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Who owns Lagos ? (2)

By   /  April 20, 2015  /  No Comments

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Some persons had problems with my outing last week, and they could not hesitate to tag me a bigot.

I had looked at the question of who owns Lagos, and my views spewed out a binary effect. The Yoruba came in aplenty to applaud while the Igbo responses were overrun with venom. I wrote neither to please the Yoruba nor rile the Igbo. But truth is a furious bullet and, in this case, it seemed to have lodged itself in an Igbo spleen. As Apostle Paul wrote, “we can do nothing against the truth but for the truth.” I wrote in surrender to the truth. If it hurts, it is because of human failure to embrace what they fear.

My historical conscience forbids me to act like the character in Shakespeare’s Tempest who, for personal ambition, “made a sinner of his memory to credit a lie.”

The issue of who owns the land wakes up hidebound loyalties in trenches of tribe and faith. We may recall the Itsekiri saga and how the Urhobo wanted to seize Warri from the Itsekiri by changing the title of the monarch from Olu of Warri to Olu of Itsekiri, even though his palace is ensconced in Warri.

The rampaging Urhobo – and my mother is Urhobo – conflated their numbers with proprietary rights. A similar travesty unfolded in Ugborodo in Delta State over the EPZ crisis between the Ijaw and Itsekiri, a problem that President Goodluck Jonathan turned into another episode of chauvinism in his now documented reign of divide and rule.

President Jonathan stoked the ethnic firefight between the Yoruba and Igbo in Lagos. He failed to rein in his opportunistic self-interest even as he freely played the ethnic and religious cards, all in the pursuit of ambition.

Those who say Lagos is no man’s land have turned it into a sort of cause celebre by levitating the fate of the Igbo as a race of victims. But victimhood has morphed into a weapon. So, if Anyim Pius Anyim, as secretary to the government, filled the parastatals with his kinsmen, it was because they deserved it since Igbo were marginalised in the past. So, if Okonjo-Iweala said the Igbo exceled in tests, they should be given job priority. And when former army chief Ihejirika filled posh positions with his kinsmen, he should be excused because of his people’s history.

This is not only victimhood but also victimisation of others. You don’t endanger the future by avenging the past. Society is about living and let live. Even in the United States where blacks have been left behind, the society has choreographed a system of affirmative action that negotiates, at least constitutionally, a process of rehabilitation for the coloured folks based on social contract. It anticipates conflict, so it works by understanding, not by imposition.

The Igbo say they developed Lagos, and therefore they have a right to determine who wins an election. No one can deny the Igbo contribution to anywhere they go in the country. They have done well, especially in the area of merchandising. But to say they developed Lagos? That is a fallacy. History should bear us out. Most of what we know as Lagos today was created not only by the Yoruba indigenes but also by the Yoruba non-indigenes. Whether it was Surulere, or Ikeja, or Badagry or Ikorodu, or Epe, it was borne out of the pioneering genius of Yoruba non-indigenes, especially the contiguous Yoruba like the Egba, the Ijebu, even the far-flung citizens in Ondo and Ekiti. Lagos was a major part of the western region and the resources of the western region under Awolowo and later Akintola turned Lagos into its kaleidoscope of today. The Yoruba, for commercial outreach, set up Ajegunle. Even they don’t claim to be indigenes but see Lagos as Yorubaland. And it is. If the constitution allows residency, Lagos should not be both guinea pig and sacrificial lamb. If others don’t play by the rule, why should Lagos? Fair is fair.

The port has been cited as a major asset of the city, but it’s by no means the only city with a port. Lagos bloomed because of the indigenes’ laissez faire culture, their syncretic worldview, erecting a big tent that has winnowed prosperity from the gifts and efforts of all.

Others who came to Lagos have contributed and they should not turn that into proprietary disdain. If the Igbo claim they helped developed Lagos, we have to put it in perspective. They have been good at merchandising, what some call buying and selling. A modern city is about its technological forays, its innovation in commerce, its new ideas in culture, its ability to turn the soul of a place around by its bona fides in these lights. You don’t claim to be innovative when you ape and fake another’s genius and sell it as original. That’s not technology, and it is not innovation.

So other than making profits for themselves buying and selling, few other roles have been claimed by them in the unfurling of the progress of Lagos. Other ethnic groups live in the city, and many who come from south-south have not trumpeted their bona fides like the Igbo. As Soyinka said, a tiger should not proclaim its tigritude.

Again, Nigerians in Europe and the United States have won elections as mayors and councillors, etc. When I was a Gordon N. Fisher fellow in Canada, an Igbo young man won a student union presidential election in a university in Ontario. He vied not as Igbo, but as a fellow student. If he canvassed his ethnicity, he would have lost. The Yoruba fellow who won a Houston election barely a decade ago was praised for his ideas and warmth to all city dwellers. But in the Lagos case, an Igbo candidate sees himself not as a Nigerian candidate but an Igbo candidate, and some of his kinsmen are now boasting that their sights are set on Alausa.

This is the sort of triumphalism that even Chinua Achebe – no innocent in this clannish game – condemned in his There Was A Country. If you claim a place as no man’s land and you act with a superior air, it means the expression “no man’s land” is tongue in cheek, a rhetorical subterfuge. It is paradoxically a euphemism implying that you own it.

If the Igbo claim to own Lagos like the indigenes, I would like to see them do things with selfless virtue for the city. They should build schools, hospitals, or construct roads, or give scholarships or any of such things that benefit not just them but the city at large. If they see Lagos as home, let us see some charity. When you live in a place for profit, it does not show love until you give back. Paying taxes is good. But that is a face-saving argument. No one comes to Lagos to pay tax but to make profit and a living. But that is all right. Let us not be hypocritical. One of the reasons they voted for Agbaje is that the candidate promised tax relief. All great economies thrive on taxes. Check the UK and U.S.

The tension between the Igbo and Indigenes arises from the sense that Igbo do not know how to play the balancing act between being Igbo and Lagosian. When you vote in an election in Lagos and vote Igbo rather than Lagos, it means you see yourself as an alien who is here to conquer. That is the wrong spirit, and Agbaje did not help matters when he promised to install an Eze for opportunistic reasons. He forgot that there are other ethnic groups here. If he won and fulfilled the promise, he would have opened an ethnic can of worms. If the Oba’s lagoon effusion was inelegant, it was prompted by such harebrained campaign promises from Agbaje. He borrowed from Jonathan and his PDP whose Igbo project began when they wanted Agbaje to run with an Igbo running mate.

The concept of no man’s land rides on love. The best example was in the First World War during the Christmas Truce. British and German soldiers abandoned battle to hug, exchange banter, cigarettes and prisoners between opposing trenches. The space between the trenches was called no man’s land. They even played soccer as Robert Graves – novelist, poet and author of Goodbye to All That – relates in an account.

We should avoid a gloating triumphalism, but embrace a cooperative élan. My identity should not drown yours. That is often the root of all crises. It inspired Jean Paul Sartre’s famous line, “Hell is other people.” The incoming governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, has a task to rid Lagos of the Agbaje and Jonathan incubi of division and unite all. Given his level-headedness, he will. It has been done before and it can today.

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