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The Handshake across Memory

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James Eze (eziokwubundu@gmail.com)
Human memory is like a river; timeless and long. That is why, to me, the recent “Handshake Across the Niger” organized by Nzuko Umunna was a handshake across memory. It was the long deferred meeting of Nigeria’s fiercest rival ethnic groups across the mirror of memory; a place where the leaders of both the Eastern and Western Regions gazed jointly into the mirror of memory to see where they were coming from and where they must go.
Until January 11 this year, the idea of a Handshake Across the Niger was one of those numerous romantic ideas that hung in Nigeria’s socio-political air for a long, long time. It has its roots firmly planted in the uncommon love that bound a great Igbo General and a brave Yoruba Brigadier together in death. That was 52 long years ago when Brigadier Adekunle Fajuyi accepted to die with his guest, General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, a former Head of State in the hands of murderous coup plotters in the build up to the Biafran War. In that extraordinary friendship, the two patriots pointed Ndigbo and their Yoruba cousins towards a path that would lead to their mutual greatness. But no one heeded them.
There was also the remarkable friendship between the Great Zik and Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya. The latter’s death in November 1996, shortly after his friend was laid to rest should have been a faint reminder that the two ethnic nations are stronger together, but no one paid much mind to it. Not even when late Senator Chuba Okadigbo muted the idea in the palace of the Ooni of Ife in the volatile days of the Second Republic; it was tepidly received. Okadigbo it was, who actually coined the phrase, “A Handshake across the Niger” in a feat of oratory as he sought to proffer a solution to a dispute between the leaders of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). Visionary as ever, the Great Ikemba picked the concept up and harped on its importance until he breathed his last. There’s absolutely no doubt that Fajuyi and his friend Aguiyi-Ironsi and Okaidgbo and the great Ikemba would be delighted to see that through Ifeanyi Ubah’s dogged commitment and the efficient collaborative efforts between Nzuko Umunna and Afenifere, the two ethnic groups were finally seated on a round-table.
I think it was also fitting tribute to the genius of the great Oyi of Oyi that the President-General of Ohaneze, Chief Nnia Nwodo who is also an orator like Okadigbo was the first to speak at the Handshake across the Niger. Imposing himself perfectly on the audience, Chief Nwodo observed that it was important to note that “at a time many Nigerians are losing hope in the joint enterprise called Nigeria, two major ethnic groups in Nigeria are coming together to re-emphasize their oneness, to recall incidences in history which bind them together, to note their differences, historical disagreements and regrettable past and proclaim, let bygone be bygone!” He noted that the gathering was a symbolic “thank you” gesture to the Fajuyi family for paying the highest price of solidarity and brotherhood to the Ironsi family and by implication to Ndigbo. Nwodo further emphasized that “in offering to go along with his boss and guest rather than leave him alone to be slaughtered, Fajuyi was dramatizing brotherhood. We will be betraying him and his legacy if we do not continue to promote that brotherhood.”
His voice, however, rose to a new decibel when he swiftly turned his attention to the smouldering question of the day. Should Nigeria restructure or not?

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