Recently, a video surfaced of Nigerian designer, Tope Abiola of Frock it and Rock it where she suggested that instead of Lagos Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode investing in capital projects, he should build a wall between the Lagos Island and Mainland and that the mainlanders would need a visa to visit the island. It seemed a fairly ridiculous statement for anyone to make, let alone on social media where anything uttered lives forever to the mortification of its progenitor.
This is what Tope F n R your Lagos “ designer” is saying about Mainlanders. She wants Ambode to build a wall to keep them out of the island pic.twitter.com/XEmmC2Lsp1
— Unknown (@17_xcx) August 25, 2018
This singular incident while incredibly ignorant, is not an isolated sentiment, in many ways online and offline, many people have expressed the sentiment that the Lagos Island is a marker of class and have chosen to discriminate based on this singular metric.
The world seems to forget, almost consistently, that every society is divided into more classes other than “poor” and “rich”. There are many indices by which we choose to associate with others or discriminate against them and classism is the most insidious of these indices. Classism is set up by an arrangement of convictions and social temperaments that positions individuals as indicated by financial status, family heredity, work status, level of education, and so on.
More explicitly, classism is segregational treatment based on social class or perceived/relative social class.
It usually comes in the form of the easily observable exclusion, discrimination and physical and verbal maltreatment of people that fall into class groups that differ from the dominant group. This dominant group assumes perceived superiority, and decides to punish and reward based on its narrow definition of what is “normal” or “acceptable” – which it expects the ‘inferior’ class should believe in and behave like; just as is the case with Tope Abiola. And so, when, for instance, the people on the Mainland dance shaku shaku, it is perceived as a radically backward activity by the people on the Island; something to be ridiculed and put down. But, once these ‘ratchet’ trends achieve mainstream success, the dominant group repurposes it for its own use and rebrands it as acceptable or even ‘cool’.
Most times, due to internal rumblings and the overstretched belief that, indeed, inferiority is the problem, this ‘other’ class begin to internalise those set of beliefs.
By way of history, Lagos Island (Eko) is the centre of Lagos. Apart from the relatively recent renovation of buildings, erection of new buildings and ‘forced’ expansion through sand-filling, Lagos Island seems a bit similar to Ibadan – the centre of anything ancient. By specifics, Lagos Island lines through Banana Island, to Idumota Axis, to Ikoyi, to Lekki Peninsula, Marina, Obalende, Onikan and Victoria Island. These areas, not fully occupied until now, were the regions where slave trade returnees settled and built their towns.
Many of the rescued slaves were transported to Freetown, a town founded by the British for that purpose. Some of the re-captured slaves by British naval ships, who were of Yoruba descent, decided to resettle in Lagos after the British bombarded Lagos in 1851. It is instructive to mention that Lagos Island also received returnees from Brazil and Cuba during the same period – Lagos History Lecture, 2017.
Aside that, in 1603, Andreas Joshua Ulsheimer, a German surgeon, on board a Dutch mercantile ship, visited Lagos. Ulsheimer documented the transformation of Lagos from a fishing camp to a trading centre. (Micheal Uchebuaku, 2007).
Lagos Island had one known settlement, founded by the legendary Aromire, “lover of water”, as a fishing camp – Uchebuaku.
According to another historian, a trading camp for the exchange of goods was founded and called Esale Eko (Camp of the Esans). In yet another report, Portuguese merchants who, because of the geographical location of Lagos on the lagoon, gave the Island its name Lagos. Also, in an account by the Lagos State Government, the Aworis had settled in Lagos long before the Benin people, who were more powerful and therefore, could suppress the power of the nascent settlement.
During this period of massive economic activities, Lagos continued to advance as large groups of yoruba immigrants from the hinterland made the trip south; some of these included the Ilaje and other groups who were attracted to Lagos because of its fishing activities – the natives began to lose their lands at this point. Besides, they were not strong enough to assert their authority over those who ‘joined them’ in their lands.
Years later, Lagos became not only the first point of contact for foreigners, who wished to engage in trading activities, it became the capital city of Nigeria. And so, people came in their droves and massively displaced the indigenes. Subsequently, there was continued development and re-development in Lagos, most especially, Marina and Broad Street. Buildings that were built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were demolished for skyscrapers – which became rather unaffordable. The natives were consciously ignored in this process.
Commendation will normally trail such massive developmental changes anywhere in the world. However, where such changes conspicuously ignore the livelihoods of the natives, then pseudo-industrialisation begins to take precedence over human capital; which is ten steps in the wrong direction – Omoleye Omoruyi.
The people who now settled in Lagos Island had the idea that they had more financial capacity, more education than the fishermen who inhabited the Island, so they began to see reasons why their social status should not be taken for granted, especially not by those who they regarded as the ‘insignificant other’.
Subsequent governments have not helped the situation. Their policies and practices on this Island that was a mere booming fish commerce centre began to affect the natives negatively.
It is this same class discrimination that makes ‘Islanders’ say to themselves: “Why should we live with indigents when we could just push them out and develop these areas to suit ourselves?” Now, there is relatively no more space for the so-called middle class, who have succeeded in brainwashing the world that they are indeed better and so, there is a need for expansion. Or is there is a better explanation for the displacement (without adequate alternative) of natives in Otodo Gbame and other supposed need-to-be-developed areas in Lagos?
