Ijeoma Nwogwugwu: Who really is a Lagosian?

by Ijeoma Nwogwugwu

I have a dream that one day no Nigerian in Lagos shall be called a foreigner, I have a dream that someone other than a man shall govern Lagos, I have a dream that someone other than a person of Yoruba stock shall superintend over Lagos.

Last week, I sat down to edit a brief analysis submitted by our reporter who covers Lagos State on the factors likely to influence the outcome of the governorship election in the state. In his analysis, he said that the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate in the state, Jimi Agbaje, had been accused by his opponents of playing ethnic politics by promising non-indigenes more position in the Lagos cabinet should he win his bid to govern the state.
I was amused, because I realised that either my colleague or the so-called critics had failed to recognise the multicultural make up of Lagos, and no candidate worth his salt can campaign for the votes of residents in the state without identifying ethnic homogenous groups that can deliver bloc votes to a candidate. Even President-elect Muhammadu Buhari recognised this and wooed the Arewa community in Lagos before the presidential poll.
Given his assessment, I called him and proceeded to discuss the way politics is played in America whose democratic system we have decided to adopt. I reminded him that it is impossible for a Republican or Democratic candidate, be it at the presidential, congressional or governorship level, not to identify and woo black voters, Hispanic voters, Asian voters or Jewish voters and make them irresistible promises to get their votes. The same is applicable in the United Kingdom where Members of Parliament (MPs) and candidates vying for the post of prime minister must woo black, Indian, Arab and Pakistani voters in their respective constituencies. Whereas the emphasis in such societies is on race, the emphasis in a mono-racial society like Lagos is on ethnicity.
I also asked why the emphasis in Lagos had been placed on Agbaje identifying Igbo voters in Lagos, when his rival in the All Progressives Congress, Akinwunmi Ambode, had used exactly the same campaign strategy. Ambode, I reminded him, had been wooing Igbo voters in Alaba market, Amuwo Odofin, etc, for weeks, yet he had not been accused of playing the ethnic card. I further reminded him that the longest serving commissioner in the Lagos cabinet since the dispensation of the Fourth Republic has been an Igbo man. All this was happening, I explained, because Lagosians of Igbo ethnic stock had been recognised as a large homogenous voting bloc that could determine the outcome of an election for candidates campaigning in Lagos at any level.
After explaining these facts, which my colleague could not fault, I asked him what his state of origin was and for how long he had resided in Lagos. He informed he was from Ondo State and had lived in Lagos for 10 years. I informed him that my immediate younger brother and I were born outside this clime, but were brought home by our parents who are of Abia origin as children to Lagos, and had resided in the state for over 40 years. Three of my younger siblings after us, I informed him, were born and bred in Lagos and we all deem the state as our home. I went on to ask him, does the fact that he has a Yoruba name and I have an Igbo name, make him more of a Lagosian than I am? He admitted that having lived here for most of my life, I may identify more with the state than he does who had spent just 10 years in Lagos.
As a writer, I have always been very reluctant to write about my personal circumstances or that of my family’s. My preference has always been to keep my affairs private. However, I am forced to come out of my cocoon because of the reactions that the remarks by the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, have generated. In fact, I am less interested in his initial remarks when he said Igbos would end up in the Lagoon should they fail to vote for his preferred candidate, Ambode. I considered that an emotional outburst made in the heat of the moment, which could be pardoned.
But what struck me the most was his clarification the next day, which was cobbled together by the APC communications department, not the Oba’s palace as we were made to believe. The clarification read in part: “Oba Akiolu stated further that the Igbo people have not betrayed the throne. Lagos has also not betrayed the Igbo people. Lagos has done so much to make the Igbos comfortable and to prosper. For this, we expect reciprocal respect and understanding. The Oba of Lagos prays that the Lagoon and the throne will continue to bless and protect all those who reside and visit Lagos.”
This clarification, in my estimation, was more important than his emotional outburst. Unfortunately, in the heat of the Oba’s initial remarks, this clarification was lost on several Lagosians and other Nigerians. As a Lagos resident, I do not need anyone telling me that they are doing me a favour by making me comfortable in the state and helping me to prosper. That is patronising!
If any migrant and the generations after them have made Lagos their home and have prospered, it is through the dint of hard work in spite of the Lagos State Government. These migrants are law abiding citizens, conduct their businesses, buy their homes and land, pay their taxes, contribute to the development of the state and its GDP, and give Lagos its status as a mega city-state. Indeed, as constitutionally stipulated, they are no different from the “sons of the soil”. And should all the migrants including the Yoruba from neighbouring states choose to vacate Lagos, the state will probably not boast more than five to six million people.
The point being made is that Lagos is too large – it is the melting pot of Nigeria; it is the Big Apple – thanks to its migrant population, for these kinds of condescending remarks. They should not be tolerated and have no space in a modern society like Lagos. Had the state not been multicultural in make up, the likes of Lateef Jakande, who is originally from Kwara; Bola Tinubu, who migrated from Osun; Babatunde Fashola, whose family migrated from Ekiti; and Ambode, whose roots can be traced to Ondo, would not have been allowed to govern the state. Accordingly, anyone who chooses to call and make Lagos his or her home should be allowed to do so without needless reminders that they are “Ara-okes”, a derogatory Yoruba term used for foreigners or non-indigenes.
Borrowing from the words of Martin Luther King Jr., I have a dream that one day no Nigerian in Lagos shall be called a foreigner, I have a dream that someone other than a man shall govern Lagos, I have a dream that someone other than a person of Yoruba stock shall superintend over Lagos. It may not be in my lifetime, but that day will surely come.
Personally, I love Lagos and have made it my home. Should I die, I would want to be buried here and nowhere else. Yes, my fellow Abians may not like my decision, but it is mine and must be respected. Even after brief stints in Abuja, like a pigeon, my homing instinct has always made me retain a primary residence in Lagos at great expense. I believe there are millions of Lagosians like myself who feel the same way about Lagos. As such, our diversity should be celebrated, not undermined.

