba had many clergymen, university graduates, lawyers, engineers, journalists, surveyors, etc.
Samuel Ajayi Crowder was ordained an Anglican priest in 1843. Sapara Williams started practising as a lawyer in 1879. Iwe Irohin, a bilingual newspaper published by an Anglican clergyman, Rev. Henry Townsend, was established in Abeokuta in 1859, etc.
The Igbo were therefore the last to come face to face with any foreign influence. They were content with themselves, and steadfast in their beliefs. It took series of military expeditions, like the 1901/02 Aro Expedition, the 1903 Abakaliki-Afikpo Expedition, the 1905 Onitsha-Awka Expedition, etc., before the Igbo could succumb to foreign rule, and from there, became part of the Nigerian experiment.
But as soon as the Igbo became convinced of the new order, they threw themselves, body and soul, into the bargain. Not only that they totally embraced the new European culture and civilization, they wholeheartedly also accepted the Nigerian project. Consequently, they left their huts in their villages and poured into all parts of Nigeria, took up work, no matter how menial, in order to held build the new nation.
In every place they came, they made it their home, bought land and built their own houses. In addition to forming themselves into unions or associations to take care of their individual welfare in the “foreign land”, the Igbo equally contributed to the development of their home communities, including running scholarship schemes for indigent children. In no time, many Igbo youths took the advantage and went to school.
By the early 1950s, the enterprising Igbo had not only caught up with their Yoruba compatriots, but were also on the verge of surpassing them. The Yoruba were uncomfortable. They were afraid that their previously held positions, both in the civil service and other government agencies, were serious being challenged by the upward looking Igbo.
In the Western Nigeria election of 1953, Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo man won the majority, and was about to be inaugurated as head of government business, but the Yoruba pulled the rug under his feet by way of cross carpetting in the Western House of Assembly.
At the University of Lagos, the Yoruba dominated Governing Council refused Professor Eni Njoku, an Igbo man, from becoming its Vice chancellor. They were already seething with rage that another Igbo man, Professor Kenneth Dike, had just served out his tenure as the first Nigerian Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan.
These were the beginning of the rivalry or the hostility between the Igbo and the Yoruba. The catch phrase then was “Igbo domination”. They complained that the Igbo were everywhere and were on the verge of dominating everything in the country.
To guard against this fear of “Igbo domination” the Yoruba conspired with the Hausa/Fulani to push the Igbo out of Nigeria through the 1966 crisis and its aftermaths. And as soon as the Igbo left, the Yoruba took over everything.
With the back of the Igbo already on the ground following the war imposed on them by the Nigerian federal government, the Yoruba Minister of Finance and Vice Chairman Federal Executive Council, proposed a total blockade on anything going to Igbo area, so that those other Igbo, women and children, who were not felled by enemy bullets in the battlefield, would die of starvation. The catch phrase was, “starvation is a legitimate instrument of war”.
At the end of the war, the same Yoruba man proposed that every Igbo man should be paid forty naira to start life anew, irrespective of what he had in his bank account before the outbreak of the war. All these were aimed to kill and bury the Igbo.
But the Igbo refused to die. They would not give up. They would not lose hope, and they would not surrender. From ashes, they began to pick up pieces of what remained in their lives, to build them anew.
Since the Igbo had been edged out in the civil service, in diplomatic missions, and in politics, they decided to go into buying and selling. In no time, luck shined on them, and they succeeded not only in recovering all they had lost, but also in opening new frontiers.
In every town you go in Nigeria today, the Igbo are the second largest population outside the indigenes and they are doing well. They settled in these places and made them their home. But some people were not happy and began to envy them, to complain that the Igbo have taken their land. But the Igbo did not take anybody’s land for free. Rather, it was duly paid for.
The Yoruba and the Igbo, for instance, have two different preferences. The Yoruba love enjoyment and owambe. The Igbo love investment and industry. The Yoruba sold their land for enjoyment and owambe. The Igbo bought the land and built houses and established industries.
Today, both the industries and the houses established by the Igbo are standing, but the enjoyment and the owambe made by the Yoruba have gone. The Yoruba who now complain that the Igbo have taken their land, forgot that they used the money the Igbo paid for their land for enjoyment and owambe. Can one eat his cake and still have it?