This type of land segregation as evidenced by Tope Abiola – Island and Mainland – and the cultural classist dispositions actually affects everyone. Networking (in terms of opportunities, resource exchange, education and so on) is somewhat difficult when these classifications are thrown in our faces. In actual fact, one group sees the other as too pompous and/or too indigent to be associated with and begins to think of such things as building a Mexican-style wall to separate one pseudo-upper class area to a working-class area.
Nigeria is one big boiling cauldron of classism. From the condescension Islanders show Mainland residents to the summary dismissal Southerners give Northerners by flinging the aboki tag carelessly, classism abounds in virtually every interaction in Nigeria. A ready example is the Nigerian colloquialism “do you know who I am?” – a question that’s usually thrown out to confront/stop any perceived challenge or affront on someone’s person. It generally connotes they’re not to be trifled with on account of their wealth or social standing or connections to the elite/powers that be. Northern Muslims may not readily toss out those haughty words, but a joke about or perceived threat to their religion is sometimes met with swift violence from the ignorant ones. Remember Eunice Elisha Olawale who was murdered during her ‘Morning Cry’ evangelism.
Classism is not just observable in daily interactions. It carries over to beliefs. There’s a notion Southerners nurse that the North is vastly uneducated when in truth virtually every northerner is educated. They may pass over western style education for Arabic education, either through Almajiri schools or local Arabic schools, which instruct the pupils in Islamic theology and Jurisprudence with a garnishing of math and science here and there, but it’s education nonetheless.
Education Encyclopedia reporting on the historical reception towards education states:
“Before the British arrived in the early nineteenth century, there were two major types of education in Nigeria. In the Islamic north, education was strictly religious in nature. In each Muslim community, a mallam drilled children as young as five years old in the teachings of the Qur’an and the Arabic alphabet. During the colonial era, larger cities set up more expansive Islamic schools that included subjects such as math and science. In 1913, these Islamic schools, almost all in the North, numbered 19,073 and enrolled 143,312 students. In the 1970s the government took control of the Islamic schools, but in the 1990s, the schools were allowed to operate independently again.”
When the missionaries set up schools in 1947, the North recorded low enrolment. At first, “only 66,000 students were attending primary schools in the North. Ten years later, the number enrolled had expanded to 206,000 students.” The western region recorded exponential attendance over the same period: 240,000 to 983,000 students. While “the eastern region experienced the most dramatic growth in primary enrollment during this period, jumping from 320,000 to 1,209,000 students. The number of secondary school students in the entire nation grew much less dramatically, increasing from 10,000 in 1947 to 36,000 in 1957.”
According to the data by National Bureau of Statistics published in 2017, primary school enrolment is still down in much of the North. But most North Central states either tie with or surpass some southern states in enrolment. Bear in mind that states like Plateau, Kogi, Kwara where enrolment is high, although considered North Central by Nigeria’s geographical divisions are devoid of indigenous Hausa/Fulani peoples, who subscribe more to the itinerant Q’uaranic schools. This may explain their competitive strides with the South.
Abia 72.1 Adamawa 31.0 Akwa Ibom 48.0 Anambra 70.9 Bauchi 21.9 Bayelsa 56.7 Benue 43.7 Borno 31.7 Cross River 43.8 Delta 47.8 Ebonyi 46.8 Edo 66.7 Ekiti 57.2 Enugu 59.9 Gombe 22.7 Imo 54.4 Jigawa 24.0 Kaduna 39.6 Kano 35.4 Katsina 42.6 Kebbi 24.6 Kogi 66.6 Kwara 75.5 Lagos 78.2 Nasarawa 43.6 Niger 31.6 Ogun 60.5 Ondo 65.3 Osun 22.7 Oyo 37.9 Plateau 55.2 Rivers 58.1 Sokoto 27.0 Taraba 39.4 Yobe 22.0 Zamfara 22.2 FCT Abuja 61.6.
Before the coming of the Fulani and Islam conquered the North, the political structure on ground was ‘Hausa Bokwoi’ (the seven Hausa Kingdoms). Under this structure, everyone was free to practice their own religion. For instance, Idris Alooma was the Mai (King) of the North East – present day Borno. But with the Fulani revolution, the North had its first taste of classism. The Fulani already had an orientation that Hausas were pagan, beneath Islam and needed to be civilised. They believed in the religious superiority of Islam over any other religion practised by the tribes. So each region they conquered, they imposed their religion and philosophy upon. Ahmadu Bello is credited with saying we will not stop until we plant our flag in the sea – a reference to conquering Lagos. Benue, Oyo and Kwara may have stopped their advancement, but the air of superiority still persists. You can see it in the way Northern Muslims do not rate Yoruba Muslims as practitioners of true Islam so that whenever there’s violence in that region, Yoruba Muslims are usually killed same as Christians. You can see it in the preference for Arabic education over western and the adoption of Arabic inscription on our currency. You can see it in their jostle for and need to hold political power continuously – and to be ruled only by one of their own. Just like the French with their assimilation policy in West Africa, an outsider will need to speak their language, subscribe to their religion, even change their name to be considered one of them.