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This article was first published in the Thisday Newspapers

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (8)

  1. Sincerely, I think write ups like this are the issue we have, because of freedom of expression. It is totally wrong for you to throw away the fact that people are original indigenes of Lagos state. The main argument always brought is Lagos is a former capital territory, hence a home for all, yes a home for all but what about calabar ,was it not a former territory and Abuja today. Do we now say they don’t have indigenous people. Me thinks a wee bit of respect should exist for the indigenous people of Lagos state and whoever is so identified as one regardless of the n formation that is peddled that they have their ancestry from on do or ekiti. Some people are indigenous to Lagos as they are to the other 35 states.

  2. Lagos is not a “no man’s land”.It has its own proud indigenes and not even all Yoruba can claim Lagos. The Igbos must respect other tribes home and away,better still the more accommodating Yorubas. The Oba goofed but it’s not enough reason to start acting like Lords and Masters of Lagos..calling on block votes is tribalism in itself.Lets leave it at that and stop playing the victim all the time.
    Ironically only the Yoruba can support even an Igbo Presidency ,not the Hausas for sure,and yet they are the ones being threatened to be over run out of Lagos.
    Tribalism is everywhere,it is only tolerance levels that separates one tribe from another.As at today,a Yoruba born in Igbo land is not Igbo.Yet an Igbo can contest and get support to win elections in Lagos.

  3. i don’t think what u said is wrong but i must inform you just as your dream has pronounced that it would take time for that to happen. but my question is that. 1) is it only the ibos that live in Lagos?. 2) why must the ibos see living in Lagos as a competition to outwit the Yoruba. 3) do you not agree that most Ibos distaste the Yoruba’s for the events of the civil war and lastly. do you deny the fact that Yoruba’s are unlike most tribes in Nigeria when it comes to tolerance. I must say that because of the aggressive attitude of the ibos most Yoruba’s are very suspicious, and a typical Yoruba man does not like a situation were another brags on how they are better than him. Most ibos would never allow the same thin that happens in Lagos to happen in the east. of all the tribes outside the Yoruba’s i believe that the EDO are the only ones tat ave the legal, traditional and moral rights to claim Lagos as theirs. Unless the Ibos trow away their civil war sentiments they can never be accepted by the Yoruba’s.

  4. The facts are brought to bare… Nice article

  5. … and, I have a dream that one day no Nigerian in Enugu, Owerri, Aba und Onitsha shall be called a foreigner, I have a dream that someone other than a Igbo shall govern Enugu, I have a dream that someone other than a person of Igbo decend stock shall superintend over Enugu.

  6. Point is Lagos alone shouldn’t be the melting pot of Nigeria! Every state in Nigeria should be a melting pot.

    Ijeoma, your write-up did not address the real crux of the matter, which is that the non-indigenes in the South East are not afforded the same opportunities and are strongly discriminated. Can the people of the South East origin in Lagos also address that? And shout loud about it too! Methinks, that Igbos complain when things are done against them and turn a blind eye when it’s done against other ethnic groups.

    How come the Oba’s remarks were to only the Igbos, not the other non-indigenes that also live in Lagos and he mentioned that non-indigenes wouldn’t get away with it in Aba or Onitsha, which is true.

    I think that when there’s fairness all other Nigeria and no discrimination, these complaints will fade away.

    The problem is that Nigerians will continue to think along ethnic lines when some parts of the country still discriminate.

  7. Personally, I believe that for us to have ONE Nigeria where ethnicities and languages are secondary to nationhood, we might have to do away with “I hail from this state and foreigners are not fully welcomed”. However, we have this particular Nigeria where loyalties lie more to states of origin rather than the country itself. So, miss, before we start to claim Lagos as a no man’s land, it has to be general. I have to be able to claim Ebonyi or Katsina as my state since I was born and raised there and enjoy all of the benefits. If it is good for Lagos to be “benevolent”, then the other 35 states should adopt same. But if we are yet to achieve that, let’s still keep it in mind that Lagos has its own indigenes that would be denied the same things you claim for in other states. Thank you!

    1. Oh Jesus i love your reasonable comment Tofunmi. Foreigners cant even buy a piece of land in Abia the author comes from, yet you want to live like a king in someone else land? First sort out your states mess before you begin to think about becoming a governor in ours!

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