This article was written at the height of the cyber-war generated by the re-location of some indigent Igbo from Lagos
In recent days, it has been absolutely impossible to avoid the inter-tribal war of attrition going on in Naija-Cyberspace between the Yorubas and their Igbo brothers over the status of Lagos and the role of the Igbos in the politics of the State. While this may seem like the age-long familiar tussle for supremacy between the two major tribes of the Southern Protectorates, this last exchange has been peculiarly about Lagos with high populations of Igbo migrants and Yoruba aborigines. It is about the political identity for the over 5million-or-so Igbos who live and work in Lagos and whether they have been politically integrated into the political leadership of Lagos.
The first shot, as it were, was released by no other person than the relentless but restless former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu. His reaction to the re-integration (deportation, some would say) of a handful of indigent Igbo back to their Anambra State of origin was that it was a frontal attack on the Igbos and that the action was ‘an affront against the collective will of Ndigbo’ who, according to him, contribute 55% to the economy of Lagos. Never mind where he got those statistics from and the fact that only a handful of homeless people - and not a significant number of his Ndigbo - were ‘deported’. Forget too that this apparently is a common occurrence among the States and that Anambra itself had carried out a similar exercise at an earlier time.
Apparently infuriated by these assertions, the capricious Femi Fani-Kayode took it upon himself to be the latter-day defender of his ‘Yoruba people of the South-west.’ In a three-part series of essays, he decided to go on a diatribe against the Igbo people with a tirade of generalizations and sweeping stereotyping that are not only hurting but also quite embarrassing. He then took it to the most ridiculous height by flaunting his relationships with certain Igbo women - some apparently, illicit - as his credentials for not being an Igbo-hater while at the same time beseeching us all to believe that the Igbos are an uncouth, abrasive and extremely irritating people. He unsympathetically blames the Igbo collectively for most of their checkered history in Nigeria implying that they somehow deserve all the suspicion and distrust with which they are visited everywhere they are in Nigeria.
There have been a number of re-joinders to these series of articles and quite frankly, majority of them are your everyday mundane and rather run-of-the-mill typical Nigerian responses to issues. You can predictably perceive what the writer is going to say even without reading the essay just by looking at the origin of the name of the author. Suffice to say that all available adjectives and invectives have been poured on Mr Fani-Kayode and I certainly do not intend to add more, even if I could. I can only say, he went way over-board as a politician and he should have been a lot wiser knowing that in politics, there are no permanent friends. Those articles are all career-ending moves and unless you absolutely have no intension of ever running for elective office, you never go that far as a politician. From now on, we will refer to Mr. Fani-Kayode as an ex-politician.
The most striking reaction that has caught my attention, however, is the one by Femi Aribisala in his ‘Towards An Igbo Governor of Lagos.’ In the said essay, he started out to totally disown Femi Fani-Kayode by tracing the infamous role his father played in South-west politics linking it with the current role Femi is playing thus disavowing his claim as the new mouth-piece of the Yoruba. He then went ahead to posit that given the current rate of migration from the east, ‘it is not improbable that, in a few years time, the majority of people living in Lagos will be Igbos. Short of changing the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, that tells me an Igbo man can rightfully become the future Governor of Lagos State.’ As far as Femi (and our constitution really) was concerned, since our Constitution is modeled after the American’s, anybody who has lived in Lagos for a few years could legitimately be the governor of Lagos State. Apparently, what makes you a Lagosian as far as the constitution was concerned was continuous residence in Lagos for a number of years. It means that an Orji Uzor Kalu could actually become governor of Lagos State if he had not served as Abia governor – did I hear somebody say ‘God forbid!’
That really is some food for thought and it got me wondering: Who really is a Lagosian? Who should aspire to the highest political position in Lagos, or any state in Nigeria for that matter? Is it the indigenous person of the state or just about anyone who has lived in the state for a few years? These questions are important as they would allow us to understand the thinking of the Lagosian in Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode (he did say he was half-Lagosian) and why it seems a lot of right-thinking people have kept quiet even in the face of those embarrassing articles by Mr. Fani-Kayode. Indeed, even in his ranting and ravings, Mr. Fani-Kayode ‘wobbled and fumbled’ over some salient issues: the issue of indegineship of a state or town.