So while Southerners may tar everyone within that geographic region with the same brush, it’s important to note that a typical Benue or Kogi man does not identify as Northern, but geopolitically, they are trapped and their “political future is tied to the apron strings of the North”, much against their wish.
Currently in the North, besides the classism that exists as a result of the extreme disparity between rich and poor, you can point to two distinct class structures, which also double as Islamic movements: Qadiryya and Tijanniyya. The latter practised in Borno is more democratic; believes anybody can be an Islamic evangelist while the former, practised in various parts of the core North runs more of a caste system. They are descendants of Usman Dan Fodio… enlightened and educated, philosophers and scholars well learned in Islamic law. Only a few rise to the top through bloodlines. When they speak, the people listen.
Again, while it is unarguable that classism permeates virtually every facet of our lives as a people, the most compelling illustration of classist actions in Nigeria is best illustrated with our political class.
Going down memory lane, with the end of a 16-year military interregnum and the attendant return of civilian government to the country, citizen participation in the political process once again flourished and the political parties as expected came alive to their constitutional roles in the scheme of things.
From precedence however, major political parties in Nigeria have always been ethnic (or in some cases religiously) centered, as reflected in the case of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), Action Group (AG) and National Council of Nigerian Citizens(NCNC) of the first republic (1960-1966) which existed among other things to serve the ethnic interests of the people of Northern Nigeria (Hausa/Fulani dominated), the Yoruba people of the West (as well as their allies in the Midwest) and the Igbos of Nigeria’s East respectively, in the national administration of the country.
The most formidable political parties of the second republic; the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) were not any different and the same phenomenon carried on to the fourth republic (1999 till date).
As at 1999, of the three existent political parties that sought the votes of the Nigerian electorate at the general election, as much as the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was considered the most nationally spread, the All People’s Party (APP) which later became All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) as well as the Alliance for Democracy (AD) were largely regional as their interests centered around the Northern and Western regions of the country respectively.
Similarly, this increased with the registration of more parties in the 2003-2007 era, and with the registration of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the Igbos joined the fray as they arguably found a platform to advance their interests. Several prominent parties that have emerged afterwards between 2007 till date, the Pro-Western Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Pro-Eastern Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA), the Pro-Northern Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), amongst others have also towed the same line with the preceding dominant parties.
For these years, having influenced the political orientation of most Nigerians to be patterned along these ethnic and/or religious lines, the political class have in many cases moved to further exploit this phenomenon in advancing their personal political interest, as they have spared nothing including using our religious and ethnic biases to stir us to violence while in reality caring only that their social status quo is protected.
And since classism requires the people alienated by the class to believe that the people in their class share the same values for them and are fighting for them, to say they’ve achieved success would be an understatement.
In the midst of these, what stands out to the classist discourse is the fact that while the founders and promoters of these parties over the years have continually pretended to stand for explicit party values and objectives, they’ve had zero problems moving from one rival party to another, (parties which are supposedly meant to be most sympathetic to the ethnic or religious interest of the majority of their supporters) in what they’ve christened as defection and if you like; re-defection as we now see.
Most thought-provoking is how they intermarry across religious and ethnic lines that ideally they would advocate against. There are indeed a large number of governors who have given their children out in marriage to fellow governors, marriage between children of Ministers and so on, and in the scheme of things, not one issue on religious or ethnic interest is raised.
These convenient relationships, prevalent among the elite is clearly seen when there are job openings in juicy government agencies like the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), etc. Such employment opportunities are not advertised as the children of the rich and influential are co-opted in without any slot for those of the poor and downtrodden.
On March 15, 2014, over 20 young Nigerians were killed in various stampedes at different venues during the Nigerian Immigration Service recruitment exercise. None was a child of the elite. The applicants, numbering in their millions sought employment after paying a thousand Naira each for a chance to interview for the 4000 vacant jobs. This is classism in its simplest term.
In Nigeria, it is common to hear many use the phrase, “we the masses” when speaking on an issue. The phrase is often used to classify the individual’s societal status. Many have been so battered by the classist nature of the country that they begin to blame themselves for societal ills. Beyond ripping people of their dignity, classism also has the ability to cause psychological problems especially when experienced by teenagers. These teenagers who often face social discrimation from their peers are often left depressed.
As we try to dismantle the existing biases that prevent Nigeria from progressing as a nation, biases that are either biological (ethnicity) or cultural (religion), we must not forget to also dismantle the artificial classist delineations into which we have been forced. We must challenge them with a knowledge of our history and how much of what we consider exotic has been gentrified, land stolen from the original inhabitants and co-opted by people driven by greed and with no understanding of or respect for the land and the people whose ancestral lands they occupy. We must push for the law to level the playing field, punish people who try to advance through blatant nepotism, create such a culture that the shame and stigma associated with classist behaviour deters all but the most corrupted from discriminating against and belittling the lived experiences of others.
We must always bring the same energy to all these founts of bigotry, it is the only way we will stopper these wells.