Since the Oba of Lagos uttered his controversial Lagoon jibe, Lagos has come under a certain attack. It is the foray called, “No Man’s Land.” By that the settlers say Lagos is Nigeria’s city and no ethnic group should lay claim to it as their own.
The position came into play in the just-concluded governor election. It also reared its insular head in the aftermath of the National Assembly and presidential polls in which non-indigenes scooped a haul of seats by besting indigenes.
This sort of attitude is not only arrogant, but also inherently disrespectful.
No one settles in a place and displays a proprietary disdain because the indigenes open their hearts and minds and money to them.
The point often made is that Lagos was Nigeria’s capital city, and because of that it soared into a special status in the country. On that score, they argue, the indigenes have lost the right to claim it. It is now Nigeria’s Jerusalem where every tribe and tongue and worshipper has as much right as the other.
This sort of thinking is defective on a number of points. One, it is historical revisionism. That Lagos was a capital city did not happen out of a whim. Where were the other ethnic groups when the indigenes fought wars, built the city, and turned it from a near wilderness into the mustard seed of city? Did they know when Kosoko and Akintoye duelled for the throne? In the colonial era, Lagos was not the only city they treasured. Others included Calabar, Port Harcourt, Lokoja, et al. The reason Lagos transcended others is rooted in the indigenous population’s attitudes to others, their cultural liberalism and economic expansiveness. The colonial authority focused on it, and developed it because it opened itself to such fertility of progress.
Lagos also allowed itself to flower during the fury days of nationalism, breeding names like Azikiwe, Ojike, Mbadiwe, Awolowo, Adelabu, etc. In fact, the dominant party was NCNC, and it was an umbrella for all tribes. The non-Yoruba politicians learned Yoruba, and that itself was homage to the indigenes. How do you learn the language of the indigenes and say it is no man’s land. Zik was fluent in Yoruba, and it helped him ascended the roof in the high noon of Nigerian nationalism. Lagos was not the only port city, and was it the only city that persons surged to make a new beginning? But Lagos exceeded others because of its indigenous people’s open arms.
What happened in the past few weeks with the Igbo against the Yoruba was unfortunate because both ethnic groups have lived together in Lagos for a generation without much rancour. In fact, many of the Igbo have resided in Lagos without a sense of alienation as the indigenes have given them free rein in commerce and culture.
But it was the last election that triggered this, and it was the shadow of President Goodluck Jonathan that we should blame. He came to town to incite the non-indigenes, including those in the Niger Delta, against the APC. By implication, he characterised the APC as a Yoruba and Hausa party. He even held meetings with them without decency and in one of such outings he said INEC was discriminating against them in the distribution of PVCs. Those who are quick to call him a statesman should note this.
Jimi Agbaje, the PDP governorship candidate, fuelled this by ratcheting up the emotions of the Igbo against the ruling party in the state. This ethnic card led to the vote pattern in the presidential poll. Southsouth and Southeast people decided to vote against the ruling party based essentially on ethnic as well as religious grounds. The factor of faith ossified the revulsion against the APC. Even though the APC prevailed, the pattern revealed ominous fault lines of faith and tribe.
The concept of no man’s land is a prostitution of the constitution that allows residency in Nigeria, and therefore allows any person of whatever tribe to contest elections anywhere as long as they are constitutionally accepted as residents. It is prostitution because few adhere although all should. If Lagos accepts and acts it, it is expected to be respected by all. But as far as I know, it is rare to see what happens in Lagos anywhere else in the country.
It is this lack of hostility to strangers that has now been taken to mean acquiescence. Only Lagos has grown to accept the spirit of residency requirement for election. Other parts of the country accept it, but only philosophically.
But before Jonathan, the indigenes have not openly challenged Lagos as Yoruba land. The last time it significantly caused rumpus was in the 1950’s when Zik wanted a Yoruba man, Prince Adedoyin, to step down from the legislative seat for him. He refused and Zik went to his father, and his father, an Oba, shunned him. Zik had earlier boasted about the role of the Igbo as the tribe of destiny in Africa, and that led to ethnic self-awareness among the Yoruba who had naively believed that the Igbo elite were playing politics without tribal fidelity.
The Yoruba, especially with the Ibadan People’s Party, scuttled Zik who was on his way to become the first premier of the Western Region. Zik cried foul, and lobbed a charge of tribal politics against the indigenes. He did not especially help himself when Eyo Ita, a minority in the East, was denied the chance to be premier of the East.
The Yoruba self-awareness in stopping Zik reflects Shakespeare’s words in Hamlet: “Beware of entrance into a quarrel; but being in, bear it that the opposed should beware of thee.” That self-awareness is palpable today in Lagos.
The bad blood in the past few weeks contradicts the feeling of mutual peace both ethnic groups have had for over a generation. Even during the civil war, the Yoruba did not only keep Igbo property, but kept their rents. It is unfortunate that it took the serpentine zeal of a Jonathan to rake up suppressed bad blood. It is the same Jonathan that did not fulfill any major promise to the Igbo and who only fattened its opportunistic elite with juicy contracts and appointments. In Lagos, all ethnic groups have enjoyed dividends of good government. It’s not perfect, but Lagos has remained the state of example.
The United States has always called itself a melting pot, and that means all who come from outside should not impose their will, but be part of the society. That is in contrast to Canada known as a mosaic. In a mosaic, outsiders maintain their full will but outside the mainstream.
The poet Walt Whitman noted this about America. “I am large/I contain multitudes.”
But we have to go back to healing now, and learn to live together. No group needs to be punished for how it voted. It is part of the beauty of democracy. But it means we should learn to understand that diversity calls for the acceptance of the other side in a bid to build a society not hampered by clannish virtues but riding on the wings of merit.
His is a victory for healing. We have a first-class brain with a profusion of experience in Akinwunmi Ambode. Again Lagos is in good and fertile hand. As they say, no shaking