Who is a Lagosian?
Only a mischievous person would say that Lagos was not originally a Yoruba town. True, it was ruled as part of the Benin Kingdom in pre-colonial time, but so was most of present day Ondo and Ogun States. Lagos is therefore not any less historically a Yoruba territory than these other Yoruba States. Let’s not forget too, that the Benin Kingdom is an integral part of the Oduduwa dynasty and that Yoruba was the language spoken in the court of the Oba of Benin right from the first Oba until quite recently. From the very first settlement up until now, there has never been a non-Yoruba Oba of any town or village in Lagos except in Badagry and its environs. Unlike these other Yoruba States under Benin Kingdom, however, Lagos was, for a long time, a Federal capital – a microcosm of sort for the entire federation. It is worthy of note however that the Federal capital was only restricted to the Islands – Lagos, Ikoyi and Victoria Islands – and Surulere. The rest of present-day Lagos State was actually part of the Western Region.
People from all across the federation have streamed into Lagos since the beginning of the last century and have expanded the frontiers of the city so much so that at present, there seem to be no difference between the old Federal capital and the rest of the State that was Western region territory. Lagos is indeed now a mega-city with continuous influx of people from every corner of the country. They have also found a hospitable indigenous population who have not only thrived side by side with them but have also become enriched by this influx of people of all sorts. What this means is that the identity of a Lagosian has changed significantly since the last century or so and it is different now from what it was then. Creating a unique Lagos identity has therefore become a serious issue among the people who now live in Lagos. I will make an attempt to postulate here what I feel is the new Lagos identity and who in my opnion should be able to call himself a Lagosian.
Among the Yorubas, there is a wide difference between an ‘Ara’ and an ‘Omo’ of a certain town. An indegene of a town, should be an ‘Omo’ and not an ‘Ara’. An ‘ara’ is someone who just happens to live in a place for business or for work. An ‘ara’ is still very much affiliated to another place, either by birth or by association. He still attends towns-meetings of his kinsmen; he lives amongst his people in his new abode, associates exclusively with these kinsmen unless absolutely imperative and holds on tightly to the culture, identity and lifestyle of his forebears. He neither speaks the language of his new environment nor does he understand the world-view, values and social systems of the people that live there: he is in fact an outsider as far as the indigenous people are concerned. An ‘omo’, on the other hand, is completely at ease with his immediate environment. He not only knows the people around him, he understands the nuances of their temperament, beliefs and language. An ‘omo’ has no other place to call his own other than this place he has chosen. Push him, shove him and run him out of town, but an ‘omo’ will not bulge. He truly has nowhere else to go!
So, if you ask me, a true Lagosian has to, by necessity, be an ‘omo Eko’ and not an ‘ara Eko’. You cannot claim to be a Lagosian if you do not see yourself as a South-westerner. You cannot be an ‘Omo Eko’ if you do not understand the indigenous Yoruba people but still refer to them derisively as ‘Ofe mmanu’. You cannot be a Lagosian if you if you feel more at home with your tribesmen only in your enclaves in Mazamaza or Ajegunle but highly uncomfortable amongst the local people in the villages of Epe. You are not a Lagosian if, at the very slightest sign of crisis in the Southwest, you feel you have to run back to the East, South-south or North: as a Lagosian, you would have no other home other than this one we have all built together. You would know the heroes and villains of this place; you would know that Awolowo was by no means perfect but was certainly not the villain that Achebe painted in his book; for without Awolowo, there would be no Lateef Jakande, the Lagos governor that is still celebrated as the best ever in Nigerian history. A Lagosian would speak English with little or no trace of a Northern or Eastern accent: the market woman at Oyingbo market would not look at him as an ‘omo-atohun-rin-wa’. He would, in fact, be one of us, a true ‘son of the soil’.
I will now attempt to answer this indegineship question from my own perspective: a migrant ‘Yoruba’ Lagosian.
A brief family history then: My forebears were Ijo Apoi originally from Ondo State and my grandfather had an Itsekiri name, Toyo. His family moved to the island village of Agboyi, off Ogudu in Lagos around 1918 after the Spanish Influenza had decimated his large household to about half the original size. Our family name was then Yorubanised so that the family could blend in with the local people – it wasn’t so difficult for Toyo to become Omotayo really. Being riverine in nature, the family has since moved out from Agboyi to other waterside parts of Lagos by way of Makoko and Ijora. My father and his brother co-owned a saw-mill in Makoko in the 60s and early 70s. We have had little affiliation with my grandfather’s state of Ondo until quite recently. My father never built a home outside Lagos and never brought us up as anything but Lagosians. Growing up, I did not go ‘home’ every December as I have, and know of, no other home apart from Lagos. I have only been to Akure, Ondo state capital, on a few occasions and certainly do not know my way around enough to claim it as my state capital. In fact, I believe I need to move back to Ondo and live amongst my distant cousins for a few years before I can consider myself as one of them. I consider myself a Lagosian through and through.
By the forgoing, it should be clear now who should consider himself a Lagosian. It does not matter who you are or where your parent were from; as long as you were born and/or raised here and have become fully integrated with the indigenous Lagos people, as long as you are a true south-westerner, then you are a Lagosian. You are a Lagosian if you went to school with us in the mega-schools of Igbobi; you are a Lagosian if we played football together on the streets of Agege; you are a Lagosian if we watched ‘Willy-willy’ and ‘Feyikogbon’ together as young children; you are a Lagosian if you didn’t voluntarily run back ‘home’ during the June 12 crisis in the South-west. On the other hand, you are not a Lagosian if you do not understand the reason why they had to appoint a Baba-Oja of Ladipo market; you simply do not understand how important the market system is to the indigenous Lagosian. You are not a Lagosian if you would rather go and build your fancy home in the East before thinking of building a home here in Lagos. You are certainly not a Lagosian if, in your heart of hearts, you harbor a sense of tribal superiority to your Yoruba host and use your position and status to promote these tribal agenda and nepotism in your sphere of influence.
Since the bone of contention here is the Igbo people of Lagos, permit me here to make certain observations. In Lagos today, there three groups of Igbo people. There are those I will call the Igbo in Lagos. These are the Igbo who live in Lagos and see the city only as a place to temporarily visit, work and live in. They have neither the compulsion nor the desire to be part of the socio-political and cultural evolution of the place. These ones only live in Lagos out of economic necessity and cannot wait to finally move back to their beloved East. The second group is the Lagos Igbos. These ones have attained a level of integration into Lagos life but to them Lagos is still a second home. Due to the rich and enduring history they have had with their beloved home in the East, Lagos can neither compete nor crowd out the love for the land across the Niger. But they love it here and appreciate the place enough to build a second home here and they bring up their children as proud Lagosians. The last group is of course the real Igbo Lagosians. These ones exhibit all qualities of the Lagosian I have mentioned above. In fact, there is little difference between them and every other Lagosian either of Northern or Western origin. He is a true South-westerner who is at home completely in Lagos. Take him to the East and he will enjoy it only as long as his days there are numbered. He can’t wait to get back to his beloved Lagos and he will not put the interest of any other place over and above that of Lagos. He enriches our life because he allows us to see the Igbo not as a stranger but as one of us. It doesn’t matter whether he speaks Igbo, Yoruba or English, I understand him completely because he is me. He allows me a glimpse of the Igbo culture and with him; I can identify and imbibe the best qualities that the Igbo have to offer. He, it was who taught me my first Igbo words as a child - to report my thieving schoolmate to his mother by saying ‘Chinedu zuru ohi n’ulo akwukwo.’
To bring it home, let me personalize this a bit. In their days, Nnamdi Azikiwe was an Igbo-Lagosian, Sir Louis Ojukwu was a Lagos-Igbo while Chinua Achebe was only an Igbo in Lagos for a time. To trivialize this a bit with my own perception of present-day Lagos celebrities: While Don Jazzy and Chidi Mokeme may be Igbo-Lagosians, Paul and Peter Okoye are only on their way to being Lagosians (now that they finished their palatial home in Lagos and one of them is about to marry this side of the Niger); Ill-bliss and 2shotz are Lagos-Igbo but when he’s around for shows, Nigga Raw is only an Igbo in Lagos. All these people are proud Igbos of Lagos, but only a few are real Lagosians. Some Igbo may not notice the difference but we Lagosians know full well which Igbo is or is not a Lagosian.
Who should aspire to the highest political position in Lagos?
Femi Aribisala says ‘sooner than later, Igbo-Lagosians will start to pull their political weight in Lagos.’ I agree with him to a point. Even in the United State, a foreign-born American cannot become the President, even though he can become a state governor like Annold, the Terminator. I dare say that Nigeria’s political evolution is not as deep-rooted as the Americans and therefore would not allow us to have just about any Igbo governor of Lagos today. That may happen at some point in the future. For now, however, of the three groups of Igbo mentioned above, there is no reason why a true Igbo-Lagosian cannot become governor of Lagos today. I will vote for such one if I am convinced he is the best candidate of the lot.
Lagos should only be governed by a true Lagosian. It doesn’t matter whether your name is Chukwuka, Abubakar or Olawale, as long as you are a true Lagosian, you should be able to aspire to be governor of this State. You have to be a Lagosian that is at home in the palaces of the Oba of Lagos or the Onikoyi or the Olumegbon of Ajah as well as be comfortable with the Eze of the Igbo of Lagos and the Serikin of the Hausas. You not only have to be able to identify with the ideals and the world-view of the South-westerners, you have to be one in your heart; you should not be an outsider to the socio-political maneuverings of the South-west. You have to be one of us to rule over us – anything else would be tantamount to a hostile take-over. Even if your origin can be traced to any other zone or region of the country, you must have purged yourself of those tendencies that make you one of them, rather than one of us. For example, in all other regions of Nigeria, religion is a big issue in politics. In the Southwest, it is not. To the South-westerner, ona kan o wo oja - several paths lead to the same market. It would be nice if you speak Yoruba as a Yoruba man as well as whatever mother tongue you speak. Growing up, I remember a certain Joseph Bassey was the one who told me that the stadium in Ibadan was from the word ‘Adara-ma-sin-gba’ (one who is too beautiful to be anyone’s slave). I could certainly vote for him as Lagos governor. So while there may be no qualms accepting a Lagos-Igbo into the State civil service or for the post of commissioner or House of Assembly Member as is presently the case, only an Igbo-Lagosian can be an acceptable Governor of Lagos State. For the vast horde of Igbos in Lagos, if they truly want to be politically relevant, there are two options in front of them: transform and make their minds over and become true Lagosians and, by extension, true South-westerners or make the journey back across the Nigeria to the East. It is that simple.
As a last word, what is most disheartening from all the discussions on this topic so far however, is that the true South-westerners of Eastern origin, the true Lagosians, have so far kept quiet in the face overwhelming uproar from across the Niger. They have left it to the Orji Uzoh Kalus of this world to come and tell us who we are and how we should run the politics of Lagos. If we leave it to them, Lagos will be run same way Orji ran Abia when he was governor – to the ground. If we leave it to these latter-day ‘Lagosians’ who never shared our ideals, they will turn Lagos into another Anambra where Godfathers are born every four years. All those who still nurse the dream of Biafra should not be the ones to tell us how to run our State. Whatever good it may have symbolized, the dream of Biafra died on the way to Lagos on the battlefields of Ore - it never made it here.
What Femi Fani-Kayode has tried to actuate, rather clumsily, is that for a South-easterner to come to the most southwestern-ish of South-western States and plan to take over the reins of affairs while still remaining a South-easterner would be tantamount to a coup-d’état. We, the people of Lagos and the south-west do not mind a Governor of Igbo or a Hausa or Itsekiri origin – afterall Marwa is still being celebrated in Lagos up till today. He must however be a Lagosian first and foremost. What we will not take is an outsider who knows nothing about us and our core values to come here and tell us what we should be. We know ourselves – we are the best that Nigeria could be. Lagos is the Nigerian dream! It is not by accident that Lagos is the best-run state in Nigeria. It is not by accident that in spite of the mélange of history and backgrounds of the people of Lagos, it is still the most peaceful and secure state in Nigeria.
And for all those who want to come and use the re-integration (deportation?) issue to cause acrimony between the people of Lagos, we collectively tell u: ‘Hapu anyi aka’ – Leave us alone!
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